Seven Big Ten teams have completed half of their schedule, and right now the two most impressive teams may be ineligible for postseason play. Such is life in the Big Ten, which has been used as a punching bag of sorts nationally this season.
Here is a look at the seven Big Ten teams who are now eligible for mid-season evaluations.
Record: 2-4, 0-2 Big Ten
It is difficult to find much for new head coach Tim Beckman to be proud of in his first season on the job. The Illini rank 82nd in passing, 96th in running and 104th in scoring which was not thought to be possible with Beckman following a season in which he coached Toledo to the ninth best overall offense in the country. The defense has not been much better, giving up 66 points in their first tow Big Ten games and yielding 52 at home to Louisiana Tech two weeks after giving up 45 points at Arizona State.
The Illini now face a potential postseason-less season, needing to pick up four wins in the final six just to become eligible. Road games at Michigan and Ohio State may not be kind.
Record: 4-2, 1-1 Big Ten
Michigan State’s defense has been as advertised this season, but the offense has been one of the worst in the nation. The Spartans are ranked 100th in scoring offense averaging just 21.8 points per game. Scoring just 19 points against Notre Dame and Ohio State, combined, shows just how much the team may miss quarterback Kirk Cousins and Le’Veon Bell’s up-and-down season has not been easy to work with.
The Spartans have struggled to reach 4-2 but have what now looks like a brutal second half filled with road trips to Michigan and Wisconsin and home games against Nebraska and Northwestern. The Spartans should still be able to become bowl eligible this season, but if they slip up against Iowa, it will be a tough fight to do so.
Record: 4-2, 1-1 Big Ten
Nebraska’s outlook appeared much better before this past weekend’s disaster of a road trip to Ohio State. The Buckeyes exposed Nebraska’s defense and special teams a number of ways, as well as brought the inspired play of Taylor Martinez back to earth a bit. Nebraska gets points for the way they came back against Wisconsin but having lost their big road games at UCLA and Ohio State, the Huskers still fail to get to the halfway point with high marks.
Though better at times, Nebraska’s passing game is ranked just 78th in the nation but their running game continues to be as strong as ever, ranked sixth in the country. Nebraska can score points, but the defense can also be gashed. Nebraska will go bowling, no question about that, an they may still b the top team out of the Legends Division, but when Michigan comes to town in a couple of weeks things could be very interesting.
Record: 5-1, 1-2 Big Ten
Northwestern started the season with a 5-0 record before letting a double-digit lead vanish at Penn State this past weekend, but there are still plenty of positives surrounding the program as they prepare for a tough second half of the season. Northwestern lacks much of a threat in the passing game but the ability to put Kain Colter in various positions is enough to keep defensive coordinators guessing, and the special teams play is a legitimate threat against anyone when Venric Mark is on the field. There is no quit in the Wildcats, and that should be fun to see down the stretch.
The Wildcats are one win shy of bowl eligibility and should be able to pick that up this weekend at Minnesota. November games on the road against the two Michigan schools could help determine the fate of the Legends Division hopes Northwestern still carries. If they had closed out Penn State, they would have received a truly high grade.
Record: 6-0, 2-0 Big Ten
This is the best team in the Big Ten right now. The passing game leaves a lot to be desired but quarterback Braxton Miller can hurt opposing teams with his legs, helping lead the Buckeyes to having the 10th best rush attack this season (108th in passing). But of a team can force him to beat them with the pass though, Ohio State may be vulnerable. The Urban Meyer era is off to a loud start in a year the Buckeyes are prohibited from playing in the postseason, but the message has been received loud and clear that these Buckeyes will be a force to reckon with.
Record: 4-2, 2-0 Big Ten
Things looked bad after two weeks with losses to Ohio and Virginia, but Bill O’Brien and the senior leadership on the Nittany Lions have changed the course of the season and gained national respect in doing so. The defense has allowed just 16.0 points per game and if not for a special teams meltdown Penn State would have at least five wins right now. But the fact is the special teams is a huge concern for the Nittany Lions and the offense is still young and questionable heading in to the second half.
Record: 4-2, 1-1 Big Ten
Perhaps the most disappointing team in the Big Ten this season, the Wisconsin Badgers are somehow sitting at 4-2. The addition of quarterback Danny O’Brien has not gone quite as planned with some shuffling under center for the nation’s 101st ranked pass offense, and the running game is ranked just 91st with a banged up preseason Heisman favorite Monte Ball. Wisconsin is a missed Utah State field goal from a 3-3 record and wins against FCS Northern Iowa and UTEP at home were far from convincing.
Wisconsin plays at Purdue this weekend, hosts Michigan State at the end of October and ends the season at home against Ohio State and then at Penn State. Is it still a good day to be a Badger?
Next week’s Big Ten mid-term evaluations will focus on Michigan, Minnesota, Purdue and Indiana. Each will play their sixth game this weekend.
Kevin is a national college football writer for quadrust.com and the host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast. Submit your mailbag questions via Tumblr. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Kevin: Twitter | Facebook | Google+