#1. WISCONSIN (last week, #1): The Badgers did to Northwestern's spread offensive attack what it has done to every team it has faced this year; they shut it down. After getting out to an early large lead, the Badgers sat back and let Bret Bielema's boys do the talking. Wisconsin gets a bye week this week, and they have two realistic challenges ahead the rest of the year in Iowa and Michigan State. They do not play Michigan this year, setting up a 2002 scenario for the Big Ten, where Iowa and Ohio State both went 8-0, as they did not play one another. Like we mentioned last week, can you imagine an undefeated Wisconsin team coming into Kinnick Stadium with National Title hopes on the line and perhaps an Iowa team that needs a win to secure a January 1 bowl game? Better place your orders for Bavarian Kraut and Johnsonville brauts right now.
#2. MICHIGAN (last week, #2): Big win for Big Blue at Purdue last week, 16-14. This looks like a classic Michigan team that does just enough to beat the team on the schedule that week. True frosh RB Michael Hart continues to show that he is a future 1st team all Big Ten back. Heck, if he keeps on racking up 200-yard games, like he did against the Boilermaker defense, he might do that this year. Michigan State and Northwestern both travel to Ann Arbor, with the season finale against the less than stellar Buckeyes in Columbus are what stands in the way of no worse than a tie for a Big Ten Championship.
#3. IOWA (last week, #4): Well, here they are again. That team that everyone else in the league and nation writes off for dead in late September and early October; your Iowa Hawkeyes. The Hawks stand at 3-1 in the league and make their first appearance in this year's BCS Top 25, checking in at 23rd. While they did not rack up many style points in their 6-4 win at Penn State, Purdue's vaunted offensive attack only beat the Nittany Lions by five more points than did the Hawks. Wisconsin's defense allowed more points to Penn State (three) than did Iowa's defense (zero). Actually, the score of this game could have read IOWA: Net Four, Penn State, Net Two, as the Hawkeyes had two safeties in the game and took one of them intentionally. Up next for Iowa is Illinois, and the Hawks could play the same way on offense and win by two or more touchdowns this week in Chambana.
#4. MICHIGAN STATE (last week, #5): They had a bye last week, and Purdue lost. So there you have my math. Also, Michigan State does not play the Boilers this year. However, reality might be just around the corner for the upstart Spartans, as they head to Ann Arbor this week before hosting Ohio State and Wisconsin and then traveling to Penn State. Actually, a 2-2 record to close the year is not so out of the question, and that would give Michigan State a 5-3 record in league play. Not bad for a team that lost to Rutgers in the opening week of the season.
#5. PURDUE (last week, #4): Purdue lost a home-field heartbreaker for the second week in a row, this time falling by two against Michigan. Kyle Orton's Heisman candidacy is on life support. Purdue travels to Northwestern this weekend for a game that looks a bit dangerous for them, at least to me. This is what I call a ‘cup check' game. If you played high school baseball, then you know what a cup check is. It's something that a teammate might do to another teammate to make sure he is…um…has everything he needs to play the game. Playing with a cup in baseball gives you a little bit more confidence when your shortstop three hops you on a routine play. Trust me on that one. Will Purdue be able to ‘Boiler Up' now that they are no longer playing for a Big Ten title, something they have believed they could win this year? We'll know this Saturday. They probably deserve a higher ranking than #5, but two home losses in a row does not happen to would be Big Ten title teams/
#6. MINNESOTA (last week, #6): Beating Illinois 45-0 might have returned the mojo to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but it came too little, too late as the Gophers are also out of the Big Ten title hunt. But hey, Glen Mason proved that he is consistent, as he continues to pummel Big Ten also rans. He has not beaten a team that has finished in the upper division of the Big Ten (top five in my book) since beating a 5-3 Ohio State team in 2000. Did you know that the Gopher is a distant relative to the Paper Tiger?
That line above this paragraph is the literal and figurative cut off line in the league this year. Teams that are below the line are pretty much not that great to downright awful. Let us count the ways.
#7. NORTHWESTERN (last week, #7, yet above the cut off line)L: They lost to Wisconsin with some dignity, as they kept it interesting late in the game. They have a chance to get back above the cut off line this week if they could beat Purdue at home. That would also send Purdue below next week's cut off line.
#8. the ohio state university (last week, #10): ‘Hey, Buckeye Nation, you just beat Indiana at home? What are you going to do?' Well, I can tell you one thing, they ain't going to Disneyland this year, because they will not win enough games to be in contention for the Cap One Bowl. They are 1-3 in the league at the midway point, and they have Penn State at home this weekend. A win would get them to five wins, one away from bowl eligibility. After that, the water gets real dicey as they go to Michigan State and Purdue before finishing up at home against Michigan. 5-6 and out of the bowl picture is a real scenario for the Bucks, and something all Iowa fans should be rooting for. We will tell you why a little bit later.
