If you definitively say you know how this is going to play out, you’re lying. Or you’re guessing.

The Big Ten is more interesting than it’s been in years, and we’re heading toward a wild, unpredictable final 3 weeks. Sure, Ohio State may end up winning the Big Ten, as it has the last 4 years, but would you bet your life on it? I sure wouldn’t.

It was supposed to be a mundane Saturday in the B1G, with only 1 single-digit spread. Instead, the No. 3 team in the country, Michigan State (8-1, 5-1), lost by double digits. The No. 5 team in the country, Ohio State (8-1, 6-0), survived a scare against the last-place team in the West. The West leader, Minnesota (6-3, 4-2), lost at home as a double-digit favorite, trailing by 14 points for about 40 minutes of game time. The previous West favorite, Iowa (7-2, 4-2), made a QB change and barely won against one of the worst teams in the B1G.

The Big Ten isn’t unique; far from it, in fact. All of college football is in chaos. Aside from Georgia, there is no sure thing. Look at No. 2 Alabama, which barely held on against LSU at home. Look at No. 6 Cincinnati, which needed 2 near-goal line stands in the final 2 minutes to beat Tulsa at home. Plus, No. 9 Wake Forest, No. 12 Baylor, No. 17 Mississippi State, No. 18 Kentucky and No. 23 Fresno State all lost to unranked teams.

That’s why Ohio State, despite winning in unimpressive fashion, is likely to move up in the next CFP rankings. Michigan (8-1, 5-1), which beat last-place Indiana at home, also is likely to move up. Michigan State will stay in the top 10, though possibly behind Michigan.

Everything we think we know changes. Ohio State’s offense looked invincible for about a month. But the last 2 weeks, the Buckeyes have just 4 TDs on 27 possessions, with 8 field goals. That may not get it done against Michigan State or Michigan, much less Georgia. Wisconsin (6-3, 4-2), which was left for dead a month ago, is now the hottest team in the B1G after a fifth straight win (4 of which have been by 17 or more points). Iowa, the best team in the B1G the first half of the season, hasn’t scored more than 17 points in a month and has a QB controversy.

Ohio State’s season will come down to beating Michigan and Michigan State. Michigan and Michigan State still have to beat Penn State, too. The Spartans and Wolverines have a better shot at the Buckeyes than they’ve had since 2015.

After Minnesota’s loss to Illinois and Purdue’s upset of Michigan State, there is a 4-way tie atop the West. And while my money would be on Wisconsin, who knows? It is possible — maybe even the most likely outcome — that all 4 teams go 2-1 over the final 3 weeks. Then again, with the way this season has gone, I doubt it.

This has been a wacky, unpredictable season. And it’s been absolutely awesome. Let’s hope the next 3 weeks bring more of the same.

Purdue 40, No. 3 Michigan State 29. This had all the makings of an upset. To call it a trap game discounts what Purdue has already done this season in dominating in Iowa City. There was no “trap.” Michigan State was well aware that this was a difficult game on the road.

Once the game actually started, there were so many early signs that this wasn’t Michigan State’s day. There were numerous uncharacteristic mistakes, like an offensive lineman running onto the field just as the Spartans were about to attempt (and miss) a field goal with their backup kicker, since Matt Coghlin suffered an undisclosed injury, possibly during warmups. Kenneth Walker, who should be a lock as a Heisman finalist, lost a fumble for the first time this season. Bryce Baringer’s punt that was downed at Purdue’s 2 was wiped out by an illegal motion penalty, and Purdue returned the re-kick near midfield.

When you add in that Michigan State was also missing a starting offensive lineman (Jarrett Horst) and starting wide receiver (Jalen Nailor), this feels like it was meant to be.

And when Jeff Brohm is digging into high school YouTube videos, well, this is what you get.

The funny thing is, this doesn’t really change much for Michigan State. Sure, the Spartans will probably drop 4 or 5 spots as punishment, but their path to the Big Ten Championship Game — and CFP — is still the same, and it goes through Ohio State.

But the bigger issue is Michigan State’s defense, which has bent all season and finally broke. Aidan O’Connell threw for 536 yards, the second-highest total in FBS play this season. This is the second straight game and third time in 5 games that Michigan State has allowed 550 yards or more. As poor as Ohio State played defensively last season, it never allowed more than 500 yards. The Spartans, by the way, still have to face a Buckeyes offense that has been held below 495 yards once this season and averages 541.8 yards per game, second in the country.

