College football

Ohio State still looks formidable in Big Ten

2013-09-25T17:22:00Z 2013-09-25T18:35:28Z Ohio State still looks formidable in Big TenNoah Trister AP Sports Writer nwitimes.com
September 25, 2013 5:22 pm  • 

The Big Ten has already started conference play — Wisconsin beat Purdue 41-10 last weekend — but this Saturday night is the first marquee game between league opponents.

Wisconsin at Ohio State in Columbus.

The 23rd-ranked Badgers endured one of the more bizarre losses of the college football season at Arizona State on Sept. 14. The clock ran out while Wisconsin was trying to set up a field goal to win the game. The Pac-12 later issued a statement acknowledging errors by its officiating crew.

A win over fourth-ranked Ohio State would go a long way toward helping the Badgers get over the loss to Arizona State — if they haven't already.

The Buckeyes and Badgers won't have to share the spotlight much. Half the Big Ten has an open date this weekend.

While Wisconsin and Ohio State prepare for their showdown, here's a look at five story lines that have unfolded through the first month of the season:

STILL THE FAVORITES: Braxton Miller's injury has done little to slow Ohio State. The Buckeyes (4-0) raced out to a big lead and won 52-34 at California, then beat Florida A&M 76-0 last weekend. They did all that without Miller, who sprained a ligament in his left knee in the second game and hasn't played since. Kenny Guiton stepped in at quarterback and played well. Coach Urban Meyer says he's confident in both quarterbacks, and Miller could start against Wisconsin (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) if he has a good week of practice.

"They're both great quarterbacks, without question. Kenny's done a tremendous job of controlling the offense," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. "He's very poised, and it's amazing that they do have two quarterbacks of the quality that they have."

ALL OVER THE MAP: In-state rivals Michigan and Michigan State could still be in the hunt for a conference title when they play each other Nov. 2, but the Wolverines and Spartans have their share of concerns. Michigan (4-0) looked impressive while beating Notre Dame at home, but the Wolverines could have easily lost their next two games against Akron and Connecticut.

"I thought we played hard for 60 minutes, I don't know if we played well," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Tuesday, three days after the win over UConn.

Michigan State, meanwhile, hoped it had finally solved its uncertainty at quarterback when Connor Cook was named the starter before last week's game against Notre Dame. The Spartans (3-1) still struggled on offense, though, in a 17-13 loss.

NEBRASKA'S PROBLEMS: Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini has had a lot to deal with lately. Nebraska's defense isn't very good right now — a problem that dates at least as far back as the team's 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in last year's Big Ten title game. Then there's the matter of the 2-year-old audio of Pelini's expletive-filled rant against fans, which was leaked to the Deadspin.com sports website recently. Solve the defensive problems, and fans may be more likely to forgive and forget. The Cornhuskers (3-1) allowed 41 points in a loss to UCLA earlier this month.

"We're examining everything," Pelini said. "We need to clean ourselves up. We talked at length about it. ... We have to get it fixed."

UNBLEMISHED SO FAR: Northwestern and Minnesota are both 4-0. The Wildcats were expected to be good after winning 10 games a season ago, and they've won at California and beaten Syracuse at home this year.

Minnesota's wins have been less glamorous. The Golden Gophers were able to beat Western Illinois after coach Jerry Kill missed the second half because of a seizure. Minnesota hosts Iowa this weekend.

"It certainly will be an old-fashioned football game, and I like that," Kill said. "We know we've got a big challenge ahead."

ON THE RISE?: Illinois went winless in Big Ten play last season, and 2-10 overall. Already, there are signs of improvement for the Illini. They routed Cincinnati 45-17 and rallied late before losing 34-24 to Washington. Illinois (2-1) had last weekend off before this week's game against Miami of Ohio.

"I think (the week off is) advantageous for us, just because of the youth of the program," coach Tim Beckman said. "Hopefully we'll see this weekend."

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