Week 4: Five things We Learned About Big Ten Football

Five things we learned about Big Ten football in Week 4 . . .

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1, The Badgers are tough enough to keep toughing it out.

That shocking loss to BYU wasn’t good. But Wisconsin bounced back well, grinding out a tough win at Iowa in a showdown that has determined the Big Ten West winner the last four years. The Badgers still face daunting road trips to Michigan and Penn State. But they have the running game and defense to be road warriors. And it's time to stop under-rating Alex Hornibrook. With a stat line like this—17 of 22 for 205 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a clutch game-winning drive—in the cauldron of a Nile Kinnick Stadium night game, he deserves some serious respect..

2, Penn State needs to find some defense. In a hurry.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

Quick question: If Illinois can average 5.4 yards per rushing attempt, how many yards will Ohio State average? That’s the question the Nittany Lions will ponder leading up to their Saturday showdown with Ohio State after the Illini ran for 245 yards on 45 carries. The positive: After falling behind 24-21 early in the third quarter, Penn State scored 42 unanswered points to win 63-24. But a defense that asks its offense to score in bunches is not a championship recipe.

3, After another old-fashioned thrashing, there might be a new intrigue at Ohio State.

After the Buckeyes took Tulane to the woodshed 49-6, The Athletic reported that Ohio State officials are working on a deal that would make Ryan Day their ``coach in waiting.’’

Nope, athletic director Gene Smith indicated in a Tweet: ``We obviously are appreciative of Coach Day’s great work, and hope he continues to be one of our offensive coordinators for a long time, but we are more than confident Coach Meyer will be our head coach for quite some time.''

Before Smith weighed in, people were left to wonder how a ``coach in waiting’’ deal would work? Day, 39, already was a hot commodity who turned turned down the Mississippi State job and became the Buckeyes’ first million-dollar coordinator. As interim coach while Urban Meyer served a three-game suspension, Day raised his stock even more in a 3-0 start that included a solid win over TCU in Texas.

The thing is, Meyer is 54. That’s 12 years younger than Nick Saban, if you’re keeping score at home. If there is any substance to the report, how long would Day be waiting? Another question: Is Ohio State thinking about guiding Meyer into early ``retirement’’ to anoint a younger coach who doesn’t have suspension baggage?

Apparently not. But stay tuned. Especially when big-time programs in need of a coach come knocking on Day's door.

4, Spartans get back on the horse. But it’s a tricky pony.

After a narrow escape vs. Utah State and a disappointing loss at Arizona State, Michigan State got a much-needed 35-21 win at Indiana in its Big Ten opener. But if you were looking for a dominant performance from a veteran team that was considered a genuine threat to elbow past Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan in the Big Ten East, that jury is still out. Quarterback Brian Lewerke also caught the first pass of his career as Michigan State survived four turnovers.

Personally, I’d rather see a team save the gimmicky stuff for its biggest opponents. But let’s give Indiana, which got off to a nice 3-0 start, credit. MSU coach Mark Dantonio did.

``It’s very, very hard to win. Anywhere, any time,’’ he said. ``We keep trying [to win big]. Believe me. Indiana has got a good football team. Why didn’t we deliver the knockout punch? Credit [Indiana coach] Tom Allen and his football team. They did a nice job. They kept hanging in there.’’

Is Sparty going to be able to go toe-to-toe with tougher opponents? We’ll find out in mid-October, when Michigan State plays Penn State and Michigan back-to-back.

5, Shades of red: Rutgers and Nebraska are very messy

These are rough times for the beacons of scarlet that guard the eastern and western boundaries of Jim Delany's Big Ten empire.

Nebraska is off to an 0-3 start for the first time since 1945. And Rutgers is worse.

Here’s why: Chris Ash is in his third year of the ``rebuild’’ at Rutgers. Scott Frost is in his first year of restoring Nebraska to football relevance—and still illuminated by his unbeaten marvel at UCF last season.

Getting drilled at Michigan 56-10, as the Cornhuskers did on Saturday, is nasty stuff that no doubt has stomachs churning in the land of Omaha Steaks.

Getting drilled at home by Buffalo 42-13 is even less palatable. Especially when it comes a week after getting drilled 55-14 by Power Five punching bag Kansas. At least the 52-3 loss at Ohio State was. . . at Ohio State.

Frost, still a hero in Nebraska from his Cornhusker playing days, has some things going for him. For one, it’s his first year. For another, Nebraska fans seem to be reasonable people who are still content to direct their venom at previous coaches rather than a legendary native son who has returned to restore Nebraska to gridiron glory.

Ash rates such breaks. Rutgers went 3-6 in Big Ten play last year. That's looking like the halcyon days now. Where the Scarlet Knights' next win will come from, nobody knows. Even Illinois, which last won a Big Ten game the week before Donald Trump was elected, figures to be the favorite when it comes to Piscataway on Oct. 6.

Barring a shocking turn of events, the messy Rutgers situation is only going to get messier—for very understandable reasons.[/membership]