College Football: Big Ten race starts to heat up

October is over and the Big Ten races are just beginning. As the calendar flips to November on Saturday, there is still much to be decided. In the East Division, there is clarity. The West remains undefined. Michigan State's 35-11 victory over ri...

October is over and the Big Ten races are just beginning.

As the calendar flips to November on Saturday, there is still much to be decided. In the East Division, there is clarity. The West remains undefined.

Michigan State’s 35-11 victory over rival Michigan in East Lansing ensured that the Spartans (7-1, 4-0) will go into the Nov. 8 showdown at home against Ohio State unbeaten in conference play. They’ll have extra time to prepare with a bye on Nov. 1.

“There’s four weeks to go (in the regular season) starting with Ohio State next week,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “So we’ve got four difficult games and we need to be at our best.”

If history is any indication, the eighth-ranked Spartans will finish strong. They’re 18-5 in November since Dantonio took over in 2007.


“I think November is very critical to every football team,” Dantonio said. “It defines you. You can’t have a great September and October and don’t play well in November. We’ve played very well in the month of November in the past and will need to continue to do that if we are going to reach our goals.”

The Buckeyes (6-1, 3-0) almost tripped up at Penn State, escaping Happy Valley with a 31-24 victory in double overtime after blowing a 17-0 lead in the second half. It was one of those games that good teams with a championship pedigree find a way to win.

“It’s not luck. It was a tough game,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “Penn State is a very rugged defensive unit. They play hard.”

Ohio State has one more hurdle to clear this week at home against Illinois (4-4, 1-3) before the most anticipated game of the year in the Big Ten at Michigan State.

The winner will have some work to do after that but should end up in the Big Ten championship game in December in Indianapolis and stay in contention for the College Football Playoff. Michigan State remained No. 8 and Ohio State No. 13 in the Associated Press rankings released Sunday. Nebraska slipped one spot to No. 17.

“I think we’ve been in the top 10 almost every week, with the exception of maybe a couple,” Dantonio said. “When you’re in the top 10 in the country, I think that’s a positive thing. All we have to do is continue to take the next step and things will work out in our direction. It’s important we take things one at a time.”

As for the best in the West, that’s anyone guess at this point.

Dark horse candidate Minnesota (6-2, 3-1) stubbed its toe with a 28-24 loss at Illinois, which had won just one Big Ten game in the past 2 1/2 years. The Gophers are still tied for first with Nebraska in the West, but after a bye, Minnesota’s final four games will be a challenge: Iowa and Ohio State at home and Nebraska and Wisconsin on the road.


It’s beginning to look a lot like Nebraska (7-1, 3-1) and Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1) are the front-runners in the West. The Cornhuskers, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Ameer Abdullah, handled Rutgers 42-24 at home. The Badgers bowled over Maryland 52-7 behind another strong game from running back Melvin Gordon.

“We took a step forward because we won the football game,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “We still have a long way to go.”

The Cornhuskers and Badgers meet Nov. 15 in Madison. They last faced off in the Big Ten championship game in 2012, with Wisconsin routing Nebraska 70-31. With conference realignment this year, they are now in the same division.

Minnesota notes

Game: Illinois 28, Minnesota 24. Running back David Cobb fumbled with 6:33 left and Illinois cornerback V’Angelo Bentley scooped up the loose ball and ran 12 yards for the winning touchdown in a stunning upset Saturday in Champaign, Ill. The turnover negated a Gophers comeback from an early 21-10 deficit that included two third-quarter touchdowns - 1-yard and 13-yard runs by Cobb, who finished with 118 yards on 22 carries. Minnesota’s only lead came at 24-21 after Cobb’s second scoring run.

Takeaway: This game was supposed to be a gimme for Gophers and they developed the yips in Champaign. Minnesota was denied its first 4-0 Big Ten start since 1967. The Gophers had a big advantage in yardage, 411-263, but were hurt by three turnovers, particularly the late fumble by running back David Cobb that ended up giving Illinois the win. Quarterback Mitch Leidner passed for 240 yards, including a 52-yard connection with wide receiver Isaac Fruechte early in the third quarter for the Gophers’ first touchdown. But the sophomore completed only 12-of-30 passes with an interception against the Big Ten’s lowest-ranked defense that was giving up nearly 36 points per game. Minnesota’s performance doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season. The daunting November schedule includes Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin directly in front of them.

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