It's been a while since I've done a "12 Thoughts" segment. I'm way overdue.
We're getting down to the nitty-gritty of the 2010 college football season. The national title race is getting crazy, as usual, and the Big Ten race is no different.
We're still deadlocked in a four-way tie for the conference crown. Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Iowa all have just one conference loss, though Iowa trails the others with two overall losses.
Seven teams are bowl eligible and three more teams are within striking distance. It's not impossible that there could be as many as ten Big Ten teams eligible for a 13th game. It's not necessarily likely, but it's possible.
Last week we saw the highest scoring game in Michigan's long history (as far as combined score goes, that is), saw the top teams all come away victorious, and saw Minnesota's nightmare continue for yet another week.
I've got a few thoughts about what happened in the Big Ten last week: 12 of them to be precise.
It's no surprise that the Golden Gophers lost to the Spartans. Michigan State has had a pretty special season. So has Minnesota, but for very different reasons.
The Gophers did a fair enough job of limiting Kirk Cousins' output (9/20 131 yards, 1 INT), but Edwin Baker shredded their defense for 179 yards and four touchdowns.
At some point, the folks in Minneapolis have to wonder when they'll finally wake up from this nightmare. They have the talent to be at least flirting with bowl eligibility. instead, they're flirting with a one-win season.
What's worse is that the last time they were even close to a win was back in week 5 when they dropped to Northwestern by just one point. Since then, the closest they've come was a 12-point loss to Penn State in week 8.
Ahead of Minnesota is an Illinois team that's far better than last year, and an Iowa team that's in the hunt for a conference title. Things aren't looking good for their season to get any better.
Give credit to the Hoosier defense. Not that Iowa's offense is a real barn burner, but it's not bad. Indiana held them to four field goals and no touchdowns until late in the fourth quarter.Given that Ricky Stanzi didn't have bad numbers (22/33, 290 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) and that Marcus Coker put up 129 yards rushing, to hold Iowa to just 18 points is a pretty decent day.
The problem for Indiana is getting over "the hump". The Hoosiers are perfect in out-of-conference play, but are winless in conference play.
Iowa wasn't necessarily the easiest opponent to get their first conference win against, but taking the game down to the wire like that should tell the Hoosiers that they can play against upper-tier conference opponents.
For whatever reason (usually lack of defense), they can't figure out how to put it together against beatable conference opponents.
Next up, the Hoosiers have to go on the road to face a very tough Wisconsin team. They follow that up with a home date against Penn State, then go back on the road to end the season against Purdue.
Any of those games are technically winnable, but especially against beaten-up Purdue. The Hoosiers need to win two of their last three to become bowl eligible.
Unfortunately, they can't seem to buy a conference win.
The Wildcats had the Nittany Lions by the throat. At halftime, the Wildcats were leading 21-7. That's even a little misleading. Northwestern had Penn State down 21-0 with just five ticks left on the clock, then gave up a McGloin-to-Brackett touchdown.
Then came that ugly (for Wildcats fans) third quarter where Penn State scored 21 unanswered points. Ouch! Another TD in the fourth put Northwestern down by two scores and they never answered back.
This team has been relatively cold all season. They barely sneaked by Vanderbilt 23-21 to open the season. A couple of easy OOC layups made things look all warm and fuzzy, but then again they squeaked by Central Michigan.
In conference play, the Wildcats barely edged one-win Minnesota (29-28) and Indiana (who has yet to win a conference game)(20-17). Meanwhile, they've lost to Purdue (17-20), Michigan State (27-35), and now Penn State (21-35).
Next up is Iowa. While they've had the Hawkeyes by the beaks the last few years, they'll have to play better than they've done so far this year to get by a squad that blasted Michigan State to the tune of 37-6 and will be looking for a little revenge for last year's upset.
After Iowa is that Illinois group that doesn't seem to want to go away and then they end the season against Wisconsin who is technically back in the national title hunt (I said "technically").
Hey, at least they're already bowl eligible. If nothing else, Pat Fitzgerald can look forward to yet another chance to get that ever-elusive bowl victory...
