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State of the Race: Week 9

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Separate divisional pieces? Ain't nobody got time for that

Pat's very familiar with the meaning of "Maybe Next Year."
Pat's very familiar with the meaning of "Maybe Next Year."
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Two-thirds (or so) of the way through the season, the wheat has separated itself from the chaff. And man oh man, are we up to our eyeballs in chaff. Or is it wheat. Why would you want to be wheat? Why would you EVER want to be chaff?

 

East Division

One Game to Rule Them All: Michigan State, Ohio State

As I write this, rumors are swirling around Ohio State, which dismissed senior RB Rod Smith last night. Word on the street is that additional players could be caught up in...whatever drug-related hijinks Smith got into. Depending on who they are and what penalties might come their way, the impending showdown between these two heavyweights could lose some of its sizzle.

Until we know that, though, November 8th still looks like the week that will decide the East division. MSU will be fresh off of a bye, having presumably come down from the euphoria of stomping Michigan this past Saturday. OSU was the beneficiary of two of the dicier calls in recent memory and escaped Happy Valley with a win in 2OT. Ascendant QB JT Barrett suffered an apparent knee injury late in that one, but was able to play through it. Before the rumble in East Lansing, OSU must first defend the Illibuck in a matchup with Illinois which I'm sure many, many sportswriters will describe as a classic trap game which is a night game on ABC for some reason.

Up Next: MSU bye, Illinois @ OSU

/Wisconsin scored again: Maryland

Well, what more is there to say about that? Maryland learned what happens when you don't come correct on a trip to Camp Randall. CJ Brown's ineffectiveness has neutered what should be a lethal passing attack, leaving Diggs, Long & Associates powerless to make their mark. With backup Caleb Rowe out for the season, Randy Edsall has little choice but to roll with Brown under center. The Terps are still in 3rd place in the East, but now sit at 2-2 in the conference with a head-to-head loss against OSU and another tough road tilt with a trip to Happy Valley on tap.

Up Next: Maryland @ PSU

/Nebraska scored again: Rutgers 

Give the Scarlet Knights a little credit, they kept it more interesting against a cross-divisional power than Maryland did. Still, the trip to see the Greatest College Football Fans In The Multiverse did not go well. If it makes you feel better, Rutgers, you'll never have to see that mean, mean Ameer Abdullah again, because you sure as hell aren't going to the CCG, already saddled with 3 conference losses and welcoming Wisconsin to Corporate Stadium Whose Name Escapes Me.

Up Next: Wisconsin @ Rutgers

Yes, You Got Hosed, And No, You Weren't Winning The Division Anyway: Penn State

Silver linings, man. When everyone was calling a blowout, the Whiteout magic showed itself and you forced OSU to empty the sideline bribery coffers. And, in light of preseason expectations, whatever bowl game you end up in after (hopefully) cashing in on this month's very manageable schedule is going to be a great experience. But take it from me: no one is going to listen when you claim the refs decided the game, no matter how reasonable your argument feels. Let it go and make yourselves some turtle soup if you want to feel better.

Up Next: Maryland @ PSU

Brewster-DiNardo Memorial Slapfight: Michigan, Indiana 

Before the season I could've sworn this label would be applied to the Purdue-Illinois game, but those look like two teams who might be kind of sort of maybe improving in some ways. Meanwhile, these two programs are in desperate straits for entirely different reasons, and will meet this week in what I expect to be the smallest Homecoming crowd the Big House has seen in decades. Indiana had a bye to try and develop some kind of game plan for freshman QB Zander Diamont, who was far from ready for action against MSU two weeks ago. Tevin Coleman's pretty great, so enjoy the handful of games you have left with him because after this year, he gone.

Michigan, meanwhile...eesh. The excuse well's pretty much tapped out at this point, as is any reasonable scenario in which Brady Hoke keeps his job. Everything everyone connected with this program has said indicates the team hasn't given up. The problem there is actions speak louder than words, and the play on the field tells a very different story. If there's a team that can find a way to take immense stores of talent and struggle at home against a putrid defense like Indiana's, it would be this Michigan squad. It's a long way down from the top, man.

