There’s no sense in sugar-coating the introduction this week. No one cared about last week’s results. That’s because the five best teams in the conference, including the top three teams in the West Division, were all on a bye week. And the attention of fans of the conference (and across college football for that matter) was directed towards November 9th. That’s because an undefeated Penn State is traveling to Minneapolis to square off against the undefeated Minnesota Golden Gophers. The under card of the day is surprisingly the Iowa-Wisconsin showdown in Madison. Both games will give us better understanding of how the West Division will shake out during the final third of the season.
With this in mind, let’s review what the teams in the Big Ten West did during Week 9.
(Overall record, conference record)
Illinois Fighting Illini (5-4, 3-3)
Illinois continued their improbable Big Ten win streak, defeating Rutgers 38-10 in Urbana-Champaign this past Saturday. This result wasn’t particularly in question but the fact that Lovie Smith’s team has now won three games in a row spanning October and November and they stand alone in fourth place in the division is a bit of a minor miracle. The damage done on the offensive side of the ball was primarily on the ground. Illinois spread out 43 carries between 10 (!!!) ball carriers to the turn of 4.8 yards per carry. This was enough to defeat an utterly hapless Rutgers squad at home. The Illini defense forced three turnovers and forced five Scarlet Knight three-and-outs.
Next Up: A scorching hot Illini squad heads to East Lansing to see if they can make it four straight conference wins for the first time in forever
Iowa Hawkeyes (6-2, 3-2)
The Hawkeyes were on bye this week
Next Up: Iowa heads to Madison to face Wisconsin and do battle for a big ol’ brass bull
Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-0, 5-0)
The Gophers were on bye this week
Next Up: 8-0 Penn State vs. 8-0 Minnesota on ABC. Enough said.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-5, 2-4)
Despite facing a team dealing with more injuries than a MASH unit, the Cornhuskers dropped their third consecutive game to the Purdue Boilermakers 31-27 in West Lafayette. Although quarterback Adrian Martinez returned to action, his 247 passing yards weren’t enough to spurn the Nebraska offense to a victory. Nebraska averaged an OK 3.7 yards per rush but weren’t able to overcome going 6 of 16 on third downs or stop the Boilermaker offense when it mattered most.
Next Up: The Cornhuskers are mercifully on bye
Northwestern Wildcats (1-7, 0-6)
Northwestern lost their sixth game in row, this time falling 34-3 in Bloomington to surprisingly tough Indiana Hoosier squad. To the Wildcats’ credit, their first six conference games were a certifiable murderers row that included trips to Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Indiana and visits from Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa. However, even with as tough a schedule as they have had, that doesn’t excuse the absolutely putrid offensive output Pat Fitzgerald’s crew has put together including scoring 15 points or fewer in all six contest and getting shutout twice. The offensive output in this game was equally atrocious and inlcuded 199 total yards of offense, three turnovers, 3.9 yards per pass attempt and a 3-for-14 third down conversion rate. Yikes...
Next Up: Northwestern hosts the Purdue Boilermakers in Evanston
Purdue Boilermakers (3-6, 2-4)
Purdue defeated Nebraska 31-27 in West Lafayette despite quarterback Jack Plummer being injured with 7:55 remaining in the game. Down to their third-string quarterback in Aidan O’Connell, the Boilermakers put together a game-winning driving that concluded with a David Bell 9-yard touchdown run with 1:08 left. Despite having more turnovers and three times as many penalties as the Cornhuskers, Purdue found a way to win this game and keep the faintest of bowl hopes alive for another week.
Next Up: The Boilermakers travel to Evanston to take on the nose-diving Wildcats
Wisconsin Badgers (6-2, 3-2)
The Badgers were on bye this week
Next Up: Wisconsin hosts Iowa with the Heartland Trophy up for grabs and division power in the balance