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Around the Big Ten, Week Nine: Sparty stays unbeaten, Wisconsin wins the Heartland Trophy

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And Ohio State is still Ohio State.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Michigan State Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

It took us nine weeks to get to this point, but the Big Ten has only one undefeated program left after a clash between top ten teams this Saturday. Let’s breakdown that contest and the rest of the conference’s biggest and best games in this week’s edition of Around the Big Ten:

Kenneth Walker III’s Heisman campaign bolstered in MSU’s rivalry win over Michigan

Now nine weeks into the season, a team that garnered zero votes to take home first or second place in its division in Inside NU’s preseason Big Ten poll has become the last undefeated team standing in the conference after Michigan State took down unbeaten rival Michigan in an exhilarating battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy. Leading the way once again for Mel Tucker’s squad with five rushing touchdowns (!) was transfer RB Kenneth Walker III — who didn’t get a single poll vote for conference offensive player of the year, by the way.

It was all Wolverines early, as UM took a 10-0 lead out of the first quarter, but eight seconds into the subsequent period, Walker trotted into the end zone on a 27-yard dash for the first of his five scores. MSU fans won’t soon forget the last of those touchdowns, which came with their team down three with just over five minutes left to play in the game.

Walker is now second in the nation in rushing yards with 1,194, third in rushing touchdowns with 14 and is atop all rushers of over 1000 yards with an average of 6.82 yards per carry. If you didn’t believe in the man when he ran all over Northwestern on opening night, you’d be best to do so now.

Ohio State’s still lurking

Hours after they watched the gang they refer to as That Team Up North fall for the first time this season, the Buckeyes handled their own business against suddenly ice cold Penn State such that they could continue to revel in their rival’s misery. They didn’t nearly cover the 18.5-point spread set by Vegas, edging the Nittany Lions only by nine in a 33-24 win. But perhaps more importantly than winning by a wide margin, their featured back got going against a Power Five opponent in a way he had not previously, carrying the ball 28 times for 152 yards and a score.

While Michigan State is literally the team to beat until another program shows itself to be capable of doing so, the Buckeyes are still tied with Sparty for the divisional lead in the East. OSU will face Nebraska and Purdue in what should be two tuneups before taking on the pair of Michigan-based teams to try and close the season by clawing its way back to Lucas Oil Stadium (and potentially the College Football Playoff).

Wisconsin is back?

Admit it. When the Badgers dropped to 1-3 to start their season and fell in their first two Big Ten games of the year, you assumed that their Big Ten title game hopes were done. It’s okay, I did too.

We, of course, were all wrong, as UW has rattled off four straight wins right as the West Division has shown itself to be as wide open as ever. The latest win for the Dairy State’s team came against then-No. 9 Iowa, who the Badgers methodically dismantled in a 27-7 blowout that left us asking the hard questions about the Hawkeyes’ signal caller.

So now what? The Badgers sit only one game back of Minnesota for the divisional lead, and they’ll face the Golden Gophers in the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe — which they’ve claimed in 16 of the last 17 years — right after Thanksgiving. Aside from that opportunity to gain ground, Paul Chryst’s team plays Rutgers, Northwestern and Nebraska — not exactly a trio that sends shivers down the spine of any competitive football team — before the season ends. In other words, while the Gophers may be the current leaders, it certainly seems like the golden ticket to Indy is truly Wisco’s to lose.

Other scores

Minnesota 41, Northwestern 14

Purdue 28, Nebraska 23

Maryland 38, Indiana 35