The Big Ten in 2011 can be summed up as a few good teams, a few mediocre teams, but no great teams. With Penn State losing at home to Nebraska (and you have to wonder how things would have been without the circus of the past week) everyone in the league has at least two losses. With two weeks to go you could technically have a four-way tie in the Leaders' Division and a four-way tie in the Legends Division. Only Indiana and Illinois in the Leaders and Northwestern and Iowa in the Legends have been totally eliminated. For our Boilers, we lament that better special teams play at Penn State could have us with a chance at making it to Indy with the only help we would need being a loss by Wisconsin in the last two games.
Realistically, we have a much clearer picture. Michigan State is in firm control in the Legends, and will go to Indy as long as they beat Indiana and Northwestern. In the Leaders, Penn State still leads, but they must win in Columbus or Madison, plus get some help if they don't win both. My money is on a Wisconsin-Michigan State rematch, because the Badgers now control their own destiny in games with Illinois and Penn State to finish, thanks to us handing Ohio State a third league loss.
In terms of bowl games, As long as Purdue and Northwestern hold serve against Indiana and Minnesota, respectively, the league will have 10 bowl eligible teams for just the second time ever (10 were eligible in 2007, but Northwestern and Iowa at 6-6 were left out). Off Tackle Empire has a great bowl projections post that has us going to the Pinstripe Bowl in new York against Pitt, but if we can beat both Iowa and Indiana we could be looking at the Meineke Car Care (formerly Texas) Bowl in Houston.
Our best bet is to keep winning, however, and As we head into the Fortnight of Hate things look good in that regard.
Purdue 26, Ohio State 23 (OT)
It is quite amusing to read some of the OSU blogs today. They have two common themes:
They can't believe they lost to Purdue and view it as inexcusable.
They are making fun of us for rushing the field, saying that beating them was our "Super Bowl"
To me, the field rush was more spontaneous from the students than anything. We had a tight, exciting college football game against a traditional power and we won it on the game's final play. I think it just kind of happened, and there would have been no field rush if Braxton Miller's fourth down pass to Jordan Hall falls incomplete and we win in regulation.
As for the first, well, they should be used to losing at Purdue by now. They are 2-4 since 2000 in West Lafayette, and the Buckeyes haven't lost more than twice anywhere else in the conference in that time. For some strange, unexplainable reason, we own them at Ross-Ade. Even one of their wins was the infamous "Holy Buckeye" play in 2002. In reality, we have no business beating Ohio State four times in six tries at home, especially with as good as they have been in recent memory. Strangely it happens though, so I will take it.
The best thing we can take from this game was the dominance of our defensive line. They had been gashed the previous two weeks, but at home they are a completely different team. In four straight home wins now Kawann Short, Bruce Gaston, Brandon Taylor, Ryan Russell, and Gerald Gooden have looked completely different at home than on the road. We did exactly what we needed to do in bottling up their running game, preventing Miller from going too crazy, and forcing them to throw. For most of the game their only offense was Miller's improvisation (which he is extremely good at) or Hall and Dan Herron running out of the wildcat. The end game may have been about Robert Marve and his redemption, but the game was really won by our defense playing well enough to build a 10-0 lead and 17-7 at the half.
Northwestern 28, Rice 6
The Wildcats did what we could not and dominated the Owls for a critical non-conference win. Dan Persa had 372 yards passing and four touchdowns as Northwestern was never really in trouble. Jeremy Ebert had 208 yards receiving and two scores. It would have been nice if we could have done the same to Rice. Hopefully we win one of the next two and that doesn't become the biggest regret of the season.
Nebraska 17, Penn State 14
The Nittany Lions tried, they really did, but they couldn't do enough after falling behind 17-0. Rex Burkhead continued his solid play with another 100 yards day and added a touchdown. Black Shoe Diaries thinks that the loss may have been beneficial given everything going on in State College:
Maybe Penn State needed to lose.