Up Next: Indiana @ Michigan

West Division

Big Red Frontrunner: Nebraska

Booorrrrrr-iiiinnnnnngggg. What ever happened to the drama-ridden Nebraska of yesteryear, stumbling into losses they shouldn't, leaking years-old tape to try and get the coach fired, Lil' Red breakdancing on his head while a circle of mascots cheers him on? That isn't today's Nebraska, which has ridden Ameer Abdullah's relentless legs, a complementary passing game, and a surprisingly strong, deep, and young defensive line to the top of the West, most recently rocking Rutgers in Jersey's first trip to the Middlest part of the Midwest. I should, perhaps, note that they're actually tied for the division lead, but that tie is with a team that just lost to Illinois. Of course, anything can still happen down the stretch as the Huskers host an improving Purdue squad before entering the ThunderQuadrilateralDome.

Up Next: Purdue @ Nebraska

Still Up Top For Now: Minnesota

Possibly by dint of a backloaded schedule, Minnesota remains tied for the divisional lead, although gagging one away against Illinois is a bad, bad thing for a would-be conference contender to do. Mitch Leidner just now cracked 1,000 yards passing 8 games into the season, which didn't look like a huge problem until he threw the ball 30 times (managing just 12 completions) against a pathetic Illini run defense that yielded roughly 5.5 YPC to David Cobb. Goldy has a bye week and will need to regroup in a big way if they hope to #freefloyd and stay ahead of the divisional pack.

Up Next: Bye (then Iowa)

Lurking Like The Burrowing Rodents They Are: Wisconsin

Having clawed Maryland to death with a combination of Melvin Gordon, Corey Clement, Melvin Gordon, actual passes completed to an actual receiver, Melvin Gordon, an awesome fake punt shovel-pass thing, and Melvin Gordon, the Fightin' Andersens look to have righted the ship somewhat. It's debatable whether 9 completions, 5 to one receiver, will be enough to beat the conference's better defenses, but the Badger defense has once again become an underrated group. Like most of the rest of the division, Wisconsin remains in control of its own destiny ahead of the November Of Hate, but will first take the MGIII show to the Jersey Shore, where Rutgers' defense is still trying to clean Ameer Abdullah's cleat marks out of their jerseys.

Up Next: Wisconsin @ Rutgers

Also Present: Iowa, Northwestern

The forgotten vertex of the QOH has laid low recently, having lost to Maryland before their bye. Perhaps they have used the time off to harmonize Kirk Ferentz's beloved zone stretch with OC Greg Davis's...whatever exactly it is he's trying to do there (spoiler alert: LOLnope). Iowa stumbled hard against the bye; LB Reggie Spearman was suspended for an OWI, RB LeShun Daniels underwent ankle surgery, and promising WR Derrick Willies bailed from the program in the face of never being used in this baffling offense which would rather throw 2-yard outs to slow guys. Bye: 1, Iowa: 0. The Hawkeyes still have a favorable schedule, and can get back on the horse against Northwestern this week.

Meanwhile, those Northwestern Wildcats continue to be a thing, but are saddled with two divisional losses to the current frontrunners. Freshman tailback Justin Jackson has been a nice addition, but the rest of the offense has been anemic, totaling just 17 TDs through 7 games. Trevor Siemian's persistent injury problems appear to be holding him back. Still, if they can get past Iowa this week, the rest of the conference schedule is very manageable (never mind the detour to South Bend, the outcome won't matter for the Wildcats- though a win would sure be spiffy).

Up Next: Northwestern @ Iowa

Ruiners of Weekends: Purdue, Illinois

Now that we have video evidence of Jerry Kill being defeated by Tim Beckman, we can, without uttering falsehood, declare that anything can actually happen on any given Saturday. Purdue has looked like the much more robust of these two cellar-dwellers, but is far less likely to make bowl eligibility with its next two games being against Nebraska and Wisconsin. Illinois, meanwhile, is almost certain to be squished by OSU this week, but then faces three opponents flawed enough (Iowa, PSU, Northwestern) that it's not impossible to imagine them winning two of those to sneak into Detroit. At which point Illini fans everywhere are ambivalent, having secured the good thing of a bowl but also probably at least one more year of T-Bex.

Up Next: Purdue @ Nebraska, Illinois @ OSU