Another one bites the dust. No longer are the Ohio State Buckeyes undefeated, leaving Iowa as the only Big Ten team to remain unbeaten.
First of all, congratulations to Iowa! There was not a single soul who predicted the Hawkeyes to be undefeated going into the final game of the season, but the Hawks do need to be careful. Due to their easy schedule, it is unlikely that Iowa can lose a game and still make the playoffs. Even though they are guaranteed a trip to Indianapolis, their larger goal will be ruined if they lose to Nebraska next week.
For Michigan State, it appears likely that they will fight for a Big Ten Championship, as the Spartans remain the only team in the Big Ten East who controls their own destiny. The only way OSU can reach Indy is by beating Michigan, followed by a Michigan State loss to Penn State. U-M, on the other hand, also needs an MSU loss combined with beating OSU to win the Big Ten East.
There was a bit of a shakeup near the top of this week’s power rankings. How so? Take a look!
There is a new No. 1 in town, and it is one of the most unlikely teams. The Iowa Hawkeyes left Purdue with a 40-20 victory, adding another win to their perfect resume. However, Iowa is still overlooked in the eyes of the playoff committee, who continues to place Iowa out of the top four. There are only so many ways to look at 11-0— but Iowa is legitimate.
One of the reasons why Iowa is dangerous is because of their depth. The Hawkeyes have three running backs, each one with different talents and abilities. LeShun Daniels Jr. is a 225-pound power back, Akrum Wadley is a 185-pound dragster, and Jordan Canzeri is a combination of the two. Many people do not realize how difficult it is to prepare for three running backs that can each burn defenses in different ways. This puts a toll on opposing teams both physically and mentally. Combine that with a defense ranked seventh in stopping the run, and it begins to make sense why the Hawkeyes are undefeated.
2. Michigan State
The Spartans defeated Ohio State in a 17-14 defensive struggle, making their playoff hopes more alive than ever. Even more impressive, the Spartans won without star quarterback Connor Cook, who was sidelined due to a shoulder injury. Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry played in Cook’s place, but their biggest impacts did not come from throwing the football. Racking up a combined 50 rushing yards, O’Connor and Terry brought a large contribution to the rushing effort of Gerald Holmes and LJ Scott, who each rushed over 50 yards.
The Spartan defense was in lockdown mode against the Buckeyes, holding Heisman candidate Ezekiel Elliott to 33 yards, ending his 15-game 100-yard streak. MSU’s defensive front was brilliant against the Buckeyes, limiting the high-powered offense to what would have been zero points had the Spartans not turned the ball over two times deep in their own zone.
The Spartans went into Columbus and topped the previously-undefeated Buckeyes, without Connor Cook and with two crucial turnovers. Could the Spartans be poised to make a national championship run? Only time will tell.
3. Ohio State
The defending national champions fell to Michigan State 17-14, likely diminishing their playoff hopes. Running back Ezekiel Elliott blamed the play calling for the loss, declaring that he did not get enough carries. True, Ohio State’s play calling was atrocious, but not in the way Elliott described. It did not take long to realize that running the ball was not working against the Spartans. Whether the Bucks handed the ball to Elliott or gave Barrett a designed quarterback run, OSU’s offensive line could not block well enough to gain yards on the ground.
Head coach Urban Meyer should have given Barrett a green light to hit MSU where they are weak—the secondary. Granted, Barrett was under relentless pressure and the weather was less than favorable for passing the football, but OSU made little attempt to exploit the secondary. The Buckeyes should have tried throwing the football long, exploiting safeties Montae Nicholson and Demetrious Cox. It is understandable that in pouring rain and wind, Urban Meyer would want to establish a strong running game. But there was a point where he should have looked back at the way the game had gone and realize that running the ball was not going to work. It is puzzling that Meyer ran the same plays over and over again and expected different results.
The Wolverines picked up a 28-16 victory against Penn State in Happy Valley. The Wolverine defense displayed another fantastic performance by putting constant pressure on Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Hackenberg is an extremely talented player, but the defensive front combined with the secondary led by Jourdan Lewis was too much for the Nittany Lions to handle.
U-M quarterback Jake Rudock has been quietly improving every week. For the second consecutive game, he has received no help from the running game yet managed to get the job done. The Wolverines relied heavily on De’Veon Smith and the ground attack early in the season, but Rudock, along with wide receivers Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh and tight end Jake Butt, are turning Michigan into a pass-first team.
The Wolverines will need a win against archrival Ohio State plus a Michigan State loss to reach the Big Ten Championship Game. Although it appears unlikely, Rudock’s hopes of facing his former team in Indianapolis survive another week.
