The Whistlestop Tour: Week 14 of Big Ten Football

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

The final week of Big Ten football saw several seasons mercifully end.

Finally, it is over.

For fans of Purdue, Illinois, and Northwestern the season could not have ended soon enough. At least two of those three got to end a long losing streak in the final weeks of the season. For most of the league the final week was about avoiding upsets and setting up for bowl positioning. Michigan State against Ohio State should be a dandy of a championship game with a ton at stake. For the rest, it is a long wait now until bowl bids are handed out Sunday.

Iowa 38, Nebraska 17

The Hawkeyes had a nice, strong finish to the season. Right now there are three undefeated teams in the country and only Purdue, Idaho, and Iowa can say they lost to two of them. Iowa also lost to one-loss Michigan State and three-loss Wisconsin, so it is not a bad showing. It may even be enough for a New Year's Day Bowl in Florida:

More to the point, there was one team on the field that went out and did what it wanted to do, and that was Iowa. Nebraska had basically one quarter of any competency on offense, and the other three were full-on disasters. There was the long reception called back after the receiver stepped out of bounds before the catch. There was the horrendous, easy interception on the very next play as a result of the 3rd and long. There was the interception Ron Kellogg III threw on the very next possession (on the second play, even). There's the punt that wasn't fair caught and ended up on the 1-yard line, and the very next punt that was fair caught... at the 3. People, those are all mental blunders by one team in the first half of one game, and Nebraska hardly got its act together after the break.

In Nebraska 8-4 is not good enough, and the Cornhuskers are up in arms still about Bo Pelini:

You could read into it that "until their full seasons are complete" is some sort of code for Pelini's re-evaulation after the games are over today, but I have to believe that's nothing more than chain yanking.

Michigan State 14, Minnesota 3

The Spartans just strangle you to death. That is all their is to it. In this day of high octane offenses less than 20 points should not be enough to win a college football game. MSU did it twice, with a third win coming 21-6. In six of their 11 wins they have held opponents to six points or less. Now, it is pretty much all or nothing against Ohio State, as an at large BCS berth seems shaky with a loss:

If MSU loses, it needs to stay in the top 14, and, assuming OSU would go to the national championship, the Rose Bowl likely would want to pick a Big Ten team as a replacement for the 100th game, which means MSU if it's eligible. In order to be eligible, MSU can probably only afford a respectable loss. Still, MSU's .653 rating at No. 10 is significantly ahead of LSU's .421 rating at No. 15.

The Golden Gophers are hardly disappointed with an 8-4 finish after having a passing offense that was the worst in the Big Ten by far. Expectations are actually high entering 2014 as Minnesota will get a decent bowl game and a nice set up going into next year:

I don't think it's hyperbole to state this season was a smashing success by almost any standards. Predicted to finish last in the Legends Division by scribes and viewed upon from smart outsiders with a reasonable amount of skepticism for anything beyond 6 wins, notching more regular season victories than any season since 2003 is an undiminished accomplishment. Beating Nebraska for the first time in 53 years, or snapping a forty year long streak of futility by winning 4 consecutive Big Ten games? Those are watershed moments worth celebrating.

Ohio State 42, Michigan 41

The Buckeyes not only lived, but got the only thing they could have in order to jump into the top 2 nationally: a loss by Alabama or Florida State. You can talk about schedule strength all you want, but the gold standard of college football is an undefeated season. In the BCS era when there have been two or fewer BCS conference teams none have failed to play for the championship. That won't happen if Florida State and Ohio State win their conference championship games:

Where things begin to get concerning for Ohio State partisans, who have the benefit of a decade plus of BCS history on their side in that an undefeated from a power conference has never been left out of a BCS title game, is that a week ago when the hypotheticals were laid on the table related to an Alabama loss (and a presumptive Ohio State comfortable win over Michigan) the words "no chance" often factored in regarding a one-loss team passing the Buckeyes. Now, the very same experts are now saying it is possible, even with an Ohio State win over Michigan State.

This game was entertaining as hell from the Wolverines' perspective. A fight and the decision to go for the two and the win gave them all the momentum they needed, but Michigan could not capitalize in the end:

For all of the criticisms of the offense and the supposition that Brady Hoke wants to return Michigan to its days of ultraconservative talent-wasting, he is, if anything else, unafraid to be aggressive. Going for two against the Buckeyes with the game on the line is a whole different ballgame than any other move he's made to date, but the point is, at the very least, Michigan fans know this decision was not out of character for Hoke.

Michigan lined up and looked to take the lead against an Ohio State team that had seemingly run a marathon's worth of yards on its defense. Gardner, held together by Scotch tape and good intentions, took the snap and dropped back.

In that moment, after the snap and before the end, everything stood still. Gardner dropped, giving everyone in that stadium the chance to understand that the game they'd seen was not what anybody expected. What is college football if not for a lack of that lack of convergence, of expectations hanging out in the rafters as the play of reality rages on?

