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Around the Big Ten, Week 11: Collision courses

The Big Ten East is a two horse race. The Big Ten West is basically bumper cars.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Brooke LaValley / USA TODAY NETWORK

We have officially reached the most important part of the college football season. Almost every game matters for bowl eligibility or top 25 rankings, the temperatures are starting to drop and cause good old power football, and the Big Ten Championship will officially be a dominant Ohio State or Michigan team against some poor 8-4 squad that will get rolled 47-10. The Buckeyes and Wolverines are two of the only three teams in the conference who provide consistent winning effort, week in and week out. The only other team that’s come consistently close to doing so is Penn State, and it is simply not in the same universe as CFP contenders, which is why it has lost twice to those aforementioned squads already. And if Penn State doesn't stand a chance, heaven help us if a 7-5 Purdue team sneaks into Indianapolis. Aside from a playoff spot being basically guaranteed for Michigan or Ohio State, here are some of the best storylines from Week 11:

Ohio State obliterates

Well, any worries about that offense not being up to par blew away faster than a C.J. Stroud pass in the Evanston wind. That wind was a major factor in the No. 2 Buckeyes’ narrow win over Northwestern two weeks ago, but many still wondered: Had Stroud been figured out? Was the Heisman campaign over? No and no. Stroud led a demolition of Indiana, throwing for 297 yards and a quintet of touchdowns as the Buckeyes romped, 56-14. The Hoosiers were completely outmatched, giving up 340 rushing yards to the Buckeyes even after Miyan Williams (remember, he’s somehow the backup for this team) left the game due to injury. His replacement, Dallan Hayden, took 19 carries for 102 yards.

Meanwhile, Marvin Harrison Jr. continued to stake his claim as one of the best receivers in college football. After his 135-yard performance, he’s now seventh in the country in receiving yards with 969 and has reached the end zone 11 times. This Buckeye offense is a complete machine. Aside from its season opener and a game in which the wind gusts reached 60 miles per hour, the team has not yet failed to put up over 40 points. It is the second-best scoring offense in the country — Tennessee has OSU beat by six-tenths of a point right now — and as if that wasn’t enough, the Buckeyes are also seventh in total defense. It is potentially a juggernaut, and if this Ohio State team does not make the playoffs, something horrible happened. Something like...

Illinois’ incompetence seals its fate

What in the world was that? Two weeks ago, the Illini were riding high: No. 14 in the country, 7-1, and a supposedly light schedule in the leadup to the Michigan game this weekend. They fell flat on their faces and lost both games. This most recent one was especially wild — they lost to Purdue! A Purdue team that made Iowa’s offense look borderline competent two weeks ago! Letting the Boilermakers score over 30 points for just the fourth time this year is a big reason why. Credit should also go to the 37th-ranked Purdue defense, which held Illinois star Chase Brown under 100 yards rushing for the first time all season in the 31-24 stunner. Aidan O’Connell had his best game since facing Nebraska on Oct. 15, going 25-for-40 for 237 yards and three touchdowns.

This performance by Illinois is potentially season-killing. Aside from the defense having its worst game of the season yardage-wise, there’s also the issue of 10 penalties for 121 yards. However, neither of those things are the worst part of this loss moving forwards. Chase Brown, the nation’s leading rusher at 1,442 yards and a legitimate dark horse for the Heisman, went down with less than a minute to go in the game. Brown was not putting any weight on his right leg as he returned to the bench. If Brown will not play again this year, any Illinois hopes of going to Indianapolis are doomed. Conversely, Purdue is now the favorite to make it out of the wild wild Big Ten West. All the Boilermakers have to do is win out and hope Iowa loses at least once, and they are basically set. And we all know what happens when Purdue plays highly ranked teams late in the year.

Iowa has an offense (yikes)

An ancient terror has been awakened. An Iowa Hawkeyes team with a competent offense has been created, and the results are terrifying. Spencer Petras hasn’t thrown an interception since he had to deal with Ohio State, and the Hawkeyes have scored over 20 points in three straight contests. A team that didn't have even 100 points total after the Ohio State game on Oct. 22 now has moved itself all the way up to 17.9 points per game for the offense! That is still an atrocious mark, but less so when one remembers its defense is giving up just 13.9 points per game.

Speaking of that defense, it’s very good, and it shut down Wisconsin in the Hawkeyes’ 24-10 win. Cooper DeJean, one of the best defensive backs in the nation, took back his fourth interception of the year for a touchdown to extend Iowa’s lead late in the first half. Braelon Allen was shut down almost completely, carrying the ball 17 times for just 40 yards. The Hawkeyes now basically control their own destiny. If they survive a tough test at Minnesota next week and then beat Nebraska on the 25th, they will be the Big Ten West champions as long as Michigan beats Illinois. What a world.

Penn State is prevailing once more

It turns out that when the Nittany Lions don’t have to play a team that’s top five in the country, they are really good. The latest team to find that out is the Maryland Terrapins, who were lambasted 30-0 by Penn State on Saturday. Taulia Tagovailoa was in trouble all game, throwing for under 80 yards for the second consecutive game and rushing for -45 yards on nine carries, including the whopping seven times he was sacked. The Terps’ ground attack didn't fare much better, garnering just 60 yards on the ground against a near top 30 Penn State defense. A year that looked so promising for Maryland is now in the mud, with Ohio State paying a visit next week.

As for Penn State, Sean Clifford continued his extremely consistent play, completing over 50% of his passes for the 10th time this season. The run game also dominated, taking 43 carries to the tune of 249 yards, with Nick Singleton leading the way with 11 rushes for 122. The No. 11 Nittany Lions have triumphed in each of their wins by double digits, and face Rutgers and Michigan State to close out the year. Assuming they’re able to win both of those and the Pac-12 keeps eating itself alive, we could very easily see Penn State playing in a New Year’s Six bowl for the first time since 2019.

Other Scores

No. 3 Michigan 34, Nebraska 3

Michigan State 27, Rutgers 21

Minnesota 31, Northwestern 3