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The Whistlestop Tour: Week 13 of Big Ten Football

Punting is not winning in West Lafayette.

Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten title game is all but set. It will be Ohio State against the winner between Wisconsin and Minnesota. Personally, I am cheering for the Gophers, who are tied with Indiana as having the longest streak since winning their last Big Ten title. They got a nice win at Nebraska this week and if they can get Paul Bunyan's Axe for the first time since 2003 they will have a full trophy case and a trip to Indianapolis.

That was not the only game that setup an interesting rivalry week. The LOLhat will be going to a bowl game as the Northwestern-Illinois winner will go to an improbable bowl game while the loser will stay home. Here is the rest of the week:

Illinois 16, Penn State 14

Maybe Tim Beckman isn't that bad? When Illinois lost to Purdue the Illini looked done, but they have fought back with a couple of nice home wins over Penn State and Minnesota:

It was a major victory for the program and for head coach Tim Beckman, especially. It is the third conference win for Beckman in as many years, and one that could very well save his job. We'll talk more about that in a little bit, but first, I want to talk about the players.

Meanwhile, Christian Hackenberg has taken a major step back this season, and Penn State fans are frustrated:

Across the field, it was more of the same for Penn State. After an opening drive capped by a Christian Hackenberg touchdown pass to Chris Godwin, the Lions would struggle to string together such series for the remaining 55 minutes. The PSU defense remained stout, but could not get the big stop when it was needed.

Ohio State 42, Indiana 27

The Hoosiers were able to put the fear of God into Ohio State on a day where not a lot went right for the Buckeyes. They still had enough for a 23rd straight regular season conference win:

The turnovers from the Minnesota game last week reared their ugly heads once more, this time against Indiana. The Thomas fumble was followed by two back-to-back interceptions from Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett. The Hoosiers would use the second interception to cut the Buckeyes' lead to 14-13 in the second quarter and knock Ohio State's offense off its course.

Indiana is still winless in conference play, but they have more confidence heading into the Purdue game:

This Ohio State offense was supposed to be one of the nation's best, an offensive juggernaut that was going to play basketball-on-grass against lowly Indiana. Despite giving up a pair of late touchdowns, Knorr's defense held strong all day, picking up 3-and-outs when needed and giving the stagnant-at-times offense a chance to keep Indiana in the ball game. Antonio Allen led the way for the defense, with two JT Barrett interceptions in the first half of play alone.

Minnesota 28, Nebraska 24

For the second year in a row Minnesota sprung a surprise on Nebraska and now they have a third rivalry trophy in the case to boot:

Before we get to the game it is worth noting that Minnesota has not won in Lincoln since 1960, add this to the list of things Jerry Kill has accomplished with the Gophers that have not happened in my lifetime.  And they have not had a 2-game win streak over Nebraska since winning in 1952 and then again in 1954.  Clearly those numbers are a big skewed by not playing regularly throughout the decades but the Cornhuskers did have a 16-game win streak in there so this is a nice little win don't you think?

Nebraska's streak of losing exactly four games under Bo Pelini every season:

Changes will come to the Nebraska football program before next season. Bo Pelini said as much himself in the Minnesota post-game presser. Will Pelini get fired? Will he resign? Will assistant coaches lose their jobs while Pelini keeps his head coaching position?

There's only one guy we know that has the answers to those questions and he runs the Nebraska athletic department. He's not all that talkative, and he's stated on several occasions that he doesn't comment on what's going to happen during the season.

Michigan State 45, Rutgers 3

It is good to see Sparty is back to crushing skulls. Now they get to play for a bowling trophy:

I mean, what do you even say about this team at this point? Officially eliminated from the B1G East Division race with the Ohio State win over Indiana, but still clearly on a different level than most of the Big Ten. Only one game this season has been decided by fewer than 12 points (Nebraska). On the cusp but not quite reaching greatness.

