Minnesota got back in the win column with a 44-28 victory against Purdue last Saturday. More importantly though, it drew the Maroon and Gold one step closer to a return trip to the postseason for the first time since 2009.

And yes, Illinois is still on the schedule.

The Gophers jumped out to a 4-0 start in for the first time since 2008, and hopes were high that head coach Jerry Kill’s second season would be magical. But three consecutive conference losses to Iowa, Northwestern and Wisconsin followed, placing doubt as to whether or not Kill could bring the program back to a bowl in his sophomore year.

Then the hapless Boilermakers came to town and helped the Gophers get back on track.

Stand-in freshman quarterback Philip Nelson busted loose, throwing for 246 yards and three touchdowns. More impressively, a Gopher offense without its opening day starting quarterback, MarQueis Gray, racked up 458 yards in a decisive victory.

“We made some big plays and played good football when we needed to,” Kill said. “Everything just seemed to fall into place.”

Nelson has stayed afloat after being thrust into action Oct. 20 at Wisconsin. This rookie has thrown for 395 yards on five touchdowns and two interceptions and his performance will most likely determine whether Minnesota’s season will continue after the holidays.

Though he was on the bench to start the season, Nelson never lost confidence. As a result, he has his team on the verge of a successful season.

“I never really changed my mindset during the season,” he said. “I always prepared like I was going to play, so my opportunity would not embarrass me.”

Nelson will get ample opportunity to further prove himself in the remaining weeks of the season. The battle for the Little Brown Jug this weekend seems winnable with Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson’s status is up in the air, a trip to Champaign looks like an expected ‘W’ and late matchups with Nebraska and Michigan State aren’t as daunting as previously thought.

Not only are six wins probable for the Gophers but seven, a total they haven’t reached in four years, seems reachable.

Kill doesn’t know what his team will accomplish the rest of the way in 2012, but he does know the horizon looks bright with Nelson in charge.

“When your quarterback doesn’t turn over the football, moves the chains and puts points on the board, and he’s a freshman; that’s a good sign for the future.”

Complete Conference Standings

Illinois (2-6, 0-4 Big Ten)

• The Illini were unable to contain Indiana back-up quarterback Nate Sudfeld and fell 31-17 to the Hoosiers last Saturday. Sophomore running-back Donovonn Young rushed for a career-high 124 yards on 21 attempts, but the defense couldn’t hold Sufeld and the Indiana attack down.

• The Illini have quickly established themselves as the conference’s worst team, falling to a Hoosier team that hadn’t won a conference game in two seasons. A look at the remaining schedule would suggest that one final chance at victory remains, in three weeks at home against Purdue.

Next Game: at Ohio State

Indiana (3-5, 1-3 Big Ten)

• Back-up quarterback Nate Sudfeld threw for 107 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Hoosiers to a 31-17 win against Illinois last Saturday. It was Indiana’s first conference victory since defeating Purdue 34-31 on Nov. 27, 2010.

• The victory also ended a five-game losing streak for Indiana, which amazingly controls its own destiny in the Leaders Division. If the Hoosiers win out against Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State and Purdue, they will head to the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis.

Next Game: vs. Iowa

Iowa (4-4, 2-2 Big Ten)

• The Hawkeyes fell behind by double digits early in the first half for the second consecutive week and their late rally came up short, falling to Northwestern 28-17 last week. Senior quarterback James Vandenberg threw for 214 yards and sophomore running-back Damon Bullock emerged with 107 yards, but neither reached the end zone.

• Iowa’s defense has turned in back-to-back rough performances after finding itself 2-0 earlier in the Big Ten season. The loss pushes Iowa to the fringe of the Legends division race heading into the final month of the season. Games against Indiana and Purdue may prove key to the Hawkeyes’ postseason hopes.

Next Game: at Indiana

Michigan (5-3, 3-1 Big Ten))

• Senior quarterback Denard Robinson was knocked out in the second quarter of a 23-9 loss to Nebraska with an elbow injury. The Wolverine offense really struggled to find its footing. Robinson hadn’t done much up to that point, throwing for only 55 yards and rushing for 46 before departing.

• Since allowing a golden opportunity to take control of the Legends division slip away, the Wolverines need help to reach Indianapolis. A stretch of divisional games against Minnesota, Northwestern and Iowa await. Wins in each are vital in Michigan's quest for a Big Ten title.

Next Game: at Minnesota

Michigan State (4-4, 1-3 Big Ten)

• The Spartans’ offense woke up in the nick of time, outscoring Wisconsin 13-3 in the closing minutes and overtime in a 16-13 victory last Saturday. Junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Bennie Fowler won it in the first overtime session after the Michigan State defense held the Badgers to a field goal.

