The three most-common point totals in Big Ten football games this season are 24, 17 and 10.
Eleven times, teams have scored exactly 24 points in a Big Ten conference game. They landed on 17 on 10 occasions, and scored precisely 10 points nine times.
Common football totals, yes. But averaging 24 points per game would rank you 96th out of the nation’s 129 FBS teams, averaging 17 would rank you 122nd, and averaging 10 would put you in last place.
This has been the year of 17-10. Iowa lost by that score at Michigan State and Northwestern, won by it at home against Minnesota.
Would anyone be a bit surprised if the Hawkeyes beat Purdue Saturday by the wild and crazy score of 17-10?
Iowa is a praiseworthy 24th nationally in scoring defense and a pedestrian 80th in scoring with 26.9 points per game. The latter is inflated by four interception returns for touchdowns.
The Hawkeyes are a dreary 116th in total offense, with 332 yards per game. That’s actually a modest improvement from 2016 when they were 121st with 325 yards per game and 95th in scoring with a 24.9-point average.
This isn’t a new phenomenon here. Iowa hasn’t been in the top half of the nation in total offense since 2010. Even in its two most-glorious seasons of the last 10, 2009 and 2015, it was 89th and 72nd in that category.
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It’s not just Iowa, though. This is the Big Ten, a league forever built on defense. It owes no apologies for that given the climate of where its schools are located.
The Big Ten has had plenty of high-quality teams with potent offenses over the years, and has sent a lot of great offensive players to the NFL. But the offense seems spread especially thin this season. Just three Big Ten teams are among the nation’s top 65 in scoring, and only three are in the top 60 in yards per game. Four are 100th or worse in scoring, five 100th or worse in yardage.
Michigan, with an 8-2 record, is 94th in total offense. Michigan State, a 7-3 team that beat Michigan and Penn State, is 108th in scoring.
It’s fitting Wisconsin is the Big Ten team with the best chance of advancing to the College Football Playoff. The Badgers defend, to say the least. Offensively, they run the ball beautifully. But their passing game is not one you would trust in a close game against a big-time opponent.
The Big Ten does have some offensive stars like quarterbacks J.T. Barrett of Ohio State and Trace McSorley of Penn State, and running backs Jonathan Taylor of Wisconsin and Saquon Barkley of Penn State.
But quick, name a star Big Ten wide receiver. On second thought, take your time.
Just two are in the nation’s top 50 in receiving yards per game. Maryland’s D.J. Moore is 27th, Nebraska’s Stanley Morgan 35th.
Purdue, one would expect, will be a particularly good passing team in years to come. Jeff Brohm’s three Western Kentucky clubs were dynamos, ranking in the top 10 in total offense each year with 523 yards or more per season, with two-thirds of that from passing. His record there was 30-10.
Brohm didn’t come to Purdue with the same kind of fanfare P.J. Fleck did at Minnesota, but it was a great hire. Brohm’s WKU teams got significantly sharper defensively from Year 1 to Year 3. His first Boilermakers club is allowing a paltry 19.3 points this season. It’s the biggest defensive improvement (19 points) of any team in the nation.
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Once Brohm gets players in the program to suit his offensive system, the days of Purdue football being a foot wipe will probably be over. Two years ago, the school committed $70 million to upgrade the program’s facilities.
The Hawkeyes are advised to defeat the Boilermakers Saturday, because doing so will only get tougher in years to come.
Should Iowa win today by the score of 17-10? That’s football. Big Ten football.