Most of the teams in the conference have four games left, but the bowl picture is coming into focus. It is now more of a matter of who is going where as opposed to who is going period. Michigan State, Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, and Wisconsin are already bowl eligible. Purdue and Penn State cannot go bowling. That leaves four teams fighting for two or three guaranteed bowl bids, depending on if the conference gets a second team into the BCS.
Iowa needs one victory and can lock it up by beating Purdue this weekend. Otherwise, they must beat Michigan or Nebraska. Northwestern needs two wins still and almost got a huge boost by beating Nebraska, but were Hail Mary'd. Now they have to beat Michigan or Michigan State in addition to Illinois in the final game of the year. Illinois and Indiana both need three victories and both still have to play each other as well as Purdue. Indiana, however, would still need to win at Wisconsin or at Ohio State, while Illinois has an easier path with games at Indiana, at home against Ohio State, at Purdue, and home against Northwestern.
I think Iowa get there this weekend by beating Purdue, giving the league seven eligible teams. Illinois has to win at Indiana to have a realistic shot, while Northwestern probably needs to beat Michigan in Evanston this weekend. Of the four teams still playing for something Indiana has the worst shot. They are not going to win at Wisconsin or Ohio State.
With that in mind, here is the weekend that was in the Big Ten:
Ohio State 56, Purdue 0
It was nothing short of a bloodbath. When the second play from scrimmage is intercepted and returned for a touchdown and it goes downhill from there you can't really talk about many positives. As Boiled Sports said, it was a loss in historical fashion:
This was big-time, wide-spread failure for our Boilers. When that type of thing happens, you can't simply blame a coordinator (sorry Shoop haters) or a single player (Rob Henry's girlfriend warned us on Twitter). Coming off of their second bye in one month, Purdue looked ill-prepared and resembled a fawn in the gentle headlight glow of an oncoming Mack truck. From the Seniors to Freshman, our Boilers have been blended up by this coaching staff...and the end result is a non-descript gray blob...a losing machine that really does nothing well but fail.
Ohio State fans were so bored they held an impromptu spelling bee at Ross-ade and were quite pleased with the results:
When Purdue week came around, it was pretty apparent that the only way Purdue was going to beat OSU was through Purdue playing way over their heads, Ohio State playing their worst game of the year, and the Buckeyes turning the ball over four, five, or even six times.
Basically, either a 2009 or 2011 redux.
But those teams weren't this team, and this team has the ultimate motivator in Urban Meyer. They haven't overlooked any team since Meyer came to town, and they weren't going to overlook Purdue.
Wisconsin 28, Iowa 9
This sounded like a pretty dull game of two run-based offenses slamming into each other in an orgy of old-school Big Ten play. When that happens Wisconsin always wins:
For the first time since 2010, Wisconsin and Iowa met Saturday to battle for the Heartland Trophy.
And it was an ugly one.
With their vaunted running game-led by former Iowa-commit Melvin Gordon-largely bottled up, the Badgers battled the Hawkeyes in a game of field position, using several key plays including a third quarter touchdown pass to Jared Abbrederis to escape with a 28-9 win.
Battling a strong wind and raucous crowd at Kinnick Stadium, No. 24 Wisconsin (6-2, 4-1) held Iowa (5-4, 2-3) in check thanks to an outstanding defensive effort that didn't include All-Big Ten starting linebacker Chris Borland, who was held out of the game due to injury.
Iowa has now scored only one regulation touchdown in its last eight quarters of football. Surprisingly, this gives them a major advantage over their next opponent, Purdue, who hasn't scored period in eight quarters. It should make for an exciting punt-fest on Saturday:
Another solid defensive performance, another craptacular offensive display. Same as it ever was. Ugh.
Excluding the OT session last week, Iowa has now gone 7+ quarters since scoring a touchdown in a game. So we've got that going for us. I think maybe that might be a problem.
Penn State 24, Illinois 17 OT
This game went to overtime and was probably the third best ending of the day. There was a lot for the Nittany Lions to feel good about since there is still some bad blood with Tim Beckman:
Surprise, Tim Beckman lost. Again. The way he lost, though, was sublime. Beckman, the huckster with a turd's intellect who flew to State College with his entire staff 16 months ago to steal as many Penn State players as he could, and then lied about it at Big Ten media days one week later, watched his team overcome a 14-3 halftime deficit to take its first ever 4th quarter Big Ten lead, 17-14, with just over 5 minutes remaining. Beckman had hope. His team, in spite of himself, was fighting for victory.
Illinois has now lost 18 straight Big Ten games, something no one has done since Wisconsin's streak reached 19 in a row in 1991 before winning its final two games against Minnesota and Northwestern. If the Fighting Illini lose at Indiana this week they will very likely be at an even 20 in a row coming to West Lafayette. At least they were close to tasting victory here:
That may have been the best all around game the Illini have played during the Big Ten losing streak, but it still fell just short of finally getting Tim Beckman his first conference win. After getting down two scores only sixteen minutes into the game, it looked like the Illinois Fighting Illini would ultimately be settling in for another disappointing Saturday afternoon of football. But something unusual happened. For the first time in forever, the team came out of halftime fired up and outplayed the other team.