The Spartans need to adjust in a major way if they are going to emerge out of the East. David Bell (11 catches for 217 yards) is a terrific player, but he was just running free down the field far too often.

No. 5 Ohio State 26, Nebraska 17. Another week, another close call. That’s 2 games in a row that Ohio State has been on the ropes, but the opponent hasn’t been able to provide the knockout punch. Should Ohio State be concerned? Yes and no. At this point, all that matters is surviving and advancing like in March Madness, as CJ Stroud alluded to in his postgame comments. But eventually, if you play with fire, you’re going to get burned. Ohio State definitely played with fire against the last-place team in the West.

The sequence I didn’t understand came in the final 2 minutes. Ohio State had first-and-10 on Nebraska’s 34 with a 23-17 lead. Stroud takes the snap with about 1:52 left and drops back to pass. Ohio State has one of the best running backs and offensive lines in the country, yet it decided to pass with less than 2 minutes and a 6-point lead. Very counter-intuitive, even if Nebraska had all 3 timeouts left and had held TreVeyon Henderson in check (relatively speaking).

Stroud rolled out and wasn’t able to get rid of it before Garrett Nelson laid a big hit on him and forced a fumble. The ball seemed to just be laying there for Nebraska to recover it. But Ohio State lineman Luke Wypler fell on it and avoided a potential disaster. The Huskers would’ve gotten the ball back with all 3 timeouts and excellent field position at the 45. Not to be deterred, Ohio State again called pass plays on second and third down to get into field goal range and ice the game.

If you’re an Ohio State fan, you have to be a little concerned with Stroud’s decision-making in that situation. He could’ve just fallen and taken the sack, forcing Nebraska to use a timeout. Instead, he was trying to get rid of the ball, which would’ve stopped the clock anyways. It was a near-disaster.

Even though Stroud threw for 405 yards, this was not a very well-played game. He threw 2 interceptions, including one in the red zone.

He also nearly had another first-quarter interception.

Stroud was missing his favorite target, Garrett Wilson, but he fed Jaxon Smith-Njigba 15 times for 240 yards and a TD, with the highlight being a 75-yard play on which Smith-Njigba took a short pass and outran Nebraska to the end zone.

It was a rare day in which Henderson didn’t get loose for a big gain, as his longest run was 22 yards. He averaged a season-low 4.4 yards per carry. On those days, Stroud will have to carry the offense. He needs to do a better job than he did Saturday, because the stage will only get bigger.

– – –

For Nebraska, the story of this game wasn’t that the Huskers (3-7, 1-6) hung with a top team. That happens frequently. It wasn’t that they are no longer bowl-eligible. That was inevitable. No, the real story coming out of Lincoln on Saturday was that Frost is publicly pleading to keep his job. He is getting desperate after 4 years of losing seasons in which the team is 10-23 in Big Ten play and currently last in the B1G West.

That’s how I read comments like the ones he made Saturday. He listed the Nebraska towns he lived in, like he is reminding everyone, “Hey, don’t fire me and bring in some outsider who doesn’t know you.” It’s smart politicking, because it’s about the only card he has left.

Frost also surprisingly revealed after the game that QB Adrian Martinez has been playing with a broken jaw suffered during the first quarter of the Michigan State game on Sept. 25, as well as a high ankle sprain. The latter is somewhat common. The former? That’s news. (And extremely admirable that Martinez has been playing through it.) So why did Frost choose to reveal this now and not wait a few more weeks until the season is over? Especially after the Michigan State game when he defiantly called the possibility of Martinez being hurt “ridiculous rumors.”

On the one hand, the less-cynical part of me believes Frost just wanted to quiet some of the critics who have been all over Martinez’s play on the field without understanding what he is going through off the field just to be ready to play. This is a week after ESPN broadcaster Kelly Stouffer was extremely critical of Martinez during his 4-interception performance against Purdue.

On the other hand, the cynic in me believes the worst in Frost’s motives, that he is only sharing this news now to save himself, like he is making the case that, “Hey, we were 2-2 when our QB broke his jaw, and that’s why we’re now 3-7.” It’s an excuse, and he let Martinez take all that criticism for a month even though he was badly hurt. The irony is that Nebraska would almost surely be 3-7 if Martinez had opted for surgery since the Huskers didn’t need him in their lone win (56-7 over Northwestern).

