The Land Grant Rant: Week 5 – B1G Byes and a Gift for Penn State

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Whew!

That went fast, didn’t it? Were you paying attention?

At exactly a quarter ways through the B1G college football season, is everyone where they thought they’d be?

Probably not….

To say the large majority of the out of conference slate was “a little rough” on most B1G teams is putting it lightly. Only four teams remain undefeated. The out of conference schedule included losses to teams from the MAC, AAC, PAC 12, and B1G 12 while collecting the majority of its wins against FCS schools and bottom dwellers from other no AQ conferences.

Yes, Ohio State is still very capable and able to carry the torch for the B1G, and Michigan and even Northwestern will get their chance to prove to the country that they are elite, but for the most part, it was an underwhelming out of conference performance for a conference that needs to change its image drastically.

So what have we learned through 4 games? And what do we know about the players in a wide open conference slate as we head to a major bye week for half of the conference? Let’s take a look…

Nebraska really needed this bye week. Of the six B1G teams that face a bye this weekend, Nebraska’s couldn’t have come at a better time. The Huskers faced a drama filled couple of weeks that hasn’t been seen since the firing of Steve Pederson and Bill Callahan. A break from all that noise and some time to tweak the defense is just what the Huskers need. It’s also allowing 4 year starter and senior leader Taylor Martinez the time to heal from turf toe.

Michigan needed a bye STAT!  The Wolverines flashed tremendous grit and perseverance to remain undefeated their first four contests, but there is much to clean up.  Pushed to the limit by what should have been inferior competition in Akron and UConn, Michigan is still seemingly hung over from their thrilling victory in South Bend early in week two. It’s not going to get any easier from here on out. If Michigan wants the chance to compete for a wide open Leaders division, they need the 2 weeks off to recover and retool.

Michigan State needed the bye too, but they are who we thought they are. And that’s not very good on offense, great on defense, and uncertain at quarterback. Who didn’t know that coming into the season? Honestly, this is where most expected Michigan State to be at this point of the season. The Spartans get 2 weeks to prepare for a trip to Iowa City, where they will face a Hawkeye team that beat them in East Lansing last season. Head Coach Mark Dantonio will have his team’s attention during the bye for that reason alone.

Northwestern has looked sharp early on and every bit as good as expected, but sure, they’ll take a bye too. The Wildcats haven’t looked like world beaters by any means but I’m not sure anyone outside of Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald expected them to be. While the Ohio State Buckeyes have garnered most of the national spotlight for the B1G so far this season, Northwestern might actually be the conference’s most impressive team so far. Give this coach and his staff a bye week to prepare the Wildcats for a trip to the Horseshoe and you have the recipe for success that Fitzgerald has built his program on.

Penn State got more than a bye. They got the best news they’ve had in Happy Valley in years with the announcement that the NCAA would restore scholarships to the Nittany Lions beginning next season. That is great news for this staff and the Penn State faithful; unfortunately it isn’t going to be enough to help this team, this year. The news likely means that things probably won’t get as bad as we all thought for Penn State from a competitive standpoint in years to come and that is welcome news. But there is still an uphill approach for this program and head coach Bill O’Brien. The team gets an extra week to digest the good news and hope to carry the momentum into their B1G road opener.

A bye week won’t do much to help Indiana. The Hoosiers can’t stop anybody and any team worth its salt with even a pulse on offense is going to beat Indiana. All the vertical offensive passing in the world can’t save this team on defense. If the Illini are the B1G’s biggest positive surprise, Indiana has to be its biggest disappointment.

There is no quarterback controversy in Columbus. That is, if Braxton Miller is truly healthy. Kenny Guiton was officially introduced to the college football world the last two weeks and even though he is listed as co-starter for Saturday’s showdown with Wisconsin alongside Miller, there is no question who will be under center for the Buckeyes if both options are available. 3 year starter Braxton Miller is one of the most dynamic players in all of college football and a leader that head coach Urban Meyer will need to lean on if Ohio State wants to actually be in the National Title mix at the end of the season.

The Badgers will win if??? If Melvin Gordon is the beast he’s been the first 4 games of the season. Any scenario possible for Wisconsin to play an early spoiler for the Buckeyes has to start and end with the Wisconsin run game. Quarterback Joel Stave, who has been steady as they come so far this season, will need to throw the ball to win this game in critical moments but it will be won in the trenches and a steady dose of Gordon will be critical.

There’s more than bacon on the line for Iowa and Minnesota. While it might be borderline “hillbilly” for two bordering Midwestern states to play for a statue of a pig named Floyd, this game means so much more for both programs and the season in front of them. Minnesota, under third year head coach Jerry Kill, is trying to take the next step forward as a fledging program. Iowa, headed by embattled veteran head coach Kirk Ferentz, is trying to prove that it can still be a player in a B1G that has suddenly passed it by. Both teams could build a foundation for a respectable season off of a win and it could be a signs of things to come for both regimes.

Can the Illini continue their hot start? If they can, all bets are off. I’m not saying that suddenly over night Illinois is a true player in the B1G, but that would put them at 3-1 and on their way to Lincoln the following week. Nebraska’s defense has given up much more to lesser offenses and it could prove to be an interesting match-up. One step at a time – Illinois plays Miami (OH) for its last out of conference tune up.

Purdue gets its shot at the MAC champ. Northern Illinois has not been your typical MAC team the past few seasons and, coming off an Orange Bowl appearance in 2012 and an early win this season at Iowa, this game will be closer than it looks on paper. The Huskies have been unable to really put any of their opponents down for the count and Purdue matches up well talent wise. This could be Purdue’s last chance for a win until November.

BY RYAN OSBAHR ON SEPTEMBER 27, 2013

Follow @RyanOsbahr1 on Twitter.

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