The Whistlestop Tour: Week 12 Of Big Ten Football

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

A look at the week that was in the Big Ten.

Before getting into the Whistlestop tour I wanted to look at something that is very interesting. We all know it has been a rough season for Purdue, but if you look at the schedule Purdue has played one of the most difficult slates in the country:

  • All nine Purdue losses have come against teams that have already reached bowl eligibility in terms of winning six games or more.
  • Of those nine losses, two were to teams that are currently undefeated (of which there are now six left). Those are, of course, Ohio State and Northern Illinois. Only San Diego State (Ohio State and Fresno State), Idaho (Northern Illinois, Fresno State, and Florida State), Nevada (Fresno State and Florida State), Buffalo (Baylor, Ohio State, and maybe Northern Illinois) can say they have played two or more of the unbeatens.
  • Of the nine losses, five have come to teams with eight wins or more already (Ohio State, Northern Illinois, Cincinnati, Michigan State, and Wisconsin). Notre Dame and Nebraska can easily join this group soon.
  • Purdue has played only one team with a losing record, and the Boilers beat them.

So Purdue has played perhaps the most difficult schedule in the country to this point. I think you're be hard pressed to find a single team anywhere in the country that has played nine bowl eligible teams (and I consider Penn State bowl eligible with six wins even though they are not). The good news is that Purdue gets two non-bowl eligible teams to finish the season, so on paper they are the easiest games since September 7.

What did we learn this week?

  • Purdue might just have an offense after all.
  • God Hates Northwestern Football
  • Michigan State would have to epically choke to miss Indianapolis
  • Deceased people can run for 150 yards against Indiana
  • Illinois now has the longest Big Ten losing streak in 31 years.

Let's get some more details on these events, shall we?

Penn State 45, Purdue 21

The Boiled Sports guys agreed with me that, while a 24-point blowout loss isn't fun, there was at least some semblance of progress in this one:

However, it looks like even more of an improvement when you consider that the Boilers fell behind 28-7 and did not fold up shop. Mostert's kick return TD gave them some positive feelings heading into the half and they responded in the third quarter with an 84 yard drive that culminated in Etling's rushing TD. That 84 yard drive is significant, too, as the Boilers were actually able to move the football in this game with some regularity. They still can't rush the ball, however, as they only had 38 yards on the ground and a total of 261 for the game against PSU's 501 total and 289 on the ground. Mercy, that's hard to overcome.

For Penn State fans they agreed with what the rest of the Big Ten already knows; that playing Purdue cures most ills:

This was a sort of tale of two games for Penn State, even as the Nittany Lions cruised to a never-really-in-doubt win over a hapless Purdue team that couldn't get out of its own way. And so even though Penn State played as well for 60 minutes as well as it has in any stretch since the Michigan game, Purdue's ineptitude essentially put a mirror to the Nittany Lions. Rather than prove any sweeping statements, this game merely reflected what in three months we've learned Penn State either was or could be, and that was always going to be a team that, barring an act of God, was never going to have any difficulty dispatching the worst Big Ten team maybe in the 117 years of the conference. Purdue was never going to even challenge this Penn State team. The question was whether the Nittany Lions would challenge themselves.

Wisconsin 51, Indiana 3

How can Purdue keep the bucket, do you ask? Put rob Henry back at quarterback, stick seven linemen on the field, and run the ball down Indiana's throat. The Hoosiers proved in epic fashion that they are simply incapable of stopping the run, as they gave up 554 yards rushing to the Badgers. Even with their offense it is simple to beat IU. Run the ball, keep the clock moving, and keep their offense harmlessly on the sidelines:

Defensively, I just don't know what needs to be added. Wisconsin ran 50 times for 554 yards on Saturday. That's an 11 yard average per carry. James White ran for 205. Melvin Gordon had 146. Corey Clement had 108 and if given one more opportunity Jared Abbrederis would have broken the century mark as well. It was just terrible all around. I'm not sure we need to really go into the details. You all have been watching all season. You know what it looked like even if you didn't catch it on TV.

For Wisconsin, the Badgers are holding out hope of a miraculous Indiana and Michigan win over Ohio State or an at large BCS berth. Neither seems likely:

After Minnesota was blown out on the road at Michigan to drop to 4-2 on the season, I thought the Gophers had officially hit that mid-season tailspin we've seen from them the past few seasons. But this year's squad clearly has a stronger inner fortitude, and though they're the Badgers' biggest rival, it is good to see the Minnesota program back on solid ground.

Plus, if Wisconsin can walk away with a ‘W,' the Badgers might actually move up in the polls and draw at least a little respect nationally.

Looking at the current BCS rankings, Wisconsin needs to move up five spots over the next two weeks to be eligible for a BCS at-large selection, and a win over a fellow top-25 team would bump them up a couple spots at least I would think.

Ohio State 60, Illinois 35

The Fighting Illini, now losers of an even 20 straight Big Ten games, actually made this a bit of a game after falling behind 28-0. Even as a seven point favorite over Purdue The Champaign Room is not that confident for a win:

What I'd rather talk about was what happened between Beckman and Cubit. Listen, I don't think it's a big deal. Frankly, I'm happy my coaches are getting angry on the sidelines during a game. They should be. And I'm happy Beckman was angry at Cubit because I don't know what the hell Cubit was thinking in that situation either.

