Five lessons from the first Saturday of conference play.
1. Michigan State looks legit: It's rare when a team wins a game despite losing the turnover battle 3-0. It's practically unheard of for a team to win by double digits despite a minus-3 turnover margin. Michigan State not only survived its early miscues but took control before halftime and never really looked back against No. 11 Wisconsin. Mark Dantonio's continued absence didn't faze the Spartans, who finally are showing the maturity to overcome adversity both on and off the field. Don Treadwell is handling play calls and big decisions extremely well, and Pat Narduzzi's defense held Wisconsin star John Clay in check. The Spartans don't play Ohio State this year, but they might challenge the Buckeyes for the league title.
2. Ohio State can be beat in league play: After four impressive victories, Ohio State raised some red flags with its performance at Illinois. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor once again was the team's only viable rushing threat until Dan Herron emerged late in the game. A quad injury limited Pryor's effectiveness in the second half, and Ohio State went back to a very conservative scheme. The defense stepped up nicely after a shaky start, but injuries continue to plague the unit, with safety Tyler Moeller (chest) the latest to go down. Ohio State still boasts the most talent and the fewest holes of any Big Ten team, but it probably won't be a cakewalk for Jim Tressel's crew.
3. Michigan, Northwestern need to tweak formula: Both the Wolverines and Wildcats are 5-0 right now, but neither squad has a long-term sustainable formula for success. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has been the nation's most dynamic player, but the Wolverines can't expect No. 16 to bail them out throughout Big Ten play without getting at least some improvement from Greg Robinson's defense. Northwestern has looked extremely sloppy the past two weeks, committing too many penalties and too many turnovers, but the Wildcats have upgraded their talent enough to survive with wins. The competition soon gets much tougher for both Michigan and Northwestern, and both teams need to clean up some things.
4. Penn State is mediocre, and Wisconsin might be, too: Sure, both teams lost road games to good opponents Saturday, but neither squad has looked impressive this season. Penn State's offense lacks experience at quarterback, but the offensive line just can't compete with top-shelf defenses like Iowa's. Quarterback Rob Bolden will get better, but Penn State needs to reevaluate things and find ways to get the offense going. Wisconsin simply isn't performing to its talent level on offense. The line hasn't been nearly as dominant as I thought, and the defense really misses Chris Borland. The questions about whether Bret Bielema can beat the good teams and take Wisconsin from a good to a great program are very valid right now. An experienced team should do better than this, plain and simple.
5. Iowa might have the Big Ten's most dominant defense: Iowa lost the Arizona game because of special teams and poor offensive line play, not defense. And other than allowing Arizona's late touchdown drive, Iowa's defense has looked flat-out dominant this season. The latest example came Saturday night against Penn State, which couldn't reach the end zone and recorded only 54 rushing yards. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn is still a beast, and cornerback Shaun Prater came up with a big play in the fourth quarter. The Big Ten might actually be an offense-first league this season, but Iowa continues to win with the same formula.