The Big Ten title race is starting to get interesting.
Despite spotting the Wolverines seven points less than a minute into the game, Iowa held off a pesky Michigan squad to go 6-0 on the season, and Ohio State once again proved that their defense is not only the Big Ten's best, but one of the best in the nation with an 18-point victory over the previously unbeaten Wisconsin, despite holding the ball on offense for only just over a quarter.
Those victories put the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes in control of their own destinies. But, both teams will have to get through a couple of tests before their Nov. 14 showdown in Columbus.
This week the Hawkeyes will travel to Madison to take on an angry group of Badgers who, despite leading in most every statical category (except the only one that matters), must regroup and get their league leading offense back on track.
The Buckeyes will have to travel to Happy Valley on Nov. 7 to take on a Penn State team that is still looking to defend their crown.
Then there are those wildcards from Michigan. Both the Wolverines and Spartans, despite having two conference losses, are teams capable of knocking off one of the favorites.
The Spartans will battle both Iowa and Penn State in East Lansing and the Wolverines must go on the road to take on the Badgers, but get Penn State and archrival Ohio State in the Big House.
The second half of the Big Ten season has shaped up rather nicely and the fight for the conference crown is heating up.
Which team will make it Pasadena?
The B/R Big Ten Players of the Week:
Offensive Player of the Week: TE Tony Moeaki, Iowa
Defensive Player of the Week: S Kurt Coleman, Ohio State
Special Teams Player of the Week: KR Ray Small, Ohio State
On to the rankings...
T1. Iowa Hawkeyes (four) 84 points
TC: The Hawkeyes did enough to defeat a solid Michigan team on Blackout Night at Kinnick Stadium and stay undefeated. Iowa still isn't getting enough respect nationally as an undefeated team with a ten-game winning streak, but they'll have a chance to prove the doubters wrong.
Finish the year without a loss, including a victory in Columbus, and the Hawkeyes should play for the BCS title (despite still looking in from outside the Top Ten).
TB: Is there any team more clutch in the Big Ten than the Hawkeyes? It seems like every time they need a big play, Ricky Stanzi and company simply deliver. They are still undefeated and closed out a tough, feisty Wolverines team in Iowa City.
RJ: The Hawkeyes survived a late surge to become the only undefeated team in the Big Ten but will have their hands full when they travel to Madison next week to take on the Wisconsin Badgers.
KG: Iowa beat Michigan for only the 11th time in school history on Saturday in yet another emotional, down to the wire game. After spotting the Wolverines seven points off a Ricky Stanzi pick-six on the second play of the game, the Hawkeye offense took off.
The return of tight end Tony Moeaki, who led all receivers with 105 yards on six catches and two touchdowns, enabled Stanzi and the passing game to take off on a night when the defense was stopping the run. The Hawkeye defense, as opportunistic as ever, forced five turnovers and limited the Michigan passing game to only 11 completions and 124 yards and two interceptions.
T1. Ohio State Buckeyes (four) 84 points
TB: The best defensive line in the Big Ten came up huge once again, sacking Scott Tolzien six times and forcing two Wisconsin turnovers, both of which were Pick-6s. The offense barely had the ball, but they really never needed it at all.
BF: The Buckeyes put on a great defensive performance against the Badgers. Ohio State’s offense…not so much.
TC: The Buckeyes disposed of previously undefeated Wisconsin in relatively easy fashion, thanks to a trio of non-offensive touchdowns. OSU should breeze through its next three games (at Purdue, Minnesota, New Mexico State) before the back-to-back battles with title contenders Penn State and Iowa.
KG: The Ohio State defense delivered a truly masterful performance against the Badgers. Led by a tremendous and incredibly deep defensive line who got constant pressure on Scott Tolzien, the Silver Bullets racked up six sacks, held John Clay to under 60 yards rushing and the entire team to a 2.7 yard per rush average, and had two interception returns for touchdowns. Considering the defense was on the field for just under three full quarters makes the performance all the more remarkable.
3. Penn State Nittany Lions 71 points
JA: The Nittany Lions truly are unknown because they keep scheduling these patsy teams and it is impossible to tell if they can really play tough when they must. They lost to the Iowa Hawkeyes in Happy Valley—but they have faced no other truly good team to date.
This week they must face a decent Minnesota team at home. They should win it but, at least, they will be tested again. They come in at number three, but only because no one else has stepped up to prove themselves better!
TC: The Nittany Lions did what they were supposed to against Eastern Illinois, posting a 52-3 victory and padding Daryll Clark's stats in the process. The guess here is that the Lions would win at least a piece of the conference crown by winning out (assuming an OSU win over Iowa).
