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The Big 10: Northwestern, Illinois pull off rare dual feat; Notre Dame locked in

Two steps forward . . . and zero steps back.

Who knew it was possible for Northwestern and Illinois to win Big Ten games on the same day?

The Wildcats (2-3) hinted at another potential season-saving run with a clutch 29-19 victory at No. 20 Michigan State. And the Illini (3-2) actually held up their end of the bargain for a change, picking apart a terrible Rutgers team 38-17 on the road.

It was the first time the Cats and Illini won conference games on the same day since Oct. 15, 2016, when — coincidence alert — the results were, respectively, 54-40 at Michigan State and 24-7 at Rutgers. The previous occurrence was Nov. 7, 2015, when Pat Fitzgerald’s squad nipped Penn State 23-21 in Evanston and then-coach Bill Cubit’s Illini romped 48-14 at Purdue.

Northwestern's Clayton Thorson was fired up after a touchdown in Saturday's victory at Michigan State. (Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Best chance for it to happen again this season: probably this Saturday, with Nebraska visiting Ryan Field and Purdue visiting Memorial Stadium.

On to the rest of the “Big 10” (where 10 actually means 10):

Northwestern takes early lead, closes this time to upset No. 20 Michigan State
Illinois ends 13-game conference losing streak with victory against Rutgers

2. Call it a tie: Who must have enjoyed Saturday more, Northwestern senior quarterback Clayton Thorson or Illinois senior quarterback AJ Bush Jr.?

One, Thorson, a fourth-year starter, had his best outing (373 yards, three touchdowns passing) since tearing an ACL in last season’s bowl game. The other, Bush, a graduate senior, was back at the controls after missing two-plus games with a hamstring injury in this, his first and only chance to lead a college offense.

No matter how much a guy has played, time is precious when the end is closing in.

3. That’s the ticket: Notre Dame — fifth in the new AP Top 25 poll — sure got the job done with its 45-23 victory at Virginia Tech. The bigger, stronger, deeper Irish wore down the dangerous Hokies on both sides of the ball. Fellow 6-0 squads Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson occupy the top four spots in the poll, but all the Irish have to do is win out and they’ll be in the playoff for the first time.

I’m betting on it — and there’s still plenty of room on the bandwagon if you want to join me.

4. Tip of the cap: Rinse, repeat — Northern Illinois won another MAC road game, this time 24-16 at Ball State, to get to 3-0 in league play. There isn’t a tougher-willed 3-3 team out there.

5. Book ’em: Why did I pick Texas to win the Big 12? Because its defense is the real deal, a rarity by Big 12 standards. The Longhorns’ 48-45 victory over Oklahoma didn’t quite ooze 1985 Bears, but their “D” through three quarters (the score was 45-24) was outstanding. It’s easier to respect this league when somebody actually hits and tackles.

6. Chill, dude: Did you catch any of Ohio State’s 49-26 victory over Indiana? The game was close for a while, during which time Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer looked like the most stressed-out, miserable man on earth. Hoosiers coach Tom Allen, on the other hand, coached with palpable enthusiasm — and a smile on his face — all game long.

I know which man I’d rather play for.

7. Tua watch: Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has captivated the national media with his essentially spotless (18 touchdowns, zero interceptions) play. Wake me when he faces a real defense. I’m just saying.

8. Taylor-made: Wisconsin sophomore Jonathan Taylor is leading the nation with 169.8 rushing yards per game. Will he be a Heisman Trophy finalist? Ask me this time next week after the Badgers’ game at Michigan.

9. Speaking of Michigan … the Wolverines have the nation’s stingiest defense, allowing a mere 230 yards per game. Just stick that in the back of your head for when the Ohio State game rolls around in November.

10. Chip Kellllly: That’s five straight “L’s” for the Chipster to start his UCLA career. What’s more fun, that or going 2-14 with the 49ers?