BT Blast: Showdown In Madtown

Welcome to Big Ten Blast!

UW's Montee Ball and OSU's Carlos Hyde lead their teams into Saturday match-up at Madison

This will be a regular weekly column where we will provide some news and notes from around the conference.

The featured game in the conference this week sends Ohio State to Wisconsin. The Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0) have already clinched at least a tie for the Leaders Division title, although an NCAA-imposed postseason ban will keep them from playing in the conference championship game. The Badgers (7-3, 4-2) have already clinched that berth in the Leaders Division and will play for a third straight Big Ten title.

Their opponent will be either Nebraska (8-2, 5-1) or Michigan (7-3, 5-1), who are tied for the Legends Division lead with two weeks left. Nebraska has the tiebreaker edge with a head-to-head win over Michigan, but can’t afford to slip up with game remaining against Minnesota this weekend and at Iowa on Nov. 23. Michigan hosts Iowa this week and visits Ohio State Nov. 24.

Michigan State (5-5, 2-4) hosts Northwestern (7-3, 3-3) looking for a sixth win that will make the Spartans bowl-eligible. MSU wraps the season next weekend at Minnesota.

Iowa, Indiana and Purdue (all 4-6 overall) each need two wins to become bowl-eligible. Purdue visits Illinois this weekend, while Indiana travels to Penn State.

Below, we look at each of these match-ups. Here goes this week’s Big Ten Blast:

Ohio State (6) at Wisconsin

Wisconsin has already earned its trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game. But UW coach Bret Bielema said the Badgers, who have won four of their last five games, will not back off the throttle as they host the unbeaten Buckeyes.

“I got the NFL playoff question, ‘Would you sit guys down once you become eligible?’ ” Bielema said. “That’s a whole another league for us. We have punched a ticket to Indy and it is very unusual. It came about because of the unfortunate circumstances of Penn State and Ohio State being ineligible. But I told our guys we’d probably have a mutiny if I tried to take guys out of the game because we were already going to Indy.

“This is a chance to play the team that is number one in our division. They’re 10-0. Our goal is to win our division and, obviously, we have to beat them for that to happen this year.”

Bielema was asked if his team needs to beat Ohio State to be viewed as a legitimize division or league champion this season.

“We’re going to play the schedule as it’s laid out and as it was given to us several years ago by the Big Ten,” Bielema said. “At that time, we had no indication that Penn State or Ohio State would be in the situation they are in. All we can do is play the schedule that is in front of us and live with the results.

“I want to win it in the worst way because Ohio State has set the standard in this league for years. It’s always a big game on our schedule and nothing is going to change that.”

With three touchdowns in Wisconsin’s 62-14 pasting of Indiana, running back Montee Ball passed 1998 Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams for second on the FBS list with 77 career TDs, leaving him one behind all-time leader Travis Prentice of Miami (Ohio). Bielema was asked about Ball having a chance to break that record at home.

“I’ve never tried to influence a record or influence a game to try and get a record,” Bielema said. “We took Montee out in the game the other day because the game was decided and we didn’t want to injure him. We wanted to give those other running backs a chance. When he breaks it, he’ll break it. It doesn’t matter if it’s home or away. It will be in the constant flow of the game.”

OSU coach Urban Meyer noted how Ball has come on after a slow start. He leads the Big Ten in rushing during conference play at 144.3 yards per game.

“He will be a fine NFL running back,” Meyer said. “He's got great vision. He's very durable and has great acceleration. He's a big time back.”

The Buckeyes are two wins away from their what would be the school’s 10th unbeaten season and only its second since 1973. Meyer was asked if that was ever mentioned before the season.

“We never talked about that,” Meyer said. “Our goal was simply to win as many games as we could for a senior class that I grew to admire in my time of getting to know them. We never talked about an undefeated season.