It all feels like a plea to change the conversation, because what happened against Ohio State was extremely discouraging. Despite winning the turnover battle and holding all-world running back TreVeyon Henderson to 92 yards and a season-low 4.4 yards per carry, Nebraska couldn’t break through.

The key sequence of the game came in the fourth quarter with Nebraska trailing 23-17. On third-and-4 from Ohio State’s 13, Martinez overthrew a wide open receiver for what would’ve been a first down. Then, Frost opted to kick a field goal from 31 yards instead of going for it, which was a curious decision considering no FBS team has missed more field goals than Nebraska this season (8). And field goals don’t beat the No. 1 offense in the country, they lead to close losses, which I guess is Nebraska’s MO.

Needless to say, the kick missed badly — the Huskers’ second missed field goal attempt of the day. That’s why it’s hard to believe Frost when he says afterward, “This is going to pop at Nebraska.”

Nebraska only has games left against Wisconsin and Iowa, both of which are tied for first in the West. A 3-9 finish is not only possible, but probable. But first, this is interesting timing for a bye week, and we may know Frost’s fate before Nebraska takes the field again. With just over a month until National Signing Day, Frost will surely be using the time off to bolster Nebraska’s 2022 recruiting class that features just 9 players and is ranked last in the Big Ten. Will new athletic director Trev Alberts give Frost a momentum boost and announce he is coming back next season? If he doesn’t, what message will Frost give on the recruiting trail the next 2 weeks?

No. 22 Iowa 17, Northwestern 12. Iowa is no longer a CFP contender, but it still can win the West and the Big Ten. Whether or not it does could depend on what Kirk Ferentz decides to do at QB.

Spencer Petras, who has started the last 17 games, is no longer the clear-cut starter. When Iowa got just 1 first down on the first 3 possessions against Northwestern, Ferentz pulled Petras for the backup, Alex Padilla, who immediately proceeded to lead 2 TD drives. Ferentz made the move because  Petras apparently hurt his shoulder against Wisconsin and didn’t like what he saw from Petras on those first 3 drives that netted just 26 yards.

How will Ferentz handle this situation? Petras is 13-4 as the starting QB, but how many other QBs could win 13 games with Iowa’s defense? That’s a calculation Ferentz must make. Clearly, Padilla brings a bit more juice than the immobile Petras, but is the final quarter of the season with the West very much in play the right time for a move? Part of that depends on how healthy Petras is by next week. But how can Ferentz ignore how much better the team looked with Padilla in instead of Petras? With a full complement of first-team reps, how much more would Padilla grow with this offense?

The bottom line is that Iowa isn’t going to win the West scoring fewer than 20 points, as it has done for the last month. And even if it somehow did, there’s no way the Hawkeyes will beat whoever emerges from the East.


1. QB Aidan O’Connell (Purdue)/ WR David Bell (Purdue)

Wow. What an incredible performance from O’Connell, Bell and the rest of the Boilermakers. O’Connell obviously relied on Bell (11 catches for 217 yards), but take all of Bell’s production away and he still threw for 319 yards. That’s right, O’Connell threw for 536 yards, going 40-of-54 for 3 TDs and no INTs.

2. WR Jahan Dotson (Penn State)

Is there a better wide receiver in the Big Ten? Or in the country? Even on a day in which 3 B1G wideouts went for over 200 yards, I might take Dotson. He was once again phenomenal with 11 catches for 242 yards and 3 TDs.

3. WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Ohio State)

No Garrett Wilson? No problem. Smith-Njigba tallied 15 catches for a program-record 240 yards and a TD. On a day in which TreVeyon Henderson was bottled up, Smith-Njigba made sure Ohio State’s offense did enough to survive.

4. RB Hassan Haskins (Michigan)

With Blake Corum injured after just 1 carry, Haskins put the offense on his back with a season-high 168 yards and a TD on 27 carries in the 29-7 win over Indiana. While his trademark hurdle gets all the attention, Haskins can do a little bit of everything.

5. WR Samori Toure (Nebraska)

Toure was responsible for both of Nebraska’s TDs against Ohio State, hauling in a 73-yard TD and also going 53 yards on another pass down to the 1 to set up a TD. He finished with 4 catches for 150 yards.