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Five B1G Things We Learned - Post Week Nine

Posted Oct 28, 2013

Phil Harrison solves the world’s problems one reflection at a time. If that falls short, he can at least give you five of the biggest things to take away from each week’s Big Ten action. It’s football in the heartland -- so read on.

By Phil Harrison
Follow me on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFN
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Five B1G Things We Learned - Post Week 8

5. Northwestern is NOT Chicagoland’s Big Ten team

What in the world of deep-dish pizza and italian-beef sandwiches has happened to the Northwestern Wildcats? Things looked oh, so promising heading into the ultra-hyped game against Ohio State four weeks ago, but now, after four-straight losses, simply getting to a decent bowl looks to be close to sliding into Lake Michigan.

Even in losing to the Buckeyes, the fighting Pat Fitzgeralds looked like the real-deal, but since then, the offense has shown up on country-wide amber alerts. The talent, scheme and coaching is still there, but from the outside looking in, it is beginning to look like putting so much on the line in prime time and coming up empty in front of ESPN’s College Gameday may have short-circuited the collective-psyche of purple power.

The lights had better go back on quickly because the WIldcats have just four games remaining to get the two additional wins to become bowl-eligible. And with games on the road against Nebraska, and home games with Michigan and Michigan State, going south for the winter is not a foregone conclusion.

4. Sparty has its mojo back

Very quietly, the Spartans are looking like the team to beat in the Legends Division. The offense isn’t worth re-tweeting, but as expected the defense has been lights out, and with appears to be the end of quarterback musical-chairs with Connor Cook now being the answer under center, the team is at least forming an identity.

Mark Dantonio’s crew isn’t going to dress up as the Oregon Ducks on offense for Halloween, but with a culture of a running, ball-control offense to go with one of the best defenses in the country, things are looking up in East Lansing.

There are still huge implications at stake next week when Michigan comes to town, but as-of right now, there is a strapping, bicep-toting cartoon-like character sitting in the driver’s seat with a Spartan helmet on.

3. Penn State is indeed feeling the impacts of the NCAA hammer

Take nothing away from Bill O’Brien, but don’t let anyone tell you that Penn State is on the same artistic canvas as it was prior to all the abominations that took place in Happy Valley.

Sure the Nittany Lions have still gotten their fair-share of blue-chip recruits, and sure the Lion’s roar has been heard ad nauseum at times with some impressive wins over the last couple of years, but the program has taken a step back.

The reality is that Penn State -- because of the scholarship reductions and bad press -- are not as deep as years past, and lack the team speed across the board that you’d normally see at the base of Mount Nittany. Against Ohio State, the speed and tempo that Urban Meyer’s team employed exposed the gaps in talent and should serve notice that inconsistency will be the name of the game for a while in Central PA.

2. The Illini still have a fight to get back to respectability

Consider us all fooled a little perhaps by the quick start to the season by the Illini. After looking like formidable foes in the non-conference part of the slate and getting out to a 3-1 record, Illinois has hit a Chinese wall of sorts.

Once Big Ten play has started, Illinois has struggled mightily on offense, defense, and all the way down to the trainers not tripping while serving Gatorade to rehydrate the players. Heck, Tim Beckman and staff have had their hands full even hanging in games with the weather turning. The Illini have gotten beat by an average of 28 points against the likes of Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State, and sit at the right-hand side of Purdue in last placed in the Leaders Division at 0-3.

1. Welcome to the perception party Ohio State

Ohio State started as the consensus No. 2 team in the preseason, but the inability to blow everyone out has resulted in a slide down to No. 4 in the polls. To date, the offense had looked the part with or without quarterback Braxton Miller, but the defense had been gashed too often for pollsters to take the Buckeyes seriously.

And then Saturday night happened.

Ohio State, apparently tired of hearing all of the negative comments about garnering “style-points,” got dressed to the nines and did a flawless walk down the runway in prime-time by publicly flogging Penn State 63-14.

Unfortunately for OSU -- Alabama, Oregon and Florida State also strutted their stuff on Saturday and already have a leg up on the court of public-opinion because of wins over more-impressive competition. The Scarlet and Gray will need to keep winning with bad-intentions, but will also likely need a couple of teams above them to stumble somewhere along the way.

If only we could get this whole playoff-thingy off the ground a year early ...

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