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Around the Big Ten, Week 10: Down goes Sparty, sad times continue for Nebraska

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The last undefeated Big Ten team falls as the race to Indy tightens.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Purdue Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

All 14 Big Ten teams competed in a week that had slugfests, shutouts and upsets galore. Here’s a brief rundown of Week 10, if you were too busy watching the ‘Cats or studying for midterms to catch the plethora of games this past Saturday.

New contract, same old inconsistent P.J. Fleck

It was announced Wednesday that fifth-year Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck signed a seven-year contract extension with the Golden Gophers that will keep him in the Twin Cities through 2028. Four days later, his team put up six points against a previously 3-6 Illinois team, losing at home 14-6.

On September 25, Fleck’s team faltered as a 30.5-point favorite to the Bowling Green Falcons, 14-10. They followed that embarrassment up with four consecutive victories, including a 20-13 win at Purdue, before yesterday, when they lost to the same Illinois team that fell at home against Rutgers the week prior.

Inconsistency has been the name of the game for Fleck through his tenure in Minneapolis, as his 19-21 conference record through five years exhibits. It raises questions about whether his 13-1 season at Western Michigan was more of an outlier than an indication of future success.

Despite their bad losses, the Gophers still sit tied atop the Big Ten West, with a trip to Indianapolis being a more than realistic possibility. With a game at Iowa and an at home contest against Wisconsin still on the schedule for Fleck’s team, the play of senior quarterback Tanner Morgan will have to significantly improve if the Gophers want a chance at a conference championship.

Nebraska loses a close game, to the surprise of absolutely nobody

The fact that Memorial Stadium sells out week-after-week — with nearly 90,000 fans wearing scarlet and cream — is truly astounding considering the heartbreak Husker fans experience seemingly every Saturday. The three-win team has seven losses in 2021, all of which have seen the Cornhuskers have fall by less than 10 points, including their latest heartbreaker, a 26-17 defeat to No. 5 Ohio State.

Despite the close margins, UNL still sits at the bottom of the Big Ten West. To make matters worse, the Huskers have been the highest scoring team in the West, scoring 286 total points this season, while only allowing 206. They have a better total point differential than Purdue and Minnesota, only those teams are both 6-3 and have a Big Ten Championship appearance within the realm of possibility. Please, if you know any current students, alumni or really anyone who lives in Nebraska, send your condolences, and be grateful you don’t root for the Cornhuskers.

Moving back to the game on Saturday, the Buckeye offense was relatively one-dimensional, with C.J. Stroud putting the ball in the air 54 times for 405 yards. Ryan Day’s defense continues to improve after having a rough start to the season which contributed heavily to the OSU’s early loss to Oregon. Despite these strides, the Buckeyes do not seem like the consensus conference powerhouse they have been in prior years, as Stroud is still making many freshman mistakes, and Day’s defense consistently struggles defending the pass.

The Buckeyes have the dangerous Purdue Boilermaker team left on their schedule, accompanied with two top-10 matchups with Michigan and Michigan State. Because of their early-season loss to the Ducks, Ohio State will need to be perfect the rest of the way if it wants to reach the playoff for a third-straight year.

Purdue knocks off yet another undefeated, top five opponent

If this had been your first time turning on a Purdue Boilermaker game this season, you would have thought Aidan O’Connell was the next Patrick Mahomes (or at least the 2018-2020 version of the Chiefs’ quarterback). The senior threw for 536 yards and 3 touchdowns to upset the No. 3 Spartans, putting the Boilermakers in a four-way tie at the top of the Big Ten West.

Mel Tucker has had an incredible second year with the Spartans, but their defense had a bit of a hangover after their win against Michigan a week prior.

Heisman candidate Kenneth Walker III had another great game, though, with 146 yards rushing and a touchdown. It was simply not enough, however, for the Spartan’s to remain unbeaten, as defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton’s unit could not get off the field. This was due in large part to David Bell’s 11 catches for 217 yards and a touchdown, propelling Purdue to their second win against an undefeated, top-five opponent win in four weeks.

Oh, and to make matters worse for the Spartans, Jeff Brohm’s squad drew up quite possibly the cleanest trick play of the college football season.

Despite their nightmare trip to West Lafayette, all of the Spartans’ goals are still in front of them, with a trip to Columbus less than two weeks away for Michigan State that could put Sparty in pole position to win the Big Ten East. QB Payton Thorne’s performance will be crucial to MSU’s prospects as a national contender, as he’ll need to be more than a game manager if this team wants to shock the world and reach the playoff for the second time in program history.

Other Scores

Wisconsin 52, Rutgers 3

Penn State 31, Maryland 14

Michigan 29, Indiana 7

Iowa 17, Northwestern 12