Well, this has the feel of 2007 more and more, doesn't it? #1 ranked teams have lost three weeks in a row, Illinois looks good (but not in a 'let's go to Pasadena and get our ass kicked by USC' sort of way) and the Big Ten race is beginning to clear up, just a bit. Wait, no it isn't. It's a mess, but in a good way.
Who we thought was going to run away and hide with the crown is maybe the third best team in the conference right now, the team that had the inside track to the title no longer does, and the team that historically collapses in the most painful way possible did it again yesterday...right up until the point where they won the game.
Delayed kneejerk reaction, after the jump.
Wisconsin at Iowa: Holy crap, what a great game! One team would punch, the other team would conterpunch, but in the end, Wisconsin won that game, much in the same way they flat out whipped Ohio State. Scott Tolzien was efficient, the offensive line was dominant in the fourth quarter, and a baffling series of playcalling by Iowa at the end made me think Kirk Ferentz went to the Les Miles school of clock management. Iowa lost not because they can't make a field goal or extra point, not because they forced a turnover late and couldn't convert it into a touchdown, and not because Ricki Stanzi made a baffling shovel pass in the middle of the field with no timeouts left and the clock running out. Iowa lost because Wisconsin is the better, more complete team. Their special teams was better, their defense made a stop when they had to, their offense scored a TD when they had to to win the game, and their coaching staff was better. Period.
Michigan State at Northwestern: Michigan State always seems to lose games like this, and Northwestern always seems to win games like this. And for about 58 minutes, that script was playing out perfectly. MIchigan State struggled all day, Northwestern's Dan Persa was running and passing with relative ease, and then MSU got a spark from a fake punt and started a rally. They kept their cool, kept fighting and scratching, and pulled out a dramatic win with less than three minutes remaining. Last week Iowa had the inside track to the conference title, now that track runs through East Lansing. Iowa is not infallible at home, MSU isn't the same old MSU, and the Spartans have the inside track for the automatic BCS berth, and an outside shot at the title game. Northwestern is still a good team, but another gut wrenching loss leaves them a mid level bowl team at this point. A very dangerous mid level bowl team, but mid level nonetheless.
Purdue at Ohio State: Ohio State is one of the best teams in the country...as long as they play in the friendly confines of Ohio Stadium. Terrelle Pryor is a legitimate Heisman trophy candidate and would win running away...if he never left the state of Ohio. And that's the problem with Ohio State. They have some quality wins, and I really feel they are one of the better teams in the country, but they need to win on the road. They took a plucky Purdue team behind the woodshed, but quite frankly, big deal. I can't consider OSU a legitimate conference title contender until they can win a big game on the road. In an unrelated note, I will be in Iowa City for that game. No one expected Purdue to win this game, but I did expect them to play better. They can still get to a bowl, and this doesn't end their dream. Thye need to play better, to be sure, but they still have a lot to play for.
Penn State at Minnesota: Penn State's offense finally showed up, and Minnesota is still Minnesota, new coach and all. I'd like to say more about these teams, but Penn State is in a down year and Minnesota is approaching historically bad, which is a statement for the Gophers. Penn State will have trouble in their bowl game, and the Gophers will hopefully hire a good coach, and maybe win a home game next year. That would be sweet.
Indiana at Illinois: The Illinois defense is for real, and they stymied Ben Chappell all day long. Nathan Scheelhaase is developing a lot better than the other Big Ten super freshamn, Robert Bolden, and the Illini offense has found a nice rhythm. Illinois looked very sound fundamentally on both sides of the ball yesterday, and I give Ron Zook credit. He has rallied his team facing a lot of uncertainty, and a bowl game looks almost a lock at this point.