After running down the Top Five in Great Lakes/Cornfields 12 Football, it's time to get to the rest of the conference! If there's a consistent theme to these squad's seasons, it's inconsistency. Some are emerging from awfulness towards respectability, while others are grimly sliding towards oblivion. Keep in mind, three of these schools will probably be going bowling.
6. Michigan State (5-5, 3-3)
State's season highlight so far was a 24-14 win against Northwestern at home. They recovered nicely from their three-game losing streak against Central Michigan, Notre Dame (barely), and Wisconsin (barely, again), but after losing to Iowa and Minnesota in the last three weeks, they find themselves right back in limbo.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins (pictured) has had a showcase season, throwing for 2,097 yards and fourteen touchdowns, but MSU's running game has not kept up at all. Losing Javon Ringer to the NFL really hurt, as none of his replacements have more than 400 yards.
Meanwhile, the defense has been torched by many opponents, including a Minnesota squad that was missing top threat Eric Decker two weeks ago.
Beating Western Michigan 49-14 last week counts for something (namely, a W), but a road date at Purdue this weekend, and the home finale against Penn State, are both crucial for Sparty's bowl hopes. Close losses have been a theme throughout the year, as all five L's have been by eight points, or less.
Still, Michigan State is clearly the "best of the rest", and may even pass Northwestern for the fifth Big Ten spot before it's all said and done.
7. Purdue (4-6, 3-3)
The Boilers have really pulled themselves together after a miserable 1-5 start to the season. Fiery coach Danny Hope (at left) refuses to give up, even after his team's win streak was ended in a comprehensive 37-0 demolishing at the hands of Wisconsin, and led his Baby Boilers to a nail-biter of a win at Michigan last weekend.
With losses to Oregon and Notre Dame, and the upset win against Ohio State, Purdue has a strong schedule to show for itself, and closing out the season with MSU at home and then a road game against Indiana gives these Boilermakers an outside shot at a bowl in their first season without the legendary Joe Tiller.
Purdue's biggest problem is a defense that tends to give up around 30 points a game, but their offense has been explosive at times and features a number of playmakers. Look for them to end their season on a high note and go bowling somewhere.
8. Illinois (3-6, 2-5)
Although their overall record is the worst in the conference, the Fighting Illini are riding a two-game win streak against Big Ten opponents. They probably won't be going anywhere this postseason, although beating Northwestern in Champaign on Saturday would be a huge statement, because their next opponent is #5 Cincinnati on the road.
Juice Williams is hurt again, but that may be a blessing since frosh Jacob Charest looked good in the upset at Minnesota. How will he fare against that rejuvenated Wilcats defense on Saturday? It's anybody's guess. Mine is that Northwestern wins, but then again, I'm biased.
9. Minnesota (5-5, 3-4)
The Golden Gophers are an enigma. After a strong start to the season, they got plastered by Big Ten front runners Ohio State and Iowa, then came back and won a huge game against Michigan State after losing their best player in WR Eric Decker.
The stage was set for a late-season run, right? Not so fast. A home loss to Illinois last week drops Minnesota all the way to the Big Ten basement, with two games left to play. One of those games is a freebie against South Dakota State, so Minnesota will likely become bowl-eligible, just in time to go on the road and play Iowa, a prospect that is not quite so daunting now that Ricky Stanzi is gone.
Minnesota has the talent to win both of those games, but who knows which team will show up? Regardless, it will be a team missing a likely NFL first rounder, as Decker is gone for the year.
10. Michigan (5-5, 1-5)
Thanks to a soft schedule that gave them wins against Delaware State, Western Michigan, and Eastern Michigan, the Wolverines are still alive for a postseason berth. And their strong national following will likely give them that berth if they can get one more victory.
But that doesn't hide the fact that this team is not very good. Although their running back tandem of Carlos Brown and Brandon Miner have put up sterling numbers (954yd, 12TD, 5.7ypc), their freshman quarterbacks have fallen apart during the grind of a Big Ten season. This offense can definitely score some points, and their 320 is tops in the conference.
But it's really the running game doing most of the damage, including Forcier and Robinson. Their best wideout has only 22 catches, and no receiver has more than one TD.
Also, the defense is terrible against any reputable school (not DSU, WMU, or EMU).
Add that to a daunting final two games against #20 Wisconsin on the road and then #9 Ohio State at home, and you have a team destined for 5-7 obscurity.
11. Indiana (4-6, 1-5)
Ahh, Indiana, our Indiana. The standard 3-0 start against weak non-conference opponents had IU fans salivating over a shot at another bowl game. Then reality set in, as the Hoosiers lost game after game after game.
Hoosiers believers, including Bill Lynch (aka the blind leading the blind), never fail to point out that Indiana has outplayed several good teams this year, only to fall victim to circumstance. I was at the Michigan game, and can attest that Indiana looked a lot better than the Maize and Blue, up to a point. IU had Iowa on the ropes last week but couldn't finish the job. They almost came back against Wisconsin this Saturday, losing by three. They were dominating Northwestern in the first half at Ryan Field, and self-destructed.
I'm sorry, but a loss is a loss. And those four count just as much as the Virginia shellacking or the Ohio State snoozefest.
My line on this team remains the same. Indiana is lucky to have a ton of talented players on their roster. Jamie Kirlew will be playing in the NFL soon. So will Tandon Doss, and Demarlo Belcher, and probably Ray Fisher, and Darius Willis, too. They are weak at corner beyond Fisher, and the offensive line is inconsistent in both phases, but both show spots of brilliance, as in the five INTs against Iowa.
But Indiana's biggest problem is a coaching staff that talks itself out of victory, after victory. This week, it was the decision to kick the ball deep to Wisconsin after getting within three points, with four minutes left in the game. Wisconsin's RBs had run all over the Hoosiers (that D-Line is much better at the pass rush than at run stopping), and thoroughly wore them out. What made the IU coaches think that Wisconsin wouldn't be able to get enough first downs to run out the clock?
Indiana now has a great facility in The Rock At Memorial Stadium (left). It is a beautiful stadium, up there with the best in the Big Ten, and its seating capacity of just over 50,000 is manageable if this team could just string together a few wins. Add in the top notch weightlifting facilities, and a great AD in Fred Glass, and this should be a program already on the rise.
Yet here they are, at the bottom of the Big Ten again. It's way past time for a coaching search.