Gardner fired the pass to a well-covered Drew Dileo, and was picked off by Ohio State's Tyvis Powell. Just like that, it was over. Devin Gardner lay on the turf, looking up at the clear Midwestern sky above. More than anything else, defeat draws its power from the notion that the defeated doesn't have a chance, not that he is defeated.

Indiana 56, Purdue 36

The highest scoring Bucket Game ever (topping last year's 56-35 win by Purdue) predictably saw little defense played. Ricardo Allen was the lone defensive player for Purdue that did anything, as the Hoosiers were 16 of 18 on third downs. Because of that, the Bucket will spend a long, cold winter in Bloomington:

Indiana's ability on offense was just entirely too much for Purdue to handle. By halftime the score was 35-9 and Purdue hadn't really done anything to make anyone believe that they could prevent Indiana from putting up 70 points if they wanted to. The Hoosiers came out of half, got an immediate defensive stop and then put up another two touchdowns to push the score to 49-9. At that point, Indiana called it quits.

Purdue now faces an offseason with even more questions than last year when we went through a coaching change. The Boiled Sports guys are certainly hoping this is rock bottom, because we all can't imagine it getting worse:

I know there are some who have already lost patience with Coach Hazell. I'm nowhere near that yet and I feel he deserves time to implement his guys and his system. Danny Hope got four years to figure it out and never did. Now, granted, Darrell Hazell won't get that long because he's making big boy money and you absolutely must produce results. I look for next year to be a transitional year and for 2015 to be very good.  Many key components on offense are back and I expect them to get a lot better. Whether John Shoop is part of that or not remains to be seen, obviously.

Penn State 31, Wisconsin 24

With nothing but pride to play for the Nittany Lions went on the road and stunned Wisconsin, marking their second straight season ending win over the Badgers. Penn State is now halfway through its wilderness of sanctions and has a 15-9 record in that time:

The offense - with Hack, Brenemen, Lewis, and James - gave us a peek at the future on that side of the ball, and will get a ton of attention.  But so did the defense.  Anthony Zettel had at least 2 sacks.  Brandon Bell had a strip sack, continuing his great play at the end of the season.  Austin Johnson clogged up the middle.  Malik Golden made some plays in the backfield, and Trevor Williams came down with one INT, and almost had another.  The arrow is pointing up for the entire program.

The Badgers are almost certainly going to a Florida bowl game, but the loss knocked them out of a possible at large BCS berth had they finished 10-2 with losses to possible Pac-12 champ Arizona State and possible Big Ten champ Ohio State:

With the partially filled Camp Randall coming to life, Penn State found itself backed up in its own territory on a 3rd and 9. After checking out of the initial play, the Lions went with a delayed draw to halfback Zach Zwinak, who took the ball 61-yards to the Wisconsin 21-yard line, deflating the crowd and delivering the eventual dagger to the Badgers' come back hopes.

Even though Fricken missed the ensuing field goal, Wisconsin started their final drive at their own 20 with just 31 seconds left. Although Stave made things interesting by completing two passes to Jared Abbrederis to bring the Badgers into Penn State territory, Stave's final heave into the end zone was intercepted by the Lions' Ryan Keiser.

Northwestern 47, Illinois 44

Had Purdue beaten Illinois the battle for the LOLhat would have been for last place in the Big Ten. Instead, the Wildcats finally reversed their nosedive since the Ohio State game:

It was a pretty eneverating game, as all the Wildcats things that always happen, you know, happened. Northwestern tried as hard as it could to blow multiple double-digit leads. But the offense looked better than it had all year, and we got ourselves a hat.

The Fighting Illini at least won a Big Ten game this year, courtesy of Purdue, but things are far from roses and sunshine for Tim Beckman, as he is now 6- 18 in two years in Champaign and 1-15 in the Big Ten:

We don't get clean and convenient happy endings. Things kind of suck sometimes and that's what today's game was. The seniors don't get to go out with a win. They played a solid chunk of their career on some bad squads. I was hoping they'd get a happier swan song. Oh well. This season was definitely an improvement on last year's and you can see good things beginning to develop. With a few more talented receivers, a pass rush of any sort, and a more experienced secondary this could very well be a lower tier bowl team next fall. But we have to wait until September.

Non-Conference Opponents:

Cincinnati - Had the week off, but is at 9-2 and 6-1 in the American heading into a huge Thursday showdown with Louisville. A win and a loss by Central Florida could send them to a BCS bowl. Did this team really lose to 4-8 Illinois and 2-9 South Florida?

Indiana State - Season complete. The Trees went 1-11

Stanford 27, Notre Dame 20 - Thank you, Stanford.

Northern Illinois 33, Western Michigan 14 - It looks likely that a win over Bowling Green in the MAC title game Friday night will send the Huskies to a second straight BCS game. NIU is 14th in the BCS standings and could possibly move up to the automatic No. 12 slot if Michigan State and Arizona State lose. The more important number to watch is Central Florida at No. 16. As long as NIU stays ahead of them or Louisville as the American representative and in the top 16 the Huskies are BCS bound. Duke at No. 20 as a winner of the ACC would help too.

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