It seems like the season only just began but there is only one week left in the Big Ten season. Wisconsin has sown up a spot in the conference title game while Ohio State won the Legend’s Division title outright. On the other side of the conference Michigan and Nebraska are still fighting for the other spot in Indy. Five Big Ten teams are bowl eligible, three can’t qualify for a bowl, and two will have their fates decided next week.
Northwestern vs Michigan State
Most people expected Michigan State to be playing for a spot in the Big Ten title game in this one but instead the Spartans are just trying to become bowl eligible. Northwestern got on the board first with a field goal but MSU answered by sacking the Northwestern quarterback for a safety on the Wildcats next possession and the score resembled a baseball game at the end of the first with Northwestern up 3-2. The second quarter didn’t change that trend as each team hit a field goal to give the Wildcats a 6-5 halftime lead. Northwestern opened the second half with a pick 6 but MSU found the endzone and made the two point conversion on their next possession to tie the game at 13 early in the third. The Wildcats scored on their next possession but the Spartans got a touchdown early in the fourth to tie the game at 20. Northwestern retook the lead yet again with a field goal midway through the fourth and hung on this time for a 23-20 win.
After blowing fourth quarter leads against Penn State, Nebraska, and Michigan, Northwestern held onto this one to improve their record to 8-3 and improve their bowl stock. The Pretty Kitties only managed 303 yards on offense and nobody looked particularly great but they took care of the ball and didn’t commit any turnovers. In contrast, while the Wildcat defense gave up over 400 yards, they also forced four turnovers, including an interception that they ran in for a touchdown. In the end this one came down to taking advantage of opportunities and Northwestern did that. The Wildcats close the season against Illinois and will try to make a big pitch to the bowl committees in that one.
Michigan State continues to be undone by miscues this season. The Spartans committed four turnovers in this one and failed to score with a first and goal; there was a questionable call from the officials in the goal line situation but the Spartans still had another opportunity with the ball on the one yard line and failed to score. Le’Veon Bell once again did a good job rushing, picking up 134 yards on 32 carries but never getting into the endzone. All season the MSU offense has misfired in key situations and today was no different. Now the Spartans travel to Minnesota looking for a win to make them bowl eligible, they should get it but with how MSU has played this year, who knows.
Iowa vs #21 Michigan
While the Spartans were engaged in a thriller, their rivals down the road were in a very different game. Michigan scored first only to see Iowa find the endzone late in the first quarter to tie the game. The Wolverines scored a touchdown early in the second quarter to retake the lead and the Hawkeyes hit a field goal on their next possession to cut the lead 14-10 but from the point on it was all Michigan as the Wolverines scored 28 straight to win 42-17.
The bright spot for Iowa in this game was the performance of quarterback James Vandenberg who had his best performance of the season, going 19 of 26 for 181 yards and 2 touchdowns; obviously best performance of the year was a low bar for him this season. That was pretty much the lone bright spot for the Hawkeyes as their running game was mediocre and their defense got gashed. This loss drops Iowa to 4-7 on the year and eliminates them from bowl contention, meaning that next week’s game against Nebraska is just about whatever pride remains for the Hawkeyes.
Denard Robinson finally returned for Michigan after missing two games due to an elbow injury. Robinson acted only as a running back though, not a big difference from normal, picking up 98 yards on 13 carries. Devin Gardner was the star of the show for the Wolverines, going 18 of 23 for 313 yards, 3 touchdowns, and an interception through the air while adding 37 yards and 3 touchdowns on 9 carries on the ground. Gardner has proven to be a better quarterback than Robinson and having them both in the game at the same time is definitely a concern for next week as both of them can make plays and will be hard to contain. This win keeps Michigan alive for the Big Ten title game but they will need a win next week and some help from Nebraska losing to do it.
