The Big Ten East is a gaudy 20-1. Which gives it the best record in the nation.
But it heads into Week 4 with a one-game losing streak.
Michigan State suffered the lone loss in prime time on Saturday night, falling to No. 18 Washington in Seattle 39-28. No shame in that.
Here’s what we’ve learned about the Big Ten East in the first three weeks of this season: It knows how to schedule, but it also knows how to play the game.
The signature win is No. 14 Penn State’s 41-12 throttling of Auburn on Saturday on the Plains. Look for Auburn to seek disaster relief. Or, barring that, look for the school to hire a new coach. Right after it hires a new athletic director. Auburn takes its football very seriously in the Land of It Just Means More.
When No. 3 Ohio State beat then-No. 5 Notre Dame 21-10, it looked like that grinding win would be the Big Ten East’s signature win. Since then, however, the Irish have lost to Marshall and squeaked past Cal.
Which brings us to the key point about the Big Ten East: The Buckeyes, who were deemed to be head-and-shoulders above their division rivals before the season began, will have to prove that in the actual season.
Not only is Penn State, which also had a good road-opening win at Purdue, looking very capable.
No. 4 Michigan, which has pummeled Colorado State, Hawaii and UConn by a combined 166-17, looks like it’s very serious about proving that last year was no fluke. Having gotten off the Ohio State schneid, Jim Harbaugh is intent on more.
We may learn a bit more about the Wolverines this week, when they host Maryland. The 3-0 Terms, who had a good win 34-27 over SMU last week, are supposed to be improved. But the Big House will be a big test of that.
J.J. McCarthy has edged out Cade McNamara for the Michigan quarterback job. All McNamara did was lead the Wolverines to the College Football Playoff last year. McCarthy faces the challenge of leading Michigan to an actual CFP win. That’s what happens when you’re QB1 of an offense that averages 55.3 points a game, tops in the nation.
With Ohio State and Michigan rated right behind Georgia and Alabama among the nation’s top four teams, and Penn State lurking very seriously, the Big Ten East has a chance to live up to its hype. At the very least, it should be an interesting race.
That’s especially true because in a division that’s 20-1, upsets are a very real possibility.
WEEK 4 GAMES OF NOTE
The Big Ten West has some opportunities to clear its name this week. But some of those opportunities are also perilous.
@ Not sure whether Badger fans should be excited, or ready to cover their eyes when Wisconsin travels to Ohio State on Saturday night. Wisconsin is an 18-point underdog in what is supposed to be ABC’s marquee game.
The problem is, the Badgers were befuddled by Washington State, losing 17-14 when they were shut out in the second half. The Big Ten West favorite will need to make some giant strides to avoid disaster in the Horseshoe. Wisconsin doesn’t need to win. But a beatdown could have lingering effects.
@ Iowa, the West’s other perennial power, does need to win this week. The Hawkeyes are favored to beat Rutgers by a touchdown. The thing is, Rutgers seems to be improved. And if it has won its two road games, at Boston College and at Temple, by a mere three points, road wins are always good things. Greg Schiano has the Scarlet Knights on the road to respectability. That road is a slippery slope for Iowa these days.
@ Minnesota, looking like the best dark-horse threat to win the West, faces a telling road trip to Michigan State. The Gophers, who have gobbled up three cupcakes (New Mexico State, Western Illinois and Colorado) by a combined 149-17, are a 2.5-point favorite against the Spartans. MSU, which has gotten used to winning under Mel Tucker, may be an underdog in Las Vegas. Let’s see how that goes in East Lansing.
@ When Northwestern surprised Nebraska in Ireland, it looked like the Wildcats might exceed low expectations. Since then, though, NU has been humbled at home by Duke and Southern Illinois. The Cats, who are favored by a touchdown against Miami (Ohio), can’t afford another slipup.
@ Nobody expects Indiana, a 17-point underdog, to give Cincinnati much of a game. But IU, a quiet 3-0 after holding off Western Kentucky in overtime, played with the Bearcats for a while last year. And Tom Allen has shown an ability to have the Hoosiers prepared.