Of the six conference games this week, only one was decided by single digits. Some of those beatdowns were expected, others were more surprising, so let's see where we are now.
Comin' to Your Citaaayyyy: Michigan State (7-1, 4-0 B1G), Ohio State (7-1, 4-0 B1G)
The stakes for this game remain the same as they were last week; two of the conference's three realistic Playoff candidates will duke it out for a nigh-insurmountable inside track in the East as we head into the final stretch of the season, as neither team has any overly difficult matchups remaining on paper. College Gameday will be on hand in East Lansing for one of the few marquee matchups of the conference season under the (temporary) lights.
MSU lurked in the bye week weeds over Halloween, presumably searching Cleveland Plain Dealer comment sections for #disrespekt to properly motivate themselves and carefully maintain an appropriate chip despite being a top-ten team for most of the season (whatever, man, it works). The bye was theoretically well-timed, as the toughest game of the season to date will find the Spartans rested and, again theoretically, emotionally calibrated.
OSU, meanwhile, brushed off Illinois with the effort commensurate with shooing away a troublesome butterfly. The defensive line continues to be fearsome, and the offense has turned into a hydra of 8 or 9 guys who can wreak havoc with only a handful of touches each. Early prognostications seem to mostly favor MSU, but this has all the makings of a potentially great game. And, obviously, the winner moves to 5-0 and will possess a head-to-head win over their chief divisional competitor. Whatever else you might have been doing, be sure to watch this one.
Up Next: Battle for the SparBuck Trophy (not a thing but give Delany a minute and it will be, I want credit for this one Big Jim)
Stayin' Alive: Maryland (6-3, 3-2 B1G)
Amidst all the hullabaloo over #Handshakegate, Maryland scratched out one of the better wins of the Edsall era despite looking far from impressive in any one aspect of the game. C.J. Brown completed less than half of his passes, the Terps managed less than 40 yards net rushing, and Maryland converted just 1 of 14 third downs. But, with Penn State's offense riding the struggle bus round trip, Auto-Craddock was in position to put the Terps on top with less than a minute to go, and did so. A team which was supposed to rely on an explosive passing offense has been more about stubborn field-position battle and special teams excellence. See, you're fitting in already, and now comes a bye week in which to savor your second win all-time against the Nittany Lions.
Up Next: Bye, Michigan State @ Maryland (11/15)
A New Hope (Just Not For This Season): Michigan (4-5, 2-3 B1G)
Without additional data, it's really hard what to make of Michigan's comfortable homecoming win over Indiana this week. The Hoosiers are clearly not in a good place right now (more on them later), but prior to this game, neither was Michigan. And maybe the timing is all coincidence. But in their first game after the resignation of widely disliked AD Dave Brandon, Michigan played their best game since the early season tomato can opponents. The defense largely corralled Tevin Coleman, and the offense got big days from unexpected contributors Drake Johnson and Amara Darboh. Bowl eligibility is still an uphill battle, as the Wolverine will need to win 2 of their last 3.
Up Next: Michigan @ Northwestern
LOLNope: Penn State (4-4, 1-4 B1G), Rutgers (5-4, 1-4 B1G)
I don't know, or really care that much, if James Franklin's going to be a success at Penn State. But when you talk as much smack as he did over the offseason, when your players wander through the opponents' warmups continuing to talk smack, it behooves one to produce on-field results, and that just hasn't happened for Penn State. Without the standout play of the defensive front seven, this team's putrid offense wouldn't have a postseason leg to stand on; as it so happens, the next three games are so cushiony soft that failure to pick up the two wins needed would have to be viewed as a massive failure, depleted roster notwithstanding.
As for Rutgers...sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug, and sometimes you're a smaller bug that gets eaten by that bug and then hit by the windshield when you're already half-digested. That, I think, captures the feeling you had to have watching those big, cheese-and-brat-fed brutes warming up on your field, having watched similar scenes the previous two weeks against Ohio State and Nebraska. And then...those two. #25 and #6. But they can't even pass the ball, you thought. Maybe this will be OK. Yeah..no...yeah. The offense mustered 7 completed passes and 139 total yards. Fortunately, the schedule next week offers an offensive cure-all.
Up Next: Penn State @ Indiana; Rutgers bye, then Rutgers vs Indiana
/sad trombone: Indiana (3-5, 0-4 B1G)
I'll agree, here, with Crimson Quarry's assessment that Hoosier football has entered its darkest timeline. After showing some signs of progress under Kevin Wilson, the train has completely gone off the rails (how bad is it? I'm using train metaphors for you instead of Purdue). And to be sure, losing your top 4 QB options from the end of last season is sort of a tough nut to crack. But it would be at least plausible if the defense had made any kind of progress during Wilson's tenure. They haven't. Thus, the best individual talent Indiana has fielded since Randle-El will go to waste. Who could have foreseen that? (I was predictor #4. Also, please disregard those All-Conference QB picks.) Any remaining hope for bowl eligibility goes through two teams looking to secure it themselves, Ohio State, and a hated opponent who will be eyeballing a certain wooden fluid containment unit.
