Since the Big Ten started conference games last week, the format changes: instead of each team getting a section, each game stands alone.
The early games were pretty boring, but things got better as Saturday wore on.
Nebraska 30, Wisconsin 27
The trendy thing has been to bash Wisconsin for their defensive collapse, allowing Nebraska to roll off 20 unanswered points in the second half. This should definitely be a concern for the Badgers, but losing by 3 on the road to a frontrunner in the West division is a respectable showing in the big picture. The flip side of the big comeback was Nebraska's poor start. Falling behind 27-10 at home to a team that hasn't inspired much confidence so far might be a warning of worse things to come in Lincoln. While Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead were able to combine for almost 200 of the team's 259 total rushing yards, the Nebraska defense needs to figure out how to play whole games like they did the second half of this one.
Ohio State 17, Michigan State 16
The afternoon game was everything a Northwestern fan could want. Ohio State has hardly been a dominating defense so far, but they completely shut down LeVeon Bell (17 carries for 45 yards) without letting Andrew Maxwell open things up (22-42, 269 yards). Ohio State's offense didn't have much trouble gaining yards, but they turned the ball over 3 times. Still, they managed to score enough to come away with the win. This puts a loss on the record of a division opponent, while the defensive gameplan at least looks like something Northwestern should be able to replicate.
Iowa 31, Minnesota 13
I am not sure whether this game means that Iowa isn't that bad after all or that Minnesota was a complete mirage in the first four weeks. Mark Weisman put up another excellent rushing performance (21 for 177 and a TD), further tempting the wrath of AIRBHG, and James Vandenberg had a prototypical "game manager" type day (18-31, 192 yards, no INTs). Minnesota, on the other hand, turned the ball over 4 times including 3 interceptions by Max Shortell.
Penn State 35, Illinois 7
Penn State has a winning streak going after putting a beatdown on Illinois. For some perspective, Penn State beat Navy, whose only win came against the Virginia Military Institute, 34-7. I am not entirely sold on Penn State being much better than average, but I am sure that Illinois is terrible. No real standout performances in this one, just a workmanlike day from the Penn State offense combined with 3 takeaways by the Penn State defense. Northwestern's worst conference opponent might still be to come.
Purdue 51, Marshall 41
Purdue took advantage of an off week in the conference schedule to play their final non-conference game. Marshall came in leading the country with 383 passing yards per game, and they exceeded that mark in this one as Rakeem Cato passed for 439 yards and 5 touchdowns, though he took 68 attempts to reach those numbers and also threw 3 interceptions. On the other side of the ball, Caleb TerBush went 27-37 for 294 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 1 interception. The turnover advantage, including 2 touchdowns on interception returns, helped Purdue pull this one out.
Clemson 45, Boston College 31
Boston College was the only one of NU's FBS non-conference opponents in action, and they performed as expected by by losing to a very good Clemson team. BC had the lead a couple of times in the first half, but Clemson's offense was too much even without Sammy Watkins.
Northwestern has the biggest game of the year so far, but here is what the rest of the conference will be up to.
Nebraska @ Ohio State
This is the night game for a reason. For Northwestern, a Nebraska loss here is an unalloyed good; Ohio State is the only Big Ten team that NU can't face this year, while Nebraska is a competitor for a trip to Indianapolis. I feel dirty rooting for Ohio State, but there it is.
Michigan @ Purdue
Wisconsin's stumbles have made Purdue a trendy pick to represent the East in Indianapolis, while Michigan's stumbles have put their chances at the West in doubt. This game is intriguing not only because neither team has played a Big Ten opponent but also because of the uncertainty that surrounds these teams: neither team has a quality win or a bad loss. The winner of this game will be 1-0 in conference and have strengthened their case as a conference championship contender.
Illinois @ Wisconsin
Illinois is terrible, Wisconsin isn't very good, and these teams are both in the other division. The only noteworthy thing that could happen in this game is Illinois embarrassing the Badgers in Madison.
Michigan State @ Indiana
Indiana loses. Unless the Michigan State offense spins its wheels while the Indiana receivers win enough sideline throws to score a few touchdowns, in which case we all laugh at the void that surrounds LeVeon Bell.
Byes: Iowa, Minnesota
Iowa continues gorging themselves with bacon, while Minnesota lick their wounds and prepare for Northwestern's visit.
Pitt @ Syracuse
If you are looking for something to watch on Friday night, this game is a good chance for a non-conference opponent to pick up a win. I still can't recommend watching these two teams play, though.
Vanderbilt @ Missouri
Missouri is Vanderbilt's first FBS opponent that has lost a game. The Commodores may or may not be respectable, and this is a good chance to find out how they do against lesser competition. Both these teams should be motivated to get their first conference win, as Vandy hosts Florida the next week and Missouri hosts Alabama.
Boston College @ Army
As NU fans can attest, visiting Army shouldn't be taken for granted. Still, if BC can't win this one, they will have hit rock bottom.
As for viewing preferences: Michigan-Purdue in the afternoon is intriguing, and Nebraska-Ohio State should be mandatory viewing for Big Ten fans. Vandy-Missouri should fill any gap between those games, while the PAC-12 nightcap of Washington @ Oregon is just the right way to wind down: a flurry of neon lights featuring a national title contender.