Here's your weekly summary of what you may have missed in the Big Ten Conference.
Ohio State: 29 (OT)
Boilermakers: (3-4, 1-2) What was once looking to be a really nice season for the Boilermakers has come off the rails a bit dropping their third straight game in a very difficult stretch to start things off in conference play. It’s not a complete shock they dropped all 3 games, but if they had any hopes of challenging Wisconsin for the
Leaders Eastern division title, they couldn’t go 0-3 and that’s exactly what they did. All that said, for much of the game, this was a very inspired performance from Purdue. They landed several hay makers and had Ohio State primed for a stunning defeat, but they couldn’t seal the deal and fell to the Buckeye’s in overtime. They also had a PAT blocked on their first touchdown, 17 seconds into the game. That turned out to be a pretty big play.
Buckeyes: (8-0, 4-0) The Buckeye’s just have a way of winning games like this, but the continual injuries of Braxton Miller has to be concerning for the Buckeyes. He’s missed parts of more than a handful of games now. He’s too valuable to this team for that to keep happening, but if you’re going to rely on an incredible athlete as your primary play-maker at quarterback, this is the risk you run. Backup quarterback Kenny Guiton led the Bucks to the game tying touchdown drive completing a pass to Chris Fields with three seconds remaining and the subsequent two point conversion to send the game to overtime, where they eventually won the game. The ability to keep Miller healthy should be of paramount concern the rest of the way.
Gophers: (4-3, 0-3) Minnesota is down to their third string quarterback in freshman Philip Nelson. Despite the blowout loss, he was impressive enough for Minnesota to make the decision to give him the job and move MarQueis Gray out to wide receiver. Like Purdue, this season had started with a lot of promise, but have struggled when hitting conference play. Drastically decreasing the touches for your most dynamic player is a curious way try and improve the trajectory of a season, but the argument could be made that he has had trouble staying on the field in the first place so it’s better than having him on the sideline for long stretches of the season. Unlike the Boilermakers, however, the schedule does the Gophers no favors. They still have to face Michigan, Nebraska and Michigan State. Fortunately, two of those games are in Minneapolis. Gophers need to find a way to win 2 more games to go bowling.
Badgers: (6-2, 3-1) Don’t look now, but this Wisconsin team is starting to look a lot more familiar. They’re leaning on All-American Montee Ball and emerging star James White and not asking Joel Stave to do too much and since the meltdown in Lincoln, it’s worked. They haven’t had much of a challenge since the trip to Nebraska and that will change on Saturday as Michigan State comes to town. With the struggles of Purdue since getting to conference play, there doesn’t seem to be a challenger to the Badgers reign in the
Leader’s Eastern division and the notion that they might be able to claim an outright title of the division isn’t as far-fetched as it seemed a couple of weeks ago. Wisonsin will have the opportunity to lay that claim as they face Ohio St. and Penn St. consecutively to close out the season.
Michigan State: 10
Spartans: (4-4, 1-3) It’s gut check time for Michigan State. The Rose Bowl they longed so deeply for at the beginning of the season is no longer within their grasp. How will they respond to having their goals removed? Will they become a wrecking ball for teams like Nebraska and Wisconsin, their next two opponents? Or will they roll over and limp into a bowl game? This is where programs are defined. Make no mistake, Michigan State still has one of the best defenses in the conference, perhaps the very best one, but they can’t generate any points to help out that unit. Sparty fought valiantly and was in position to, once again, break the hearts of in-state rival and big brother, Michigan, but the defense wasn’t able to hold when it mattered giving up a field goal as time expired. It’s a gut wrenching loss to add to a gut wrenching.
Wolverines: (5-2, 3-0) The race to 900 is over. You may have heard, Michigan won their 900th game this weekend on a last second field goal by Brendan Gibbons, so that’s cool. No other school has ever done that. I’m assuming the UM faithful won’t be shy about mentioning that this weekend. But you know what happens when you assume... I’m guessing the only way winning 900 would have been sweeter would be if it had come vs. Ohio State, but alas, it didn’t so they’ll have to settle for in-state ankle biter, Michigan State. That said, Michigan is firmly in control of the
Legends Western division race as they get set to show down with their biggest contender (sorry, Iowa, I’ll get to you in a minute), Nebraska, on Saturday in prime time. It will be a measuring stick game for both teams who firmly believe that anything short of getting to the Rose Bowl will be a disappointment.
Huskers: (5-2, 2-1) NU, backed by an inspired performance from quarterback Taylor Martinez and some nifty wide receiver play from nearly the entire position group, came back from a 12 point deficit with 8:31 to play to pull off yet another historic comeback. That seems to be a trend for this group the past couple of years. That sort of play will be difficult to maintain if they want to make the jump from a mediocre to good to a good to great team. To do that, they’re going to have to stop committing silly penalties, turning the ball over and failing to capitalize on opportunities to turn the other team over and that should begin ASAP unless they want to induce a mass coronary across the state. There was no question who was the more talented team on Saturday. What was in question was whether or not Nebraska is disciplined enough to get out of their own way. History would suggest they are not. They’ll get a chance to start to change that perception in prime time next week as Denard Robinson and the Wolverines come to town.