What can you say about a 3OT win against a team that's played fairly solid defense this year?
I, for one, am excited to see the Denard Robinson can be praised for doing something with his arm more than his legs. I'm not a fan of running quarterbacks. I know they're exciting and add an element to the game that we didn't have before. I'm a traditionalist though, in the sense that I like my quarterbacks to stand in the pocket and sling the ball unless they have no other choice but run. That's just me.
More important than my whimsical idiosyncrasies though, I've really felt that Robinson could be a very effective and efficient passer - not just a flashy runner.
Robinson was 10 of 20 for 305 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs. While those aren't the most efficient stats, Robinson made the most of the passes he connected on.
Tate Forcier once again stepped in and added another 114 yards (12 of 19) and two touchdowns with an interception. This duo is quickly giving Michigan that little extra "oomph" that keeps defenses on their heels.
What most impressed me about this game though, was the fact that Michigan never gave up and never fell apart. Illinois fought them tooth and nail, yet the Wolverines kept digging until they got the win.
This game was by far the most exciting of the weekend in the Big Ten, and possibly in the nation.
Perhaps most importantly for Rich Rodriguez, his team is now bowl eligible and I can't possibly imagine every bowl passing on a name as big as Michigan's. The Wolverines will be back in the post-season for the first time since RichRod came to town.
With Purdue next on the block, Michigan can turn this into at least a 7-5 season, which is right on track with what most predicted for this squad this year.
A promising season has turned south in a hurry. The Boilermakers have been infested by the injury bug and it's wreaking havoc on their bowl hopes.
I don't think too many people expected a big upset over Wisconsin. The Badgers have been playing very solid football this season and have knocked off far tougher competition than Purdue was physically able to bring to the table this week.
Sean Robinson (how many Robinsons are there in the Big Ten this year?) struggle passing the ball. He was 19 of 38 for 141 yards and a touchdown, but also threw three interceptions.
The ground game - a staple of the team this year - also struggled. Dan Dierking only managed 55 yards on 16 carries (3.4 ypc). Keith Carlos had the best day in terms of yards per carry (6.0) but temper that with the fact that it was a result of 36 yards on six carries. No one scored on the ground for Purdue.
Meanwhile, Purdue's defense couldn't stop Montee Ball from running roughshod over them for 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
So now, the thing is: the Boilermakers are 4-5 and in need of two more wins to become bowl eligible. Ahead of them are Michigan, Michigan State, and Indiana.
Two more wins are possible, but not likely. If Montee Ball can run for 127 yards, what can Denard Robinson do? What about Edwin Baker?
Indiana represents Purdue's best chance for a victory, but Ben Chappell is fully capable of picking them apart as well.
Purdue may well have seen their last victory of the 2010 season. If there's another out there, it's likely only one more. They need to get something going if they're going to find a 13th game this year.
I've already talked about Michigan's part in this incredible spectacle. What Illinois did can't be overlooked in any way.
Nate Scheelhaase had arguably one of his best days passing. The young QB completed 14 of 25 for 211 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. He also carried the ball 21 times for 101 yards and another touchdown.
Mikel LeShoure did his thing well, carrying the ball 24 times for 120 yards and three touchdowns. Jason Ford added another 91 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown.
Put simply, Illinois' offense put up its best showing. Unfortunately, the defense that had looked so much better than in years past wasn't able to slow down Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier enough for those lofty offensive numbers to secure a win.
Illinois still has three beatable opponents in Minnesota, Northwestern and Fresno State ahead of them. A bowl berth is still well within reach.
As far as this game goes...hey, somebody had to lose eventually...
So, maybe it wasn't quite the same as beating Ohio State to lock down a conference title. Maybe it wasn't the same as beating the snot out of Iowa and getting a little revenge for the 2008 deal. It was still a pretty special win.
Maybe you're tired of hearing about it already, but I think it's still worth talking about a little more.
How many times in college football do we see one man coach a father and a son? How many times do we see that same man then coach a grandson?
How many times in college football do we see a single man lead one team for 44 years? How many times do we see him still doing it at 83 years old?
