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Conference Corner: Northwestern takes the West, Ohio State-Michigan on collision course in East

The Wildcats somehow wrapped up the division with two games remaining. Reminder: this team went 0-3 in the non-conference.

Northwestern v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Somehow, Pat Fitzgerald did it.

The literal how is very clear. His Northwestern Wildcats — at one point 1-3 and still winless in the non-conference — clinched the Big Ten West with a 14-10 victory at Iowa (6-4, 3-4).

They needed one loss each between divisional contenders Wisconsin and Purdue to officially punch their ticket to the Big Ten Championship.

The Badgers dropped a 22-10 decision at Penn State, and Minnesota blew the doors off the Boilermakers 41-10. Once he found out, Fitzgerald and his team (6-4, 6-1) partied in Kinnick Stadium.

As mentioned previously, this run makes little analytical sense.

Fitzgerald’s team ranks No. 77 per Bill Connelly’s S&P+. That’s squarely in between 4-5 Southern Mississippi and 7-3 Georgia Southern.

Coming into Saturday, offensive coordinator Mick McCall “boasted” the No. 105 unit nationally, including the No. 111 rush efficiency offense. Next thing you know, true freshman Isaiah Bowser is ripping off 165 yards on 31 totes against Iowa’s top-20 rush defense.

Quarterback Clayton Thorson mustered only 122 yards with two picks, giving him a 12-12 TD-INT ratio on the year. Here he is, though, lofting a perfect 32-yard game-winning touchdown to Bennet Skowronek.

The Wildcats don’t even possess sneaky-good special teams. It ranks No. 125 per S&P+, as kicker Charlie Kuhbander has missed 4-of-7 attempts. Punter Jake Collins averages a pedestrian 40 yards a boot, and no one is breaking loose on returns.

True to form, Fitzgerald — a former All-American linebacker on the 1995 Rose Bowl team — thrives with a disciplined defense.

The ‘Cats stifled the Hawkeyes to just 64 yards on the ground Saturday. This is just on brand. Linebacker Paddy Fisher and end Joe “The Gaz” Gaziano held Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor to only 46 yards on 11 carries, including two fumbles.

They also made timely plays in Iowa City. They forced fumbles twice in the fourth quarter to preserve a four-point lead.

Skip to 2:55. Ends at 3:45.

Now, the same team that lost 39-34 to Akron at home is representing half of the Big Ten in Indy.

Next game for Northwestern at Minnesota (noon, BTN)

Next game for Iowa at Illinois (3:30 p.m., BTN)

In the East, the race is much more conventional. Michigan (9-1, 7-0) and Ohio State (9-1, 6-1) are on a collision course to decide the division Nov. 24 in Columbus.

Michigan State (6-4, 4-3) had a chance to spoil the Buckeyes’ chances Saturday in East Lansing. Persistent offensive ineptitude turned a 7-6 deficit into 26-6 defeat.

The numbers tell the ugly story. Brian Lewerke — still giving it a go despite injury — connected on just 11-of-28 throws for 128 yards and a pick. Rocky Lombardi sparked the offense to six points, but ultimately relinquished time back to the starter.

Lombardi finished 7-of-20 for 92 yards. He momentarily provided a spark with a 47-yard scamper to set up a field goal.

No other Spartan had more than four yards. Against the same Ohio State defense that surrendered chunks of yardage to Minnesota, Purdue and Nebraska, this is a pitiful showing.

The Buckeyes, for their own part, looked pretty incompetent offensively for over three quarters. They compiled just 81 yards rushing until a late touchdown drive.

The Spartans racked up two sacks and nine TFLs, harassing Dwayne Haskins into an inefficient 227-yard afternoon on 39 attempts.

Considering Mark Dantonio gifted Urban Meyer 12 points in the second half — aforementioned safety, fumble in end zone and fumble to set up field goal — this score looked more decisive than it was.

At the end of the day, Ohio State just needs to dispatch Maryland in College Park next weekend to set up a top-10 showdown in Columbus.

As Northwestern showed everyone, it’s not about looking good on the way to a title. It’s simply about getting it. For the Buckeyes, they’re surely content with the opportunity, all things considered.

Next game for Ohio State at Maryland (noon, ABC)

Next game for Michigan State at Nebraska (noon, FOX)



With all the gnashing of teeth about how bad James Franklin is, the Nittany Lions (7-3, 4-3) are on pace for another double-digit win season.

Trace McSorley got off the mat after the beatdown in Ann Arbor, and tied the career-record for wins by a Penn State quarterback (29) with a victory over the Badgers.

He wasn’t brilliant — 19-of-25 for 160 yards and a score — but with Wisconsin (6-4, 4-3) barely putting up a fight on offense, he didn’t need to be.

