Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Upside down Big Ten features Indiana soaring, Penn State struggling, Wisconsin sitting
topical alert

Upside down Big Ten features Indiana soaring, Penn State struggling, Wisconsin sitting

  • 0

The Big Ten continues to live in an upside-down world.

Northwestern and Indiana keep chugging along. Penn State and Michigan continue to struggle.

And Wisconsin still waits on the sideline.

Three weeks into this shortened season, teams seem to be coming into definition. It's just not the picture we expected for many of them.

While they were awaiting election results, Big Ten fans might have missed some of Saturday's excitement. Here are five takeaways.

1. Wisconsin is in a predicament.

The Badgers are probably the best team in the West. But will they get to prove it?

A COVID-19 outbreak caused Wisconsin to cancel games against Nebraska and Purdue. To compete in the Big Ten championship game, teams must play at least six games, unless the conference average drops below eight games played. That means Wisconsin must play the rest of the games on its schedule, starting Saturday at Michigan.

The Badgers returned to limited on-field conditioning Friday as their active COVID-19 cases decreased. They had 14 cases (nine players and five staff members), down from 27 earlier in the week.

Wisconsin never reached a positivity rate above the Big Ten threshold not to play, athletic director Barry Alvarez has said, but the program decided to cancel the games anyway to help contain the spread.

Unless there is another spike on the team, the Badgers are likely to resume their season this week against the Wolverines. But their hopes can be undone if an opponent has to cancel because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

The logistical problems the pandemic presents might mar the season.

2. Indiana is for real.

The Hoosiers' schedule looked stacked against them. Penn State and Michigan were two of the first three opponents.

But Indiana has beaten both, along with a victory against an improved Rutgers team, to start 3-0 in conference play for the first time since 1988.

Is Indiana now a football school?

Despite Michigan's severe issues, Indiana's 38-21 victory Saturday further legitimized coach Tim Allen's squad. The Hoosiers had not beaten Michigan since 1987.

Michael Penix Jr. looks like the Big Ten's second-best quarterback after Ohio State's Justin Fields. He threw for a career-high 342 yards and three touchdowns as the Hoosiers picked up 460 yards of offense.

The offensive line deserves credit. Michigan never sacked Penix, and the Hoosiers converted 9 of 18 third downs.

A Nov. 21 game at Ohio State could be a surprisingly interesting showdown.

3. Penn State's problems are proliferating.

Penn State is having the opposite start of Indiana. The Nittany Lions are 0-3 for the first time since 2001 after their 35-19 loss to Maryland.

They fell behind 21-0 and never led against the Terrapins, eliciting media and fan accusations that the team has thrown in the towel with little to compete for at this point.

It's a perplexing season so far.

There's no excuse for a talented defense to be unable to get any pressure on quarterbacks. Maryland's Taulia Tagovailoa looked relaxed as he went 18 of 26 for 282 yards and three touchdowns.

Offensively, quarterback Sean Clifford has struggled to find open receivers. Don't let the 340 passing yards against Maryland deceive you. He didn't start finding his targets until the game was out of hand.

Surely the losses of linebacker Micah Parsons, who opted out, and running back Journey Brown, who is out for medical reasons, have had an impact. But Penn State should be more competitive than what it's displaying.

"We're not as one right now," receiver Jahan Dotson said. "We're not a unit right now. "

It seems like a lost season, and it will be a challenge for coach James Franklin to rally his players for a strong finish.

4. Is it too late for Iowa?

The Hawkeyes finally looked like themselves in a 49-7 victory against Michigan State, their first win of the season.

Was that because the Spartans are struggling? Or has Iowa turned a corner?

And if the Hawkeyes (1-2) have, do they have time to make up any ground?

Iowa built a quick 14-0 lead, received steady protection from the offensive line, forced key turnovers and held Michigan State to 59 rushing yards.

In an abbreviated season, Iowa can't afford another stumble.

5. Illinois is back . to the bottom.

Illinois is in a free fall. The Illini losing streak, dating to last season, reached six games with Saturday's 41-14 loss to a previously winless Minnesota team that gave up 94 points in its first two games.

The Illini have looked thoroughly outmatched, unprepared and undisciplined this season.

And this was supposed to be coach Lovie Smith's best squad.

After weathering the storm of a bare cupboard left by his predecessors and managing rosters full of underclassmen, Smith's fifth team is finally experienced, supposedly more talented and has depth at key positions.

Yet Illinois (0-3) is alone at the bottom of the Big Ten West.

"I thought they dominated us on both sides, offensive and defensive," Smith said after the Minnesota game. "Couldn't do anything offensively. Not much happened, terrible performance. When you play like that, you can't wait to get to the next game. Last week we lost (31-24 to Purdue), but we didn't lose like this. We are better than this."

It's hard to believe they are.

There were signs last season, with upset victories against Wisconsin and Michigan State and a bowl appearance, that Illinois finally was turning the corner.

But there's no sign Illinois knew how to build off those achievements.

To be fair, the Illini secondary was depleted Saturday because of injuries, and they couldn't contain Gophers star receiver Rashod Bateman (139 yards on 10 catches).

But the Illini couldn't stop the run either, as Big Ten rushing leader Mohamed Ibrahim amassed 224 yards on 30 carries (7.5 per carry) with four touchdowns.

Illinois is allowing 39 points per game. It looks no better than in Smith's previous seasons.

Are there any wins on the remaining schedule?

You asked, we answered: 8 key questions about the Wisconsin football team’s COVID-19 outbreak

Concerned about COVID-19?

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Badger Sports

Breaking News