By JOHN SEARS - BIG TEN INSIDER
1. Penn State (1) 8-0 W: 46-17 vs. Michigan
For a half it looked like Michigan walked in to the cubs’ not the Lions’ den. Penn State was the lesser team for the first half, but dispelled any questions whether they belong in talks about the nation’s elite by turning a half-time deficit in to a blowout victory. Seven consecutive scoring drives in the second half will do that (plus a safety, three sacks, and a blocked punt). The conference title most likely on the line next week in Columbus. Get ready because…
2. Ohio State (2) 7-1 W: 45-7 @ Michigan State
Ohio State proved they are still an elite team in the conference by jumping all over the Spartans. Buckeye quarterback Terrelle Pryor showed up big scoring two rushing touchdowns early en route to a 21-0 lead. Michigan State perhaps came in to the game a little too emotional, making costly mistakes (poor containment, tackling, fumble in their own territory) that the Spartans essentially could not recover from. Based on their offensive changes and possible win over Penn State, Ohio State has every right to be in the thick of BCS discussions.
3. Minnesota (4) 6-1 BYE
Minnesota’s week off allows the team an extra week to prepare for a stumbling Purdue in West Lafayette. The Gophers are certainly the darling of the conference, essentially reversing their record from last year (1-11) behind a young, promising offense and opportunistic defense. And to boot, there are rumblings surfacing that the Gophers are expecting a January bowl bid. Wow.
4. Michigan State (3) 6-2 L: 35-7 vs. Ohio State
Michigan State, maybe have been a little too excited for a game billed as one of their biggest in recent memory and they played with more emotion than discipline. An early fumble on offense and abysmal containment on defense allowed the Buckeyes to stretch out to a 21-0 lead. The Spartans could not answer as Javon Ringer was consistently stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Quarterback Brian Hoyer could not pick up the slack and the Buckeyes pulled away on a pair of fumble returns for touchdowns. The Spartans are still in conference running as they close the season against current conference leader Penn State. Can a visit to Ann Arbor cure the blues or add insult to injury?
5. Northwestern (5) 6-1 W: 48-26 vs. Purdue
C.J. Bacher (three touchdowns, one interception) wakes up and takes advantage of key turnovers by the Boilermakers. After falling behind 6-0, the signal caller led Northwestern to a 24-12 advantage at the half and never looked back, taking advantage of five Purdue turnovers. This game doesn’t show much in terms of Wildcat prowess, as Purdue is on the way down, but winning when you are supposed to win seems to be overlooked these days. With a reeling Indiana up next and Minnesota following, the Wildcats could conceivably challenge Ohio State for conference slotting.
6. Iowa (6) 5-3 W: 38-16 vs. Wisconsin
Running back Shonn Greene was a workhorse—powering, slicing and slashing for over 200 yards rushing and four touchdowns. He made the offensive load for Ricky Stanzi light, and one of the top defenses in country proved their worthiness yet again (Wisconsin rushed for almost 50 yards less than their season average and was intercepted three times). Consecutive losses are slowly being erased by much improved play.
7. Illinois (7) 4-3 W: 55-13 vs. Indiana
Scoring was expected from the Illinois’ offense. What wasn’t expected was that freshman running back Jason Ford would be the hub of the explosiveness, galloping for 172 yards and three touchdowns. Illinois went up beg early (28-7 halftime), which proved to be enough to close out an inferior Indiana team.
8. Wisconsin (8) 3-4 L: 38-16 @ Iowa
The Badgers are in an awful position, dropping their fourth consecutive game to start the Big Ten. Quarterback Dustin Sherer stepped in to relieve slumping Allan Evridge with no progress. P.J. Hill and the Badgers’ rushing attack was kept in check, whereas their defense could not do nearly the same against Shonn Greene (212 yards, four touchdowns). At this rate, Indiana and Cal Poly look to be the Badgers only possibilities of victory closing out this disappointing season. Will they be bowl eligible?
9. Purdue (9) 2-5 L: 48-26 @ Northwestern
It is hard to witness the Boilermakers skid in Coach Joe Tiller’s final run through the conference before retirement. The offense continues to sputter behind Curtis Painter and Northwestern capitalized on five turnovers. The defense played equally uninspiring, surrendering three touchdowns to the erratic quarterback C.J. Bacher. With Minnesota, Michigan, at Michigan State, at Iowa next up, are the Boilermakers left to save face in the Battle for the oaken bucket?
10. Michigan (11) 2-5 L: 46-17 @ Penn State
Basically, if you are preparing for the Wolverines, simply prepare to play the standard 60 minutes of football, and watch the Wolverines implode after the opening quarter. Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark admitted that Michigan punched them in the mouth for the first half (leading 17-14 and controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball). Brandon Minor (117 yards, two touchdowns) ran with something to prove – that he is still a valuable asset not ready to be put to stud by the young horses challenging him weekly for playing time. The Michigan “two-faces” play at state rival Michigan State next week. Watch out…
11. Indiana (10) 2-5 L: 45-9 vs. Iowa
Nothing looking positive to build on for Indiana as they were handed their fifth consecutive loss. In their last two defeats (Iowa last week), the Hoosiers have been outscored 100-22. What’s left for Indiana? Hoops…and maybe keeping the Oaken Bucket for another year.