“The way I’m looking at it is we’re playing a team that is playing its best football and just ran for 500-some yards against a team that gave us a hard time. We don’t have time to reflect. We have to do something to stop this run game.”

OSU has its own battering ram at running back in junior Carlos Hyde, averaging 104.7 yards per game in Big Ten play.

“He’s one of the most improved players on the team in all areas, just the way he handles himself like a grown man now,” Meyer said. “I have a lot of respect for Carlos. That wasn’t given. It was earned. He came back quickly from an MCL injury. He is a competitive guy who gets tougher as the game goes along.”

Click here for coverage of Wisconsin from Badger 247.

Ohio State dropped out of a fifth-place tie with Georgia to sixth in this week’s AP poll. Click here for more Ohio State coverage from Bucknuts.com.

Minnesota at Nebraska (16)

Nebraska stayed in its Legends Division tie with Michigan with last week’s win over Penn State. That marked the fourth time this year Nebraska has rallied from down 10 or more to win a game.

On Sept. 29, Nebraska trailed Wisconsin 20-3 and 27-10 before rallying for a 30-27 win. On Oct. 20, Northwestern led Nebraska 28-16 in the fourth quarter before the Huskers rallied for a 29-28 win. On Nov. 3, Michigan State led Nebraska 24-14 in the fourth quarter before NU surged for a 28-24 win. This past week, Penn State was up 20-6 at halftime but Nebraska came back for the 32-23 win.

NU coach Bo Pelini was asked how his team has been able to overcome such deficits.

“I think it’s been better execution as the games have gone on,” he said. “We’ve put ourselves in some tough situations where we’ve had to respond. To do that, you have to be mentally tough, which I think our guys are. They believe in each other and also in what we’re doing. It’s a good combination.

“But I don’t know if I can handle much more of that.”

This will be the final home game for a Nebraska senior class that is three wins away from the school’s first league championship since 1999.

“They’ve been through a lot,” Pelini said. “We came in and there was some unrest in the program. It was a difficult time here at Nebraska when I first came in here. Most of these are five-year guys that I redshirted and we built the future around this group. They were going to help get this thing turned around.

“I think they’ve done a remarkable job with the character they’ve shown on and off the field. They’ve helped us get this program going back in the right direction.”

A lot has been made of Nebraska’s running game and there is a chance that ailing RB Rex Burkhead could play in his final home game. But the receiver corps has quietly done a nice job as well, Pelini said. Kenny Bell, in particular, has six touchdowns and is fifth in the Big Ten in receiving yards per game (65.3).

“They’ve given us a lot of big plays,” Pelini said. “They have steadily improved. You look at a guy like Kenny Bell. He’s a weapon. He’s a dangerous guy. People have to account for him. With Quincy Enunwa next to him and Jamal Turner, we have a lot of guys who have caught balls and been productive for us.”

Minnesota coach Jerry Kill knows his team faces an uphill battle at Nebraska, where the Huskers have won seven straight and gone 18-2 over the last three years.

“Nebraska is playing as well as anybody,” Kill said. “They have really put it together.”

In his second season at Minnesota, Kill has led the Gophers to a postseason bid. The Gophers reached their sixth win with last week’s 17-3 win at Illinois.

“We have one group that has experienced a bowl (in 2009),” Kill said. “It’s a good thing for our kids. They have experienced a lot of transition. They have been through a lot of difficult situations. I’m excited for them and our team and I look forward to the progression we can make with our program.”

After the win over Penn State, Nebraska moved up two spots in the AP poll to No. 16. The Huskers are also 14th in this week’s BCS rankings. Click here for more coverage from Huskers Illustrated.

Iowa at Michigan (23)

Michigan trailed Northwestern 31-28 and it looked very dire for the Wolverines, who had to win to stay on pace with Nebraska. But Devin Gardner, playing quarterback for the second game in place of the injured Denard Robinson (elbow), hit Roy Roundtree with a Hail Mary pass to set up a tying field goal. UM then won the game 38-31 in overtime, finishing with a dramatic defensive stand.