Rutgers, meanwhile, has not had a good time against the Big Ten's best this year:

Offensively, Rutgers couldn't find much success against the vaunted "No Fly Zone." They picked off Rutgers QBs three times and held top RU wideout Leonte Carroo in check, yielding only one catch for six yards. The Knights could only muster 234 yards of total offense, including 95 yards on the ground for the entire team. One bright spot was freshman running back Robert Martin. Martin continues to impress with his ability to power through defenders, and he looks to be the next great back of the future. He finished with 68 yards and a 4.3 yards per carry average.

Northwestern 38, Purdue 14

At least Northwestern now still has some bowl hopes:

Purdue is very bad at football. There is really no way to sugarcoat that. The Boilermakers couldn't stop turning the ball over and couldn't cover anyone (or get a pass rush). However, this was pretty clearly the Wildcats' best performance of the season. While the offense was very efficient, despite the injury to Siemian, the defense was perhaps even more impressive.

As usual, the Boiled Sports guys had a scathing review of our entire situation right now:

Hazel's buyout is too expensive to even talk about a potential firing, friends. BUT, the way this season has ended, Hazell should be forced by the iron fist of Mr. Burke to fire both Shoop and Hudson as all signs of progress from the first half of the season have floated into the ether. In other words, a 3 or 4 win season will yield no change by an athletic department that will not engage in an arms race with the rest of the conference...and barely wants to compete anymore. Today was was emblematic of a program in the darkest hole that it's ever been in.

Wisconsin 26, Iowa 24

Wisconsin probably is the best team in the West even if Melvin Gordon no longer has the best rushing day in NCAA history:

While the offense didn't bust out as many big runs as previous weeks, Melvin Gordon still averaged a healthy four yards per carry if you take out his 88-yard run. The Badgers two-quarterback system worked exactly like it is supposed to. Tanner McEvoy got it done on the ground and how about the day for Joel Stave through the air?! Overall, the offense put together a well-rounded performance for -- in my eyes -- the first time all season. There are a lot of positives to take away from the offensive output.

For Iowa, the Big Ten title hopes were officially dashed:

I've never seen a better performance from a defense holding a running back to 200 yards in a game before. That sounds like faint praise, but really-holding Melvin Gordon to one big (OK, enormous) run and then 112 on his other 30 rushes was nothing short of spectacular, especially for a defense that has struggled against rushers like that all year, against the best tailback in college football. Gordon had 13 rushes of two yards or less, and every one of them stirred the crowd into a frenzy like Kinnick Stadium hasn't experienced in ages.

Maryland 23, Michigan 16

The Terrapins are probably the third best team in the East as they keep a successful season rolling along:

At the start of the season, I thought it was possible for Maryland to have an eight win season, especially if they went 4-0 in out of conference play. After dropping a close game to West Virginia, and knowing Maryland would have to travel to Happy Valley and the Big House, it seemed that getting to eight wins wasn't going to be easy. But here we are, one week away from the end of the regular season, and Maryland owns a 5-1 road record, including wins in Ann Arbor and State College. While both Michigan and Penn State are in somewhat down years by their program's standards, beating both of those programs, in their gigantic, 100,000+ person stadiums, is a huge achievement for Maryland in their first B1G season. I hope the narrative that Maryland will be unable to compete in the Big Ten is finally dismissed. If the Terps take care of Rutgers at home next week, they could be playing in a New Year's Day bowl, trying to pick up their 9th win of the season.

Michigan. Oh Michigan:

On a day where very few, if any at all, bright spots emerged, there was no mistaking how easily Michigan could run the ball. Outrushing the Terrapins 292-147, the running game was the only aspect of the offense the Wolverines could muster. The passing game finished with an underwhelming 106 yards and was plagued with drops.

Non-Conference Opponents:

Western Michigan 32, Central Michigan 20 - The Broncos are 8-3 and can win the MAC West title, so this is likely our best victory.

Louisville 31, Notre Dame 28 - For the second straight Notre Dame was undone by kicker Shanky McShankerson.

Illinois State 44, Southern Illinois 29 - The Salukis close the season at 6-6.