Iowa is one of the relatively few consistent things in Big Ten football right now.
That won’t make for a great advertising slogan, but so what? The Hawkeyes are 6-2 overall, 4-2 in the Big Ten, have beaten all the teams Las Vegas favored them to beat, and lost to the teams Vegas favored to beat them.
Essentially, it’s become a two-week season for Iowa. If it wins at Wisconsin in its next game, Nov. 9, and beats Minnesota at home the following week, the West Division is its to claim … maybe. Minnesota would have to lose to someone else (Penn State in Minneapolis Nov. 9) and Iowa would still have the tasks of beating Illinois and Nebraska.
Upon further review, that thing at Wisconsin is enough to deal with for the next two weeks.
So while nothing has really happened in the first two-thirds of Iowa’s season to send shock waves from the Missouri to the Mississippi or vice versa, the rest of the West is in upheaval for better or worse. Let’s go down the list in order of the division standings:
Minnesota (5-0): Eight games into the season, and Gophers Coach P.J. Fleck was making a pitch for ESPN’s College GameDay to come to Minneapolis on Nov. 9 for a battle of unbeatens, Penn State and Minnesota.
GameDay was just in South Dakota Saturday, plus ESPN likes some enthusiasm at the show. The announced crowd at TCF Bank Saturday for the Gophers’ 52-10 mauling of Maryland was 44,715. It’s a pro town. Still … 8-0!
The Gophers are 5-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1961, 8-0 overall for the first time since 1941. They have a 10-game winning streak. They’ve won four straight games by 20-plus points. That is what you would call different.
Iowa (3-2): The Hawkeyes are third nationally in scoring defense, sixth in total defense. Next up are the two of the Big Ten’s top three rushing attacks, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Interesting times await.
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Wisconsin (3-2): The Badgers seemed bulletproof in the West two weeks ago. Then they lost at Illinois and got routed at Ohio State, 38-7.
Anyone for a Badgers-Buckeyes rematch in the Big Ten championship? I thought not.
Illinois (2-3): Lovie Smith appeared destined to join recently fired Rutgers Coach Chris Ash on the — sorry — ash heap. Then the Illini stunned Wisconsin. Saturday, they went to Purdue and owned the Boilermakers, 24-6.
It was their first road win in three years and first back-to-back league wins under Smith in his four seasons. Now, Rutgers is headed to Champaign Saturday and Illinois is (we think) about to have a 5-4 record in November.
Old wisdom: Lovie is just cashing checks in Champaign. New wisdom: Lovie coached the Bears to the Super Bowl, you know.
Nebraska (2-3): OMG. Let’s get a list of the names of everyone who picked the Huskers and their porous defense to win the West before this season started, and hook up each one with a football counselor.
Nebraska’s 38-31 home loss to bowl-eligible Indiana was just another recent indignity in Lincoln. I’m not quite ready to say Iowa’s Nov. 23 home game against Illinois now looks more daunting than its game at Nebraska the following week. But at least the Illini have a defense.
Purdue (1-4): “We got exposed in so many areas,” Boilermakers Coach Jeff Brohm said after the loss to Illinois. “It was a bad day.”
Brohm is paid $6.6 million this year, more than any Big Ten coach but Jim Harbaugh. But Purdue won’t have to pay him a bonus this year for getting his team to a bowl.
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Northwestern (0-5): Would you strike this Faustian bargain: Win the Big Ten West one year, but slog through the next season with the worst scoring offense in the nation through eight games?
“They’re a good group,” Wildcats Coach Pat Fitzgerald said of his team after its 20-0 loss to Iowa Saturday. “It’s just not clicking with them.”
Weird division, the West.
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