Oct 19, 2013; Evanston, IL, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers linebacker James Manuel (9) runs back an interception for a touchdown against the Northwestern Wildcats during the second half at Ryan Field. The Minnesota Golden Gophers defeated the Northwestern Wildcats 20-17. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
The Big Ten schedule this past weekend, at least on paper, was hideous: Minnesota at Northwestern, Indiana at Michigan, Purdue at Michigan State, Iowa at Ohio State, and Wisconsin at Illinois provided neither rivalries or intriguing matchups.
For what we care, Minnesota stunned Northwestern on the road. The Wildcats, a team that had Big Ten title aspirations just three weeks ago, has now lost three consecutive games to start the conference season 0-3. The Wildcats have had back-to-back embarrassing showings after getting humiliated by Wisconsin on the road 35-6 and losing at home to Minnesota 20-17.
1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes are riding a 19-game winning streak. Despite the national perception that the Big Ten Conference is down as a whole, it’s an impressive streak. I don’t think the Buckeyes have a chance of losing until they play in Ann Arbor against Michigan on Nov. 30th.
2. Wisconsin: It’s a darn shame that the Buckeyes and Badgers both play in the Leaders Division, because these are by far the two best teams in the conference. Meanwhile, Melvin Gordon continues to impress — he rushed for 142 yards and three touchdowns on just 17 carries as the Badgers thrashed the Illini, 56-32. Gordon is averaging an absurd 9.5 yards per carry.
3. Michigan State: The Spartans toyed with Purdue like a cat with a ball of yarn. The Spartans only beat the Boilermakers 14-0, but this game was never in doubt. Michigan State is saving themselves for the stretch drive of the Legends Division title race and I think the Spartans are the front runner simply because their defense is markedly better than every other team in the division.
4. Nebraska: The Huskers had another bye week, their second in four weeks. They should be rested and ready to take on a brutal stretch of their schedule. We will know a lot about this football team after they play a stretch of games against Minnesota, Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Iowa. I don’t think any of these games are layups for the Big Red. Nebraska will have to solve their defensive issues or it could be an extremely disappointing finish to their season.
5. Michigan: This may be the least impressive 6-1 Michigan team ever. I will say this – Brady Hoke looks like a mediocre coach this year. I’m not saying he isn’t going to take Michigan back into national prominence, but this year has not been a good look for his team. Giving up 47 points to Indiana at home is inexcusable and I don’t care how good Indiana’s offense is. The Wolverines have a closing stretch of Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa, and Ohio State so it’s not inconceivable to believe that the Wolverines won’t win another game this year.
6. Penn State: All of a sudden that loss at home to Central Florida doesn’t look so bad anymore. The Knights of Central Florida knocked off the Louisville Cardinals on the road. Louisville was a team with national championship aspirations but now it looks like Central Florida is in the drivers seat to win the AAC Conference and go to a BCS bowl game. Aside from a lackluster performance at Indiana, the Nittany Lions have looked pretty solid this year. With an improving young quarterback in Christian Hackenberg, look for that trend to continue.
7. Iowa: The Hawkeyes went toe-to-toe with the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Shoe. Maybe that Minnesota loss to Iowa at home wasn’t as bad as it seemed at the time. Iowa looks like it has the potential to win seven or eight games this year. Never count out a Kirk Ferentz coached team to have a bounce back year as it looks like the Hawkeyes are well on their way.
8. Minnesota: No one outside of Minnesota thought the Gophers had a chance to beat Northwestern. However, inside the friendly confines of the North Star state, some of us thought the Gophers at least had a chance. Including this genius.
Now, Minnesota will return to TCF Bank Stadium with a chance to notch their first signature win of the Jerry Kill era against Nebraska on Saturday.
9. Indiana: One of these days, the Hoosiers are going to learn how to play mediocre defense and combined with their offense, will challenge for a Big Ten championship. However, their defense is awful and for the Hoosiers to become competitive in this conference, they desperately need to address their defensive shortcomings.
10. Northwestern: I have no idea what happened with the Wildcats. I had a hunch they were overrated in the preseason and that people were getting ahead of themselves by proclaiming them to be a conference championship contender, but I had no idea they would look this bad. Now they must go on the road to face an improved Iowa team that smells blood.
11. Illinois: The Illini defense stinks and their offense isn’t good enough to make up for their defensive shortcomings. Still three winnable games on the conference schedule to reach postseason eligibility: Indiana, Purdue, and Northwestern.
12. Purdue: Some people refer to Purdue as Purdon’t. I now see why. I don’t know if there is a more hopeless BCS conference team in the country.