At a time where other conferences are studiously avoiding a challenge of any sort (cough cough SEC cough cough), the Big Ten showcased a full conference slate: all 14 teams played, in seven conference games. Even so, very little was settled: the Big Ten West race will come down to the final week, three teams still need a win to reach bowl eligibility and a few coaches on the hot seat still don't know if they will be back in 2015.
No. 25 Minnesota 28, No. 23 Nebraska 24
In the first-ever matchup for the newly-conceived Bits of Wooden Chair Trophy, Mitch Leidner dove for the winning score with 3:24 left to lead Minnesota to a win over Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers could and probably should have won this game; they were a 10-point favorite at home and led 21-7 at the half. But Minnesota ran well, the Nebraska offense stalled and the Gophers held on for the win when Briean Boddy-Calhoun stripped Nebraska's De'Morney Pierson-El at the 2-yard line on the Cornhuskers' final drive. And lo, Bo Pelini's four-loss streak is likely to continue until the end of time.
The Big Ten West will be decided by Minnesota-Wisconsin next week. Whether or not the Gophers pull it out, their progress in four years under Jerry Kill, from 1-11 to potential division champions, has been remarkable.
No. 16 Wisconsin 26, Iowa 24
In the other Big Ten West game with championship implications, Wisconsin held off a pesky Iowa team to set up next week's big game against Minnesota.
Unlike many other games Iowa has lost this year, the Hawkeyes were actually solid. The Badgers led 16-3 after a rough first half, but Jake Rudock led Iowa to touchdowns on three of its four second half possessions to cut the lead. The Hawkeyes missed a tying fourth-down conversion, though, and when they needed to force a punt they could not stop Wisconsin's rushing attack.
The magnificent Melvin Gordon hit a couple of big checkpoints: he broke 2,000 yards on the season and tied the Big Ten's single-season rushing record. It's a shame that his single-game rushing record lasted only one week.
Northwestern 34, Purdue 14
After last week's shocking upset of Notre Dame, Northwestern came into Week 13 needing two more wins to guarantee bowl eligibility. The Wildcats got halfway there by whipping Purdue.
Northwestern used some impressive drives and good old-fashioned opportunism to whip Purdue. The Wildcats' four touchdown drives averaged over 70 yards each, and a fifth came on a punt return. Justin Jackson continued his impressive freshman season with 147 rushing yards and two touchdowns; he's 90 yards shy of a thousand. Five turnovers stymied Purdue's offense, and the Boilermakers were never within striking distance.
This win sets up an interesting game against Illinois next week. Northwestern and Illinois are both 5-6, and each needs a win to guarantee bowl eligibility. The Wildcats could theoretically make a bowl at 5-7 thanks to its academic success, but it would be quite embarrassing. For Purdue's part, it needs a win against Indiana to show that its improvement this year was real.
Illinois 16, Penn State 14
David Reisner hit a 36-yard field goal with eight seconds left to give Illinois a surprising win over Penn State.
Akeem Lynch was good for PSU, rushing for 137 yards and a 47-yard score to give Penn State a 14-10 lead late in the game. Mike Dudek had 11 catches and 115 receiving yards for Illinois, and Reisner hit two field goals in the fourth quarter to send Illinois to victory.
Although the Illini struggled on offense, they still outgained PSU 283-265. Penn State's offense has been miserable this year, something that may improve with a better offensive line. The Nittany Lions will gladly take a 6-6 record, bowl practices and a promising 2015 recruiting class into next year.
Everybody has assumed Tim Beckman would be gone after this season. The Illini have five fourth-quarter comebacks this year; if Beckman beats Northwestern next week to become bowl-eligible, will that be enough to save his job?
No. 11 Michigan State 45, Rutgers 3
For the second week in a row, Michigan State dispatched a Big Ten newcomer in dominating fashion. This time, the victim was Rutgers.
The Spartans raced to a 35-0 halftime lead and outgained the Scarlet Knights 520-234 on the day. Jeremy Langford gashed Rutgers for 126 rushing yards and two touchdowns and Connor Cook and Tony Lippett were their usually efficient selves.
There are all kinds of nice things to say about Michigan State. None nicer than this: its coaches let the hogmollies run glorious end-arounds.
NovaWatch: Did Gary Nova prevent his team from winning? Yes, but it was a lost cause anyway. Nova went 11 of 26 for 108 yards and two interceptions, poor numbers to be sure. Even if he had played well, though, Rutgers wasn't winning this game under any circumstances.
Michigan State has rebounded nicely since losing to Ohio State on Nov. 8. Assuming the Spartans beat Penn State next week and move into the top 10, they should be one of the teams no one wants to play in a bowl game.
Maryland 23, Michigan 16
|Michigan State||9-2 (6-1)||1||4|
|Ohio State||10-1 (7-0)||5||2|
|Penn State||6-5 (2-5)||12||7|
Michigan has gone through so much this year. After losing to Maryland, it will go through judgment day.
The Terrapins and the Wolverines struggled to put up points, settling for three field goals apiece in the first half. In the fourth quarter, with Michigan leading 16-9, Maryland's C.J. Brown threw a game-tying touchdown pass and Wes Brown ran for the winning score.
Michigan's situation is so bad that one of its few remaining commitments, Mike Weber, decommitted in the middle of the game. Brady Hoke is a dead man walking, and to make a bowl game the Wolverines must defeat an Ohio State team that needs all the style points it can get.
With all the objectivity my withered, partisan heart can muster: Michigan, you gonna die.
Next week, all questions will be answered. Who will win the West? Will Bo Pelini, Kevin Wilson or Tim Beckman be fired? Will the nonsensical power rankings finally serve a purpose? Find out next time on
Dragonball Big Ten Recap Z.