Big Ten Recap: Iowa Clears a Path to Indianapolis, Michigan's Second Half Woes Remain a Thing, and Ohio State Flexes Again

By Jason Priestas on October 10, 2021 at 7:50 am
Iowa City was rocking Saturday as the No. 3 Hawkeyes knocked off No. 4 Penn State, 23-20
Iowa City Press Citizen-USA TODAY

If there was any doubt whatsoever that we’re in the midst of a pure, beautiful #chaos season, Texas A&M put a stamp on it last night, becoming the first unranked team to knock off a No. 1 since 2008 when they shocked Alabama with a field goal at the final whistle.

Check out how much that kick hurt Alabama's radio team.

Goodbye, Alabama’s 100-straight wins against unranked opponents. So long to the Tide’s 19-game FBS win streak. And farewell to Nick Saban’s perfect mark against former assistants.

And that was only a small part of a completely bonkers day of college football that gave us two incredible Big Ten finishes featuring ranked teams, an insane Oklahoma walk-off touchdown to cap a comeback against No. 21 Texas, a 52-51 affair between No. 17 Ole Miss and No. 13 Arkansas, and No. 14 Notre Dame scoring 10 points in the final 2:26 to stun Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

Consider the following reality, halfway through the 2021 season: Iowa and Cincinnati will make up a majority of the top three in the AP Poll when it’s released later Sunday, Kentucky (Kentucky!) is undefeated and sits atop the SEC East, and the upsets, they keep coming in waves not seen in years.

Speaking of the AP Poll, entering Saturday, the Big Ten had five teams in the top 11 for the first time since Oct. 17, 1961. When the new poll comes out, there’s a great chance the league has five top-10 teams for the first time in the poll’s history.

More #chaos, please. This is fun.

#3 Iowa 23, #4 Penn State 20

  Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4  
#4 PENN STATE 14 3 3 0 20
#3 IOWA 3 7 3 10 23

In a game that screamed 1980s football, No. 3 Iowa knocked Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford out of the game and rallied for a 23-20 win in the first top-five matchup in Big Ten play not to feature Ohio State since 1997.

Despite a pair of interceptions – it’s just what Iowa does to quarterbacks – Clifford got Penn State off to a great start, putting his team in a position to take a 17-3 lead and rolling to a 208-49 total yards advantage before he was hit on an incomplete pass, ending his afternoon early in the second quarter.

With backup quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson in for the No. 4 Nittany Lions and a loud home crowd doing its thing, Iowa made its run, outscoring Penn State 20-3 the rest of the way. And boy was Roberson bad, going just 7 of 21 for 34 yards (34!) and two interceptions as he regularly sailed balls over the heads of open receivers. He got no help with the field position game, starting five series inside his own ten and another at the Penn State 11.

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras was not much better but made plays when he had to, none more significant than the 44-yard touchdown toss to tight end Nico Ragaini for the game’s final points with a little over six to play.

Iowa picked off four Penn State passes (giving the Ball Hawkeyes 20 turnovers forced on the season) on the way to their national-best 12th win in a row. They’ve now won six in a row against ranked teams, the longest such streak for the program since 1960.


#9 Michigan 32, Nebraska 29

  Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4  
#9 MICHIGAN 0 13 6 13 32
NEBRASKA 0 0 22 7 29

What’s the worst feeling in the world? Man, I’d have to give that question some thought, but the fourth-worst feeling in the world is cheering on Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez in a two-minute drill.

Despite a killer pregame light show in Lincoln, No. 9 Michigan jumped out to a 13-0 halftime lead and led comfortably late in the third, 19-7, before letting the Cornhuskers storm back to take two separate fourth-quarter leads.

Alas, Martinez and Nebraska would blow it.

With his team driving in a tied game and under two to play, Martinez had just picked up a big third down near midfield when he was held up and stripped by the Michigan defense.

The fumble, the 18th Martinez has lost in his career, is the most of any player in the nation.

With the ball and excellent field position, the Wolverines tried their best not to grab the win but cashed in, anyway, on a 39-yard Jake Moody field goal with 1:24 to play to go up three.

Martinez and the Cornhuskers would get another shot and quickly raced to midfield, but the drive stalled, and a badly thrown fade on 4th-and-10 was a fitting capper as Michigan held on for the 32-29 win.

The Wolverines improved to 6–0 for only the sixth time in the last 40 years, but all is not perfect with Jim Harbaugh’s team because his squad doesn’t like to finish games. That’s undoubtedly a sign of a young team learning to win, but Michigan has now jumped out to nice leads against the two best teams it’s faced this season – Rutgers and Nebraska – only to squander or come close to blowing each lead in the second half.

