We are at the halfway point of the season, and it hasn't been a pretty first half of the season for the B1G Conference. The non-conference schedule set the tone as the conference claimed only one win against Top 25 competition, that being Michigan State over Boise State. Now, for the first time ever, the conference was shut out of the Coaches Poll. Not one ranked team! While it comes with an asterisk, as Ohio State is undefeated at the moment, it still is a huge embarrassment for the conference.
I say all of that to set up things as I give you the rundown of where the conference stacks up. At this point it really is hard to distinguish who is truly separating themselves from the rest of the pack.
1. Ohio State (6-0, 2-0): After squeaking past Michigan State and putting up 63 points on Nebraska, the Buckeyes have put themselves head and shoulders above the rest of the conference. Braxton Miller is a legitimate Heisman candidate, and Urban Meyer's offense appears to be finally hitting its stride. While the defense is still a question mark, they have proven to be the most consistent team thus far. Too bad for the conference that they can't represent them come bowl season.
2. Penn State (4-2, 2-0): After a horrendous 0-2 start, the Nittany Lions have reeled off four straight wins including giving Northwestern their first loss this past weekend. Bill O'Brien is proving what a quality coach he is, and he has Matt McGloin playing the best football of his career. They also seem to have a solid core of leadership that has helped this team respond from all the adversity. Beaver Stadium is also a huge home field advantage and could play a factor down the stretch.
3. Nebraska (4-2, 1-1): While Saturday was not good for the Huskers' stock, they still have played some of the better football in the conference thus far. They are the top scoring offense in the B1G and at any moment Taylor Martinez and company can go off, especially if they don't turn it over. While the defense has been a big letdown for Bo Pelini, his team definitely is loaded with talent. The bad news, they could drop in the rankings if they don't step it up. Their next four games are against Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State.
5. Northwestern (5-1, 1-1): It may be a little unfair to have the Wildcats this low, but two mediocre performances in the B1G so far land them here on the list. While I am a big Pat Fitzgerald fan and think Kain Colter is one of the most exciting players in the conference, I still have questions about their ability to navigate the conference. With Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State on the horizon, I think they will struggle physically against the big boys in the conference. They are a dark horse and could prove me wrong.
6. Michigan State (4-2, 1-1): At this point the Spartans don't seem to have what it takes to live up to the preseason hype. The defense has been a big disappointment, and outside of Le'Veon Bell, their offense really looks poor. Besides getting beat by Ohio State, they barely survived scares from Indiana and Eastern Michigan. At this point they look like the Buckeyes a season ago, with a little less talent. If their offensive line magically improves in the coming weeks they have a chance, but at this point I am penciling them in just above the .500 mark.
7. Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1): Much like the Spartans, the Badgers have been pretty average in about every category of the game. They also are getting off to very slow starts, making almost every game an adventure. Russell Wilson isn't walking through the door anytime soon, and Montee Ball and James Abbrederis are about all they have. Unfortunately for the conference, they'll will likely be representing the Leaders Division in the B1G Championship Game with the sanctions on Ohio State and Penn State.
8. Purdue (4-2, 0-1): Before getting crushed at the hands of the Wolverines, I would have had the Boilermakers in the top four. Not now. The defense has looked a lot less impressive following their showdown with the Irish a month ago, and the inconsistency at quarterback really limits the ceiling for this team. Still, they host Wisconsin this weekend and could place themselves in the driver's seat of the Leaders Division.
9. Iowa (3-2, 1-0): The Hawkeyes have new life after taking Minnesota to the woodshed this past Saturday. James Vandenberg has been a massive disappointment this year, and they are instead riding former walk-on fullback Mark Weisman (515 yards, 7 TD). This is one of the most average teams athletically in Kirk Ferentz career, which probably means he'll get coach of the year when the dust settles, per usual.
10. Minnesota (4-1, 0-1): Did anyone actually believe Minnesota was good after their 4-0 start? I sure hope not. If MarQueis Gray can return from his high ankle sprain it could help their odds, but I still see 4-6 losses coming down the stretch. Jerry Kill has them going in the right direction, but this team showed its true colors after getting a beatdown at Iowa. The only thing going in their favor is that they host their biggest games against Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska.
11. Indiana (2-3, 0-2): The Hoosiers have lost three straight games with their only win against an FBS school this season being 0-6 Massachusetts. They had Michigan State on the ropes last Saturday, but self-destructed in the second half and came away disappointed in the end. Kevin Wilson is proving himself as a solid offensive mind, and hopefully folks in Bloomington will give him time. While I expect them to grab a couple of more wins before the season, they will still be bottom feeders in the conference once more.
12. Illinois (2-4, 0-2): Who has scored the second fewest points in the conference while giving up the most points? You guessed it - Illinois. They've been on the wrong end of a lot of shellackings, and it is obvious Tim Beckman has a ton of work to do. At this point there just aren't enough weapons on either side of the ball, and on paper they could easily lose every remaining game.