Every Sunday, after a whirlwind autumn Saturday of college football, we'll be taking you around the Big Ten to keep tabs on the rest of the conference. As it fights as one for respectability in the non-conference, or as its power dynamics shift on a week-to-week basis in October and November, we'll follow the narrative to give you a better idea of where Northwestern fits into the 14-team puzzle.
Here are the top three storylines from Week 8:
1. Christian Hackenberg shreds Illinois
In a matchup between two of Northwestern's upcoming opponents, Penn State completely dominated Illinois, 39-0. NFL prospect Christian Hackenberg threw for 266 yards and two scores, completing 72.4 percent of his passes in the process. Hackenberg also caught a 14-yard touchdown pass on a trick play. Hackenberg won't be pulling a Braxton Miller any time soon, but Northwestern will have a challenge defending against the Penn State quarterback when the Nittany Lions travel to Ryan Field this Saturday. Penn State's defense produced one defensive score and held Illinois to just 167 yards of total offense.
2. Clement returns for Wisconsin, runs over Rutgers
Wisconsin lead back Corey Clement made a triumphant return from hernia surgery against a hapless Rutgers team. Clement rushed for 115 yards and three touchdowns in Wisconsin's 48-10 demolition of Rutgers. Quarterback Joel Stave returned from a concussion last week to throw for 217 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Wisconsin's offense has struggled with consistency this season, and Clement's return will provide a major boost for the Badgers' final three games of the season — including Northwestern's trip to Madison in two weeks. However, scoring against Rutgers is hardly difficult, as Rutgers' defense continues to give up points at an astounding rate. They have given up an average of more than 50 points per game over the last three weeks.
3. Michigan Hangs On and Iowa Stays Undefeated
The Big Ten East mostly had the weekend off. Michigan survived a scare though, coming back from a 16-14 halftime deficit to defeat Minnesota 29-26. This time, Michigan avoided heartbreak on the final play of the game and stopped Minnesota from the one-yard line as time expired to hold onto an much-needed win. Michigan lost starting quarterback Jake Rudock in the third quarter, a situation which will be monitored heading into next week.
Iowa defeated Maryland 31-15 to remain undefeated. Iowa took care of business at home and tightened its grasp on the Big Ten West. Wisconsin and Northwestern both have two losses, which means that Iowa would have to collapse against a very easy remaining schedule in order to lose the West. That being said, other than dismantling Northwestern on the road and an ugly 10-6 win at Wisconsin, Iowa has not played any tough opponents this season. Assuming the Hawkeyes secure the West, they could be double-digit favorites in the Big Ten Championship game, depending on who comes out of the East.
J.T. Barrett arrested for operating vehicle while intoxicated
In a week where the majority of the Big Ten did not play, perhaps the biggest story of the weekend surrounded Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett. Barrett was pulled over and arrested after failing an on-campus DUI checkpoint. At the time of writing, Barrett has been suspended for Ohio State's next game against Minnesota, but the university may decide to levy a greater suspension in the coming weeks. According to Eleven Warriors, the Ohio State football blog, Barrett's backup Cardale Jones (whom Barrett replaced at starter two weeks ago) picked up Barrett after his arrest and gave him a ride home. Cardale Jones is clearly a great guy to have as backup on and off the field.
Purdue Holds Off Nebraska
Purdue upset a reeling Nebraska team 55-45 with a masterful offensive performance. The score made the game look closer than it actually was; Purdue was up 42-16 at the end of the third quarter but Nebraska put up 29 points in a wild fourth quarter that featured six touchdowns. The loss puts Nebraska at serious risk of missing out on bowl eligibility with games against Big Ten leaders Michigan State and Iowa still to come.