Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa get out of the gate in Big Ten West race

Mo Ibrahim and the Gophers are laying their unbeaten record on the line at Michigan State.

Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Don’t look it up. Don’t even think about it. Just answer this question with the first name that pops into your head:

Who’s in first place in the Big Ten West?

No, it’s not Ohio State or Michigan (wrong division). No, it’s not the Packers (wrong league). No, it’s not Minnesota, Wisconsin or Iowa (none of which has played a Big Ten game yet).

It’s definitely not Nebraska (already fired its coach) or Purdue (coach under heavy fire) or even Illinois, an encouraging 3-1 overall but with only one conference game played — and lost — so far.

Are you picking up what I’m putting down here? The West’s first-place team — alone at 1-0 — is none other than Northwestern, which couldn’t even beat Duke or Southern Illinois in Evanston. But a 1-0 start is no joke, not this season, when the division appears to be more up for grabs than ever.

Three pretty good West teams — maybe the best three — open conference play Saturday on the road against East foes. Minnesota (-3) at Michigan State (2:30 p.m., BTN) is a chance for the Gophers to get to 4-0 and bust into the Top 25, where they ought to be already. Iowa (-7½) at Rutgers (6 p.m., FS1) is a chance for the Hawkeyes to get away from their fans in Iowa City, who burst new blood vessels with the offense’s every three-and-out. And Wisconsin (+19) at No. 3 Ohio State (6:30 p.m., Ch. 7) is a chance for the Badgers to … avoid embarrassing themselves? To at least give the Buckeyes a game? To make like it’s 2004 and actually win again in Columbus?

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The Gophers have faced a weak schedule so far, but they’ve been essentially flawless and arrived in East Lansing ranked No. 2 in the land in both total offense (554.7 yards per game) and total defense (170.3). Running back Mo Ibrahim, who missed nearly all of last season after tearing up his knee, is a new man. No. 1 receiver Chris Autman-Bell got knocked out for the rest of the year during last week’s blowout of Colorado, though, and that’s a hard hit.

“There’s a lot of people on this football team [who] can make a ton of plays for us,” coach P.J. Fleck said.

Michigan State has some guys, too. Spartans, 34-30.

Minnesota’s gaudy stats aside, the Big Ten’s best defense doesn’t belong to the Gophers. You won’t find it at Michigan, Wisconsin or Penn State. In this league, nobody does “D” like Iowa. Rutgers has gotten bigger, stronger and faster during Greg Schiano’s second act as coach, but the Scarlet Knights are still learning to apply those advancements toward winning ugly. This is an Iowa game, folks. By …read more

Source:: Chicago Sun Times


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