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Legendary Leaders: Week 10 In The Big Ten

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It is Monday morning and I am still licking my wounds from Saturday. At least I made the right call and went hiking instead of wasting a beautiful fall day inside watching what ended up being an embarrassment. Thank goodness it is 2011 and I can follow the embarrassment from the middle of a Brown County forest on my own instead of being chained to my couch.

Other teams were not so unlucky this weekend. As I stated last week, this slate of games had the potential for five blowouts. Instead, we saw two upsets and two near upsets. Only the Purdue-Wisconsin game went exactly as planned (lucky us). We're now faced with a tricky scenario in terms of the postseason if we find two wins in the final three games.

The Big Ten has eight bowl tie-ins. Currently, eight schools have reached the requisite six wins to be eligible. Two schools (Indiana and Minnesota) are already eliminated from bowl consideration. That leaves Northwestern and Purdue, each with four wins, needing to win two of their last three to reach the postseason. The Wildcats have the easiest track. They have consecutive home games against Rice and Minnesota to get their two wins. For us, we will have to beat a bowl team in either Ohio State or Iowa, then get our Bucket back at Indiana.

So, for argument's sake, let's say we get the split at home and beat IU, and that Northwestern beats Rice and Minnesota. That leaves the conference with 10 teams for eight slots. Our best-case scenario, in that instance, is to have Penn State beat Nebraska and Ohio State, but lose at Wisconsin while the Badgers win their final three games (Minnesota, Penn State, Illinois). That would send Penn State to Indianapolis from the Leaders Division, but Wisconsin and their legions of cheese-eating fans would be a very attractive option to sell tickets as an at large BCS team at 10-2, thus opening up an extra slot. If that happens, the bowls likely break down as follows:

Rose: Michigan State/Penn State Big Ten title game winner

Second BCS Bowl (Sugar?): Wisconsin

Capital One Bowl: MSU/PSU Big Ten title game loser

Outback: Michigan (Big Ten #3)

Gator Bowl: Nebraska (Big Ten # 4)

Insight Bowl: Ohio State (Big Ten #5)

Texas Bowl: (Big Ten #6)

Ticket City Bowl: (Big Ten #7)

Pizza Pizza Bowl: (Big Ten #8)

Now, if we beat Iowa, that leaves the last three bowls selecting between four possible 6-6 teams, two of which we would have beaten during the regular season. Illinois went to the Texas Bowl last season, and Northwestern went to the TicketCity Bowl. In this scenario I think the Texas takes Iowa because they have a history of traveling well to Texas. The TicketCity, since they had Northwestern last year, would then choose between us, Illinois, and Northwestern. Your guess is as good as mine, but they may have paid attention to how well we traveled to Texas for a regular season game this year and think the same can be replicated in Dallas. They are also familiar that Northwestern does not have a large alumni base, so that is in our favor.

If it is down to us or Northwestern for Detroit I think they pick us. We traveled well to the last bowl we played up there, and the large alumni base comes into play again. If we are left as the 10th team and without a Big Ten affiliated bowl there are still options. The Pac-12 has seven bowl tie-ins, but will also likely get two BCS teams in Stanford and Oregon. Four teams of their 12 are already ineligible, and a fifth (Washington State) needs to win its last three games (not likely). That would leave the New Mexico Bowl open if both Stanford and Oregon go to the BCS.

The SEC is in flux as well. That conference will get two BCS teams, and it has eight affiliations. Only one team is eliminated so far, but Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Kentucky could all be eliminated, thus freeing up the Music City or Liberty bowls. The ACC, with 8 tie-ins, could also have an open spot as Maryland and Boston College are already eliminated and Duke is on the brink.

So that is the bowl picture right now. It looks like we'll have a place to go, but we have to get there first. With two home games left plus a game against an IU team that is 1 for its last 19 Big Ten games we have no excuse to not win two of the final three. With that in mind, here is a look at last week:

Ohio State 34, Indiana 20

This game was a lot closer than the final score indicated. It was 20-20 late in the third quarter and the Hoosiers did rush for 159 yards against them, surprising many people. They even had a chance to tie in the last five minutes, but Tre Roberson was intercepted and Ohio State capped the game with a clinching score a few plays later. It truly is a step forward, as Crimson Quarry notes:

We were in this game, and had the opportunity to win, and didn't, and that's always disappointing, especially in a year that has seen only one win.  On the other hand, there have been some very discouraging days this season, but yesterday wasn't one of them.  We are getting some quality play out of some of the young guys who have been thrown into the mix, and we are starting to develop some positives on offense, and even the pass rush on defense.

