Big Ten Weekly Football Release - Sept. 17

Minnesota's Max Shortell stepped in for an injured starter to help lead the Gophers to a 3-0 start.

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Sept. 17, 2012

Stringing Together Some `W's:  Three Big Ten teams will carry unblemished records into the final weekend of non-conference play following wins last weekend. Minnesota moved to 3-0 on the new season after defeating Western Michigan, Northwestern notched its third win of the season after knocking off ACC foe Boston College and Ohio State held off Pac-12 opponent California to win its third straight to start the new year. The Big Ten is one of four conferences in the nation with three or more teams holding 3-0 marks through the first three weeks of the 2012 season.

Quick Out of the Blocks:  The Big Ten's three unbeaten squads are among just 24 teams in the nation that have opened with three straight triumphs to start the 2012 campaign. Minnesota improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2008, when it started the season with four consecutive wins, a feat the Gophers can match this weekend with a victory over Syracuse. Northwestern is 3-0 for the third time in the last five years and can move to 4-0, also for the third time since 2008, should the Wildcats knock off South Dakota this Saturday. Ohio State is 3-0, the first time the Buckeyes have started with three wins to start the year since 2007, when they won 10 consecutive contests. A win Saturday would mark the sixth time since 2000 Ohio State would start the new season with at least four straight victories.

Where We Rank:  Six Big Ten teams are receiving votes in the latest Associated Press (AP) and USA Today coaches polls, including five teams appearing among the top 25 in at least one ranking. Ohio State leads the way at No. 16 in the AP poll, while Michigan and Michigan State join them among the top 20. The Wolverines were voted No. 17 by the coaches and No. 18 by the media, while the Spartans were rated No. 20 in the coaches poll and No. 21 in the media rankings. Nebraska returned to the top 25 in the AP poll at No. 25, while moving up two spots to No. 22 in the USA Today vote. Wisconsin was rated No. 24 by the coaches and received votes in the media poll. Northwestern also received votes from both the AP and coaches groups.

Putting Up Big Numbers: The third week of the season saw several outstanding individual performances from conference standouts, including eight student-athletes passing the 100-yards rushing mark, six quarterbacks reaching the 200-yards passing milestone and six wide receivers surpassing 100 yards receiving or nine catches on the week. Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah led all conference rushers with 167 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. Illinois signal caller Reilly O'Toole threw for 333 yards and five touchdowns to pace all conference quarterbacks. Ohio State's Devin Smith accounted for 145 receiving yards and two touchdowns, while Northwestern's Demetrius Fields finished with nine receptions.  In addition to impressive offensive efforts, Big Ten defensive student-athletes enjoyed successful performances, including nine players with 10 or more tackles and 10 with two tackles for loss. Wisconsin's Mike Taylor was the top tackler in the conference last week, finishing with 15, including 10 solos, while Penn State's Anthony Zettel finished with two sacks to lead a group of 10 defenders with two tackles for loss. A complete list of Week 3 stat leaders can be found on the Big Ten football blog at

Ranking Among the Nation's Best:  Through three weeks, numerous Big Ten standouts rank among the nation's statistical elite. Offensively, Northwestern's Venric Mark is seventh in the country in all-purpose yards per game, averaging 196.67 yards per contest. Illinois' Reilly O'Toole is eighth in the country with a 181.03 pass efficiency, Michigan's Denard Robinson is ninth nationally in total offense at 350 yards per contest and Ohio State's Braxton Miller rates 10th in rushing yards per game at 125.67. Penn State's Allen Robinson ranks 10th in the country in two categories - receptions (8.0) and receiving yards (107.33) per game. Defensively, Ohio State's Travis Howard ranks fourth in the country in average interceptions per game (1.00), while Iowa's Anthony Hitchens is sixth in the NCAA in tackles per game at 12.33 and Wisconsin's Mike Taylor is seventh at 12.00. On the special teams units, Iowa's Mike Meyer and Northwestern's Jeff Budzien lead the nation in field goals per game at 2.67, while the Wildcats' Mark tops the nation in punt return average at 37.25 yards per return. A list of Big Ten standouts and teams in the NCAA rankings can be found on Page 3 of the release PDF.

I've Got Your Back:  The Big Ten has shown its depth at the quarterback position thus far in 2012, as multiple teams have called upon more than one quarterback. Last Saturday, Illinois' Reilly O'Toole stepped in for injured starter Nathan Scheelhaase to lead all conference signal callers with 333 yards and five touchdowns against Charleston Southern. Following an injury to starter Tre Roberson against Massachusetts on Sept. 8, Cam Coffman threw for 159 yards and a touchdown in the win, while Nate Sudfeld guided the Hoosiers to two touchdown drives in the final four minutes to give Indiana the lead against Ball State last Saturday. Filling in for MarQueis Gray after his second-quarter inury, Minnesota's Max Shortell threw for 188 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Western Michigan. Northwestern has utilized a two-quarterback system in Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian to start the season with three straight wins, while Purdue's Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve have each guided the Boilermakers to wins with Marve earning the victory over Eastern Kentucky and TerBush leading the way against Eastern Michigan.