This far into the season, we have some truths about teams in the bottom half of B1G this year:
Minnesota has not improved to the point most people thought they would when Jerry Kill was hired.
Purdue was bad, maybe the worst team in a BCS conference.
Indiana's offense will keep them in any game, but they'll lose most of them because of their defense.
Iowa was better than we thought, but still not back to where they had been in recent years.
Illinois has improved, but how much?
On Saturday, some truths were confirmed, some might need to be re-written, and some were created. Or maybe re-created. I will say, the back end of the conference is pretty solid, and as Purdue proved to Michigan State, there is no 'easy out' in conference play. Oh sure, there are bad teams, but you can see that talent is being infused in to every program, and it's just a matter of time before the B1G is back on solid football ground.
This conference is getting better from top to bottom, and I think Saturday was a good indication of that--national perception be damned.
Minnesota 20, Northwestern 17: I don't know that you can call the Gophers win over an injury-riddled Northwestern a program changing win, but it was a big win. With Jerry Kill making a surprise drive to Evanston and watching the game from the coach's box (and seriously, his wife Rebecca is a saint and a trooper, as she has to drive him everywhere), the Gophers played solid defense, and came home with a win. The Gophers still have to decide what they're going to do at quarterback--yesterday it was Mitch Leidner that was replaced by Philip Nelson, but now you can talk me into the Gophers being a six win team. They're not going to be favored in the rest of their games, but their defense is legitimate, and they could steal a win from somebody.
For Northwestern, this is a stunning loss, and a team that had dreams of the B1G championship game and a BCS berth now has to pick up the pieces and salvage what they can. With Venric Mark and Kain Colter out, the Wildcat offense is very average, and they still seem hungover from losses to OSU and Wisconsin. Injuries happen to everyone, but the coaching staff has to figure out a way to get this team motivated to play for something, or they might not even make it to a bowl. They have two tough road games coming up to Iowa City and Lincoln, home against the two Michigans, then at Illinois to finish up. They'll be favored against the Illini, but with the state of this team right now, do you see two more wins on their schedule?
Michigan State 14, Purdue 0: If you're Sparty, it was easy to kind of overlook Purdue, and for much of Saturday the MSU offense looked like they had. It was a performance from early in the season, where the defense carried the offense, and the scoring strategy seemed to be 'punt the ball, pin them deep, and let the defense score'. And that's exactly what happened. The first and only offensive score didn't some until the fourth quarter, but, like we saw on Saturday, one score might be enough. I would love to see MSU's defense go up against an Oregon or Baylor, as I think it would be a great, great matchup.
Purdue's not going anywhere, but they played inspired football for 60 minutes on Saturday, and that's a testament to Darrell Hazell and his staff. There's a long way to go in West Lafayette, but there were some very positive signs from Saturday. The offense was able to move the ball, but they couldn't finish drives. The defense held MSU in check all day, until the very end. There are some building blocks there, but ti's going to take awhile.
Ohio State 34, Iowa 24: When you win 19 games in a row, you're doing something right. The Buckeyes have struggled at times, yet they still find a way to collect themselves and get the win. And that's what happened Saturday against Iowa. The Hawkeyes came out and punched OSU in the mouth early on, and had them reeling. But the Bucks were able to re-group, re-adjust, and overtake Iowa in the second half. They're still in the mix for a BCS title game, and each week the pressure of the Streak seems to keep building.
Iowa impressed me in defeat yesterday. They played smash mouth football and ran the ball very effectively, and for the most part, played good defense. They had trouble stopping Carlos Hyde, but the backbreaking plays they gave up to Braxton Miller on the ground were Miller being, well, Braxton Miller. Some of those plays Miller makes, regardless of what side you're rooting for, you just have to tip your cap and say 'well done'. The Hawkeyes have improved this year on both sides of the ball, and Jake Rudock has the makings of a very good quarterback.
Michigan 63, Indiana 47: Holy crap, what a game. Somewhere Bo Schembechler is shaking his head, but hey, a win is a win is a win. Jeremy Gallon just caught another pass, and Michigan just scored again. The knock on Devin Gardner was that he would have a tough time carrying a team by himself, but he put that to bed, at least yesterday. 503 passing yards and 81 rushing yards tend to do that. The other knock on Michigan was the reason Gardner would have a hard time carrying a team was because he had no real playmakers on the outside to help him. Again, myth busted. Jeremy Gallon's 14 catches and 369 yards receiving saw to that. Unreal, Playstation-like numbers from an offense that shut up a lot of critics yesterday.
For the Hoosiers, well, this is no longer your Dad's Indiana team. They have an offense that can score on any defense in the country. Unfortunately, their defense can't stop anyone, and until they can get a pulse on that side of the ball, they're going to have a tough time winning games. Seriously, MSU was arguably the most average offense they've faced, and they hung
48 42 on Indiana. You have to be excited for the way Kevin Wilson has re-made the offense. Now, fix the defense. Still, this is a team you can no longer automatically count as a 'W' in the column every year, and that's an impressive first step considering where the program was.
Wisconsin 56, Illinois 32. Wisconsin steamrolled Illinois with what they usually do--289 yards rushing, an efficient enough passing game, and a good enough defense. For Illinois, a night game is a nice thing. And, well, nice things and Illinois go together like a fish and a toaster. Wisconsin is either the second or third best team in the conference, depending on how much stock you put in the MSU defense, and they still have an outside shot at a BCS at-large bid.
Illinois has definitely improved, but not enough to keep it up, I don't think. A surprising 3-1 start has now become a 3-3 record, with back to back 20+ point blowout losses. When you look at the rest of the schedule, and combine it with the most recent losses, you can talk yourself into Illinois finishing 3-9. If that happens, does Tim Beckman survive?