Wisconsin looking to keep pace with other Big Ten contenders

Alex Hornibrook is looking to lead Wisconsin to the top of not only the Big Ten West, but also the Big Ten.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Aside from an upset in Minneapolis at the hands of the Maryland Terrapins last Saturday afternoon, the Big Ten had a pretty ho-hum slate of games in week five. Paul Chryst made halftime adjustments to beat Northwestern. Nebraska beat up on Illinois at home. Michigan State’s defense came to life against Iowa. Saquon Barkley padded his Heisman resume against Indiana. And, of course, Rutgers got thumped by No. 10 Ohio State. Pretty standard stuff. With enough games played to get a feel for each team, where does the conference stand going into week six?

The Big Ten West is offering no surprises so far- Simply, its No. 9 Wisconsin’s to win, barring no monumental slip ups. Of course, that is a lot easier said than done. With a minute to play in Madison last weekend, Northwestern had the ball and an opportunity to tie the game with a touchdown drive. Thanks to do senior safety D’Cota Dixon, and, admittedly, a terrible play by Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson, a potential overtime situation turned into a nine point win. With the Badger’s first conference road test of the year looming, however, there are plenty of corrections to be made in order to avoid an upset in Lincoln. Despite the fact Nebraska has looked anything but stable this year, a road game in the Big Ten is never guaranteed — especially when the team you’re playing owns the national record for consecutive sellouts (357), a streak that started during the Kennedy administration.

The other two feasible threats to a Big Ten West Crown this year — Iowa and Minnesota — struggled mightily in their most recent contests. Iowa, fresh off a near upset of No. 4 Penn State, looked sluggish in an ugly loss in East Lansing, producing only 19 total rushing yards. The Hawkeyes, who’s most impressive victory is a three point win at 2-2 Iowa State, need to find some sort of a spark if they’re going to make a run of any type this season. Next weekend’s tilt at home against a poor Illinois team should give them an opportunity to find their footing.

Minnesota’s loss at home to Maryland was certainly the most surprising result of last weekend’s slate of Big Ten games. The Terps, reeling with injuries, marched into TC Bank Stadium and snatched a 31-24 victory from what many had pegged early on as one of the conference’s premier defenses. After being picked apart by former fourth stringer Max Bortenschlager, however, the Gopher’s defense is looking much more raw than its first three games suggested. Next up for Minnesota is a tough road contest against Purdue, a team that has been up and down so far, but are very capable of a win, especially coming off a bye week. A bad loss to the Boilermakers could send Minnesota into a tailspin if they’re not careful.

Over in the Big Ten East, it still looks like Penn State and everyone else, though Ohio State and Michigan are still in striking distance. The Buckeyes looked great last week in New Brunswick, but they can’t shake the ugly home blowout loss against Oklahoma in week two — even after back to back 50 point performances. J.T. Barrett became the school’s career leader in passing yards against the Scarlet Knights, and tossed three touchdowns on top of that. More importantly, though, the offense looked explosive and prone to big plays — something Barrett’s unit was criticized for after its meltdown against the Sooners. Of course, it is important to keep in mind they were going up against a depleted Rutgers secondary, but 56 points is impressive no matter how you slice it. Next week at home against Maryland should be another chance for the Buckeyes to get comfortable ahead of the conference’s most exciting game of the season thus far: Oct. 28 vs. Penn State.

The Nittany Lions bounced back in a big way after a narrow escape last week in Ames against the Hawkeyes. Trace McSorley, Saquon Barkley and company once again tore apart an unworthy defense, hanging three touchdowns on the Hoosiers in quarter number one, the first of which was a 98 yard kick return by the Heisman hopeful Barkley. Penn State’s defense played well too, allowing only 14 points (none in the second half) and forcing four turnovers. This week at Northwestern should be another big win for PSU if all goes according to plan.

No. 7 Michigan had a much needed bye week this past Saturday heading into a matchup under the lights against rival Michigan State. An already anemic offense — ranked No. 73 in the nation in total yards — took a huge blow this week when head coach John Harbaugh announced senior quarterback Wilton Speight will miss multiple weeks with an injury he suffered against Purdue on Sept. 23. Taking over the reins is senior John O’Korn, who hasn’t fielded many reps since transferring from Houston in 2015. Hopefully for Michigan, Speight will heal in time for its primetime matchup against the Nittany Lions in State College on Oct. 21. If the Wolverines are to have any chance at a playoff appearance, it’s likely that Speight will need to be under center against Penn State come week eight.

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