Meanwhile, Nebraska falls to 5–16 in one-score games under Scott Frost, the worst mark of any coach during that time. The Cornhuskers have lost four games this season, all by eight points or fewer. Nebraska might just be the best bad team in the country.


#11 Michigan State 31, Rutgers 13

  Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4  
#11 MICHIGAN ST. 7 14 7 3 31
RUTGERS 7 6 0 0 13

Poor Rutgers.

Greg Schiano’s team started the season 3–0 for the first time since 2012, and then things got real with the schedule. Two weeks ago, the Scarlet Knights lost at then No. 19 Michigan, 20-13. Last week, an Ohio State team coming into its own blitzed Rutgers, 52-13.

Saturday, Rutgers met their third ranked team in a row when No. 11 Michigan State came to town and actually led this one 7-0 before Jalen Nailor happened.

The junior wide receiver caught three big touchdown passes in the first half –  63 yards, 63 yards again, and then 65 yards – as Michigan State rode the big plays to a 31-13 win in Piscataway.

Nailor would finish his afternoon with five catches for 221 yards and the three touchdowns—all in the first half and national rushing leader Kenneth Walker III chipped in with his own monster game, 232 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries and one cool as hell open field handshake on a program-record 94-yard touchdown run, as the Spartans improved to 6–0 for the first time since 2015. That just so happens to be the only year they earned a berth to the College Football Playoff.

Spartan quarterback Payton Thorne had one himself, throwing for 340 yards and three touchdowns, giving Michigan State a 300-yard passer, a 200-yard rusher, and a 200-yard receiver for only the fifth time in FBS history.

Thankfully, Greg Schiano’s team catches a much-needed break with Northwestern next week.


Wisconsin 24, Illinois 0

  Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4  
WISCONSIN 3 7 14 0 24
ILLINOIS 0 0 0 0 0

It’s safe to say that Bret Bielema did not enjoy his first football game facing the team he made his name with, and I am going to assume we’re all completely fine with that.

Wisconsin got back to doing Wisconsin things to break a two-game losing streak, piling up 391 rushing yards on the way to hammering Illinois, 24-0, in the program’s first matchup with the coach that led them to three Big Ten titles since he left the school in the dead of night to take the Arkansas job in 2012.

Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters was knocked out of a game for the second time this season, and it really didn’t matter what Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz did (spoiler, he was terrible again, going 10/19 with no touchdowns and a pick) because the Wisconsin defense held the Illini to 93 yards, their lowest output this century.

On homecoming, no less.

Wisconsin is still a lousy team in its own right – consider they only led the Illini 10-0 at the half – but they’re not Illinois bad, at least. In their last four games against FBS opponents, Illinois has a grand total of 40 points.

Bonus: Wisconsin’s win spoiled Bielema’s bid for his 100th win as a head coach.


B1G Power Rankings: Week 6
Rank Team Overall Conference Move
1 OHIO STATE 5–1 3–0 2
2 IOWA 6–0 3–0 1
3 MICHIGAN STATE 6–0 3–0 2
4 MICHIGAN 6–0 3–0
5 PENN STATE 5–1 2–1 3
6 NEBRASKA 3–4 1–3
7 WISCONSIN 2–3 1–2 4
8 RUTGERS 3–3 0–3
9 MINNESOTA 3–2 1–1
10 MARYLAND 4–2 1–2 3
11 PURDUE 3–2 1–1 1
12 INDIANA 2–3 0–2
14 ILLINOIS 2–5 1–3

I’ve seen enough. The Big Ten is Ohio State’s to lose at this point.

That’s not to say Iowa, Michigan State, Michigan, and Penn State would be easy wins for the Buckeyes, but Ryan Day’s team is showing something that no other team in the conference is capable of matching right now.

Outside of the top five in this week’s power rankings, we’ve now reached the point in the season where I’m trying to place teams where I think they belong, but when I genuinely have no idea – for instance, Purdue or Indiana – I’ll default to the teams’ records.

However, I am sure of one thing: Illinois is the worst team in the Big Ten, and it’s not particularly close.

Four of my “Big Five” are bunched at the top of the Big Ten East with Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan all out to 3–0 starts in league play, while Penn State is 2–1 in conference.

In the Big Ten West, Iowa has a commanding 3–0 league mark, and “commanding” is undoubtedly the right word here as every other team in the division has one or fewer Big Ten wins.

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