Big Ten Playbook: Terps up. Wildcats confuse. Illini wobble

Things I learned on a relatively quiet college-football weekend. . .

NORTHWESTERN IS A MYSTERY

We’re not likely to see it this Saturday, when Penn State comes to Evanston. But Northwestern has the potential to make a lot out of this season.

I would like to see Clayton Thorson throw with more accuracy and touch, and tone down the heaters. But that can be done. Although it would be a lot easier if his O line protected him better. . . I want to see how talented runner Justin Jackson bounces back from a tough 25-yard day against the ferocious Badger defense. I also want to see if he can shake off whatever leg injury is hampering him.

If NU gets its act together, it could be a good year. If it doesn’t, every week holds danger.

NO COMMENT. WELL, ONE OR TWO COMMENTS.

Recapping. . . Northern Illinois 21, Nebraska 17 in Lincoln. . . and Nebraska 28, Illinois 6 in Champaign.

I know. I know. Lovie Smith is restocking the cupboard. It’s too soon to judge.

All I’ll say is, it’s a good thing the Illinois Legislature is so flush that it hasn’t mandated that the Illini keep the cash at home by playing instate teams.

Except that flush isn’t the right word. Or is it?

THE LEAGUE IS SORTING ITSELF OUT. SORT OF.

As the only viewer in America who has never watched American Idol or Dancing with the Stars (well, maybe a bit of Cubs hero David Ross), I have resisted the trend toward Power Rankings this autumn.

I don’t believe in ranking singing, dancing, ice dancing. But I guess everybody wants football Power Rankings. So I’m back.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

Your Big Ten Power Rankings.

HEAVYWEIGHT CONTENDERS

1, Penn State: Always nice to have a Heisman favorite.

2, Wisconsin: The best in the West. By a lot.

3, Ohio State: Can't wait to see them vs. Nittany Lions.

4, Michigan: Looking up from down the ladder in Big Ten East. But look out for Harbaugh maneuvers to change that.

MUDDLE IN THE MIDDLE

5, Maryland: They can't show strong in Columbus. Can they?

6, Northwestern: Still thinking they'll shore up their holes.

7, Michigan State: Ann Arbor trip this week will tell how serious this bounceback is.

8, Purdue: Revival? Great measuring stick vs. Gophers on Saturday.

9, Iowa: At some point, we'll find out more about the real Iowa. But not this week at Illinois.

A LITTLE MURKIER

10, Indiana: Indiana may not be that bad. But trying to find winners on their schedule? Forget it.

11, Minnesota: Toe stub vs. Terps not good optics for Fleck.

12, Nebraska: Punching Illinois in mouth doesn't impress. Let's see that against the Badgers.

BOTTOM FEEDERS

13, Illinois: If Illini aren't looking past Hawkeyes to Rutgers—oh, never mind.

14, Rutgers: They don't give participation medals in the Big Ten. But you can't beat the TV rights checks.

Surgeon General's warning: There isn’t a whole lot of margin between the top four teams. Same deal with the next eight—well, maybe not Nebraska. But I’m not ready to put the Cornhuskers down with hapless Rutgers and Illinois.

Oh, and by the way, if you want to argue that Rutgers should be 13th ahead of Illinois, you’ll get no argument from me. The way I see it, they’re going to settle that on the field in Champaign on Oct. 14. And won’t that be a dandy?

P.J. OR D.J.? WINNER GETS A P.B.&J.

What we learned in the initial Initial Bowl:

P.J. Fleck is the sizzle. D.J. Durkin is the steak.

Don’t get me wrong. I still want a seat on the S.S. P.J. Just give me the excursion fare for now. Fleck is a year behind Durkin in the process, even if he inherited a better cupboard.

Maryland had every reason to lose its Big Ten opener at Minnesota on Saturday. It was on the road, and on its third quarterback.

Minnesota had plenty of reasons to win. It was at home. It was unbeaten against a respectable nonconference slate. And it had coach P.J. pumping it up with all that Row the Boat stuff. The only things lacking were a maroon-and-gold skirt and some pom-poms.

So what happened? Maryland 31, Minnesota 24.

We found out that the Fleck cheerleading only goes so far.

And we found out that we need to stop under-estimating the Terrapins, no matter how many quarterbacks go down. After winning at Texas and Minnesota, they have earned that much.

Although this week’s trip to Ohio State is not going to strain the seams of the Maryland bandwagon.

The big question in my mind: Who is the backup to Max Bortenschlager? Hats off to Bortenschlager, the Terps’ third QB of this young season, who passed for two TDs and ran for another while completing 18 of 28 for 154 yards against what was supposed to be a pretty good Gopher defense.

I don’t know who to be more impressed with, Bortenschlager or Durkin and his offensive staff.[/membership]

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