*Ohio State and Penn State are both ineligible to play in the Big Ten championship game. Oh, and these division names are completely inane.
Ohio State is the clear-cut number one team in the conference after their impressive road win over Michigan State. In their first road game of the season, the Buckeyes responded to MSU taking the lead in the third quarter with a quick touchdown pass of their own and managed to hold off the Spartans en route to a narrow 17-16 win. Even though Ohio State is ineligible to win the Big Ten title, it's become pretty apparent that they're the class of the conference thus far; they may have a shaky secondary and an erratic offense, but they're still undefeated and they beat a good Michigan State team on the road. And as for Michigan State, they've lost at home twice now and are a game back in their division. Fortunately for the Spartans, their defense is good enough to carry them to a Big Ten title, but their offense must improve -- the young receiving corps and injury-riddled offensive line in particular.
In the other marquee matchup of the weekend, Nebraska conjured an impressive comeback to steal a key 30-27 home win over Wisconsin. The Huskers rattled off 20 consecutive points to finish the game and held on fourth down at midfield with three minutes left to forestall an answer from Wisconsin. Nebraska was pretty lucky to avert the upset -- Wisconsin's offense reverted back to its early season form and failed to score after the opening drive of the second half. It was still a very important win for the Huskers, as they were able to make it to 1-0 in the conference and open up a one game lead over fellow contender Michigan State. Wisconsin's loss wasn't damning in and of itself, but blowing a three score second half lead in what would have been a huge upset in a tough road venue... it was certainly a deflating loss.
Purdue was up 42-14 on Marshall at halftime and even though the final margin was much closer (51-41), the Boilermakers were never seriously threatened by the Thundering Herd.
Indiana wound up making it close on the road against Northwestern, but the Cats pulled away to win 44-29 and make it 5-0 on the season. I still really don't know what to make of Northwestern -- they're undefeated but their opponents have combined to beat only one FBS team (Indiana over UMass, who is probably the worst team in the FBS). Northwestern leapt out to a 27-0 lead and looked like they would blow the Hoosiers out, but Indiana went on a 29-10 run and pulled within a score before Northwestern put the game away with a late touchdown. The Wildcats are undefeated, but that's probably due to who they've played. Indiana, on the other hand, dropped to 2-2 and seems destined for another losing season.
After getting upset in Minneapolis a year ago, Iowa beat Minnesota convincingly at home, 31-13. Mark Weisman had another terrific game on the ground, Iowa's defense looked dominant for stretches of the game, and the Hawkeyes pulled off a sorely-needed win against a previously undefeated team. Minnesota may not be that great, but Iowa was reeling after a brutal home loss against Central and proved that they're at least a step above the bottom tier of the Big Ten. The Gophers were down 24-0 by halftime and never really seemed competitive -- Minnesota's 4-0 record against a weak slate of non-conference opposition may have belied some other issues; Jerry Kill still has work to do rebuilding the defense and the offense, especially without MarQueis Gray, struggled mightily.
Illinois was taken to the woodshed by Penn State at home, 35-7. Illinois looks to be really, really bad, so this doesn't tell us a whole lot about either team, other than that Penn State was able to take care of business. At least the Nittany Lions got their revenge for Tim Beckman's alleged recruiting of Penn State players over the summer.
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