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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Thursday, August 05, 2021
Taylor Fumble

The Big Ten is heating up right now, with the top four teams all technically in playoff competition.

Minnesota's loss opens up Big Ten West, middle-of-the-pack teams look to become bowl eligible at end of year

Minnesota’s undefeated season ended just as they crossed the biggest obstacle to playing at Lucas Oil Stadium in December for the Big Ten Championship. 

In perhaps the highest-stakes Big Ten matchup this season, Minnesota beat then-undefeated Penn State 31-26 in Week 11. With just Iowa and bottom-dwelling Northwestern left to play before the annual rivalry game against Wisconsin, the Gophers could have clinched the Big Ten West title before they faced the Badgers. After handing Iowa a 24-22 loss a week prior, Wisconsin supporters became Hawkeye fans to keep their Big Ten West hopes alive. 

They delivered. 

Nate Stanley threw two touchdown passes to help No. 23 Iowa beat No. 7 Minnesota 23-19 for its first win over a ranked opponent this season. The Hawkeyes struck early, scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions, and withstood a late Gophers comeback to hand Minnesota its ninth straight loss at Kinnick Stadium. 

After No. 14 Wisconsin beat Nebraska 37-21 on the back of Jonathan Taylor’s 204 rushing yards and two touchdowns to claim the Freedom Trophy, the Badgers and Gophers matchup will likely be a play-in game for the Big Ten West title. After winning 14 in a row against Minnesota, Wisconsin fell in last year’s edition 37-15 after Alex Hornibrook threw three interceptions. 

With both sides vying for a date for a trip to Indianapolis, this year’s battle for Paul Bunyan’s axe perhaps carries the highest-stakes of the last decade in this historic rivalry. 

In the East, Ohio State stayed perfect with a 56-21 win over Rutgers. Rutgers, who came in as 52-point underdogs, covered, which perhaps represents their biggest accomplishment this season. 

Penn State recovered from their loss to Minnesota with a 34-27 win over the overachieving Indiana Hoosiers. Standing at 9-1, and 6-1 in the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions face Ohio State in Columbus for a chance to take back control of the Big Ten East. The Buckeyes have cruised all season, but the Nittany Lions can shake things up dramatically in both the conference and in the College Football Playoff with an upset at Ohio Stadium. 

Outside of the race for the Big Ten Championship, the race to bowl eligibility looms over several middle-of-the-pack Big Ten sides. 

Nebraska, in the second year under head coach Scott Frost, has lost four straight and five of their last six. On top of that, they’ve dropped 10 in a row against Top 25 opponents. Standing at 

4-6, and 2-5 in the Big Ten, the Cornhuskers have matchups at Maryland and home against Iowa to get back to .500 for the year and become bowl eligible. 

Indiana, who has not played postseason football since they lost to Utah in the Foster Farms Bowl in 2016, stand at 7-3 on the season and 4-3 in the conference. After taking care of business against the Big Ten bottom-dwellers, the Hoosiers are in line to play in a bowl game. 

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Michigan State and Purdue both stand at 4-6 for the season, needing to win their last two games to become bowl eligible. Recently declaring he expects to be back as coach next season, Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio is perhaps coaching for his job as he needs to beat Rutgers and Maryland in order to avoid missing the postseason for the first time since 2016. 

Sparked by their 30.5-point upset over Wisconsin, Illinois has won three straight, perhaps saving coach Lovie Smith’s job. In the process, the Illini became bowl eligible, standing at 6-4 on the season and 4-3 in the Big Ten. 

Michigan and Iowa have both clinched bowl eligibility, but an invitation to the Rose Bowl could be on the line during the last two weeks of the regular season. 

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