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Around the Big Ten, Week Nine: The Big Ten is a numbers game

The conference has more factors than previously thought

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Week Nine saw two more teams throw their hat in the ring as Big Ten West contenders, while two Big Ten East teams continued to toil among the bottom of the Power Five. Two others in the Big Ten East continued their winning ways, even if it came with more of a struggle than either team anticipated. We even had one team provide us with a massive Big Ten West vs. Big Ten East upset. Welcome to another edition of Around the Big Ten!

Four-way tie atop the Big Ten West

A couple weeks ago, I declared that five Big Ten teams had chances of winning a division title. It appears the statement was premature, given the current mess atop the Big Ten West. After division leader Wisconsin predictably fell to Ohio State 24-10 this past weekend, albeit in a much more competitive game than expected, there are now four teams in the division with a 3-2 record in conference play. Wisconsin is one. Iowa, who was idle this weekend, is another. Minnesota and Nebraska(!) join them in a tie for first place. Both teams capitalized on the Badgers loss with wins this weekend. Minnesota beat conference cellar-dweller Michigan State 27-12, while the Cornhuskers crushed Purdue 31-14 at home in the team’s homecoming game.

With four games remaining for each team, including pivotal matchups between each other, it’s still anyone’s race. According to ESPN’s Matchup Predictor, it’s Iowa’s race to lose. It predicts Iowa to run the table and finish 7-2 in conference play. The model predicts Wisconsin will do the same, resulting in a tiebreaker that would favor the Hawkeyes after Iowa beat the Badgers a few weeks ago. The predictor has Minnesota finishing 2-2 and Nebraska 1-3. In spite of the model, it’s Minnesota who controls its own destiny, as they already have wins over Iowa and Nebraska. Unfortunately for the Golden Gophers, they still have to play Ohio State. Nebraska still has to play Iowa and Wisconsin, which presents an opportunity, but also a tough path. This is why I believe Wisconsin is going to be the team to emerge and take the division crown after seeing how the team played against the Buckeyes and taking into account the fact that Iowa has to play Nebraska on the road. But unlike how it seemed even just last week, this is a fight that’s far from over.

The Power of 33

The 33 points scored by the likes of Northwestern and Penn State this weekend come with different sets of emotion. For the Wildcats, fans have to be elated after the team upset Maryland 33-27 this weekend, despite coming in as two-touchdown underdogs at home. The win came at the hands of current starting quarterback Brendan Sullivan. Sullivan was 16-of-23 for 265 yards and two passing touchdowns and added 56 yards rushing. After jumping out to a 24-17 lead at halftime, Sullivan and the Wildcats managed to hold on late, as senior defensive back Coco Azema intercepted a pass by Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and sealed the win for Northwestern with Maryland threatening inside the red zone.

A win is a win is a win. But a nine-point win over Indiana is likely not what Penn State had in mind, especially coming off a frustrating loss to Ohio State. The Nittany Lions escaped with a 33-24 win Saturday after scoring nine points in the last two minutes. The 9-0 run came after Indiana had tied the game at 24 on a 35-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Chris Freeman with 2:58 remaining in the fourth quarter. Penn State quarterback Drew Allar, while producing a stat line that looked pretty on the surface, struggled once again this weekend, this time in a game that the team was favored heavily in at home. He threw a crucial interception, his first of the season, deep in Penn State territory to set up Indiana’s game-tying field goal. Luckily for the Nittany Lions, they won and remain in the Big Ten East race, and they get to take on a struggling Maryland team next weekend as they look to get back on track.

Zero is not the hero

Zero is the number of Big Ten wins Indiana and Michigan State have combined after each lost once again this past weekend. Indiana, as mentioned above, showed life against Penn State, but ultimately lost 33-24. Michigan State, meanwhile, looked lifeless once more in the 27-12 loss to Minnesota. Zero is also the number of wins the pair of schools have against FBS opponents this season. The wins between the two? Akron, Central Michigan, Indiana State and Richmond. Two MAC schools and a pair of FCS teams. Speaking of the Indiana win over Akron, that win occurred September 24. The Hoosiers and Spartans have zero wins amongst the two of them since. Michigan State hasn’t won since September 9. There is good news for the pair, however. These teams have to play one another before the season ends. That game will take place November 18 in Bloomington, and it ensures that at least one of these teams will remove their set of zeroes from the board by season end. As for the loser of that game…