Try Not To Fall Asleep At The Wheel: Ohio State (8-1, 5-0 B1G)
With a decisive victory in East Lansing, Ohio State simultaneously suplexed its only remaining divisional competitor and surged its way into the fringe of the playoff conversation. The defense is still not great, but it makes enough plays at the right times to keep opponents from matching the pace of an offense which is looking as good as Urbz's Florida squads ever did on that side of the ball. One might wonder about the team's focus and intensity after an effort like last Saturday's, but at this late point in the season, with so many tantalizing goals still to play for, it's hard to imagine them stumbling twice against the remaining slate. On tap is a trip to Dinkytown, where OSU can at least be glad they aren't putting a trophy at stake against the case-filling Gophers.
Games Left: @Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan
Orlando Sounds Fun (/Le Sigh): Michigan State (7-2, 4-1 B1G)
If there's any silver lining to the massive letdown that was Gameday's most recent visit, it's that Spartan fans no longer need attempt to bolster the B1G's collective worth with a mind towards making the playoff. That dream, for this year at least, is dead, and so is any reasonable chance of a repeat B1G title. Still, none of the remaining opponents are likely to take advantage of this defense's clear vulnerability to spread offenses with mobile, accurate quarterbacks and numerous, devastating skill players. The offense is also as fun to watch as any of the Kirk Cousins squads. 10 wins and a very good shot at one of the rotational playoff bowls (Orange, Fiesta, Cotton, or Peach) is still a good season, and it's a testament to how far the program's come that it will nonetheless feel like a disappointment.
Games Left: @Maryland, Rutgers, @PSU
Finding New Injuries Every Week: Maryland (6-3, 3-2 B1G)
A lacerated kidney is one of the more hideous-sounding sports injuries I've ever heard of, excluding the Marcus Lattimore or Willis McGahee knee explosions. Stefon Diggs would have sat out this week's tilt with MSU anyway due to...extracurricular activities...against Penn State. Still, from the adoring discussions of him I've observed in the Maryland fanbase, it's an unfortunate thing to learn you've (probably) retroactively seen the last college game of such an excellent talent. Looking towards the race, because of their earlier beating at the hands of the Buckeyes, Maryland needed MSU to beat OSU to preserve any chance they had of grabbing a division title. They, like MSU, must now win out and pray for OSU to lose twice in its next three games.
Games Left: MSU, @Michigan, Rutgers
@#$% It, Dude. Let's Go Bowling: Penn State (5-4, 2-4 B1G), Michigan (5-5, 3-3 B1G), Rutgers (5-4, 1-2 B1G)
Last week's game against Indiana. Uh, that sure was a thing that happened. We've now arrived at the point in the season where there's enough of a sample size to make assessments of what your team is and recalibrate your expectations going forward. Of course, the thing about that is we're all still looking at very small sample sizes and there's plenty left to surprise us. So. Penn State. Your OL continues to not OL. Your defense continues to be the most underappreciated unit in the country. Hackenberg's halo appears to have faded a bit. But a conference title was never really that likely this year anyway. With 5 wins and two very manageable games in hand, you can still get a bowl game that I'd wager your fans are aching for and pick up the extra practices that might go a very, very long way for next season. And then there's the fact that if you somehow blow all three of these, there will be a considerable portion of your fanbase advocating for firing your coach. So just do it. Win Saturday and put the drama to bed.
Games Left: Temple (lolwut), @Illinois, MSU
Meanwhile, who knows what's going on in the mind of the Michigan coaches and players. The school's AD search continues with typical Michiganian transparency (which is to say, none whatsoever), but it's hard to imagine the new guy, whoever he or she is, retaining a coach struggling to reach bowl eligibility in his 4th season. Still, on the field, the Wolverines are proud* owners of a two-game win streak. With their two remaining games, they have a winnable matchup with Maryland to reach bowl eligibility (though I have to imagine getting the Quick Lane is going to be paltry consolation after the way this season's gone), and then there's OSU, which will presumably be cruising towards the CCG and potentially a playoff game. With those stakes, it's perfectly believable that Michigan's best football of the year is still in front of them (though, again. Low bar there).
*Opponents involved not actually conducive to feelings of pride.
Games Left: @BYE, Maryland, @OSU
All things considered, Rutgers is one of the few teams that appears to have been correctly assessed from the preseason. They were able to make some noise early- considerably more than I thought they would- but ultimately, they aren't yet equipped for teams like Nebraska, Wisconsin, and OSU. All is not lost, though; those early-season wins, distant though they might feel, still count as much as the recent string of pulverizations. Still, if Rutgers intends to toss its hat into the ring for the coveted December trip to Detroit, getting it done this week against Indiana would be wise before going to see Sparty and Yertle to wrap up the season.
