Wow, the week that was. Part of me was glad I was halfway around the world, yet I still couldn't get away from the awful tragedy that unfolded at Penn State. It really overshadowed football and put the game in the proper perspective, but how we all wish it had been for reasons other than we have in front of us.
But the Penn State-Nebraska game was played, and rightly so. As were five other games that involved B1G teams. We saw healing, a non-conference laugher, a major upset, a rivalry game that wasn't, and what might be shaping up to be The Last Stand of Ron Zook.
Let's get to it, and see what the Kneejerk Reaction is for this week.
Northwestern 28, Rice 6. Three weeks ago, I had mistaken Northwestern for road kill on the side of I-64 near my house. They sat at 2-5, and it just seemed a matter of time before they lost two more games and eliminated themselves from a bowl game. But they rolled Indiana, and then stunned Nebraska, and essentially toyed with Rice for three quarters. Now they're 5-5 and almost all but assured of a bowl game. If they can beat Nebraska, they can beat Minnesota and/or Michigan State, right? Right? It's a much better team then the one that lost to Army, but which Northwestern team is going to show up these last two weeks---the five game losing streak one, or the three game winning streak one? I'll bet my money on the latter and a bowl game for the Wildcats.
Nebraska 17, Penn State 14. When Nebraska went up 17-0, Penn State would have had every right to say to heck with it, and roll over and get routed. I don't think that anyone would have blamed them. But they didn't. They fought back, and came within the length of a football of maybe getting a win. It would have been one of the most savory wins in Nittany Lion history considering the backdrop, but the effort to come back should make Penn Staters just as proud. Even with the loss, Penn State is still in the driver's seat in the Leaders division, and a win next week against OSU will set up a division title showdown with the Badgers, as long as they take care of business. For Nebraska, it was an important win after their stunning home loss to Northwestern, and it sets up what is essentially a Legends Division elimination game with Michigan next week. They're still a game behind Sparty, but if MSU trips up in the last couple of weeks Nebraska holds the head to head tiebreaker, so it's not over yet.
Michigan State 37, Iowa 21. A big win for Sparty, and an equally big loss for Iowa, as they're out of the race for the Legends. MSU overcame recent big game road bugaboos to whip Iowa, and the Iowa defense lived up to the worst fears of Hawkeye fans. MSU is really in command to go to Indianapolis, as they should be favored in their final two games against Northwestern and Indiana, and even though we've all enjoyed our share of 'Sparty, NO!' moments over the last years, John L isn't on the MSU sidelines, and they have solid senior leadership. I will be stunned if MSU ISN'T in Indianapolis at this point. For Iowa, they were a longshot to make it to Indy anyways, but they really came out flat in a game that had a lot at stake. It was essentially over at halftime, and Iowa never really threatened. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth after the Minnesota loss, and I kind of dismissed it as an over reaction to an upset loss to a rival, as all fanbases do. But after today I wonder if Ferentz' message and methods really might be growing stale in Iowa City.
Purdue 26, OSU 23 (OT). Remember when we thought Purdue might have been the worst team in the conference earlier this year? Yeah, neither does Purdue. Or Ohio State. That was a great effort by the Boilermakers on Saturday. Their lines dominated on both sides of the ball, and although Braxton MIller looks like he could be a tantalizing player, he makes me long for a Terrelle Pryor armpunt. As crazy as this season has been, I'm not saying that win guaranteed Purdue a bowl game, because they need one more, but you really have to like their chances at this point. For the Buckeyes, the lost season continues. Another day, another notice of allegations by the NCAA, followed by an uninspired defensive performance, and an offense that woke up too late to win the game. I like Luke Fickell and he'll be a good coach someday, but it won't be at Ohio State, and it won't be next year.
Wisconsin 42, Minnesota 13. A completely predictable outcome, Wisconsin is back on a little bit of a roll after two gut wrenching losses, and are in position to take the Leaders division from Penn State if PSU stumbles. The Badgers looked very good against Minnesota, save for one TD drive and one special teams breakdown, and when the Gophers threatened to make a game of it, Bucky put it in high gear and ended it. For the Gophers, I can't say there's not much to take away from a beat down like this, but they were in it longer than I thought. At one point, they got it to 28-13, and were hanging around. Slowly, Jerry Kill is turning it around in Minnesota. There was the great win against Iowa, a surprisingly good game against MSU, and a couple positive moments from this game, but it will be awhile.
Michigan 31, Illinois 14. This was a solid win for Michigan, but are now having to worry about the health (again) of Denard Robinson. Yeah, Brady Hoke said DR could've returned, but you still have this nagging feeling that he's one hit away from his season being over. That said, Devin Gardner looked good in relief, and the Wolverines have a new super duper running back in Fitzgerald Toussaint, which is infinitely easier to spell than Tim Biakaghvbdsshhzztuka. Michigan is essentially down two games to MSU, as they would also lose a head to head tiebreaker with Sparty, but stranger things have happened in the Big Ten, and this year is especially nuts, so anything is possible. They have an offense that is evolving past just Denard Robinson, and their defense is miles better than they were last year. They'll be a tough out in the post season. For Illinois, wow. Just over a month ago they were 6-0, heading towards the top 10, and the bottom has just dropped out. I think they were the first team in the B1G to become bowl eligible, and Ron Zook was my first choice for coach of the year. Now I would think his seat is even hotter, but win out the last two games and win a bowl and I think he survives. But his last two games are a superior Wisconsin and Minnesota, a team he lost to last year.
We're down to the last two weeks and the B1G will crown division champions for the first time in her history. If I had to wager, I'd say we're looking at a Wisconsin-MSU rematch. MSU will be tough to unseat atop the Legends, and Penn State has a tough two games to finish out, and I see Wisconsin passing them up.
But that's right now. Let me look at things and get back to me in 10 minutes, because the way this year has gone, just about anything short of a Minnesota-Indiana championship game is possible.