Sunday, November 6, 2011
What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 10
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.
1. The Legends Division is a whole new ballgame: We entered Saturday with a three-way tie atop the Legends Division, thinking that the real shake-ups would start in the final three weeks. By Saturday evening, everything had changed as two of the first-place teams -- and the top two ranked teams in the Big Ten -- went down. Michigan State now stands alone in charge of the division at 4-1, but the Spartans were less than impressive in beating Minnesota by only seven points at home. They still have to go on the road to Iowa and Northwestern in games that now look more difficult, and Mark Dantonio's team hasn't played well away from East Lansing. Still, Nebraska and Michigan would gladly trade places with Michigan State after their upset losses. And ...
Iowa's Marcus Coker rushed 29 times for 132 yards and two touchdowns against Michigan.
2. Beware of Iowa: Look out, here come the Hawkeyes. A week after a stunning loss in Minneapolis, Kirk Ferentz's crew rebounded on its home field by beating No. 15 Michigan. Sophomore running back Marcus Coker is hitting his stride, and a much-maligned defense made enough plays to slow down Denard Robinson and the Michigan offense. Iowa controls its own fate in the Legends Division and can take another big step this week as it hosts Michigan State. The Hawkeyes are 6-0 at home this season and thumped Michigan State 37-6 last year at Kinnick Stadium. A year after struggling down the stretch, Iowa could be heating up at just the right time.
3. These still aren't your father's Cornhuskers: Nebraska's quest to recapture its glory days continues. Cornhuskers fans hoped this would be the year that their beloved Big Red would dominate in the Big Ten. And the team looked like it was building momentum while gaining a No. 10 ranking. But then the Huskers went out and lost at home to Northwestern, which hadn't beaten anybody with a pulse this year. Nebraska fans have seen this story before -- it's the fifth straight season their team has lost a home game to an unranked opponent. The newly christened Blackshirts allowed more than 200 rushing yards, and the Huskers' offense scored 10 points fewer than its season average against an extremely porous Wildcats defense. It was a crushing defeat for Nebraska's chances of making the Big Ten title game, especially with road games at Penn State and Michigan remaining. And it served as a reminder that those glory days are still not rekindled.
4. Northwestern's bowl hopes look a lot better: The Wildcats' streak of three consecutive postseason appearances appeared in serious jeopardy following a five-game losing streak from Sept. 17 to Oct. 22. But after getting back in the win column last week, Northwestern gave its bowl hopes a major boost by upsetting Nebraska in Lincoln. Although starting QB Dan Persa continues to battle injuries, Kain Colter and the offensive line stepped up as Northwestern racked up 28 points and 468 yards against Nebraska. The Wildcats need two more wins to become bowl-eligible but play their final three contests at home. They'll be favored the next two weeks against Rice and Minnesota before wrapping things up against Michigan State.
5. All is not lost for Minnesota and Indiana: The Gophers and Hoosiers won't be going bowling this year, and their final records won't look pretty. But both teams have areas on which to build heading into Year 2 under coaches Jerry Kill and Kevin Wilson, respectively. Mobile quarterbacks Tre Roberson (Indiana) and MarQueis Gray (Minnesota) both have made strides in recent weeks, and both offenses performed well Saturday against good defenses in Ohio State and Michigan State. Both teams have a long way to go on defense, but even those units did some good things at times in Week 10. Don't be surprised if Indiana or Minnesota pulls off an upset or two down the stretch.