The Big Ten gave fans a wacky and wild weekend, as Minnesota-Indiana was a shootout; Illinois-Penn State went to overtime; and Nebraska-Northwestern was settled on a Hail Mary. Hats off to Iowa for nearly ruining my vacation. It was a typical Greg Davis and Kirk Ferentz crap-fest that I witnessed first-hand on Saturday.
Michigan State - It will take a lot of things to go wrong for MSU to cough up the divisional title. Considering they play the up and down Huskers, a free-falling Northwestern, and Minnesota, who is improved, but still beatable, you have to think Sparty can finish 11-1 (8-0). Sadly they are too far back to get into the BCS title game if they win, but the Rose Bowl is a nice consolation. Even if they do lose in Indy, their record is more than enough to get to a BCS game. I cannot wait to see Michigan State’s fantastic defense tangle with the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game. I’m pumped for this matchup, assuming it happens. Week ten grade: A+
Minnesota - Seven wins and counting. Suffice to say, I’m impressed. Philip Nelson looks somewhat competent and the team is finding ways to win, even if it isn’t always pretty. Incredibly, if they win out and Michigan State stumbles before two meet, Minnesota will go to the conference title game. Simply stunning. Of course, allowing 500 yards of offense and 39 points isn’t exactly a recipe for sustained success, but it has been a fun ride for the Maroon and Gold faithful. Week ten grade: C+
Ohio State - Idle … er … Purdue. No one for either fan base learned anything about Ohio State’s 56-0 beating of the Boilermakers. Well, one thing was learned. Why isn’t Braxton Miller’s Heisman-worthy season being discussed at all? I know missing three games to injury puts him behind the eight ball, but look at his numbers. He has recorded 1300 passing yards, 15 TD, 3 INT, over 400 rushing yards, and 2 TDs. If you go on a per-game basis, Miller passes for 219 yards and 2.5 tds per game, with 67 yards rushing per game. I’m not saying Miller deserves the trophy with the three missed games, but it is food for thought. Week ten grade: A+
Wisconsin - The final score, 28-9, makes the game look more lopsided than it was. Iowa’s offense is a joke, but their defense is stout, so it’s unsurprising the Badgers were slowed up in Iowa City. Injuries also contributed to Wisco’s ho-hum victory. Week ten grade: B
Michigan - The loss to Michigan State all but eliminates them from getting to Indianapolis, but the Maize and Blue can still find some positives in the year. Nebraska is very hot and cold; Northwestern is slumping badly; and Iowa is, well, Iowa. Victories over those teams would push Michigan to 9-2. Knocking off Ohio State (especially if they are still undefeated) would make for a pretty special 10-2 record, possibly an at-large BCS berth. I’m holding on them because the title game should still be in play. They have no one to blame but themselves. The Wolverines have lost games by being sloppy. They have also struggled to rush the ball effectively, despite having a nice line and a decent back in Fitzgerald Toussaint. He only touched the ball 8 times against Michigan State, which is inexcusable. Week ten grade: F
Nebraska - The way they stunned the snake bitten Wildcats, wasn’t pretty, but the win moves them to 3-1 in the league. That matters because winning out puts Nebraska back in the Big Ten Title Game. Nebraska is so bipolar that it’s hard to get a read on them. The defense still has issues; Martinez is still banged up, so quarterback is up in the air; and as much fun as Gopher fans are having this year, the Husker faithful have been popping antacids. Week ten grade: B-
Penn State - I said there was very little (maybe even zero) chance of matching last year’s eight wins. Well, the overtime victory over dreadful Illinois makes five. With Minnesota, Purdue, Nebraska and Wisconsin remaining the door is still open. It was ugly, but that Illinois win puts eight wins back on the table. I have to keep holding on the Nittany Lions. Week ten grade: B-
Indiana - As exciting as their 42-39 game was, it was still a home loss to a manageable league foe. The defeat drops them to 3-5, with Illinois and Purdue left. Sadly, they travel to Columbus and Madison in the weeks between those two easier games. Barring a stunning upset, the ceiling looks to be 5-7, and that won’t cut it. The problem is same as it ever was – defense. They gave up 573 yards to Minnesota. Week ten grade: D+