Indiana vs Penn State
Indiana came into this game needing to win out to go to a bowl game. After a PSU touchdown in the first, Indiana dominated the start of the second quarter and went up 10-7. The Nittany Lions regained the lead with a touchdown midway through the second quarter but the Hoosiers responded with a field goal to make it a one point game. PSU got a pair of touchdowns in the final two and a half minutes to go into halftime with a nice 28-13 lead. Indiana wasn’t done though as the scored the first 10 points of the second half to make it a 28-22 game. That would be it for the Hoosiers though as the Nittany Lions dominated the rest of the game on the way to a 45-22 win.
As they have been for most of the season, the Indiana offense was impressive, gaining 479 yards. Quarterback Cameron Coffman was the star, going 33 of 59 for 454 yards and two touchdowns but also throwing 2 interceptions. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, their defense was lacking and they gave up almost 600 yards which proved to be their undoing. While Indiana won’t go to a bowl game, they have had a much better than expected season and have the chance to close out on a high note against rival Purdue next week in a very winnable game.
While the PSU defense had issues with Indiana, their offense had few issues. Matt McGloin looked great as he went 22 of 32 for 394 yards, 4 touchdowns, and only 1 interception. Running back Zach Zwinak added 138 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries, though he did fumble once. Penn State faces Wisconsin next week in a game that doesn’t matter since the Badgers are already going to the Big Ten title game.
Purdue vs Illinois
This game featured yet another Big Ten team hoping to make it to a bowl game this season. After a scoreless first quarter, Purdue hit a field goal early in the second quarter but the lead did not last long as Illinois tied it up on their next possession. The Boilermakers hit another field goal late in the half to take a 6-3 halftime lead which they extended with a touchdown midway through the third quarter. The Illini responded by finding the endzone on their next possession to make it a three point game. A Purdue touchdown about a minute later stretched their lead to 20-10 to end the quarter. The Illini got back in striking distance thanks to a touchdown with four minutes to go but that would be it as the Boilermakers held on for a 20-17 win.
This victory gave Purdue its first back-to-back Big Ten road wins since 2009. The Boilermakers saw three different quarterbacks play with Robert Marve going 18 of 26 for 173 yards and a touchdown through the air while Ralph Bolden didn’t throw a pass but ran for 93 yards on 7 carries; Rob Henry threw two passes, completing one. Running back Akeen Shavers provided the other Boilermaker touchdown while picking up 99 yards on 21 carries. Purdue’s defense came up huge in this one, forcing three turnovers which proved crucial. At 5-6 on the season the Boilermakers still need one more win to qualify for a bowl, making next week’s game against rival Indiana even bigger.
Illinois remains the only Big Ten team without a conference win and they had few positives in this game. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase provided almost all the Illini offense, going 22 of 38 for 160 yards through the air while picking up 76 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Illinois visits Northwestern next week to close the season and there is little chance they will get their first conference win in that one.
Minnesota vs #14 Nebraska
Nobody really expected this one to be much of a game and they were right as Nebraska scored the first 38 points of the game before taking the fourth quarter off and still coasting to a 38-14 win.
Minnesota became bowl eligible last week and possibly was still suffering from a celebratory hangover in this one as their offense was inept and the defense wasn’t really any better. The Golden Gophers only managed 177 yards of offense while committing 2 turnovers. On defense the Gophers gave up over 400 yards but they at least forced two turnovers. Minnesota hosts Michigan State next week and if they win they can keep MSU from a bowl game and improve their own bowl positioning, that is unlikely but fortunately Minnesota fans will likely just be happy to make any bowl.
Nebraska didn’t face much of a challenge in this one. Quarterback Taylor Martinez had one of his best days passing, going 21 of 29 for 308 yards and 2 touchdowns. Running back Ameer Abdullah averaged a nice 4.4 yards per carry while picking up 79 yards but for the second week in a row backup Imani Cross got the glory, punching the ball in twice for touchdowns. This win keeps Nebraska in the driver’s seat to make the Big Ten title game, needing only a win against the struggling Iowa Hawkeyes to make it to Indy, Cornhusker fans can probably go ahead and start buying tickets and hotel rooms.