Just like that, the final week of the Big Ten’s regular season is here.
It seems like yesterday that Ohio State was holding off Wisconsin 31-24 in a Sept. 28 showdown that predictably decided the Leaders Division race. That day, the Gophers took a 23-7 loss to Iowa that left a lot of folks wondering if Minnesota would win one Big Ten game, let alone four.
Even though the Dec. 7 Big Ten championship matchup is set — Ohio State vs. Michigan State — there’s still plenty at stake this week. A closer look:
Iowa at Nebraska
Friday, 11 a.m., Ch. 5
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini has fended off rumors that he’ll resign after this game. Expectations are understandably high for Cornhuskers fans, but considering the team’s injuries, Nebraskans should appreciate the way this team responded after its Oct. 26 loss at Minnesota. Pelini’s teams are 19-5 in November. That says something.
Iowa, meanwhile, has a chance to put an exclamation point on its turnaround. After going 4-8 last season, the Hawkeyes are 7-4, with losses to four teams currently ranked 18th or higher — Northern Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Ohio State at Michigan
Saturday, 11 a.m., Ch. 5
Talk about two teams moving in different directions. Ohio State’s 23-game winning streak is the longest in school history and the longest for a Big Ten team since Michigan won 25 in a row from 1946-49. The Buckeyes not only need to beat Michigan, they need style points to bolster their BCS title game prospects.
Then there’s Michigan. The Wolverines have lost three of their past four games, and it would be four in a row if not for that fire drill of a field goal that forced overtime at Northwestern. Michigan’s combined rushing totals in the losses to Michigan State, Nebraska and Iowa added up to minus-9 yards. The offensive line has struggled to protect Devin Gardner, and here comes a Buckeyes team that leads the Big Ten with 36 sacks.
Gophers at Michigan State
Saturday, 11 a.m., BTN
Will the Spartans stay focused on Minnesota, with the championship game against Ohio State looming one week later? It’s always tough drawing students on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and Michigan State has a “Bring a Friend” free promotion for students already holding a ticket. But coach Mark Dantonio won’t let up, knowing the Spartans can still get a BCS at-large berth even if they lose to Ohio State.
The Gophers are two-touchdown underdogs, but they’ve played Michigan State tough over the years. A win would give Minnesota its second nine-win season since 1905 to go with its 10-3 finish in 2003. That’s not a misprint. It also would position the Gophers for a trip to the Gator Bowl, or perhaps even the Outback Bowl.
• Wisconsin is a 24-point favorite at home against Penn State, and the Badgers need another lopsided win to continue climbing the BCS standings. The Badgers, who’ve won six in a row, need to be in the top 14 to qualify for a BCS at-large berth, and they were at No. 15 last Sunday.
• It’s been a lost season for Northwestern and Purdue, but both teams have a chance to post their first Big Ten victories in rivalry matchups. Northwestern plays at Illinois for the Land of Lincoln Trophy, and Purdue plays at Indiana for the Old Oaken Bucket, a trophy that dates to 1925.
• Boston College running back Andre Williams deserves serious Heisman consideration as the 16th player in FBS history to pass the 2,000-yard rushing mark.
The 6-foot, 230-pound senior averaged just 521 yards per season his first three years of college, but people took notice when he rushed for 339 yards against North Carolina State. He has topped the 200-yard mark five times this year and rushed for 149 against Florida State.
• Don’t assume Ohio State would make the BCS Championship by finishing undefeated if one of the teams above it in the BCS standings — Alabama or Florida State — loses. What if Auburn upsets Alabama on Saturday and then wins the SEC title game? Or what if Missouri wins the SEC title game? A one-loss SEC champ would have a strong case to be picked ahead of Ohio State because of the Buckeyes’ weak nonconference schedule.
• Gophers coach Jerry Kill and his staff can’t help but smile whenever Jordan Lynch reaches another milestone. They recruited Lynch at Northern Illinois and molded him as a backup to Chandler Harnish in 2010.
“You didn’t have to say anything to Jordan; he’s like an Energizer bunny,” Gophers quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski said. On Tuesday, Lynch rushed for 321 yards against Western Michigan, an FBS record for a quarterback. For the season, Lynch has 2,457 yards passing and 1,755 yards rushing.
Big Ten power poll
1. Ohio State (11-0, 7-0)
Braxton Miller remains the most exciting player to watch in the Big Ten.
2. Wisconsin (9-2, 6-1)
The belief here is that this is still the second-best team in the conference.
3. Michigan State (10-1, 7-0)
The Spartans deserve the chance to prove themselves against Ohio State in title game.
4. Iowa (7-4, 4-3)
Outscored Michigan 17-0 in the second half of last week’s 24-21 victory.
5. Gophers (8-3, 4-3)
Theiren Cockran has 6½ sacks, two behind Big Ten leader, Nebraska’s Randy Gregory.
6. Nebraska (8-3, 5-2)
Ameer Abdullah (145.4 yards per game) trails Carlos Hyde (146.1) by 1 yard in rushing race.
7. Michigan (7-4, 3-4)
The Wolverines had fewer than 200 yards of total offense in three of their past four games.
8. Penn State (6-5, 3-4)
Three trips to overtime this year. Beat Michigan and Illinois but lost to Nebraska last week.
9. Indiana (4-7, 2-5)
High-powered offense has been held to 17 points in the past two games.
10. Illinois (4-7, 1-6)
The Illini ended their 20-game Big Ten losing streak last week at Purdue.
11. Northwestern (4-7, 0-7)
Turnovers forced in first six games: 17. Turnovers forced in past five games: five.
12. Purdue (1-10, 0-7)
One last chance to get Darrell Hazell his first Big Ten victory, this week against Indiana.