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Big Ten Conference Corner: Undefeated Minnesota?

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The Golden Gophers lead the Big Ten West by two games

Maryland v Rutgers Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

This late in the season, nearly every game is a big game—and there’s certainly some #chaos going on in the Big Ten West. Minnesota continued their perfect season, Ohio State beat down Wisconsin, and the Golden Gophers now lead the West by two games. Yes, they’ll likely come back to Earth down the stretch—but what a wild, crazy ride this has been.

No. 20 Iowa 20-0 Northwestern. The Iowa Hawkeyes cruised to an easy victory to become bowl eligible against the Northwestern Wildcats. On the other side of the coin, Northwestern now stands at the threshold of ending their run of four-straight seasons playing in a bowl game and three-straight win streak in bowls with their sixth loss of the year. It’s not impossible that the Wildcats win their last five games to become bowl eligible, but with Minnesota on their remaining schedule it doesn’t look likely. After several hardfought years to reach the middle tier of the Big Ten, this year looks to be one to forget for Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern.

No. 13 Wisconsin 7-38 No. 3 Ohio State. Last Thursday, I previewed this game saying, “If the Badger defense can bottle up Justin Fields and J.K. Dobbins, Wisconsin has a chance in this one. If not, Ohio State will add a quality win to its resume.” Well, the latter happened—in emphatic fashion. Fields threw for 167 yards and two TDs, and ran for another 28 yards and a TD. J.K. Dobbins ran for 163 yards and two TDs. Ohio State’s defense held Wisconsin to less than 200 yards of total offense, and held the Badgers’ scoreless for three of the four quarters on Saturday. We very well may see this matchup again in the Big Ten Championship game, but you can probably pencil in Ohio State for the College Football Playoff.

Illinois 24-6 Purdue. Brandon Peters threw for just 26 yards for Illinois in this matchup with the Purdue Boilermakers, but the Fighting Illini won anyway. Lovie Smith’s squad ran 52 times on the afternoon, and attempted just six passes, en route to their 24-6 win over Purdue. Dre Brown ran for 131 yards for the Illini, while Reggie Corbin ran for 47 yards and a TD. Peters also scored on the ground, his only touchdown of any fashion on the day.

Liberty 34-44 Rutgers. For nearly three full quarters, the Liberty... hold on, I have to Google this one... the Liberty Eagles went punch for punch with the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Thankfully for Rutgers, they were able to pull away a bit down the stretch for a 10-point win. Johnny Langan threw for 192 yards and two TDs, while running for another 118 yards and a TD. Isaih Pacheco also ran for 109 yards and two TDs. Unfortunately for Rutgers, this may well be their last win of the year—as the Scarlet Knights finish their season with Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Penn State.

No. 6 Penn State 28-7 Michigan State. Thanks to their most recent loss to an obviously superior Penn State Nittany Lions team, the Michigan State Spartans will start a college football November without a winning record. Sean Clifford was the star of the show for Penn State in this one, throwing for 189 yards, four TDs, and one INT on the day. Michigan State’s three QBs combined to complete less than 45% of their pass attempts for just 182 yards, no TDs, and two INTs. After the loss, the Spartans have a 4-4 record—with four games remaining. Fortunately for Michigan State, they have Illinois, Rutgers, and Maryland down the stretch to get them bowl eligible.

Indiana 38-31 Nebraska. Speaking of teams that need to win multiple games in November to become bowl eligible, the Nebraska Cornhuskers found themselves on the wrong end of a close game against the Indiana Hoosiers this past weekend. Nebraska held a 21-16 lead at halftime, before faltering in the second half. Peyton Ramsey threw for 351 yards, two TDs, and an INT for the Hoosiers, and also ran for 42 yards and a TD. Stevie Scott ran for 68 yards and a TD as well. Nebraska needs at least two wins against Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Iowa, or they’ll be missing the postseason for the second straight year to open the Scott Frost era.

Maryland 10-52 No. 17 Minnesota. Almost every week I am forced to write a sentence about the Minnesota Golden Gophers that seems like it can’t be true. This week it’s this: Minnesota leads the Big Ten West division by two games. The Gopher’s strong win over the Maryland Terrapins this past weekend gives them a perfect 8-0 (5-0) record on the year, and a full two game lead on Wisconsin following the Badgers’ loss to Ohio State. Yes, Minnesota faces three tough games down the stretch (Penn State, Iowa, and Wisconsin), but it’s time for Michigan fans to take notice of the Golden Gophers. How many, if any, of those games that Minnesota wins will have a direct impact on which bowl game Michigan will play in this year.