Argue over whether it should have been Reilly O'Toole or Aaron Bailey all you want, but it doesn't matter. Whoever the hell the quarterback was in that situation he shouldn't have been doing anything but turning around and handing the ball off anyway. Calling for the pass there was just a bad decision on Cubit's part.

Still, whether it was justified or not, and whether it actually "nearly came to blows" like ESPN's Tom Luginbill said, it's not a good look. When you've lost your first 14 Big Ten games and your 5-17 overall, stuff like that is just not going to help your case if you're Tim Beckman. Losing is one thing, losing and dysfunction is something different entirely, and while I don't think this coaching staff is dysfunctional -- at least, not in their personal relationships with one another -- that's just not good for the perception of the program.

The Buckeyes have just been clinical as they have gone through this slate of Purdue-Illinois-Indiana on their way to a two-game finale and hope of a title game appearance. They kill their opponents early and wait for the blood to dry:

The current state of the BCS, as well as this specific year of college football, requires that teams not only win, but impress when they do.  Florida State can't just beat Syracuse, it must humiliate the Orange.  Alabama isn't successful if it beats Mississippi State, only if it wins by an uber-convincing margin.

The Ohio State Buckeyes, sitting in third place in the BCS, and looking up at two unbeatens, could not afford to simply win the 2013 Illibuck, but needed to humiliate Tim Beckman and the Illinois Fighting Illini on their own field.  Humiliation was not in the cards for the Buckeyes until late, battling all day with a never-say-die opponent, and eventually outlasting the Illini, 60-35 on the strength of a career day by Carlos Hyde.

Michigan 27, Northwestern 19 3OT

God Hates Northwestern Football. How else do you explain the Wildcats losing on a Hail Mary, a field goal unit running on the field to barely get a tying kick off, and whatever happened on their fumble against Ohio State. Does this mean they will lose to Michigan State by giving up a safety in overtime? Our friends at Sippin' On Purple need a hug:

Of course, because there's a god of football and he hates us all and wants us to be unhappy, Michigan ran a awful, terrible two-minute drill, and somehow managed to have their holder slide in for a game-tying field goal to make it 9-9 going into overtime. Yes, we had to watch another Northwestern overtime game.

The Wolverines won, but like so many victories this year, they hardly feel good about it:

Michigan's game-tying field goal was disorienting when juxtaposed with the general disarray of the offense of late. It seemed inconceivable that the same time could look so rudderless on offense and then execute a field goal like that, from the quickness with which they lined up to Dileo's slide to Brendan Gibbons's kick itself, all done with complete aplomb.

Michigan State 41, Nebraska 28

The Spartans went on the road and clinched at least a share of the Legends Division. All they need to clinch a spot in Indy is a win over Northwestern or a loss by Minnesota to Wisconsin. If Northwestern pulls the upset and the Gophers beat Wisconsin it will be a winner-take-all game in East Lansing in the final week between Minnesota and Michigan State:

Nebraska set season highs for yards (392), rush yards (182 - more than double the previous high), and points (28, tied with Indiana) against the MSU defense, but five turnovers in Nebraska territory set up 24 of MSU's 41 points on the day. The first three Nebraska touchdowns all came from 30+ yards out; the fourth in the final seconds of the game occurred with the defense set to force Nebraska to eat clock.

For the Cornhuskers, things did not go well with five turnovers:

Whether you think Bo Pelini or other coaches should be fired... or not... you can still express those views in an articulate, civil manner. Don't get personal. I will review this game thread later tonight or tomorrow, and I will ban people if they get out of hand.

Non-Conference Opponents:

Cincinnati 52, Rutgers 17 - The Bearcats are now 2-1 against next year's Big Ten, but are 8-2 overall and 5-1 in the conference. They still control their destiny for a BCS bowl if they beat both Central Florida and Louisville in their final tow games. Inexplicably they have lost to Illinois (3-7) and South Florida (3-7).

Western Illinois 21, Indiana State 14 - The Trees are now 1-10 going into their season finale against Southern Illinois and only beat Division II Quincy.

Notre Dame - On Bye in advance of this week's Catholic God vs. Mormon God matchup. If you're still wondering how Purdue challenged them it is because the Irish are clearly the third best non-conference team we played.

Northern Illinois 48, Ball State 21 - The Huskies stayed alive for an unlikely second straight BCS berth by blowing up a 27-27 game with under six minutes left. Part of the equation is now there if they beat Toledo, western Michigan, and also win the MAC title game. They reached No. 16 in the BCS standings, which is good enough for an automatic bid if one of the six automatic qualifying BCS conference champions finishes behind them. So far, they are ranked ahead of UCF, Louisville, and Cincinnati as the likely winners of the American. They would need to pass No. 15 Fresno State, however, to get the bid. If Both Fresno and NIU finish unbeaten only the higher ranked one gets the bid, and it becomes automatic regardless of what the American winner does if either Fresno State or NIU reaches No. 12 or higher.

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