Games Left: Indiana, @MSU, @Maryland
At Least It's Basketball Season? Wait, No, That's Not Going To Help: Indiana (3-6, 0-5 B1G)
Too soon? Sorry, but I ain't got a lot of uplifting things to tell you right now, Hoosier Nation. About all you've got left at this point is enjoying what's left of Tevin Coleman's career until the end of the Bucket game, when I imagine he'll run into the endzone, and then run right out of the stadium and straight to an agent's office to declare early. Sure, bowl eligibility is still technically achievable with 3 wins in hand and 3 games left. My own fiefdom with Desmond Howard as my court jester is also technically achievable. My advice would be to find something, anything, positive. Think positive thoughts, man. You do get Nate Sudfeld back next year, and who knows, maybe you can kidnap Coleman and lock him in a closet until the deadline to declare passes. And you are still SEC East Champions, so that's something.
Games Left: @Rutgers, @OSU, Purdue
I Want A Good, Clean Quadrangle Fight: Minnesota (7-2, 4-1 B1G), Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1 B1G), Nebraska (8-1, 4-1 B1G)
Nebraska comes off a bye, before which it had three straight largely uneventful wins over the conference's underclass. Which, my goodness do we ever have a large underclass this season. Anyway. Other than not quite pulling off the comeback in East Lansing, this season's gone essentially according to plan for the Huskers. Now, they move into the final stretch, with three games against the other three divisional contenders. It's #Quadrangletime, folks. And for the Huskers, the first one is a tough one.
Games Left: @Wisconsin, Minnesota, @Iowa
Well. That was certainly a pantsing of the highest order. Minnesota hasn't been on the issuing end of a beatdown like that in the B1G in quite some time; usually it's the Gophers sending requests for mercy to the opposing sideline before halftime. But, for whatever reason, Iowa's defense came out thoroughly unprepared for the same gameplan Minnesota has used all year: run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, play action TD to Maxx Williams. Floyd has been freed and now rests next to the Jug for the first time in who knows how long (research and facts are for nerds and I ain't about that life). An auspicious start to #Quadrangle play, to be sure, but the Gophers now step outside the division to host a buzzsaw Buckeye team; in another week, that stunning loss to Illinois could well loom large.
Games Left: OSU, @Nebraska, @Wisconsin
The Badgers actually eased up on the throttle a bit last week, turning in an 18-point win over Purdue that felt sort of unimpressive given their three consecutive romps before that and their historical success against the Boilermakers. Still, Melvin Gordon comes in to the critical stretch of the season on a serious tear (over 1,500 yards and 19 scores on the ground in 9 games), and the defense continues to be a criminally underrated group, especially in the front seven. Of the three frontrunners, Wisconsin (stop me if you've heard this before) has by far the easiest schedule.
Games Left: Nebraska, @Iowa, Minnesota
Bad Time For A Faceplant: Iowa (6-3, 3-2 B1G)
On the flip side of the Minnesota coin...yecch. I don't know what that was all about, but Iowa's Jekyll-and-Hyde (not Carlos, that would be desirable) season continues with a belly flop in the Floyd fracas. Iowa yielded 50 points for the first time in Kirk Ferentz's tenure and had to watch the Gophers invade their sideline to retrieve Floyd. There's still opportunity to right the ship, but locking down for the road trip to Illinois is a must before hosting two more potent run offenses to wrap the season.
Games Left: @Illinois, Wisconsin, Nebraska
Bowls Are Overrated: Northwestern (3-6, 2-4 B1G), Illinois (4-5, 1-4 B1G), Purdue (3-7, 1-5 B1G)
Perhaps this is a needlessly negative subtitle. Purdue, after all, is the only team in the conference technically eliminated from bowl contention. But if you saw the ending of the Northwestern game, you'd agree, I think, that on a cosmic level, the Wildcats' season is over. Of the three remaining games for Fitz' non-union guys, two are against the other West cellar-dwellers, and are thus quite winnable. The trouble would be the third game, this weekend's trip to South Bend. Notre Dame is probably no longer a playoff contender, but given the spanking they just received in the desert, they might just be looking for someone to take that out on. So. A bunch of jocks with pent-up anger run into a group of nerds. How do you think this is going to turn out?
Games Left: @ND, @Purdue, Illinois
Illinois, meanwhile, still has a non-zero chance of making a bowl game. As was the case in last week's breakdown, their final three games are against deeply flawed teams; even though the overall talent and coaching differentials are probably slanted against the Illini in all three, it's not so wide a disparity as to make it unthinkable the Illini can rise up and take the two they need. And, uh. StubHub indicates tickets for Senior Day against Penn State are going for $6. So if you're so inclined, all this excitement can unfold right before your eyes!...no, huh.
Games Left: Iowa, Penn State, @Northwestern
And then there's Purdue, which appears to be on an upward trajectory in all respects except the one that matters most: the win column. Still, after last year's debacle, this year was never about the results on the scoreboard so much as it was about progress. You've got that, so congratulations there, and you can still retrieve the Bucket and look ahead to a year where much of your team will return.
Games Left: Northwestern, @Indiana