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September is for pretenders. November is for contenders.
With the final month of the regular season upon us, it’s time for the Big Ten division races to truly take shape. Three teams are still in the hunt for the East Division title with undefeated Michigan leading the way, followed closely by Ohio State and Penn State. The West Division is wide open, however, as five teams—Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Northwestern—still have a chance to book a trip to Indianapolis.
The muddled West will become much clearer after Week 10 when four of the leading contenders kick off their huge matchups.
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Michigan State showed a lot of fight in last week’s loss to Michigan.
The Wolverines had the Spartans in a 30-10 hole in East Lansing, and it would’ve been easy for head coach Mark Dantonio’s squad to give in. They were being outmuscled and outcoached—the two staples Dantonio used to assert his recent dominance over the Wolverines—but the Spartans found an edge in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 unanswered points before a desperate two-point conversion was botched and Jabrill Peppers added to his highlight reel.
Did that fourth-quarter rally finally spark something in the Spartans?
We’ll find out on Saturday when they travel to face a slumping Illinois team that boasts the same 2-6 record as Michigan State.
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With two losses already in the books, Wisconsin has to play perfect football for a chance to make it to the Big Ten title game next month.
The Badgers got a game they needed last week in prime time when they blew an early lead but recovered in overtime against No. 7 Nebraska. Quarterbacks Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston were largely shut down, throwing for just 114 yards and a touchdown against two interceptions, but Dare Ogunbowale led the way for a solid rushing attack, accounting for 120 of the Badgers’ 223 rushing yards.
Wisconsin will have to bounce back quickly, though, because it has a tough road trip to Northwestern this weekend.
The Wildcats are fresh off a near road upset of No. 6 Ohio State. With less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and trailing 24-17, they had a 1st-and-goal situation and a great chance to tie the game. But the Buckeyes defense backed the Wildcats up and forced a field goal, then J.T. Barrett iced the game with two crucial third-down conversions.
With both Wisconsin and Northwestern having two conference losses, the team on the losing end this Saturday will essentially be knocked out of the West Division race.
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Michigan finally got its chance to avenge last year’s stunning last-second loss to Michigan State on Saturday, racing out to a 20-point lead before cruising to a 32-23 victory to improve to 8-0.
On Saturday, the Wolverines will return home for the seventh time this season to host Maryland, and it’ll do so as the No. 3 team in the initial College Football Playoff rankings. When the Terrapins take the field on Saturday, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh will be squaring off against a familiar foe in Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin.
Durkin was the defensive coordinator for Harbaugh’s Wolverines last year, and he did such a good job that Maryland scooped him away during its coaching search. Durkin’s first year has largely been a success, as the 5-3 Terrapins have a sharper focus defensively to pair with the explosive offense.
Harbaugh, however, will not hesitate to show how much ground Durkin has to make up in a wide gap between Michigan and Maryland this weekend. With the playoff committee watching, the Wolverines should be firing on all cylinders.
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And all of a sudden, here comes Penn State.
The Nittany Lions have surged after their 49-10 shellacking at the hands of Michigan. A tough overtime victory over Minnesota looks more impressive now than it did a month ago, and the dismantling of Maryland and Purdue paired with the upset over Ohio State has head coach James Franklin’s squad sitting at No. 12 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings.
Suddenly, things are looking bright for Penn State, which has already passed most of its toughest obstacles on the schedule. The biggest remaining test comes this Saturday when Iowa comes to town for a prime-time clash.
The Hawkeyes were in the midst of a similar surge before a 17-9 setback at home to Wisconsin two weeks ago. At 5-3 and just one game behind Nebraska in the loss column, Iowa should be well-rested coming off a bye week and Penn State will give Iowa its best shot to not only register its signature win of the season but to keep pace in the tight West Division race.
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Someone’s College Football Playoff hopes are going to take a crushing blow on Saturday night when No. 10 Nebraska travels to Columbus for a showdown with No. 6 Ohio State.
The 7-1 Buckeyes are coming off a pair of shaky performances. Two weeks ago in Happy Valley, they blew a 21-7 fourth quarter lead and fell to Penn State in the upset of the year. A week later, most expected an angry and focused team, but the Buckeyes needed all 60 minutes and some heroics from J.T. Barrett to beat a now four-loss Northwestern team.
They’ll need a quick turnaround because Nebraska and its stingy defense are looking to rebound after its first setback of the season.
The Cornhuskers faltered in their first true opportunity to prove themselves among college football’s elite last week when their comeback effort fell short in a 23-17 overtime loss to Wisconsin. Will back-to-back games under the lights against a top-10 team be too much for head coach Mike Riley’s squad, or can they get the validation that eluded them last week?
The folks in Vegas seem to think Ohio State will handle business, as it’s currently listed as a 17-point favorite over Nebraska, according to Odds Shark.