Big Ten Notebook: The Wild, Wild West

Big Ten Notebook: The Wild, Wild West

There are seven teams in the Big Ten West. Six are tied for first place. Who can step up and take the crown by the end of the season?

Big Ten Notebook: The Wild, Wild West

 

Big Ten football thoughts:

Six-Way Tie For First Place

Is there a foggier division in college football than the Big Ten West? Going into Saturday’s games, six of the division’s seven teams are 1-1 in the conference. In alphabetical order, they are Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue.

The outlier is Wisconsin. The Badgers’ 0-2 start in the conference is one reason why Coach Paul Chryst was fired earlier this week and replaced with interim coach Jim Leonhard. Wisconsin lost its Big Ten opener to Ohio State. There was no shame in that. But a program known for its running game was outgained 137-2 on the ground last week while losing at home to Illinois for the first time in 20 years. Yes, two yards rushing. It was the Badgers’ lowest total on the ground in a game since 2015.

While the race to see who will win the Big Ten West will be a compelling storyline over the next several weeks, one fact is certain. Whichever Big Ten West team is the division champion will undoubtedly have multiple Big Ten losses on its resume then get whacked by the Big Ten East champion (Ohio State, Michigan, perhaps Penn State) in the conference championship game.

Pass-Happy Purdue Goes To Maryland

One of the teams that could eventually separate itself from the Big Ten West logjam is Purdue, which handed previously undefeated Minnesota its first loss of the season last weekend and knocked the Gophers out of the national rankings with a huge road win.

But the Boilermakers (3-2, 1-1) will face a tough task Saturday when they travel to Maryland (4-1, 1-1) to face the Terrapins (noon EDT on the Big Ten Network).

Maryland, a 3-point favorite, is a perfect 3-0 at home, 4-0 as a favorite and 4-1 against the spread. Purdue, meanwhile, is 1-2 as an underdog and 2-3 against the spread.

Purdue loves to pass. The Boilermakers throw the ball on 63.7% of their plays, ranking them No. 5 in the nation. Quarterback Aidan O’Connell has thrown for 1,190 yards and eight touchdowns with just three interceptions while missing one game because of an injury. Receiver Charlie Jones is ranked nationally with 47 receptions (No. 2), 588 receiving yards (No. 3) and seven touchdowns (No. 2). While those passing numbers are impressive, having a one-dimensional offense isn’t always a good thing.

Maryland has more of a balanced attack, which is a major reason why the Terrapins lead the nation with a 75% passing completion rate. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa has thrown for 1,416 yards and eight touchdowns with only four interceptions. The Terrapins have pretty much a 50/50 split between passing and rushing. Roman Hemby has run for 369 yards and three touchdowns and Antwain Littleton II has run for six touchdowns.

Will Iowa Dominance of Illinois Continue?

So when is Iowa going to start playing like Iowa? That’s what Hawkeye fans have been wondering this season, and there’s no better weekend than this one to learn the answer to that question.

Iowa (3-2, 1-1) will play Saturday at Illinois (4-1, 1-1), which has shown signs of emerging from several years of crummy football and goes into the game as a 3-point favorite. The Hawkeyes have had Illinois’ number for quite a while, winning 13 of the last 14 games between the teams including eight in a row. The last time Illinois beat Iowa was in 2008.

A win Saturday in Champaign would lift the Hawkeyes’ spirits as they go into a bye week. Kickoff Saturday will be at 5:30 p.m. EDT on the Big Ten Network.

 


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