Big Ten lessons in Week 7

October, 12, 2008
10/12/08
10:44
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Week 7 had a bit of everything: surprise, shock, disappointment and domination. Here are five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football. 

1. Penn State should be in the national title discussion -- Their starting quarterback has been questioned. Their defensive depth has been questioned. Their road toughness has been questioned. But all the Nittany Lions do is continue to provide answers. They recorded a benchmark blowout of Wisconsin on Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium, handing the Badgers their worst loss since 1989. Head coach Joe Paterno spent his second consecutive game in the press box and watched his team destroy the Badgers with aggressive offensive play-calling, hard-hitting defense and polished special teams. Few FBS teams have been as consistently dominant as Penn State, which validated itself as a national championship contender.

2. The Gophers are back -- A year after going 1-11 and setting team records for futility on defense, Minnesota became bowl eligible on Oct. 11. The impressive about-face was capped by a signature road win against Illinois, the alma mater of Gophers coach Tim Brewster. Behind first-year defensive coordinator Ted Roof, Minnesota forced three Illini turnovers, including a Juice Williams fumble that Simoni Lawrence returned to the end zone for the decisive touchdown. Senior defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg turned in a dominating performance as the Gophers locked up their first Big Ten road win since 2006.

3. Misery at Michigan -- Coach Rich Rodriguez's attempt to challenge his players by calling their previous performance "soft" clearly didn't work, as a team loaded with inexperience and the wrong type of personnel suffered one of the worst losses in program history. Michigan's sputtering spread offense imploded against 1-4 Toledo, and the Wolverines suffered their first defeat to a Mid-American Conference team in 25 tries. At 2-4, Michigan needs a miracle to avoid its first losing season since 1967. This is beginning to look a lot like Notre Dame of 2007.

4. Michigan State has turned a corner in October -- College football's biggest tease has found a new identity behind second-year coach Mark Dantonio. A Spartans team prone to September surges and October collapses turned in a near-spotless performance against mistake-prone Northwestern, winning its sixth straight and setting up a huge matchup Saturday against Ohio State. Dantonio has instilled greater discipline on both sides of the ball, and Michigan State is cashing in on its opponents' errors instead of the other way around.

5. Big Ten title could be decided in the next two weeks -- Minnesota could continue to surprise everyone, but it seems as though the league's top three teams (Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan State) have separated themselves from the pack. The next two Saturdays should reveal a lot, as Ohio State visits East Lansing after an unimpressive showing against Purdue. Penn State then visits Columbus, where it has never won as a Big Ten member. Should both the Spartans and Nittany Lions survive, the championship could come down to their meeting Nov. 22 in Happy Valley.

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