It was never about disrespecting Nebraska’s unbeaten start. It was always about questioning its unimposing schedule.
The Cornhuskers acquitted themselves well in their 23-17 overtime loss at Wisconsin. But the sorting process will continue when Mike Riley takes his lads from Lincoln to Ohio State on Saturday to see if the Horseshoe fits.
A win there opens up a world of possibilities. A loss closes more doors for Nebraska.
If the Cornhuskers follow the form chart and fall to the Buckeyes, get ready for a wild West Division shootout. Nebraska would join four West teams that already have two losses.
Those ranks will be culled by one when Wisconsin plays at Northwestern on Saturday.
I still like the Badgers to prevail when all is said and done.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]They already win their head-to-head tiebreakers with the Cornhuskers and Hawkeyes. And Northwestern and Minnesota are yet to come.
Wisconsin has shown the highest ceiling in the West. But it has played well week after week against an endless string of quality opponents, and few teams escape at least one letdown.
The toughest remaining challenge comes this week at Northwestern. The Badgers are 0-4 in Evanston since their last win there in 1999.
I will have a front-row seat for that game between my two alma maters. Don’t ask me who my favorite is, unless you’re prepared to tell me which of your children is your favorite.
Right after I finished graduate school at Northwestern, the Wildcats went through a losing streak of biblical proportions, going 3-62-1 in 1976-81.
An enterprising spray-painter took to the highways, creating signs that said, ``Interstate 94, Northwestern 0.’’
We won’t be seeing a score like that any time soon.
But there will be plenty of traffic on Interstate 94 (and I-90) this weekend, as Badger fans head to Evanston. Concerned.
BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS
THE JUGGERNAUTS. . .
1, Michigan (8-0, 5-0): Didn’t rub Sparty’s nose in it in modest 32-23 win at struggling Michigan State. But it was a great showcase for `Jabrill Peppers for Heisman’ campaign. (No. 1 last week)
2, Ohio State (7-1, 4-1): A modest 24-20 tiptoe past 26-point underdog Northwestern? Wildcats are solid. But Buckeyes need to put the O back in Ohio. (No. 2)
THE BEST IN THE WEST. . .
3, Wisconsin (6-2, 3-2): Yet another really good grind-out win, in overtime vs. previously unbeaten Nebraska. No rest for Badgers. Ridiculously brutal schedule now takes them to surging Northwestern. (No. 3)
THE MUDDLE IN THE MIDDLE. . .
4, Nebraska (7-1, 4-1): Strong comeback effort comes up short in 23-17 OT loss at Wisconsin. Tough trip now to Ohio State, which doesn’t look as regal as it did two weeks ago, but is still a very serious national championship contender. (No. 4)
5, Penn State (6-2, 4-1): Showing no letdown after upset of Ohio State, Nittany Lions stomp Purdue. This week’s meeting with Iowa, their toughest remaining opponent, will show how much swagger is back. A win opens door to a 10-2 season. (No. 6)
6, Northwestern (4-4, 3-2): Disappointed at coming up short at Ohio State, much-improved Wildcats have big opportunity, and big challenge, vs. Wisconsin on Saturday. (No. 5)
7, Iowa (5-3, 3-2): Headed to Penn State after bye week. With home dates vs. Michigan and Nebraska remaining, Hawkeyes have full November plate. (No. 7)
8, Indiana (4-4, 2-3): Halted three-game skid with good 42-36 win vs. solid Maryland. No room for slippage, though, vs. Rutgers this week and in Purdue finale if IU wants second straight bowl trip. (No. 8)
9, Minnesota (6-2, 3-2): Nice—steamroller 40-17 win at Illinois. Not-so-nice—another targeting ejection for sending top Illini receiver Malik Turner to hospital. Cut it out, Gophers. . . Can add to bowl resume vs. Purdue this week. After that, Lucky Schedule Club membership expires. (No. 9)
10, Maryland (5-3, 2-3): Despite 42-36 loss at Indiana, impressive first season for new coach D.J. Durkin. Trouble ahead (Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska), but final hole card vs. Rutgers should fill inside straight to bowl eligibility. (No. 10).
11, Michigan State (2-6, 0-5): Spartans, who have gone from Big Ten champions to Big Ten Welcome Wagon, can’t screw up Saturday's trip to lowly Illinois this week, can they? Decent effort in covering huge spread vs. Michigan. That sure sounds like Little Brother praise, though. (No. 14)
HOW LOW CAN YOU GO?
12, Purdue (3-5, 1-4): If Boilers win another game, good for them. Big question is, who’s the next man up in the hazardous-to-your-professional-health Purdue coaching job? (No. 11)
13, Illinois (2-6, 1-4): Can Illini find a way to get something done vs. struggling Michigan State? Probably not, especially in light of their myriad injuries. But with Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern to follow, this is their last best chance. (No. 12)
14, Rutgers (2-6, 0-5): For the first time since Big Ten play, Scarlet Knights didn’t lose. It was their bye week. (Insert rimshot here.) Rutgers will try to build on good effort in 34-32 loss at Minnnesota vs. Indiana this week. (No. 13)