A 9-1 record could have restored the faith of a fan base that has seen their world flipped upside down. A sense of normalcy in a time so unfamiliar. Beating Nebraska while facing such long odds would have rejuvenated a struggling community and put Penn State one step closer to a Big Ten title.
But it would have been a quick fix.
Michigan State 37, Iowa 21
Iowa comes into the Hate Fortnight off of its first loss at home this season, mostly because the Spartans whipped their ass for the entire first half. Marcus Coker and Marvin McNutt are dangerous players, but the Hawkeyes have been pretty ordinary of late outside of their upset of Michigan. The propaganda rag of OMHR has its usual humor toward the loss:
Ferentz was surprisingly upbeat at the press conference, given that his team had just suffered its worst loss in four years. "Hola, amigos!" Ferentz said. "Me llamo Kirk Ferentz. Como estas?" A reporter asked Ferentz why he was dressed as a mariachi and speaking Spanish; it was only after answering this question that the coach learned of his mistake. "Oh, SENIOR Day. OK, that makes a lot more sense," said Ferentz. When a reporter asked how the coach didn't realize his mistake when 18 seniors were individually announced in pregame introductions, Ferentz admitted he had missed the festivities while getting into his costume before adding, "I just thought they were all our Hispanic players. I mean, Zusevics has to be Spanish for something, right?" Ferentz acknowledged that many of the announced players clearly have no Spanish heritage, but didn't want to judge because "that's the modern world we live in. Have I mentioned I can't even work my email?"
The Only Colors could not ask for a better scenario next Saturday. Nebraska, the only team that can hold a tiebreaker over them, has to play a tough road game at Michigan, while MSU gets Indiana at home. It's hard to not feel good with that:
MSU has to beat Indiana and go to Northwestern to punch a ticket to the Big Ten title game, and while they're not there yet, it's hard not to feel much more confident about that than in earlier in the day
Michigan 31, Illinois 14
The 6-0 start by the Fighting Illini is a very distant memory now:
The problems are nearly too numerous to name at this point. The play calling on offense is clearly a problem, but so too now it seems is our entire backfield. As a team, Illinois rushed 37 rushing yards. This from the team that routinely finishes in the top three of the Big Ten in that category. Jason Ford had his touchdown, but amassed only 26 yards on 11 carries, and added in a fumble for good measure. Troy Pollard, who seems to only get the ball in the option looks, (likely due to his lack of size) is getting tracked down pretty consistently now, and got 14 yards on 16 carries.
For whatever reason, the offensive line has been overrun for the better part of a month now. These are almost all returning players from last year, and didn't seem to have a problem against Penn State, Michigan or Purdue last year, but this year seem utterly listless.
Michigan might be able to think about an at large BCS berth now if they win out. Their only hope of getting to Indy would be if MSU drops games to Indiana and Northwestern, which is not likely at all. If they beat Nebraska and get the OSU monkey off their back, however, the Wolverines would be 10-2 and a viable BCS candidate.
Wisconsin 42, Minnesota 13
It wasn't as bad as we thought it would be a few weeks ago, but the Golden Gophers only scored on a fake field goal and a kickoff return. Outside of that, the Badgers were in full control throughout. The day could not have gone better for Wisconsin, either, wince we beat Ohio State. The Buckeyes have the divisional tiebreaker over Wisconsin based on their head to head win, but now that OSU had three league losses Wisconsin can get to Indy by beating Illinois and Penn State to finish.
But with the win, the Badgers gained something even more important than the Axe. After Purdue upset Ohio State 26-23 and Penn State fell to Nebraska at home, the Badgers control their own destiny in the Big Ten once again.
"I knew at halftime ... but I didn't say anything to the team because it would've been out of character for what we do," Bielema said in his post-game pres conference. "After the game in the locker room I said ‘Hey, in the world of college football things worked out for us today.' We have to concentrate on being in the moment. We're a 1-0 mentality, and that's where we'll stay."