Grading Big Ten Out of Conference Performances - Part 1

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Speaking of dropping the ball...

It's hard to believe we're already a quarter of the way through the season.  As temperatures through the Midwest drop into the 60s, and deciduous trees begin their colorful final act, the stage is set for Big Ten football.  Before we turn to intra-conference matchups, let's take one last look at what we learned in the month of September.  Here is Part 1 of your team by team out of conference marks.

Minnesota

We're not here to sugar coat things.  Not only is Minnesota the worst team in the Big Ten, they might be the worst team in the Tim Brewster era.  Sure, they've already matched the win total Brewster reached in his first season at the helm, but that was a transitioning program with limited expectations.  With a Senior quarterback and three full recruiting classes in the lockerroom, there's no excuses for being a butterfly in reverse.

High Water Mark...

On opening night Minnesota ground out a promising 24-17 win on the road against Middle Tennessee State.  Duane Bennett rushed for 178 yards, becoming the first 100 yard rusher the Gophers have seen since 2008.  Many fans forecast the beginning of a new breed of power football, until...

Wake Me Up When September Ends...

The following week the Gophers fell to the FCS for the second time in Tim Brewster's tenure.  A piecemeal defense gave up 444 yards to the South Dakota Coyotes, putting the first blemish on the Big Ten's out of conference portfolio. Minnesota turned in a four quarter effort in a respectable loss to USC, and had its best week of practices heading into Week 4.  Then the Gophers lost at home to a MAC opponent.

Fans booed the home team.  Adam Weber reportedly flipped off the student section.  Tim Brewster is a dead man walking.

Out of Conference Grade: F

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Murphy must have been a Boilermaker fan.

Purdue

We had high hopes for Danny Hope's sophomore Boilermaker squad.  We forgot about Murphy's Law in West Lafayette.

High Water Mark...

Purdue looked like it was ready to win the games it was supposed to after back to back victories against Western Illinois and Ball State.  Only then...

Wake Me Up When September Ends...

Purdue's best receiver, Keith Smith, left the game in the fourth quarter with an injured right knee.  New quarterback Robert Marve re-aggravated an ACL injury from his Miami days.  With 2009's leading rusher Ralph Bolden already sidelined, it was a terrible trifecta of misfortune.  Without their best skill players the Boilers lost 31-20 at home to Toledo, the Rocket's first win in West Lafayette since 1992.  

Purdue arrives on the doorstep of league play with an inconsistent attack, shaky offensive line, and redshirt Freshman at the helm.   

Out of Conference Grade: D+

Illinois

Ron Zook knew he was on a short leash heading into 2010 after back-to-back bowlless seasons.

High Water Mark...

Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase turned in consecutive 100 yard performances, and a 180 yard outing by running back Mikel Leshoure gave the Fighting Illini a winning 2-1 record in September.  Senior linebacker Nate Bussey is playing like an All-American.  A well-timed by-week effectively allowed Illinois to quit while they were ahead.  An extra week of practice before No. 2 Ohio State comes to town is just what the doctor ordered.

Wake Me Up When September Ends...

Illinois was held to a meager 85 yards and four first downs in the second half of a 23-13 Arch Rivalry nightmare loss to Missouri.  They had led by ten at the half.  Six straight losses to Mizzou prompted at least one observer to ask why they even bother to play.

The Illini defense is playing solid football, and the running game is rolling, but an inconsistent pass attack may doom the orange in league play. 

Out of Conference Grade: C+

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Welcome back, Evan.

Penn State

Heading into the season we asked whether a legendary coach and talented running back could hold a young Penn State offense together.

High Water Mark...

The Nittany Lions are right were everyone thought they'd be at the end of the out of conference slate: 3-1.  Solid defensive performances including a shutout against Kent State and second half triumph against Temple show that Linebacker U is still locked and loaded.  Speaking of which, keep an eye on Nathan Stupar, who had a sack and a 31-yard interception return against the Owls.  Also, the aforementioned Evan Royster appears to be back from a three week sabbatical after a 187 yard performance against Temple. 

Wake Me Up When September Ends...

It wasn't a fun trip to Tuscaloosa, but the Nittany Lions are a better team for it.  Although we won't blame freshman Rob Bolden for succumbing to the pressures of a hostile road environment, fans in Happy Valley have to be a bit concerned at the offense's inability to finish drives.  The blue and white have only made it into the red zone 15 times, leading to 6 touchdowns and five field goals.  That 77.3 percent efficiency is worst in the Big Ten.

Although it was surprising to see Penn State trailing Temple at the half, a stout defense should bail the Lions out in league play.  Still, a little more offense couldn't hurt...

Out of Conference Grade: B-

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There were a lot of these pictures to choose from... 

Iowa

Billed as America's team, the Hawkeyes entered 2010 with stars (Quarterback Ricky Stanzi, Wide Receivers Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt, Safety Tyler Sash) and battle stripes, after a dominant Orange Bowl victory.

High Water Mark...

They looked the part in an opening win over Eastern Illinois, a 35-7 shellacking of in state rival Iowa State, and a 45-0 blanking of Ball State.  Adam Robinson ran wild, and Ricky Stanzi led a almost turnover-free offense.  Until...

Wake Me Up When September Ends...

Iowa traveled to the desert to face Arizona in the moonlight.  They let the Wildcats block a punt, return a kickoff and take an interception 85 yards to the house before they put their gold pants on.  Yes, they fought back, overcoming a 20 point deficit to tie the score in the fourth quarter with 2 Stanzi touchdown passes and an interception return of their own, but when Arizona countered, their offensive line evaporated.  An unfathomable three sacks in a row and a false start penalty left a bad taste in the mouth of everyone in the country.

It remains to be seen whether that same offensive line will doom the Hawkeyes in conference.  Still, Iowa seems more motivated than ever to capture the Big Ten title and punch a ticket to Pasadena.

Out of Conference Grade: C+

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