This is the time of the week to judge which teams will overperform, meet, or underperform expectations. Who gets to set and judge these expectations? I do. I am an investment committee of one (though I may deign to consider the opinions of others). Truth is not truth until and unless I say it is.
A look at the box score can tell you how a stock price is dancing around its moving average, but the aim here is to evaluate recent performance to estimate future return. I am trying to tell you what the future will hold. Who is the best bet for your fandom investment? This is how I, the autocrat of this feature, view each team’s performance and potential.
There were seven conference games this week and this football season grew increasingly strange. Northwestern clinched the West with two weeks to spare, despite not winning a non-conference game and having a losing home record. Minnesota, considered the West doormat as recently as Saturday morning, crushed the new “it” team Purdue. Indiana actually won a close game. Michigan State is on its fourth punter. Wisconsin fans might be starting to appreciate Hornibrook (if only grudgingly). On top of all that, Rutgers actually scored against Michigan near the swamps of Jersey.
Northwestern Wildcats - (Defeated Iowa, 14-10) This is the year. It happened. Northwestern found a way to win in Iowa City, and clinched the B1G West. The ‘Cats will tune up for Indianapolis against Minnesota and Illinois - games that seem so utterly winnable that they are destined to be white knuckle affairs. Northwestern is gonna Northwestern, so butlers will need to prepare for every eventuality. Next up: @Minnesota.
Ohio State Buckeyes - (Defeated Michigan State, 26-6) Ohio State is not living up to fan expectations, but did win a road game by twenty points against a ranked team. Special teams (punting IS winning) spearheaded the victory, and Urban’s squad cleared the last major hurdle before the division deciding showdown against the Wolverines. Next up: @Maryland.
Minnesota Golden Gophers - (Defeated Purdue, 41-10) The fact that Minnesota blew out the next up-and-coming program, a week after getting shelled by the Illini, proves that this season is ridiculous. Northwestern should be able to handle the Gophers, but that does not mean that they will. Next up: Northwestern.
Penn State Nittany Lions - (Defeated Wisconsin, 22-10) Penn State concluded a stretch where they went 2-1 against Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin. They have been running on fumes, but respect is due for battling through. The Lions conclude with games against Rutgers and Maryland, and have a clear path to nine wins. Next up: @Rutgers.
Indiana Hoosiers - (Defeated Maryland, 34-32) Indiana won a close game. Will wonders never cease? The Hoosiers are only one win away from bowl eligibility, with the best opportunity for a win coming against the Boilers in two weeks. I suspect that this win is just the Cosmos presenting another opportunity for Indiana to disappoint its fans. Next up: @Michigan.
Michigan Wolverines - (Defeated Rutgers, 42-7) Harbaugh’s minions did what they were expected to do - handle Rutgers fairly easily. Now a potential trap game against Indiana is the only hurdle before “The Game.” Since an opening week loss, things have been going according to plan. Next up: Indiana.
Illinois Fighting Illini - (Lost to Nebraska, 54-35) Lovie’s crew cannot catch anything - a pass, a kick, a punt, or a cold. The special teams are worse than Nebraska’s, which is an amazing feat. The defense offers the resistance most often seen in screen doors. The running game is more than respectable, though, and a mobile quarterback like AJ Bush will create a headache for most anyone. Illinois is not good, but they might put a scare into Iowa and/or Northwestern. Next up: Iowa.
Nebraska Cornhuskers - (Defeated Illinois, 54-35) Nebraska’s offense is on a roll, with seven straight games of 450+ yards in total offense. On the other hand, the Blackshirts continue to have difficulty getting off the field on third down,and special teams can only aspire to “dumpster fire” status. There is still a lot to work on, which is the takeaway. Next up: Michigan State.
Purdue Boilermakers - (Lost to Minnesota, 41-10) Purdue lost to a team that gave Nebraska its first win and was blown out by Illinois. Like clockwork, the pendulum swings for the Boilers, and a young team is unable to sustain success. It is completely possible that this team will beat Wisconsin, if only because the Badgers are being held together with duct tape and baling wire. Next up: Wisconsin.
Michigan State Spartans - (Lost to Ohio State, 26-6) The Spartans have an excellent defense, but they seem to be limping - due to injuries, quite literally - to the finish. The offense rushed for 54 yards (thanks to one long QB keeper), and completed only 38% of its passes against the Buckeyes. Dantonio called for an intentional safety because he had no faith in his punter (a third or fourth stringer). Does Sparty have enough left in the tank to beat the Huskers? Next up: @Nebraska.
Wisconsin Badgers - (Lost to Penn State, 22-10) Wisconsin is beat up, too. Backups are forced to play major roles on defense, and Alex Hornibrook missed the Penn State game because of a second concussion - so the passing game was substantially worse than usual. The Badgers better get their heads right, because they have to contain Rondale Moore this weekend at Purdue Harbor. Next up: @Purdue.
Iowa Hawkeyes - (Lost to Northwestern, 14-10) Iowa has lost its last three games by a combined twelve points. This team is less inspired than usual, which is saying something when you are talking about the Hawkeyes. The losing streak could make the trip to Chambana a deceptively tricky enterprise. Fear not, Ferentz will get his squad fired up in time to play Nebraska on Black Friday. Next up: @Illinois.
Maryland Terrapins - (Lost to Indiana, 34-32) Maryland lost in its best chance to reach bowl eligibility. The Terps need to beat either OSU or PSU to get to six wins, and that is just not going to happen. If this team can find a quarterback who can actually throw, that would be a step in the right direction. Next up: Ohio State.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights - (Lost to Michigan, 42-7) Rutgers got to “fire the cannon” once against Michigan. That is better than what happened the last time the Wolverines visited Piscataway. Progress. Next up: Penn State.
Feel free to laud my grace, charm, and judgment in the comments.