Despite loss, Big Ten race still wide open

So the Gophers lost the biggest game in your lifetime. Get over it. Big Ten leader Michigan State is coming to the Metrodome Saturday, and if the Gophers are to have any chance at a Big Ten title they can still win, they must beat the Spartans, winners of four straight games. Read why the race is still anyone's to win.

The talk shows have been filled with angry callers, some in pain and agony over Friday's 38-35 loss to Michigan, some in disbelief, and some who still are remaining positive. Web site chat rooms are filled with armchair quarterbacks expressing their thoughts too. Some blame Gophers coach Glen Mason and his staff for the loss, others blame the Gophers offense, and some give credit to Michigan.

It's safe to say the hangover from Friday's loss won't go away anytime soon. But with Big Ten co-leader Michigan State coming to the Metrodome Saturday, sulking in their sorrows will get the Gophers nowhere.

The loss to Michigan was crushing, but for the Gophers football team, it still is far too early to give up hope of that Big Ten title. Even though the Gophers fell from No. 13 to No. 19 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll and from No. 17 to No. 25 in the Associated Press poll, there is still plenty to be accomplished.

And it starts Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Metrodome against Michigan State. The Spartans (6-1, 3-0) are ranked No. 18 in the USA Today/ESPN poll, No. 15 in the AP poll, and tied with Wisconsin for first place in the Big Ten.

Spartans quarterback Jeff Smoker was 23 of 31 for 317 yards, including two touchdowns in Saturday's 49-14 win over Illinois. Tyrell Dortch, who missed last season due to a broken leg, scored the first two touchdowns of his career on runs of 1 and 4 yards and ended the day with six carries for 35 yards. Jaren Hayes led the Spartans on the ground once again with 12 carries for 56 yards.

The Spartans enter the game winners of four straight and with an offense that is averaging 30.1 points per game, led by Smoker and a passing attack that is averaging 271.9 yards per game, second in the Big Ten behind Michigan. Uh-oh. Afteer watching Michigan pick apart the Gophers secondary, you can bet Smoker and his mates are licking their chops heading into this weekend.

But the reason to remain optimistic comes from the boost Gophers fans got from neighbors and rivals Wisconsin. The Badgers snapped defending national champion Ohio State's 19-game winning streak, defeating the Buckeyes 17-10. With the Buckeyes losing, The Big Ten now has become one big mess.

Michigan State and Wisconsin are 3-0; Purdue is 2-0; Michigan and Minnesota are 2-1, Iowa, which had a bye last week, is 1-1; and so is Ohio State.

But things will shake up again this week. Hapless Illinois plays at Michigan, Purdue plays at Wisconsin, and Iowa plays at Ohio State. ESPN may have touted last week as shakedown Saturday nationally, and this could be shakeup Saturday in the Big Ten.

The Gophers still have a chance to make something big happen in the Big Ten, but it starts Saturday with Michigan State.

Big Ten Teams in the Polls:

Michigan State – No. 15 AP Poll; No. 18 ESPN/USA Today

Wisconsin – No. 14 AP; No. 12 ESPN/USA Today

Purdue – No. 13 AP; No. 15 ESPN/USA Today

Michigan – No. 17 AP; No. 17 ESPN/USA Today

Minnesota – No. 25 AP; No. 19 ESPN/USA Today

Ohio State – No. 8 AP; No. 8 ESPN/USA Today

Iowa – No. 9 AP; No. 9 ESPN/USA Today

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