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Wolverines hit Top 25 behind stingy defense

FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2015 file photo, BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum (12) is sacked by Michigan linebacker Noah Furbush (59) in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich. Michigan is back in The Associated Press poll, ranked No. 22 in part because its defense is steadily improving under coach Jim Harbaugh.(AP Photo/Tony Ding)

EAST DIVISION

1. Ohio State (4-0, 0-0)

Here’s a streak likely to continue another week: Ohio State enters its game at Indiana having won 14 consecutive road games, the longest active streak in the nation. “There is something special about going on somebody else’s turf and playing well,” coach Urban Meyer said.

This week: at Indiana, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. (ABC/ESPN2)

2. Michigan State (4-0, 0-0)

There are beginning to be signs that Pat Narduzzi is no longer the Spartans’ defensive coordinator. MSU is 107th among FBS teams in pass defense (277 yards per game) and 77th in total defense (395.8). Under Narduzzi, MSU finished in the top 10 in total defense in each of the past four seasons.

This week: Purdue, Saturday, 11 a.m. (ESPN2)

3. Michigan (3-1, 0-0)

The blowout victory over BYU (a team that may have been emotionally spent) combined with an impressive romp from Utah (a team that defeated Michigan by only seven at home) are indications the Wolverines are better than previously thought. Defense is a big reason.

This week: at Maryland, Saturday, 7 p.m. (BTN)

4. Indiana (4-0, 0-0)

The Hoosiers may have lost Tevin Coleman to the NFL but have found a gem in UAB transfer Jordan Howard, who leads the nation with 675 rushing yards and ranks fourth with 743 all-purpose yards. Coach Kevin Wilson describes Howard as smart, mature, professional, no-nonsense and somebody who’s taken advantage of facilities and coaching in developing at Indiana.

This week: Ohio State, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. (ABC/ESPN2)

5. Penn State (3-1, 1-0)

The Nittany Lions are still working out some offensive kinks. Among the biggest issues is a 29 percent conversion rate on third-down plays (16-of-55), including a 4-of-15 showing against San Diego State. PSU also has converted only seven of 15 red zone trips into touchdowns.

This week: Army, Saturday, 11 a.m. (ESPNU)

6. Maryland (2-2, 0-0)

Caleb Rowe, elevated to starting quarterback two weeks ago, threw four interceptions and was pulled in a 45-6 loss to West Virginia, but will remain the Terps’ starter, coach Randy Edsall said. As for a local newspaper report of a 6:45 players-only meeting Tuesday morning? “That’s news to me,” Edsall said.

This week: Michigan, Saturday, 7 p.m. (BTN)

7. Rutgers (2-2, 0-1)

Imagine the job Rutgers interim coach Norries Wilson has in recruiting during Kyle Flood’s three-game suspension. Wilson doesn’t seem to mind, though. “I don’t like flying, but I enjoy recruiting.” He said Rutgers’ current commitments are still on board, and others who were showing interest still are.

This week: idle

WEST DIVISION

1. Wisconsin (3-1, 0-0)

Strong defense is developing as a theme for most West Division contenders, led by Wisconsin, the only team in the nation to have not allowed a touchdown over the past three weeks. The Badgers are riding a streak of 188 minutes, 2 seconds without giving up a TD.

This week: Iowa, Saturday, 11 a.m. (ESPN)

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2. Northwestern (4-0, 0-0)

Raise your hand if you had the Wildcats going unbeaten in nonconference play with a No. 16 ranking and a serious West Division contender. That’s what Pat Fitzgerald’s team is after an impressive victory over Stanford and a solid road victory over Duke, teams that have won each of their other three games. Fitzgerald said he likes the calm presence of his team.

This week: Minnesota, Saturday, 11 a.m. (BTN)

3. Iowa (4-0, 0-0)

Iowa hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown this season, quarterback C.J. Beathard is completing 68.2 percent of his passes and the Hawkeyes are finally doing some things on offense that aren’t, well, boring. Maybe there’s something to this talk of a new Kirk Ferentz. Saturday will give us a clearer picture.

This week: at Wisconsin, Saturday, 11 a.m. (ESPN)

4. Minnesota (3-1, 0-0)

Jerry Kill said his team has been “decimated” by injuries, with seven starters who sat out a narrow victory over Ohio. “Our young kids are hanging in there,” Kill said. Added to the list is cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who is questionable for Northwestern with a knee injury but won’t need surgery, Kill said.

This week: at Northwestern, Saturday, 11 a.m. (BTN)

5. Nebraska (2-2, 0-0)

What separates Nebraska from other divisional contenders? Eight Big Ten teams rank among the top 30 in FBS in total defense. Nebraska (453 yards per game) is not one of them. All other teams in this division are, though, except Purdue.

This week: at Illinois, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. (BTN)

6. Illinois (3-1, 0-0)

Can Nebraska get pressure on quarterback Wes Lunt? The Illinois starting offensive line has allowed only two sacks in four games, and the Illini rank 13th nationally with three sacks allowed this season (the second-string group allowed one).

This week: Nebraska, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. (BTN)

7. Purdue (1-3, 0-0)

If it’s not one issue holding back Purdue, it’s another. Paul Griggs missed four field goals all of last season and already has missed 5 of 8 attempts this year, including two misses in a surprisingly close 35-28 loss to Bowling Green.

This week: at Michigan State, Saturday, 11 a.m. (ESPN2)

By the numbers

8

Teams in the Big Ten allowing an average of fewer than 20 points per game — Northwestern (8.8), Michigan (9.5), Wisconsin (9.5), Ohio State (12.3), Penn State (16.3), Iowa (17.8), Minnesota (18.5) and Illinois (19.0). Combined, those teams have faced nine opponents ranked among the top 50 scoring offenses in FBS (averages of at least 34 points).

24

Consecutive Big Ten Conference regular-season victories for Ohio State, a Big Ten record. The Buckeyes have gone 8-0 each of the past three seasons in the conference regular season.

Game of the week

Iowa at Wisconsin, Saturday, 11 a.m. (ESPN)

Wisconsin is 71-7 at home since 2004 and has won 10 straight games at Camp Randall Stadium, but is just 1-2 at home against Iowa since 2005.  In both losses, Iowa rallied from a 10-0 deficit to win 20-10. In Iowa City, the Badgers have won four of the past five in this series. Can they establish a home edge in his rivalry that will help begin to lay out the Big Ten West race?

Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or brosenthal@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBR.

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