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Assessing the Big Ten after September

Wisconsin football is 3-1 through the first whole month of the season.

The Big Ten capped off the month of September with a game for the ages. Wisconsin football was not a participant, but perennial powers Ohio State and Penn State were. The 27-26 final score indicates exactly how exciting this game was and it went a long way in showing the Big Ten is a conference worth paying attention to moving forward.

Up until the game in Happy Valley, the Big Ten was quickly losing respect amongst college football fans. Wisconsin lost to BYU, Michigan has been beating up on cupcakes since its loss to Notre Dame, nobody knows how good Michigan State is, and everybody knows how bad Northwestern and Nebraska are. The strength of the conference was in the hands of Ohio State and Penn State, who led the country in scoring heading into the weekend.

Trace McSorley was unstoppable. The only thing that got in his way was his own head coach. McSorley was knifing the Buckeye defense all night. He had 175 yards rushing to go with 286 passing. On the final drive of the game, with Penn State needing a score to win, James Franklin called a draw on 4th and 5, effectively taking the ball out of McSorley’s hands. The Buckeyes stuffed it, clinching the comeback win.

The Buckeyes are a program on fire. Down two scores with roughly eight minutes left in the game they just refused to die. If TCU and Penn State couldn’t beat them, I’m not sure anybody left on the schedule can.

The Badgers have been seen as a weak team in recent years because of a relatively weak conference around them. The strength of schedule is seemingly never enough for the Badgers to earn respect.

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Well, this year is finally different. Michigan is as good as Badger fans could have asked for. A hypothetically undefeated Wolverines team might beg to differ, but they didn’t deserve to beat the Irish. Penn State will likely only have one loss as well when it hosts the Badgers in November if it can get by Michigan the week before. With what I’ve seen so far from both teams, I would expect that to be the case.

Wisconsin and Michigan are probably in the next tier of the Big Ten. We’ll find a lot out about both of these teams in two weeks when the Badgers visit the Big House. Unfortunately, we have to wait a week to get there. The Badgers host winless Nebraska and Michigan hosts Maryland next weekend. Both teams should win with ease setting up a matchup that will see the winner stomping out the final embers on the loser’s College Football Playoff hopes.

Purdue is looking up in the Big Ten West. The Boilermakers beat Boston College handily two weeks ago and just put up 42 on Nebraska in Lincoln. They’re the second-best team in the division and will be a tough late-season game for the Badgers.

Iowa will come off a bye and go to Minnesota in an attempt to rebound. It’s not the toughest game out there but the Hawkeyes will still have to work for it. They have a lot to prove after the loss to Bucky in Kinnick Stadium.

With the emergence of Notre Dame as a Playoff contender and the strength of the SEC, the Big Ten is firmly in the second tier of conferences after September. It boasts as many Playoff contenders as the Big 12 (probably more), and more than the ACC and Pac 12. If there’s only to be one spot up for grabs in the Playoff after Notre Dame and the SEC is done with it, the Big Ten has a great shot to claim it.

Next: State of Wisconsin’s 2019 recruiting class

And that means Wisconsin is still alive too. I’m anxious to see what this team looks like out of the bye week and I hope to be pleased. The Big Ten as a whole is trending upwards. Wisconsin must prove to be as well to keep pace with the rest of the league.

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