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The Big Ten struggles … again

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UTEP's Horace Miller sacks Wisconsin QB Joel Stave (US Presswire)

After almost four weeks of games, which Big Ten teams have impressed you?

The list has to be painfully short.

At one point in the early games Saturday, Ohio State led UAB 21-15, Wisconsin led Texas-El Paso 23-16 and Iowa led Central Michigan 24-23, with all three of the Big Ten's opponents holding the ball with a chance to take a fourth-quarter lead. Ohio State and Wisconsin escaped with victories. Iowa wasn't so lucky.

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It shouldn't be surprising that the Big Ten struggled early Saturday, because the conference has underwhelmed all season.

Wisconsin, which played in the last two Rose Bowls, is a mess and possibly took a huge hit with running back Montee Ball suffering a head injury. Ohio State won on Saturday, but didn't look dominant for a second straight week. Cal came to Columbus and almost knocked off the Buckeyes last week. Even if Ohio State is the best team in the conference, it isn't going anywhere for the postseason.

Michigan was rocked by Alabama in Week 1 and the following week barely held on to beat an Air­­ Force team that returned just five starters this year. Illinois has an embarrassing blowout loss at Arizona State on its record. Penn State's problems are well known.

Earlier this month, Nebraska lost to UCLA, and Michigan State lost to Notre Dame — neither is a terrible loss, but is that the best two of the top teams in the Big Ten can do?

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At this point, Northwestern has played the best of any team in the Big Ten, yet it's tough to pencil them in for a trip to the Big Ten championship game just yet. Wins over Syracuse, Boston College and Vanderbilt are nice, but they don't save the conference.

There's no reason for the conference to look so bad out of the gate. Elite players like Russell Wilson, A.J. Jenkins, Riley Reiff, Lavonte David, Whitney Mercilus and Kirk Cousins have moved on, but every conference lost good players. Penn State's problems will affect the league for a while, but that isn't an excuse for the rest of the conference. Every conference goes through bad weeks, bad months or bad years, but this start for the Big Ten is hard to explain.

A win by Michigan at Notre Dame tonight would help the Big Ten's image, but if the conference's play so far this season is an indication, that might be a lot to ask.

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