Big Ten winners, losers: Basketball schools rising as Michigan, Nebraska continue to fall

Things are starting to get weird in the Big Ten as the conference moves past the third week of the season.

Michigan football and Nebraska are down.

Indiana and Maryland are up.

Northwestern is undefeated. Penn State is winless.

Strange. Very strange.

We take a look at the conference’s winners and losers from the weekend below:

Winners: Mike Locksley

Entering this season, Mike Locksley’s career record would cause most people to blanch. In 46 games, he had steered his teams to victory only six times. He seemed destined this season to experience failure again, and when Maryland was drubbed by 40 points in its opener against Northwestern there was little doubt Locksley would add a slew of defeats to his loss column in 2020.

But then the Terrapins rallied to defeat Minnesota in overtime despite entering that game as a heavy underdog. Flash forward another week to Saturday and there was Maryland beating up on Penn State in a 35-19 victory that the Terps controlled from start to finish.

The sudden turnaround is a product of the high-value talent Locksley has recruited. Transfer quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, the brother of the Miami Dolphins’ starter, has been a revelation — averaging 338 passing yards while throwing for a total of six touchdowns in both wins. So too has five-star freshman receiver Rakim Jarrett, who scored twice and amassed 144 receiving yards Saturday during a breakout performance. Defeating Penn State should have long-term implications and resonate with prospects in the mid-Atlantic, which is Maryland’s primary source of talent. But in the here and now, Locksley and Maryland look like they could win a few more games. Who could have foreseen that?

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Northwestern's defense

Defense may no longer win championships in college football. But it can carry a team to a 3-0 record. Northwestern is proof of that. With an experienced linebacker corps headlined by Paddy Fisher, the Wildcats have yet to concede a second-half score this season. In a 21-13 victory over Nebraska on Saturday, Northwestern shut out the Cornhuskers during the final two quarters.

Among teams that have played three or more games this season, the Wildcats have produced the fifth-lowest points-allowed average (12 per game) in the country.

The defensive performance is the primary reason why Northwestern is ranked No. 23 in the coaches poll a season after it finished 3-9.

Pat Fitzgerald, the former star linebacker and the Wildcats’ coach, has again fashioned a team that reflects his persona.

Tom Allen

Tom Allen is one of the Big Ten’s least recognizable football coaches. That’s especially true now that he wears a mask.

But Allen is emerging as one of the conference’s best sideline czars. For the second straight year, he has coaxed Indiana into the polls, which is a remarkable feat. The Hoosiers are now ranked No. 10 in the country after trouncing Michigan and claiming their first victory over the Wolverines in 33 years.

Few saw this coming, especially after Allen’s staff was raided in the offseason. Alabama came for Indiana’s strength and conditioning coaches. Fresno State hired Allen’s offensive coordinator, who then took the Hoosiers’ special teams assistant with him. Texas grabbed Mark Hagen, who presided over the defensive line.

Yet somehow the Hoosiers are better than they were last year. The offense has hummed, averaging 37 points per game. The defense has been opportunistic while helping Indiana achieve the best turnover margin in the Big Ten.

Because of Allen, a basketball school can now play a little football, too.

Oct 12, 2019; Champaign, IL, USA; Michigan Wolverines defensive coordinator Don Brown looks on during the second half of the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium.
Oct 12, 2019; Champaign, IL, USA; Michigan Wolverines defensive coordinator Don Brown looks on during the second half of the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium.

Losers: Michigan’s coordinators

Josh Gattis and Don Brown talked a lot in the preseason. They crowed about Michigan’s players. They blabbed about the soundness of their schemes. They sold optimism and hype.

But it was all talk.

Gattis’ offense and Brown’s defense have underwhelmed. Neither has been as good as advertised. At times, each has cratered under pressure.

The Wolverines are ranked 104th in the country against the pass, which is no surprise to anyone who has watched their secondary get charred each of the last two weeks.

But Gattis’ unit hasn’t fared much better. Michigan is 72nd in the Football Bowl Subdivision in third-down conversion rate and 73rd in red-zone success.

While head coach Jim Harbaugh has received the lion’s share of criticism — and deservedly so — Gattis and Brown should also be blamed for the Wolverines’ slow, uninspired start.

Dr. Blitz has concocted some weak sauce, and Gattis’ “speed in space” has left Michigan stuck in place far too many times this season.

Talk is cheap when there is no evidence to support it. Let’s see some results.

[ Big Ten secondary rankings: How do Michigan, MSU defensive backs measure up? ]

Scott Frost

Remember those glowing profiles that were published about Scott Frost? That he was going to restore Nebraska and work his magic like he did at UCF?

Yeah, those were the days…

Now, back to reality, which is the Cornhuskers sitting at 0-2 after a loss to Northwestern.

Nebraska’s latest defeat has further corroded Frost’s win-loss record at his alma mater, which has fallen to 9-17 since he returned to Lincoln two years ago.

The guy is now in danger of enduring his fourth losing season in five years as an FBS head coach.

Need more evidence that the narrative around Frost hasn’t always aligned with the truth? The offense — Frost’s calling card — has been Nebraska’s chief problem. The Cornhuskers are last in the Big Ten in scoring.

If Frost doesn’t spur a turnaround in the near future, people may actually start to believe what they’re seeing instead of what they once read.

Wisconsin football

As their old coach, Bret Bielema, used to say, the Badgers are 1-0.

The problem is they have stayed 1-0 since Oct. 23.

After demolishing Illinois during the opening weekend of the Big Ten season, Wisconsin hasn’t played another snap.

A COVID-19 outbreak stopped Wisconsin in its tracks and games against Nebraska and Purdue were canceled.

The Badgers, who appeared to have an outside shot at a College Football Playoff berth after a convincing performance in their first game, now are in danger of failing to qualify for the Big Ten title game. The team can’t afford to sit idle any longer if it has designs on playing for anything consequential later this season.

Next up for Wisconsin is a road trip to beleaguered Michigan, which could be the cure-all Bucky, Paul Chryst and friends have been seeking during their downtime.

Contact Rainer Sabin at Follow him on Twitter @RainerSabin. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Big Ten newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Big Ten winners, losers: Scott Frost, Michigan football falling again