Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
There were three other Big Ten teams in action this afternoon. It's time to weigh in on those games.
Northwestern always will fight an uphill battle for respect, but games like this and seasons like this go a long way toward changing the perception of this program. Listed as a home underdog despite three more victories than Illinois, the Wildcats made the oddsmakers look like fools with their most complete performance of the season. A defense that has completely turned around behind first-year coordinator Mike Hankwitz held the Big Ten's top offense to 335 yards and a season-low 10 points. Senior end Kevin Mims led the way on defense, while his classmate, senior quarterback C.J. Bacher, had arguably his best performance (22-for-33 passing, 220 yards, TD). The Wildcats (9-3) are one of the league's better stories and could be heading to a New Year's Day bowl.
Illinois is sort of like the Jackson family: extremely talented and extremely dysfunctional. Sure, the Illini lost some of the pillars from their Rose Bowl team (Rashard Mendenhall, J Leman, Kevin Mitchell). But to go 5-7 without major injuries? That's pathetic. It marks the second straight time Illinois has followed a Rose Bowl appearance with a bowl-less season (1984). That's a troubling history of not being able to sustain success, something head coach Ron Zook must change in the coming years. Quarterback Juice Williams still needs some seasoning, but Zook's main priority will be a defense that underperformed.
Did you hear the collective sigh of relief emanating from Camp Randall Stadium? A loss to Cal Poly probably wouldn't have kept Wisconsin out of a bowl game, but it would have added an embarrassing footnote to a somewhat disappointing season. Nothing against Cal Poly, an excellent offensive team. The Mustangs held the ball for nearly 40 minutes and converted 9 of 17 third downs. Wisconsin rallied behind running backs John Clay (107 rush yards, 2 TD) and P.J. Hill (59 rush yards, 2 TD), and prevailed in overtime, thanks to a missed extra point. The Badgers aren't very good and they've underachieved on both sides of the ball, but a 7-5 record, a bowl opportunity and wins in three of the final four games certainly take the sting off a season that fell short of expectations.