Grading Big Ten Out of Conference Performances - Part 2

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Unstoppable?

It's time to unveil the second half of our Big Ten out of conference marks.  You can read the first batch here.

Indiana

Bill Lynch's teams might not shake up the standings, but they're certainly not boring.  At their best the Hoosiers are a dynamic group.  At their worst they're a team that's constantly playing catch up.

High Water Mark...

Whether a cake walk, or a red carpet walk, the whole month of September was Hoosier-friendly.  Ben Chappell threw a career-high four touchdown passes in the first half of Indiana's 35-20 victory over Akron, giving the Hoosiers a 3-0 start to the season.

Wake Me Up When September Ends...

Then again, it's not like Indiana played the most challenging of schedules. After a brief date with FCS Towson, the Hoosiers played a Western Kentucky squad that's dropped its last 24 games, and a winless MAC club. Still, IU's defense has looked largely mediocre -- giving up 335 yards to Akron, and allowing opportunistic offenses to move the ball at will.

It doesn't matter how many skill players they have on offense, if the defense can't get off the field the Hoosiers are headed for another rude awakening in October.

Out of Conference Grade: B-

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Dan Persa is the next great thing from Evanston.

Northwestern

You can't overachieve more than the Purple.  In the last two seasons Northwestern has been one of the most consistent programs in the Big Ten, although they still don't have a bowl win to show for it.  Despite losing an established dual-threat quarterback in Mike Kafka, Pat Fitgerald's offense doesn't seem to have missed a beat.

High Water Mark...

Dan Persa was almost perfect in his debut, going 19 of 21 on the road to lead the Wildcats to a 23-21 victory over Vanderbilt.  Northwestern followed the victory up with three wins over outmatched opponents.

Wake Me Up When September Ends...

Despite a 4-0 start, the Wildcats continue to struggle on defense.  They allowed Central Michigan to rack up 423 yards, and are third-worst in the conference in total defense.  Like Indiana, if they don't right the ship, they'll lose a number of games in conference play.

Out of Conference Grade: B+

Michigan State

The Spartans always seem to lose games they shouldn't...except when they don't.  After melting like wax paper in the fourth quarter in 2009, Mark Dantonio's bunch seems to have found a way to win.

High Water Mark...

In the most memorable moment in the Big Ten season thus far, Mark Dantonio called a fake field goal on fourth down in overtime to lift the Spartans to their third win over the Fighting Irish in four years. It was as brilliant as it was gutsy.  And for once, it was Michigan State that earned the right to celebrate.

Wake Me Up When September Ends...

Although it hasn't cost them like it did all too frequently last season, the Spartan's pass defense remains a shaky ninth in the Big Ten.  On average, Michigan State is allowing 252.5 yards in the air.  Specifically, the Spartans are still allowing opponents to complete 52.9 percent of passes in the fourth quarter.

Will the same prevent coverage that allowed Notre Dame to take a seven point lead in the fourth quarter squander Michigan State's chances at reaching its first double digit win season since 1999?

Out of Conference Grade: A-

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Jay Valai is a difference maker.

Wisconsin

The Badgers seemed to have all the pieces heading into 2009.  But then again, it was the same story heading into 2008.

High Water Mark...

Safety turned savior Jay Valai blocked an extra point attempt to allow Wisconsin to maintain a 20-19 lead late in the fourth quarter against Arizona State.  The Badgers have started 3-0 in every season under Bret Bielema.

Wake Me Up When September Ends...

Still, it shouldn't have been that close against the Sun Devils, and the only part of Wisconsin's offense that has really clicked is the ground game -- anchored by bruiser John Clay.  Scott Tolzien was expected to be an NFL-caliber signal caller, instead Madison is eighth in the Big Ten in aerial attacks.  Additionally, special teams play on kickoff coverages continues to hamstring the Badgers.

Nevertheless, 4-0 is 4-0, and Wisconsin has a chance to prove it's every bit the pre-season conference contender this week against Michigan State.

Out of Conference Grade: B-

Michigan

Rich Rodriguez didn't even announce his starting quarterback until a half hour before Michigan's season opener against UConn.

High Water Mark...

Four weeks later Denard Robinson is the most electric athlete in college football.  Despite playing only a quarter in last week's runaway victory over Bowling Green, Robinson leads the FBS in rushing and throws on a wire.  Michigan leads the Big Ten in total offense, averaging 563 yards a game.

Wake Me Up When September Ends...

If a 4-0 start sounds familiar it's because the maize and blue were in precisely the same position last year heading into conference play.  Their downfall?  A decrepit defense.  Giving up 37 points and 439 yards to Massachusetts did little to settle the stomachs of the Ann Arbor faithful.  If Greg Robinson can't figure out how to button down the hatches against Big Ten opponents, Michigan will never be further than a knee injury away from another abysmal season.

Still, something just feels different this time around.

Out of Conference Grade: B

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Triple threat.

Ohio State

The Buckeyes may be the Big Ten's persona non grata, but they're also the team to beat.  After two disappointing out of conference debuts, we wondered whether this would be the year Jim Tressel exorcised his early season demons.

High Water Mark...

Ohio State overpowered twelfth-ranked Miami, overcoming a 10-3 first quarter deficit to top the Hurricanes 36-24.  Terrelle Pryor found a way to sustain drives in crucial third down situations, and the silver bullets emasculated Jacory Harris and Miami's skill athletes for a win that wasn't in doubt past the middle of the third quarter.

Wake Me Up When September Ends...

Special teams gaffes -- particularly on return coverages -- haunted the Buckeyes through the out of conference slate.  In Week 1 Marshall took a blocked field goal back 61 yards for a touchdown.  Against Miami the scarlet gave up kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns.  Ohio's Julian Posey took a 99-yard kickoff return to the house.  The touchdown was ultimately called back on an illegal block.  The Bobcats also disrupted an Ohio State punt.  

Championship teams execute in all three phases of the game.  For now, Ohio State is only 2/3rds of the way there.

Out of Conference Grade: A-

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