We’ve heard all about the Big Three in the Big Ten and the fact we thought they all resided in the East Division.
Well, it appears there is a Big Three, only it might not be the teams we thought.
Ohio State and Michigan still seem to be firmly in that group with the Buckeyes taking the week off before getting into conference play and the Wolverines whipping Penn State.
As for Michigan State? Well, it’s early and the Spartans haven’t played a team in the East, so it’s conceivable they could still get to the conference title game. How realistic that might be is up for debate.
What doesn’t seem as debatable is the fact Wisconsin belongs in the conversation now after its 30-6 domination of Michigan State on Saturday.
I’ll be honest and say I was not a believer in Wisconsin. Not when it beat an LSU team that lost again this weekend and certainly not when the Badgers struggled to take care of Georgia State.
But who can deny the Badgers at this point?
“We talk a lot about opportunity and we knew today was an opportunity,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said, “and the kids did a great job all week of preparing for it. What I’m proudest of was them going out and playing. I think the game was one of those of opportunities.”
It was an opportunity for Wisconsin to remind everyone that not only do they still play all the games on the West side of the conference, but it might not be wise to cast them off so quickly.
On Saturday, the Badgers dismantled the Spartans with a defense that didn’t give an inch, created turnovers and then took advantage of them. They held Michigan State to just 75 yards rushing — one week after the Spartans rolled up 260 against Notre Dame — and scored off two turnovers, getting a third touchdown one play after Michigan State couldn’t handle a poor snap on a punt.
“I’ve been lucky,” Chryst said. “I’ve been around some really good defenses, and yet today, it was big and I thought again it was a good plan by our defensive coaches because our kids understood it and they were able to execute it and they were opportunistic. When opportunities presented themselves, turnovers, we were able to capitalize.
“Obviously, we think it’s a really good Michigan State team and a good offense, and we respect their running game, but guys were doing their assignments and they were finishing and that certainly gave us a chance.”
It should give the Badgers plenty of chance when they continue their brutal five-game stretch next week at Michigan. After that, Wisconsin gets a bye then hosts Ohio State, goes to Iowa and hosts Nebraska.
The defense gives Wisconsin a fighting chance to come out of that still shooting for the West title, but the offense will need to find some life. The Badgers were efficient on third down against the Spartans, but the running game had trouble getting into a groove and explosive plays are lacking.
However, the Badgers aren’t going anywhere, and the rest of the Big Ten surely sees that now.
“There’s no magic to this,” Chryst said. “If it goes well, it’s because all 11 guys were executing and doing their part. I’m proud of what this group did and they put themselves in the situation today to be able to go out and play. It certainly wasn’t a perfect game, but our guys kept competing and did it together. That was fun to be a part of.”
Blough leads Purdue
We spend our fair share of time here each week giving Purdue a hard time for being completely inept at playing football.
But on a day when two former Purdue quarterbacks were starting for SEC teams — Austin Appleby at Florida and Danny Etling at LSU — it should be noted that the Boilermakers are 2-1 after beating Nevada, 24-14, at home behind 300 yards and two touchdowns from quarterback David Blough. It’s the first time they’ve been 2-1 under coach Darrell Hazell and they had to rally after an ugly first half.
“We showed a lot of character,” Blough said.
He was talking about the second-half comeback, but he might as well have been talking about the bigger picture. After all, he has thrown seven interceptions in the first three games and Purdue had given the ball away 10 times as a team.
But here they are, talking about fighting back to win.
“It’s a huge confidence builder and a boost,” defensive end Evan Panfil said. “It shows us what we’re capable of. They have a lot they could have thrown at us, and we prepared well and executed well to what they threw at us.”
Where will the Boilermakers go from here? It’s tough to say with two road games to begin Big Ten play, but they do come against Maryland and Illinois, hardly the class of the conference.
Getting to six wins and a bowl might still be unrealistic, but at least Purdue can see there’s a path.
Nebraska the real deal
Some interesting takeaways from Nebraska’s 24-14 win over Northwestern and the first is that it looks like Tommy Armstrong is ready to have his best year and the Huskers are the real deal.
The senior quarterback threw for 246 yards and a touchdown and ran for 132 yards. He also kept the Huskers pointed in the right direction despite two fumbles near the goal line in the first half.
It has Nebraska on track to be 7-0 overall heading into its meeting with Wisconsin at the end of October.
Over at Northwestern, things are not as rosy for the 1-3 Wildcats.
“These guys better figure it out pretty quick,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “They better walk out of the locker room. They better hug whoever they love. They’d better go to bed and they’d better wake up and they’ve got to get ready to get their rear ends coached off this week because that’s what’s gonna happen. I’m not gonna sit here and I’m not gonna take it and I’m not gonna accept it. They’d better buckle it up. They’d better start hydrating right now because it’s not acceptable the way we’re playing.
“It starts and ends with me so I’m gonna fix it.”
He’s got plenty of work to do.