What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 9

Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.

1. The Big Ten race is going to be wild: Michigan State's loss to Iowa really thickens the plot in the Big Ten title race. Four teams have one conference loss entering November, and each week could dramatically alter the picture for the conference championship. Wisconsin and Michigan State both have favorable closing schedules, but arguably no game means more to the race than Ohio State's visit to Iowa on Nov. 20. Michigan State and Ohio State likely benefit from a three-team tiebreaker, while Wisconsin and Iowa want this to come down to head-to-head matchups. Should be a lot of fun to watch.

2. Iowa can play to its potential: After two losses filled with what-ifs, Iowa finally played to its potential in a marquee game. The Hawkeyes threw the first punch against Michigan State and kept pounding away until the Spartans submitted. Kirk Ferentz's squad received strong play in all three phases and got huge lifts from players like Ricky Stanzi, Adam Robinson, Shaun Prater, Tyler Sash and Mike Daniels. If Iowa keeps this up in November, it will be extremely tough to beat.

3. Rich Rodriguez is in major trouble: Coaches are evaluated on wins and losses, but they're also evaluated on progress. And Michigan didn't make any progress on defense or special teams in its open week. The Wolverines let Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin go wild in his first career start and couldn't stop Evan Royster on the ground. And they continued to make errors in the kicking game. Denard Robinson continues to do brilliant things, and his success is tied to Rodriguez, but this definitely looks like déjà vu for the Maize and Blue. Rodriguez can't afford another slide and it doesn't get any easier this week against red-hot Illinois.

4. Illinois is one of the nation's big surprises: The Great Experiment is working. Illinois' decision to stick with Ron Zook and make major changes on the staff is translating to the field, where a talented and hungry team is executing at a high level. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase blossomed Saturday with a career performance, and Illinois continued to play well on defense and special teams. The Illini might be favored in all four of their remaining games and certainly look like they're headed for a decent bowl game, which seemed highly unlikely before the season. Kudos to Zook and his players.

5. The Big Ten is a deep league, despite no unbeatens: Michigan State's loss likely means that the Big Ten will be left out of the BCS national title game for the third consecutive season. But this is a much deeper league than most folks thought entering the season. The four teams at the top can challenge just about anyone, and I wouldn't want to face Illinois if I were an opposing coach. Northwestern will be going bowling for a school-record third consecutive season, and Penn State gained a ton of confidence with its performance Saturday night. Not sure what to make of Michigan, Indiana and Purdue, but I can't imagine all three will be left out of the postseason.

Ricky Stanzi, Adam Robinson, Shaun Prater, Tyler Sash and Mike Daniels