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Weekend Rewind, Week 10: NU hits rock bottom

The Week 10 edition of the Weekend Rewind looks at the quarterback situation, reasons for an absence of optimism, and goes Around the Big Ten where the West division race is finally as many expected it might be. Plus, how far has Northwestern fallen in our Big Ten power rankings?

Matthew Holst

Every week, InsideNU writers Josh Rosenblat and Henry Bushnell will wrap up Northwestern game coverage with some final thoughts (we'll try to stay away from topics addressed in game columns), along with our big takeaways from the rest of the Big Ten. This week, Kevin Trahan subs for Josh, and following Northwestern's 48-7 loss to Iowa, here's the 2014 Week 10 edition of the Weekend Rewind:

Prevailing thoughts on Northwestern

Does the offense need the option?

The biggest "suggestion" I've seen for the coaching staff after Northwestern's past three losses is that the Wildcats need to involve Matt Alviti in the gameplan so they can run the option once again. You know, like that's so easy to do.

There are many reasons why this might not be the best idea for this team, but the logic that Northwestern needs an option-heavy team to win might be the most short-sighted. The Wildcats have only been extremely option-heavy in one season, but they have been impressive on offense in other seasons, with Dan Persa, Mike Kafka, CJ Bacher, Brett Basanez and others. NU doesn't need the option to be good at offense.

Second, there are two types of "option" that people seem to lump in to one: read option and speed option. Both take a lot more to be successful than "have a mobile QB."

The read option (that's the one where the QB decides whether to hand it off or not based on the DE) requires the ability to make these reads in a split second. We all praise Kain Colter's athleticism, but something he doesn't get enough credit for is that he almost always made the right read. That allowed those plays to be so successful, because they effectively took a defender out of the play. Matt Alviti, we've heard, tends to really struggle with concepts in practice. It's entirely possible that he would not be good at running the read option.

The speed option (pitch) is similar. You have to understand the concepts and know when to pitch the ball. True, we've never seen Alviti try this, but given his apparent struggles learning concepts in practice, it's reasonable to assume he might not be great at running either of these option plays.

Moreover, let's make sure that we note that Northwestern can, in fact, be successful on offense without being option-heavy. There are plenty of bigger issues surrounding this team.

- Kevin Trahan

On the complete lack of optimism

On the journey back from Iowa City yesterday, as one cornfield morphed into another, I found myself thinking about this Northwestern team. Specifically, I found myself trying to answer one question:

Why does it feel like this team and its fan base are totally bereft of optimism?

I think the answer comes down to the coaching staff.

Our Kevin Trahan wrote a postgame column yesterday asking why we should believe things will change for the better. But change doesn't seem to be something that's in Pat Fitzgerald's repertoire. It doesn't seem to be in Mick McCall's or Mike Hankwitz's either.

One of the program's mottos is "trust yourself." It is drilled home to the players, and of course, Fitz and his staff believe in it themselves. But the problem is that they believe it too much. They've become synonymous with their approaches to the game, synonymous with both their schemes and demeanors.

And that's why this team, more than any other incriminating characteristic, has become stale. It's upward mobility is limited by stubbornness and reliance on the status quo.

I believe in Fitz's ability as a recruiter. I do believe that the level of talent on this roster has increased and will continue to increase. But why is there no optimism?

Because right now, it's impossible to trust these coaches to adapt, grow with, and take advantage of that increase. In the current system, under the current coaching staff, those marginal increases won't pay significant enough dividends.

- Henry Bushnell

Around the Big Ten

Finally some clarity in the West

At the beginning of the season, nearly everyone was predicting that Wisconsin, Nebraska or Iowa would win the division, and after some hiccups, it looks like those three teams - all of whom have yet to play each other - will be the three to decide the West.

(Before we get going here, I know Minnesota fans will get mad at me again, but there's really no way they're going to win the West. They could finish above any of these three, sure, but to expect the Gophers to win the division with Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin all left on the schedule is illogical.)

Now, the race gets interesting. Nebraska has to be the favorite given how the Huskers have played, but they have the toughest schedule of the three, having to make trips to Madison and Iowa City. Meanwhile, Iowa has been the least impressive of the three, but the Hawkeyes get both the Huskers and the Badgers at home in the final two games of the season, so they'll be in the race until they end, and they always seem to play to the level of their opponent (except against Northwestern this year).

It's going to be a helluva round-robin race, with Minnesota possibly playing spoiler. The Big Ten West might not be good, but at least it will be exciting.

- Kevin Trahan

Showdown looming next week

It wasn't exactly a Saturday overflowing with meaningful games in the Big Ten. Sure, Maryland engineered a big comeback win in Happy Valley, and Michigan bounced back nicely against Indiana.

But it's next weekend that we've all been waiting for.

The appetizer comes early on when the same Iowa team that just plastered Northwestern travels to Minneapolis. That's a big game in the Big Ten West race, with the loser all but out of contention at 3-2, and the winner creeping up on Nebraska in the drivers seat at 4-1.

But the headliner comes in primetime.

After an early season non-conference loss to Virginia Tech, Ohio State has really turned it on as of late. The Buckeyes have won six straight, and have scored 50-plus points in five of those six games. And it's they who travel to Michigan State for a battle for Big Ten supremacy.

Both teams are 7-1 and 4-0 in the conference, and neither looks like they'll be challenged too much by the rest of their schedule. So in all likelihood, next Saturday's tilt is for a trip to Indianapolis. And furthermore, the winner will be the Big Ten's only hope for a spot at the table for the inaugural College Football Playoff.

- Henry Bushnell

Big Ten Power Rankings

Rank Team Henry's Rank Kevin's Rank Average
T-1 Michigan State 2 1 1.5
T-1 Ohio State 1 2 1.5
3 Nebraska 3 3 3
4 Wisconsin 4 4 4
5 Iowa 5 5 5
6 Maryland 6 6 6
7 Minnesota 7 7 7
8 Michigan 8 8 8
9 Penn State 9 9 9
10 Purdue 11 10 10.5
11 Northwestern 10 12 11
12 Rutgers 12 11 11.5
13 Illinois 13 13 13
14 Indiana 14 14 14