Illinois - The Beckman clock is rapidly approaching midnight. Picking up win number four on the year and ending one and a half years of losing in the league would have worked wonders for him. Now it’s tough seeing him make it to a third year. Beckman is now 0-12 in Big Ten games. I know the buyout for Illinois athletics will be tough to swallow, but I’m not sure what there’s a better solution. Will year three under Beckman be any better? Week ten grade: C-
Iowa - This is one of those years where a part of me wants Iowa to lose out so it justifies canning this staff (outside the defense). I heard a frightening stat on the radio while back home: the Hawks averaged a woeful 18.5 ppg in league games last season. They are shattering that mark this year with 18.8. Inexcusable. Having several drives start at or around midfield, only to generate three points in the opening quarter is unfathomable. What an awful team. Week ten grade: F
Northwestern - Michigan, Michigan State and Illinois are all that remain in this nightmare for Wildcat fans. A bowl game seems doubtful since it would mean splitting games between the Michigan schools. When we dissect this team next offseason, the injuries will loom large. So will the missed opportunities against Minnesota (three-point loss), Iowa (seven-point overtime loss) and the Hail Mary loss against Nebraska. Flip those three to the other side of the ledger, and this team is 7-2 (3-2). Northwestern really could, and probably should, be sitting at that record. Unless Marty McFly shows up, they aren’t. Unfortunately, there are no do-overs. It’s rough having seasons like this, especially coming off such a successful campaign the year prior. Week ten grade: C-
Purdue - They can still play spoiler to Iowa’s bowl hopes. Considering a lot of Hawk fans want a shakeup on the staff, many Iowa fans would be grateful for Purdue getting the win. Week ten grade: F
Buy That Kid Dinner (if the NCAA allowed it)
Philip Nelson (QB, Minnesota) - 16/23, 298 yards, 13.0 avg, 4 TD, 0 INT, 94.6 qbr
Denicos Allen (LB, MSU) - Frankly, it was a toss-up for what Spartan to chose. I went with Allen because of his nine tackles (five solo), two sacks, one TFL and an extra quarterback hit for good measure. All told, Sparty held the folks from Ann Arbor to just 168 yards. Thanks to all the sacks, they went into the record books with negative 48 rushing yards allowed (or is it taken back?) in the dominant performance.
Honorable mention to Ryan Keiser of Penn State who, among other good things, made the game-clinching interception in overtime.
Connor Kornbrath (P, Iowa) - seven punts, 288 yards, 41.1 avg, one tb, three in the 20, long of 54 as he kept the Badgers on a long field all day.
Dunce of the Week
This is an easy one: Iowa’s coaching (yet again!). They had two gems I want to complain about.
The first came midway through the third quarter. Down 7-6 with a punt downed at their one-yard-line, Iowa calls for a long pass. Really? Why? Predictably, it was intercepted and a few plays later Wisconsin scored.
First of all, why are you throwing a 20 yard pass from your own end zone? The possibilities of a sack or holding for a slower-developing play are idiotic. I generally don’t like passing in that situation, but a slant or a quick out is a million times more desirable than what offensive coordinator Greg Davis called.
The other problem was blatant quitting. Down 21-9 and facing a 4th and 18 with 5:25 to go, the chances of converting are slim. Factor in Iowa was going into the wind with a replacement quarterback, and the odds of coming back are at 1%, if not less. Nonetheless, there’s still a chance.
What did Iowa do? Punt. I turned to my dad and said, “If the coaches can quit on the game, then so can the fans. Let’s go home.” He agreed and complained about the team. I’m pretty sure the word “pathetic” came up several times. We weren’t the only ones. The stadium emptied with that decision. I don’t remember ever leaving a game that early, but if the staff throws in the towel, what’s the point? Congrats Iowa, by not competing, your very existence as a program has been neutered. A teaching moment about competitiveness and working your tail off in the face of adversity turned into Connor Kornbrath trotting out there for his seventh time on the day. Here’s one more “pathetic” for you, dad: quitting on a game and a team is, and always will be, capital P – Pathetic.