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Thoughts on the early Big Ten games

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Before I head over to The Shoe, here are some observations from the three early Big Ten games.

NORTHWESTERN-INDIANA

This was a disastrous 21-19 loss for the Wildcats, one that could change the complexion of a very promising season. Not only did Northwestern lose to arguably the Big Ten's worst team, but it lost starting quarterback C.J. Bacher (hamstring) and starting running back Tyrell Sutton (wrist) to injuries. Much like the Michigan State loss, the Wildcats were hamstrung by turnovers (5), bad red-zone play-calling and poor special teams play. The defense did a nice job aside from forcing no turnovers, but the offense never attacked a banged-up Indiana team down the field, as Illinois did last week. If Sutton and Bacher miss extended time, the Wildcats should struggle in their remaining games.

Indiana backup quarterback Ben Chappell played a terrific game, committing no turnovers and converting several big-play opportunities. Head coach Bill Lynch really liked this guy in the preseason, and the sophomore showed us why. Wide receivers Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher stepped up, and the defense came up with big plays in the fourth quarter. The heat on Lynch should go down a bit, and with a manageable closing stretch aside from Penn State, Indiana could salvage its season.

ILLINOIS-WISCONSIN

Illinois might be one of the Big Ten's most talented teams, but it's also arguably the most inconsistent. Quarterback Juice Williams had his first poor performance of the season, tossing three interceptions in a 27-17 loss. Heralded sophomore linebacker Martez Wilson missed several tackles, and the defense remains vulnerable against the run. This will be a better team next year, but getting bowl eligible could be a challenge with a tough closing stretch.

Wisconsin played an inspired game on both sides of the ball, and coach Bret Bielema deserves credit for igniting his team after a four straight losses. Dustin Sherer did what Badgers quarterbacks are supposed to do: limit mistakes and make plays here and there. He proved to valuable on the move (40 rush yards, TD), and he found David Gilreath for two touchdowns. A leg/ankle injury to All-American H-back Travis Beckum didn't look good, and his absence could sting down the stretch. But the defense regained its swagger as cornerbacks Allen Langford and Niles Brinkley and safety Chris Maragos snared interceptions.

MINNESOTA-PURDUE

The Gophers added another chapter to one of college football's great stories this season, improving to 7-1 with a 17-6 win at Purdue. I'm continually amazed by Minnesota's opportunistic play on defense, as the Gophers forced four Boilermakers turnovers in the win. Tim Brewster clearly found the magical bye-week formula as his team came out ready, though the coach won't be pleased with 13 penalties. I realize Duke had to fire Ted Roof, but this guy can coach defense.

Purdue has really played decent defense for most of the season, and coordinator Brock Spack deserves credit. But no matter who takes the snaps (Curtis Painter, Joey Elliott or Justin Siller), the Boilermakers offense simply can't find the end zone. Siller might be the starter next week against Michigan as Painter continued to struggle. But confidence has to be low right now, and outside of kicker Carson Wiggs, there aren't too many reasons for optimism.