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Weekend rewind; week 13, Northwestern's misery continues against Michigan State

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 Michigan State's 30-6 win over Northwestern, here’s the 13th edition of the Weekend Rewind:

Final thoughts on NU

How does Northwestern bounce back?

There’s an interesting theory about college football teams’ performance the week after they play a physical opponent. It’s called the “Body Blow Theory,” and it was coined by CBS college football writer Bruce Feldman. The idea is that teams tend to get worn down by physical opponents, which causes them to struggle in their next game. Feldman recently ran some numbers to test his theory, spotlighting Stanford, one of the most physical teams in the country, and found some compelling evidence that a correlation exists.

How does this have anything to do with Northwestern? The Wildcats just lost, 30-6, to Michigan State, the definition of a physical, powerful, pain-inflicting team – the type of bunch that leaves you sore for days. If the “Body Blow theory holds,” Northwestern could be in trouble when it travels to Champaign next week for the season-ending Land of Lincoln Rivalry game.

The last time Northwestern played a big, physical opponent – Wisconsin in week 7 – it fell one week later, at home, to Minnesota. The loss to the Gophers can’t be attributed directly to the beating the Badgers handed Northwestern – as it turns out, Minnesota is one of the better teams in the Big Ten – but it’s easy to see how it might at least partially explain the Wildcats’ overall sluggish performance (especially on offense) that day.

So when Northwestern travels to Illinois this weekend, be mindful of what happened the last time Northwestern was mauled by a physical team. The Illini, who beat Purdue Saturday, won’t have to worry about shaking off the ill effects of a physical beat down. Tim Beckman's team will be fresh, invigorated, riding high after winning its first Big Ten game since 2011. Northwestern could be dejected, lethargic and beat up. That’s not a good recipe for victory.

- Chris Johnson

Fire Ferentz Fitzgerald?

I'm from Iowa, so as you might guess, a lot of the people in my Facebook or Twitter news feeds are Iowa fans. And at this time last year, Iowa was in the same place as Northwestern is this season — 4-7 and missing a bowl game at a place that expects to play in the postseason every season. Needless to say, my news feeds were livid, and a lot of my "friends" were ready to fire Kirk Ferentz.

"He's lost it," they'd say. "He had some nice seasons here and we're grateful for that, but it's time for him to move on.

The calls for firing were even more heated when it came to offensive coordinator Greg Davis. Davis had a reputation for being way too conservative — sound familiar? — and in his first year with the Hawkeyes, his offense was abysmal.

Fast forward to this year. The Hawkeyes are 7-4 and surprising everyone with a season that has a decent chance of ending with an Outback Bowl berth. 4-8 to on the cusp of 8-4? Not bad.

The point is, college football is cyclical, and unfortunately fans seem to have far too short of memories. Northwestern returns a lot of talent, and the Wildcats are almost certain to be better next season. 4-8 or 5-7 one season doesn't doom a team to the same fate the next season.

Want to fire Pat Fitzgerald or Mick McCall? You're entitled to your opinion. But think for a minute about what happened at Iowa, which had far more questions heading into 2013 than NU will have heading into 2014. Sometimes personnel changes aren't the answer for random bad years, no matter how badly you want someone to be held accountable.

- Kevin Trahan

Around the Big Ten

A Big Ten game everyone can get excited about

The Big Ten has been boring to watch this year. The two biggest games of the regular season happened during a two-week span in late September-early October. Ohio State beat Wisconsin at Ohio Stadium on Sept. 28, then followed up by beating Northwestern at Ryan Field on Oct. 5 (in hindsight, this was not a “marquee” matchup, but at the time, it was commonly viewed as the most highly anticipated game of the week).

There hasn’t been much drama since. Wisconsin’s most exciting moment of the season came at the end of a non-conference loss; after the OSU loss, the Badgers dominated every Big Ten opponent they played. Nebraska, Michigan and Northwestern underperformed in big spots. Michigan State turned what was shaping up to be an exciting slate of November Legends division games into a master class on defensive brutality.

Big Ten fans clamoring for excitement were largely disappointed this season. In two weeks, that should change. BCS No. 3 Ohio State and No. 11 Michigan State will square off at Lucas Oil Stadium in the Big Ten Championship game, and honestly, I don’t think anyone – partisan observers or otherwise – could have asked for a better matchup. The Spartans and Buckeyes are easily two of the best three teams in the conference (I’m higher on Wisconsin than most), and their respective strengths and weaknesses should make for a compelling game.

Michigan State’s defense is all-world good, while Ohio State’s backfield tandem of Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde is one of the nation’s best. Other storylines include Ohio State’s potentially 24-game winning streak and BCS National Championship hopes, along with Michigan State’s bid to play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1988.

The game itself should be really fun to watch. The surrounding storylines will make it even more intriguing. 

- Chris Johnson

Is this Heaven?

Okay, maybe that pun doesn't quite fit Iowa this season. After all, I'd assume Hawkeye Heaven doesn't involve losing to Northern Illinois at home. However, after last season's 4-8 campaign, Iowa fans have to be happy with a 7-4 record, with an Outback Bowl berth possibly on the line on Black Friday in Lincoln.

All year, I had been skeptical of Iowa. And while the Hawkeyes have a lot of faults — namely an inconsistent, though improving offense — Saturday's win over Michigan solidified their move back into the top half of the Big Ten.

Iowa only beat Michigan 24-21, but statistically, the Hawkeyes dominated. They out-gained the Wolverines 407-158, and were it not for four turnovers, including a pick-six, this game wouldn't have been close. After a rocky couple of years, Iowa seems to be headed down the right path again. The defense is ranked in the top 15 nationally in both scoring defense and total defense. The offense, which returns almost everyone next year, is built on a sound running game and solid offensive line. With an easy schedule next season — and I mean really easy — could the Hawkeyes be one step closer to partying like it's 2009?

It might be too early to tell, but things are certainly looking up in Iowa City. Minnesota might be the story of the year in the Big Ten, but Iowa is close to the top of the list, as well. The Hawkeyes is relevant once again in late November. That's quite the accomplishment for a team so many had written off before the season even started.

- Kevin Trahan

Power Rankings

1. Ohio State - The Buckeyes only beat Indiana by 28? Baylor would've... oh.

2. Wisconsin - Everyone loves to gush about the running backs, but the most impressive part about this team is the improvement on defense. What a first season for Gary Andersen.

3. Michigan State - I would say that if the offense continues to improve like this, an unlucky SEC team is going to have a lot of trouble with Michigan State in Orlando. But that would be ruling out the Rose Bowl, and the Spartans have a better chance than most think of landing in Pasadena.

4. Nebraska - Bo Pelini has his injury-ravaged Huskers at 8-3. But Tom Osborne would have gone undefeated with this team for sure, so #FireBo.

5. Iowa - Iowa is possibly a win away from an Outback Bowl berth. Who saw that coming?

6. Minnesota - It was back to reality for Minnesota this week, but still, what a season for the Gophers.

7. Penn State - A non-sanctioned Penn State team probably beats Nebraska this week. Also, Allen Robinson is one of the most underrated players in the country.

8. Michigan - The offensive downfall has been unbelievable. Were it not for some late-game comebacks, Michigan would be sitting at home this bowl season.

9. Indiana - What a disappointing season for Indiana. When will the Hoosiers break through to the postseason?

10. Illinois - The Illini won a Big Ten game!

11. Northwestern - Northwestern should play Florida in the Misery Bowl this season.

12. Purdue - Can the Boilermakers beat Indiana? Probably not, and that's saying something.