With one week remaining in the season, the race to the inaugural Big Ten title game has become much clearer with one spot having been decided and only two teams remaining in the hunt for the other spot. Now the attention turns to teams trying to become bowl eligible and the likely bowl pecking order in the conference.
Iowa (7-4, 4-3) got their first road win of the year with a 31-21 victory over Purdue (5-6, 3-4). The Hawkeye offense put up an impressive 408 yards with a balanced attack. Quarterback James Vandenburg threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns, receiver Marvin McNutt caught nine passes for 151 yards and 2 touchdowns, and running back Marcus Coker ran for 139 yards. The Iowa defense forced four turnovers and held Purdue to only 286 yards. The Boilermakers had the game tied at 14 midway through the second quarter but then gave up 17 straight points. Now Purdue needs a win at Indiana to become bowl eligible, considering Indiana’s season so far, they are very likely to get that win. Iowa gets a tougher test as they close the season with a trip to Nebraska in a battle between two states whose primary claim to fame is corn.
Even before their game against Penn State, Ohio State saw their slim hopes of making it to Indy die as Wisconsin (9-2, 5-2) rallied for a 28-17 victory over Illinois (6-5, 2-5) in a showdown between the two dumbest coaches in the conference. Illinois led 17-7 at the half and Wisconsin had struggled to move the ball so far. At that point Brett Bielema remembered that he had Montee Ball and the Badger defense tightened, not allowing Illini to score again. Ball finished the 224 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground; he also caught a short pass for a third touchdown. Illinois outgained Wisconsin 301 to 285 but committed four turnovers and botched a punt to give the Badgers opportunities with a short field. Wisconsin will now face Penn State with the winner going to the Big Ten title game. The Badgers did not look good in this one but the fact that the game will be at Camp Randall gives them a huge edge. Illinois is bowl eligible and will be looking to improve their spot in the bowl order as they close the season with a road game against the mostly hapless Minnesota.
In what had been expected to be an intense, hard fought game, Michigan (9-2, 5-2) routed Nebraska (8-3, 4-3) 45-17. The game was tied at 10 midway through the second quarter but then the Wolverines scored three straight touchdowns to put the game out of reach. The Cornhuskers struggled to stop the explosive Wolverine offense, giving up 418 yards. Denard ‘Shoelaces’ Robinson passed for 180 yards, 2 touchdowns, and only 1 interception while also running for 83 yards and two more tds. The Nebraska offense only managed 260 yards and Taylor Martinez struggled, completing only 9 of 23 passes. The Cornhuskers also committed four turnovers, virtually killing any chance they had in the game.
The loss ends Nebraska’s hopes of making it to the Big Ten title game, which makes the Big Ten look better since most of the national media had predicted the Cornhuskers to dominate. Michigan meanwhile heads into the game against Ohio State with hopes of a BCS bowl and a strong faith in their ability to win; this faith was evidenced in chants of “Beat Ohio” which rang out in the fourth quarter. In recent years it would have been a battle for Michigan to beat Ohio University but with how this season has gone, the Wolverines have a very good chance of breaking their streak against Ohio State.
Thanks to Nebraska’s loss, Michigan State (9-2, 6-1) was able to celebrate locking up the Legend’s Division title and a trip to Indy as they rolled over Indiana (1-10, 0-7) 55-3. The Spartans came out of the gate strong, jumping to a 17-0 at the end of the first quarter and then never looked back. The Spartans rolled to 470 yards of offense and got their backups into the game for extended periods of time. The Hoosiers meanwhile continued to look helpless, managing only 236 yards of offense and committing two turnovers. Michigan State closes the season with a trip to Northwestern in what is now a meaningless game for the Spartans. Indiana meanwhile hosts rival Purdue in their last chance to get a conference win this season, it isn’t going to happen.
Northwestern (6-5, 3-4) became bowl eligible with a 28-13 victory over Minnesota (2-9, 1-6). The Gophers outgained the Wildcats 393-368 but had two deep drives stall, coming away with only 3 points despite getting into the redzone both times. The Wildcats were led by quarterback Dan Persa who threw for 216 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. After losing five straight earlier in the season, Northwestern has been solidly on the upswing, winning four in a row. The Wildcats struggled with finishing games during their losing streak, blowing leads several times, but they held strong in this one, denying Minnesota the chance to make it a three point game in the third quarter. The Wildcats host Michigan State next weekend and a win could get them headed for a warm weather bowl. Minnesota meanwhile hosts Illinois to end a season that opened with signs of promise, almost beating Southern Cal, but has shown few positive signs since then.
With one week remaining in the season, Michigan State has locked up the Legend’s Division crown while Wisconsin will host Penn State in a battle to determine the winner of the Leader’s Division. Nine Big Ten teams are bowl eligible and Purdue can make it ten with a win in their final game.