Sitting Pretty: Iowa
In what has to qualify as one of the biggest surprises nationally this year, Iowa has leapt from the ashes of multiple consecutive disappointing seasons and seized control of the West division. By virtue of its head-to-head win over Wisconsin, the Hawkeyes essentially have a 2-game lead for the division title- but considering their remaining schedule, aiming for an unbeaten regular season is a perfectly reasonable objective. Anything is possible in the two remaining Quadrangle games Iowa has yet to play, but the Hawkeyes should be heavy favorites in all 4 November tilts.
Up Next: @Indiana, Minnesota
Mumbling About Scheduling When Barry Is Your AD Is Base Hypocrisy: Wisconsin
Despite having an offense ruined by injuries and the continued affliction of Joel Stave being the best QB on the roster, Wisconsin has ridden another strong defense assembled by Dave Aranda to a 7-2 overall record. The problem, as noted above, is one of those losses is to the division pacesetter. Wisconsin should also be favored in all of its remaining games, but losing to Iowa now requires the Badgers to be huge fans of whomever the Hawkeyes happen to be playing from here on out.
Up Next: @Maryland, Northwestern
Just Sort Of There: Northwestern, Minnesota, Illinois
Northwestern is a tough puzzle to de-Rubik. They own what has become the conference's best noncon win over Stanford and another excellent one over Duke, everything was going swimmingly- and then, the two-game stretch that explosively demolished Northwestern's title hopes. The Wildcats corrected things against Nebraska, but getting flattened by Michigan and division opponent Iowa leaves them in even less control of their destiny than Wisconsin. Still, they've got bowl positioning to play for, as well as a certain presidential headwear, and every snap Clayton Thorson plays makes the future of this offense brighter.
Up Next: Penn State, Purdue
Minnesota, meanwhile, has the unenviable distinction of getting the most sincerely held sympathy from its rivals. Jerry Kill's sudden resignation, combined with the brouhaha in the higher echelons of the AD in the offseason, have taken what looked like a durable, promising situation and thrown it all into chaos. The Gophers' brutal schedule does not abate, as they must travel to the Horseshoe and Kinnick in consecutive weeks- and if they lose both, they must reclaim the Axe at the end of the year to earn a bowl (assuming a win over the Illini in the interim).
Up Next: @OSU, @Iowa
Illinois, meanwhile, has lost the initial wave of confidence it found following the defenestration of Tim Beckman. At 4-4, they must split their remaining schedule to bowl, though there are at least some manageable games left, minus the impending visit from Ohio State. Assuming they cannot reclaim the Illibuck, though, Illinois will need to pull out a road win to get to 6, and playing on the road has not been a good thing for this team this year. Beating Purdue this week isn't totally essential, but losing that game won't engender much confidence moving forward.
Up Next: @Purdue, OSU
Fighting For Scraps: Purdue, Nebraska
Give Purdue some credit, they took advantage of an opportunity that repeatedly threw itself into their collective arms. Staring a 1-11, FCS-as-only-win season in the face, the Boilermakers racked 55 points on a hypothetically talented Nebraska defense to notch the second conference win of the Hazell era. That last part, however, tells you where the Boilermakers are vis-a-vis bowling or competing for the conference: not this year. Well, the bowl is still technically in play; three of the remaining opponents are probably within Purdue's reach. Iowa probably is not.
Up Next: Illinois, @Northwestern
Nebraska...not sure what there is to say. The once-proud program has fallen very far, very fast. Injuries have no doubt been a huge part of it, but Mike Riley's pleasant disposition isn't going to get him far if things don't turn around quickly. A bowl would require a sweep of Michigan State, Rutgers, and Iowa. Of course, should the Huskers pull that off, one imagines the mood of this program changes quickly, but this team just doesn't appear to have the necessary talent on the field right now.
Up Next: Michigan State, @Rutgers