Illinois football coach Lovie Smith

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Chen: What To Watch For In Week 11 In Big Ten

The streaking Illini are on the cusp of becoming bowl-eligible.

Mike Chen
November 08, 2019 - 2:27 pm

(670 The Score) Let's break down the most important Big Ten storylines of the week and what awaits this weekend.

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Plenty of firsts 

Ohio State and LSU have clearly been the best two teams through the first 10 weeks of the season, and it showed Tuesday as they were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the initial College Football Playoff rankings. Committee chair Rob Mullens explained why the Buckeyes earned the top spot. 

"If you look at their resume, they performed at a consistently high level every week," he said.

Ohio State isn't the only Big Ten team tracking for a big postseason matchup. Penn State is No. 4, its highest ever ranking in the CFP era, and fellow unbeaten Minnesota checks in at No. 17. Wisconsin was No. 13, Michigan was No. 14 and Iowa was No. 18. That made the Big Ten big winners in the first CFP poll of the season.

Fleck-ing their muscle

Ahead of a highly anticipated matchup against Penn State on Saturday, Minnesota coach P.J. fleck received a seven-year contract extension. Fleck had been linked to the vacant Florida State job, so Minnesota locked him up.

Fleck has led the Gophers to an 8-0 start. The last time Minnesota accomplished that feat was 1941. 

Minnesota has a golden opportunity awaiting it, as it hopes to take over the Big Ten West. By agreeing to the extension, Fleck will be rowing the Gophers' boat in Minneapolis for the foreseeable future.

Why noon?

Once again, the Big Ten's biggest game of the week starts at noon ET/11 a.m. CT Saturday, as that's when the Penn State-Minnesota game kicks off. Previously, the Wisconsin-Michigan and Iowa-Michigan games were in that time slot.

While there are television obligations in play and Fox wants to have a premier game for its "Big Noon Kickoff," I'm not a fan of it. The Big Ten should play its best games in the late afternoon of evening. That's the approach the SEC takes. Why not battle the SEC for evening supremacy?

Five down, one to go

After a 2-4 start, Illinois coach Lovie Smith has led his team to three straight wins, including an upset of then-undefeated Wisconsin at home. The Illini are now just one win away from becoming bowl-eligible for the first time in Smith's tenure in Champaign.

The Illini have shown resiliency, a trait that had been missing in Champaign. They've battled through injuries to key contributors. It’s been a roller coaster ride of a season for Illinois, which plays at Michigan State on Saturday. That ride should end with a bowl appearance this season.

'We will be back'

On Oct. 5, Northwestern quarterback Aiden Smith score on a two-year touchdown run with 1:55 left in the third quarter at Nebraska. That was the last time the Wildcats scored a touchdown. 

Since then, it's been 13 quarters of offensive ineptitude, and coach Pat Fitzgerald still doesn’t have answers for his 1-7 team.

"For the future, for 2020 and beyond, we will be back," Fitzgerald said recently.

It seems clear that Fitzgerald just wants this season to come to an end so the Wildcats can move onto next year. He has cited issues with the team's depth, but he's excited about his 2020 recruiting class, which is ranked seventh in the Big Ten and 31st nationally right now. 

Mike Chen is a producer at 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @mfc2123.