It took the Wildcats five takeaways and a goal line stand to do it, but Pat Fitzgerald’s club keeps their chances of a major bowl game alive with a 13-7 win against Wisconsin. This victory against a ranked team means a lot to Northwestern. This is a team who faced Michigan and Iowa, only to be crushed by both of them. Things were starting to look down for the Wildcats; many believed they were poised for a big season after their Week 1 victory over Stanford, but fans were disheartened to see Northwestern crumble and fall to 1-3 at the start of Big Ten play. Somehow, the Wildcats have found ways to win every game since then, including this victory over the No. 25 Badgers. It has not always been pretty in Evanston, but the Wildcats are potentially one win away from a New Year’s Day bowl.
The Badgers saw their five game winning streak end in dramatic fashion with a 13-7 loss on the goal line. Quarterback Joel Stave was forced to leave the game due to injury on the final drive of the game. Bart Houston took over for the final play, only to fail to connect with Tanner McEvoy and lose the game.
The Badgers offense had a rough day with five turnovers. Stave accounted for four of them, with two fumbles and two interceptions. Northwestern’s inability to cash in on these turnovers offered life for the Badgers, but Wisconsin had many missed opportunities themselves, including a 78-punt return touchdown by Alex Erickson, which was negated after the officials ruled that Erickson called for a fair catch. Northwestern even missed what would have been a game-winning field goal with 4 minutes left, but the Badgers could not capitalize.
Overall, it was a sloppy game for both Wisconsin and Northwestern, but the Badgers ended up on losing end of it, falling to 8-3.
7. Penn State
Penn State had a difficult time moving the ball against the all-star Michigan defense, and as usual, it was up to quarterback Christian Hackenberg to figure it out. Unfortunately, Hackenberg and Penn State came up short, falling 28-16 to the Wolverines. Penn State is very similar to Nebraska in a sense of how much they rely on throwing the football. There have been times when shear brilliance has come from Happy Valley, but it can only happen when Hackenberg gets in the zone. This man means a lot to not only Penn State’s offense, but also the entire team. When he gets in a rhythm, it creates a domino effect that brings confidence to the entire team. Unfortunately, Michigan’s defense did not allow this, causing the Nittany Lions to crash and burn.
With this loss, Penn State is officially out of the Big Ten Championship race. Still, the Nittany Lions will have an opportunity next week to spoil Michigan State’s run for Indianapolis.
The Golden Gophers won 32-23 over Illinois and improved to 5-6 on the season. Freshman running back Shannon Brooks had a big day with 174 yards and three touchdowns. Brooks will need to come through for the Gophers’ final game of the year against the pesky Wisconsin defense if they want to be bowl eligible.
Shannon Brooks was one of the many true freshmen Minnesota has been forced to start this year due to injuries. Head coach Jerry Kill’s resignation has not helped Minnesota either. In fact, this is the first game the Gophers have won in Kill’s absence.
The dice have not rolled in Minnesota’s favor this season. Still, if they could find a way to defeat Wisconsin next week and climb up to 6-6, Minnesota fans cannot help but to be satisfied with a bowl berth.
The Illini were outlasted by Minnesota 32-23, even though they had 90 more total yards and dominated the time of possession by more than 11 minutes. Illinois put up over 430 yards of offense but struggled to find the end zone, and that may cost them a bowl appearance. The Illini will need a victory against a very good Northwestern team to make a bowl, their last chance to find that sixth win.
The Hoosiers are one of four Big Ten teams who need to win next week to become bowl eligible, and they nearly flirted with disaster by falling behind early to the Maryland Terrapins. However, quarterback Nate Sudfeld and the explosive Hoosier offense came through, giving Indiana a 47-28 victory.
Indiana has been mocked and underestimated all season, but of the four teams who have a chance to reach .500 next week, Indiana’s may be the greatest, as they play a struggling Purdue team. Should the Hoosiers stun the conference by making a bowl, it would be their first bowl appearance since 2007.
The Scarlet Knights’ 31-21 victory over Army did not do much to silence critics of head coach Kyle Flood. Still, Rutgers managed to put together a good performance, highlighted by Paul James rushing for 116 yards. Backup running back Josh Hicks moved to safety, where he recovered a fumble and made a key interception. The Scarlet Knights will have a chance at a 5-7 record with a victory over Maryland in their final game of the regular season. From there, they could potentially make a bowl game if there aren’t enough bowl-eligible teams, but next week will most likely be Rutgers’ final game of the season.
Austin Appleby replaced David Blough at quarterback for the Boilermakers, and he made the most of it, racking up 259 yards and a touchdown. In spite of a few flashes of greatness from Purdue, they could not upset the undefeated Iowa Hawkeyes, as the Boilermakers lost 40-20. Purdue has played teams tough this season, but wins have been hard to find as the Boilermakers fell to 2-9. Purdue will have one more shot to make noise in Big Ten play by ruining Indiana’s bowl game hopes next week on senior day.
The Terrapins were finally going get their first victory in conference play. With a 21-3 lead against Indiana, it looked like Maryland was actually going to win a game. But 44 points later, the Terps found themselves in a 47-28 hole. Maryland will have one final chance at winning a conference game next week against Rutgers. Will Maryland be the only team to go winless in Big Ten play? We will see!