With the regular season over we know a lot more about Big Ten football than we did at the start of the year. Two of the best three teams are ineligible for a bowl game because of sanctions and the conference once again did not have enough eligible teams for its eight bowl slots. In fact, if not for a late run by Purdue and a weak non-conference slate by Minnesota the conference wouldn't have had half of its teams eligible for the postseason.
Yeah, it was a pretty bad regular season that has already claimed one coach in Danny Hope, but the bowl season can change that.
Nebraska 13, Iowa 7
The Cornhuskers are the reason we have a Big Ten title game, and now they will play in it after squeezing past Iowa on the day after thanksgiving in the second straight Heroes Game. It wasn't easy even against a punchless Iowa offense:
Champions find a way to win every week. Next up: a neutral field, weather controlled rematch against a revitalized Wisconsin offense with a bad taste in its mouth.
In a way, it was a touch too cruel for the final offensive play of the game -- and Iowa's 2012 season -- be the Vandenberg pass that was intercepted. It would have been far more fitting if the final offensive play had been something like an incomplete pass to a receiver running a three-yard route on 4th and 5: a terrible idea badly executed.
Northwestern 50, Illinois 14
The Wildcats are almost certainly going to a New Year's Day bowl and, as the only Big Ten team with a win over an SEC school this year, can get a rare 10-win season as a result:
The blowout came in spite of a fast start for Illinois, who took a 7-0 lead on their opening drive and were only down 27-14 at the half. The offense continued their strong showing in the second half, while the defense buckled down and allowed fewer than 50 yards, intercepted two passes, and scored a safety to bring Northwestern's point total to 50 and hold Illinois scoreless after halftime.
For Illinois, it is entirely possible that the Fighting Illini will fire Tim Beckman after only one season:
I'd still be very surprised if Beckman was fired, but Maryland and Rutgers just joined the Big Ten, so nothing makes sense anymore anyway.
Ohio State 26, Michigan 21
Ohio State finishes undefeated and they were lucky as hell to get here. If not for one damn extra point that was blocked their season would have been ruined by Purdue yet again. Now the Buckeyes are hoping for an AP National title, which is unlikely after Saturday:
In spite of being one of two remaining undefeated teams in the national college football landscape, the Buckeyes are still 4th in this week's AP Top 25 and actually lose ground on Georgia. With Notre Dame also finishing the year unbeaten and now assured a spot in the 2013 BCS Championship Game and the winner of next weekend's SEC Championship Game between Alabama and Georgia (ranked 2nd and 3rd respectively) earmarked for the other, there's simply just too many cooks in the kitchen for Ohio State to circumvent should even the two that ultimately make it there play an uninspired, lackluster game January 7th in Miami.
For Michigan, the Wolverines find themselves back behind Ohio State again. They are cursing Al Borges:
You weren't alone if you found yourself cursing at Al Borges during the game. I've questioned Borges many times in the last two years, but I was pushed over the edge during the Ohio State game. It was 2nd and 2 with 13:46 left in the fourth quarter, and Devin Gardner had just completed yet another curl to Jeremy Gallon. Michigan could go with anything in the playbook and justify it. It's second down, and you've only got two yards to gain. Run that trick play we've been waiting for. Better yet, simply fake another curl and hit Gallon deep off of play action.
Purdue 56, Indiana 35
Indiana was definitely better this season, but in the end they were still Indiana on defense. The Hoosiers now head into the offseason looking to match their defense to a promising offense:
But despite all of the junior college infusion, thanks to the explosions of the past three weeks IU finished 5 yards per game worse in 2012 than in 2011. This is a bit misleading, because of IU's fast-paced offense. The 2011 defense was on the field for 854 plays, compared to 910 for the 2012 Hoosiers, so IU's 6.1 yards per play in 2012 is modestly better than the 6.4 yards per play allowed in 2012. And IU's scoring defense was improved, allowing 30 points per game in 2012 compared to 37 in 2011. But in any event the 2011 and 2012 defenses were comparable, and that is highly disappointing and will have to be addressed in some manner. Personnel decisions within the coaching staff are well beyond my competence to suggest, but I'm not sure they should be off the table (I'm talking about assistants--Wilson is and should be safe). This was a promising season in some respects, but not to the point that any of us can be certain about the future of the program.
My highlight of the day needs to give credit to drum major MinChan Koo for not only getting me on the field, but allowing me to hit the durm during the third quarter:
Michigan State 26, Minnesota 10
Le'Veon Bell was the story as Michigan State finally has a game decided by less than seven points and gets to bowl eligibility. Bell rushed for 266 yards and a score to assure a 13th game for the Spartans sometime late in December:
The fear of missing a bowl game for the first time since 2006 has dissipated. You didn't celebrate after the game, you breathed a sigh of relief. The top goals weren't reached, we know that. But Saturday's 26-10 win over Minnesota was still a very big one, just not for reasons we expected before the season. Mark Dantonio guaranteed it, and his players backed him up.
The Golden Gophers will still go bowling, but they head into the postseason having lost three of their last four by double-digit margins:
By most rational perspectives (not those calling in to KFAN's Gopher fan line after a loss), the Gophers' 2012 regular season was a success for Coach Jerry Kill and his team. The Gophers won as many games this season as they had in the previous two campaigns combined, suffered no embarrassing non-conference losses to inferior opponents, beat the teams in the Big Ten they needed to, got a lot of young players experience for the future and, most importantly, qualified for the postseason.
Penn State 24, Wisconsin 21 OT
This was a season of pride for the Nittany Lions and Black She Diaries is gushing over those who stayed:
Yet, since Mark Emmert handed down his "crippling sanctions," the young men who comprised this year's senior class have led this team, this school and this community in a manner that befits their distinction of having been Penn State football players and have restored honor to that distinction. In short, the young men who led this team, this year became the outstanding men Paterno promised their parents they would be. It is not only a testament to the outstanding character of these Seniors, but also to the vision employed by Paterno since the 1960s.
As for the Badgers, going into the Big Ten title game as a third place team at 4-4 in the league is hardly encouraging:
The Wisconsin Badgers finish the regular season 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten, which is outrageously disappointing for a team who were considered favorites to make a BCS bowl in preseason. Fortunately, they have one more chance to erase all of this season's disappointment next weekend when they take on Nebraska in Indianapolis.
Eastern Kentucky - SEASON COMPLETE
Notre Dame 22, USC 13 - Half the Purdue fun apocalypse is complete with the Fighting Irish now in the title game.
Northern Illinois 49, Eastern Michigan 7 - Our new head coach (please?) beats the worst team we played all season long. Watch Dave Doeren Friday night in the MAC championship game as the Huskies can reach a BCS bowl with a win and if they move from No. 21 to No. 16 in the final BCS standings.
East Carolina 65, Marshall 59 2OT - As you can see, a ton of defense was played while the Thundering Herd was eliminated from bowl eligibility.