• Maxwell finished 24-of-39 for 216 yards and a pair of scores in leading the Spartans to the upset. The victory doesn’t do much in terms of the conference title race, but should rest all fears that the Green and White may miss the postseason. Back-to-back home games with Nebraska and Northwestern are ahead, followed by a winnable game at Minnesota.

Next Game: vs. Nebraska

Minnesota (5-3, 1-3 Big Ten)

• Freshman quarterback Philip Nelson threw for 246 yards and three touchdowns in leading Minnesota to a 44-28 romping of Purdue last week. His performance was part of a 458-yard Golden Gopher attack that took advantage of a Purdue defense coming off an emotional letdown against Wisconsin the week prior.

• The win was a big boost to the Maroon and Gold’s postseason hopes as it left them a single victory from returning to the postseason for the first time since 2009. A trip to Illinois on Nov. 10 looks more and more like that clinching victory, but first the Gophers have a home date with Michigan this week.

Next Game: vs. Michigan

Nebraska (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten)

• Senior quarterback Taylor Martinez wasn’t perfect but he was good enough, throwing for 166 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the Cornhuskers’ important 23-9 victory against Michigan last week. Sophomore running-back Ameer Abdullah filled in admirably for injured senior Rex Burkhead, rushing for 101 yards and a score.

• Nebraska has control of the Legends division after the victory and is the final one-loss team remaining. Still, winning out may prove to be necessary to reach the conference title game as they lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with Northwestern. The Huskers head to East Lansing next week before facing their biggest test remaining, a date with Penn State in Lincoln on Nov. 10.

Next Game: at Michigan State

Northwestern (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten)

• Junior quarterback Kain Colter accounted for 246 of the Wildcats’ 433 yards and three touchdowns in Northwestern’s 28-17 victory against Iowa last week. Junior running back Venric Mark added 162 yards on the ground via just 16 carries as the Wildcats built a lead they would not relinquish amidst a furious Hawkeye rally in the second half.

• The victory, coupled with Michigan’s loss at Nebraska, creates a match-up of immense proportions following the bye week on Nov. 10 in Ann Arbor. The Wildcats are back into the thick of the Legends race and can take a large step toward Indianapolis by beating the Wolverines.

Next Game: Nov. 10 at Michigan

Ohio State (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten)

• Sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller showed little signs he was injured last Ssaturdy, throwing rushing for 134 yards and accounting for a trio of scores in the Buckeyes’ 35-23 victory against Penn State. It was Miller’s sixth game of more than 130 rushing yards this season, the most by an FBS quarterback since 2004.

• The win all but assured the Buckeyes of finishing the season atop the Legends division even though they are ineligible for postseason play. The Buckeyes are just three wins away from a perfect season with a date with Wisconsin and an end of the season visit by Michigan serving as the final road blocks.

Next Game: vs. Illinois

Penn State (5-3, 3-1 Big Ten)

• Senior quarterback Matt McGloin threw for 327 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but his interception proved costly in the Nittany Lions’ 35-23 loss to Ohio State last week. McGloin’s mistake was returned 17 yards for a touchdown by the Buckeyes’ Ryan Shazier in what proved to be the decisive score.

• The loss ended a five-game winning streak for the Nittany Lions and proved that all is not back to normal in Happy Valley. Still, each of the remaining four games look winnable for Penn State, especially contests with Indiana and this weekend's opponent, Purdue.

Next Game: at Purdue

Purdue (3-4, 0-3 Big Ten)

• The Boilermakers’ disappointing loss to Ohio State seemed to carry over as they looked lifeless in a 44-28 loss to Minnesota last week. Senior quarterback Robert Marve threw for a pair of scores, but the defense yielded 458 yards to an offense led by a backup quarterback.

• With their title hopes gone, the question moves to whether or not the Boilermakers can recover enough to pick up another victory. The loss in Columbus has lingered and the road doesn’t get any better with a visit from Penn State lurking next week. Back to back games with Illinois and Indiana to close the season may determine Purdue’s postseason fate.

Next Game: vs. Penn State

Wisconsin (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten)

•  The Badgers seemed in control the entire game until the defense allowed a tying touchdown drive in the final minutes and fell in overtime, 16-13 to Michigan State last week. The offense was held to just 19 yards rushing and lost freshman quarterback Joel Stave for the season with a broken collarbone.

• The defeat ended a 21-game home-winning streak dating back to Oct. 17, 2009. More importantly, it knocked the Badgers back into the thick of the Leaders division race. Next week’s matchup at Indiana will be crucial, especially since they’ll close the season with back-to-back dates against Ohio State and Penn State.

Next Game: Nov. 10 at Indiana