As September begins to wane, the Big Ten season is just on the horizon. This week marks the last non-conference games before the conference season begins.
For most the teams in the Big Ten, the upcoming weekend is the last chance for them to improve against weaker opponents before starting their more difficult schedules.
Coming off big non-conference losses to ranked opponents, Ohio State and Purdue both look to rebound against Troy and Central Michigan, respectively.
“We played a really tough Oregon team Saturday,” Purdue head coach Joe Tiller said Tuesday. “It was good for our team to step up and play against an opponent such as Oregon … Now we’re looking forward to the daunting task of playing Central Michigan. … They will be a real handful for us.”
Bye week a hit among coaches
Three teams in the conference — Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan — have the weekend off and will be using the time to rest, get healthy and put on the finishing touches.
“I’d take [the week off] any time we could get it,” Illinois head coach Ron Zook said. “Right before we get into the Big Ten schedule, it helps your guys in terms of academics. … It helps a young football team continue to improve.”
Coming off a big win at Fresno State, Wisconsin has a bye before traveling to Ann Arbor to face off against the Wolverines Sep. 27. Last weekend, Michigan lost to Notre Dame to drop to 1-2 on the season.
“We have a very challenging schedule in front of us starting with Michigan on the road,” Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said. “[Michigan head coach Rich] Rodriguez and his crew have the bye week as well, so they’re going to be a much improved team from what we’ve seen on film.”
The Badgers sit at 3-0, and Bielema is looking for his team to continue to improve before facing conference rival Michigan.
“This week we’re going to take a breath and see where we’re at and get better as a football team and get healthy,” Bielema said.
Big Ten off to strong start
The Big Ten boasts five 3-0 teams in the conference, tied for the national lead in that category. Though some may attribute that to weak scheduling, the Big Ten coaches are ignoring the criticism and trying to stay focused.
Surprisingly, Minnesota is in that undefeated group and may go 4-0 when it faces Florida Atlantic this coming weekend.
“We are one of those teams that are 3-0 at this point, and I am very proud of our football team,” Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster said. “[Florida Atlantic] is without question in my mind one of the best 1-2 teams in the country. … It’s an impressive football team across the board.”
Last year, the Golden Gophers finished with an atrocious 1-11 overall record, and this year have already tripled their win total.
“Our quarterback is playing at an extremely high level,” Brewster said. “We’re No. 1 in the nation in red zone efficiency. … Our team is being rewarded for the tremendous commitment and work that our players have put into the team.”
Paterno looks for upperclassmen leadership
Among those 3-0 teams is Penn State, which plays Temple this week before hosting the Fighting Illini Sept. 27. Penn State head coach Joe Paterno has looked to its team leaders to keep his team in check.
“We’re fortunate to have some leadership in the upperclassmen,” Paterno said. “The younger kids seem to understand that. … If there are any sloppy practices, we’re just not going to put up with that.”