BF: I think I can speak for the entire Hawkeye Nation when I say…thank you Penn State! PSU beat up on smack-talking former Iowa QB Jake Christensen, holding him to 137 passing yards. The Nittany Lions also sacked him five times, returned his fumble for a TD and picked off one of his passes.
KG: If you have a handle on this team, can you please tell me what you are looking at? The Lions have exactly one game against an opponent with comparable talent, coaching, and resources. That one game, against Iowa, the Nittany Lions lost and didn't look good doing it.
The schedule stiffens up in the next few weeks with Minnesota and Ohio State coming to Happy Valley and road games at Michigan and Michigan State. Finally we will learn a little more about what this team is made of.
4. Wisconsin Badgers 59 points
TC: When you gain twice as many yards as your opponent, you're supposed to win the game, right? The visiting Badgers rolled up 368 yards in offense, compared to only 184 for the Buckeyes, but Ohio State's three long returns (two interceptions and one kickoff) was enough to spoil Wisconsin's perfect start to 2009.
RJ: The Badgers offensively blew the Buckeyes out of the water but some costly turnovers and poor special teams play cost them the game, next week they have a shot at taking down another Big Ten favorite in Iowa.
TB: A rough day for the offense saw John Clay fail to produce and Scott Tolzien get battered all day long. That was their first true test all season long, and they will look to rebound against Iowa.
KG: The Badgers were on the receiving end of arguably one of the strangest losses in school history. Wisconsin had more yards, more opportunities, more offensive success, and controlled the time of possessions almost three to one.
But, the Badgers offensive line couldn't handle the Ohio State front and the Buckeyes made three games changing plays to break the game open. Now the Badgers must refocus for a visit from undefeated Iowa.
5. Michigan Wolverines 56 points
RJ: The Wolverines lost in a nail biter to Iowa despite turning over the ball five times. The Wolverines need to find some consistency if they hope to not fold before the end of season like Minnesota did in 2008.
JK: Defense is getting better and showing signs of life. Offense needs consistency but hey, they are the youngest team in FBS. Five turnovers, with a young team, in a hostile environment, against a top Big 10 team...yet only lose by two?! That shows how scary Michigan's potential is when things actually get clicking.
TC: Occasionally, star freshman quarterbacks will play like...well...freshman quarterbacks. Rich Rodriguez found that out Saturday after Tate Forcier's less-than-stellar performance. Watching Denard Robinson try and run an eight-minute offense in a two-minute drill situation was painful as well.
KG: Another tough loss for the Wolverines will test the mettle of this young team. The Wolverines did turn in another excellent game on the ground with Brandon Minor leading the way with 95 tough yards and two touchdowns.
With Penn State looming and games with Wisconsin and Ohio State to close the season, the Wolverines must find a little of that early season offensive magic and continue to get better on defense. It could be mean the difference between a New Year's Day Bowl or a trip to Detroit.
6. Minnesota Golden Gophers 48 points
TB: Tim Brewster the last two years has been able to fly under the radar a little bit, after scoring 35 of 38 points to take down the Boilermakers. The cold weather forced more of a running attack, the Gophers took care of business and should be back in the bowls again this year.
TC: The Gophers finally proved there's more to Minnesota football than Eric Decker, rushing for 207 yards in an easy win over turnover-prone Purdue. Decker finished with only three catches, and coach Tim Brewster's team only attempted ten passes all afternoon in the 35-13 triumph.
JA: The Purdue Boilermakers started out fine in their game at Minnesota. They led 10-0 at the end of the first quarter. Minnesota was not firing on all cylinders. But miscues and turnovers cost the Boilers, eventually allowing the Gophers to go ahead 14-10 as the first half concluded.
The third quarter proved to be a disaster as myriad miscues cost the Purdue team three touchdowns. The score ended up at 35-20 in favor of Minnesota who rebounded and found their game in the late going. It’s going to be a long season in Purdue. It has already been long enough...
KG: The continued improvement of the Gopher running game only makes this Minnesota team more dangerous. Eric Decker, the team's best player and entire offense for much of the season, was only needed to catch three balls on Saturday.
7. Michigan State Spartans 45 points
TB: Sparty is working hard to get past their bad start to the season. Big wins over Michigan and a weak Illinois team have Dantonio's squad back at .500, and Larry Caper has been very solid for the Spartans lately.
TC: The Spartans played without starting quarterback Kirk Cousins, lost leading running back Glenn Winston before halftime, and still thoroughly manhandled a sinking Illini squad in Champaign. Give Coach Mark Dantonio credit for rallying his team after a 1-3 start.
KT: The Spartans have definitely improved on their 1-3 start, but a 24-14 win over Illinois isn't that impressive, and Michigan State needs to turn it up a notch if they want to move up the Big Ten rankings.