Michigan State 29, Michigan 6
The Spartans just strangle you to death. They haven't given up a touchdown in three games now and the offense is starting to figure out how to score a few points. The defense is so good it could likely get by with 14 points, which any competent offense should be able to score. The Wolverines had -48 yards rushing, which is incredible:
Here's a stat for you: Michigan average distance to go on 4th down Saturday: 16 yards. The sequence: 20, 21, 24, 8, 48, 9, 8, 9, 6, 31, 1, 4, 6. By the time Brady Hoke could even think about going for it on 4th down, it was way too late.
Pat Narduzzi didn't play this one safe, to say the least. He dialed up all manner of blitzes and dared Michigan to beat him with big passing plays. They connected on a few, but the 7 sacks against Michigan's Swiss cheese line more than compensated. Graph:
Many of those negative yards came about as the result of a poor effort from Michigan's offensive line:
I don't think Al Borges called a perfect game; in hindsight, it's always easy to say that an offensive coordinator should have called this or that (e.g. following the Connor Cook interception late in the third quarter). I also don't think this line of criticism is particularly useful here. Football is a simultaneously complicated yet simple game. No matter what you call, if you can't block, whether as a result of physical or mental failings, the car will remain stuck in the driveway.
Minnesota 42, Indiana 39
Is Minnesota a good team? The Golden Gophers are a surprising 7-2 and could win eight or even nine games this year. This one was a roller-coaster, as they were down 13-7, then up 35-13 before falling behind again 39-35. Fortunately, they were facing the Indiana "defense":
Aaron Hill made the defensive play of the season to secure Minnesota's third straight Big Ten victory in a wildly entertaining and heart-pounding 42-39 victory. Hill's heads-up fumble recovery saved a game the Gophers looked to have won going away midway through the third quarter, yet if it wasn't for Hill, it may have been Indiana going away with the victory.
The Golden Gophers may have scored too quickly on the winning score, however, as the warp-drive offense of the Hoosiers had 3:06 left and got all the way to the Minnesota 9 before tripping over itself. Nate Sudfeld threw an out pass to Tevin Coleman that was very obviously a lateral. Coleman dropped it, then neglected to even try to recover it, allowing the Gophers to seal the game with a fumble recovery:
Who needs an opposing force when Indiana football is so good at beating themselves. The Hoosiers put together a mastery performance of how to beat yourself at the game of football last night and I'm not sure why we expected anything different.
AJ over at Crimson Quarry also questions the coaches here, as he should. Indiana's schedule this year was gift-wrapped for a bowl game at minimum. They had eight games at home, all of which were winnable (though Missouri gets a pass now with what they have done). They also had an offense that is one of the best in the nation and a down Big Ten. Even with that, it will take a major upset for the Hoosiers to reach a bowl game in 2014, mostly because their defense continues to be awful. Kevin Wilson apparently went to the Danny Hope school of QB-management as he continues to rotate Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson with no rhyme or reason even when one is clearly better than the other.
Nebraska 27, Northwestern 24
This was agony and ecstasy in one play. First, let's look at agony:
Two straight years, Northwestern has deflected a Hail Mary late in a game where their best cornerback got injured. Both times, Northwestern somehow deflected it to a player on the other team. This is a curse.
And now we're 0-5.
And finally, ecstasy:
So there I am, in north stadium with a new iPhone...trying to figure out how to post on CN with the darn thing. Finally get it started, with "Post Game Thread: NW 24, Huskers 21", once the Blackshirts force the field goal.
Yeah, I wasn't terribly optimistic. I tried to explain that Jon and I were at the game, so this was a quick thread. "Boy, that sucked. Keep it clean, everybody."
So there it was, on my phone. Waiting for the inevitable to occur.
Only to have the incredible occur instead. Once I had kind of regained my senses (well, relatively), I suddenly realized that I needed something for the post game thread. And, of course, everything I had written was now inaccurate.
Cincinnati 34, Memphis 21 - The Bearcats are bowl eligible at 6-2 overall and 3-1 in their conference, but they have strangely lost to two of the worst BCS teams in the country in Illinois and South Florida. They could still go to a BCS bowl if they win out.
Missouri State 49, Indiana 7 - The Trees fall to 1-8 after having three interceptions returned for a touchdown in the third quarter alone. They have fallen completely apart.
Notre Dame 38, Navy 34 - The Fighting Irish are 7-2 and if they beat Pitt and BYU could be playing for another undeserved BCS bowl at Stanford to end the year.
Northern Illinois 63, UMass 19 - NIU could be the third of five BCS Bowl teams Purdue has played, but they finally get a challenge by hosting 8-1 Ball State on Wednesday, November 13. with NIU at 9-0 it is likely the MAC Game of the Year.