There is not a lot of drama going into the final week of Big Ten football. The title game is now set with Michigan State ready to face Ohio State regardless of what happens this weekend. Those that can bowl eligible are with Michigan State, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin already past six wins. Indiana, Illinois, Purdue, Penn State, and Northwestern have already clinched bowl ineligibility as well.
That leaves the final week clear for only rivalry games. Before getting to that, however, here is the week that was:
Illinois 20, Purdue 16
While the loss was quite embarrassing for a number of factors, there was nothing but joy in Champaign. The 20-game Big Ten losing streak is done, which is good for them and bad for us:
Was it pretty? God no. Was it constantly in doubt and almost a loss? Yes to both of those things. But the clock hit zero and Illinois had a higher score and now Tim Beckman has won a Big Ten game, giving him one more on the season than Pat Fitzgerald. Seriously. Drink that in.
We actually get to keep one of the rivalry trophies in Champaign again for a whole year. This is fun again.
Meanwhile, the Shoopfense has replaced the Nordfense as a hashtag. The biggest failing was Purdue forcing four turnovers, two of them inside the Illinois 30, but getting no points off of them:
There is a lot of blame to go around this season, regardless of the outcome of the Indiana game (and let's not think of that today). A program that prides itself on being self-funded is unlikely to throw money away on a coach that isn't actually coaching, so I fully expect Hazell to get at least another year, if not two, to prove he can get the team moving in the right direction, but after this kind of season-long performance, I'd be very surprised if Shoop returns in any capacity in 2014. One dreadful season can be erased with the right recruiting and coaching; two such seasons can pin a program in a place that's hard to escape, and Burke isn't going to be able to fund the all-sports juggernaut he'd like to build if the football team is drawing crowds of 20,000 and 30,000 instead of 60,000. Continuity may be important for developing young talent, particularly on offense, but I can't imagine continued incompetence will help any current Boilers improve next season. Coach Shoop, would you agree with my assessment?
For the record, North Carolina, where Shoop coached last season, dropped 80 on an 8-4 Old Dominion team on Saturday.
Iowa 24, Michigan 21
The Michigan offense continues to regress, causing black Heart Gold Pants to call this the Closest Blowout:
Iowa had 2.5 times as many offensive yards as Michigan, including almost three times as many rushing yards. They ran 17 more plays than Michigan and held the ball for almost seven minutes longer than Michigan (time of possession is an oft-overrated stat but it has some relevance when both teams involved in a game want to play keep-away with the ball). They controlled this game in almost every way that mattered. So why was the game close? Why were we sweating out a fourth-quarter scoring drive to give Iowa its first (and only) lead of the game? Why were we hoping the defense could make one more stop on Michigan's final offensive series?
Maize N' Brew was very disheartened, as Michigan showed improvement a bit before falling apart:
Today's game started out giving us just a brief taste of something positive. Jake Ryan's pressure caused Iowa QB Jake Rudock to throw a Gardnerian pick-six to Brennen Beyer in the first moments of the game. On Iowa's next possession, Ryan then tackled Rudock before the quarterback could get to the first down marker. Iowa kicker Mike Meyer then missed a 36 yard field goal attempt. Things looked good, and then it was regression to what we've seen all season long.
Although Michigan went up 21-7 in the second quarter, you could tell that the lead was fragile. Poor punting, poor tackling, poor everything for Michigan.
Michigan State 30, Northwestern 6
The Spartans won like they have won all year. Their defense was incredibly stout and simply strangled the Wildcats to death:
The opposing offense got off to a good start, which has been something of a pattern of late. But, as Heck and others have pointed out, that's almost become a feature, not a bug, as the MSU defense quickly adjusts to close down whatever gaps the opposing offense exploits early. Still, probably best not to concede a couple early scores in Indianapolis.
The loss officially clinched bowl ineligibility for Northwestern, who started 4-0 and was leading the current No. 3 team in the country before the bottom fell out. Sippin' On Purple has declared it the disaster that it is:
When this season started, I imagined a worst-case scenario where Northwestern won five games. And now they're going to need to beat Illinois next week to make that happen. This has been disappointing and disastrous. We hope it's a one year blip, but it's time to start wondering if that thing we saw last year was actually the high point for Northwestern football.