Wildcats: (6-2, 2-2) This has to be a bitter pill to swallow for the Northwestern team, coaches and fans. They had the Huskers right where they wanted them. They had a team that had physically out played them on the ropes, in their building, though you might have wondered about even that as the Big Red faithful made their presence more than felt at Ryan Field on Saturday. The Wildcats had capitalized on Nebraska penalties and turnovers to take a 12 point lead with 8:31 in the fourth quarter, but they were not able to hold the lead as Nebraska mounted a furious rally to snatch the game away from the purple NU. Northwestern continues their gauntlet stretch as they get set to face Iowa, and the Michigan teams before closing out vs. Illinois. If NU can grab two of those games, while a mild disappointment after starting the season 5-0, winning 8 with an opportunity for 9, has to be considered a good season for the Wildcats, but it’s going to be a terrific challenge to make it happen.
Penn State: 38
Nittany Lions: (5-2, 3-0) This was nothing short of complete domination. Penn State jumped to a commanding 24-0 halftime lead and extended it to 38-0 before Iowa was able to muster a couple of fourth quarter touchdowns. The transformation of this team from week one to now is nothing short of remarkable. This team was barely able to move the ball and seemed completely lost. After they were able to come up with that first win, they’ve been a completely different team, perhaps even the best team in the conference, most consistent, certainly. Senior quarterback Matt McGloin led an efficient Penn State attack going 26/38 for 286 yards and 2 touchdowns. They also ran for 215, led by Bill Belton’s 103, controlling the entire game. Defensively, they kept Iowa from getting any sort of momentum, limiting the Hawkeye running game to just 20 yards and only a whisker over 200 of total offense for the game. It’s too bad for coach Bill O’Brien’s squad is not eligible for post season play because this team is playing like the front runner for the Rose Bowl.
Hawkeyes: (4-3, 2-1) Just when things were looking up, it all came crashing down. With breakout running back Mark Weisman still hobbled by an ankle injury suffered in their overtime win over Michigan State, Iowa was never able to get anything going offensively and was ground to a complete halt before scraping together a couple of touchdowns after the game had been put away by Penn State. So, it’s back to the drawing board for the Hawkeyes, who were dominated in every phase of the game and not hold little hope of pulling off the stunning turnaround and making a run at the
Legends Western division race.
Hoosiers: (2-5, 0-3) Oh, so close! The life of being a fan of a team that is building from rock bottom is rarely a pleasant one (and I should know being a season ticket holder for Nebraska basketball and a lifelong fan of the Expos/Nats, this season not withstanding), but if they are able to get the job done, it will be very, very sweet (again, speaking from experience). Along the way, there will be games like this that will drive your fans, coaches, players and administrative decision makers bonkers. Indiana led for much of this game and held a 30-21 lead with just over 12 minutes remaining but couldn’t hold on to the lead. It’s games like this that the Hoosiers especially need to learn how to win. Bowl appearances for bottom feeders are made in non-conference play. Until they can climb that hurdle, it will always be a forward look to basketball season, which is right around the corner.
Ranking the B1G:
- Penn State (3): Not the most talented team, but the most consistent the past 6 weeks. This team continues to improve and is perhaps the biggest surprise in the conference to date.
- Ohio State (1): This is probably the most talented team in the conference play, but they haven’t exactly inspired a lot of confidence the past couple of weeks. The continued need for medical attention for Braxton Miller is concerning as well.
- Michigan (2): Starting to turn into the top team that many thought they were going into the season. Potentially season defining game in Lincoln on Saturday.
- Nebraska (5): When this team can stay out of its own way, it might be the best team in the conference. Until they figure out how to do that, they’ll continue to stub their toe and need to have stirring comebacks like the one they had on Saturday.
- Wisconsin (6): The Badgers are starting to round into shape. As that running game goes, so go the Badgers. They seem to be coming together right as it matters most.
- Northwestern (4): It took two big comebacks to beat this team, but comeback they did and as the schedule takes a turn into the gauntlet stage, it could cost them an opportunity to play on New Year’s Day.
- Iowa (7): They’re not going to win many more games if they can’t run the ball, which means they need to have someone to run the ball. This joke has to be getting old for Hawkeye backers.
- Michigan State (8): Having the best defense in the conference is nice and all, but if the offense doesn’t score any points, the results are still the same. Lost season appears to be unfolding in East Lansing.
- Purdue (9): Boilers have to be proud of the effort they showed in Columbus, but disappointed in not being able to seal the deal. A season of promise is slipping away.
- Minnesota (10): Moving Gray out to wide receiver is a curious move, but I guess it beats having him on the field for zero plays. Gonna take a lot for the Gophers to find their way into a bowl game.
- Indiana (11): There has been definite progress in Bloomington this year, but not quite enough to translate in to wins, especially with their biggest play-maker unavailable.
- Illinois (12): Not gonna move out of this spot if the don’t play a game.
Player of the Week: Taylor Martinez. Saturday’s stirring comeback vs. Northwestern might have been a signature moment for the junior signal caller. The talented but constantly critiqed quarterback was 27/39 for 342 yards and 3 touchdowns all while avoiding throwing an interception. Included in that was a critical stretch over the final eight minutes of the game where he completed ten consecutive passes, including two touchdowns, to pull off the comeback in the deciding minutes of the game. He also ran for 65 yards and a touchdown for good measure.