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Around the Big Ten, Week 2: Michigan State defends conference's reputation

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Every Sunday, after a whirlwind autumn Saturday of college football, we'll be taking you around the Big Ten to keep tabs on the rest of the conference. As it fights as one for respectability in the non-conference, or as its power dynamics shift on a week-to-week basis in October and November, we'll follow the narrative to give you a better idea of where Northwestern fits into the 14-team puzzle.

Here's are the top three storylines from Week 2:

Top three storylines

1. Michigan State defends Big Ten turf

In the marquee game of the weekend, Michigan State made what many will deem a statement in defense of the Big Ten. After a shaky Week 1 and start to Week 2 left the conference's reputation tarnished in the eyes of national pundits, Sparty avenged last year's loss at Oregon with a 31-28 win in East Lansing.

In a back-and-forth game between two legitimate top 10 teams, the Spartans contended with the Ducks' speed, and played to their own strengths. Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook didn't push the ball down the field much, but looked sharp on short and intermediate throws, and that was enough to complement a very strong run game. The Spartans lost Jeremy Langford to the NFL, but the basis of that run game is a big, mean, experienced offensive line — one that paved the way for MSU's top three rushers to gain 201 yards on 31 carries.

Are the Spartans on Ohio State's level? No, probably not. But at the least, Mark Dantonio's team will present the biggest challenge to the Buckeyes when the two meet on November 21.

2. Harbaugh gets first win at Michigan

Michigan's first game of the 2015 season was not pretty. The first quarter of its second game? Not much better. But the Wolverines asserted their dominance over Oregon State as Saturday afternoon wore on, and eventually secured a convincing win.

Jake Rudock was still maddeningly mediocre at quarterback, but Michigan won this game behind its defense. It held the Beavers to just 138 total yards on 53 plays — 2.6 yards per play — and in the game's final 58 minutes, that yards per play average sunk to 1.28. Oregon State failed to mount a drive that lasted more than four plays in the second half.

And that's how the Wolverines will have to win this year. With Rudock at the helm, this is never going to be a high-flying offense. But the defense might just be good enough to cause some problems in the Big Ten.

3. Bad losses for Maryland, Rutgers

On paper, it doesn't look awful for Rutgers. But the Scarlet Knights were burned late by a Washington State team that lost to FCS Portland State in Week 1. WSU quarterback Luke Falk led a 90-yard touchdown drive in the second half two-minute drill, and won the game with an 8-yard touchdown toss with just 13 seconds left.

Maryland, meanwhile, went into full-on defensive meltdown mode in the second half of its matchup against Bowling Green. The Falcons lit up the Terrapins for 42 second-half points en route to a 48-27 victory, with quarterback Matt Johnson throwing for 491 yards and 6 touchdowns. Any thoughts that either of these two teams could challenge for the third spot in the East should probably be put to rest.

Other games

- Iowa might actually be half decent. The Hawkeyes won ¡EL ASSICO! 31-17 on the road against a not-as-bad-as-you-might-think Iowa State team, and did so with a dominant defensive performance in the second half.

- Minnesota barely clawed themselves to safety, and to a 1-1 record, after a scare from Colorado State. Golden Gophers QB Mitch Leidner was forced to throw 45 passes — never a good sign — as Colorado State led for much of the fourth quarter. After Leidner led what looked to be a game-winning touchdown drive late, the Rams sent the game to overtime with a field goal as time expired, but Minnesota prevailed in OT, 23-20.

- Wisconsin looked mighty impressive in a 58-0 beatdown of Miami (OH). Running back Corey Clement did not play in the game, but the Badgers offense carried on seamlessly without him. The defense also forced four RedHawk turnovers.

- Ohio State only led Hawaii 17-0 at the end of the third quarter, but the end result was never in doubt. Both Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett played, and the Buckeyes eventually pulled away for a 38-0 victory.

- Illinois destroyed FCS Western Illinois 44-0.

- Penn State stumbled their way to a 27-14 win over Buffalo.

- Purdue easily beat FCS Indiana State 38-14.

- Nebraska rolled against South Alabama, 48-9.