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Around the Big Ten, Week 11: A clear picture

The Big Ten Championship play-in game is all but settled

NCAA Football: Purdue at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-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 11:

Northwestern gets help, part one

Entering a trip to Happy Valley, Wisconsin’s Big Ten West division hopes were already hanging by a thread. Penn State ensured the Badgers would be denied a third consecutive Big Ten West title with a dominant 22-10 victory on Saturday. An early 71-yard Jonathan Taylor touchdown run got Wisconsin off to a fast start, but the Badgers could not get anything else going without Alex Hornibrook. Jack Coan was responsible for four turnovers (sound familiar?) and Penn State rode Miles Sanders to an easy victory.

Penn State has no shot at a divisional title, but if it can win its final two games, it will finish a respectable 9-3 and put itself in the running for a NY6 bowl.

Northwestern gets help, part two

Minnesota came into Saturday’s game having lost every Big Ten West matchup by at least two scores. That includes Nebraska and Illinois, who ran up a combined 103 points on the Golden Gophers. But on a snowy day in Minneapolis, P.J. Fleck’s defense came to play, holding the explosive Boilermakers to just 233 total yards en route to a 41-10 win. Blake Cashman returned a David Blough fumble for a touchdown just after the half to put the game out of reach as Minnesota’s defense dominated a week after Fleck fired defensive coordinator Robb Smith.

Minnesota’s win cleared the path for NU to clinch the Big Ten West. And for all the blowout losses in the Big Ten, the Golden Gophers are only one win away from bowl eligibility.

More clarity in the East

Ohio State cleared the final hurdle to set up a showdown with Michigan to determine the Big Ten East. The Buckeyes capitalized on a host of Michigan State mistakes to run away with a 26-6 victory in East Lansing. The game was close for nearly three quarters before Ohio State recorded a safety and a defensive touchdown on back-to-back possessions. If Ohio State gets through Maryland next week, its matchup against No. 4 Michigan on Nov. 24 will be the Big Ten East title game, and potentially a CFP Playoff game, depending on how you view Northwestern’s chances against Michigan or Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game.

Other scores

No. 4 Michigan 42, Rutgers 7

The Wolverines look stronger and stronger each week. Michigan’s steely defense held Rutgers without a positive passing yard until the third quarter as the Scarlet Knights only managed 59 yards through the air on the day. Shea Patterson threw for an efficient 260 yards and three scores as the Wolverines maintained their perch atop the Big Ten East.

Nebraska 54, Illinois 35

I don’t know how many people were expecting 1,115 total yards between Illinois and Nebraska, but here we are. Devine Ozigbo rushed for 162 of Nebraska’s 316 yards on the ground, while A.J. Bush totaled 313 all-purpose yards for Illinois. Scott Frost’s outfit has won three of four, and it looks like Nebraska is building something special offensively in Lincoln.

Indiana 34, Maryland 32

I can’t think of a Big Ten result that is less relevant to Northwestern fans.