UM coach Brady Hoke reflected on that remarkable come-from-behind win.

“It was a team staying together and believing in each other on the sideline in all aspects of the game,” Hoke said. “We did not play as well as we would have liked to, especially on the defensive side of the ball. But we did when we had to.”

It’s unclear whether Robinson will be available for his final home game against Iowa in Michigan Stadium. But Gardner, 16 of 29 for 286 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against Northwestern, has proven to be a quick study.

“Devin is a guy who played that position for a couple of years,” Hoke said. “To better our team, he made a decision to play wide receiver. But anytime you have that game experience and learn from it good and bad, it helps. He made some plays and extended some plays for us.”

Over his career, Roundtree has dealt with injuries and other issues. But when the chips were down last Saturday, he made the diving grab of Gardner’s 53-yard heave to put the Wolverines in position to force overtime.

“He is always a guy who prepares awful well,” Hoke said of Roundtree. “He has worked hard in the skills it takes to catch the football. He looks the ball in and has high skills and high concentration. Last week, numerous times he caught the ball with his hands. He comes to work every day and does a great job with leadership of our team. He’s fun to be around and a guy you love to coach.”

Iowa needs two wins to qualify for postseason play after a handful of heartbreaking losses. Four of Iowa’s six losses have been by a combined 10 points. That includes three-point losses to Indiana (24-21) and Purdue (27-24) the last two weeks.

“They’re playing good football,” Hoke said. “They’ve just been on the short end of things in a couple of games of late.”

Iowa did break through and win at Michigan State in double overtime 19-13 on Oct. 13. But the Hawkeyes have lost four straight since then.

“I go back 13 or 14 years to when we were building a program,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “We were playing people close and we had to go over that hump of winning the close games. Teams that are successful typically find a way to win those games. Teams that don’t do that have records where you don’t want them, and that’s kind of our circumstance right now. We’ll continue to work on that.”

Ferentz said the Hawkeyes are preparing to see Gardner and Robinson at quarterback.

“They have two outstanding players and they wanted to find a way to get (Gardner) on the field,” Ferentz said. “With (the injury to Robinson), he transitioned back. With each week, he has grown, his confidence has grown and the package has grown. He’s playing well and is a dangerous player in a couple of areas.

“They are both good players. They are a little different in how they attack you. Nobody will know. Robinson is day-to-day, meaning he may be out there or not. We have to prepare as if both are going to play and even the possibility both will play.”

Iowa is 11th in rushing yardage in conference play at 102.8 yards per game. The Hawkeyes have dealt with injuries to top backs Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock. Weisman has missed the last two games due to an ankle injury.

“Some of our personnel situations have created that,” Ferentz said. “We’ve lost a couple of linemen and a really good running back. We’re not real deep there anyway.”

Michigan moved back into the AP top 25 at No. 23 after its win over Northwestern. The Wolverines are also 21st in the BCS standings. Click here for more coverage of Michigan from Wolverine 247.

Click here for coverage of Iowa athletics from Voice of The Hawkeyes.

Indiana at Penn State

Against Nebraska, Penn State tight end Matt Lehman fumbled going into the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. The call could have gone either way, although it seems Lehman crossed the plane of the goal line before fumbling.

After that bitter loss, quarterback Matt McGloin opined: "We're not going to get that call here. We're not going to get that call ever actually, against any team. It doesn't matter who the refs are... It's us against the world and we're not going to get those calls in these types of games."

The obvious inference is that since Penn State is on probation and Nebraska is the conference’s highest ranked team that the league’s officials will favor PSU’s opponents when possible.

PSU coach Bill O’Brien, who was conciliatory after the game, was asked if he had spoken with McGloin about those pointed comments.

