Hlog Week 9 Big Ten Rank: 1. Minnesota, 4. Iowa

Nebraska and Penn State? Not so good.

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March 28, 2014 | 10:31 pm

I think Robert DeNiro belongs on Hollywood's Mount Rushmore. And I'll read or watch just about anything set in the world's strangest place, Las Vegas.

But "Last Vegas" can't be great. Can it?

Maybe it can. If Minnesota can claim the top spot on the Hlog's weekly Big Ten rankings for a second-straight week, anything is possible. Here's the Week 9 ranking:

1. Minnesota, W 34-23 vs. Nebraska. Sure, spot the Cornhuskers a 10-0 lead, then own them. Typical Gophers football, right? Er, no.

Minnesota rushed for 271 yards and had the ball for over 35 minutes. Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune was as surprised as anyone. He wrote this:

Everything changed Saturday — a mid-schedule perception the 2013 Gophers were going backward rather than forward, and the idea that the Gophers were destined to be pushed around into eternity by Nebraska football teams.

The Gophers had lost 16 straight games to Nebraska, dating to 1960.

Minnesota acting head coach Tracy Claeys is acting like a head coach.

“I’ll tell you, you don’t sigh and you don’t celebrate,” Claeys said. “You get bowl-eligible in October, you reset your goals a heck of a lot higher. We told the kids, ‘We’ve got four Big Ten games left, so we’ve got a lot left we can accomplish.

“We’re playing very confident right now, and they have to learn now how to handle the success. … Last year, we got our sixth win later in the year, with two games left, and it was kind of a celebration and a letdown. That will not happen this year.”

2. Ohio State, W 63-14 vs. Penn State. For the second-straight week, Ohio State's Urban Meyer had a very brief postgame handshake with the opposing head coach. I'm beginning to think Meyer hasn't made a lot of friends among fellow Big Ten coaches since he joined the Buckeyes 20 games ago.

That's also 20 wins ago.

(Meyer) disputed a spot of the ball as the third quarter wound down. The ruling on the field granted Penn State a fourth-down conversion. Meyer's challenge -- the Buckeyes led, 56-7, at the time -- reversed the call and switched possession of the football to Ohio State.

When asked about Meyer's decision to challenge the spot, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien stared ahead for about five seconds before declining comment.

OSU racked up 686 yards in bludgeoning the Nittany Lions. The Buckeyes had 42 points at halftime.

"[We] have to keep our foot on the pedal," Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller said. He's pretty effective at doing that. He threw three touchdown passes and ran for two scores. If you're going to keep up with the Oregons and Florida States ...

3. Michigan State, W 42-3 at Illinois. Many are saying Wisconsin is the conference's second-best team. The conference's second-best team may be Michigan State's defense. All by itself.

The Spartans, No. 1 in NCAA total defense, held Illinois to 128 yards. The same Illini scored 32 points and gained 391 yards against Wisconsin the week before, though the Badgers crushed the Illini, 56-32.

And now it gets good, really good. Michigan State hosts Michigan Saturday. Both have lost just once.

“We already know we have targets on our backs,” MSU safety Isaiah Lewis said in this Detroit Free Press story. “We know everybody’s gonna go shooting for us, coming for us, wanting to beat us. But we’re a team that’s used to pressure. We’re just ready to play, man, ready to go, to be undefeated in November.”

Quarterback Connor Cook completed 15 of 16 passes, three of them for touchdowns. The Spartans rushed for 269 yards. If Michigan doesn't bring some defense to East Lansing, the Spartans can't lose.

4. Iowa, W 17-10 (OT) vs. Northwestern. The heroics in overtime kind of washed over the fact it was another bust of a second-half for the Hawkeyes.

But it wasn't as lethal as the ones against Northern Illinois, Michigan State and Ohio State.

Iowa's next opponent, Wisconsin, has outscored its Big Ten foes in the second-halves of each game, by a total of 69-22.

Northwestern shot itself in the paw on its final drive of the fourth quarter, with an awful (and correct) penalty for an illegal block, and a lost fumble on a pitch.

Also, Wildcats Coach Pat Fitzgerald didn't use a timeout when Iowa had a 4th-and-11 at the Northwestern 35 in the game's final minute. Iowa threw an interception, but NU was left with just seven seconds at its own 22, so into overtime the teams went.

But a win's a win, and the Hawkeyes certainly stood taller than the Wildcats in the OT.

5. Purdue. Idle. The Boilermakers needed the break.

6. through 8. Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin. In no particular order. Also idle.

9. Northwestern, L 17-10 (OT) at Iowa. The good news is Kain Colter looked like Kain Colter again on Saturday. What a savvy player, so patient and tough.

"(Colter) played his tail off," Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald said in this Chicago Tribune story. "He played like a warrior. He played possessed. He was out there trying to make every play."

"We suck right now," said Colter. "The defense is playing really well. We moved the ball well today. We shot ourselves in the foot with penalties and turnovers, and that's just a recipe for disaster."

The bad news is the losing streak is at 4, and the Wildcats will have to beat two of the following four teams just to reach a crummy bowl: at Nebraska, Michigan, Michigan State, at Illinois.

"My job is on the line," Fitzgerald said.

"Mine is because every game is critically important.”

He has a long-term contract and his job isn't on the line. Coaches never say their jobs are on the line when they're actually on the line.

10. Illinois, L 42-3 vs. Michigan State. Look, the Illini deserve to be 12th with a performance like this. But they've lost 17 straight Big Ten games, and this list tries to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. Well, not the first part of that.

Illinois was stopped on fourth-and-inches for a touchdown midway through the second quarter. Then Wisconsin went 99.5 yards for a touchdown. That's why Illinois is Illinois and Wisconsin is Wisconsin.

The attendance was 45,895. The crowd will probably be bigger on Nov. 16 when Ohio State comes to Champaign. But the result won't be different.

11. Nebraska, L 34-23 at Minnesota. Dirk Chatelain of the Omaha World-Herald wrote the following from Minneapolis:

That's Minnesota. Not Michigan State, not Michigan, not Iowa. Minnesota.

Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star wrote that Cornhusker fans are "right to expect more from Bo Pelini's program."

Sid Hartman, 93-year-old Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist, happened upon Husker radio network analyst Matt Davison at the break and, in a booming voice, announced it was going to be a bad day for Big Red.

It wasn't a particularly classy move by Ol' Sid, but he's earned some slack. And anyway, he was right.

12. Penn State, L 63-14 at Ohio State. This says it all:

Last year, Bill O'Brien was a genius. This year? He's the guy whose team has been outscored by a total of 107-38 coming off bye weeks.

Bob Flounders of the Harrisburg Patriot-News wrote this:

Urban Meyer's Buckeyes have it at all the key spots -- quarterback, running back, wide receiver, edge rusher and defensive back -- and the Lions don't have much of it at any position.

Flounders' colleague at the Patriot-News, David Jones, added this:

You can try as hard as you want. You can be deployed where you should be. But if better players are coming at you and you know it, there begins a process that can snowball. Insecurity breeds reticence which can morph into demoralization.

Usually Penn State has been on the more fortunate side of this equation. Not this night. It’ll be interesting to see how this team – as well as this coaching staff – handles it.

       

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