Sorry for the late entry this week. Yes, I am still giddy with my Spartans for their big win over Penn State, but alas it is work that has kept me from the column. The days of partying over big wins for days on end stopped when I finally detoxed my liver after four years of cheap, flat beer way back in the mid 90s!
It was a thrilling weekend to cap an excellent Big Ten season. For starters, are you kidding me? TEN bowl eligible teams? Fantastic. Indiana goes up big, holds on and wins late over rival Purdue to seal a bowl game? Priceless. Michigan State goes down big early in the second half, wrestles back the lead and actually holds on late? Wow. Ohio State captures another Big Ten title by flat out owning the Wolverines all day - again? Superb. Minnesota gives Wisconsin all it can handle in an effort to salvage something this season? Admirable. Illinois rambles over Northwestern and stays in play for a BCS berth? Extraordinary. Finally, Western Michigan waltzes into Iowa and ruins Senior Day and maybe squashes bowl hopes? Improbable.
Yep, it was a great ending to top off what's been as exciting a season in the Big Ten as I can recall. The best part? It isn't over yet. There will be at least eight teams bowling, maybe more. Ohio State can still backdoor into the national title game. Illinois is hopeful that the BCS will come calling. Indiana goes bowling for the first time since 1993 - MSU the first time since 2003. It's all good in the Big Ten my friends, it's all good...
I'll do a team by team assessment/grade after the bowl games are officially announced. Suffice it to say that I had some teams pegged and others, well, not so much. Look for that in early December when we're in 'tweener season - between the bowls and meaningful basketball. Until then, a glance at where I think things will play out for each team:
- Ohio State - another terrific season. The Bucknuts own Michigan right now. They've made Carr into Cooper. OSU needs help, but can still get to the title game. The Bucks have to root for either LSU or WVU to lose because Kansas and Mizzou still play each other and then in the B12 title game. My guess? BCS Title game.
- Illinois - an incredible turnaround. Guess Ron Zook can also coach in addition to recruiting. Illinois needs help as well, but if OSU gets to the title game, I have to believe the Rose Bowl will be seeking a PAC 10 - Big Ten match-up anyway. My guess? Rose Bowl.
- Wisconsin - another solid season. Mid-season swoon aside, the Badgers produced another very good season. A New Year's Day bowl is on the table again. Not what it might've been, but good enough. My guess? Capital One Bowl.
- Michigan - bookend two game losing streaks. Not an ideal way for Lloyd Carr to go out, but let's face it, this was never anything close to a national title caliber team. Injuries doomed the Wolverines as did a defense that was shaky as best. For the maize and blue, who will coach next will be more fun than prepping for the bowl. My guess? Outback Bowl.
- Penn State - not a bad effort by the Nits this year, but not what was expected. Lost to Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois and Michigan State and therefore, didn't really beat anyone (except Wisconsin). My guess? Alamo Bowl.
- Michigan State - might the last two results be the turning points for a program that has been asleep too long? Time will tell, but the wins sure served notice and buoyed the Spartans from a trip to Detroit to somewhere warm. Great building blocks for next year and beyond. My guess? Champs Bowl.
- Indiana - hat's off to the Hoosiers. A heart-warming story of a team winning one for Hepp. IU ends the league's longest bowl drought and gets its just reward. My guess? Insight Bowl.
- Purdue - a hard, fast fall. From 7-2 to 7-5 in the blink of an eye. From the brink of BCS chatter to wait and see mode. The last three losses came to teams now ahead of them in the bowl pecking order and that relegates Purdue to the "can't win" bowl. A win is expected, a loss is an embarrassment. Can't win. My guess? Motor City Bowl.
- Iowa - just when you thought Iowa was a lock. That's why they play the games. No one in their right mind (outside of K-zoo) thought that Iowa would lose at home to Western Michigan. But alas they did and now find themselves rooting desperately for Illinois to get into the BCS mix. Without that, forget it this year. With it, an at large comes calling. My guess? Las Vegas Bowl.
- Northwestern - perhaps no team needed the seventh win more than Northwestern. Tossed into a pool of 6-6 teams fighting for maybe, maybe three at-large spots, NU is not nearly attractive enough to make the cut. Iowa will travel in droves. Alabama is the same. NU has something to build on for next year, but disappointment lingers. My guess? No bowl.
- Minnesota - well, thank goodness this mess is over. I'll give you that the Gophers played a fair amount of close games and that it should bode well for next year, but man is that gap wide between last place and the four-way tie for seventh.
Players of the Week:
Offense - a ton of choices. From Beanie Wells to Zach Brown, Devin Thomas and more. But you gotta go with Juice Williams. 356 total yards (220 passing, 136 rushing) and three scores. Stellar - and only a sophomore.
Defense - Vernon Gholston from OSU. 4 TFLs, 3 sacks. Led a stifling defense that stymied Michigan all day long.
Special Teams - Austin Starr was a hero in a rivalry game, kicking two field goals - the last a lengthy game winner.
AndrewJ1313 sits atop the standings and by virtue of nailing the margin last week, gets to pick the bowls with me this season. This will be our last chance to move in the standings. Stay tuned for bowl announcements.
In the meantime, let's pick ACC - Big Ten challenge! It'll be our start for college hoops, which will go full time when league play tips off. In the meantime, get your picks in by the start of the challenge next week:
Monday 11/26 - Wake Forest at Iowa
Tuesday 11/27 - Georgia Tech at Indiana
Tuesday 11/27 - Minnesota at Florida State
Tuesday 11/27 - Northwestern at Virginia
Tuesday 11/27 - Wisconsin at Duke
Tuesday 11/27 - Purdue at Clemson
Wednesday 11/28 - N.C. State at Michigan State
Wednesday 11/28 - Illinois at Maryland
Wednesday 11/28 - Boston College at Michigan
Wednesday 11/28 - North Carolina at Ohio State
Wednesday 11/28 - Virginia Tech at Penn State