“We moved on to Indiana,” O’Brien said. “I talk to Matt every day. We’re focused on Indiana and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

In recent weeks, PSU has leaned on running back Zach Zwinak. He had 141 yards in the loss at Nebraska. O’Brien was asked where that leaves Bill Belton in that rotation. He had one carry at Nebraska.

“He’s competing well,” O’Brien said of Belton. “We have a guy there in Zach Zwinak who has rushed for close to 700 yards and we’ve just stuck with that guy.”

PSU linebackers Gerald Hodges and Glenn Carson each had 14 tackles against Nebraska.

“Those guys, those three linebackers with Hodges, Carson and (Mike) Mauti, they’ve had good years for us,” O’Brien said. “I think Hodges and Mauti are close to 100 tackles. That would be the first time since Sean Lee and Dan Connor here. Glenn Carson is a tough kid who has had a good year for us. It’s fun to be around them and watch them play.”

Coming off the deflating home loss to Wisconsin, Indiana coach Kevin Wilson wants to see how his team responds as it visits Penn State. The Hoosiers need wins at Penn State and at Purdue to reach the six-win plateau.

“We’ve got to learn to win, learn to win on the road and learn to win in challenging arenas,” Wilson said. “I’m looking forward to go over there and play. They have a great passion and that’s what we’re trying to build here.”

At Penn State, senior defensive tackle Adam Replogle will make a school-record 46th start for the Hoosiers.

“He has done a tremendous job,” Wilson said. “We only have five seniors, but he will be a two-time captain. He leads the Big Ten in sacks for defensive tackles. As we build our program, he’s help set a standard on how we need to improve and what we need to do.”

Click here for more coverage of Penn State from Lions 247.

Click here for coverage of IU athletics from Inside Indiana.

Purdue at Illinois

Illinois hosts Purdue on Saturday, the 61st meeting between the teams with the Purdue Cannon at stake. The Boilermakers hold a 31-27-2 advantage in the Cannon series, but the Illini enjoy a 42-39-6 overall advantage.

It’s been a rough year for the Illini (2-8, 0-6). But freshman linebacker Mason Monheim has been a nice find. He had 15 tackles against Minnesota this past week.

“We are very proud of both Mason and Mike Svetina,” said Illini coach Tim Beckman. “We had two true freshmen starting for us at linebacker this past week. Mason has progressed and learned the scheme defensively quite well. There are two 18-year-olds playing and they are playing Big Ten football. I am proud of them. I think the guys around them have helped them perform as well.”

Purdue was sitting at 3-6 and questions were swirling about Danny Hope’s job security. But his Boilers rallied for the win at Iowa last week, snapping a five-game losing streak and keeping their bowl hopes alive. It was Purdue’s first win at Iowa in 20 years.

“It was a huge win for our program,” Hope said. “(Getting to a bowl) is one of our motivational factors. We want to be successful. We want to win and have fun and have a winning season. That’s important to us as a team and to our seniors.

“We’ve worked hard and regained some health. We have to win this weekend to keep our bowl hopes alive, and that is a motivating factor.”

Hope defended the decision to start Caleb TerBush at quarterback for much of the season. Robert Marve replaced him two weeks ago and completed 25 of 33 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns in the win at Iowa.

“We had competition at the position, and Caleb had the edge and had proven he could do it on Saturdays on a consistent basis and put us in position to win,” Hope said. “And Robert had not had as many opportunities, based on injuries and missed reps and everything that kind of went along with that.”

Senior running back Ralph Bolden, who has dealt with a host of knee injuries, netted 102 yards on 14 carries as well in that win.

“It was very special for him and our football family who has been with him the last four or five years,” Hope said. “We know how hard he has worked and the tough road he has had. Anytime you see a guy come back and play after three ACLs, that is a sign of courage and determination. We’re happy for Ralph and proud of him.”

And the victory was capped with freshman kicker Paul Griggs’ 46-yard field goal as time expired.

