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Penn State's big finish: Ten big things from the weekend in Big Ten football

Anyone else still emotionally recovering from Saturday night's Penn State-Iowa game?

That ending was one for the ages, a signature win if not on the resume at least in memory for the Nittany Lions, who went into Kinnick — where highly ranked teams haven't fared too well recently — and miraculously pulled out a last-second victory.

Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley are the conference's stars of stars after that effort, and Iowa still managed to impress, even in defeat.

Of course there's plenty of Lions and Hawkeyes in the 10 big things from the weekend in Big Ten football.

1. McSorley magic

What. A. Finish.

You couldn’t have scripted a more entertaining final few minutes in Penn State’s incredible win over Iowa. The Hawkeyes blocked a field goal, then went 80 yards in three plays for a touchdown in less than a minute, only for Trace McSorley to lead the Nittany Lions right down the field and throw a game-winning touchdown pass with no time left on the clock. Amazing.

McSorley was the star of that final drive, completing seven passes for 68 yards and of course that insane final play, when he threaded a pass past three defenders and another one of his receivers before connecting with Juwan Johnnson. Those plays are the stuff legends are made of, and McSorley is becoming that kind of player in a hurry in Happy Valley.

The guy was by no means perfect Saturday, 31-for-48 for 284 yards, that touchdown and an interception. But is there any quarterback in the conference you’d rather give the ball to than McSorley? Of course it helps when you’ve got … 

2. Super Saquon

There is no better player in college football than Saquon Barkley. Period.

The Penn State running back is a freak of nature, he’s an unstoppable force that is impossible for opposing defenses to contain. Saturday night in Iowa City, when the Iowa defense actually did a decent job on the whole, allowing just one touchdown before the game-winner as time expired, Barkley racked up a jaw-dropping 358 all-purpose yards: 211 rushing yards on 28 carries, 94 receiving yards on 12 catches and 53 kick-return yards on three returns.

He’s impossible to tackle, weaving and bruising his way through defenses — and that’s without mentioning that the guy hurdles someone once a week!

Barkley has to be the Heisman favorite right now, up there with Big 12 quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph. He’s racked up 853 rushing and receiving yards in just four games. He’s also just a thrill to watch.

Penn State didn’t play a perfect game by any stretch on Saturday. But they have two of the best players in the Big Ten, and because of it they could be in for a very special season.

3. Michigan’s dominating defense

It’s quite apparent that the Michigan offense is not very good. But the Michigan defense, on the other hand, is very, very good.

Watching the Wolverines try to score points against Purdue on Saturday was a challenge, even if they found some more success after Wilton Speight was injured and replaced by John O’Korn. But the defense is a completely different story, and it looks as if that side of the ball could allow Michigan to win any game for the remainder of the season.

Michigan allowed just 10 second-half yards to Purdue on Saturday. Think about that!

While you knew because of Jim Harbaugh’s recruiting success that a reload would be possible, it’s still kind of shocking that the unit is this good despite having to replace 10 starters from a year ago.

Michigan’s offense might not be inspiring any confidence in a run at a title, but the defense sure should be.

4. Impressive in defeat

Iowa’s defense looked a lot better than the final statistics indicated Saturday night against Penn State. The Hawkeyes allowed 579 total yards, so says the box score, but their defense played well enough to keep the Lions to one touchdown before that game-winner at the very end. Josey Jewell also picked off Trace McSorley and recovered a McSorley fumble, continuing his fantastic start to the season.

On the other side of the ball, Nathan Stanley threw two more touchdown passes and didn’t throw a pick. Akrum Wadley had 155 rushing/receiving yards and two total touchdowns, both coming in the fourth quarter. Iowa's doing work on offense this season, which is something I didn't think I'd be saying two months ago.

So, no the Hawkeyes didn’t win, and they lost in a pretty brutal fashion. But they still look like an impressive team to me, one that if it can hang with the typically explosive top-five team that is Penn State can hang with just about anyone else in the Big Ten.

5. Nebraska responds

The football-related turmoil ain’t going away any time soon for the Huskers, who saw their athletics director fired last week, the casualty after the team’s embarrassing home loss to Northern Illinois.

But this weekend’s win over Rutgers served as a bit of a bounce back, even if beating Rutgers by 10 isn’t the kind of thing that’ll turn down the heat on Mike Riley. This was no dominating performance against the Big Ten’s worst program, but it was a win nonetheless to move Nebraska from 1-2 to 2-2. And a win is what this program needed after back-to-back losses and the firing of Shawn Eichorst.

As mentioned, Riley’s job is nowhere near “safe,” and it’s hard to see some sort of epic midseason turnaround with the likes of Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State still on the schedule — plus losable games against plenty of other conference foes. Who knows what the magic number is to make a determination one way or the other on Riley?

6. Buckeyes back?

If only Ohio State could play Army and UNLV every week, right?

The Buckeyes sure had a great day of practice, if nothing else, in a 54-21 romp of UNLV. The offense that caused so much consternation after the season’s first two weeks was a well-oiled machine, with touchdown passes going to seven different guys, a Big Ten record. J.T. Barrett threw five of those scoring passes, and backup Dwayne Haskins threw two more, actually throwing for more yards than Barrett.

Ohio State could find its season back on track in a hurry with three games coming against Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska before a Halloween-weekend showdown with Penn State in Columbus that could determine the Big Ten East.

7. Not a big boy quite yet

Purdue’s gonna have to wait to rule the Big Ten, completely stifled in the second half of its loss to Michigan. As unpleasant as the Wolverines’ offense was to watch on Saturday, the Boilers’ wasn’t any better. Of course, that has a lot to do with the Michigan defense, which held the Purdue offense to just 10 yards after halftime, as you might’ve read in some other section of this very post.

Give Purdue props for winning at halftime and maintaining its status as “much better than last year.” The thought that the Boilers might’ve given Michigan a go will carry over into games against Minnesota, Rutgers, Nebraska, Illinois and Northwestern. And maybe we see Purdue rack up some more wins than we’re used to seeing.

8. Knocked off the pedestal

Unfortunately Maryland’s reign as one of the kings of the Big Ten East is over.

The Terps were hammered in a 38-10 home loss to UCF, a Group of Five team that could be the real deal in 2017. Maryland lost another quarterback to injury, Kasim Hill, meaning it was going at it with the third guy on the depth chart, less than ideal. But the Terps’ rushing attack was also bottled up pretty well by the Knights, accumulating only 42 yards on the day.

9. Sparty smashed

You might not guess it looking at the numbers, but Michigan State was crushed in a home loss to Notre Dame.

Brian Lewerke had a monster day, throwing for 340 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for another 56 yards. Sparty racked up nearly 500 yards of offense. But Michigan State also turned the ball over three times, all three leading directly to first-half touchdowns.

10. Give Goldy the ball!

Did you see Goldy Gopher truck a kid during a mascot football game? No? Well here it is.