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The Whistlestop Tour: Week 5 of Big Ten Football

I hear that train a comin'...

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The two Big Ten teams from Indiana have decided the Big Ten title exactly once: in 1967. In that game Purdue had a chance to win the Big Ten outright and even had an outside chance of claiming the national title with a win. Instead, Indiana won the bucket and the two shared the title with Minnesota. Since then the two schools haven't come close to such heights, but on Saturday both came within a play or two of knocking off the top two rated teams in America. Such upsets would have vaulted each school to the top of their divisions in the Big Ten.

Alas, it didn't happen, but Indiana and Purdue were both strong losers in a week where scoring was at a premium.

Ohio State 34, Indiana 27

The Buckeyes survived, mostly because Ezekiel Elliott is damn good and he broke three long touchdown runs for 274 yards:

To be clear, there's no real need to press the panic button yet. The overall goal is still in sight. Just compared to last season, the Buckeyes rebounded from the loss to Virginia Tech with four-straight games where they scored at least 50 points and had a three-touchdown margin of victory. Everything was clicking on that side of the ball.

For the Hoosiers, they just missed a program-defining victory, and it is not a stretch to say they could win 8 games this year:

While Indiana might not be very good, the evidence through five games would indicate that they are good enough. This is already developing into a wacky year of parody in college football -- and Indiana, if they can stay healthy, is poised to take advantage of it. Indiana has exceedingly winnable matchups against Penn State and Rutgers the next two weeks. After James Franklin's team struggled with Army at home Saturday, it's reasonable even to think Vegas might favor them in both. Win both of those, and the Hoosiers would be bowl eligible seven games into the season. The #iufb4gameday might return after that as well, albeit on the road, as the Hoosiers would be 6-1 (and maybe even ranked!) heading into East Lansing to take on a probably undefeated Michigan State team. After yesterday's performance, it's time to adjust the goalposts for this Indiana football season.

Michigan State 24, Purdue 21

For the third year in a row Purdue had the football trailing Michigan State in the fourth quarter by a touchdown or less. David Blough even got the Boilers into Spartan territory before the Michigan State defense got a big stop:

MSU should drop in the polls, but it doesn't matter. They're 5-0 overall and 0-5 against the spread. Only the first number means something. What does matter are the same problems the team is making. I think we've officially reached the point where we can stop the "What if" game with MSU and the Playoff. There's a LONG way to go until then, and MSU won't get there if it doesn't fix things.

Our friends at Boiled Sports see some hope, however:

Suddenly, despite being 1-4 (0-1), there may be a glimmer of hope. Sure, with John Shoop still calling the plays, there will be frustrations. But does the Minnesota game suddenly seem like it's back in play? It surely does, at least as we sit here on Saturday afternoon.

Even the most optimistic Purdue football fans were having a hard time seeing how Purdue was going to find 2 or 3 more victories this season so that it doesn't wind up feeling like a step backwards. Essentially, they need to "steal" one of the games they shouldn't expect to win. They almost managed to do it today against one of the best teams in the country. If the incremental progress continues, a breakthrough may be coming.

Northwestern 27, Minnesota 0

Speaking of Minnesota, the Gophers have an atrocious offense that works as such:


They also have a full blown quarterback issue as they join the ranks of musical QBs:

What went wrong?  Well, it is all the same things we have seen throughout the year at various times.  Injuries and lack of depth has hurt the defense.  The offensive line has been pretty bad.  The quarterback was awful.  The game-plan and plays-calling was uninspiring. Receivers were still unable to get any separation. And special teams, particularly punt coverage today, was a problem as well.  Not much went right.

Northwestern, on the other hand, has a really, really good defense:

Northwestern fans had their reservations about the type of team that would emerge from both the home and visiting locker rooms. Minnesota may turn out to be a bad team, or at least one with a bad offense, but shutting out a Big Ten opponent is always tough. The best feeling that came from that game for me was when it was 3-0 in the first quarter and I felt that Northwestern had all the points it needed to win the game. That says something about this defense. It's not every day you have a "taking care of business" quality win to open up B1G play.

Iowa 10, Wisconsin 6

Is Wisconsin vulnerable? For Purdue to miraculously make a bowl it needs to win all four B1G home games (Difficult, but not impossible) and win a road game. Dare I say Wisconsin could be one?

