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Conference Corner: Wounded Wisconsin loses, and the West looks to take advantage

When Wisconsin topped Iowa in Kinnick, the Badgers looked like a lock in the West once again. Do mounting injuries and Saturday’s loss change the conversation?

Dustin Johnston- Maize n Brew

Looks like I was too hasty on Wisconsin. After their 28-17 victory over Iowa:

Wisconsin (3-1) prevailed the Kinnick Stadium magic, and it’s next biggest divisional challenge? 1-2 (1-0) Northwestern in Evanston Oct. 27. Despite road trips to Ann Arbor and Happy Valley, Wisconsin may have already punched their bus ticket to Indianapolis.”

The Badgers — now 4-2 (2-1) — didn’t just lose to Michigan. Their mounting injuries and natural limitations were only full display in a 38-13 Saturday night beat down in the Big House.

Without D’Cota Dixon at safety, the safeties failed to fit running lanes. Karan Higdon took advantage to the tune of 105 yards, leading a 320-yard team outburst. Without defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk, the pass rush needed several seconds to even sniff Shea Patterson.

The No. 63 overall S&P defense was literally run out of the building. While the offense is technically No. 5 nationally, Jonathan Taylor and an elite line can only do so much, especially with Alex Hornibrook connecting on just 7-of-20 passes for 100 yards and two picks.

This leads us back to potential parity in the West. Four teams have one loss in the conference (Wisconsin, Northwestern, Iowa and Purdue). The remaining paths for each team are:

  • Wisconsin: Illinois, at Northwestern, Rutgers, at No. 18 Penn State, at Purdue and Minnesota
  • Northwestern: at Rutgers, Wisconsin, No. 4 Notre Dame, at Iowa, at Minnesota and Illinois
  • Iowa: Maryland, at Penn State, at Purdue, Northwestern, at Illinois and Nebraska
  • Purdue: No. 2 Ohio State, at No. 24 Michigan State, Iowa, at Minnesota, Wisconsin and at Indiana

You can eliminate Purdue. Yes, Jeff Brohm has the Boilermakers playing feisty football, but four potential top-25 teams is too steep a climb for the program at this time.

Iowa has to be perfect down the stretch, as even one loss draws them even with Wisconsin. Without the tiebreaker, the Hawkeyes would miss out on their first trip to Indianapolis since the 12-0 year in 2015.

This race will probably be decided Oct. 27 between the Wildcats and Badgers in Evanston. Pat Fitzgerald and company can afford a loss outside that game, as they would hold the tiebreaker with a home triumph.

With three suddenly daunting road treks for Paul Chryst, it’s questionable his program doesn’t stumble once more.

Oh, the shifting western winds.



It’s hard to explain how the Spartans prevailed in Happy Valley. The box score doesn’t help.

They allowed a season-high in rushing with 205 yards. They fumbled four times, somehow losing none of them. Brian Lewerke completed 24-of-52 throws, one of them a pick.

Once you dig deeper, the how behind the latest Dantonio upset becomes clear. Per Bill Connelly:

Michigan State scores 21 points in a game where turnover luck boosted them 21 points. Wow.

Miles Sanders busted loose a couple times against Michigan State’s top-ranked rush defense, finishing with 162 yards. Remove his 78 and 48-yarders, and he ran 15 times for just 36 yards.

The real shocker is the Spartan secondary, after weeks of getting torched by everyone, stepping up to hold Trace McSorley to 192 yards (six an attempt). Two Saturdays ago against Northwestern, they allowed 373 to Clayton Thorson.

Combine a boost in overall defense, turnover luck and a reliable connection between Lewerke and Felton Davis, and Dantonio has his team stabilized just in time for rivalry week.

A defense of James Franklin after yesterday’s loss requires a longer article, but long story short is he’s a successful coach that blew a double-digit lead to Ohio State and a matchup against an unranked Michigan State team (both at home).

Kind of like 2017 Michigan.

Next game for Penn State at Indiana (3:30 p.m., ABC)

Michigan at Michigan State (Noon, FOX)


P.J. Fleck was a grad assistant at Ohio State under Jim Tressel in 2006. In his first trip to Columbus since leading Western Michigan in 2015, he fielded a game group of Gophers (3-3, 0-3).

They held two different first-half leads over the Buckeyes (7-0, 4-0), utilizing freshman Mohamed Ibrahim’s 23 totes for 157 yards and two scores. The front seven limited the one-two punch of Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins to less than three yards a pop.

