No sooner had fourth-ranked Ohio State blitzed winless Illinois, 41-6, in blizzard conditions Saturday at Columbus, Ohio, than the Buckeyes were already focusing on--and talking about--No. 1 Michigan.
"If our offense and defense are clicking, we should beat them by two or three touchdowns," Ohio State wide receiver David Boston said, referring to next Saturday's showdown at Ann Arbor, Mich.
That's bold talk considering Ohio State has beaten its archrival only once since John Cooper took over the Buckeyes in 1988. Over those nine meetings, Cooper and Ohio State are 1-7-1. A year ago, Michigan knocked off the unbeaten and second-ranked Buckeyes, 13-9, in Ohio Stadium.
"There's a lot riding on it for them," Boston said of the Wolverines. "They're the ones sitting on top of the world right now. We're going to go up there and upset them. I think we're better than Michigan."
Cooper was much more cautious when talking about his team and its nemesis.
"We'll have to play better next week than we did today," Cooper said. "We turned the ball over more than we can afford to when you're playing a better opponent."
That describes Michigan, all right. The Buckeyes, 10-1 overall and 6-1 in the Big Ten, need a victory at Michigan on Saturday to grab a share of the conference title. A victory would also keep alive hopes of a return appearance in the Rose Bowl, where the Buckeyes beat Arizona State, 20-17, to finish No. 2 last season.
To play in the Rose Bowl again, Ohio State must beat Michigan and then finish first or second in either national poll or Penn State must lose another game. A loss to the Wolverines and the Buckeyes will play in either an alliance game or the Florida Citrus Bowl.
Asked if Michigan was on his mind, Cooper said, "They're always there in the back of your mind."
The loss was the 16th in a row for the Illini (0-10, 0-7), the longest streak in school history. They have also lost their last 13 conference games, the last 12 games against ranked teams and haven't won on the road in more than two years.
"It hurts to lose. Period," said Illinois tailback Robert Holcombe, who rushed for 143 yards in 32 carries. "This wasn't any harder of a loss than any other."
The Illini's only points came with no time left when cornerback Trevor Starghill scooped up a fumble by Ohio State fourth-string quarterback Steve Gehlert and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown.
NORTHWESTERN 15, NO. 22 IOWA 14
Brian Musso made a one-handed catch and turned it into a go-ahead 40-yard touchdown play as the Wildcats defeated the Hawkeyes at Evanston, Ill.
Iowa (6-4, 3-4) must defeat Minnesota on Saturday to qualify for postseason play, since one of the Hawkeyes' victories was over Division I-AA Northern Iowa.
Northwestern, after back-to-back Big Ten titles, finished 5-7, 3-5. The Wildcats stopped the Hawkeyes twice inside the 30 in the fourth quarter to preserve the victory.
Iowa missed four field goals on a snowy, blustery day, including a 47-yard attempt by Chad Johnson with 2:57 left. Earlier in the quarter, Iowa went on fourth-and-three from the Wildcat 27, but Anwawn Jones drove quarterback Randy Reiners out of bounds for no gain.
Iowa's Tavian Banks gained 169 in 30 carries and scored two touchdowns, becoming the school's season rushing leader and career touchdown leader, passing Sedrick Shaw.
MINNESOTA 24, INDIANA 12
Another game without a touchdown for Indiana was all the Golden Gophers needed to give first-year Coach Glen Mason his first Big Ten victory.
Cory Sauter threw two first-quarter touchdown passes and ran for a clinching score with 2:50 remaining as Minnesota held on for the victory at Minneapolis, ending a losing streak at seven games.
Minnesota (3-8, 1-6) won for only the fourth time in its last 34 conference games. The Hoosiers (2-8, 1-6) came in with only one offensive touchdown in their last five games and managed only four Andy Payne field goals.