For the first time in years, the Big Ten owned its moment in the primetime sun of college football. And what a moment it was.
Michigan vs Michigan State
This was it. The biggest game of the conference's big games (shush, Ohio State, you'll get your turn), a game so big that even College Gameday could not ignore it (Nick Schwartz, For the Win).
This game began with the most B1G feat ever. Michigan's Blake O'Neill punted the ball rugby style for 80 yards, the second-longest punt in school history.
What does an 80-yard punt look like? @umichfootball punter Blake O'Neill show you! Brought to you by @GrubHub. http://t.co/5AJvoTqXKp— Michigan on BTN (@MichiganOnBTN) October 17, 2015
Then, a bunch of other stuff happened, and with just ten seconds to go and the game seemingly in the bag, the game ended in the least B1G thing ever:
Oh, the joy! The incredulity!! The euphoria!!! SPARTY YAAAAAS!! (Never mind the dogpile that turned the moment's hero, Jalen Watts-Jackson into an orthopedic disaster).
Of course, that's not how Michigan fans felt about it all:
The good folks at Maize N Brew tried to make sense of it all and then gave up. Because let's face it, this is an absolutely absurd sequence of events. It defies rationality and it is exactly the sort of utterly incomprehensible nonsense that makes college football the best sport in the history of ever.
This game was the highest rated October game on ESPN. Ever. To put that in context, remember the Texas-Oklahoma and Alabama-Tennessee games are traditionally played in October too. But this one beat them all.
The game--and especially the last play--will go down in history as an iconic moment, and may help redefine the rivalry between the Wolverines and the Spartans, a rivalry too long punctuated by lopsided win streaks and "little brother" rhetoric. Michigan State has won seven of the last eight, but maybe now it will be Michigan's turn again (Anthony Broome, Detroit Free Press).
The aftermath of the game was also a stark reminder that everything--and everyone--involved with college football is not always beautiful. In fact, things have been ugly for O'Neill who has been at the receiving end of insults and even death threats after the fumble, prompting Michigan's athletic director Jim Hackett to write an open letter condemning the threats and reminding fans to have perspective. But O'Neill has also received widespread support from Big Ten fans and coaches alike (Luke Meredith, AP), and today, the punter spoke for the first time since the game, and even admitted that his Aussie Rules-driven instinct to keep the ball moving forward may have contributed to the bad outcome (Detroit Free Press, VIDEO).
Seriously, if you watch just one thing today, watch O'Neill's interview. His candor and his attitude are both refreshing and exactly as they should be.
What does all this mean for the rest of us? Well, in the short term, very little. But in the long term, it means it's okay to hate Michigan again.
Iowa vs Northwestern
The Hawkeyes juggernaut just keeps rolling. Iowa is now 7-0 and legitimately a part of the college football playoff conversation. Yes, Iowa. No, I don't understand either.
Iowa's offensive line completely dominated Northwestern's front seven in a 40-10 rout, and the Hawkeyes had nearly 300 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. AIRHBG put in a brief appearance, taking star running back Jordan Canzeri out of the game, but even that turned out to be a false alarm. Backup Akrum Wadley came off the bench and ran for 206 yards and four touchdowns, setting a new school record and earning B1G Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Wadley is going to bad, bad things to the rest of the teams on the schedule. Believe it.
And what about Northwestern? Well, the Wildcats are at a crossroads. After starting the season 5-0 on the strength of a strong defense and a mediocre offense, Northwestern has now been soundly beaten in two consecutive games. The offense is genuinely bad, and the defense isn't holding up its end of the bargain anymore. The season could still be something of a success, but right now, it feels boring and irrelevant. The more things change...
Ohio State vs Penn State
The Buckeyes' quarterback carousel has finally come to a full stop. J.T. Barrett is now officially QB 1 for Ohio State, an honor he earned on the field against Penn State, and mostly with his legs rather than in the passing game. In fact, as a passer, he's been less effective than erstwhile starter Cardale Jones who has struggled to find a rhythm since being swapped out with Barrett a few weeks ago. Still, the team may yet need Jones and he'll be ready when his number is called, much like in 2014.
Ohio State's win over Penn State in a fairly routine 38-10 game. Questionable playcalling and poor execution doomed the Nittany Lions on a day when Christian Hackenberg, already banged up, could not connect with wide-open targets on crucial downs. That put a damper on what was otherwise a solid effort from Penn State's defense.
It's not that there is a massive talent gap between Penn State and Ohio State. Indeed, the Nittany Lions' offensive backfield could run with any team in any conference. But on a day when the unit graded out well below average, the two teams looked worlds apart. Still, we're all about the silver lining around here, and in Penn State's case, that means just one thing: they get to play Maryland next.
Indiana v Rutgers
Indiana Football 101: no lead is ever safe. In the third quarter, on the heels of a stunning 66-yard touchdown from Devine Redding, the Hoosiers led 52-27. Then, inexplicably, just twenty minutes later, Rutgers had won the game 55-52. What the heck happened?
Well, in what is turning out to be a bit of a theme in the conference, predictable playcalling and unfortunate mistakes combined to stifle the Hoosiers offense in the final minutes of the game. Indiana just could not get out of its own way. After a 4-0 start to the season, the Hoosiers have come off the rails and it's time for a reevaluation.
On the other hand, Rutgers finally found a moment to define its season and maybe cement its status as a real Big Ten team. The Scarlet Knights came close to pulling off the upset last week against Michigan State, and this week, they went one better. Behind gusty play from quarterback Chris Laviano and highlight-reel catches from Leonte Carroo, Rutgers stormed back into the game, scoring five times in the last 20 minutes, including on a fumble return. The 25-point comeback tied the school record set last year against Maryland.
Purdue vs Wisconsin
The Badgers overcame a slow start but put Purdue away late in the game. Wisconsin won the game 24-7 in typical workman-like Badger fashion. The Badger offense was no better than usual--adequate but inconsistent, with Joel Stave having another 300-yard game through the air, but also throwing an interception. It was the defense that won the day for Wisconsin, absolutely stifled any sustained offensive progress from Purdue. Linebacker T.J. Edwards was apparently everywhere, registering 16 tackles and forcing a fumble.
As for Purdue, this is a team absolutely in need of a silver lining, and despite the loss, the Wisconsin game might have been just the thing. The Boilers actually played well in this one, at least at first. The offense put together a long, sustained drive to tie the score at 7-7 even as Wisconsin's offense could not get untracked against a great effort from Purdue's front seven. Unfortunately, Purdue's offense stagnated after that and put up no points for the rest of the game and a worn-out secondary folded, giving up two scores and any chance of a win.
So is Purdue football dead? Probably not, but it's in dire need of an infusion, and this $60M facilities upgrade maybe a much-needed shot in the arm for a beleaguered fanbase.
Finally, this was the week's most Big Ten moment, even if I'm sorry it had to happen this way: