Monday Measure: Big Ten West may be the saddest division in college football

If you need a laugh, take a look at the Big Ten West standings.

Iowa, the team with the worst offense in the country, currently has sole possession of first place in the division entering Week 11. The Hawkeyes, who will finally say goodbye to nepotism all-star Brian Ferentz after the season, are averaging 225.3 yards per game and a measly 4.0 yards per play, both of which rank dead-last among the 133 FBS teams. To put that in context, Eastern Michigan ranks second-to-last in total offense and is averaging 33 more yards per game than Iowa.

Despite their anemic offense, the Hawkeyes improved to 7-2 overall and 4-2 in Big Ten play following a high-flying 10-7 victory over Northwestern on Saturday at Wrigley Field. Iowa finished the game with 169 yards, scored its only touchdown after a blocked punt and then won the game with a 52-yard field goal in the final seconds.

It was vintage Iowa. And that’s not a compliment.

Had Iowa lost, it would have been part of a five-team logjam for first place in the West with the Hawkeyes tied with Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern all tied with 3-3 conference records. Instead, Iowa stands above the rest despite averaging 187 yards and 13.5 points per game vs. Big Ten competition.

Wisconsin, Minnesota and Nebraska are all tied for second at 3-3, with Illinois and Northwestern at 2-4 and Purdue bringing up the rear at 1-5 following an ugly Saturday. While Illinois beat Minnesota and Iowa beat Northwestern in divisional matchups, each of the West vs. East cross-division games were won by teams from the East.

Big Ten West standings through Week 10
Big Ten West standings through Week 10

It wasn’t pretty. Wisconsin, the preseason favorites to win the West, lost on the road to Indiana, a team that had won one of its previous 13 Big Ten games. Elsewhere, Nebraska saw its three-game winning streak snapped by Michigan State (a team that had lost its previous six) and Purdue got destroyed 41-13 by Michigan.

There isn’t a single ranked team in the division and Iowa, assuming it finds a way to close things out over the final weeks of the regular season, will be a heavy underdog no matter who it faces in the Big Ten title game. Iowa already lost 31-0 to Penn State this season. It could be even uglier if the Hawkeyes have to match up with either Ohio State or Michigan.

And things will only get more difficult for these teams in the years to come. The Big Ten is changing and the divisions are going by the wayside with Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington joining the conference next season.

Let’s take Iowa for example. The Hawkeyes have usual division opponents Minnesota, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Nebraska on the schedule, but they also have to face Ohio State, Washington and UCLA on the 2024 schedule. Wisconsin has USC, Penn State and Oregon. Minnesota has Michigan, USC, UCLA and Penn State.

Some of these teams who usually compete for a division title and make regular bowl appearances could be in for a rude awakening starting next season.

- Sam Cooper

Was Dallas Turner's hit on Jayden Daniels dirty?

Dallas Turner’s hit on Jayden Daniels in Alabama’s win over LSU showed how thin the line can be when it comes to what is and isn’t a targeting penalty.

Turner’s hit in the fourth quarter knocked Daniels from the game after the quarterback entered concussion protocol. Daniels was able to walk off the field after he was tended to by trainers and attempted to re-enter the game, but LSU called timeout to get him off the field before he could run another play.

Turner was flagged for roughing the passer on the play. As you can see in the replay above, the top of his helmet made contact with Daniels’ chin.

That contact made it surprising that the SEC officiating crew didn’t at least take a look at the play on replay to see if Turner’s hit was worthy of a targeting foul and ejection.

According to the NCAA rule book, the targeting rule states that “no player shall target and make forcible contact against an opponent with the crown of their helmet.” It goes on to list multiple indicators of a targeting foul, including if a player leads with a helmet “to attack with forcible contact at the head or neck area.”

The top of Turner’s helmet is the first thing that makes contact with Daniels.

Should Turner have been ejected? A lot of LSU fans think so. And with the way the rule is written, it’s easy to interpret Turner’s hit as worthy of a targeting penalty.

But it’s much harder to see how Turner’s hit was a dirty one. He didn’t lower his head to spear Daniels — his facemask isn’t pointing toward the ground.

Both players are also listed at 6-foot-4. Daniels is standing straight up after throwing the pass while Turner is leaning forward. If either player is a few inches shorter, the contact doesn’t happen where it does.

The way the targeting rule is written — and has been unevenly enforced over the years of its existence — has blurred the perception of what is and isn’t a dirty hit. There have been plenty of dirty hits flagged in recent seasons. However, there have also been numerous “clean” hits flagged, too.

It’s ultimately a good thing that intent isn’t a part of the targeting rule. That would get messy in a hurry. But while we’re confident that Turner didn’t intend to hit Daniels with the top of his helmet Saturday night, his hit was worth a review at the very least.

- Nick Bromberg

Arizona's incredible turnaround continues under Jedd Fisch

Arizona is ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time since November 2017.

It’s a significant accomplishment for the 23rd-ranked Wildcats, who are now 6-3 following a 27-10 win over No. 19 UCLA late on Saturday night. It marked the third consecutive win over a ranked team for Arizona, and those wins came on the heels of one-possession losses to Washington and USC when those teams were ranked in the top 10.

Arizona’s football program has come a long way under Jedd Fisch, who is in his third season on the job. Fisch, a journeyman assistant with an array of stops across the NFL and college football, seemed like a peculiar hire when he was brought in to succeed Kevin Sumlin in December 2020.

The program was in awful shape when he arrived. Between 2008 and 2017, Arizona made eight bowl trips and even won the Pac-12 South in 2014. But when Rich Rodriguez was pushed out amid an off-field controversy in 2017, things deteriorated quickly in three seasons with Sumlin as head coach. The Wildcats were a combined 9-15 (6-12 Pac-12) in Sumlin’s first two seasons, but then things completely imploded when a winless 2020 season was capped off by a 70-7 loss to rival Arizona State.

Fisch inherited a complete rebuild, so it wasn’t much of a surprise when Arizona went 1-11 in his first season. Since then, the Wildcats have improved dramatically. They went 5-7 in 2022 and have already surpassed that win mark this season to clinch bowl eligibility for the first time since 2017.

Arizona coach Jedd Fisch celebrates with fans after the Wildcats defeated Oregon State on Oct. 28. (Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Arizona coach Jedd Fisch celebrates with fans after the Wildcats defeated Oregon State on Oct. 28. (Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

And what makes this season even more impressive is that Arizona has been playing with backup quarterback Noah Fifita for almost all of conference play. Fifita, a redshirt freshman, came on for the injured Jayden de Laura and has been fantastic. Fifita has thrown for 1,521 yards, 14 touchdowns and only four interceptions while completing 76.2% of his throws.

The Wildcats have also taken major strides on defense. They limited UCLA to only 271 yards of offense on Saturday, putting the clamps on a usually strong Bruins run game while making things difficult for UCLA quarterbacks, who were a combined 17-of-33 for only 157 yards.

At this rate, Arizona is not out of contention for a spot in the Pac-12 title game. The Wildcats have already made it through the toughest part of their schedule and have games versus Colorado, Utah and Arizona State remaining. The CU and ASU games are on the road, but those teams have a combined 6-13 record on the year. Utah is 7-2 and was No. 18 in the most-recent College Football Playoff rankings, but the Wildcats have already beaten Oregon State and UCLA at home this season.

Washington (9-0, 6-0 Pac-12) and Oregon (8-1, 5-1) seem destined for a rematch in the conference championship game, but Arizona is not out of the conversation. That says a lot about the job Fisch has done leading the Wildcats.

- Sam Cooper