The inaugural season with the division format has come to an end, and I have to say, I've enjoyed it. What started off with the resignation of the most successful coach in a decade will end next week in Indianapolis with either Wisconsin or Michigan State as conference champion.
This past week had a boring game (I'm looking at you, Heroes Game), an exciting game (OSU-UM, come on down) an upset (Say good-bye to the Zooker), and the two championship game participants held serve, both in fairly convincing fashion.
Michigan State 31, Northwestern 17. I thought going in to this game MSU was the better team, and under normal circumstances should win. But with Sparty already assured of the Legends Division title and no shot at the BCS title game thanks to two losses, not a lot of people would have been shocked to see Northwestern win this game. I'll give a lot of credit to MSU here, because they came out and looked pretty good, for the most part. For Northwestern, a disappointing end to a disappointing season. What started out with a Heisman campaign and a not-too-unrealistic thought at winning the conference has ended with a 6-6 record and another minor bowl.
Michigan 40, OSU 34. Well, congratulations are in order for Michigan. They beat OSU for the first time in seven years, and Brady Hoke capped an impressive inaugural season for the Wolverines, going 10-2 while making a strong bid for a BCS bowl. Greg Mattison has transformed the Michigan defense, Michigan has an offensive threat besides Denard Robinson in Fitzgerald Touissant, and the regular season culminated with a big win over OSU. For the Buckeyes, it's a season to forget, but there is a silver lining to this craptastic season, and his name is Urban Meyer. With Hoke bringing back Michigan from the dark days of RichRod, and Meyer ready to do the same from Tatgate, this rivalry has been turned back up to 11. That's not good news, that's great news.
Purdue 33, Indiana 25. The OSU-Michigan game might have been the most exciting, but what Purdue accomplished was, in my mind anyway, the most significant. When this season started, Purdue looked awful, and for awhile I thought they were the worst team in the conference. The fact that they were able to pull it together, upset OSU, and then beat Indiana to get bowl eligible is damn near miraculous. A tip of the cap to you, Boilermakers. Well done. Speaking of the worst team in the conference, Indiana started off the season poorly and never got any better. If the highlight of your season is the coach giving a couple of sports radio co-hosts an ass chewing live on the air, what happened on the field probably left something to be desired. There is a long, long way to go in Bloomington.
Minnesota 27, Illinois 7. Oh Ron Zook, what have you done now? How could a team that was 6-0 end up 6-6 and get their ass handed to them by a Minnesota squad that they were clearly better than on paper? Zook's future is in serious doubt, and even though Illinois is going to back to back bowls for the first time in a long time, when you're undefeated and dreaming of a conference championship, December in Detroit is a huge letdown; one that will probably cost the Zooker his job. For the Gophers, well done, at least in some sense. Jerry Kill had an up and down season, but after getting absolutely throttled in their first three conference games, he used the bye week to regroup, and they came out and beat Iowa, played MSU and Northwestern tough, and throttled Illinois. Kill has the Gophers headed in the right direction, and I think they'll be a bowl team next year.
Wisconsin 45, Penn State 7. With the Leaders division on the line, Wisconsin went out and took it. I thought they'd win, but I'm stunned that they throttled Penn State. Wisconsin is a different football team at home, but I still had no idea Penn State's defense would be easier to score on than a drunk and willing prom date. Jim Delany has to be relieved that he didn't have to deal with the PR nightmare of Penn State in Indianapolis, and now we've got our rematch. For Sconny, I'm going to look back on this team and wonder, years from now, what might have been. Save for two miraculous Hail Mary plays, Wisconsin would be 60 minutes from the BCS National Championship game. Their offense can just be overpowering, like they were today--equally efficient on the ground and in the air. MSU won the first encounter, and for the rematch, I'll take--
Oh wait. I think we have a game prediction story coming up in the next day or two, so I'll wait.
So you guys tell me, what are your overall impressions of the conference this year? I don't sense there's a truly great team in the bunch--sorry Wisconsin, great teams don't lose like you did twice in one season--but I would argue there are half a dozen very good teams, and a couple teams that should be better than they were (Iowa, OSU). 10 teams are bowl eligible, and I think that's a conference record. We should get two at large BCS bids (Conference championship game winner and Michigan) but I don't know that we have two BCS-caliber teams.
Either way, as we wrap up the regular season, we look towards Indianapolis, and then to the bowl season, and then definitely one if not two coaching changes (OSU, Illinois). It's been a great season, but now it's time to start moving forward.
Unless you're Michigan. It's okay to linger here a couple of days if you want. You guys deserve it, congratulations.