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October 29, 2013

Big Ten Rewind: Week Nine

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - If you had something to complain about after Ohio State's win over Penn State, then you're just a miserable person. The near perfect performance was the best way to win number 20 and provided more proof that the Buckeyes' winning ways are far from over. So in this week's Big Ten Rewind, we examine just how long this streak may last, the Legends' championship game and our updated Power Rankings.

Who's next?

In September 1997, professional wrestler Goldberg made his wrestling debut on WCW Nitro and defeated the incomparable Hugh Morrus by pinfall. The win was just one of the 173 straight victories from the former Georgia Bulldog defensive tackle and is still viewed as one of the best streaks in sports entertainment. 15 years later, Urban Meyer debuted as Ohio State's head football coach and has since displayed similar dominance in his own sport.

Saturday's 63-14 shellacking to Penn State was Meyer's 20th straight win since joining the Buckeyes. The sizeable win sent a clear message to the rest of the Big Ten, which was "get used to seeing Ohio State in the win column." Since being hired, Meyer's confidence and swagger has spread throughout the locker room and has players playing beyond expectations.

Take for instance Carlos Hyde, who was the afterthought running back recruit behind Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry in the 2009 class. Before Meyer and his staff got their hands on Hyde, the Florida native was viewed as a serviceable back who added a big body to the depth chart. Now, Hyde is arguably one of the best in the country at his position and has flourished in Urban's offense.

One of the criticisms from the last coaching regime was letting teams hang around too long, thus causing closer finishes. Even last year they found themselves battling late with a few stinkers. So the four quarters effort over a quality opponent like Penn State was something the fan base has desired for years and provides these folks more evidence that special things are happening with their favorite football team.

So exactly when will Meyer reach Goldberg's magic number of 173? Almost 11 years to the date in late October 2024. With the way the Buckeyes are recruiting and factoring in the lack of competition in the Big Ten, is it that crazy to think it can be done? Absolutely but it's a fun comparison nonetheless.

If there was a Legends' championship game…

It would be this week in East Lansing. Normally when Michigan and Michigan State meet, they play for bragging rights and the trophy of a bearded lumberjack. This year, something much more lucrative is added…a shot at the Big Ten title. With Nebraska circling the toilet bowl and Northwestern likely missing a bowl, the two teams from the Great Lakes state are front-runners for the Legends title, with this week's winner likely facing Leaders' favorite Ohio State in Indianapolis.

The Spartans have dominated the series over the past five years and at times, played the part of the "bully" which is normally filled by the Wolverines in this rivalry. Brady Hoke made the in-state rival a primary focus since day one and wishes to restore the "big brother, little brother" mentality but this is easier said than done, especially against a Mark Dantonio led program.

This season, both teams have been widely inconsistent despite having strong records. Michigan State's struggles have been solely on offense while Michigan's mishaps are all over the place. Devin Gardner is coming off statistically one of the best performances in the history of Big Ten football and while he might be the most dangerous player on the field Saturday, the junior still tends to cough up the ball at crucial times. And we've learned that anytime the Spartan defense forces a turnover, they cash in so Gardner's decision making will play a large role in Saturday's outcome.

The other starting quarterback, Connor Cook, has also dealt with mixes of praise and criticism this season. The first year starter has shown a lot of similarities to former Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousins but if he truly wants to live up to the comparison, he'll need to have the same success against the Wolverines like Cousins had. If Cook plays like he did against Purdue (13-of-25 for 107 yards, 4.3 yards per pass), they'll lose by double digits this weekend.

Both squads know the implications and understand the importance of winning this game so Saturday should be a treat for all watching and in attendance.

Biggest surprise of the week

The Gophers running at will on the Cornhuskers defense. In their previous three Big Ten games, Minnesota averaged 2.67 yards per carry. This past Saturday, they averaged five yards a carry on 54 attempts. David Cobb finished with 138 yards on the ground and the Gophers scored three times on quarterback sneaks from the one yard line. After the recent loss, Nebraska's defense is now surrendering over 170 rushing yards a game and 4.4 yards per carry. Ouch!

Week Nine Power Rankings

1.) Ohio State - Statement win against Penn State. The key is to continue their domination before postseason play, starting with Purdue this weekend.
2.) Wisconsin - Have the easiest finish among all Big Ten teams. Similar to Ohio State, they have their sights on a BCS bid.
3.) Michigan State - So which Connor Cook will we see this weekend against Michigan? The answer will likely determine the winner of the contest.
4.) Michigan - So which Devin Gardner will we see this weekend against Michigan State? I think you know where I'm going with this.
5.) Iowa - Against existing BCS top 25 teams, the Hawkeyes are 0-3 this season. They face #24 Wisconsin Saturday.
6.) Minnesota - They didn't just beat the Cornhuskers. They beat down the Cornhuskers. Proving a lot of cynics wrong, including myself.
7.) Nebraska - They rushed back Taylor Martinez just to have him get crushed by the Golden Gopher defense. Some of the hits he took were painful to watch.
8.) Indiana - Have a strong shot at six wins although this weekend against Minnesota is starting to look like a tough W to snag. The Hoosiers are almost carbon copies of the Cornhuskers.
9.) Penn State - I assumed Christian Hackenberg would struggle in the Horseshoe but holy cow that was bad. Good learning experience on how to handle the highs and lows of college football.
10.) Northwestern - The streak continues and may reach five losses this weekend against Nebraska. Still surprised by the collapse.
11.) Illinois - For some reason I decided to hype this team last week and I don't know what happened…maybe drank too much Jolt cola? They're pretty bad.
12.) Purdue - Boilermaker fans may want to leave their kids with the babysitter rather than taking them to the game. It's going to be a bloodbath.

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