A Look Around The Big Ten

Another weekend of Big Ten action is in the books, and after two upsets, the conference race has been muddled even further. This weekend featured two upsets in the conference, including a simply unbelievable 63-32 smoking of Wisconsin, by the lowly Indiana Hoosiers.

Illinois (4-1, 1-1): The Illini have split their first two Big 10 games, after getting smoked by Michigan, then returning the favor against Minnesota in a 25-14 victory. The Kittner-Lloyd connection is one of the most productive in the Big 10, and their defense has allowed under 20 points per game thus far. In a down year for the Big 10, they look like a team that will probably represent the conference come late December or early January.

Indiana (1-3, 1-1): Indiana at Wisconsin. Before the game, if anyone had predicted a 63-32 score, it would have gone without saying that it's Wisconsin on top. Every factor seemed to be in Wisconsin's favor. But after Indiana took a 26-0 lead midway through the first quarter, the loyal Wisconsin fans seemed ready to throw themselves off the top of the stadium. Levron Williams did his best Aaron Greving impression, scoring 3 times on his first 4 carries. He ended up with an astonishing 280 yards and 6 touchdowns, which was the most touchdowns by a single player in Indiana history. Indiana ran for 449 yards on the day, and got themselves in the win column in surprising fashion.

Iowa (3-1, 1-1): The Hawkeyes' perfect season came to an end in West Lafayette during a 23-14 loss to Purdue. An encouraging sign is that the game was certainly winnable, and winnable road games against Top 20 teams have thus far been non-existent in Kirk Ferentz's era as head coach. Purdue's offense lay dormant for 3 quarters, but the Boilermakers still managed to rack up 13 points by halftime after a long interception return and 2 field goals made possible by awful punting on Iowa's part. The Hawkeyes must play in East Lansing next week, and this is easily one of the most critical games on the Iowa schedule. A win unquestionably puts them in the upper echelon of the Big 10, while the "rebuilding" tag could probably be put on the season after a loss, especially if it isn't close.

Michigan (4-1, 2-0): They may not be overrun with superstars like the Michigan teams of old, but in this conference, just winning's a feat, and Michigan's doing just that. In an ugly 20-0 beating of Penn State, Michigan remained one of just three teams in the Big 10 to remain unbeaten in the conference. Ron Bellamy and Marquise Walker form what is probably the best receiver tandem in the conference. Although the offensive line lost a remarkable 4 NFL players (3 were drafted, and another was an undrafted free agent that now starts for Washington) from last year, their line continues to look solid, and will have its own pros in due time. They're an early candidate for the Big Ten championship.

MSU (2-1, 0-1): The Spartans got a week off after a shocking defeat against Northwestern in which the Spartans returned a kickoff with 18 seconds left, then blew the game on a last-second field goal that came after a 54-yard pass play. After the emotional high of a huge win at Notre Dame, the Spartans couldn't keep up the streak. They received more bad news before the Northwestern game when Jason Harmon, a starting cornerback, broke his ankle, sidelining him for about two months. His only chance of returning to action would be for a bowl game, and he would probably be better served sitting that out and taking a medical redshirt year. With TJ Duckett and Charlie Rogers leading the skill positions, Michigan State is a threat to win any game on their schedule, and they will probably not go very much longer without a Big Ten victory.

Minnesota (1-3, 0-2): The Gophers continued their downward trend in the Big Ten after a 25-14 beating at the hands of Illinois. The Gold and Purple may still be seeing red, however, after a heartbreaking 35-28 loss against Purdue two weeks ago. Of the Gophers' last 6 games, they can only lose 2 and still be eligible for a bowl. Considering that games remain at Northwestern and Michigan, and against Ohio State, it is safe to say that at this point, the Gophers are not legitimate contenders for even postseason play.

Northwestern (3-1, 1-1): The magic has finally run out for the Wildcats. After last season, when the Wildcats seemed to win every game after being down by 50 points with 6 seconds to go, Northwestern kept up the luck with a remarkable last-minute drive to beat the Spartans back on the 30th of September. However, last weekend, Ohio State stuck it to the Cats by pounding the ball down their throats, to the tune of 38-20. It's evident that while the Northwestern offense is probably good enough for a bowl bid, their defense up front may keep them home on New Year's Day.

Ohio State (3-1, 2-0): The Buckeyes, despite another subpar performance at quarterback, thumped Northwestern on national television last weekend, 38-20. Ohio State ran for 287 yards, and only ran 11 passing plays the entire game. The Buckeyes ran up a 31-point lead going into the 4th quarter. Their defense, led by strong safety Mike Doss, beat the Wildcats into submission, and only allows 15.2 points per game, which ought to be enough to win most Big Ten games. That means a bowl bid is certainly a distinct possibility for this team, and the

Penn State (0-4, 0-3): Despite the complete lack of success that Penn State has had thus far, they are on top in one respect: "Happy Valley" is now the biggest misnomer in the industry, surpassing the "Tennessee Volunteers" moniker that ridiculously implies that SEC teams don't pay their recruits. Rather than building on the success of only losing by 6 points at Iowa, Penn State took a step backwards, being shut out against Michigan last weekend. The cruel reality that now faces Penn State fans is that not only is the program in unquestionably bad shape, but Bobby Bowden could easily win 6 games to take the record before Paterno wins 2. Compounding the Nittany Lions' problems is the fact that they've just begun the tough part of the schedule, facing Northwestern, Ohio State, and Southern Mississippi next. This is not a good team right now.

Purdue (4-0, 2-0): The Purdue Boilermakers are the only undefeated team in the Big 10, which is remarkable, considering the fact that they certainly haven't played like the best team in the conference. They were given a scare by Cincinnati, won in questionable fashion at Minnesota, trailed in the 4th quarter against Iowa, and have two freshmen (only one being a redshirt) fighting for the quarterback spot. Nonetheless, Brandon Hance has played well enough to win, and the defense has stepped up when they've needed a stop. The real test for Purdue comes this week, when they must travel to Ann Arbor. The next game is then against Northwestern, and if Purdue can at least split these two games, the remaining schedule is favorable for 9 or 10 wins, and a lucrative bowl for the defending Big 10 champions.

Wisconsin (3-3, 1-1): The Big 10 season may only be a couple weeks old, but the 31-point loss to previously winless Indiana by the Badgers is a virtual lock for the most unbelievable event in the conference for the entire season. Combined with the fact that punishments that include probation and scholarship losses , and last week was not good for Badger fans. Wisconsin is now 3-3 on the year, and must win 4 of their next 6 games to just be eligible for a bowl. They must first be able to stop the run, and they showed absolutely no signs of that against Indiana. Although Wisconsin is talented enough to run the table the rest of the way and finish 10-3, they could just as plausibly win only one or two more games. When the smoke clears, there could easily be another 3-way tie at the top at 6-2, and watching the year unfold in the Big 10 will certainly be exciting. Hopefully the Hawkeyes can rebound from the loss and top the standings at the end of the year!


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