Ohio State 42, Indiana 14
This win was nothing short of business-like for the Buckeyes, who jumped out to a 42-0 lead before coasting the final 10 minutes against the Hoosiers. Ohio State was more concerned with Baylor, who lost to give Ohio State just one team to battle for the title game:
It's time to embrace the hate. Wrap your arms around it, hug it, revel in it. Focus, find your chi, hate text your buddies, egg someone's house (wait, don't do that because that's just dumb), do whatever you need to do, but get ready, because it's Hate Week here in the Holy Land (hate week, holy land, yes we see the irony but it makes sense today) and by game time, you will be so fired up you'll be ready to run through a wall.
For Indiana, the once potent offense has been held to only 17 points in the last two weeks and the defense has been routed. The offense will likely get back on track against Purdue, as the Hoosiers are a 20.5 point favorite:
Indiana did generate two touchdowns after Ohio State quit playing football, which of course is kind of a big deal when we let computers decide our national championships. So there's that. Moral victories by robbing Ohio State of a couple style points and avoiding the shutout. That's really all any of us were expecting. The defense is still awful and the offense has looked mediocre, but hey at least we get to play Purdue now. Indiana opens as 21 point favorites as the dreadful Boilers come to town to wrap up the season. I expect Wilson and company to take out all their seasonal frustrations on little brother.
Wisconsin 20, Minnesota 7
Hey guys, Wisconsin is pretty good. For the 10th straight year the Axe stays in Madison, but at least the Golden Gophers made them work for it:
Saturday's game between the Badgers and Gophers may have been the feather in the cap of a decade-long span of dominance by Wisconsin, but the latest contest for the Axe finally generated what the border battle has been sorely lacking: buzz.
The loss ended a nice four-game winning streak for Minnesota, who struggled offensively and couldn't get the offense moving:
Three fumbles lost, some misses by Philip Nelson and too many dropped passes stunted the Gopher offense and put the defense in to many holes. The first play of the 2nd quarter was a 9-yard pass to Maxx Williams on first down taht was fumbled and recovered by the Badgers. The Gopher defense made up for this first miscue by interception Joel Stave and Aaron Hill returned it 39-yards for a Gopher touchdown and a 3-7 lead. The Gopher defense forced a punt on Wisconsin's next possession. The offense took over and started to control the line of scrimmage with consecutive runs of 8, 4, 13, 8, 0 and 8. Then the miscues returned and a false start penalty pushed them back and on 3rd and long Philip Nelson was stripped and Wisconsin recovered. This time the Badgers punched in a touchdown on the free possession, taking a 10-7 lead.
Nebraska 23, Penn State 20 OT
A wild season in State College ended with three of four Big Ten games at home going to overtime. This time, however, the luck was on the side of the Cornhuskers, who earned a three-point win:
Both teams had a chance, but the game moved to overtime. On it's first possession, Penn State failed to make a first down and kicker Ficken missed the field goal. Nebraska got the ball on it's first possession and while the red men couldn't score a touchdown, Smith became a hometown and statewide hero, knocking home a 42-yarder to win the game.
The game was played in the elements. It snowed. It was cold. It was very windy and the in end a young man with his foot prevailed glorious.
For Penn State, the seniors who have now spent over two years in the purgatory leftover from the Sandusky scandal were honored:
BOB journeyed from Coach of the Year to most exasperated guy on the planet in 11 games. That's what happens when nearly 50% of your travel squad are 1st and 2nd year players. In another 60 minutes of game time, the frustration will come to an end. And 5 or 6 weeks from now, we'll really miss it.
Cincinnati 24, Houston 17 - Cincinnati needs some help in Central Florida dropping a game, but the Bearcats are 9-2 and can still win the American. If that happens, it is entirely possible Purdue will have played five of the 10 BCS teams this year, plus two from last year.
Southern Illinois 31, Indiana State 9 - The Sycamores end their season at 1-11 and it was pretty much a disaster, with the only win coming over a D-II team. And yes, they probably beat Purdue if Shakir Bell had not been hurt.
Notre Dame 23, BYU 13 - Catholic God beats Mormon God.
Northern Illinois 35, Toledo 17 - NIU stays undefeated and moved ahead of Fresno State in the BCS polls to No. 14. As long as they win their last two games and either move up to No. 12 or don't get passed by Central Florida they will go to a second straight BCS bowl.