Another week of play, another week of eye-opening results. While none of the upsets were of the caliber of Appalachian State over Michigan, Syracuse over Louisville (then a huge upset in terms of the point spread) or Stanford over USC (41-point dog snaps the Trojans' 35-game home win streak) there were some head-turning events in the Big Ten this weekend.
For starters, Illinois laid the wood to Wisconsin in a game that wasn't as close as the final score indicates. Yes, the Illini were favored in the game (I guess Vegas does know what they're doing) but who really thought that Illinois would end the nation's longest win streak? Northwestern was a 16.5 point underdog at Michigan State with everyone out of E.L. stating with absolute certainty their readiness to avoid a letdown after the heartbreaking loss at Wisconsin the week prior. The result? An epic day by the Wildcats' aerial attack and C.J. Bacher and a 48-41 overtime win for the purple and black.
The rest of it was not too shocking... Ohio State dominated Purdue in the Boilermakers' first real test of the season. Michigan never fully pulled away from Eastern Michigan but was never in danger. Penn State finally got rolling and further pinned Iowa under the bus. Indiana dominated Minnesota in a game that probably wasn't as close as the 40-20 final indicates.
So, here we sit, exactly halfway through the season with Illinois tied atop the Big Ten standings and Iowa cemented in the basement. As they say, that's why they play the games. On paper, things seem wild and wacky, but in reality we now have a pretty good sense of who are the contenders and who are the pretenders. Speaking of where we are, let's take a look team by team at my mid-season report card on my predictions (working in the order I picked the teams, worst to first):
- Minnesota - worse than I thought they might be, the Golden Gophers have just one win to their credit - an overtime victory over Miami-OH. I had Minnesota 3-3 (0-3) right now, but alas the Gophers lost to BGSU and Florida Atlantic to make them 1-5 (0-3). Hard to say if the team is heading in the right direction, I guess that will be up for decision at season's end.
- Illinois - surprise team of the season - a lot further along than I anticipated this year, i.e. more of what I expected in 08. The Illini have but one agonizingly close loss on their slate right now. I had them at 2-4 (0-3) right now, but the orange crush are out to a blazing 5-1 (3-0) start and are the talk of the conference.
- Northwestern - right about where I had them pegged. The loss to Duke was very damaging to postseason hopes, but the win over Michigan State was huge. I had the Wildcats at 2-4 (0-3) right now and they sit instead at 3-3 (1-2) with a fighting chance to make a bowl. If C.J. Bacher plays like he did against MSU the rest of the way, look for a bigger upset down the road.
- Indiana - as good as the Hoosiers are playing right now, I had them pegged. Swap the predicted loss to Iowa for the actual loss to Illinois and the 5-1 (2-1) record I prognosticated at this point is dead on. The schedule is a lot tougher down the stretch, but who knew that Indiana would lead the nation in sacks on top of a potent offense and solid special teams unit?
- Michigan State - odd as it seems, the Spartans are right where I predicted them to be as well. Notre Dame was far more awful than I expected, so basically State traded a win there for the loss against NU. Still, the way MSU started, the green and white should be closer to 5-1 maybe even 6-0, but the same issues with not being able to close the deal are rearing up again. I had State at 4-2 (1-1) and they sit at 4-2 (0-2). This weekend's game is critical.
- Purdue - up to now, the only team I have scored 100-percent accuracy with. Purdue cake-walked through a cream puff filled OOC slate, held on at Minnesota and took a beating from Ohio State. I had them 5-1 (1-1) and that is right where they sit. Michigan is up next so if Purdue is to prove to be for real, it needs to have a good showing in Ann Arbor this Saturday.
- Iowa - the reverse of Illinois. While I did predict the upset at Iowa State, I didn't necessarily see the tank job against Indiana or the total offensive ineptitude that has been on display all season long. The Hawkeyes have lost eight-straight conference games dating back to last season. I picked them to be 3-3 (1-2) right now and they sit 2-4 (0-3) and looking worse than I expected. To get to the end goal I planted, Iowa has a lot of work to do.
- Penn State - I honestly had Penn State pegged to be a little better than they are right now. The loss at Illinois doesn't look so bad anymore, but it was still one they could've had. The loss to Michigan is the most disappointing, with the Wolverines down and a great opportunity at hand. The Nits are just a touch off pace - I had them at 5-1 (2-1) and they are 4-2 (1-2) with plenty of upside potential remaining.
- Ohio State - the scarlet and gray are right on track with one exception - they are a better team at this point than I figured them to be and low and behold, they are right in the national title race again. OSU is the second team I have a perfect mark with - 6-0 (3-0) with the first test (Purdue) out of the way.
- Michigan - despite the four game win streak the Wolverines currently ride, this has to be the most disappointing team in the conference. The mega upset loss to Appalachian State was followed by the biggest home dud in decades against Oregon. The big win over lowly ND built some confidence and the maize and blue are grinding it out, but at 4-2 (2-0) when I had them picked to be perfect at this point, there is something left to be desired.
- Wisconsin - the loss to Illinois isn't a bad loss but it is still a little shocking, particularly based on preseason predictions. Of course the Illini are far better than expected, so maybe it isn't too deflating. The Badgers are 5-1 (2-1) and just a game off the perfect pace I projected but with tough games remaining (Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan).
Players of the Week:
Offense - C.J. Bacher, QB - Northwestern. Second most passing yards ever against the Spartans (520 as well as 5 TD passes)
Defense - Penn State team. Held Iowa to 8 first downs, 184 total yards and 7 points.
Special Teams - Austin Starr, PK - Indiana. Four for four on field goals in a nice IU win over Minnesota.
A three way tie at 5-1 this week brings us to the tiebreaker. AndrewJ1313 was closest on the final margin, predicting a 14 point OSU win over Purdue.
Illinois at Iowa
Kent State at Ohio State
Minnesota at Northwestern
Purdue at Michigan
Wisconsin at Penn State (tiebreaker)
Indiana at Michigan State