“That was a big kick,” Hope said. “It was a lot of fun. What a great way to end the game. For Paul to come in as a freshman and hit a kick like that, that is the kind of thing that can springboard your career. I remember four years ago when Carson Wiggs came out against Ohio State and hit a big kick. That was a shot in the arm for him. I think it will be for Paul and his development.”

Click here for more Purdue coverage.

Northwestern at Michigan State

Northwestern (7-3, 3-3) will try and regroup after its tough loss at Michigan. The Wildcats will welcome in Michigan State (5-5, 2-4), which is coming off a bye week.

“Number one, you don’t listen to the noise outside your program,” said NU coach Pat Fitzgerald, whose team had second-half leads in each of their Big Ten defeats. “Our guys are battling and fighting and their attitude has been terrific. Michigan played great. If I’m not a coach and I’m a fan, I’d say it was a heck of a Big Ten fight. We have to find a way to coach our guys to make a couple of more plays. It’s motivating to get back to work.

“We’re close to being a champion. We’re not there yet. I’m getting tired of saying that, but it’s a process and we’re working the process.”

Fitzgerald confirmed that RB Venric Mark will play against MSU after getting banged up against Michigan.

Regarding MSU, Fitzgerald said, “They spread the ball out when they throw it and Andrew (Maxwell) has done a terrific job. They’ve had some tough things happen to them. That’s football. It’s not perfect. Tough times don’t last, but tough people do and this is a tough team we’re playing.

“Le’Veon (Bell) is a great player. We’ve got our hands full. But that’s what’s cool about playing Big Ten football. You don’t have time for a pity party. You have to get back to work.”

Michigan State still needs one more win to qualify for a bowl for the sixth time in six years under coach Mark Dantonio. MSU’s four Big Ten losses have been by a combined 10 points.

“I think this parallels 2007 when we first got here,” Dantonio said. “We were very close that year in terms of being 8-2 or whatever it is as a football team. We needed to win our last two games to be 7-5. That is sort of the same situation we’re in now.

“But I think our team has great chemistry and great leadership. We’ve come up short in a couple of games, but we’ve been one play away – much like Northwestern has had some things happen to them.”

MSU goes into its home finale winless in the conference at home and just 2-4 at Spartan Stadium this season.

“We just need to win – I don’t care if it’s home or away,” Dantonio said.

Dantonio was asked about junior LB Denicos Allen, second on his team in tackles (67) and third in TFLs (nine).

“Denicos is a very active football player and we have done some outstanding things on defense,” Dantonio said. “He’s a big part of that. He probably had more sacks last year. I think teams are noticing where No. 28 is more now. But he has had a solid year for us and he plays at a high level.”

Click here for more MSU coverage from Spartan Tailgate.

Also Notable

* A student reporter asked Purdue’s Hope if he had any support for a standardized injury report made public each week – similar to what the NFL does. But Hope did not seem sold on the idea of disclosure.

“Why would you want a standardized injury report? What is the benefit for that?” Hope asked.

The reporter mentioned how it could be useful for “oversight” of how schools handle injuries. There have been many concerns nationally about how concussions have been dealt with.

“Our players are under the care of our sports medicine staff,” Hope said. “An updated injury report wouldn’t have anything to do with the quality of care that our athletes are getting. I still don’t understand what the benefit of an updated injury report would be. Would it be for the media?”

* The recent series between Ohio State and Wisconsin has seen low scoring games (like OSU’s 20-17 win at Madison in 2008) and also shootouts (like OSU’s 33-29 win last year in Columbus). UW’s Bielema was asked if he expects a low or high scoring game when OSU visits.

“I don’t know if I know the correct answer,” Bielema said. “I’d say this: I hope it will be high scoring for us and low scoring for them. How does that sound? I don’t think they will agree to that.”

He added, “I think you will see two teams fighting their hearts out on Saturday in a very competitive game.”

* Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was asked for his stance on the new college football playoff, which will provide larger payouts for schools – like, say, Northwestern – that excel in the Academic Progress Rate standings.

“I think that’s good for Northwestern,” Fitzgerald said with a hearty laugh. “That’s a pretty good deal. It’s about time.”

When asked what he would do with the extra revenue, Fitzgerald said, “My job is to coach the football team. I have a long way to go with that. But that’s a good deal there. We’re sitting pretty. We’re No. 1-ranked there, so we’re good.”

* Nearing the end of a rough first year on the job at Illinois, Beckman was asked what he plans to sell on the recruiting trail this winter.

“They can make an immediate impact, I know that,” he said. “We are playing a lot of freshmen now. One of the things that we’ve expressed to a lot of the recruits is the opportunity here and the opportunity to play early.

“We’ve always played a lot of players. We’ve had to play more freshmen here than normal, but that’s the way it goes.”

Beckman is not discouraged, though.

“It’s a close-knit group,” he said of his staff. “I think a lot of the players who come in here see that and realize this coaching staff can be special.”

* Players selected as Big Ten players of the week included:

Offense: Michigan QB Devin Gardner (threw for 286 yards, two TDs and also ran for two scores in win over Northwestern) and Wisconsin RB Montee Ball (198 yards, three TDs vs. Indiana).

Defense: Purdue DL Kawaan Short (six tackles, four tackles-for-loss, one sack vs. Iowa).

Special Teams: Nebraska K-P Brett Maher (3 for 3 on field goals, averaged 41 yards per punt vs. Penn State).

Freshman: Illinois LB Mason Monheim (15 tackles, 1-1/2 TFLs, one sack vs. Minnesota).

Big Ten Standings

Leaders Division

*Ohio State (10-0, 6-0)
#Wisconsin (7-3, 4-2)
Penn State (6-4, 4-2)
Indiana (4-6, 2-4)
Purdue (4-6, 1-5)
Illinois (2-8, 0-6)

Legends Division

Nebraska (8-2, 5-1)
Michigan (7-3, 5-1)
Northwestern (7-3, 3-3)
Minnesota (6-4, 2-4)
Michigan State (5-5, 2-4)
Iowa (4-6, 2-4)

*-Clinched tie for division title
#-Clinched Big Ten Championship Game berth

Nov. 10 Results

Purdue 27, Iowa 24
Wisconsin 62, Indiana 14
Michigan 38, Northwestern 31 (OT)
Minnesota 17, Illinois 3
Nebraska (18) 32, Penn State 23
Idle: Michigan State, Ohio State (5)

Nov. 17 Games (All times Eastern)

Iowa at Michigan, noon (ESPN)
Northwestern at Michigan State, noon (ESPN2)
Indiana at Penn State, noon (Big Ten Network)
Ohio State at Wisconsin, 3:30 p.m. (ABC regional, ESPN2 outer market)
Minnesota at Nebraska, 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Purdue at Illinois, 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)

Nov. 23 Game

Nebraska at Iowa, noon (ABC national)

Nov. 24 Games

Michigan at Ohio State, noon (ABC national)
Illinois at Northwestern, noon (Big Ten Network)
Indiana at Purdue, noon (Big Ten Network)
Michigan State at Minnesota, 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Wisconsin at Penn State, 3:30 p.m. (ABC regional, ESPN or ESPN2 outer market)

Dec. 1 Game
Big Ten Championship Game at Indianapolis

Wisconsin vs. Nebraska or Michigan, 8:17 p.m. (FOX)

Picks Update

After a great Week 10, I stumbled in Week 11.

I ended up 18-8 straight-up and 9-15-2 against-the-spread. For the year, I am now 203-67 SU and 128-129-3 ATS.

In Big Ten games, I was 3-2 straight-up and 2-3 ATS. Through 11 weeks, I am 67-17 straight-up and 41-35 ATS.

Stay tuned this week for our Picks for Week 12 later this week.

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