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Legendary Leaders: Week 9 In The B1G

I'd like to say that was fun, but it really wasn't. Even Yuengling on tap couldn't help us as I ran the Open Thread in South Florida. In fact, things suspiciously turned south once I ordered a Yuengling. Strange, but I think it means the Yuengling meme may have run its course.

This week probably showed just how bad the league can be in the bottom half. You have Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin at genuine good teams. Ohio State and Penn State have outstanding defenses but terribly flawed offenses. Their defenses are good enough to win games as long as the offense can gut out 10 points, usually in eye-bleeding fashion.

Then you have the bottom six. Illinois has fallen back into that group by completely forgetting how to play offensive football in the last three weeks. Iowa just lost to Minnesota, who was looking like a historically bad team until this week. Purdue is a Jekyll and Hyde team capable of playing out of its mind and upsetting a ranked team or piddling down its leg and losing to Rice. Northwestern can't hold a lead. Indiana couldn't hold Edinburgh high school under 25 points. For the record, Edinburgh is generally considered to be the worst team in Indiana and has only three wins against anyone except Indiana Deaf since 1996.

The key to improving this season is holding your own against the bottom six, especially in a bottom six vs. bottom six matchup. So far we're at least 2-0 against that group, and if we go 4-0 we're in a bowl game.Based on every preseason thought about this team it was assessed that any bowl game would be an improvement. That still holds true.

Sure, it will likely be in Detroit, but that's not necessarily a lock. Detroit is the 8th of the eight Big Ten tie-ins. There is the possibility that the Big Ten will grab a second BCS slot, thus making it the ninth tie-in at that point. Indiana is already bowl ineligible, while Northwestern and Minnesota are dangerously close. With a win in hand over Illinois and them facing a touch finishing stretch we could go higher in the pecking order. The same is true for Iowa. I guess my rambling point here is that there is a lot of football to be played. No one, even Wisconsin, has looked totally dominant, and Minnesota shocking Iowa proves upsets can come from anywhere in this league.

Except from Bloomington, that is.

Northwestern 59, Indiana 38

As expected, this was a shootout because calling both defenses awful would be a compliment. Northwestern had over 400 yards at halftime and had 616 total. This was with them letting up on the gas in the fourth quarter, which, like the Duke of Calgary putting on a fake beard, is tradition. Smiles abounded at Sippin On Purple:

Northwestern won its first Big Ten game by running rampant over the truly horrendous Indiana defense for 59 points. (It could have been more.) Drake Dunsmore caught four touchdowns, Jacob Schmidt had 100 yards rushing, and Kain Colter had 100 yards receiving, and, well, none of those are typos. It's good to know that despite the 0-5 slide, Northwestern is capable of winning a game, and handily at that. NU gave up the first touchdown, but it wasn't really in doubt after NU ran off 24 straight. NU's defense looked shaky - they gave up 38 points to Indiana and allowed 319 - 319! - yards rushing, but, it didn't really matter as the offense was unreal. 

How bad is the Indiana defense? They haven't held an FBS team under 10 pounds since beating 13-7 in 2001 when our offense completely fell apart. Indiana is giving up 234 yards rushing and 223 yards passing per game (at least they have balance). Teams have now scored 130 points on them in the second quarter of games alone. I think Tre Roberson has the offense on the right track, but they are to the points where the offense has to play perfect and score 45 points in order to have a chance. 

Michigan 36, Purdue 14

Speaking of ridiculous decisions to pick teams to win this week, our Boilers take the next spot. We at least looked like we were going to fulfill that prediction for about half a quarter. The impressive first drive and score by Gary Bush was reminiscent of two years ago when Ralph Bolden moved us down the field with ease. We were never able to get the momentum back after that.

It's just amazing to see us play so well against a team with more talent one week and so poorly the next. It is disturbing that Fitzgerald Toussaint had a career day when he had done very little before today. His 59 yard TD run made our entire defense look silly. Losses like this are depressing because we saw Purdue move down and take an early lead, then immediately give up 36 straight points. It really could have been 11 more. They left about four points on the field when they ran out of time and had to kick a field goal before halftime and seven more when we stuffed them inside the one.

Even worse, we had plenty of chances to take advantage of mistakes. There is no excuse for us not scoring after Joe Holland's interception. We left three points on the field when Courtney Avery picked off Robert Marve. We also got stuffed inside the five ourselves. All we can do is move forward though.

Let's just accept that Danny Hope is not going to get fired after this season. Just about the only scenario where that happens is if we lose the remaining four games and drop the Bucket in disastrous fashion. I am talking a 45-10 disastrous fashion. He has his best recruiting class coming in and in terms of record the team is improving. There are still several fundamental flaws, but we're getting rescued by most of the Big Ten not being that good and the fact that we don't play two of the top teams (Michigan State and Nebraska). Instead of bitching about wanting him fired, let's get behind the players and get one of these last two home games so we can improve to a bowl with a win over IU in the last week.

