Nineteenth-century English novelist Eliza Tabor, once said “Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.” Michigan football fans better hope that’s true, because they’ve suffered through some pretty intense disappointment this year. But for those of you fans who aren’t comforted by the possibility of strengthened passion for the team, you might just want to forget all about the Wolverines and focus on the crowded and entertaining race for the Big Ten championship.

As the season powers past the halfway point, each game has greater impact on which teams will be playing in January. Penn State, Ohio State and the “little brother” who has grown up a lot in the last year are all sitting pretty with unblemished Big Ten records. A good game by any of them this week puts that team in pole position in the conference — but by the end of this weekend, at least one will fall from the ranks of Big Ten unbeatens:

No. 12 Ohio State at No. 20 Michigan State

This is the biggest game the Spartans have played in a long, long time. For too many seasons, they’ve shown promise before falling by the wayside. For too many seasons, they’ve been on the cusp of success. For too many seasons, they’ve a plethora of “what ifs” and “almosts.” With a win against Ohio State this weekend, Michigan State — whose next three opponents are underwhelming Michigan, Wisconsin and Purdue — could secure a shot at its first-ever BCS berth when it plays at Penn State to end the season on Nov. 22.

Yeah, this game is kind of a big deal in East Lansing. But the Buckeyes aren’t going to make it easy — I don’t know of you’ve heard of this freshman quarterback they have, Terrelle Pryor, but he’s pretty good. Combined with running back Beanie Wells, Pryor has improved the Ohio State offense each week since he’s taken over at quarterback, and don’t expect that progression to slow now.

This is going to be a helluva game. And I guess Wolverines fans can take some solace in the fact that the state of Michigan is involved in the Big Ten title chase.

(five out of five footballs)

Wisconsin at Iowa

What happened to the Badgers? Three weeks ago, they were eager to prove they were legitimate national title contenders. Now, after a third straight and totally uncompetitive Big Ten loss, Wisconsin is reeling. Still looking for their first conference win, the Badgers clash with an Iowa team that is slowly improving. If the Hawkeyes steal this one, it could send Bret Bielema and his team into a tailspin.

This game has virtually no impact on the conference-title race. But it will be interesting to see whether or not the Badgers can start to play up to their preseason potential and whether or not the Hawkeyes’ dominating win over Indiana proved they were ready to step out of Big Ten purgatory.

(two of five footballs)

Purdue at Northwestern

One more win and the Wildcats are officially bowl eligible. Two more, and they’ll definitely clinch a spot in a bowl somewhere. With games against the Boilermakers, Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois remaining, Northwestern is almost guaranteed a 13th game. This is exciting stuff for a football program that has consistently been stomped on by the big boys of the Big Ten.

But that doesn’t make this game even remotely exciting. Save yourself a boring three hours and go watch Texas-Missouri, Kansas-Oklahoma or Vanderbilt-Georgia.

(one football out of five)

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