Attrition has worn down some of the Big Ten West Division to dust. Others have been strengthened much like iron sharpening iron. Wisconsin stands alone as titan with both impressive wins and an extensive advanced profile. Four shutouts in six games will do that for you. Minnesota, despite the soft schedule, appears to be the only squad that will be able to threaten the Badger strangle-hold on the division. Injuries and schedule attrition have submarined the likes of Purdue, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Iowa, other squads that once believed they had a chance at winning what appeared to be a wide open division at the beginning of the season. Illinois is still wandering all alone in the college football desert.
It’s pretty straight forward from here on out. The big dates to watch that will dictate Big Ten West supremacy for 2019 are November 9th when Iowa heads to Madison and Penn State heads to Minneapolis, November 16th when Iowa
heads to Minneapolis hosts the Gophers in Iowa City, and November 30th when the Badgers head to Minneapolis.
(Overall record, conference record)
Illinois Fighting Illini (2-4, 0-3)
Illinois played a strange game against the Michigan Wolverines falling by the score of 42-25. Considering the opponent and the final score, this is one of the better results for the Fighting Illini during the Lovie Smith era. What an indictment. Illinois was ambushed in the first half, with the Michigan defense forcing five three-and-outs and the Illini defense allowing 28 points. The game took a strange turn in the third quarter with Illinois mounting a comeback and pressing Michigan to a 28-25 score before reason reclaimed control of the universe and the Wolverines scored 14 unanswered points. The lone bright spot was wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe who had five receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown.
Next Up: The Illini host division leader Wisconsin in what is sure to be a blood bath
Iowa Hawkeyes (4-2, 1-2)
The Hawkeyes were once again hamstrung by a lack luster offensive performance against a elite defense, falling to Penn State at home 17-12. The Iowa offense has now scored 15 combined points in their last two games and averaged 11 points against the three quality opponents they have faced this season. While the defense performed admirably, they forced zero turnovers and allowed Penn State to convert on 10 of 19 third downs. A missed field goal and two turnovers ultimately doomed the Hawkeyes. Defensive back Jack Koerner recorded 14 tackles and defensive end AJ Epensa had three quarterback hurries and a sack. Despite the defenses best efforts, there was no Kinnick night magic to be found this past Saturday.
Next Up: The Hawkeyes host the Purdue Boilermakers in a divisional matchup
Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-0, 3-0)
Minnesota improved to 6-0 on the backs of a 34-7 thrashing of another creampuff in a schedule full of them. The Golden Gophers dominated every facet of the game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers this past Saturday night at TCF Bank Stadium. Rodney Smith, Shannon Brooks, and Mohamed Ibrahim combined for 322 rushing yards and four touchdowns. A staunch defensive effort in the sleeting mist was led by defensive tackle Sam Renner, linebacker Kamal Martin (15 tackles), and safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. From start to finish, both Gopher lines dictated play as the ‘Huskers only 3.5 yards per rush and 5.1 yards per pass. One stat that really stands out to me was that the Gophers didn’t have a turnover and didn’t generate one. They didn’t need a fluky play to dominate the game and they didn’t give the ball away. This was a quality effort for Minnesota across the board.
Next Up: The Golden Gophers travel to bucolic Piscataway for the first time in their program’s history to play the Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-3, 2-2)
As just mentioned, Nebraska was raced right out of TCF Bank Stadium in a cold, messy affair 34-7. They lost stud freshman wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson in the second quarter to a nasty-looking ankle injury and weren’t able to gain much traction on the offensive end the rest of the evening until a fourth quarter drive spared them of being shut out. The defense had no answer for the Gopher running attack. With two tallies in the conference loss column and games remaining against Wisconsin and Iowa, Nebraska’s division hopes seem officially extinguished if they weren’t already.
Next Up: The bye week arrives at an opportune time for the Cornhuskers
Northwestern Wildcats (1-4, 0-3)
The Wildcats mercifully had a bye this past week
Next Up: They host Ohio State... godspeed Northwestern
Purdue Boilermakers (2-4, 1-2)
The biggest surprise of the weekend in the division was the play of the Boilermakers who embarrassed Maryland in West Lafayette 40-14. Despite numerous injuries across the board, Jeff Brohm’s squad terrorized the Terrapins to the tune of 547 total offensive yards. They found most of their success through the arm of quarterback Jack Plummer, who had 420 passing yards and three touchdowns including 140 yards to senior wide receiver Brycen Hopkins. Purdue converted 11 of 18 third down plays and didn’t allow a Maryland point to be scored in the second half. There’s something to be said to responding to the amount of adversity Purdue has faced thus far this season so it will be interesting to see how they continue to play moving forward.
Next Up: They travel to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes
Wisconsin Badgers (6-0, 3-0)
The Badgers continued to terrorize weak offenses this past weekend, shutting out the hapless Michigan State Spartans 38-0 in Madison. While Johnathan Taylor had a pedestrian game by his standards (86 yards, 2 touchdowns on the ground, 22 yards receiving), it was the defense that continued to have the college football world buzzing. However, the four shutouts now recorded by the Badgers have been against the 68th, 94th, 111th, and 112th ranked offenses in college football according to SP+. Accumulating four shutouts, regardless of the competition, is impressive. But if the perception of Minnesota’s overall quality is going to be punished due to a weak schedule thus far, let’s not crown Wisconsin’s defense the 1985 Bears just yet. The Badger D is impressive but it’s mettle will be truly tested in two weeks against the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus.
Next Up: Wisconsin travels to Urbana-Champaign to bring pain to the Illini