Buckeyes are Big Ten's lone title contender
After unbeaten Ohio State and one-loss Michigan were depantsed in BCS bowls last season, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was hoping for a better start to the 2007 season. Unfortunately, his conference couldn't make it out of the first week unscathed.Michigan, ranked fifth in the preseason, became the first top-five team ever to lose to a Division I-AA opponent when Appalachian State upset the Wolverines in Week 1. Just to prove that was no fluke, Michigan got rolled the next week by visiting Oregon.
Six weeks into the season, we've learned a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of college football's top teams. But major questions still loom. ESPN.com reviews the first half of the season.
• Milian: Midseason report
• Team-by-team breakdown Big 12
• Griffin: Midseason report
• Team-by-team breakdown Big East
• Starkey: Midseason report
• Team-by-team breakdown Big Ten
• Hooley: Midseason report
• Team-by-team breakdown ND, non-BCS
• Rittenberg: Midseason report
• Miller: Midseason report
• Team-by-team breakdown SEC
• Higgins: Midseason report
• Team-by-team breakdown
Biggest surpriseIt's no shock Ohio State is 6-0, given a schedule that's heavy on dessert and light on meat. It's the Buckeyes' emergence as the Big Ten's lone unbeaten and favorite to win a second straight outright championship that wasn't expected. OSU's 27-point disparity between its offensive average (34 points per game) and defensive average (seven) is nine points better than any other team in the league. Despite losing three juniors to the NFL a year early, Ohio State lacks the glaring weakness that exists on every other contender hoping to bump coach Jim Tressel's program off the top of the standings.
Biggest disappointmentMichigan started the season No. 5 and hasn't made it back into the Top 25 since losing to Division I-AA Appalachian State. That's disappointing enough. What's really crushing is that even with tailback Mike Hart (who's been a warrior, and bears no responsibility for the Wolverines' downfall), quarterback Chad Henne, left tackle Jake Long and wide receiver Mario Manningham, Michigan is ninth in the league in scoring (25.3 PPG) Michigan knew it would have to outscore teams to cover the inadequacies of an inexperienced defense. So far, it hasn't proven capable of that.
Midseason MVPIllinois coach Ron Zook told tailback Rashard Mendenhall the Illini could have a special season if he had a big year. No wonder the Illini are 5-1 after going a combined 4-19 the previous two seasons. Mendenhall has given Illinois a dependable every-down threat with breakaway ability. He's had four 100-yard games and ranks second in the league in rushing at 128.7 yards per game. His 10 touchdowns are tied for the Big Ten lead.
Midseason coach of the yearIt's a virtual dead heat between Illinois' Ron Zook and Indiana's Bill Lynch. Zook has directed the Illini to their first back-to-back wins over ranked opponents in consecutive weeks since 1959, and has them in the Top 25 (No. 18) for the first time since 2001. One of Illinois' wins was a 27-14 victory at Indiana, so how is Lynch in the conversation? His Hoosiers are also 5-1, and bearing down on bowl eligibility for the first time since 1993. There would be no better story in college football if Indiana attained that goal in the aftermath of coach Terry Hoeppner's death this past summer. Hoeppner, when he took over in Bloomington three years ago, made it his mission to "Play 13." Lynch, for holding the program together and perhaps getting to the postseason, deserves plenty of credit.
Bowl boundOhio State, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin. Bruce Hooley has covered the Big Ten for more than two decades and now is host of a daily talk show on WBNS-AM 1460 in Columbus, Ohio.
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