One month into the college football season is enough of a sample size to gauge the progress of teams and players. This week, our Big Ten writers examine what has surprised them most as October games approach.
Here's a look at each selection:
Austin Ward: The rise of Jabrill Peppers
Given all the hype that accompanied his recruitment and the otherworldly athleticism that has never been questioned, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the do-it-all Michigan junior has emerged as one of the game’s brightest stars. But the way he’s done it during the first month of the season has been breathtaking, and the variety of roles Peppers has filled for the Wolverines might actually be even more impressive. He’s the team leader in tackles for loss on defense, he’s lined up a few times on offense and at this point, Peppers leads Michigan in all-purpose yardage thanks to his game-breaking ability as a return threat on special teams. Obviously, it wasn’t a stretch to expect Peppers would be a factor this season -- but he’s developed into a force to be reckoned with.
Jesse Temple: Northwestern's regression
Most figured the Wildcats would take a step back after last year's 10-win season. But the start of this season has been particularly dispiriting. Northwestern opened with back-to-back losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State. The Broncos are a solid bunch that also beat Illinois. The Redbirds are a quality FCS program. Still, there is no excuse for a Big Ten program to lose those games at home. Northwestern's offense has been largely ineffective despite tailback Justin Jackson's presence. The Wildcats rank last in the Big Ten in scoring offense and 13th in rushing offense and total offense. Even worse: Northwestern is dead last in total defense. Pat Fitzgerald's 1-3 team has a lot to clean up, and it won't get any easier with road games upcoming against Iowa and Michigan State.
Brian Bennett: Ohio State's secondary
There was never any doubt that Ohio State would have talent in the secondary. But the Buckeyes lost three starters to the NFL and were breaking in several new players. Surely there would be some growing pains, especially against three September opponents (Bowling Green, Tulsa and Oklahoma) who have been pretty adept at throwing the ball. Well, the defensive back play has so far been arguably the best in the country, as Ohio State has nine interceptions and four pick-sixes already. Safety Malik Hooker has emerged as a superstar, while cornerback Marshon Lattimore is tied with Hooker for the FBS lead in interceptions (three). Even when the team’s lone returning starter, cornerback Gareon Conley, got hurt early at Oklahoma, the secondary continued to blanket the Sooners. Credit first-year co-defensive coordinator Greg Schiano and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs for molding raw talent into something truly special.
Dan Murphy: Beware of Bucky, Wisconsin has a quarterback
Wisconsin is only one game into the toughest stretch in college football this season, but after finding a quarterback and dominating Michigan State's offense, it's looking a lot more dangerous. Alex Hornibrook showed poise against a talented front seven in his first collegiate start this weekend. There's still a long way to go with games against Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska coming up next. After squeaking past No. 5 LSU, Paul Chryst may have found a guy that can make his offense two-dimensional enough to compete with anyone in that group. His team already has two Top 10 wins. A third this weekend at the Big House would turn the conference title race on its head.
Armstrong has faced a lot of criticism over his career -- for being uneven, streaky and inconsistent -- but he’s been the opposite of that so far this season. Sure, we expected improvement over a 16-interception 2015. But we didn’t expect this. Armstrong has turned the ball over just twice, with one pick and one fumble, and both he and J.T. Barrett have been the Big Ten’s best offensive performers in this early going. Armstrong essentially willed the Huskers to a win over Oregon, throwing a last-minute TD pass and compiling 200 passing yards, 95 rushing yards and four total touchdowns. Against Northwestern, he was no different. He’s been just what Nebraska’s needed and, if he keeps this up, both he and the Huskers could finish the year with some conference hardware.