If you remember this being a weekly feature in past years, your memory serves you well. The deemphasis on that this year has been partly a function of my availability and partly due to the fact that in past years, not a lot changed from week to week and I got tired of finding new ways to write 'yeah, Purdue still isn't a factor in the race you guys' every week. But an occasional assessment is still in order, so let's see where we are right now.
Collision Course: Ohio State, Michigan State
The conference's two undefeated teams have both persevered through their share of struggles, though to most of the rest of the conference, these programs' issues probably look a bit like First World problems.
Ohio State has heard plenty about struggling to put away teams like Northern Illinois and Indiana, but they've now hit a bit of a roll, squashing three straight division foes by more than 30 PPG. Urbz finally ended his little indulgence with Cardale Jones...just in time for J.T. Barrett to get nailed for drinking and driving. Not ideal, and Minnesota showed enough fight against Michigan to conclude they might give OSU a game, but looking ahead still feels like the Buckeyes' worst enemy. Despite drawing a lot of comparisons to 2014 Florida State, OSU is still winning its games by more than 3 touchdowns on average. Underwhelming, right?
Up Next: Minnesota, @Illinois
Michigan State, meanwhile, has pressed their luck even further against some inferior opposition- but have also kept winning. At this point, an undefeated MSU team is a mortal lock for the Playoff and a 1-loss MSU is virtually certain to miss it, so margin of victory probably means less than it would to a team going for style points as possible insurance for a loss. The Spartans wrapped up October by retaining a pair of trophies and spent Halloween restoring their many injuries. This team hasn't outperformed enough opponents to be a serious threat to overlook anyone, but as with OSU, schedule-checking is a risk. Moreover, the season finale with Penn State is starting to look a bit tougher. First, though, a trip to a wounded and desperate Nebraska awaits.
Up Next: @Nebraska, Maryland
Lurking: Michigan, Penn State
Yes, these two belong in the same category. Each has already fallen to one of the frontrunners, but they've also taken care of business against the conference underclass, and each also has a game remaining with one of the division leaders. Should either frontrunner stumble, at least one of these squads will be ready to apply pressure.
Michigan emerged from its bye, having had 2 full weeks to simmer in the juices of one of the most agonizing defeats in college football history, and escaped an upset bid from Minnesota. Jake Rudock, uninspiring though he may be, appears to be a go for this week against Rutgers, and a nationally excellent defense should be more than a match for most of the remaining teams even if the passing game continues to be pedestrian.
Up Next: Rutgers, @Indiana
Penn State, meanwhile, has rebounded from its rough loss at the hands of the Buckeyes with a narrow win over Maryland and a much easier romp over Illinois. Who would have thought that an offense tailored more to the NFL-caliber quarterback's strengths would put some points on the board? You might like to see a little more consistency from that unit, but this defense, in particular the line, are good enough that there won't be many shootouts the rest of the way.
Up Next: @Northwestern, BYE
LOLNo: Rutgers, Indiana, Maryland
One doesn't like to be a pessimist, so here's the silver lining: two of these teams at least have very good reason to look forward to basketball season.
Rutgers does not, but they may have the most reasonable path to a bowl game of these three teams. The defensive front seven is strong enough to theoretically stand up to Michigan's ground-based offense, and Leonte Carroo is an equalizer. The team will need to be better, as it has yet to beat an opponent a neutral observer would consider 'good,' but the opportunity to go bowling is still very much alive.
Up Next: @Michigan, Nebraska
Indiana, meanwhile, has watched its bowl breakthrough slip through its fingers like so much sand. A 4-0 noncon has given way to an 0-4 conference start, and though they've given both conference heavyweights everything either opponent wanted, bowl eligibility awards no points for moral victories. Their schedule features two difficult home games followed by two very winnable road games; the Hoosiers must manage at least a split to return to the postseason.
Up Next: Iowa, Michigan
Maryland, meanwhile, has painted itself into a corner as far as the postseason goes. At 2-6 overall, they must sweep a schedule which still includes Wisconsin and Michigan State to make it to .500 for the season. Having jettisoned Randy Edsall, that hope may have been long-since abandoned, but their superlative special teams and an offense which has periodically shown some signs of potency might still let a ray or two of light peek through the clouds.
Up Next: Wisconsin, @Michigan State