It's been a long season, and after a few weeks hiatus, we're back with another look at our Big Ten brethren as the season runs (or maybe limps) to a close.
Illinois vs. Ohio State
Something something Ezekiel Elliott blah blah blah Ohio State whatever whatever 23 straight games, still undefeated. I think that's pretty much the entire story from the Buckeyes' relatively easy 28-3 win over Illinois after leading only 14-3 at halftime.
So let's just focus on Illinois instead. The defense played well enough for most of the game, but the Illini offense has been inconsistent this season, with quarterback Wes Lunt blowing hot and cold for much of that time. But the real problem? Rushing for just 20 yards in an entire game. Woof.
Nobody knows exactly how Illinois will perform in its final two games, but the story in Champaign mostly revolves around the coaching search. Has Bill Cubit done enough to have the interim label removed? Despite administrative turmoil (Illinois is currently without a chancellor or an athletic director), Mark Primiano at the Champaign Room thinks not, and that the Illini should just take a risk and look elsewhere despite the unprecedented number of head coaching vacancies this year.
Indiana vs Michigan
Oh Hoosiers. Why?!
Nate Sudfeld's fourth down pass fell short in double overtime and Indiana lost. Again. The Hoosiers are now 0-6 in the Big Ten after a promising 4-0 start to the season. The worst part is that Indiana has SO many chances in this one. In regulation, with a 34-27 lead, the Indiana defense just had to hold off the Wolverines for one play. No dice. Then, in the second overtime, with Michigan up by a touchdown, all Indiana had to do was complete a short pass on fourth down. Denied. The more things change...
On the other side of the scoreline, Jim Harbaugh compared the game to that classic spaghetti Western, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," and noted this was "as good a win as you'll ever have." He was also very complimentary of quarterback Jake Rudock, noting especially his steadiness and that he's "been raised really good." That's also Harbaugh proving that grammar is not necessarily the thing that makes a Michigan Man.
Maryland vs Michigan State
Michigan State shut down Maryland 24-7, but lost quarterback Connor Cook in the process. Cook left the game at halftime with a shoulder injury, but if the Terps thought they'd got a break, they were in for a rude surprise. The Spartans didn't really need Cook in the second half anyway, as the defense and special teams won the day.
But they'll definitely need his services this week as the Spartans take on Ohio State in one of the league's biggest games. Not only could this game decide the Big Ten's East division, but it could have major playoff implications. If that wasn't enough, College Gameday will be in Columbus for the festivities. Or carnage.
Meanwhile, Maryland is headed in the opposite direction. The Terps have only won two games this season and are winless in the Big Ten, though playing FBS' toughest schedule might have something to do with those unfortunate results. To top it off, Maryland's quarterbacks have combined for a Division I-leading 25 interceptions with just 14 touchdowns. This game was no different with Perry Hills throwing an interception and Caleb Rowe getting picked off twice in just five passing attempts. On the other hand, the defense played well, holding the Spartans to just 121 yards through the air including only two long passes.
The big deal at Maryland right now has nothing to do with this season. Bill O'Brien of the NFL's Texans is allegedly interested in the Maryland job, but Baylor's Kendal Briles has piqued fan interest, while the quirky, off-beat pick appears to be Marshall's Doc Holliday.
Nebraska vs Rutgers
The Huskers may have already dropped six games this season, but thanks to a dominating 31-14 win over Rutgers, Nebraska is a respectable 3-4 in the Big Ten and just one win from bowl eligibility. The in-season turnaround for Big Red is partly due to improved play in the running game, with Imani Cross getting most of the work and averaging over five yards a carry. The game also saw the emergence of tight end Cethan Carter who is finally living up to his potential. (Brian Rosenthal, Lincoln Journal-Star).
But the big news? The secondary, once almost the worst in all of college football, is starting to show its mettle. Pass breakups at just the right time, interceptions, and key tackles were all on the cards for Nebraska against Rutgers and they'll need the secondary to be just as ready and eager against Iowa. Excuse me, that's undefeated Big Ten West-leading, playoff-contending Iowa. Blech.
Purdue vs Northwestern
Northwestern is 8-2, on a three-game winning streak, and with two games left on the schedule and a bowl appearance, this group of Wildcats has the chance to become the first team in school history to win 11 games. In other words, these Wildcats are pretty good, but they might also be very lucky.
Against Purdue, Northwestern didn't need luck, although the team was not especially dominant. But Justin Jackson had 116 yards and a score on the day and Warren Long also ran for two touchdowns to cement a 21-14 win. Much like the rest of this season, the Wildcats won the game despite their offense, with a stiff defense rescuing the team and saving the win.
For their part, the Boilermakers are running out of time and answers. Moral victories get old and the Purdue fandom is in full fingerpointing mode. This time, it's John Shoop in the dock, especially considering Darrell Hazell is not losing his job this season. Despite Northwestern practically handing the game to Purdue, the Boilermakers could not sustain a drive on offense and ended up losing an otherwise winnable game.
Now they're try to do it all over against an Iowa team treating Purdue like a speed bump. Good luck, Boilers! Win for the good guys.