He relied on Miles Sanders’ 159 yards to control the clock. The sophomore back now has 1,007 yards on the year.

Without Alex Hornibrook, Paul Chryst had few options to score. Backup quarterback Jack Coan managed just 60 yards on 20 attempts, including two interceptions.

Instead, Jonathan Taylor amassed 185 yards on 20 carries, including a 71-yarder to open scoring.

Taylor’s excellent 2018 is lost amidst the overall disappointing season in Madison. He’s on pace for more than 2,000 yards (1,548 with three games left), which is doubly impressive without any help through the air.

He and the Badgers have to go through Purdue and rival Minnesota these final two weeks. Win both, and a Florida bowl game on New Year’s Day is in their grasp.

Next game for Penn State at Rutgers (noon, BTN)

Next game for Wisconsin at Purdue (3:30 p.m., BTN)


Of course.

The more interesting news with Purdue (5-5, 4-3) is the recent firing of Louisville coach Bobby Petrino.

Just as a reminder, Boilermaker head coach Jeff Brohm played quarterback for the Cardinals in the late 1990s, and coached there from 2003-2008.

With this in mind, reporters are obviously speculating that he jumps ship in West Lafayette for his alma mater.

With the Louisville athletic department ready to eat a $14 million buyout, it’s signaling it’s ready to shell out cash to bring Brohm home.

After a dispirited showing in Minneapolis, maybe he’s ready to move on, as well. It is simply baffling the same defense that ceded more than 400 yards rushing to Illinois stuffed Purdue for just 233 total.

For P.J. Fleck and the Gophers (5-5, 2-5), they need just one victory between Northwestern and Wisconsin to reach bowl eligibility.

With the return of freshman back Mohamed Ibrahim (155 yards) and the same defense that contained Dwayne Haskins in Columbus, Fleck might be ahead of schedule after all.

Next game for Purdue against Wisconsin (3:30 p.m., BTN)

Next game for Minnesota against Northwestern (noon, BTN)


As if the Terrapins (5-5, 3-4) haven’t dealt with enough in 2018, they lost two starters Saturday in quarterback Kasim Hill and running back Ty Johnson for the season.

Behind reserves in Tyrell Pigrome and Anthony McFarland, this resilient team came back from a 31-15 hole to lead 32-31 late.

Pigrome was a steady 10-of-13 for 146 yards and a touchdown, while McFarland erupted for 210 yards.

Indiana’s Stevie Scott set up a game-clinching field goal with a 27-yard burst in the final minutes. The freshman — coached by former Michigan back Mike Hart — totaled 103 yards on 19 carries.

With just 2:32 left, Logan Justus hit a 42-yard kick for the Hoosier lead. Kayton Samuels strip-sacked Pigrome and Nil Sykes recovered to end a five-game losing streak for Indiana (5-5, 2-5).

Both head coaches are potentially auditioning for their futures. Interim Maryland coach Matt Canada would look impressive guiding this program to a bowl after all the controversy surrounding D.J. Durkin’s handling of Jordan McNair’s death. With Ohio State and Penn State on the docket, the prospects look slim.

For Hoosier head man Tom Allen, he’s circling Purdue in the finale for win No. 6. If he fails, will Indiana tolerate two-straight losing seasons, especially after Kevin Wilson raised expectations late in his tenure?

Next game for Maryland against Ohio State (noon, ABC)

Next game for Indiana at Michigan (4 p.m., FS1)


Scott Frost started out 0-6 in Lincoln. Watch him finish 5-7.

The Cornhuskers (3-7, 2-5) are quietly rolling on offense under his tutelage. Since getting obliterated in Ann Arbor, the point and total yardage numbers are:

  • Purdue: 28 points, 582 yards
  • at Wisconsin: 24 points, 518 yards
  • at Northwestern: 31 points, 482 yards
  • Minnesota: 53 points, 659 yards
  • Bethune-Cookman: 45 points, 468 yards (mostly backups)
  • at Ohio State: 31 points, 450 yards
  • Illinois: 54 points, 606 yards

Adrian Martinez deserves credit. As a freshman, he’s absorbing Frost’s spread system and thriving. The offense is starting to convert yards into more points, and Big Red is a five-point loss in the Horseshoe from four wins in a row.

He currently has 2,212 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. He’s also contributed 535 yards with his legs, opening up lanes for running backs Devine Ozigbo (958) and Maurice Washington (427).

The next step is fixing a defense that’s bleeding nearly 34 points a contest. With Michigan State entering Memorial Stadium next weekend, the defense has a chance to build confidence.

For Illinois (4-6, 2-5), Lovie Smith can hang his hat on two things. One, 383 rushing yards to boost an already top-10 S&P run game. know what two is.

Illinois v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Orange Santa, meet Frosty.