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November 18, 2010
Week 12 preview in the Big Ten
Style may matter in the Big Ten.
It usually doesn't in a conference typically more concerned about substance over gaudiness. But in a league race where the automatic BCS bowl bid has a good chance to be decided by the BCS standings, the three schools competing for the title -- Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State -- likely need not only to win out but also to win out impressively.
Wisconsin is on board. Last Saturday, the Badgers hung 83 points on Indiana. It was the most points by an FBS school this season and matched the highest scoring total by a team in a Big Ten game since Ohio State's 83-21 victory over Iowa in 1950.
"They [Wisconsin] are a great football team, and I mean that," Indiana coach Bill Lynch said. "I say that in a sense that I think the Big Ten is very strong this year. Legitimately, very good football teams. And, certainly, Wisconsin is up there with any of them."
But did the Badgers run up the score in an attempt to impress voters?
"If somebody's truly running it up, then their starters are in all the way to the end," Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. "You know, sometimes games just get away from you. [Indiana] had some turnovers and they had some depth issues, their quarterback went out, then all of the sudden things snowballed on them."
Whether Wisconsin piled on is up for debate, but this much is without dispute: Wisconsin is the highest-placed Big Ten team in the BCS standings at No. 7. Ohio State is 9th and Michigan State is 12th.
It was impossible not to notice Wisconsin's effort last week as it reaches the stretch drive of this tight race. Michigan State has a chance to grab headlines this Saturday when it plays an ailing Purdue team. Will the Spartans lay the lumber to the reeling Boilermakers? Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said he isn't going to get caught up in trying to score a lot of points.
"The No. 1 thing for respect is to win 10 games and lose one," he said. "That will be the defining moment. It won't be how many points we score. It will be did you win or did we lose? In the end, that will be what defines us."
The big showdown this week is at Iowa, where Ohio State will meet a Hawkeyes team that fell out of the Big Ten race with their loss last week at Northwestern. Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel also isn't worried about winning with flair; he just wants to survive and advance.
"If style points are important with what we have ahead, we're in trouble because there is not going to be much style going on in the ballgame we're getting ready to play," Tressel said. "So would that [scoring a lot of points] ever enter my thought? No.
"Well, I shouldn't say that because ever is a long time. But I can't visualize it."
If Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State win out to finish 11-1, the Big Ten tiebreaker is such that the BCS standings will determine the Big Ten's automatic BCS bowl team.
If Iowa beats Ohio State, and Wisconsin and Michigan State win out to finish 11-1, the Spartans will be the Big Ten's automatic BCS bowl team based on their head-to-head victory over the Badgers earlier this season.
"I still don't know the tiebreaker because it's irrelevant," Tressel said. "We haven't earned the right to even have it; it doesn't mean anything to us because we haven't tied for anything. So once the dust settles, we always say you get [what] your works deserve, and whatever that is, we'll go get ready for that."
Still, a victory with a dash of style sure couldn't hurt.
Best matchup: Northwestern offense vs. Illinois defense. The Illini defense has yielded 105 points in the past two weeks. In the six games before that, Illinois had allowed 108 points. The Illini have gone from No. 15 to 38th in the nation in total defense, from No. 19 to 53 in pass defense and from No. 12 to 52 in scoring defense. Last week's loss at home to a bad Minnesota team dropped the Illini to 5-5 and means Illinois needs to beat Northwestern on Saturday or win at Fresno State on Dec. 3 to become bowl-eligible. The game with Northwestern looks winnable with Wildcats QB Dan Persa out with a ruptured Achilles' tendon. Illinois' defense must dominate. While Northwestern has the No. 2 Big Ten passing attack and No. 5 overall offense, without Persa the Wildcats may have to rely on a running game that ranks No. 9. And that could mean trouble.
Players on the spot: Michigan's defense. Let's say the entire unit is on the spot with Wisconsin coming to Ann Arbor. The Badgers ripped Indiana for 83 points last week, but Michigan is coming off perhaps its best defensive effort of the season in a 27-16 win at Purdue. For the first time all season, the Wolverines' defense didn't allow a touchdown (Purdue scored on an interception return and three field goals). Michigan's defense, which ranks last in the Big Ten, will have to come up big again against a Badgers offense looking for another big day to impress BCS pollsters. Meanwhile, Michigan is hoping for an upset to enhance its bowl prospects and solidify Rich Rodriguez's job status.
Numbers game: Wisconsin is called for just 3.1 penalties per game, the fewest in the country. The Badgers have been called for just one pass interference penalty; it came in the second quarter of the second game of the season.
What they're saying
"If you watched it, you'd see the way it unfolded. I put guys out there, in the second half especially, we had our fourth-string center snapping to our fifth-string quarterback, and so on and so forth, and we were still able to have productive yards." -- Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, on charges that he ran up the score on Indiana last week
"I didn't have any problem. I said it after the game, and I feel the same way now: I think it's our responsibility to stop them and we didn't do a very good job of that. And we didn't take care of the ball. ... That's on us." -- Indiana coach Bill Lynch
"This isn't my first rodeo. I've been through this before. What's happened [has] happened. There's no use feeling sorry for ourselves. There's no use blaming. You'd rather have people that cared than didn't care." -- Illinois coach Ron Zook, on getting criticism after the Illini were stunned 38-34 at home by a Minnesota team that had lost nine games in a row
Etc.: Minnesota is off this week. ... Wisconsin may be without RB John Clay for a second game in a row because of a sprained right knee he originally hurt in a victory over Purdue on Nov. 6. But the Badgers have capable replacements in James White and Montee Ball. ... Michigan State will get WR Keshawn Martin back from a knee injury that has kept him out of the past two games. ... With Dan Persa out for the rest of the season after rupturing an Achilles' tendon, Northwestern will turn to redshirt freshman Evan Watkins at quarterback. He will be making his first career start against Illinois. ... Purdue will petition the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility for WR Keith Smith, a first-team all-league choice in 2009. He played two games this season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Smith likely won't hear from the NCAA until February. ... Indiana and Penn State will play at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. This originally was a home game for Indiana, but it sold it for $3 million to Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. Indiana usually makes about $1 million for a game in Bloomington. The last time the Hoosiers played a regular-season game at a neutral site was on October 28, 2000, against the Nittany Lions. Penn State won 27-24 at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. IU QB Ben Chappell is uncertain for the game with a hip injury suffered last week. Indiana is 0-13 vs. Penn State. ... Purdue must win its last two games (at Michigan State, at home against Indiana) to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007. ... Illinois and Northwestern will meet in Wrigley Field. The last time "The Friendly Confines" played host to a football game was 1970. The last college game there was in 1938. Northwestern has won six of the past seven meetings with Illinois.