We have a handful of "firsts" to talk about this morning. The first is shocking and telling all the same: this is the FIRST time since 1959 that both Michigan and Ohio State enter their "game week" coming off a loss. For the math challenged, that is 48 years. WOW!
How about this one: the Big Ten has TEN bowl eligible teams. I haven't done the ad nausea research, but I have to believe that no other conference this size (11 teams) has done this before. The SEC also has ten, but has 12 teams. 90.9-percent of the conference is eligible for postseason play (83.3% in the SEC). That doesn't mean all ten will go to a bowl, but ten are eligible and that is quite an achievement and proves the overall balance in the league.
Continuing on the theme of firsts... MSU got its first conference road win over a team with a winning record during the month of November since 1998. No, that isn't a miss-print. Illinois won its first game over a top-ranked opponent since 1956 and its first on the road - ever. Penn State Coach Joe Paterno played - and beat - a former player (Temple Head Coach Al Golden) for the first time in his storied career.
- Ohio State - ouch. The Buckeyes were in the driver's seat as far as the BCS Championship Game was concerned but that got flushed with the loss to Illinois. OSU can still head to Pasadena and win the outright conference title with a win over arch-rival Michigan.
- Michigan - double ouch. It appears that the Wolverines played at Wisconsin for no reason other than because it was on the slate. Chad Henne played sparingly and Mike Hart not at all. Why? Michigan knew that no matter what, the OSU game was for all the marbles. Shady if you ask me...
- Illinois - bravo. Coach Ron Zook recalled leaving the scene of the 40-2 beatdown in C-bus a few years ago with the credo that things would be very different on the next return trip. Good call. The Illini were solid all game long and proved that with sweat and hard work, you can turn around a dud given time.
- Wisconsin - solid. It wasn't always pretty. It was probably closer than it should have been. But Wisconsin got a nice W over nemesis Michigan in Mad-town and is a win over lowly Minnesota from 9-3 and a likely New Year's Day bowl.
- Penn State - yawn. 31-0 is always nice. But come on folks, this was Temple. Granted a much improved Temple but still, it was Temple. The Nittany Lions can get into the New Year's Day conversation with a win in East Lansing, but are more than likely looking at a mid-tier bid.
- Purdue - unimpressive. Sorry Boiler fans, but your team doesn't excite me. The offense is potent but who has Purdue beaten this year? Even with a win in the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket, Purdue's best hope is the Alamo Bowl.
- Iowa - trudging through. Iowa has taken the momentum gained from the comeback win over Michigan State and turned it into bowl eligibility despite myriad injuries and other issues. The only knock on the Hawkeyes, who are as likely to get to seven wins as any of the four stuck on six is that they are bland and mighty beatable. Still, hard to pass up on a team that travels really well...
- Northwestern - still alive. Just when it looked like Indiana had more or less sealed the fate of the Wildcats, they come through with another great comeback. Wipe out that ugly loss to Duke and this is a team looking to get to eight wins instead of seven. Illinois is a tall task this week and the 'cats are likely the least attractive of the bowl eligibles in the Big Ten.
- Michigan State - impressive. The Spartans struck first, took everything Purdue could muster and finally closed out a fourth quarter lead. In time, this game could be the one that people point to as the turning point. Meantime, a win over Penn State is paramount if State wants to assure a bowl trip and also lessen the chances that the trip is mere miles down the road (Motor City Bowl).
- Indiana - devastating. The loss to Northwestern may well be the one that stands between the Hoosiers and a bowl game. You know if it comes down to MSU and Indiana, the Motor City Bowl will take the Spartans. The collapse puts extra emphasis on the rivalry game with Purdue.
- Minnesota - well... There isn't much to say. The Golden Gophers haven't hung it up as evidenced with the way they fought for the Floyd of Rosedale, but I've been saying it all season long - this just isn't a very good football team.
Players of the Week:
Offense - Juice Williams, QB - Illinois. Hard to argue with the Big Ten's pick this week. Juice beat the Buckeyes with his purported weakness - his arm - tossing four TD passes for the game. He sealed the deal with his strength - his legs - picking up many key first downs in a killer 8+ minute drive to end the game.
Defense - SirDarean Adams, LB - MSU. Adams made two critical interceptions and set up 10 of State's 17 points off of turnovers.
Special Teams - James Bailey, KR - Indiana. The wideout averaged over 40 yards per kick return, including one for a score in Indiana's heartbreaking loss at Northwestern.
No one got me this week as there were piles of .500 records for the week. St. Louis Jeff laid an egg that tightened up the race at the top with one regular season week and bowl game picking to go.
Ohio State at Michigan (Tiebreaker)
Northwestern at Illinois
Wisconsin at Minnesota
Purdue at Indiana
Penn State at Michigan State
Western Michigan at Iowa