The frustrating thing about this season is that not only could we be bowl eligible, we could be leading the Leaders Division by ourselves if not for better special teams play. We're a blocked field goal from beating Rice, and the special teams mess that happened at Penn State from being 6-1 and 3-0 in the Big Ten. As crazy as it seems, we're still more alive in the divisional race than Ohio State, and we're tied with Wisconsin for second place. It's unlikely, but with a little help we might even win this thing.
That's a long way off, however. As exciting as our own win over Illinois was, it was nothing compared to the epic Michigan State-Wisconsin game. The rest of the games were rather dull, but Michigan State-Wisconsin was one of the most exciting Big Ten games in recent history.
Michigan State 37, Wisconsin 31
Amazingly, there are some badger fans crying foul and saying Keith Nichol did not break the plane on that amazing catch. They can be found in Graham Filler's excellent piece of what it was like in the stadium during the catch. Pardon me, but any Wisconsin fans complaining about Nichol not breaking the plane are a bunch of whining ninnies. It was the right call. Bucky's 5th Quarter agrees, and calls more on Bielema's curious timeout strategy:
Fans will debate the timing of Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema's second time out, or whether there was enough video evidence to award Michigan State the game-winning touchdown, but the Badgers had plenty of chances to stop Michigan State during the game, and for the most part couldn't get it done.
Naturally, The Only Colors was doing the Dance of Joy. This victory likely puts the Spartans in full control of the Legends Division as one of only two Big Ten teams left undefeated in league play. They have to virtual byes left with games against Minnesota and Indiana, but the next game against Nebraska can likely decide that division. A win for the Cornhuskers throws it into disarray with Iowa and Michigan suddenly back in it, while a Michigan State win will see only the Hawkeyes in the Spartans' way.
Penn State 34, Northwestern 24
If you're looking for entertainment during a game look no further than @Loretta8_SoP and his Twitter feed during a Northwestern game. A sampling during Saturday night's home loss to the Nittany Lions:
DRUGS.....ARE MY FRIEND
He already named the postgame thread the Thread of Eternal Misery. Northwestern is a team that has not recovered from the bad loss at Army, and I honestly hope they drop a game to Rice coming up just to make us look a little better. On second thought, I don't wish a loss to Rice on anyone.
Black Shoe Diaries is, of course, excited that the Nittany Lions are 7-1 and atop the Leaders Division. Matthew McGloin finally seized the starting quarterback job in Happy Valley, and we could have a double-shot trophy game in Indianapolis as Penn State and Michigan State play for the Paterno-Stagg Trophy AND the Land Grant Trophy.
Nebraska 41, Minnesota 14
The Golden Gophers are possibly the worst Big Ten team since some of those epically bad Northwestern teams of the 70's and 80's. Their best chance at a victory comes later this year when they play Northwestern, and I honestly would pick the Wildcats by two touchdowns. The Daily Gopher doesn't have a lot of positives to look at:
This one wasn't close. The opening kickoff was bobbled, tackles were missed, assignments blown, passes dropped and fumbles that didn't go our way (both times) led to total domination by Nebraska. Everyone was expecting a blowout and that is exactly what happened. There really isn't much more to say other than that.
Corn Nation is taking a stance much like I did after our own victory over the Gophers. It is likely a case of Minnesota being that bad more than the Cornhuskers being that good. Given that precedent in three straight Big Ten games against the Gophers, any future opponents will likely be worried if they struggle with Minnesota. The Gophers have now scored only 31 points in three conference games, and only three came when the game was semi-competitive.
Iowa 45, Indiana 24
The Hoosiers may have lost Gunner Kiel, but they possibly found a quarterback of the future in Tre Roberson. IU's most recent better teams have featured a quarterback who is a dual-threat. Antwan Randle-El was Heisman worthy if he had any sort of a team around him. Kellen Lewis took the Hoosiers to a bowl game and would have had a nice career if he had not been snorting everything short of the goal line in Bloomington (at least according to rumors). Tre Roberson earned his first career start, and he is the third quarterback Indiana has tried. Crimson Quarry was pleased overall:
I don't want to oversell Roberson's performance. IU scored only 14 non-garbage time points against an Iowa defense that isn't on par with the typical Hawkeye unit. Still, he completed two thirds of his passes on the road in the Big Ten against a reasonably talented defense. The only IU starting QB to have completed a higher percentage in any IU game this season is Edward Wright-Baker against FCS South Carolina State. Still, between Roberson, Houston, Kofi Hughes in the Wildcat formation, and the already-established group of receivers and tight ends hopefully can put something together as the season continues.
The Hoosiers will be glad that Marvin McNutt no longer has to face them. Our Most Hated Rival has now declared him the greatest receiver in Iowa history, topping Tim Dwight and that one guy who caught that one pass against LSU in a bowl game. You would think there would be more competition for said honor considering that Iowa running backs are more cursed than Purdue ACLs.
Purdue 21, Illinois 14
Danny hope now has three victories over ranked teams and just 13 in his Purdue career. Sadly, he has more wins over ranked teams than he has over MAC opponents. Still, a win is a win and we now only need two more victories to reach a bowl game. Most people see us getting one of those wins against Indiana in the season finale, but the other one is a mystery. I would say we are most likely to beat Ohio State since they lack a competent offense. The next most likely is Our Most Hated Rival when they come to town. We have to get at least one of those two games because they are at home.
Hail to the Orange went dark for a bit, but now Joe is all emo after losing to Purdue:
This isn't your normal game write up. There wont be as much actual game analysis as to specifically how Illinois looked so listless against a not great Purdue team. Yes the offensive line was getting killed by Purdue's front four, and yes the defensive secondary was getting picked apart by by Caleb Terbush, a heretofore talented but unaccomplished quarterback. The specifics of how this occurred is almost incidental. The fact is Illinois was not prepared to win the game, and apparently did not address any of the flaws that were exposed in their loss to Ohio State.
Finally, Kawann Short shared Big Ten Player of the Week honors with Gerald Hodges, as we finally had a pass rush. That needs to continue if we're going to earn a bowl bid.
Non-conference opponents update:
USC 31, Notre Dame 17 - USC, you did the Lord's work because an Irish win would have made them insufferable as they crowed about a another undeserved BCS bowl. The echoes are still sleeping, thank God. At this rate Brian Kelly's Great Coach Ever book is never going to be published. Your enjoyment starts at the 25 second mark:
Southeast Missouri State 17, Austin Peay 13 - The Redhawks win! Huzzah!
Tulsa 38, Rice 20 - Why do I keep torturing myself by looking at Rice?
Middle Tennessee State 38, Florida Atlantic 14 - Howard Schnellenberger deserves better than an 0-7 finish at FAU.