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Weekend Rewind, Week 2: Northwestern's downfall, NIU's defensive dominance

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The Week 2 edition of the Weekend Rewind looks back at a gloomy weekend for Northwestern and the Big Ten, discusses the dominance of NIU's defensive front seven, explains why the "1-9 since Gameday" stat means both nothing and everything, goes around the Big Ten, and concludes with Big Ten power rankings.

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

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. Following Northwestern's 23-15 loss to Cal, here's the 2014 Week 2 edition of the Weekend Rewind:

Prevailing thoughts on Northwestern

What's the difference between a MAC team and a Big Ten team?

If you watched Northwestern's loss to Northern Illinois yesterday, you'd think that the question above might be the start of a terrible, terrible joke. But it's not. Let's take a look back at two tweets from the game yesterday:

These tell the story of a major issue for Northwestern. NIU probably has better athletes than Northwestern but I think we all know that better athletes don't necessarily make a better team. Northwestern was supposed to have the type of linemen that would be able to bully the NIU front, get a consistent push up front to strengthen both the running and passing games.

But, that absolutely was not the case. NIU destroyed Northwestern up front. When Northwestern's offensive linemen weren't holding, Trevor Siemian was put on his back. It was a disappointing day for the team as a whole, but that unit has a lot of correcting to take care of over the bye week.

- Josh Rosenblat

A case of self-deception

It's the cliché stat to lead a post-Northwestern-NIU story with, but for some reason, I can't get past it: Northwestern is 1-9 since College Gameday came to Evanston.

1-9. One and nine. Which means both nothing, and everything.

It means nothing because it hasn't directly affected anything other than maybe that Wisconsin game the following weekend. Players don't allow that kind of thing to infect their mindset weeks and months later. And there were no tangible lingering effects within the program. That day specifically didn't take anything out of them physically or mentally.

But I can't help but think that the whole program, particularly the coaching staff, used that day, and that fleeting period of time -- of national relevance -- as an emblem of their ascendency. Proof that they were one of the big boys, or at least one of the bigger boys.

The biggest issue was that those within the program not only led others to mistakenly believe they had arrived, they conned themselves into believing so as well. And that, as much as anything else, was the beginning of this downfall, if we're going to go so far as to call it that.

As for what led to this, you can call it whatever you want. You can call it hubris. You can call it ambition. You can call it hope, or self-belief. But I like to think of this whole situation as self-deception.

Fitzgerald and others within the program convinced themselves, their players, and fans -- but most importantly themselves -- that they were better than they actually were, and that they were going to be better than anything they had ever proven. Whether that was indirect or direct we don't know, but ever since that October morning on the Lakefill, Fitz has exuded that overconfidence.

The offense has been one of the primary victims of this false belief, which our Kevin Trahan explained expertly. But it's more than just that. All the consequences are now staring him and us in the face. Everything that made NU successful is being washed away, and the evidence of frailty and failure is now flooding in.

What has disappeared is a mindset. Northwestern teams have always believed in themselves. But for a while, they believed that they could be successful, and they were steadfast in that belief. Now, they believe that they will be. And when they're not, everything goes awry.

On the sidelines during the fourth quarter Saturday, body language was telling. Players were stunned into despondency. Dejected. Lifeless. Bewildered that they were not alive rather than encouraged by signs of life. Everything had been sucked out of them by a hungry Northern Illinois team, just like everything has been sucked out of this program by gross arrogance and fraudulent self-belief.

Last week, I and many others urged fans to not overreact -- they did anyway. Now there's no reason not to. Go as far as you want. This is a new low point during an absolutely disastrous calendar year. That's not to say the season isn't over, and it's not to say Northwestern can't still win five Big Ten games. But a lot of wrongs must be righted.

- Henry Bushnell

Around the Big Ten

Troubling times

The Big Ten can claim to be a part of the new Power Five in college football, but on the field, it seems to being doing its best to disassociate from the other four. Or at least most of its members are.

