College Football Insider: Plenty at stake in final Big Ten week

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 28, 2013 - 9:50 PM
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Ohio State needs a victory over Michigan with style points to bolster its chances to get into the BCS title game. Several other Big Ten teams have a lot to play for, too.

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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.

Other matchups

• 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.

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