Published 9:29 PM EDT Oct 20, 2018
The best team in the Big Ten Conference is …
The easy answer is Ohio State, since the Buckeyes entered the weekend as the league’s lone unbeaten team and the answer to one of college football’s greatest hypotheticals: Who is capable of beating Alabama?
Ohio State has earned the title. The Buckeyes own a very good road win at Penn State and a solid neutral-site win against TCU. The defense has had issues, especially when it comes to limiting big plays, but the Dwayne Haskins-led offense has been even better than advertised and perhaps the program’s best overall under Urban Meyer.
But Michigan is making a case for being taken seriously as a Big Ten and College Football Playoff contender. Saturday’s 21-7 win at Michigan State marked the latest impressive performance for a team still battling back from a year-opening loss to Notre Dame, even if that loss looks better and better in hindsight as the Irish make a run at an unbeaten regular season.
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The Wolverines’ defense is again one of the best in college football. The offense continues to lack imagination but has enough talent to put together the sort of big plays needed to put teams such as the Spartans away – as in the long touchdown pass from Shea Patterson in the second half.
The offense has room for improvement; the defense is ready for any opponent, including Ohio State. First comes a home game against Penn State, which has scuffled since that narrow loss to the Buckeyes, followed by Rutgers and Indiana before getting the Buckeyes. It’s in Columbus. The Buckeyes will be favored.
Don’t sleep on Michigan’s ability to win every game the rest of the way, Ohio State included. Even lesser Michigan teams under Jim Harbaugh have put OSU on the ropes. It seems almost obvious that this the best team Harbaugh has had yet.
Here are the rest of Saturday’s winners and losers:
Scott Frost nailed down his first win back at Nebraska after the Cornhuskers stormed out to a 28-0 lead against Minnesota and held on for dear life before pulling away 53-28. This was a win that was coming, if not long overdue. Backhanded compliment, maybe, but Nebraska was far better than its 0-6 record heading into the weekend might have indicated — and they proved it by getting into the win column for the first time. True freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez looks like a future star.
The Seminoles put together their best performance of the Willie Taggart era with a 38-17 win against Wake Forest. The offense was productive if not quite balanced; the Seminoles looked like they could’ve beat up on the Deacons’ defense with the running game but leaned heavily on quarterback Deondre Francois. The defense was even better, especially in defending the pass and getting after the passer. It was a good win for Taggart and FSU with Clemson coming to town next week.
Virginia is beginning to slowly rise to the top of the shaky Coastal Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference. As other teams have scuffled, the Cavaliers have put together back-to-back solid wins against Miami (Fla.) and, on Saturday, at Duke. The 28-14 victory at the Blue Devils leaves Virginia at 5-2 with three home games in a row against North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Liberty. Suddenly, eight wins seems possible as Bronco Mendenhall continues his building in Charlottesville.
Tennessee actually equaled Alabama in the second quarter, 14-14, which is a small victory for a program looking way, way up at its rival. Too bad the Tide led 28-0 after 15 minutes. It says quite a bit about Alabama that it wasn’t a great performance yet still resulted in a 42-14 halftime edge and a 58-21 final.
The Bulls did it again. Saturday's 31-17 win at Toledo came against the Mid-American Conference's presumptive preseason favorite and was the third consecutive victory and seventh overall in what is shaping to be the program's breakout season. Buffalo is the best team in the MAC and a contender for 10 or more wins in 2018.
There are questions to be asked about the health of this offense. Does Mark Dantonio need to address his team’s continued issues on this side of the ball? It was just too easy for Michigan to put clamps down on the Spartans and quarterback Brian Lewerke. And while illustrated best by the Wolverines’ dominance on Saturday, this isn’t a new concern: Michigan State has been toothless on offensive all season, and that’s as big a reason as any why this team isn’t a national contender.
The Bearcats suffered their first loss on the year, 24-17 to Temple in overtime, in a game they seemingly had in control heading into the final minutes of the fourth quarter. It’s a bad loss, if somewhat predictable given the lack of quality wins the team put together in its 6-0 start, but it’s not the end of the world: Cincinnati Is still a pretty good success story after going 4-8 in head coach Luke Fickell’s debut season in 2017.
North Carolina State
The Wolfpack were another team making noise on the back of a weak schedule. This is a solid team, but Saturday taught us two things: one, that N.C. State was not as good as its 5-0 record might have suggested, and two, the Wolfpack are very clearly not on the same level as Clemson. The Tigers’ 41-7 win illustrated the wide gap between the best team in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the rest.
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