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Around the Big Ten, Week 10: And then there were two

As we hit the final month of the college football regular season, the Big Ten title race is becoming even clearer.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

As November comes and the leaves continue to fall, so do many teams’ hopes. Teams now have fewer and fewer opportunities to assert themselves, and while some (Penn State) consistently show up when they need to, others (Illinois) do not. There are two Big Ten teams currently in the AP top three, and all the rest... well, let’s just say there’s a reason Ohio State and Michigan are both 9-0. As the Buckeyes and Wolverines continue to separate themselves, the race for the Big Ten becomes even easier to predict. It is the month of Thanksgiving, and college football fans have quite a lot to be thankful for. Among those things are some of the best storylines from Week Ten:

Illinois returns to infamy

The No. 21 Illini seemed to have everything going for them. They were sitting at 7-1 with a matchup against Michigan on Nov. 19 sure to be a borderline top 10 matchup if Illinois could get there at 9-1. After a stunning 23-15 loss to Michigan State, not only are hopes of a top 10 ranking gone, hopes for a Big Ten West title are suddenly a lot murkier. Chase Brown continued to show why he's the nation’s leading rusher with 136 ground yards, but he failed to reach the end zone for the third time in four games and also lost a fumble. On paper, this loss makes no sense: Illinois out-gained the Spartans 441 to 294, had less penalties, and held the Spartans to 3-of-11 on third down. So how does a team only get 15 points from 441 yards? Five failed fourth down conversions, including three inside the Michigan State 30, especially hurt the Illini.

As for the Spartans, they deserve tons of credit for bouncing back from an ugly loss to Michigan and an even uglier tunnel brawl that led to multiple suspensions. Cal Haladay had 3.5 tackles for loss to lead a spectacular defensive effort, and Aaron Brule had the key fumble recovery after Brown lost the ball. Payton Thorne bounced back nicely from a first drive interception, throwing for a pair of touchdowns — including the dagger late in the third frame. Despite dropping five of their last six games, the Spartans still have a path to go bowling. As for the Illini, if they are to keep a hold on the Big Ten West, they have to beat Purdue next week. Hey, speaking of Purdue...

Iowa found an offense???

I’m as shocked as you are. But somehow, after a 24-3 romp over the Boilermakers, the Hawkeyes have scored (gasp) 57 points in their last two games. Spencer Petras’ last 53 passes look like this: 34 completions, 412 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions. Either the college football world has gone mad (a likely possibility) or Purdue’s defense is almost as porous as Northwestern’s. One person who’d agree with the latter assessment is Iowa freshman Kaleb Johnson, who rambled for 200 yards and a score in the victory. Despite getting completely outclassed (Aidan O’Connell threw for just 168 yards and two interceptions), there is still hope for the Boilermakers. If they beat Illinois next week, they’ll be tied for first in the Big Ten West and control their own destiny if both Iowa and Wisconsin lose on the 19th. Welcome to college football.

Another marvelous Michigan matinee

The last time the No. 3 Wolverines won a game by less than 14 points was Sep. 24 against Iowa. Since then, they’ve won by 21, 24, 22 and now 35 after a 52-17 rout of Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights were simply annihilated, giving up 282 rushing yards while obtaining only 14 for themselves. Sophomore Donovan Edwards had his second performance over the century mark, and he’s not even the best back for the Wolverines. That would be Blake Corum, who took his 20 carries for 109 yards and a pair of end zone visits. Corum’s stats on the year are now 199 carries for 1,187 yards (fourth in the FBS) and 16 scores (tied for the lead in the FBS). After his most recent performance, combined with poor days from C.J. Stroud and Hendon Hooker, there’s a real chance for Corum to take home the Heisman. Michigan closes out the year with Nebraska and Illinois, and if it dominates those games and the Pac-12 cannibalizes itself, it may have a playoff spot locked up even before it visits Columbus.

Ohio State survives weather, Wildcats in ugly win

Put Northwestern with the likes of Notre Dame and current No. 14 Penn State. That’s right, those three teams are the only squads to have lost to No. 2 Ohio State by two possessions or less. Of course, there is a massive caveat to the 21-7 scoreline from yesterday’s game at Ryan Field. That is, of course, the weather. With gusts in Evanston hitting nearly 60 miles per hour, the vaunted Buckeye offense was stuck in mud most of the day. Well, mud and a spectacular defensive effort from the Wildcats. It wasn’t just the wind and rain harassing C.J. Stroud into an atrocious 10-for-26 performance for a career-low 76 yards, but also players like Xander Mueller and Adetomiwa Adebawore, both of whom had tackles for loss. The Buckeyes survived, but it was only because of a great day (111 yards, two scores) for TreVeyon Henderson replacement Miyan Williams and a defense that shut down any and every Northwestern player not named Evan Hull. The Buckeyes are currently favored by over 40 points against Indiana for their next contest, but the spread for this game was 38. That Michigan game is looming a lot larger now.

On Wisconsin, and maybe on to Indy

Maybe Paul Chryst was the problem. Since letting go of him, the Badgers have won three of four games under Jim Leonhard, the most recent of which was a 23-10 suffocation of Maryland. Taulia Tagovailoa had a Stroud-esque performance, going 10-for-23 for 77 yards and a touchdown against one interception. This was the first time all year the Terrapins failed to crack 27 points, and the Badger defense deserves a ton of credit for that. The ground-and-pound approach on offense worked a treat for Wisconsin as well, with both Braelon Allen and Isaac Guerendo going over 100 yards for the day. The Badgers showed that they’re still the premier practitioners of Big Ten football (especially in shoddy conditions), and if they’re able to take advantage of a fairly weak closing schedule, they may just be able to play some Big Ten football in Indianapolis for the fifth time since 2014.

Other Scores

Minnesota 20, Nebraska 13

No. 15 Penn State 45, Indiana 14