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What We Learned About the Big Ten in Week Nine

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Michigan didn't play yesterday, but there was plenty of football that is relevant to MIchigan's interests this season. What did we learn

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern is in trouble - The Wildcats were one of the expected challengers for the Legends division before the season, and a quick 4-0 start behind a dynamic offense seemed to portend good things.  Northwestern's big moment came in week six, with a visit from Ohio State.  It was a turning point for Northwestern, but not in the good way.

The Cats have since fallen apart.   A blowout loss to Wisconsin followed by an upset loss to Minnesota led into last weekend's stinker against Iowa.  The Cats didn't even score until the second half, and the offense just barely crept over 300 yards on the game — and this was with Kain Colter back in the lineup.  Something is seriously wrong with Northwestern, and its hard to imagine at this point that it begins and ends with Venric Mark's injury.  Northwestern is still dangerous, but this is a rattled team.

Iowa is going to give Michigan trouble - The Hawkeyes were very bad last year, but things seem to be looking up.  After hanging with Ohio State longer than just about everyone else this season, Iowa went out and bottled up Northwestern's offense.  Iowa doesn't have an explosive offense, but any game in Iowa City is a tough one for Michigan, and if the Wolverines continue to struggle with ill-timed turnovers it could swing things in the Hawkeyes' favor.

This isn't your father's Nebraska defense - There are certainly issues on the other side of the ball, as Taylor Martinez did not have a great game moving back into the lineup, but the biggest issue that Nebraska is going to have to confront this year is that it just can't seem to stop anyone.  The 600 yards given up to Wyoming in the season opener was a good indication that Nebraska's defensive issues of the past couple years were back.

Against Minnesota, Nebraska gave up five yards/carry on 54 attempts (Michigan gave up 3.3 yards/carry on 41 attempt) and 9.4 yards per pass attempts (Michigan gave up 6.9).  This allowed Minnesota to move the ball at will and capitalize on good field position multiple times.  Unless Nebraska gets it together, the end of the season (Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Iowa) could be rough.

Minnesota is bowl eligible for the second straight year - That was an impressive effort from Minnesota, and if any team in the conference deserves some good news, its the Gophers.

MIchigan State can haz offense - I know, I know, competition disclaimers apply.  Michigan State's offensive resurgence has come against the absolute bottom of the Big Ten (and Iowa), but the difference is in execution.  Connor Cook played a good game, the Michigan State rush offense looks solid behind an improved offensive line, and the receivers seem to not hate their quarterback and wish failure on him — a refreshing change for Michigan State fans, I'm sure.  I'm not saying MSU has the offense to dominate Michigan, but opposite that defense, you just have to be solid and mistake free.

Illinois is terrible - Michigan State's defensive two-deep is going to be finding pieces of Illinois' offense in its stool for days.

Penn State lives and dies with Christian Hackenberg - Two early interceptions by Hackenberg put Penn State way behind, and it was ultimately too deep a hole to climb out of as Ohio State isn't in the business of making many mistakes.

Ohio State is an unstoppable death machine - Ugh.


As of now, there is very little chance that Ohio State doesn't represent the Leaders division in the Big Ten championship game.  The Buckeyes get the bottom half of the Leaders, then Michigan to finish the season.  Indiana could possibly give Ohio State problems, but that would be a major upset.  Don't hold your breath.

Meanwhile, Michigan State is in the advantageous position of getting to either A) beat Michigan and basically lock up a three game lead in the Legends or B) lose to Michigan and still have a good chance at a Legends division title if Michigan drops a game.

At this point, its pretty clear: Michigan has to win out to have any reasonable chance at the Big Ten title game.

Depressing thought for the week:  Michigan is the biggest obstacle in its two main rivals going undefeated in Big Ten play and meeting in the Big Ten championship game, so this month shouldn't be stressful or anything.