The Whistlestop Tour: Week 12 Of Big Ten Football

Bradley Leeb-US PRESSWIRE

Only Michigan State and Purdue can now join the Big Ten postseason party.

We know that a victory over Indiana means no return to Detroit. At worst, Purdue will play in the Heart of Dallas Bowl in the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day. Indiana and Iowa were eliminated from bowl consideration, giving the Big Ten a maximum of seven teams in the postseason. Purdue and Michigan State each must win their final games to qualify for a bowl game. A loss by the Spartans and a win by Purdue means the Boilers will go to Houston at worst.

Even if Ohio State and Penn State were eligible it is likely that Purdue would find a postseason home in a nine-team eligible Big Ten. One such way would be Nebraska losing the Big Ten title game, but earning a surprise at large selection to the BCS. A second would be in a random other bowl with Michigan State staying close to home to Detroit. As of now, 63 teams are assured of bowl eligibility with 70 bowl spots. We don't have to worry about that, however, as the equation is simple: Win and Purdue is headed to Houston or Dallas.

Here is what happened around the rest of the league:

Northwestern 23, Michigan State 20 - The Wildcats got a nice road win at Spartan Stadium and are now likely in line for a New Year's Day Bowl game in Florida. They've had a pretty good season and could be undefeated if not for fourth quarter collapses against Penn State, Michigan, and Nebraska. An elusive 10-win season is a possibility:

Northwestern's defense forced 4 turnovers, including an interception returned for a touchdown by David Nwabuisi, on the way to a close win. The defense allowed Andrew Maxwell to throw for 297 yards, but it kept LeVeon Bell mostly in check and made some critical red zone stops and a fourth down stop to clinch the game along with those turnovers.

As for Michigan State, it has been much like Purdue's 2002 season in that every game has been a close one:

Sometimes, sports are just weird. MSU became the second team in FBS history to play seven straight games decided by four points or less in one season. It makes no sense how Notre Dame gets Pitt to miss a chip-shot field goal, or Michigan gets a tipped hail mary and eventually beats Northwestern, how Ohio State hasn't really been that impressive this year, but has an outside shot at an AP national championship, while MSU has to deal with this every week.

Michigan 42, Iowa 17

The Wolverines are still alive for the Legends Division title, but they need a Nebraska loss to the team that Michigan just crushed in addition to a win over one of only two undefeated teams left in the country. It is not looking good, but Denard Robinson played:

After a week of hand-wringing regarding Denard Robinson's status for his (and the other 22 seniors) final game in the Big House, we got the chance to watch him in his purest, crystallized form. No one knows if we've seen the last of Denard Robinson the quarterback, but Denard the runner, the avatar of speed and poetic motion, is very much alive and well.

As for Iowa, the Hawkeyes were eliminated from bowl consideration and their fans are just glad it is almost all over:

For the last month or so, the Iowa defense has looked utterly hapless. They look lost. They look confused. Guys rarely seem to know what they should be doing or where they should be (Michigan scored two touchdowns when receivers got wide open behind the defense). And when they are in place, Iowa defenders are rarely making a good play. Missed tackles have become an epidemic. Bad angles of pursuit are the new normal. Defensive pressure from the line is a myth; ditto competent pass coverage from the secondary.

Penn State 45, Indiana 22

The Nittany Lions became the latest team to set some new offensive records against the Hoosiers, but Michael Mauti was lost in the process:

If what seems certain to be Mauti's third torn ACL in four years isn't evidence that there's no justice in the world, I don't know what is. Life simply isn't fair. Normally, people get a grasp on that concept by the time they turn 5, but today was just a cruel reminder of the nature of sports, especially college sports. Yes, it's corrupt, and yes, it's scandal-ridden, and yes, there are so many things wrong with college athletics that we spend Sunday through Friday arguing about, but when we got to watch Michael Mauti play, it was so easy to forget that this sport is anything less than beautiful and perfect, and we'll never get a chance to do that again.

Indiana now turns its attention to Purdue, where its offense can spoil our chances at playing in a bowl game:

IU now has to prepare for a Purdue team that has a chance to play in its first warm weather bowl game since 2006. Danny Hope and his staff will at least pretend as if they have the chance to save their jobs. It will be tough, as it always is for IU at Ross-Ade, but it's a winnable game. The Bucket game has no bowl implications for IU, but from the perspective of recruiting, bragging rights, and denying Purdue a bowl game, it's a big deal.

Purdue 20, Illinois 17

For the second straight week an opponent is wondering how it lost to a struggling Purdue team> the Fighting Illini are no different even at 2-9 now:

That's how sad this season has been. The fact that this team was able to score not only one, but two touchdowns on offense in four quarters was deemed a reason to be thankful. And it should be considering that the Illini went eight quarters without scoring an offensive touchdown.

Nebraska 38, Minnesota 14

The Cornhuskers left little doubt in running up a 38-0 lead before putting it on cruise control in the fourth quarter:

It was a dominating performance by the Blackshirts. Minnesota only gained 177 yards on the afternoon, and didn't score until after Pelini emptied the bench. The Gophers went 1 for 13 on third down and were beaten soundly on both sides of the ball. No second half comeback was needed this week; Nebraska scored on their opening possession and never trailed. Nebraska led 10-0 before Minnesota even achieved a first down. Nebraska pounced on the Gophers like Carl Spackler...but unlike in Caddyshack, there was no escape.

The Golden Gophers are content knowing that at least a bowl game is already secured thanks to beating Purdue and Illinois:

But that is about all the time I'm going to spend on this game. Nobody thought we'd win, most of us assumed it would be more competitive, but it wasn't. Nobody should be surprised that Nebraska is much better than we are. We didn't lose our bowl eligibility and maybe this slap in the face will be motivating for next week's game. Michigan State is vulnerable, let's put this one behind us and move on.

Ohio State 21, Wisconsin 14 OT

The Buckeyes can still win the AP National title, and they haven't looked great in doing it so far. Still, they are 11-0:

It was ugly. It was dirty. It was brutal. The Buckeyes and Badgers combined for 17 punts in a classic Big Ten slug fest. Montee Ball ran for 191 yards on 39 carries and a score, and Curt Phillips confounded the Buckeyes on a late drive to tie the game, sending Ohio State to overtime for the second time this year. But, after hibernating for three quarters, the Buckeye offense woke up at the exact right time, as Carlos Hyde ran for his second score of the game. The Buckeye defense needed a stop, and John Simon (4 sacks, and a huge factor all day) and the Silver Bullets would be equal to the task, stopping the Badgers on fourth down, sealing the victory.

The Badgers feel like they let one slip away:

Ball entered the day with 77 career rushing touchdowns, and his seven-yard rush in the second quarter tied the senior running back with Travis Prenctice (Miami of Ohio, 1996-99) for the NCAA record. Wisconsin's star running back finished with 191 yards on 39 carries (4.9 yards per) and one touchdown. He had a crack at the record-breaking touchdown late in the fourth quarter, but fumbled on a carry from OSU's 1-yard line with 3:07 remaining.

Non-conference opponents:

Eastern Kentucky - Did not play and they missed the FCS playoffs after finishing 8-3, 6-2 in the Ohio Valley Conference. A 24-7 loss to Eastern Illinois on October 27 gave the OVC's bid to EIU over EKU.

Notre Dame 38, Wake Forest 0 - Notre Dame is No. 1. Insert wankery.

Eastern Michigan 29, Western Michigan 23 - This year's MAC team beats last year's MAC team.

Marshall 44, Houston 41 - If Marshall beats East Carolina this week we will have a win over a team that plays in the postseason!

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