We've got a lot to talk about after what happened on the field Saturday. The Big Ten race is wide open again, and it's conceivable that there will be a three way tie atop the conference at the end of the season. In some ways, it's a fitting end to the Empire's season before we split into divisions, but it's also the main reason I can't wait to have a Conference Championship Game. In honor of election day on Tuesday, there were also a lot of games 'down ballot', if you will, that determined who plays where in the post season, or if they will have a post season at all.
Michigan State 6, Iowa 37. I haven't seen a team with that much to play for look that flat in a long time. Michigan State looked horrible, and Kirk Cousins made some throws that make the 2010 version of Brett Favre cringe. But as bad as they were yesterday, MSU still has a lot to play for--namely a Big Ten championship and BCS berth. They have the tiebreaker over Wisconsin and don't play Ohio State, so if OSU can beat Iowa and then lose to Michigan, MSU wins the title outright as long as they win out. No, they don't control their own destiny anymore, but it's been a strange season and anything can happen. Conversely, a lot of people were wondering if Iowa would just roll over and die, or come out fighting. Question answered. Every phase of the Iowa game was spot on yesterday, and their matchup with OSU in a couple of weeks now looms large again, and is essentially an elimination game--not only for the Big Ten crown, but probably a BCS berth as well. And not to rub it in, but yeah, I got tickets and a primo tailgate spot for the Iowa City tilt.
Northwestern 20, Indiana 17. I thought Northwestern was going to hang 50 on that Indiana defense, but the Hoosiers hung tough all day, and had a real impressive TD drive to end the first half and take the lead. Indiana was playing like a team that knew their post season was on the line, and they fell short. I can't see a path to 6 wins and a bowl for the Hoosiers anymore, as I thought their two wins left on the schedule were this game and Purdue. The Wildcats got to 6 wins, and that was an impressive road win. They have to be concerned with QB Dan Persa, who was playing well before a concussion. Hopefully, he'll be okay very soon, and back on the field.
Purdue 10, Illinois 44. Has there been a team that has undergone a more dramatic mid-season transformation in the Big Ten other than Illinois? I might buy MSU, but my vote is Illinois. Most everybody, even diehard Illini fans, thought this was at best a 3 or 4 win team. They have parlayed a solid defense and a dynamic young QB into a solid team that will get a decent bowl bid. Hat tip to Ron Zook, because he has coached his waterskis off this year, and has a good, young team. For Purdue, it's just been one of those seasons where nothing has gone right. In many ways, injuries to key players ended their season before it really got going, and any realistic chance they had to get to a bowl game died yesterday. Rob Henry was limited by a nasty finger injury, so passing duties fell to another freshman, Sean Robinson. Robinson was overmatched, and it showed. Danny Hope did a good job rallying the troops after a devastating start, but yesterday was the beginning of the end for the Boilermaker 2010 season.
Ohio State 52, Minnesota 10. Once again, Ohio State dominated an inferior opponent, and Terrelle Pryor had a very solid game. The Ohio State running game appears to be coming around late, much like it did last year. Unlike last year, it's not out of necessity, as Pryor has developed into a pretty good quarterback. That's good news for the Buckeyes, because if this plays out like it did last year, they will run all the way to Pasadena. There are still a couple obtacles in that path, but MSU's loss really opened a window of opportunity for OSU. I know a few prominent people have said that they'll listen to offers about being the Gophers coach, but who would want to? This program is in more disarray than Lindsay Lohan's path to sobriety, and whoever the next Gopher coach is has a monumental job ahead of him.
Michigan 31, Penn State 41. I really thought that Michigan would outscore Penn State, but in that reasoning I forgot to factor in a critical component: the Michigan defense. They can't stop anything. Honestly, I think Graham, Jonathan, and nine other guys could hang 31 on the Wolverines with a week of practice. It was a good win for Penn State, and they now have an easy path to a bowl, as they should beat Indiana and possibly Northwestern. For Michigan, it's the same old song and dance. Start strong and fade at the end. I still think they beat Purdue and get to 6 wins, but will that be enough to save Rich Rodriguez? His 4-16 record in the Big Ten is horrible, he can't beat any conference rivals, and his defense is a sieve. Will an invite to a middling bowl game...a bowl game that they will probably lose because of that anchor of a defense, be enough to warrant a return in 2011? Tough call at this point.