#9. PENN STATE (last week, #8): Has a Penn State team ever been booed as loudly as they were last week outside of road games against Pitt in years gone by? This was a home game, and the boos were raining down on Joe Paterno and his charges. Surely they have more plays in their playbook than ‘fly route to Mike Robinson' and ‘shotgun option with Mike Robinson', don't they? Well, they do have another play, and that is ‘Mike Robinson overthrow wide open tight end'.
THE BAR IS CLOSED: YOU DON'T HAVE TO GO HOME, BUT YOU CAN'T STAY HERE
#10: INDIANA (last week #9, out of spite): Gerry, we really want to pull for you. Honest we do. But you just make it so hard.
#11: ILLINOIS (last week, and every week, #11): Thanks for nothin', Ron Turner. The only drama left for this week's Iowa-Illinois game was the Jon Beutjer factor. Now, he is at best #4 on your depth chart? Jon, is this what you came back for? The only thing that will save you from being Big Ten football's version of Granville Waiters is that you are not prematurely balding at the age of 24. (Honestly, there is no way that Waiters was in his early 20's while playing hoops for Ohio State. You know it, I know it.).
But take heart, Illini fans. Your hoops team will debut at #1 in our preseason Big Ten hoops power rankings. I bet that really warms your hearts. What I really want to know is if you guys even look up from your La Bamba burrito or your foosball table at Kam's when the Illini are playing football?
IOWA'S BOWL OUTLOOK
As previously mentioned, Michigan and Wisconsin do not play one another. If each wins out, there is an outside chance that both could earn BCS bowl bids. Yes, I said outside chance, because as of right now, Wisconsin sits at #7 in the BCS standings, with Michigan at #12. ACC teams Miami and Florida State are at three and five, and they have already played one another, so each could win out, giving that league two likely BCS bids. USC is #1 and Cal is #8, and they have played one another. Each could win out, and that league could see two teams selected. Utah is #6, and they should win out, giving them a likely BCS bid.
Georgia (#9) and Tennessee (#11) are from the SEC, and they have already played and are in the same division. Oklahoma (#2) and Texas (#10) have already played one another.
So as you can see, the chances of the Big Ten getting two BCS bids is not as good as it has been in recent years.
Right now, I give the Rose Bowl nod to Michigan, as they have a more favorable schedule. Wisconsin also hosts Minnesota, in addition to two road games at MSU and Iowa to close the year.
If just one team from the Big Ten gets a BCS bid, the team that did not get one from Michigan and Wisconsin will get the Cap One nod in Orlando.
I think we all expect Iowa to beat Illinois this weekend, and that would move them to 4-1 in the league. If the Hawks could win two of their three games in November, that would put them at 8-3 overall, and 6-2 in the league, and give them a great shot at a return trip to Tampa for the Outback Bowl. It would also pretty much guarantee then no worse than a trip to the Alamo in San Antonio, and let me tell you this for the 1,000th time; that is a GREAT bowl venue for Hawkeye fans. It might be the best of all of the Big Ten's affiliations, based on logistics and ease of being a tourist. I saw that with no disrespect to the fine folks at the Outback Bowl, as I really, really enjoyed Tampa last year.
A record of 7-4 should still give Iowa a good shot at the Alamo Bowl, UNLESS Ohio State finishes 6-5 or 7-4. If the Buckeyes do that, they might be too tempting a selection for the Alamo folks to pass up, because they have yet to have a shot at the Buckeye fan base that travels well. Plus, they might not get another shot at those wallets, I mean, Buckeye fans, for quite some time.
If that happens, the Sun Bowl would love to have Iowa.
If Iowa finishes 6-5 this year, then the Alamo would seem out of reach, with the Sun and the Music City Bowl as the likely destinations. I think Iowa has played its way out of Detroit.
So there you have it. 7-4, not worse than the Sun with the Alamo very much in play. 8-3, no worse than the Alamo with the Outback very much in play.
What if Iowa runs the table and finishes 9-2? You might see the Outback folks lobby for the Cap One to take either Michigan or Wisconsin, as the Hawkeyes were just there last year, and see if the Cap One would like to host the Hawkeye throngs, making it three straight Florida Bowl appearances in three different Florida cities for Iowa in three straight years.
Now, if the Big Ten DOES get two teams in the BCS, then an 8-3 Iowa team is probably a lock for a New Year's Day bowl, and likely the Cap One, while a 7-4 Iowa team probably fares no worse than the Alamo.
Have I told you how great of a bowl experience the Alamo Bowl is?