They even got to Dwayne Haskins three times, and racked up nine tackles for loss.

Despite the pressure, the Buckeye sophomore signal-caller eclipsed 400 yards passing for the second straight week. K.J. Hill snared a 36-yard touchdown from him with one hand, putting Ohio State up for good late in the half.

Two interceptions from Gopher freshman Zac Annexstad stunted the comeback effort.

Ohio State has let two straight inferior opponents hang around in Indiana and Minnesota. Peyton Ramsey and Annexstad couldn’t take advantage, but Purdue’s David Blough can.

Next game for Ohio State at Purdue (7:30 p.m., ABC)

Next game for Minnesota at Nebraska (3:30 p.m., BTN)


With 5:41 left, Nebraska kicker Barrett Pickering converted from 34 yards to put the winless Cornhuskers up 31-21 in Evanston. The long Nebraskan nightmare of a season looked to have its first shining moment.

Frost spoiled it in the tweet above, but he and his team (0-6, 0-4) blew it.

His offense demonstrated tremendous balance — 251 yards passing, 231 rushing — and put up 31 points on a top-50 defense on the road. Adrian Martinez totaled 288 yards, continuing to prove he’s a future star in the conference.

He tossed two interceptions, however, including a crippling one in overtime. He leads an offense that can snipe an unsuspecting squad down the stretch.

Meanwhile, Northwestern (3-3, 3-1) has fully committed to Big 12 football. Thorson compiled 455 yards and three touchdowns. Flynn Nagel was the main beneficiary, inhaling 12 passes for 220 yards and two scores.

Since losing star running back Jeremy Larkin to medical retirement, Thorson has attempted 27, 51 and 62 throws in the last three games. With Wisconsin limping everywhere in the secondary, the Wildcats are circling Oct. 27 on the calendar and licking their chops.

Next game for Northwestern at Rutgers (Noon, BTN)

Next game for Nebraska against Minnesota (3:30 p.m., BTN)


Nate Stanley may be the most underrated quarterback in the conference.

After 320 yards and six touchdowns on the road against Indiana (4-3, 1-3), he ranks second in the Big Ten in touchdowns (15) and third in QBR (155.9).

The most productive tight ends in the conference — Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson — make it look easy for him.

Hoosier head coach Tom Allen is a defensive whiz, as he’s the only coach in recent memory to field competent defenses in Bloomington. This year’s outfit ranks No. 50 in S&P.

Offensive coordinator Mike Debord’s unit is putting too much pressure on an overworked defense. Indiana plodded to 67 yards on the ground, while Ramsey tallied two more picks.

The Hoosiers, once a 4-1 team en route to a bowl, have to be careful to avoid a late-season collapse.

Next game for Iowa against Maryland (Noon, ESPN2)

Next game for Indiana against No. 18 Penn State (3:30 p.m., ABC)


The beard is getting whiter, friends.

The Illini (3-3, 1-2) needed that one to get into bowl position. After going up 7-0 on an A.J. Bush, Jr. touchdown run, the Boilermakers ripped off 46 unanswered to secure the road victory.

For whatever reason, star back Mike Epstein took just one carry for 10 yards. There is no report of an injury. Baffling, for sure, but when you lose by 39 at home to Purdue (3-3, 2-1), in-game decisions pale in comparison to issues of overall talent.

Blough is still bombing teams left and right, torching the Illini secondary for 377 yards and three touchdowns.

With Ohio State storming West Lafayette next weekend, he gets to prove if his production is for real. TCU and Indiana found room against the Buckeye back four, so don’t count him out.

Early prediction: Purdue will be within one score in the fourth quarter, as Ohio State plays down to competition once again.

Next game for Purdue against No. 2 Ohio State (7:30 p.m., ABC)

Next game for Illinois at No. 23 Wisconsin (Noon, FS1)


Rutgers (1-6, 0-4) is doing everything it can as a football program to get themselves kicked out of the conference.

Maryland (4-2, 2-1) has earned its place, between two victories over Texas to the occasional bowl berth.

How much longer can the Scarlet Knights stick around before Jim Delany makes a switch? Grab Syracuse, and you’ll get a competent football team that New Yorkers kind of like.

At least more than Rutgers.

Next game for Maryland at No. 19 Iowa (Noon, ESPN2)

Next game for Rutgers against Northwestern (Noon, BTN)