The Whistlestop Tour: Week 11 of Big Ten Football

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

The week that was in Big Ten football.

The two teams that are likely to meet in Indianapolis for the league title did not play this weekend, but the few teams that could catch them was narrowed quite a bit. Here is how things look in each division:

Leaders Division:

Purdue, Penn State, and Illinois are officially eliminated. Indiana has an incredibly slim chance, but only if they beat Wisconsin, Ohio State and Purdue to finish along with Wisconsin losing to Minnesota or Penn State and Ohio State losing to Michigan and Illinois. In others words, IT AIN'T HAPPENING. Wisconsin needs to beat Minnesota, Penn State, and Indiana (possible) while Ohio State loses to two of Indiana, Illinois, or Michigan (not bloody likely).

Basically, it is Ohio State's to lose. The Buckeyes clinch with a win this weekend and Wisconsin loss.

Legends Division:

This is a little more interesting. Iowa, Michigan, and Northwestern are eliminated. Michigan State is 5-0 and in front, but still has to face Nebraska (4-1) this weekend, a dangerous Northwestern team in Evanston, and Minnesota. Nebraska can take control if it beats Michigan State in Lincoln and would then only need to beat Penn State and Iowa.

Then you have Minnesota, who is still alive after the 0-2 start. The Golden Gophers are 4-2, but have the tiebreaker over Nebraska and still play Michigan State. Since Michigan State and Nebraska still play each other the Gophers would only need the winner to lose once more if Minnesota wins its final two games against Wisconsin and Michigan State.

So yes, the Big Ten Championship could be a Minnesota-Indiana rematch, which would be the two longest active Rose Bowl droughts, however unlikely it may be.

Minnesota 24, Penn State 10

Minnesota is 8-2! Yes, the Minnesota Golden Gophers are 8-2 and have won four conference games in a row for the first time in 40 years. They are all doing this under an interim coach with virtually no passing game. They have already clinched a bowl game, but now they are thinking New Year's Day Bowl game, which hasn't happened since the 1962 Rose Bowl. The Daily Gopher is beyond happy no matter what else happens:

I'll say it again, what is not to love about Gopher Football right now?  This Gopher team was impressive today and they continue to get significant contributions from underclassmen.  Philip Nelson has settled into his role as QB1, he's a sophomore.  Maxx Williams is a legit Big Ten weapon, he is a freshman.  Donovahn Jones and Drew Wolitarsky are becoming regular offensive weapons, both are true freshmen.  Josh Campion is consistent and very good at RT, sophomore.  Eric Murray had a very nice game at corner, he's a sophomore.  Theiran Cockran with a huge sack in the second half; sophomore.  This team is getting better every week and they are a lot of fun to watch.  What is not to love about Gopher football right now?

For the Nittany Lions, it is still all about surviving in the purgatory of NCAA sanctions as this season comes to a close:

We can't be shocked at this point in the season. We've known the defense was sub-par since week 3's loss to UCF. And week by week, the offense slides back closer to its natural equilibrium (i.e., we're not scoring touchdowns in the red zone at a 91% clip anymore). You want my advice for the last three games? Start drinking heavily.

Never thought I'd be this eager to play Purdue.

Iowa 38, Purdue 14

The Purdue losing streak is now at seven games, which has crossed the threshold of longest streak since losing nine in a row to close the 1993 season at 1-10. Purdue hasn't lost 10 in a row, which is what the streak will reach if the Boilers finish 1-11, since 1906-08 when the 1906 team went 0-5, the 1907 team also went 0-5, and the 1908 team lost the opener to Chicago before winning four straight.

This team at least might have something in common with that, as Purdue scored a total of 15 points in those 11 losses. Still, the last time Purdue lost double digit games in a row the Chicago Cubs had just won the World Series. I am not the only Purdue fan not happy about this:

Losing in a historically-notable fashion, week-after-week, isn't easy for me to swallow. But at the same time, I can't really stop watching what's happening. It's not like a car wreck for me, I really don't want to see how bad things can get...I just want to see something positive...something to build on.  And those glimmers, if they exist, have been tough to spot.

