By JOHN SEARS - BIG TEN INSIDER
1. Penn State (1) 9-0 W: 13-6 at Ohio State
The good – Penn State overcame adversity in a hostile environment to come away with the victory against a ranked opponent. They are sitting pretty on top of the conference undefeated. Their defense shut down Ohio State’s bread and butter rushing attack and caused key turnovers at key parts of the game. The bad – their offense was defused early and could not get really anything going, passing or rushing, and the usually sure-footed Kevin Kelly missed a key field goal. The ugly – nothing really, but quarterback Daryll Clark getting knocked out with a head injury should raise concern in Happy Valley. Back-up Pat Devlin is more than competent (scored the winning touchdown on a goal line dive), but this is Clark’s offense to carry to the national championship. The bye week will help to this end, but they will look flat in Iowa City the following week and will have a tough time avoiding the loss column. Watch out white-out nation!
2. Ohio State (2) 7-2 L: 13-6 vs. Penn State
The good – had the lead into the fourth quarter against a favored team. The bad – turnovers down the stretch from a freshman quarterback that put the game out of reach. The ugly – well, none really. As much as they obviously didn’t want to lose, Ohio State showed defensively they are comparable to the nation’s elite and withstood the biggest blows the Lions tried to lay on them. Penn State could only compile 281 yards (actually out-gained by the Buckeyes) of total offense. On the flip side, Pryor is still young, but having the ball punched out of hands on a third and short sneak led to Penn State’s only touchdown. Beanie Wells couldn’t get much going either (22, 55 yards). That being said, Ohio State is still the second best team in the conference.
3. Minnesota (4) 7-1 W: 17-6 at Purdue
Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber was impressive once again (21-34, 212, one touchdown, one interception). He is making smart reads consistently and is showing the ability to run or pass for scores – scoring the only two touchdowns of the game. What was more impressive was his command in the fourth quarter with the game in the balance. Hats off to a tremendous Minnesota defense, ripping the ball out of the hands of the Boilermakers to the tune of four turnovers and holding Purdue to 226 total yards. I think we’ve found a glass slipper…
4. Michigan State (3) 7-2 W: 35-21 at Michigan
The Spartans stated that this was the most important game of their season (maybe knowing that a week and a half ago would have helped us pick the winner of their game against Ohio State last Saturday). They absolutely exploited every weakness their little brothers have shown – lack of tackling, terrible third-down defense, etc. Running back Javon Ringer (37, 194 yards, two touchdowns) put a nice stamp on his season, nearly eclipsing 200 yards while bringing the Paul Bunyan Trophy back to East Lansing. Brian Hoyer looked solid too (17-29, 282 yards, three touchdowns), but at this point Ursinus College’s Nick Dye could put up huge numbers against Michigan’s porous secondary.
5. Iowa (6) 5-3 BYE
Iowa was able to hold onto the ball this week, unlike so many of their conference counterparts. Great call on the BYE week here. With the conference falling in to place, it looks like the Hawkeyes may not go gently in to that good night. But the schedule gets tough down the stretch (at Illinois, Penn State, Purdue, at Minnesota). Rage! Rage against the dying of the light!
6. Wisconsin (8) 4-4 W: 27-17 vs. Illinois
The Badgers may have a quarterback moving forward. Unexpectedly, it seems to be junior Dustin Sherer (12-22, 174 yards, two touchdowns) rising to the top, throwing his first two career touchdown passes while leading the Badgers to their first conference win. It was a classic Wisconsin victory – balanced rush versus pass (163 vs. 174 yards) and their top receiver in catches and yards was tight end Garrett Graham (6 catches, 79 yards). There will be a classic conference clash of smash-mouth football next week with Javon Ringer and the Spartans playing host to the Badgers.
7. Northwestern (5) 6-2 L: 21-19 at Indiana
I have a very efficient strategy to offer up my [TURNOVER] analysis of this [TURNOVER] game. But for some reason, I cannot seem to get my message [TURNOVER] across clearly due to something [TURNOVER] getting in the way of my goal [TURNOVER]. Bad loss against a bad team. Period.
8. Illinois (7) 4-4 L: 27-17 at Wisconsin
What is there to say? This really was a must-win for Illinois if they were going to make some noise in the conference. It was a tale of two quarterbacks: Surprisingly, it was Wisconsin’s back-up quarterback who outplayed Juice Williams (17-32, 221, two touchdowns, three interceptions). Williams tossed three interceptions (two of which were back-breakers) and could find star wide receiver Arrelious Benn only twice for 47 yards. As they have gone L, W ,L ,W, L the last five games, Illinois is seems due for a W next week, so they have that going for them…which is nice.
9. Indiana (11) 3-5 W: 21-19 vs. Northwestern
Backin’ it up: Sophomore back-up signal caller Ben Chappell looked cool most of the game (21-34, 219 yards, two total touchdowns), coordinating three riverboat gambler scoring drives. Indiana seemed to know they would be outmatched if they were to stand toe-to-toe with the Wildcats so they used reverse passes and play-action reverses to put up two tricky long touchdown passes. Five takeways for the Hoosiers’ defense helped keep Northwestern playing from behind. A nice game to build on moving forward.
10. Purdue (9) 2-6 L: 17-6 vs. Minnesota
Purdue extended their losing streak to five games dating back to September 27 at Notre Dame. This week’s problems? Four turnovers and a 226 total yards. The good news? For the long term, running back-turned-quarterback Justin Siller looks promising managing the spread. In the short term, the self-destructing Michigan Wolverines come to town next.
11. Michigan (10) 2-6 L: 35-21 vs. Michigan State
Promises? Guarantees? I guarantee Michigan is no better than they were at week one. In fact, with all the injuries and veteran players getting removed from the secondary in place of freshmen (seriously?), one could argue they are now worse on Saturdays. This season will be historical for sure – they’ve already blown long winning streaks against Penn State and Michigan State, will likely lose all three rivalry games (Ohio State left), and the winning record and consecutive bowl streaks will be snapped since the last economic crisis (wait, not the one last month, the one that happened when our currency was still dependent on the shilling).