Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, September 28, 2014

Minnesota will be a force in the West, Nebraska and Ameer Abdullah can't be stopped, and Michigan is a mess. I learned that and more about the Big Ten in Week 5.

1. The Nebraska offense and Ameer Abdullah are on a mission. The Cornhuskers, the Big Ten's final unbeaten and the owner of the conference's top offense, just torched Illinois for 624 yards, including 458 yards rushing. Ameer Abdullah continues to be the storyline, shredding the Illini for 208 yards rushing and three TDs on 22 carries. He had 196 yards at halftime! Stupefying. Is there a better player in the Big Ten? Nope. I can't wait to see Nebraska's prolific offense at Michigan State next week in what could be a preview of the Big Ten title game. Who ya got?

2. Once again, Melvin Gordon is just fine. The last two weeks, the Wisconsin running back has carried 45 times for 434 yards and seven touchdowns. That comes out to 9.7 yards per carry. For the season, Gordon has 612 yards rushing and eight TDs. Yes, he?s very much in the Heisman hunt.


3. I guess rumors of Minnesota?s offensive demise were exaggerated. Mitch Leidner sat out last week but looked sharp in a 30-14 win at Michigan. The Gophers entered Saturday with the Big Ten?s worst passing game, averaging 99.8 yards. Against the Wolverines, Leidner completed 14-of-22 passes for 167 yards and a TD. And that kept Michigan?s defense off-balance, allowing David Cobb to run for 183 yards on 32 carries. This team is improving, the mark of good coaching, and looks to be a factor in the West.

4. If it wasn?t official before, it is now: Michigan is a mess. The Wolverines lost what I thought was a must-win game at home to Minnesota, 30-14. And, it wasn?t even close. A quarterback change did nothing to spark a moribund offense that gained just 171 yards. The Wolverines are 4-9 in their last 13 games. And they are just 2-9 vs. teams from Power Five leagues. Will 2-3 Michigan win six games to qualify for a bowl?

5. Don?t write off Northwestern. The Wildcats stumbled out of the box, losing home games to Cal and Northern Illinois. Some whispered about potential inner turmoil because of the unionization effort. This all came heaped upon after Pat Fitzgerald?s team finished 2013 by losing seven of its final eight games. But NU beat FCS Western Illinois last week and then shocked the world with a 29-6 triumph at Penn State. The play of the offense was encouraging. NU entered the game last in the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 21.0 points.

6. Michigan State looks to be in midseason form. The last two weeks, the Spartans have scored 129 points, notching 73 vs. Eastern Michigan last week and 56 yesterday vs. Wyoming. The last time the Spartans scored over 50 points in consecutive games was 1978. The point production the first four games is the best ever, as MSU is averaging 50.3 points. I could go on with superlatives, but you get the idea. Bring on Nebraska!

7. Rutgers moved to 4-1 and continues to impress. The Scarlet Knights had zero problem in its 31-6 win vs. Tulane, and now they get to host struggling Michigan. A bowl game is looking more and more likely for Kyle Flood's improved team. The rest of the slate: Michigan; at Ohio State; at Nebraska; Wisconsin; Indiana; at Michigan State; at Maryland.

8. Purdue needs to look hard at its quarterback spot. Danny Etling just doesn?t appear to be the solution. He now has started the last 12 games, and he doesn?t appear to be improving. The game yesterday vs. Iowa was there for the taking, but Etling could only lead the offense to a field goal (the lone TD came on defense). Etling hit 11-of-26 passes for 61 yards with no TDs and a pick. He has completed 89-of-162 passes (55 percent) for 800 with six TDs and five interceptions this season. It may be time to give Austin Appleby a try. What do the Boilermakers have to lose?

9. All of that mojo from the 31-27 win at then-No. 19 Missouri last week has vanished for Indiana. That?s what a 37-15 home loss to Maryland will do. The Terps played harder than the Hoosiers. The play of the IU offense was disappointing. Indiana was facing a Terrapin defense that had allowed 1,283 yards and 60 points in the last two games. But the Hoosiers mustered just 302 yards and one TD. Credit Terps? DC Brian Stewart.

10. Iowa may not be impressive, but it?s resourceful and unflappable. The Hawkeyes? victory at Purdue was their third comeback win of 2014. Iowa rallied to beat Ball State (13-3 to 17-13), Pitt (20-17 to 24-20) and Purdue (10-0 to 24-10). This team seems to be improving. And it may be favored in all of its remaining games. The Hawkeyes play strong defense, and the offense is gaining traction.

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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