Iowa quarterback Drew Tate was forced out of the Hawkeyes' game against Iowa State last Saturday when he suffered a concussion while tackling free safety Steve Paris on an interception return. By the end of the day the Big Ten's elite teams--No. 3--ranked Michigan, No. 4 Ohio State and No. 8 Iowa--had absorbed equally dizzying blows to their national championship aspirations.
Michigan fell at home to suddenly resurgent Notre Dame, 17-10, botching three trips inside the red zone. Quarterback Chad Henne's fourth-quarter fumble at the Irish goal line was the killer. The loss marked the seventh time in eight years that the Wolverines' hopes of going undefeated had been derailed by the fourth game of the season.
Iowa was manhandled at Iowa State, 23-3. The unranked Cyclones were in control from the start and went on to force five turnovers and dominate time of possession (36:25 to 23:35). "In this rivalry the most talented team doesn't always win," said Iowa State defensive tackle Nick Leaders, "but the most physical one does."
Said Hawkeyes senior wideout Ed Hinkel, "We can't turn the ball over and expect to win. We're not that good."
Some skeptics had been saying that about Iowa and Michigan even before Saturday's defeats. The Wolverines' defense was considered suspect--although the unit played well against Notre Dame--and made some observers question whether they had been ranked too highly.
The only good news for the Wolverines, Hawkeyes and Buckeyes, a 25-22 loser to Texas at home, was that their losses didn't damage their chances for a Big Ten title. At the same time, the news was good for the rest of the Big Ten: The prospects for the conference champion to be a school other than one of the big three suddenly look brighter. Dark horse Purdue lurks, its chances bolstered by the schedule--the Boilermakers, who beat Akron 49-24 on Saturday, don't face Michigan or Ohio State, and they play Iowa at home.
Purdue's first score against Akron came when Bernard Pollard blocked a punt and Kory Sheets returned it 13 yards for a touchdown. It was a result of the Boilermakers' new emphasis on special teams, which includes studying tape of Virginia Tech's outstanding units. After Saturday it was hard to tell if the Big Ten, which seemed like the best conference in the country at the start of the day, truly had any special teams at all. --Phil Taylor