With apologies to Indiana’s Tom Allen and Purdue’s Jeff Brohm, Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck has been the newcomer of the year so far in the Big Ten coaching ranks.

That may change once all three programs have come fully entrenched into Big Ten competition this season, but for now the unbeaten Gophers appear to have the greatest upside after last week’s 48-15 road rout of Oregon State.

A 2-0 start is further proof that the Minnesota players are responding to the enthusiasm and encouragement the 36-year-old Fleck brings to practices. But more importantly, they appear to have embraced his demand that they be accountable for their actions on and off the field.

He’s even patented his “Row the Boat” mantra.

When quarterback Demry Croft lost a fumbled snap in the rain against the Beavers, Fleck didn’t hesitate to pull him from the game because he had compounded the mistake by trying to scoop up the football rather than falling on it.

“These are life lesson and football lessons that we have to learn,” said Fleck.

Conor Rhoda came in to complete 7 of 8 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown. Getting the start in the second half, he led the Gophers to a 28-0 blitzing of Oregon State over the final two quarters.

However, Rhoda got similar treatment when he was picked off in the end zone in a 17-7 win over Buffalo in the first game. For now, Fleck plans to continue playing both quarterbacks.

Fleck knows the Gophers still have a long way to go before they’ll be a contender in the Big Ten, but that’s his goal.

“I am not here to change tradition. What I am here to do is change a culture,” said Fleck during the preseason. “… My entire life has been about running into the fire, not away from the fire. I eat difficult conversations for breakfast, and that is why I took this job.”

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Illinois at South Florida, Friday 7 p.m., ESPN

Northern Illinois at Nebraska, Saturday 11 a.m., FSI

Air Force at Michigan, Saturday 11 a.m., BTN

Wisconsin at BYU, Saturday 2:30 p.m., ABC

Purdue at Missouri, Saturday 3 p.m., SEC

 FAB FIVE

  1. Penn State (2-0): Last Week – W, Pittsburgh, 33-14. The Impact –With Saquon Barkley already one-fourth of his way to a third straight 1,000-yard rushing season, nothing should stand in way of Nittany Lions for at least next five weeks.
  2. Ohio State (1-1, 1-0):Last Week – L, Oklahoma, 31-16. The Impact – Instead of freaking over Baker Mayfield’s OU flag planting, Urban Meyer & Co. should be more concerned by all the surrender flags they were waving.
  3. Michigan (2-0):Last Week – W, Cincinnati, 36-14. The Impact – Wolverines had to score last 19 points, including a safety and Pick-6, to settle the nerves of an unhappy Jim Harbaugh.
  4. Wisconsin (2-0):Last Week – W, Florida Atlantic, 31-14. The Impact –Having won the Badgers’ depth chart battle, freshman Jonathan Taylor has emerged as Big Ten’s leading rusher after torching FAU for 222 yards and three touchdowns.
  5. Maryland (2-0):Last Week – W, Towson, 63-17. The Impact – These Terrapins have earned a chance to catch their breath after averaging 57 points and 508 yards of offense in steamrolling Texas and Towson.

THE PACK

6. Iowa (2-0): Last Week – W, at Iowa State, 44-41, OT. The Impact – Nate Stanley now has thrown for eight touchdowns through two games but none bigger than his second of the day to Ihmir Smith-Marsette to beat Cyclones in OT.

7. Minnesota (2-0): Last Week – W, at Oregon State, 48-14. The Impact – Gophers scored 17 points off three fumbles and held Oregon State to 35 yards and one first down in second half.

8. Michigan State (2-0):Last Week – W, Western Michigan, 28-14. The Impact – Spartans still haven’t allowed a defensive touchdown this season, surrendering scores on a kickoff and two fumble returns.

9. Purdue (1-1):Last Week – W, Ohio, 44-21. The Impact – Proving his shoulder is much better now, David Blough came off bench to produce 24 points on four drives while completing 11 of 13 passes for 235 yards.

10. Indiana (1-1):Last Week – W, at Virginia, 34-17. The Impact – Hoosiers have the makings of a quarterback duel after Peyton Ramsey replaced Richard Lagow and threw for two TDs and ran for another against Cavaliers.

11. Nebraska (1-1): Last Week – L, at Oregon, 42-35. The Impact – The good news? Cornhuskers have scored 78 points in two games. The bad news? Cornhuskers have surrendered 78 points in two games.

THE UNPROVEN

12. Illinois (2-0): Last Week – W, Western Kentucky, 20-7. The Impact – Starting three freshmen, young Illini defense may be coming of age quicker than expected after shutting down high-powered Hilltoppers.

13. Northwestern (1-1):Last Week – L, at Duke, 41-17. The Impact – With a sluggish offense and porous defense, Pat Fitzgerald and his staff have their hands full and just two weeks left to get Wildcats prepared for Big Ten competition.

14. Rutgers (0-2):Last Week – L, Eastern Michigan, 16-13. The Impact – In need of a win, Scarlet Knights have their best chance against winless FCS opponent Morgan State, which has not scored a touchdown on offense since last November.

BEARD’S PICKS

(All times Central; projected winners in bold caps)

Friday’s game

Illinois at SOUTH FLORIDA, 7 p.m., ESPN

Saturday’s games

Northern Illinois at NEBRASKA, 11 a.m., FSI

Air Force at MICHIGAN, 11 a.m., BTN

Middle Tennessee at MINNESOTA, 2:30 p.m.

Morgan State at RUTGERS, 2:30 p.m., BTN

North Texas at IOWA, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2

WISCONSIN at BYU, 2:30 p.m., ABC

Purdue at MISSOURI, 3 p.m., SEC

Army at OHIO STATE, 3:30 p.m., FOX

Bowling Green at NORTHWESTERN, 6:30 p.m., BTN

Georgia State at PENN STATE, 6:30 p.m., BTN

UPDATE

Florida International at Indiana, Cancelled

(Note: With Saturday’s scheduled game against FIU now cancelled. IU has agreed to a contract to play FCS school Charleston Southern in Bloomington on Oct. 7, which was previously an open date. The Buccaneers also had a game last weekend against S.C. State cancelled because of the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

Last Week: 10-4

Overall:  20-7

Note: Each week during the college football season, I’ll be  updating how things are unfolding in the Big Ten by Wednesday, the SEC by Thursday and ACC by Friday. I covered teams in each of the conferences during my 41 years as a sports journalist and I’m not ready to give it up in retirement.

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