As Top 25 teams continue to fall, Big Ten is standing strong

The conference has two of the top five teams in the nation heading into week six.

Luke Middendorf

Despite its highly criticized start to the season, the Big Ten has found its way back to the top by claiming three unbeaten teams and has three teams boasting 4-1 records.

After Michigan’s monumental collapse in week one to Appalachian State, many football analysts deemed the Big Ten to be going through a down year.

But now, that same Michigan team has climbed back to a 3-2 overall record and has gone 2-0 in conference play, highlighted by an opening win over then conference favorite Penn State.

At the top of the conference lies AP Poll ranked No. 4 Ohio State, No. 5 Wisconsin, and No. 23 Purdue, all bringing 5-0 records into the week.

The Big Ten is now tied with the Big East for first among all conferences for undefeated teams, with three boasting perfect records.

While an unheard-of seven unbeaten teams from outside the Big Ten went down in last week’s games, three of the Big Ten’s four undefeated programs remained perfect with victories Saturday.

After starting 4-0, Michigan State suffered its first loss by a slim three points to the currently unbeaten Badgers.

In addition to the 5-0 teams, the Big Ten also has three teams with 4-1 records, in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan State.

Illinois and Indiana continue improvement

After winning just four games in the past two seasons combined, Illinois has gotten out to a strong start and already equaled that total in 2007 with a 4-1 record.

Last week the Fighting Illini knocked off then-No. 22 Penn State for their first win over a nationally ranked opponent since 2001.

In addition, the program is 2-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since the 1991 season.

Head coach Ron Zook has resurrected the Illinois program, but he does not want to admit that just yet.

“I don’t want to say we’ve turned it around,” Zook said. “We haven’t turned it around. But we’ve made some progress.”

Indiana has also had some resurgence in its program, but has done so by different means.

The Hoosiers have been on the rise the past few seasons under the reigns of the late Terry Hoeppner.

After losing Hoeppner to brain cancer early this year, Bill Lynch took over where Hoeppner left off by starting 4-1 for the second time in three seasons.

“Everything we do is on the foundation he (Hoeppner) brought,” Lynch said. “One of the things he did with these kids is bringing up the belief system that they can win. What we’ve done is no more than carrying out the foundation he brought here.”

The Hoosiers picked up their first victory in Iowa City since 1999 last week with a solid 38-20 victory over the Hawkeyes.

Wisconsin continues win streak, barely

The Badgers picked up a 37-34 win on Saturday against Michigan State to extend the nation’s longest active winning streak among all Football Bowl Subdivision schools to 14.

Wisconsin gave up 564 total yards to the Spartans, but still managed to come away with the victory.

“We don’t get any style points for doing things pretty,” said Badgers coach Bret Bielema, now 17-1 to start his career. “We are not a pretty football team.”

Players of the week

The co-offensive players of the week for the Big Ten are quarterback Kellen Lewis of Indiana and running back P.J. Hill of Wisconsin.

Lewis, a sophomore, completed an impressive 73.1 percent of his passes for a career best 322 yards and three touchdown strikes to lead the Hoosiers over Iowa on the road. Most impressively, Lewis somehow managed to throw a touchdown to himself by completing a pass which was then fumbled and picked up by Lewis as he blazed 71 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.

Hill, also a sophomore, took the ball 34 times for 155 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Wisconsin’s victory over Michigan State.

The defensive player of the week is Shawn Crable of Michigan. The senior linebacker racked up five tackles for a loss, while also forcing and recovering a fumble. Crable had a total of 10 tackles on the day, including eight solo stops.

For special teams, freshman kick returner Arrelious Benn of Illinois gained the honor by returning his first kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown and totaling 183 all-purpose yards on the day.