Indiana gave us the blueprint. Now we have to carry it over and execute it on our end. If Ohio State is terrified to throw the ball (11 pass attempts for 55 yards) against an Indiana team that has let the likes of Drake Dunsmore go crazy on them we absolutely must focus solely on the run defense. They cannot and will not pass, and Ohio State has shown that if they pass for even 100 yards on us it must be considered a complete failure of our defensive unit. Also, Indiana ran for 150 yards against them. They nearly hit their season averages, so we should be able to hit ours. Indiana didn't even slow down the run and they lost. If we can somehow slow it down, we win.

Michigan State 31, Minnesota 24

Thank goodness Minnesota decided to wake up now instead of when we played them. They are going to be a dangerous team to play the rest of the way now that they have built some confidence. Things also could not have gone more perfectly for the Spartans. Not only did they win, but their two closest Division competitors lost to hand them the keys to Indianapolis. As long as Michigan State can find a way to win in Iowa City this week they should be good. The Only Colors Said it best:

Well, it's a win. Uglier than any of us imagined (and full credit to Jerry Kill, the Gophers aren't going to be a punchline for too much longer assuming that his health problems do not force him to step down), but the conference standings only record the fact that it was a W.

The Michigan State at Iowa game will once again play a large role in the final Big Ten standings. Last year it was MSU's only loss and it was the difference between a BCS bowl and the Capital one Bowl. It can be the same this year. Win and only Indiana and Northwestern stand in your way. Lose, and it is possibly time for a four-way tie.

Iowa 24, Michigan 16

This was easily the day's most surprising result. Iowa looked awful against Minnesota last week and Michigan was dominant against us. Naturally, the Hawkeyes were pretty dominant, but they still needed two touchdowns called back on reviews. Black Heart Gold Pants describes the final play:

It's not entirely fair to compare Junior Hemingway's attempted one-hand grab with Demarlo Belcher's extremely unfortunate drop against Iowa in 2010; Belcher's catch was orders of magnitude easier, it would have won the game outright, and it came on 4th down, not 2nd like Hemingway's. Those are all the differences.

That all said, Michigan had a potential game-tying TD (pending the conversion, of course) in its proverbial hands and the receiver just plain couldn't pull the ball in correctly, and that's the type of margin that exists in close games like this. If all you want to do is take positives from the previous 59 minutes and 58 seconds just because Hemingway can't make a falling one-handed grab, that's your prerogative, but it's a dumb way to learn anything about football.

Would you believe Iowa now controls its destiny for the Legends Division? They have the tiebreaker over Michigan, and can get the tiebreaker of Michigan State with a win this week. If they beat Nebraska in the season finale they could be on their way to Indy. Our mission in a week is then clear: We must stop Our Most Hated Rival.

Northwestern 28, Nebraska 25

And just like that the Wildcats saved their chances at a bowl game with a stunning road win. As mentioned above, Northwestern now just needs tow in its home games against Minnesota and Rice to make a bowl that looked very unlikely two weeks ago. If things get REALLY crazy I think they can still win the Legends Division. Here is how:

Northwestern wins their last two Big Ten games against Michigan State and Minnesota

Iowa defeats Michigan State, but loses to Purdue and Nebraska

Michigan loses to Illinois and Ohio State

Nebraska loses to Penn State and Michigan

Michigan State loses to Iowa, Indiana, and Northwestern

That would create an epic five-way tie for the Legends Division at 4-4 that would have to be decided by a Battle Royale Fight to the Death between head coaches. In that case, my money is on Fitz. He has shifty eyes.

Seriously though, in that wild 4-4 clusterf***Northwestern would then be 3-2 within the division. Nebraska would be 3-2, Michigan State would be 3-2, Michigan would be 4-1, and Iowa would be 3-2. In that case, Michigan wins, but really, are there any winners in that scenario?

Wisconsin 62, Purdue 17

What else can be said about possibly the worst loss in school history? In almost 125 years of Purdue football history we had never given up over 60 points until yesterday. That tells me even the defenses of Colletto, Akers, Burtnett, and some of the bad teams of the 70's going against those great Michigan and Ohio State teams still never played as poorly as we did on Saturday.

Well, we can whine about it, or we can move on and try to salvage something from this year, just like after the too close Rice and Penn State losses. We've got two games at home now and this game will have absolutely no bearing on either of them. We have to beat an Ohio State team that is so one-dimensional they were afraid to throw against the Indiana secondary that had been torched the previous week or an Iowa team that is completely different away from Kinnick. As far as I am concerned my final judgment on coach relies on winning one of those two games and, of course, getting the Bucket back.

Do that, and I feel we will have made improvement enough that he deserves another year. Miss a bowl, and you can put me in the "time to move in a new direction" camp.