Up Next: Penn State @ Indiana
Rollin' Right Along*: Nebraska (8-1, 4-1 B1G)
*Some concerns have been raised. The final score against Purdue checked out, but there were reasons for concern, foremost being Ameer Abdullah sitting most of the game with a knee injury (apparently, he will be OK). Without Abdullah, the Husker offense struggled, as Tommy Armstrong Jr. was off his game in the wind and Abdullah's backups showed little explosiveness. It's a good sign when the team isn't satisfied by a 21-point win, as that sort of effort will be a good way to get bounced with #Quadrangle play set to begin.
Up next: Bye, then Nebraska @ Wisconsin
Rollin' Right Along, More Literally: Wisconsin (6-2, 3-1 B1G)
Well, maybe that whole lack of a passing game thing isn't going to be title-prohibitive, after all. Despite passing for just 87 yards from 2 QBs, Wisconsin dominated Rutgers from wire-to-wire. The Badgers' advantages in the run game, special teams, and on defense were all large enough that there was no need to pass. If the 5/15 third down conversion rate seems out of place, it would be because Wisconsin often didn't need 3 downs to get 10 yards. Wisconsin gets one more game to sharpen (blunt?) its bludgeoning tools before the #Quadrangle.
Up Next: Wisconsin @ Purdue
#freefloyd/#protectthepig: Minnesota (6-2, 3-1 B1G), Iowa (6-2, 3-1 B1G)
One can only speculate what a football team does in Minnesota's position. Despite a pretty solid season thus far, the Gophers spent their bye week marinating in a loss to Illinois and that's a bad, bad stink to have on you. Still, Jerry Kill and company feel like a solid bet to correct their multiple issues against Illinois, which included some surprising defensive breakdowns. They'll need to, as Iowa's defense is unlikely to permit a run-exclusive attack to succeed.
Iowa, meanwhile, trucked Northwestern, jumping out to a 24-0 lead after the first quarter and never looking back. The defense overwhelmed the punchless Wildcats offense, Mark Weisman continued his effective short-yardage work in tacking on 3 more TDs, and previously-unknown Akrum Wadley stepped into the fray with a 100-yard debut as Weisman's second fiddle. AIRBHG has turned his eyes upon Iowa City again and unleashed a plague of tailback injuries, but thus far the next man up has been up to the task.
Up next: Battle for Floyd of Rosedale
Miss You, Venric: Northwestern (3-5, 2-3 B1G)
The way things are going, that win over Wisconsin might be the weirdest result of the entire conference season. Even assuming Northwestern is still clearly better than Purdue and Illinois- and I'm far from sure that's the case- the Wildcats will still need a win over either Michigan in Evanston or at Notre Dame to rescue bowl eligibility from what threatens to be a lost season. Without Christian Jones and Venric Mark, the offense figured to be a bit diminished, but 8 games in, other playmakers really ought to have stepped forward by now. Senior QB Trevor Siemian's swan song has been mostly sour notes, and any realistic shot of division contention went out the window with a third straight West loss last week.
Up Next: Michigan @ Northwestern
Win or Stay Home: Purdue (3-6, 1-4 B1G), Illinois
We spent a few weeks giving golf claps for the gains Purdue has shown from last season, and even earlier this season, to the present. Rightfully so, but given how very far Purdue had to go, we still see the reality of a dramatically improved team that's still not putting many in the win column. The only teams the Boilermakers have managed to hold under 30 points have been Illinois, Iowa, which at times looks like it's trying to not score, and FCS Southern Illinois. With only 3 games to play and division contention unachievable, Purdue must sweep the remaining games to hit bowl eligibility. The silver lining is Wisconsin will likely take the drama out of that possibility on Saturday.
Illinois, meanwhile, comes off an unsurprising flattening at the hands of Ohio State, yet is somehow vastly more likely to get to that bowl game than Purdue. Credit the Illini for eating their cupcakes, but they still need 2 wins amongst Iowa, Penn State, and Northwestern. Reilly O'Toole has been mostly serviceable, but the lacking run game and a defense which is still more of a concept than a reality don't bode well. Illini fans do have a bye to consider whether they really want Beckman to save himself by landing a bowl berth.