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College Teams Mon Oct 10 2011

Big Ten Football: Holding Pattern

Thumbnail image for big ten divisions vertical.JPGThe horse race to the Big Ten championship is shaping up more like a race of jalopies. Whether battling injuries, suspensions, unrealistic expectations or just outright incompetency, every team in action this week looked vulnerable.

Nearly all of them were faced with some degree of adversity, while they attempted to patch up holes and survive for another round of national rankings. At least this week, none of the conference's frontrunners had their wheels fall off. Just another week of the status quo for the Big Ten.

No. 14 Nebraska 34, Ohio State 27

Nebraska's first Big Ten victory was never going to come easy. A week after their dismantling at the hands of the Badgers, the Huskers had to overcome a slow start against the Buckeyes. And really, the woebegone Buckeyes looked good through the first half. But when freshman quarterback Braxton Miller went down in the third quarter, Joe Bauserman couldn't muster any real offense and the door opened up for Nebraska's re-awakening.

After a difficult first half, Taylor Martinez finished the game with 301 total yards of offense and three total touchdowns. Just as impressive was Rex Burkhead's 178 yards and two touchdowns of total offense. The bigger question with Nebraska is still their defense, though, and while it's good enough to stop an offense led by a hapless quarterback like Bauserman, they're going to have to figure things out if they hope to live up to their lofty preseason expectations.

No. 11 Michigan 42, Northwestern 24

Michigan was also forced to overcome a halftime deficit in their first road game of the year. Denard Robinson threw three interceptions while Wildcat quarterback Dan Persa ruled the first half. But while the former Heisman hopeful racked up 331 yards through the air, he didn't capitalize on enough drives to punch it in the endzone.

In the second half, Robinson and the Wolverine defense took over for good. Robinson compiled 454 yards and four touchdowns of offense, which helped erase his three interceptions in the first half. The win puts Michigan undefeated after six games, and in the driver's seat to the Big Ten Championship. That trip is going to hinge entirely on how long the loose cannon that is Denard Robinson can stay intact.

No. 19 Illinois 41, Indiana 20

Illinois continues to roll, outing the frustrating Hoosiers Saturday. The Illini are now 6-0 and tied with the Wolverines and Badgers atop the Big Ten--about exactly a third of what any of us expected. But the quarterback-receiver combo of Nathan Scheelhaase and A.J. Jenkins has solidified itself as a legitimate deep-threat, and the defense ranks 23rd in the nation in points allowed.

If they continue to roll like this, their eventual showdown with Michigan Nov. 12 should be a real slugfest that might end up deciding who gets to the Big Ten championship. But they're not without question marks, and the young squad has a real test next week against the weeble-wobble of a football team that is the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Penn State 13, Iowa 3

Ever so quietly, Penn State has accrued a 5-1 record and are undefeated in the Big Ten. They lost a lot of steam after the home loss to Alabama, but it shouldn't have been a surprise that the Nittany Lions could not compete at that high of a level.

But the Joe Pa's have gotten to this point by playing solid defense. They forced two interceptions against Iowa. They need that defensive push, though, as their offense struggles to move the ball much of anywhere. Their defense will keep them in almost any game this year, but we'll have to see how well they can fight through the more difficult avenues of the Big Ten when their offense can only muster one touchdown against the Hawkeyes.

Purdue 45, Minnesota 17

It's sad to see the Gophers this helpless. Consider that Purdue lost to Rice earlier this season, yet still managed to hang 45 points on the Gophers. The Boilermakers' running-by-committee approach accrued 217 yards on the ground, while Caleb TerBush threw for another 140. All told, 357 yards isn't a whole heck of a lot when you're scoring 45 points. But it doesn't take a whole heck of a lot to make Minnesota look this bad.

Next Week

Michigan goes to Michigan State for a game that pits two great quarterbacks with entirely different pedigrees. Iowa and Northwestern square off to see which team can hold it together for longer. And hopefully we'll know more about Illinois (are they legitimately good?) and Ohio State (are they legitimately awful?) when they square off in Champaign.

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