Big Ten Recap: Wisconsin Punches a Ticket to Indianapolis

By Nicholas Jervey on November 30, 2014 at 7:15 am
The Badgers are as hot as anyone.

Say this for the Big Ten: it's definitely good at running the ball.

Even when teams aren't letting 300-pound linemen rumble, fourteen weeks of Big Ten play proved that half of the Big Ten's starting backs could be all-conference performers elsewhere. Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman and Ameer Abdullah are the three Doak Walker Award finalists; no conference has swept the podium like that before.

David Cobb, Ezekiel Elliott Jeremy Langford and Justin Jackson all broke 1,000 yards, Corey Clement would star anywhere besides Wisconsin and Mark Weisman and Akeem Hunt are strong as well.

Why bring this up? The big matchup in Week 14, Wisconsin-Minnesota, showed that the Big Ten Championship Game will be all about running. With J.T. Barrett out for the season and Joel Stave struggling, the Big Ten Championship game will be decided by who wins in the trenches.

No. 14 Wisconsin 34, No. 18 Minnesota 24

In a battle for both the Paul Bunyan Axe and the Big Ten West crown, Wisconsin overpowered Minnesota to advance to the Big Ten Championship Game.

The Gophers brought an early onslaught. Minnesota's first two touchdowns came on drives of 13 and 40 yards, and a Ryan Santoso field goal put it up 17-3 in the second quarter. Wisconsin responded with a heavy dose of Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement, who combined for 240 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Minnesota had one last gasp, a Mitch Leidner dive to make the score 27-24, but Robert Wheelwright's 17-yard touchdown grab put the game away.

Jerry Kill is a witch. That's the only explanation for Wisconsin outgaining the Golden Gophers 448-272, force a turnover, containing David Cobb (who broke Laurence Maroney's single-season rushing record) and yet being taken to the wire by an inferior Minnesota team. With better talent, Kill could turn Minnesota into a perennial Big Ten challenger.

Wisconsin is primed and ready for Ohio State. Its running game is strong and fearsome, and its defense has to be licking its chops at facing a Barrett-less Buckeye offense. Don't be surprised if the Badgers are favored next Saturday, or if they spoil OSU's national title hopes.

Nebraska 37, Iowa 34 (OT)

It was a contest of who wanted to lose more, and Iowa showed the heart of a true loser.

For three quarters, it looked like this game would be Bo Pelini's swan song. Iowa dominated Nebraska in yardage and field position, held back only by turnovers and red zone struggles. Two horrible Nebraska miscues (a blocked punt and an interception) became touchdowns, and the Hawkeyes shut down the Huskers' offense en route to a 24-7 lead.

Then Nebraska started breaking off big plays. Ameer Abdullah powered for 106 rushing yards and Tommy Armstrong Jr. hit Kenny Bell in the back of the end zone; De'Mornay Pierson-El returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown, and all of a sudden Nebraska had a 28-24 lead. Iowa forced overtime and hit a field goal on its possession, only to lose on Bell's second touchdown catch on the day.

Nebraska fans are fed up with Pelini and the program's lack of progress. The Cornhuskers have lost four games each of the last six years, losing every big game in depressing fashion. This isn't a big win, but it's a reason to be hopeful. (EDIT: Bo Pelini will not return to Nebraska after all.)

Meanwhile, Iowa fans are simply done with Kirk Ferentz. The Hawkeyes had a cakewalk to a division title, missing Ohio State and Michigan State and getting Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska at home. A good team would have gone 12-0, a decent team 10-2; the Hawkeyes went 7-5. And they still owe Ferentz $13 million dollars.

Rutgers 41, Maryland 38

Penn State slowed Michigan State, but the Spartans conquered.

Rutgers launched an incredible comeback to beat Maryland in College Park.

The Terrapins shredded Rutgers in the first half, throwing their way to a 25-point lead. Everyone assumed the 35-17 halftime score would hold, but Rutgers used kick returns and precise, explosive passing from Gary Nova to get back into the game. Kyle Federico hit a 25-yard field goal with six minutes left to give the Scarlet Knights the lead, and its defense held strong on 4th and 1 to preserve the win.

