Well the fat lady has sung and another Big Ten season is in the books. After 13 weeks, that seemed all too short, the regular season is done and all that is left is the Big Ten Championship Game and the bowl games. This season was filled with surprises as some teams overachieved, Northwestern and Indiana still in the running for a conference title in November, and while others underachieved, see Michigan State and Purdue.
#14 Nebraska vs Iowa
The one Friday Big Ten game had Big Ten title game implications. Nebraska got on the board midway through the first quarter with a field goal however Iowa took the lead thanks to a touchdown as the quarter was winding down. The second quarter was scoreless and the Hawkeyes held their 7-3 lead going into halftime. The Cornhuskers trimmed that lead with a field goal partway through the third quarter and then took the lead with a touchdown late in the quarter. Neither team was able to score in the fourth quarter and Nebraska escaped with a 13-7 win.
The Nebraska offense was unimpressive in this one, picking up only 263 yards and committing a pair of turnovers. Taylor Martinez had a mediocre day, going 8 of 14 for 63 yards through the air and picking up 41 yards on the ground. After missing much of the late season with injury issues, running back Rex Burkhead scored Nebraska’s lone touchdown while picking up 69 yards on 16 carries. With the win, the Cornhuskers secured a place in the Big Ten title game in only their second season in the conference and will look to repeat their victorious performance against Wisconsin from the regular season.
Iowa end a majorly dissapointing season by laying an egg on offense, gaining only 200 yards and committing two turnovers. Quarterback James Vandenberg completed the season as the posterboy for wasted potential by going 11 of 24 for 92 yards and 2 interceptions. With the loss Iowa finishes the season at 4-8 and will be sitting at home during bowl season, where questions should be raised as to whether Kirk Ferentz should continue to get to underachieve as coach.
Indiana vs Purdue
These two teams had seasons that were polar opposites of each other, where Indiana overachieved, even being in contention for a trip to the conference title game, Purdue majorly underachieved after being named a dark horse for the division title. Indiana jumped out to an early 7-0 lead only to see Purdue tie it up midway through the first quarter. The Boilermakers took a lead with a touchdown late in the first but a pair of Hoosier touchdowns in the second quarter gave Indiana a 21-14 halftime lead. Purdue came out on fire in the third quarter, scoring three straight touchdowns to take a 35-21 lead. An Indiana touchdown to close the quarter and another early in the fourth tied the game up but that was it from the Hoosiers as Purdue dominated the rest of the game on the way to a 56-35 victory.
As had been the case for most of the season, the Indiana offense proved adept at picking up yards, gaining over 500, but four turnovers proved costly. Quarterback Cameron Coffmas went 31 of 53 for 348 yards, one touchdown, and 3 interceptions. Running back Stephen Houston had a surprisingly huge day, picking up 158 yards and 3 touchdowns on 28 carries. Unfortunately the turnovers combined with a porous defense was too much for the Indiana offense to overcome. Indiana made great strides this year, especially on offense, and they were even in contention for a shot in the Big Ten title game in November. The Hoosiers are definitely on the right track and if they can improve their defense even slightly while keeping the offense going, they will be bowling next year.
Purdue’s offense had perhaps their best day of the season, gaining 558 yards and only turning the ball over once. Quarterback Robert Marve was the star of the show, going 20 of 29 for 348 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception. Running back Akeem Shavers also had a great day, picking up 126 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. This win makes Purdue bowl eligible but that is a small consolation prize for a team that was viewed as the dark horse to win the Leaders Division slot in the title game and rumor has it that coach Danny Hope may not be with the program much longer.
Illinois vs Northwestern
The battle for the Land of Lincoln trophy was not expected to be close and those predictions proved to be correct. Illinois got on the board first with a touchdown on their opening drive but Northwestern scored the next 17 points. An Illini touchdown early in the second quarter made it a 17-14 game but that would be the last score for Illinois as the Wildcats rolled to a 50-14 win.