Nebraska 24, Michigan State 3

It looks like the Cornhuskers found a defense, and as a result they are back in the race in the Legends Division. The Spartans now must hope Michigan can beat Nebraska, otherwise the Cornhuskers control their destiny for Indy. Michigan State at least has a squishy-soft finishing slate of Minnesota, at Iowa, Indiana, at Northwestern. As long as Nebraska loses one more game you can pencil Michigan State into the title game.

Rex Burkhead gave Nebraska over 150 yards of offense and three touchdowns. That was almost more than the 187 yards of total offense Michigan State managed. I just can't fathom how MSU could be that flat a week after a solid offensive performance. They didn't have a lot of turnovers or anything either. It was simply a really, really bad day.

Penn State 10, Illinois 7

Their offense won't frighten anyone. Their coach gazes down from the press box without a headset and you wonder if he is really calling plays. From my experience two weeks ago their fans are pretty restless with the current coaching situation. It seems like a mess, but there is only one team that has yet to lose in Big Ten play, and it is the Penn State Nittany Lions. In fact, their only loss is to a team that might be #1 in the nation in a week.

Joe Paterno now sits atop all of Division I with 409 victories, and it is probably safe to say no one will ever pass him. He's still getting it done:

My advice is to enjoy it. Penn State is 8-1 and a frustrating pile of players that have become so easy to love. It doesn't make sense, it can be hard to watch, but even in the coldest of days it is so hard to say no to them. Penn State's unlikely victory was why we come back, to be there when it seems to be the darkest hour knowing all too well that a play can change a season.

As for Illinois, your guess is as good as mine as to what has happened. They have now scored four touchdowns in 12 quarters after blowing up offensively in their first two conference games. Their defense hasn't even played that poorly in the three game losing streak, but the offensive has completely collapsed. It's bizarre.

Minnesota 22, Iowa 21

Iowa needs to go sit in the corner and think about what it has done. As expected, the propaganda website of Our Most Hated Rival has pretty much given up on this year. Can you blame them? Minnesota had not scored a point in a Big Ten game while the contest was still competitive, and then they go out and stun Iowa. Iowa might even be turning on Ferentz:

Look, I like Ferentz.  I think he's been a wonderful ambassador for the program, the university, and the state and I know he and his wife have done a lot for the community.  I am deeply grateful for his coaching accomplishments, too: 2002-2004 were fantastic and the Orange Bowl win was tremendous, among others.  I'm well aware that the grass isn't always greener: I still remember the Tom Davis-Steve Alford transition, after all.  And in football terms, we don't have to look far (Iowa State, Minnesota) to find examples of schools who struggled after firing coaches for the crime of being good but not "good enough."  But something clearly isn't working with the current approach.  This operation has become stagnant and all-too-predictable.  Something needs to change.  If Ferentz himself can't engineer those changes, Barta may have no choice but to find someone who can -- he can ill afford for the heart of the Iowa athletic department to break down.

Ohio State 33, Wisconsin 29

Can we all calm down a minute before saying Ohio State is good, please? Maybe Wisconsin just choked the game away. They had awful coverage on the game winning touchdown, and still got down the field twice in about .4 seconds to take the lead in the first place. Ohio State benefitted from a blocked punt and a few big Dan Herron runs. Offensively,  Herron and Braxton Miller, with his legs, are their only legitimate threats. Yes, they have a stellar defense that can make a lead hold up, but that defense quit last night once they were up 12 and were fortunate they only had to play the last 20 seconds.

As for the Badgers, they can go one of two ways. They can recover and win the Leaders Division as long as they get some help against Penn State, or this can be a demoralized group that falls apart now that the National title dreams are gone and the Big Ten title dreams are on life support. They get us next, and that will say a lot. If we somehow hang around next week in Madison, or even pull off a shocker and win, we'll have our answer. In all honestly Purdue has no business even being competitive with Wisconsin. If we are, it probably means that Wisconsin has fallen apart.

Non-conference Opponents:

Houston 73, Rice 34 - The Rice loss continues to look worse and worse. To me, this is the true problem I have with coach Hope. He has to eliminate these types of losses. Anything less than at least a 3-1 non-conference record next year will be telling because it would mean a fourth straight season with a bad non-league loss.

Notre Dame 56, Navy 14 - I am sure this means the return to glory is definitely happening, because finally Notre Dame earned a blowout of Navy.

Louisiana Lafayette 45, Middle Tennessee State 20 - The Blue Raiders travel to Tennessee this week for a paycheck game. If they beat the 3-5 Volunteers it will make us look a little better.

Tennessee-Martin 38, Southeast Missouri State 30 - The Redhawks could not earn a second straight win.