KG: Two weeks in a row, the Spartans have looked like the team many expected to see this season. With Kirk Cousins sidelined with an injury, Keith Nichol took over and provided a decent performance steering the offense. The play of running backs Larry Capers and Glen Winston allowed the offense to control the tempo of the game and take the pressure of Nichol.
8. Northwestern Wildcats 33 points
KT: Northwestern may be the worst 4-2 team in the country. A 16-6 win over Miami (Ohio) is far from impressive and the Wildcats will be in trouble if they play like they have been for the rest of the season.
JA: The Wildcats stopped the winless Miami of Ohio team with an impressive defense, capitalizing on turnovers to provide scoring opportunities. In the meantime their own offense was flat and ineffective.
The Northwestern team may have been over-confident; but the Cats could have reinforced some better habits than those they displayed on Saturday afternoon. Next weekend they have to travel to East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans and they will need to do far
better than this.
TC: There's no such thing as an ugly win, right? That's what fans in Evanston are thinking after sliding by winless Miami (Ohio), 16-6, thanks to four RedHawks turnovers.
KG: The Wildcats are walking a fine line. Though the 'Cats sit at 4-2 through six weeks, those four wins (Towson, Eastern Michigan, Purdue, Miami-OH) are less than impressive and of their two losses (Syracuse and Minnesota) only the Gophers loss is remotely acceptable. The back half of the schedule isn't so manageable with game at Michigan State and Iowa on the road and home dates with Penn State and Wisconsin.
9. Purdue Boilermakers 20 points
TC: If there was an award for "Worst Head Case in Football", the Boilermakers would be preparing an acceptance speech right now. Purdue has led in every game of the year en route to choking the last five away in spectacular fashion.
Hard to point out just one unit, but the Boilermakers' "special teams" should be renamed the "worse-than-ordinary teams". A seven-yard punt, yet another kickoff fumble, and a blocked field goal that Minnesota returned for a touchdown were the latest lowlights in the comedy of errors.
KT: The Boilermakers move up a spot after a loss, mainly because Indiana got embarrassed and they didn't lose as badly. If Purdue can learn to finish games, they could move up down the stretch.
TB: It doesn't look good for the Boilermakers, giving up 35 of 38 after a strong start against the Gophers in a conference game they had to win. It doesn't get easier with the red-hot Buckeyes coming into West Lafayette this weekend.
KG: Once again the Boilers choked away a two possession lead. This broken record is starting to get tiresome and perhaps Danny Hope has more to worry about than just the X's and O's. Fundamentals are severely lacking and a more back to basics approach could do the Boilers some good. First step, give every player who has fumbled this season a football and make them carry that thing 24/7!
T11. Illinois Fighting Illini 14 points
JA: It is difficult to understand the total impotence of the Illinois team. They seem to have enough talent to be decent but nothing has unified this team and made them a cohesive whole.
The disparate parts defy the team concept and to win, the Illini have to work as a team. Next week they travel to Indiana where they must win one or their season deteriorates into a complete casualty.
TB: Ron Zook looks like he has one foot out the door in Champaign. Illinois just cannot get on track and they are not playing up to their talent level, which is much higher than they are showing this year.
TC: Is there a third option at quarterback? Backup Eddie McGee looked worse than benched starter Juice Williams at the helm of the Illini attack, and Ron Zook's seat is easily the hottest in the Big Ten. Williams relieved McGee in the second half, but the spark was too little, too late.
KG: Another team with some issues between the ears. There is something wrong in Champaign and it seems like we aren't getting the whole story. How could this team have regressed so much?
What has Zook done, other than bench Juice Williams for two quarters, to fix the problem? Is Zook even capable of fixing this problem? Questions abound and the answers are few and far between.
T11. Indiana Hoosiers 14 points
TB: The early season winning streak seems like a distant memory. 47 points to a Virginia team that lost to William & Mary is a sign that the Hoosiers just don't have the horses that they showed against Michigan.
TC: Some teams manage to do more than their fair share of damage to the Big Ten's national reputation, and this week, that would be the Indiana Hoosiers. Losing by 40 points to anyone anywhere is a shame and embarrassment, but losing by 40 points to a previously 1-3 team that dropped a 12-point decision to William and Mary earlier this year is nearly unthinkable.
At 3-3, it would stand to reason that Lynch needs to figure out how to split his last six games and take the Hoosiers to a bowl to save his job.
KG: Wow! Did I misjudge this Hoosier team! After starting 3-0 and playing Michigan down to the wire many believed Bill Lynch and Indiana had turned a corner. Turns out, they only peeked around the corner, then retreated to the safety of playing horrendous football. It's hard when people expect things out of you, isn't it?
RJ: The Hoosiers were blown out and a team that looked like they were likely headed to a bowl now look like they will struggle to make one.