The Scarlet Knights have lived on the edge, going 4-1 in one-possession games. That's good enough for head coach Kyle Flood, who was looking at yet another late season collapse. This win over Maryland may rejuvenate the Rutgers program

NovaWatch: Did Gary Nova make me look like an idiot in 2014? He sure did.

Illinois 47, Northwestern 33

Against the odds, Illinois became bowl eligible with a win over Northwestern.

The Illini dominated the Wildcats in yardage and led 26-7 at halftime, thanks to Reilly O'Toole's arms and legs. The Wildcats pulled with eight points in the early fourth quarter, but Illinois' Josh Ferguson ripped off a 46-yard touchdown run and Mason Mondheim added a pick-six for insurance.

It's worth noting that Northwestern is still technically bowl-eligible. If there are not enough 6-6 teams to fill all bowl slots, 5-7 teams with high APR like Northwestern are eligibile. Accepting it would contribute to NU's nerd stigma, though.

Despite being outgained by 1,200 yards on the season, Illinois is going bowling. Tim Beckman is a garbage coach, but his teams have improved from 1 to 4 to 6 wins. He has done just enough to deserve another year; let's hope he doesn't make Illinois regret it.

No. 10 Michigan State 34, Penn State 10

Last year, Penn State upset a highly favored Wisconsin team on Senior Day. There was no repeat magic this year, as Michigan State cruised to an easy win in Happy Valley.

The Spartans were ready from the get-go. R.J. Shelton returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a score, and Michael Geiger tacked on a couple field goals for an insurmountable 13-0 first quarter lead. Penn State's only offensive highlight was an Akeel Lynch touchdown run in the third quarter; other than that, it was a montage of ineffective runs and Christian Hackenberg being harassed. At least Penn State gets 15 bowl practices for next year.

With a few upsets, Michigan State could finish the season in the top 5. The Spartans were good this season, just not good enough in its make-or-break games against Oregon and Ohio State. They're set for a plum bowl game, probably the Peach or Citrus Bowl.

Indiana 23, Purdue 16

B1G Power Rankings, Week 14 (?)
Team W-L Rank Prev
Wisconsin 10-2 (7-1) 1 2
Ohio State 11-1 (8-0) 2 5
Michigan State 10-2 (7-1) 3 1
Nebraska 9-3 (5-3) 4 9
Minnesota 8-4 (5-3) 5 3
Rutgers 7-5 (3-5) 6 14
Maryland 7-5 (4-4) 7 6
Iowa 7-5 (4-4) 8 8
Illinois 6-6 (3-5) 9 7
Penn State 6-6 (2-6) 10 12
Michigan 5-7 (3-5) 11 11
Northwestern 5-7 (3-5) 12 4
Indiana 4-8 (1-7) 13 10
Purdue 3-9 (1-7) 14 13

Tevin Coleman broke 2,000 yards on the season and Indiana rallied past Purdue to win the Old Oaken Bucket.

Purdue looked to have total control of the game with a 13-3 lead in the third quarter, but the Hoosiers made a methodical comeback. Austin Appleby threw three spirit-breaking interceptions to put Indiana in scoring position, which the Hoosiers made good use of.

While Tevin Coleman pounded out yardage, Shane Wynn broke free for a 41-yard touchdown run. Griffin Oakes hit three field goals to tie the game at 16 for Indiana, and Zander Diamont's one-yard touchdown run with 27 seconds left gave Indiana its first Big Ten win this season.

This was Indiana's second-best win of the season, but it may not be enough to save Kevin Wilson's job. Darrell Hazell's first two years at Purdue have also been disappointing, even though the Boilermakers progressed in 2014. Will Purdue and Indiana give them another year, or will impatient fans push Wilson and Hazell out the door?

Next week, the Big Ten Recap concludes with a review of the entire Big Ten season. Expect pretty charts, bowl projections, and wild guesses for 2015.

View 16 Comments