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Legendary Leaders: Week 12 in the B1G

I found out late last week that I will be at the Big Ten championship game covering it for SB Nation: Indiana. After this weekend's action we know that Michigan State will be there too. A pair of teams that beat us, Penn State and Wisconsin, will now decide who the Spartans' opponent will be in a virtual semifinal this week.

That takes some of the drama out of the coming week, but the rest of this past week's results did set up some more intrigue for this week's coming games. Our loss means it is Bucket and Bowl or Bust. Michigan's win sent their rivals to the title game and set up a great chance to avenge seven years of frustration with a BCS paycheck as a bonus. Illinois could be playing for Ron Zook's job now too.

Iowa 31, Purdue 21

Not much else can be said except that we were ill-prepared on Senior Day for the third year in a row. Stupid mistakes again cost us. in 2009 it was a defensive touchdown given up on the first play from scrimmage. Last year it was a number of mistakes that handed the Bucket back to IU. This year we had no offensive cohesion and we seemed uninterested in covering one of the Big Ten's best receivers or tackling one of its best running backs. As a result, Our Most Hated Rival wins the first Trophy In Badassery:

Marvin McNutt said the Hawkeyes "got a monkey off our back" by defeating Purdue (OMHR) 31-21 and winning their first game away from Kinnick in 2011. Iowa was led by terrific offensive performances from McNutt, James Vandenberg and Marcus Coker. It was a sloppy and at times a strange game that wasn't decided until Robert Marve's bobbled ball was ruled a touch back and Iowa took possession with less than two minutes to go. 

Michigan 45, Nebraska 17

This may have been the biggest win for us this weekend, as now Michigan can possibly claim an at large BCS berth if they beat Ohio State. Doing so would put them at 10-2 with one of its losses to another possible BCS team. The win over Notre Dame could pay dividends if both make it into the top 14 in the BCS standings. The only problem now for Michigan is a seven game losing streak to Ohio State, and the Buckeyes would love to deny the Wolverines a big pay day.

For Nebraska, its defense once again let the Cornhuskers down:

I could go into more detail, but the bottom line is that this game absolutely sucked.  The defense played less horrific than the offense, which was less horrific than the special teams. And after Nebraska's third conference loss of the season, Nebraska looks even further away from being back than they have in recent years. It's not so much that the Huskers lost to Michigan, but rather by how much. It's one thing to get blown out by a top tier's another to get creamed by a middle-of-the-pack team ranked below you in the rankings.

Northwestern 28, Minnesota 13

There ain't no party like an Evanston party and now the Wildcats are bowl eligible before facing Michigan State this week. Should they lose, I have a proposal for the possible ninth bowl slot as long as we beat Indiana: We play Northwestern as a pre-game to the Big Ten championship game. The winner gets to go to Detroit as the Big Ten's weakest bowl team, but strongest chance of not embarrassing the conference with a loss to MAC team.

Sippin' On Purple credits the win to unexpected good special teams play:

Good special teams play is something I don't usually associate with Northwestern football; it seems like the opposing team always gets the big return and Northwestern has the ten yard punt.  In part, I think this stems from the depth advantage that larger schools with more prestigious programs have: special teams requires a lot of guys who can run and hit well.  If you can just throw out a collection of 4-star linebacker and safety recruits, you have a big advantage in your coverage units over a school that has to choose between playing starters and playing significantly lesser athletes.  Combined with the scarcity of returners with elite speed at small, mediocre programs and you have a recipe for underwhelming performances.

Michigan State 55, Indiana 3

Normally I would be encouraged by the Hoosiers getting drilled right before the Bucket game and them coming in at 1-10. Under Joe Tiller, there would be little doubt that we would go to Bloomington, kick the crap out of them for a few hours, then bring our Bucket home. Under Danny Hope, I admit that I have no idea what to expect. Indiana's offense has some unique dynamics, but it has still not scored more than 20 points in five of seven Big Ten games. It's defense, conversely, has given up at least 34 points in each of the last six games.

Crimson Quarry is far from encouraged, as can be expected:

IU last lost 11 games in 1984 and last went winless in 1984.  Avoiding those milestones wouldn't make this season a successful one, but retaining the Bucket would be a nice building block for next year.  As I'm sure most of you know, Purdue lost to Iowa yesterday, dropping the Boilermakers to 5-6 overall, meaning that their postseason hopes hang on defeating IU in Bloomington.  The Boilers have had some nice moments this year, particularly their wins over Ohio State and Illinois, but they haven't yet won away from home.  Purdue either will be highly motivated, highly tense, or both.  Let's hope that Kevin Wilson has something up his sleeve for this game and that we can find a way to win.

Wisconsin 28, Illinois 17

Early on it looked like Ron Zook would save his job with a stunning upset of the Badgers that would hand the Leaders Division to Penn State. then Montee Ball got there. 224 yards and two touchdowns later Ball had his 30th TD of the season, Wisconsin was in the Leaders' Division final against Penn State, and Illinois saw its offense disappear again to clinch a five game losing streak after a 6-0 start.

Hail to the orange thinks it is time to make a move:

It's stuff like that that kills you. Illinois once again outgained its opponent, holding the Badgers to less than 300 yards of total offense. Not that it would need that many yards, as thanks to Illini punting and interceptions, they didn't have to travel too far to score.

Penn State 20, Ohio State 14

I have a theory that if Ohio State loses to Michigan they will agree to decline a bowl bid. At 6-6, it would not be a good bowl, and I think they will try to self-impose a punishment to get the NCAA off their back. After all, is it better to miss a meaningless bowl after a 6-6 season or to have the NCAA mandate you miss a bigger bowl like USC is sure to miss this year? In my house at least it has been a joy to watch the Buckeyes lose to both mine and Mrs. T-Mill's teams.

As for Penn State, the Nittany Lions get a Big Ten semi-final at Wisconsin:

All told, a powerful statement by a focused group of players and coaches in the face of unimaginable turmoil.  Being away from home almost certainly helped in this one.  Be proud, one and all.

Non-conference opponents:

Notre Dame 16, Boston College 14 - It bothers me to no end that a crappy Boston College team can play the Fighting Irish better, in South Bend no less, than we can of late.

Murray State 35, Southeast Missouri State 34 - The Redhawks lose when their PAT is blocked with just over a minute to go. Sounds familiar. They finish at 3-8, but next season's FCS opponent Eastern Kentucky did make the playoffs.

Rice 19, Tulane 7 - Rice is now 4-7 on the year heading into a game against SMU. Some have mentioned SMU as a possible bowl opponent in the TicketCity Bowl if we beat Indiana.

Arkansas State 45, Middle Tennessee State 19 - MTSU has now lost four in a row and is 2-8 on the year. One of their wins is against the only winless team in FBS (Florida Atlantic).How did we almost lose to them again?