How was everyone’s weekend? Did you go to a pumpkin patch or spend time with loved ones? Or did you watch fellow Big Ten opponents, while constantly coming up with hypotheticals like, “I know Dax Hill can manipulate Thorne into at least one turnover in a zone blitz situation on second and long?”
If the former, congrats on your life balance; if the latter, welcome to the club, we have jackets.
Michigan football is the fall season, and even when the Wolverines are inactive, they still dominate the thoughts of fans. So even on the first fall weekend without Michigan football, there was still plenty to take away from the Big Ten conference and plenty of hypotheticals to excite or scare Michigan fans.
Here is what we learned from the Big Ten this weekend.
Wild, Wild, Big Ten West
IOWA WAS WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE!
To his credit, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz was not buying the hype surrounding his team and on Saturday, he was proven right. The Hawkeyes never led and were beaten at home 24-7 by Purdue.
The real lesson learned at Kinnick was to do your hardest to never play Purdue when ranked No. 2 in the country. The Boilermakers have the most wins (9) all-time as an unranked team when facing the No. 2 team in the country. Bizarre.
Moreover, they are back in the hunt for the Big Ten West crown, but with Ohio State and Michigan State remaining on their schedule, it will be a steep mountain to climb. Who knows, maybe Ohio State will be ranked No. 2 when they play.
Tied atop the West with Iowa and Purdue, is Minnesota. The Fighting Flecks probably sent Nebraska head coach Scott Frost back to the land of coordinators in 2022 with their 30-23 victory and have a favorable schedule ahead of them. They will have to row the boat through Kinnick, but as Purdue demonstrated, that task is not as daunting as it once appeared.
Just off the pace, but squarely in the running are Northwestern and (*checks notes in disbelief*) Wisconsin. A week after I called Northwestern, “the worst team in the conference,” head coach Pat Fitzgerald led his team to an emphatic victory over Rutgers (good call, Andrew). The Wildcats manhandled the Scarlet Knights 21-7 and now head to Ann Arbor upset minded.
Wisconsin tried with all of their might to blow last Saturday’s game against Army, but the Badgers hung on thanks to a late turnover to prevail 20-14. While the expectations are low for the 3-3 Badgers with quarterback Graham Mertz at the helm, Jim Leonhard’s defense will give them a chance in every game.
The Over/ Under for Iowa vs. Wisconsin might be 25. Pound the under.
With each team’s respective schedule, Iowa’s defense should still be enough to win the Big 10 West and reach Indianapolis. But with their inept offense, the title of Big Ten Champion will more than likely remain in the East division for the ninth consecutive year.
Cannibalization Begins on Halloween Weekend
The Big Ten East Division has four teams ranked inside the top nine and continues to be the best division in college football. While three of those teams were idle this weekend (Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State), Michigan State survived a scare in Bloomington.
The Spartans beat the Indiana Hoosiers 20-15 in an uninspiring performance, but they accomplished the most important thing: winning. Michigan State was out-gained (322-241), ran 26 less plays, and committed eight more penalties than the Hoosiers.
Spartan running back and the nation’s leading rusher, Kenneth Walker, was held to his second worst game as a Spartan in terms of yards-per-carry (3.7 on 23 attempts). Quarterback Peyton Thorne made his most significant impact on a RECEPTION and Michigan State’s two best weapons on the outside (Reed and Nailor) were held in check.
The Spartans did everything wrong, but found a path to victory and entered the bye week undefeated. This is all that matters for a conference that could cannibalize itself right out of the College Football Playoff.
The second half of the season will be a bloodbath with Ohio State (No. 5), Michigan (No. 6), Penn State (No. 7), and Michigan State (No. 9), all playing each other. The chances of any of these teams escaping undefeated in the final six games (five for Sparty) is slim.
In 13 days, assuming next week goes chalk, Michigan will face Michigan State and Penn State will face Ohio State, in an unprecedented two-piece of top ten match-ups involving four teams from the same conference.
As Michigan State proved this past weekend, winning in any style is still winning. The second half of this season will inevitably get ugly for the Wolverines, but hopefully, winning remains the constant.
The College Football Playoff beings Oct. 30 for Michigan and the Big Ten.