For Iowa, a win meant the return of the Trophy of Badassery to Iowa City and bowl eligibility:

You know, folks, I think we need to consider the not-insignificant possibility that Iowa football slipped into a parallel universe in West Lafayette today.  I mean, consider the evidence: Jordan Canzeri ran the ball 20 times for 165 yards and Iowa's first touchdown -- by far his best game in an Iowa uniform.  Don Shumpert was Iowa's leading receiver, with 2 catches for 69 yards, which was his best day at Iowa.  Mike Hardy had six tackles, including two TFL and 0.5 sacks, easily his best day at Iowa.  What in hell?  And seriously: Purdue helped put a man on the moon.  You're really willing to say that they couldn't have some crazy device in West Lafayette that's opened a gateway to another dimension?

Nebraska 17, Michigan 13

This basically served as an elimination game for the Divisional title, moreso for Michigan wince they had already lost to Michigan State. The Wolverines did not look good in yet another loss due to an offensive line that is falling apart:

Meanwhile, this team has me flatlining; the closest I get to something real is a cringe as Devin Gardner takes yet another sack or Fitzgerald Toussaint collapses under an avalanche of defenders. Other than that, my viewing of Michigan football since the Akron and UConn games has consisted of resigned nodding with the occasional secretive fist pump when Devin Funchess or Jeremy Gallon catch a pass.

The Cornhuskers stayed alive in advance of a huge game against Michigan State at home, where they can regain control of their divisional fate that was dead until the Hail Mary against Northwestern:

Over time, those mistakes will disappear, and we'll see far more of the great plays down the stretch. And that's why I'm growing so excited about the future of Nebraska football. For the second week in a row, Nebraska fans have been treated to a ferocious defense worthy of the label Blackshirts.  Yes, Nebraska's defense had flaws last season: talent and depth was an issue. This year, we swapped that problem for another: inexperience.  A second half meltdown against UCLA.  Bad form up in Minneapolis.  But adjustments have been made, and there's something to start getting excited about.

Indiana 52, Illinois 35

The fledgling bowl hopes for the Hoosiers are still alive, as they almost repeated the previous week's collapse against Minnesota. This was a tie game with 12:41 left before Indiana scored the final 17 points. Both teams had over 600 yards, but Indiana's defense actually made some plays to get key stops in the end. That might be the first time that sentence has ever been written:

On defense, we saw an even larger dose of true freshmen than we have been seeing. It's starting to sound like the coaches are somewhat throwing in the towel on the upper-classmen stop gaps and just getting the young guys with some promise as many reps as possible. True freshman Clyde Newton got the start at LB. David Kenney received probably double the reps he's been getting all year. Darius Latham was on the field most of the day and TJ Simmons continued his strong play. If not for Antonio Allen's torn ACL he would have been on the field as well. Making it half the starting defense being freshmen.

The Fighting Illini, barring a shocking upset of Ohio State, will now likely enter their game at Purdue on a 20-game Big Ten losing streak. They have now lost 19 in a row, a first since Wisconsin dropped 19 straight under Barry Alvarez in the early 90's  The last to reach 20 in a row was Northwestern, who beat Illinois on the final day of the 1977 season and did not win another Big Ten game until 1982. That was 38 games in a row that they dropped, a record that is safe until 2016 at minimum:

The Illini have now lost 19 straight Big Ten games, but while that is terrible enough in and of itself, it's not like they're all that amazing outside of the Big Ten. The fact is that since our last Big Ten win in 2011, in Bloomington against the team that just put up 52 points on us, the Illini have gone 6-22 in 28 games.

We've lost 79% of our games since that last Big Ten win, and since we created The Champaign Room on October 22 last year, the Illini have gone 3-11. Again, losing 79% of the time.

Wisconsin 27, BYU 17

The Badgers moved to 7-2 and kept faint hopes of an at large BCS berth alive with their final non-conference win of the year:

Wisconsin's four-quarter consistency could use some improvement, but at least the Badgers rectified their slow start against Iowa and came out of the gates with a masterful first drive against the Cougars. The same can't be said for the way Wisconsin finished, as there was a clear lapse in the game's closing minutes.

Non-Conference Opponents:

Cincinnati 28, SMU 25 - The Bearcats are 7-2, but their two losses are definitely WTF losses in Illinois and South Florida. They had to hang on in this one as SMU was down 28-10 before two late touchdowns.

South Dakota State 29, Indiana 0 - I was unaware that Shakir Bell had been kicked off the team, but the Trees are now 1-9 and have only kept two teams, Purdue and South Dakota, under 28 points.

Pittsburgh 28, Notre Dame 21 - Thank you, Pittsburgh. The college football world owes you a service.

Northern Illinois - ON BYE in advances of their big showdown with Ball State.

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