Wisconsin had its chances on offense in the second half. The Badgers' worst field position during that time was its own 31, and four of its last five drives started from at least its own 41-yard line. One silver lining from the offense was the fact the Badgers didn't go three-and-out on any of their drives in the second half, but all six of their offensive drives ended in Iowa territory. Only three points came from them.

Iowa is on its way to being a favorite in the West now, along with Northwestern:

The win shakes just about every monkey off its back.  For the first time since 2009, Iowa has beaten a ranked team on the road.  For the first time since 2009, Iowa is 5-0.  And for the first time since the last week of 2010, Iowa should be ranked in the AP Top 25.  New Kirk might not have been on full display Saturday, but Old Kirk won an Old Kirk game, and fittingly brings his team home as a Big Ten co-favorite.  Move your feet and feel united, indeed.

Michigan 28, Maryland 0

Michigan looks like a team that could challenge in the East, as the defense continues to impress:

The formula now appears to be De'Veon Smith running the ball between the tackles early in the game, to get the opposing front 7 battered and bruised. Hopefully he will return to action Saturday. This appears to be the case, as Harbaugh hinted toward his injury being a one week job. There is speculation that he could have even played this week if, you know, Michigan thought there was a chance they could lose to Maryland.

Maryland just looks awful, and is probably the worst team in the B1G:

After a disastrous start last week against West Virginia, where the Mountaineers went up 21-0 in the first quarter and ended up massacring the Terps 45-6, the Terrapins shut down No. 22 Michigan's offense completely until the Wolverines broke through for two field goals late in the second quarter.

However, there are some caveats to be stated here.

Michigan's offense isn't actually that great. Sure, they hung 31 on BYU in the first half last week, but that's not representative of their entire season. According to S&P+, the Wolverines have the 48th-best offense in the country on that list. Meanwhile, West Virginia ranks 14th in defensive S&P+.

Penn State 20, Army 14

The Nittany Lions needed a late defensive stop to hold off a service academy. Not good:

With apologies to the fine young men from West Point, this is a game that should not have been in doubt until the final minute. Penn State is bigger, stronger, faster and downright better at every single position on the field. Yes, Army plays exceptionally hard, and runs an offense that makes prepping for them difficult. What continues to boggle the mind though, is an inability, or perhaps worse, a refusal, to make adjustments to an offense that seems to rely exclusively on the prowess of a true freshman running back, who sat this one out with an injury.

Illinois 14, Nebraska 13

Nebraska suffers another late loss as an Illini TD with 10 seconds left gives Illinois a surprising win:

Wes Lunt hit Geronimo Allison with a 1-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds left in the game to unwrap the present Nebraska gifted Illinois in a 14-13 win on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Illinois kicker Taylor Zalewski, who missed two first-half field goals, converted the extra point to give the Illini their only lead in the game.

The Illini (4-1, 1-0 in Big Ten) defense stopped the Cornhuskers (2-3, 0-1) on a fourth-and-7 at their own 27-yard line with only 51 seconds to play to give Lunt one last shot at winning the drive.

For Nebraska, it was a third last second or overtime loss in five games:

The Huskers lead 13-7 and had a third down with 55 seconds left in Illinois territory. Illinois had no timeouts. Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr rolled left on a bootleg, then fired an incomplete pass to Devine Ozigbo. As a result, Illinois got the ball back with time left to move down the field against Nebraska's poor secondary. In the post game presser, Mike Riley said the playcall was for a quarterback run without a pass option, meaning that Armstrong improvised.

The third down call will be debated for the rest of Nebraska football history, but it was not one play that lost this game. A far better debate will be had wondering why offensive coordinator continued to have Armstrong throw the ball when it was clear Nebraska was struggling in the passing game.

Non-conference Opponents:

Marshall 27, Old Dominion 7 - It should be noted that Marshall has made a QB change as well to Chase Litton.

Indiana State 56, Missouri State 28 - The Trees are now 3-1. Guess who gave them the one?

Pittsburgh 17, Virginia Tech 13 - Okay, so everyone knows how to stop VaTech except for Purdue.

Bowling Green 28, Buffalo 22 - The Falcons get a solid MAC opening win.