After the dust of Week 6 of the 2019 College Football Season settled, there were three Big Ten West teams without a conference victory. There were four that either had one loss to a Top 15 team or no losses at all. It appears as if the wheat has started to separate itself from the chaff. Granted, some of those teams that have no wins have played more challenging conference schedules thus far than say Minnesota or Wisconsin. But the fact remains that starting in a hole is no way to compete for a division title. And after losing again, this time to Nebraska on a last second field goal, Northwestern has almost assuredly been officially eliminated from repeating as Big Ten West champions. So without further ado, let us examine the seven teams which comprise this most unbalanced division.
(Overall record, conference record)
Illinois Fighting Illini (2-3, 0-2)
Illinois was more or less dominated by the Gophers on Saturday. They cobbled together two defensive touchdowns but outside of those two plays were generally outclassed on a misty, cool afternoon in the Twin Cities. Standout running back Reggie Corbin was bottled up for 68 yards on 14 attempts and the Fighting Illini also lost their starting quarterback Brandon Peters to injury mid-game. It appears as if the Lovie Smith era is reaching its inevitable and ugly end.
Next Up: Illinois takes on Michigan at home where I doubt they score an offensive touchdown for the second consecutive game
Iowa Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-1)
The Hawkeyes suffered their first defeat of the 2019 season. In an ugly rock fight game against another team that has a stellar defense and questionable offense in the Michigan Wolverines, the black-and-gold came up short 10-3 at the Big House. Iowa played a game that Kirk Ferentz will undoubtedly have as one of the least favorite of his career. Eight penalties, four turnovers, and a single (!!!) rushing yard probably made coach more unhappy that any stat line I can ever recall being produced by a Hawkeye team. Quarterback Nate Stanley threw three interceptions and while the Iowa defense was stout against a highly questionable Michigan offense, allowing only 3.6 yards per carry and 267 total yards, it wasn’t enough to save the day. This really set perceptions of the Hawkeyes back quite a bit. While Michigan has an elite defense (2nd in SP+ in the nation), this is a very disconcerting performance both through the air and on the ground.
Next Up: The undefeated Penn State Nittany Lions visit Iowa City in a huge night game in prime time
Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-0, 2-0)
Minnesota ran rough-shod over a hapless Illini defense in a 40-17 Homecoming game victory this past Saturday. Rodney Smith ran for 211 yards and a touchdown. Shannon Brooks ran for 111 yards a touchdown. And besides the mishap of allowing two defensive touchdowns by the Illini, looked the part of a division title contender. The kind of stats that indicate how dominate the Gophers really were in this game include allowing only four yards per pass and Illinois only converting on 5 of 17 third down attempts. Minnesota averaged 6.4 yards per rush and held on to the ball for 11 more minutes than their opponent. It was a solid performance against a team that a good team (which we hope the Gophers are) should dominate.
Next Up: A home game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers for the Chair at night under the lights
Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-2, 2-1)
Despite losing starting quarterback Adrian Martinez to injury mid-game, Nebraska survived a scare in an ugly affair defeating Northwestern on a last-second field goal 13-10. The Cornhuskers were metaphorically and physically (at least on some plays) carried by freshman standout wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson who had seven carries for 44 yards and Nebraska’s sole touchdown to complement seven receptions for 123 yards. While they committed no penalties, Nebraska only averaged 3.3 yards on the ground and converted 6 of 19 third down situations. These stat lines don’t seem especially promising for a Cornhusker offense that seemed explosive at times early in the season. While Martinez’s status is up in the air, it will be interesting to see how this week progresses.
Next Up: The Cornhuskers travel to the Twin Cities to battle for the Broken Chair in a night game against the Golden Gophers
Northwestern Wildcats (1-4, 0-3)
The Wildcats fell in another close inter-division game, this time in Lincoln to the Cornhuskers 13-10 on a last second field goal. While Northwestern’s defense continues to carry a heavy load (SP+ 8th in the nation in defense) , both in regards to the opponents they’ve faced and the fact that their offense does them no favors, their games continue to be quite ugly. In a game that including 19 (!!!) punts, the lone turnover of the game, an interception thrown by Northwestern quarterback Aidan Smith with under two minutes remaining in the game, set up the game winning drive and field goal for the Cornhuskers. The quarterback situation continues to hamstring Pat Fitzgerald’s squad. Six different receivers caught passes, and five different players recorded rushes in an offense struggling to find consistency and an identity. Unfortunately for the spiraling Wildcats, their next two games are against Ohio State and Iowa... I don’t think that’s the tonic their offense needs at the moment.
Next Up: The Wildcats host the Ohio State Buckeyes in a drastic contrast of styles
Purdue Boilermakers (1-4, 0-2)
The Boilermakers got thumped by Penn State 35-7. There isn’t much to comment on this game from a Purdue perspective. Without starting quarterback Elijah Sindelar and standout wide receiver Rondale Moore, I don’t expect too many good things to happen to the Boilermakers from here on out. For example, they had -19 rushing yards in this game... Yikes. Cue the crashing train GIF.
Next Up: The Boilermakers host Maryland in a showdown of desperate teams
Wisconsin Badgers (5-0, 2-0)
The Badgers played Kent State (120th in SP+) and beat them handily. Running back Jonathan Taylor continued to puff up his Heisman campaign with hefty stats against far inferior teams with 186 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns, and a receiving touchdown for good measure. For those interested, Wisconsin’s non-conference opponents currently rank 86th, 111th, and 120th in SP+ (out of 130 teams). They have also only played one road game so far this season.
Next Up: Wisconsin receives a visit from Michigan State