Saturday went about as bad as a single week of college football could go for a single conference. ESPN play-by-play guy Brad Nessler deemed it "Black-eye Saturday for the Big Ten," and he wasn't lying. For the sake of succinctness, let's look at the teams projected to finish 1-4 in each division prior to the season. Other than Northwestern, that's Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska.

The collective eyes of the college football world were fixed on Eugene, Ore., where Michigan State travelled to take on Oregon. Sparty, the conference's top team, was a 12-point underdog, which some saw as disrespectful to the No. 7 team in the nation. But Connor Cook and the Spartans succumbed to a second half beatdown, falling 46-27. To be fair, MSU hung with the Ducks early, and even led 27-18 in the second half, but fell apart late.

The Big Ten's other top-10 team, Ohio State, fell flat on its face. The Buckeyes hosted an unranked Virginia Tech squad, in primetime, in front of a packed Ohio Stadium, and came in as a double-digit favorite. But the OSU offensive line was overwhelmed by a swarming Hokie defense, and J.T. Barrett showed his inexperience on numerous occasions. The end result: a damaging 35-21 loss.

But at least the Buckeyes put up a fight. The same can't be said for Michigan, who laid an egg. 31-0 is embarrassing. Josh has more on that.

Outside of those three (and Northwestern), there was only one other loss by a Big Ten team (Western Michigan 38, Purdue 17). But there were certainly some scares and worrying performances.

Wisconsin only led FCS Western Illinois 9-3 at halftime, while Penn State only led Akron 7-0 at the same juncture. Iowa looked to be in serious trouble, down 13-3 to Ball State late in the fourth quarter, only to come back -- by way of skill and fortune -- to win 17-13. And Nebraska couldn't separate themselves from FCS McNeese State, only to be bailed out in the waning seconds by a video-game-like catch-and-run by All-Big Ten running back Ameer Abdullah:

In the end, wins are wins for that group of teams. But the bottom line is, the conference's reputation is being tarnished. And not only that, after all the talk about which conference could be left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff, the Big Ten's top three teams already have one loss each, the fourth has barely beaten Ball State and Northern Iowa, and the conference doesn't have one marquee win.

These are troubling times, not just for Northwestern, but for the conference as a whole.

- Henry Bushnell

While the games may end, the rivalry will continue

What's great about college football rivalries? Even as players and coaches change, a respectful animosity persists. That's the amazing thing about college football, not just Michigan and Notre Dame. They're the old guard of college football. They're the two teams people love to hate the most. Yet, it's sad to see it go.

The games brought so much joy, so much agony, to supporters of both sides. It was, for many years, the biggest game in college football over the first few weeks of the season, with the winner often poised for a great season.

The two teams played first in in 1887 and the most recent installment of the series began in 1978. It has undoubtedly produced, especially in recent years, some of the most thrilling finishes in college football, but the end to this series is less than thrilling.

Following Notre Dame's 31-0 whooping of Michigan, the teams will no longer be on each other's schedules. But the rivalry will still remain. This week, Notre Dame signed a deal to play a home-and-home with Ohio State starting in 2022. This announcement obviously was not a coincidence in terms of timing. And Michigan did what a rival would do, poke fun at the Irish by tweeting a letter from a Notre Dame official asking Michigan to teach them how to play football from the 19th century.

This rivalry will endure.

- Josh Rosenblat

Big Ten Power Rankings

AKA: The Power Rankings Where Nobody Should Be First And Almost Everybody Should Be Last

AKA: this...

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GIF via cdn.fansided.com

Team

Henry’s Rank

Josh’s Rank

Average Rank

1

Michigan State

1

1

1

2

Wisconsin

2

2

2

3

Ohio State

3

3

3

T-4

Nebraska

5

6

5.5

T-4

Penn State

4

7

5.5

T-6

Iowa

8

4

6

T-6

Michigan

7

5

6

8

Maryland

6

8

7

9

Minnesota

9

10

9.5

10

Indiana

12

9

10.5

11

Rutgers

10

12

11

T-12

Northwestern

11

13

12

T-12

Illinois

13

11

12

14

Purdue

14

14

14