MADISON, Wis. — The East Division is best in the Big Ten going into conference play.
Top to bottom, the league was tested in Week 3, though some outcomes were more surprising than others. Ohio State and Michigan State secured tough road wins, while Michigan sped past Colorado in the second half to win at the Big House.
“You’ve got to be able to make big plays when the lights come on, big time,” Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said after his team’s 36-28 win at Notre Dame.
The East’s three top contenders emerged undefeated after three weeks, their playoff hopes firmly intact. They helped preserve the league’s overall reputation following a mainly rough day out West.
Iowa got bumped out of the AP Top 25 on Sunday after losing to FCS power North Dakota State. Wisconsin nearly had its season upended by Georgia State before backup quarterback Alex Hornibrook helped give the Badgers a second-half lift .
“It was good to find a way to win. It’s hard to win and appreciate that,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said in recounting the message to his squad after the 23-17 victory.
One team is already 2-0 against Big Ten teams.
Too bad for the league that Western Michigan plays in the Mid-American Conference.
Two weeks after beating Northwestern on the road, the Broncos embarrassed Illinois with a 34-10 win in Champaign. It was the fourth time that a MAC program had beaten two Big Ten foes in the same season, and the second straight season after Bowling Green beat Maryland and Purdue in 2015.
This will not be a relaxing bye week for Illini coach Lovie Smith.
“We’re not where we need to be, and the bye week is coming at an ideal time for us to fix some things, and as a football team decide exactly how we want this football season to play out,” Smith said.
Other notes as the Big Ten begins league play in Week 4:
HEAD OF THE CLASS
The Buckeyes strengthened their standing as a top challenger to dethroning Alabama in the College Football Playoff after a convincing 45-24 win at Oklahoma.
“We know what we’re capable of,” receiver Noah Brown said. “We’re 3-0 with a chance to go 4-0. Keep it grooving.”
Ohio State has a bye next week before hosting Rutgers on Oct. 1. Michigan State faces a challenge next week with a visit from Wisconsin.
Michigan rallied from a two-touchdown deficit in the first quarter to beat Colorado 45-28 and stay unbeaten. The Wolverines open Big Ten play next week by hosting Penn State, which held on to beat Temple, 34-27 at Beaver Stadium. After losing to Pittsburgh in Week 2, another loss to an in-state rival could have turned up the heat on Nittany Lions coach James Franklin.
The Hawkeyes could still win the West Division, but the stunning 23-21 loss at home to North Dakota State crippled their playoff hopes.
Yes, the Bison have won the last five FCS national titles. But Iowa was supposed to be the class of the West.
“This will hurt for a while, and we’ll get back to work tomorrow and see what we can do about moving forward,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. The Hawkeyes get a chance to regroup next week with a trip to Rutgers.
While Iowa lost and Wisconsin struggled, Nebraska beat then-No. 22 Oregon 35-32 to raise its stock in the West and improve to 3-0. This will boost the confidence of the Cornhuskers going into its Big Ten opener next week at Northwestern.
“We’ll have to keep putting an exclamation point on it week after week, to make it real. It’s obviously a really good start,” Nebraska coach Mike Riley said.
Big Ten schools in the AP Top 25 poll released on Sunday:
No. 2 Ohio State
No. 4 Michigan
No. 8 Michigan State
No. 11 Wisconsin
No. 20 Nebraska
Dropped out: Iowa.
AP College Football: http://collegefootball.ap.org
Follow Genaro Armas at: https://twitter.com/GArmasAP