Big Ten morning links

How to best assess the track of a football program? Coaches and administrators often say it requires a full-season sample.

It's only Week 6. But the conference season is in full swing. Interesting trends are unfolding, and I want a method to gauge each program on a full season of football. So like a hitting streak that carries over from September to April, let’s blend 2013 and 2014 and look back one calendar year, to October 1, 2013, charting the records of Big Ten programs.

The results are revealing, though they don’t look all that much different from our current power rankings. With a tip of the cap to insightful Omaha radio personality Nick Bahe, who planted this idea in my head on Thursday like a weed that refused to die, here it goes:

Michigan State: 14-1

Nebraska: 11-3

Ohio State: 10-3

Wisconsin: 9-3

Iowa: 8-5

Minnesota: 8-5

Penn State: 8-5

Maryland: 7-7

Rutgers: 7-7

Indiana: 5-7

Michigan: 5-8

Illinois: 4-9

Northwestern: 3-9

Purdue: 2-10

So what does this say?

  • The middle of the league is as jumbled as it appears. Last week in filing my vote for the power rankings, I hit a wall below the top four and above the bottom five. The confusion, you can see, is rooted in last season. Between Iowa, Minnesota, Penn State, Rutgers and Maryland, each has had its moment over the past year to look like a contender. And each has looked awful at times; Penn State is taking its turn this week. Who emerges? The two Big Ten newbies get big opportunities to extend momentum on Saturday. Considering schedules and current level of play, Minnesota might be the safest bet.

  • Nebraska-Michigan State on Saturday in East Lansing may hold up as the game of the year in the Big Ten. Before the season, Ohio State’s visit to Spartan Stadium on Nov. 8 looked like a no-brainer as the hottest ticket of the season. It may still be. The Buckeyes don’t face a more difficult test than Saturday at Maryland before the MSU game. But Nebraska should not be overlooked. The Huskers have found something in quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., who is 12-1 as a starter, equal to the mark over his first 13 games of ex-Nebraska great Turner Gill and better than Tommie Frazier, Eric Crouch and Scott Frost. Winning breeds winning, and the Huskers have done a lot of it lately.

  • The problems at Northwestern and Michigan are not easily correctable. You knew this without makeshift standings that patch together two seasons despite quarterback changes and league shifts. Still, the problems at Michigan appear systemic, evidenced by the 3-5 finish to last season before the first three-loss September in school history. Northwestern was 1-7 after Oct. 1 last year. Its misery simply extended to 2014, though the win last week at Penn State offers new hope.

Let's go around the conference:

East Division

West Division