Every week, InsideNU writers Chris Johnson and Kevin Trahan will wrap up Northwestern game coverage with some final thoughts (we’ll try and stay away from topics addressed in game columns), along with one big takeaway from the Big Ten. Following an open weekend for Northwestern, here’s the 11th edition of the Weekend Rewind:
Around the Big Ten
There was 1 minute 20 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and Nebraska looked finished. Not just against the Northwestern Wildcats, who held a three-point lead after a 21-yard field goal from Jeff Budzien, seemingly moments away from notching their second consecutive victory in Lincoln. They looked finished in the Legends Division race, too, with Michigan State having established itself as the team to beat after winning its last five games. Then something totally insane happened, something Northwestern fans would rather me not revisit. Receiver Jordan Westerkamp’s Hail Mary touchdown was an emotional high point for Nebraska, but as Huskers players and coaches celebrated on the field afterward, and Bo Pelini ambled around looking like he’d just seen a ghost, one important question remained unanswered: what did this mean for Nebraska going forward? Had the Huskies merely delayed their inevitable exit from the Legends Division race? Unwittingly kept Pelini employed one week longer?
Or were the Huskers ready to turn things around?
Saturday’s win over Michigan suggested Nebraska has chosen the latter. The Huskers shut down Michigan’s offense – quarterback Devin Gardner passed for just 196 yards, and Michigan’s rushing total was -21 – and got another impressive performance from running back Ameer Abdullah, who rushed for 105 yards and a score on 27 carries. One week after their conference championship hopes seemed to have run out, Nebraska hopped back into the thick of the Legends Division race.
Michigan State remains the favorite in the Legends, but the Spartans travel to Lincoln next week for a matchup that could decide the division race. Meanwhile, Minnesota, now 8-2, and having won four consecutive Big Ten games for the first time since 1973 (the latest a 24-10 victory over Penn State), is still in the hunt for the Legends crown, though their road to Indianapolis – the Gophers close with games against Wisconsin and at Michigan State – is fraught with potential pitfalls.
If Nebraska can’t win at least two of its three remaining games (Michigan State, at Penn State, Iowa), Huskers fans probably won’t consider this a successful season, nor will the cries for Pelini’s removal subside in the months ahead. But Nebraska has, over the past four-plus quarters, proved more resilient than most would have expected earlier in the season, and if it can beat Michigan State, the grim specter it faced on its home field against the Wildcats last week with under two minutes remaining will feel like a distant memory.
- Chris Johnson
The Michigan disaster
Of all the crazy lines I've seen, this one might take the cake:
Michigan an underdog at a winless Big Ten team? Michigan an underdog to Northwestern? But here's the even crazier thing: that line is probably what it should be. Winless Northwestern might actually have more momentum than Michigan right now, and that in itself is pretty shocking. I'd call this rock bottom for the Wolverines, but that might not be true.
Michigan sits at 6-3 with games at Northwestern and Iowa, plus a home game against Ohio State, left on the schedule. As we've already established, the game against Northwestern is very loseable. Then there's the game in Iowa City, where the Wolverines haven't won since 2005, against an improve Iowa team. And then, of course, a very tough game against Ohio State. It's very possible Michigan doesn't win again.
Who would've predicted that before the season?
Michigan's biggest problem is that it's not particularly good at anything and it's really bad at opening holes in the run game (the run game us supposed to be its strength). So as a result, the Wolverines have put together consecutive games with negative rushing totals, including one against the abysmal Nebraska run defense. The incompetence, the mistakes, the failure to do anything right were pretty incredible to watch.
Michigan certainly has the talent to be successful the rest of this year — and definitely in the future — and that's what makes this fall from grace even more stunning. 6-6 Michigan finishing last in the Legends Division? It's pretty unbelievable, but it's a very real possibility as we head into the final quarter of the season.
- Kevin Trahan
1. Ohio State - If Alabama or Florida State loses, Ohio State will go to the National Championship. But that's a big "if."
2. Wisconsin - Wisconsin vs. BYU in Noveber is only the second strangest Big Ten non-conference game this year (Minnesota AT New Mexico State still wins that contest).
3. Michigan State - MSU's defense vs. OSU's offense would be fun to watch.
4. Nebraska - It hasn't been pretty, but give the Huskers credit — they're in position to win the Legends Division despite all their injuries.
5. Minnesota - The schedule gets tougher, but 8-4 would still be a major accomplishment for Minnesota.
6. Iowa - Iowa sits at 6-4 with winnable games against Michigan and Nebraska coming up. Nice turnaround after last year's 4-8 debacle.
7. Michigan - The Wolverines will try to improve their rushing total to -10 yards against NU this week.
8. Indiana - The Hoosiers are an upset of Wisconsin or Ohio State (plus a win over Purdue) away from bowl eligibility.
9. Penn State - There are a lot of holes on this young team. The loss to Minnesota wasn't pretty.
10. Northwestern - A win against Michigan changes the season outlook.
11. Illinois - That Illinois resurgence? We might have jumped the gun on that this year.
12. Purdue - Purdue had its best offensive performance since September this week. The Boilers still lost 38-14, with one of those touchdowns coming in garbage time.