Illinois has to be happy that this season is over and their offensive performance didn’t show a lot of fight as the Illini only picked up 242 yards while committing 4 turnovers. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was a disappointing 9 of 14 for 91 yards and two interceptions; his backup Riley O’Toole wasn’t much better as he went 3 of 4 for 25 yards and an interception. There isn’t really anything good that Illinois can take from this season other than Tim Beckman’s second year can’t really be any worse.
The Pretty Kitties once again showed off their impressive offense, picking up 450 yards though they did commit a pair of turnovers. The Wildcats didn’t need their vaunted two headed monster at quarterback as Kain Colter had a great day, going 9 of 11 for 102 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air while also picking up 88 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries on the ground. Running back Venric Mark also had a very good day, rushing for 127 yards and a touchdown on only 18 carries. The win improves Northwestern to 9-3 on the season and has them sitting pretty for a New Year’s Day Bowl, including possibly the Capital One Bowl.
Michigan State vs Minnesota
The fact that one of these teams had already secured a bowl berth while the other needed a win in this game to make a bowl wasn’t surprising, the surprise was which team was which. Minnesota entered this game having already qualified for a bowl while Michigan State needed a win to be eligible. MSU hit a field goal on their first possession but Minnesota took the lead with a touchdown midway through the first quarter. A Spartan field goal late in the quarter made it a one point game and a touchdown late in the second quarter gave Sparty a 13-7 halftime lead. MSU used a field goal on their first drive of the third quarter to extend their lead and while a Golden Gopher field goal trimmed the lead but Michigan State used a strong fourth quarter to secure a 26-10 win.
Running back Le’Veon Bell has carried the MSU offense for much of the season and he never did it better than he did today as Bell ran for a career high 266 yards and a touchdown on 35 carries. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell continued to look less than impressive as he went 13 of 29 for 143 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. The Spartans have been a huge disappointment this season, going from conference favorites to barely limping into a bowl game. While the MSU defense has been pretty good for the most part, their offense has struggled and that led to their problems this season. MSU will need to be able to consistently move the ball and score if they want to have a chance in their bowl game.
Words cannot describe how awful the Minnesota offense was, the Golden Gophers only managed 96 yards while turning the ball over four times. While some credit for that must go to the Spartan defense, Minnesota fans should be very concerned about their chances in a bowl game. It will be interesting to see which team gets a better bowl, MSU has a better fanbase but a disappointing season may hurt their fanbase’s enthusiasm while Minnesota fans are more likely to be excited about going to a lesser bowl game.
Wisconsin vs Penn State
This game was the definition of meaningless as Wisconsin already had secured their spot in Indy while PSU didn’t even have a division championship trophy to play for. Wisconsin got on the board with a touchdown only a minute into the game thanks to a long touchdown pass from Curt Phillips to Melvin Gordon. Penn State came right back with a touchdown on their next drive to tie the game only to see the Badgers jump back out to a 14-7 lead on their next possession. After a scoreless second quarter, the Nittany Lions used a pair of field goals in the third to make it a one point game and then a touchdown and two point conversion early in the fourth to take a 21-14 lead. The Badgers put together an impressive last second drive to force overtime where they lost for the second week in a row, 24-21.
Quarterback Curt Phillips was inconsistent for Wisconsin in this one as he went 12 of 25 for 191 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Montee Ball looked much better though, going for 111 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. The Badgers have improved over the season but poor play calling has a tendency to short circuit the offense and the defense isn’t consistent. The Badgers will need to shore those things up quickly in the next week if they want a third straight Rose Bowl.
Penn State’s offense was up and down in this one but they made the most of their opportunities when it mattered. Quarterback Matt McGloin went 19 of 37 for 200 yards and a touchdown but running back Zach Zwinak was the star of the show, picking up 179 yards and a touchdown on 36 carries. Penn State may have had nothing real to play for in this one but this win was a great way to send out a group of seniors who showed impressive loyalty to a program in dark times. As I predicted at the start of the season, the Nittany Lions didn’t fall off a cliff as quickly as people expected but it is only a matter of time and the sanctions will make their presence felt starting next season; this will ikely be the last senior day win Happy Valley will see for several years.