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Around the Big Ten, Week Three: Welcome back to the mild, mild west

The Big Ten West and the state of mediocrity go hand-in-hand.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

With Week Three in the rearview mirror, most Big Ten schools have wrapped up non-conference play and are now looking ahead to the Big Ten slate. At this point in the season, it’s starting to become clear who the top contenders are and which other teams are going to be left fighting to reach bowl eligibility. Looking at you, Big Ten West. But with that being said, welcome back to another edition of Around the Big Ten.

Big Ten East > Big Ten West…again

It seems that this becomes a talking point every season, but it looks like it’s proving to be true once more. Ever since the divisions shifted back in 2014 with addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the conference, the state of competitive balance between the two conferences has been uneven. This season, it has long been determined that the top three teams in the conference are all in the east in Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. Unfortunately, it looks like they might have the fifth and sixth-best teams as well in Maryland and Rutgers.

While Iowa, who happens to be the only other Big Ten program ranked in the AP Top 25 besides the Big Three, is looking like a strong contender in the West, especially after the offense showed up in a 41-10 win over Western Michigan on Saturday, there doesn’t seem to be much competition for them. Minnesota just got trounced by No. 17 North Carolina 31-13 this past weekend. Wisconsin seemed somewhat competitive against a top-25 school in Washington State a couple of weeks ago, so it might be the biggest challenger to Iowa by default. The rest of the schools in the West already have two losses and are all struggling with quarterback questions that will likely take them out of contention. Regardless, judging from early season results, whoever comes out of the west is due for a rude awakening in the Big Ten Championship once again.

No longer in a Rut(gers)

Speaking of the Big Ten East being the superior division, that fact is supported by the Scarlet Knights reaching Week Four with an unblemished record. While that’s likely to change this weekend after a road date with Michigan (although they do usually play the Wolverines very close), it feels important to acknowledge the strides that this program has made under Greg Schiano. It’s 3-0 this season after a 35-16 win at home against Virginia Tech on Saturday. Rutgers also sits at 1-0 in conference play after the season-opening win over Northwestern. On top of that, the Knights look to be in a position where a bowl game is well in sight despite a murderer’s row stretch of four games to end the season. There’s obviously some concerns to hash out moving forward, such as a passing offense that ranks 125th in the nation, but for now, it’s nothing but good times in Piscataway.

Nebraska is back! (for this week at least)

The good times extend to Lincoln after this weekend as the Cornhuskers became the final Big Ten team to enter the win column this season with a 35-11 win at home over Northern Illinois. The victory marked the first under new head coach Matt Rhule. It also marked the first win as the starting quarterback for sophomore Heinrich Haarberg, who looked like a marked improvement at the quarterback position for Nebraska. He went 14-for-24 for 158 yards passing and two touchdowns, adding 98 yards rushing with a touchdown on the ground. It is expected that Haarberg will once again be the starting quarterback this upcoming week in the team’s home game against Louisiana Tech, and it will be a good opportunity for him and the offense to polish things up before a big home game against the Michigan Wolverines the following week.

Big Ten pitching a shutout against the MAC?

The Big Ten is 7-0 against the MAC this season after Michigan took care of business against Bowling Green in its Saturday night game in the Big House this past weekend by a score of 31-6. At first glance, that may not seem very significant for two reasons. One: in all of those matchups, the Big Ten team was favored. Secondly, the Big Ten is supposed to be a significantly stronger conference in general. However, a very important streak is on the cusp of being broken, and that streak will be on the line when Akron travels to take on Indiana this upcoming Saturday night. Seemingly unknown to most, the MAC has a 16-year streak (COVID year not included) of having at least one of its programs beating a Big Ten opponent in football, dating all the way back to Oct. 14, 2006 when Ohio upset Illinois on a last-second field goal. So far, the Big Ten has managed to dodge those bullets and seems relatively safe in being able to put an end to the MAC’s run due to the state of Akron football, but you never know with this conference rivalry. Akron at Indiana is the game to watch next weekend… well, except for this next one.

Non-existent big wins in non-conference play

There’s a pretty big game on the docket this weekend for those who haven’t heard. No. 5 Ohio State travels to South Bend to take on No. 9 Notre Dame in South Bend Saturday night fresh off of a 63-10 trouncing of Western Kentucky. The game is not only big for Ohio State and its college football playoff chances, but it is also big for the entire Big Ten. The conference hasn’t made a lot of noise in non-conference play up to this point. Save for a Penn State win over a pretty average West Virginia squad in Week One, the results — and the level of competition — have been underwhelming across the league. While some may groan at the idea of “rooting for the conference,” this may be one of those occasions where it’s warranted, as it’s important for one of the top teams in the Big Ten to look the part for really the first time in 2023.

Other Scores

Maryland 42, Virginia 14

No. 18 Duke 38, Northwestern 14

No. 7 Penn State 30, Illinois 13

No. 8 Washington 41, Michigan State 7

Louisville 21, Indiana 14

Wisconsin 35, Georgia Southern 14

Syracuse 35, Purdue 20