For those who chose to tune out the early games of Week 8, you missed out on the best of B1G football for Week 8. There were two great football games to open up the weekend, but the rest of Saturday failed to live up to expectations.
Despite the lack of intrigue in the final three games of Week 8, there was plenty to glean from all the action. So, let’s get to the things we learned in Week 8.
1. J.T. Barrett is Big Ten’s best quarterback
Ohio State was supposed to be screwed without Braxton Miller at quarterback. However, eight weeks in to the season and the Buckeyes are anything but screwed with J.T. Barrett playing quarterback for them. This week he proved it against a pretty sturdy Rutgers defense, rushing for 107 yards and throwing for another 261 yards in the 56-17 win.
He also had five total touchdowns (two rushing and three passing), in leading the Buckeyes to an easy win. It’s been a trend over the past four games, where the Buckeyes offense is averaging 614 yards per game. Impressive stuff from a team and a quarterback left for dead after its Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech.
Barrett may not do everything the best in the Big Ten — but he does lead in touchdowns (20) and completion percentage (65.2 percent) second in passing yards per game (269.2), fourth in yards passing (1,615) and second among quarterbacks in rushing yards (383).
Not too shabby for the guy who was going to ruin a perfectly good season for the Buckeyes after Week 2, huh?
2. Ohio State should be Big Ten favorite
No doubt that two weeks from now all the speculation will end, but having seen Michigan State and Ohio State in multiple Big Ten games its clear to me that OSU should be considered the Big Ten favorite. They’ve got as many, if not more, weapons on offense and there’s little doubt which defense is better at this point in the season.
OSU is the more complete football team, and they’ve played the more difficult of the two schedules as well. The Buckeyes have beaten the two newcomers, while Michigan State had a struggle at times with the state of Indiana over the past two games.
Let’s see if my instinct is right in a few weeks, but I’ll trust what I see with my own two eyes over the preseason assumptions made without a football being kicked off in a game.
3. Big Ten West won’t be figured out until the very end
Iowa laid an egg on its trip to College Park, Northwestern couldn’t compete with Nebraska in the second half and Purdue nearly took down a previously unbeaten Minnesota Golden Gophers squad. Such is the nature of trying to figure out what in the hell is going on out West.
While Michigan State and Ohio State are clearly pulling away from the rest of the East division, no one appears to be pulling away from anyone out West. Instead, it’s a division you have to take week-by-week.
Sure, Nebraska looks the part of division winner in its win over Northwestern, but it also went to East Lansing and needed a furious 19-point fourth quarter comeback to even make it close.
Will the real contenders stand up the rest of this month, or is it going to come down to the final three weeks when Wisconsin takes on Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota right in a row? My money is on the latter being the case, as we don’t see a big trend happening towards one team over any of the other perceived contenders.
For fans, that means hang tight to your armchairs as it’s going to be a wild finish out West.
4. Minnesota is a real contender out West
As much as we don’t know who is going to win the Big Ten West right now, what we do know is there is only one team in the division that completely controls its own destiny…and its a team the national media didn’t care to cover — the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
The Gophers are 3-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since 1990, joining only Michigan State and Ohio State as the only currently undefeated teams in Big Ten play. Let that soak in to your brain for a moment.
Yet, only the latter two teams are seen as serious contenders. Some of that has been because Minnesota isn’t blowing people out of the water and the other two schools are, but the reality is the Gophers are winning and that’s all that matters.
Credit this team for knowing who they are, having a game plan and executing said game plan to perfection to date. They’ve got a great running back in David Cobb, who just so happens to be one of only five running backs in the country with over 1,000 yards (he’s No. 4 and the fourth from the B1G). Minnesota also happens to have a quarterback who doesn’t make many mistakes, and that is more than we can say for the majority of signal callers in this league.
However, we’re also seeing a growing passing game, which included one of the great touchdowns this past weekend. Quarterback Mitch Leidner uncorked a great 37-yard pass to KJ Maye, who then went superman for the touchdown, and if they can get more of that it only opens the run game further.
For me, winning in convincing fashion or by one point, no matter the opponent, tells me this team is confident in who they are and what they hope to achieve.
The trick to convincing the rest of the nation that they are a true contender is winning against fellow winning football programs. So far the Gophers’ three conference wins have come against teams that are a combined 4-7.
5. Good luck picking between Tony Lippett and Stefon Diggs for WR of the Year
Do you like explosive plays by your wide receivers? How about touchdown receptions? What about yards per reception? All three seem to be major categories that matter to those who do the voting for Wide Receiver of the Year, but they also happen to be three areas where Michigan State’s Tony Lippett and Maryland’s Stefon Diggs excel at.
This past Saturday, the two put the rest of the conference on notice that they’re more than willing and able to take over a game when called upon. See, Lippett had seven catches for 123 yards as the Spartans pulled away from Indiana and Diggs had nine catches for 130 yards and one touchdown as the Terps took Iowa out behind the woodshed.
It was a simple master class in how a wide receiver can affect the game by that duo on Saturday, and if you didn’t see either happen then…FOR SHAME. Either that or get on watchESPN or BTN2Go and check out the replays because it is worth it for their performances alone.
As it stands, Diggs is tied for the Big Ten lead in receptions (45) and is tied for sixth with four touchdowns. Lippett happens to lead the league with eight TD receptions and his 39 receptions are third in the league.
The race between these two is going to be perhaps the most fun to watch down the stretch outside of the running back position.