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Around the Big Ten, Week 9: the ‘Cats growl, Penn State holds on

This was an important week in the West and for Northwestern’s divisional hopes.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Every Sunday, after an entire Saturday’s worth of college football, we’ll take a look around the Big Ten. As the conference as a whole fights as respectability in the non-conference, or as its power dynamics shift on a week-to-week basis this fall, we’ll follow every team and try to piece together the puzzle that is the 13-week-long season all the way up until Indianapolis.

Here are the top storylines from Week 9:

Northwestern beats No. 20 Wisconsin to take control of the West

Wow. Just wow. In one of Pat Fitzgerald’s biggest games since becoming head coach of the Wildcats 13 years ago, his team finally came to play against a vaunted division opponent. While not everything was perfect, Northwestern beat down a depleted, sloppy Wisconsin team, tightening its grip on potentially the first Big Ten Championship Game appearance under Fitz. Though the team started slowly, Clayton Thorson made big plays with both his arm and his legs, the defense held Jonathan Taylor to just 46 yards, and the two units worked synergistically to score 17 points off of Badger turnovers. The ‘Cats have a chance Saturday night to swing at the piñata that is undefeated, playoff-hopeful Notre Dame.

No. 17 Penn State outlasts No. 18 Iowa in the rain

More good things happened to Northwestern this weekend when Penn State dealt Iowa, now Northwestern’s primary Big Ten West challenger, its second conference loss of the season. It wasn’t pretty, as Penn State nearly blew a 10-point fourth quarter lead. In slick conditions, Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley threw for just 205 yards and two interceptions — one of them costly on a first-and-goal play from the 3-yard line — and the Penn State defense stood up on the final drive to win the only ranked Big Ten battle this weekend.

Sparty joins the ‘Cat-helping party, takes down Purdue

Yup, there’s a common yet theme this weekend: everyone helped Northwestern. Michigan State came out on top of a hard-fought 23-13 slugfest versus Purdue, dealing a blow to another Big Ten West contender. Even without Felton Davis, Brian Lewerke’s replacement Rocky Lombardi (helluva name), threw all over the Boilermakers for 318 yards and two touchdowns, while the Spartans picked off David Blough three times. All of the ‘Cats competition for the division lost this weekend, giving them a 1.5-game cushion atop the West.

Other scores

Minnesota 38, Indiana 31

Some Friday night action yielded the Gophers their first Big Ten win as Tanner Morgan threw for three touchdowns, Shannon Brooks ran for 154 yards and they fended off a furious fourth-quarter rally from the Hoosiers. It’s a disappointing effort against a Big Ten basement-dweller for an Indiana team that has fought hard this season and lost in a good effort last week versus Penn State.

Nebraska 45, Bethune-Cookman 9

This game was added to Nebraska’s schedule in mid-September after its opener against Akron was cancelled due to inclement weather (probably a good thing for the Huskers). After last week’s offensive outburst against Minnesota, Scott Frost’s squad kept the train rolling as the starters only needed to play one half to put up 38.

Maryland 63, Illinois 33

Not the first time the Illini have given up 63 points this season.