Another weekend, another set of Big Ten embarassments. That's done now, though. Time for conference play!
The Next Opponent: Indiana
Indiana had an off week last week to prepare for their trip to Evanston. Indiana's wins wouldn't be impressive for any other Big Ten team, but beating anyone, even UMass, 45-6 is a major improvement over last year's team. Cameron Coffman should be back starting at quarterback for the Hoosiers after an injury forced Indiana to turn to third string quarterback Nate Sudfeld in their loss to Ball State. Northwestern shouldn't have any problem in picking up a fifth win at home.
The Big Ten: Winners
The good news is that most of the Big Ten didn't do anything embarassing last weekend.
Minnesota: Beat Syracuse 17-10
Minnesota picked Ryan Nassib off twice and recovered two Syracuse fumbles as part of a dominant defensive performance. What offense the managed came primarily through the air, with Max Shortell posting a 16-30, 231 yard day. Minnesota is the only Big Ten unbeaten that Northwestern plays this year, and Shortell's solid play replacing the injured Marqueis Gray may be an important factor if Gray is slow to recover from his injury. This week, Minnesota travels to Iowa City to defend Floyd of Rosedale.
Ohio State: Beat UAB 29-15
Ohio State let UAB remain in the game until there were five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, when a Braxton Miller touchdown run put two scores between the teams. Ohio State is probably the best of the three unbeaten Big Ten teams, but I don't think that they are nearly good enough to run the table after a three week stretch in which they failed to dominate a trio of mediocre opponents. Still, they have a good chance of winning their division, though they cannot play in the conference championship game. This week, they travel to East Lansing for a date with Sparty.
Penn State: Beat Temple 24-13
Penn State won their second straight to claw their way back to .500 on the season. Matt McGloin had a good day, going over 300 yards with a healthy 8.8 yards per attempt, though he did throw an interception. The Penn State defense didn't force any turnovers, but they shut down Temple's passing attack and performed well against the run while keeping Temple out of the end zone until the last two minutes of the game. This week, Penn State pay Illinois a visit. A decisive win would confirm that Penn State is, at the least, still able to dominate the bottom of the conference.
Wisconsin: Beat UTEP 37-26
UTEP is bad, and Wisconsin let them close the gap to four points with less than eight minutes in the game. Still, the Badgers went on to score two more touchdowns to provide a two-score margin, all while lacking Montee Ball for most of the game. Joel Stave looked adequate when dropping back, and the running game finally got on track, suggesting that Wisconsin has solved the worst problems from their disappointing start. This week, Wisconsin heads to Lincoln. I don't think they will win, but the Nebraska defense should give Stave the chance to build confidence against somewhat tougher competition.
Michigan State: Beat Eastern Michigan 23-7
Looking at the box score, you would think that Michigan State dominated this game from start to finish. Instead, they trailed 7-3 at the half and only scored their first touchdown in the fourth quarter. Still, a win is a win, and Sparty eventually managed to put their directional brethren away. This week, Ohio State comes to town in what passes for a battle of heavyweights in this year's Big Ten.
Nebraska: Beat Idaho State 73-7
The score says everything. Idaho State isn't a good team at their level, and visiting an FBS program was not going to end well. Nebraska should beat Wisconsin by a more competitive margin this week.
The Big Ten: Losers
Only a few teams lost this week, but oh my did they lose.
Illinois: Lost 52-24 to Louisiana Tech
Illinois was the first team to hold Louisiana Tech under 56 this year, but 0-3 Houston managed to come within a touchdown of the Bulldogs and even 1-3 Rice managed to come within 20. Illinois is here not so much for getting torched by the Louisiana Tech offense but for a few incredible achievements. First, Illinois managed to force 3 turnovers...and still lose the turnover battle by 3. They scored 13 fewer points than a terrible Rice team managed against the Bulldogs. They did this at home against a WAC opponent. This week, they host Penn State; they need to at least keep that game respectable.
Iowa: Lost 32-31 to Central Michigan
Iowa picked up their second loss in a baffling manner, scoring a touchdown to go up 8 with two minutes to go, allowing a touchdown with 45 seconds remaining, stopping the two point conversion attempt that would have tied the game, and then allowing Central Michigan to recover an onside kick and drive for a field goal to win the game. Central Michigan was last seen being dismantled by Michigan State 41-7; Iowa was almost as good on offense but utterly lost on defense in the last two minutes. This week, Iowa hosts Minnesota. After losing two games early, one to Iowa State, failing to regain Floyd might send Iowa fans even further over the edge.
Michigan: Lost 13-6 to Notre Dame
I get it, Michigan. You went on the road against a good team and couldn't pull out a win. You did hold Notre Dame to their lowest point total of the season so far, so you have that going for you. What else is there...oh, right, that whole 5 drive, 5 interception sequence in the first half. On a day in which the Michigan defense showed up to play, the offense completely failed them, turning the ball over 6 times, including multiple turnovers in field goal range. This week, Michigan takes the week off to prepare for Purdue.
The Non-Con Opponents
Northwestern still hasn't beaten an opponent with a win over an FBS team.
Syracuse: Lost 17-10 to Minnesota
So far this year, Syracuse has lost to 4-0 Northwestern, 4-0 Minnesota, and 3-1 USC. Their schedule has turned out to be quite a bit more difficult than expected. This week, they have an off week.
Vanderbilt: Lost 48-3 to Georgia
Vanderbilt sees Syracuse's schedule and laughs: the Commodores have lost to 4-0 Northwestern, 4-0 South Carolina, and 4-0 Georgia. Like Syracuse, they have the week off.
BC had their bye week last week; this week, they host Clemson. They are unlikely to notch the first FBS win for a Northwestern non-conference opponent.
As far as watching and rooting go, I will obviously be watching Northwestern take on Indiana. Michigan State-Ohio State should give a sense of how the early frontrunners match up. Finally, Minnesota-Iowa has tremendous schadenfreude potential if the Gophers can hold on to Floyd.