We may one day see another FBS coach reach the 400 win mark. Already college football plays more games than it did when Paterno started coaching. There will likely be more games on the schedules in the future, making it a little more likely that someone will match that number again.
But will they do it at the same school where they've coached for four decades? Will anyone ever last that long at one institution again?
When you think about guys like Tim Brewster, who didn't even last a half decade at Minnesota; or when you think about guys like Rich Rodriguez who will jump ship in a heartbeat to go to a bigger school with a better offer; it seems more than a little unlikely that we'll ever see another JoePa in our lifetimes.
When we think about how competitive recruiting has become and how college football is becoming more of a business than a sport, it seems highly unlikely that any younger coach will last long enough to become the kind of icon JoePa is.
He IS Penn State football. Players and staffers will come and go, but Joe Paterno has remained. No one outruns the Reaper forever, but Paterno sure is giving him a run for his money!
It wasn't the prettiest 400th win. Joe's Lions fell behind 21-0 in the first half before grabbing the momentum in a stranglehold.
In the end, Matt McGloin threw for 225 yards and four touchdowns. Evan Royster added another 134 yards and Redd logged in another 131 yards and a touchdown.
The young guns came through for Joe and brought home a landmark victory for the ages. They also made the Lions bowl eligible.
Not bad for a day's work.
A win is a win is a win. You can't really argue with that too much. I might try, though.
Indiana gives up an average of 390.9 yards per game. That's good enough for 9th in a conference of 11 teams. Not good.
Indiana gives up an average of 28.1 points per game. That's good enough for 9th in a conference of 11 teams. Not good.
Iowa's offense averages 409.8 yards per game. That's good enough for 4th in the conference. Iowa's offense averages 32.3 points per game. That's still good enough for 4th in the conference.
So why....why....why could this offense manage no more than four field goals until late in the fourth quarter? Why could this team not figure out how to blow right through such a poor excuse of a defense?
The good news is that Iowa is now 7-2. A bowl absolutely will be coming their way at the end of the year. The great news is that they're 4-1 in the conference and still tied with three other teams for tops in the conference. The even better news is that they're currently ranked No. 13 in the BCS and could break into the top 10 very soon.
This victory has to raise a few concerns, though. If they couldn't do any better than that against Indiana, how will they fare against Northwestern who has defeated Iowa four of the last five years? If they struggled that badly against an Indiana team with no defense, how will they fare against Ohio State, who has one of the better defenses in the Big Ten?
Iowa fans have expectations, but that's their problem. The Iowa team however, has talent and opportunity. They've got to make the most of it.
Maybe this week was just a fluke or just a case of one coach being better prepared than the other. Those things happen sometimes. Iowa had better figure it out, though. A 7-5 season (or even 8-4) isn't good enough given the potential they have.
The road is about to get really tough again. Whatever happened against Indiana can't happen again or Iowa will take loss number three.
On the bright side, Iowa's third string running back did put up 129 yards. That's got to be incredibly encouraging for a team that appears paper thin at running back, thanks to injuries.
Largely, this was just another day at the office for the Badgers. Purdue was a marginal threat before injuries depleted their already thin numbers. Wisconsin simply took care of business.
Scott Tolzien quietly completed 13 of 19 passes for 130 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Montee Ball averaged 6.0 yards per carry on his way to a 127 yard day with two touchdowns.
Of course, it wasn't all smooth either. Wisconsin fell behind 10-3 early on in the game.
The second half was all Badgers though, as they racked up 17 unanswered points, surrendered only a field goal, and then capped the day off with 14 more points.
The win jumped Wisconsin two more spots in the BCS standings. They're now at No. 7 in the country. Ahead of them are fellow one-loss teams Stanford and LSU. Then (of course) are the last four undefeated teams.
A national championship berth is a very long shot even from this position. Still, they're technically in the hunt, with only six teams in front of them to falter for them to step in.
National title discussions aside, there are likely two BCS bowl spots available for Big Ten teams. If tie-breaker rules somehow knock Wisconsin out of the Rose Bowl, a top 10 ranking goes a long way toward making a case for them to have the second BCS bowl spot.
A good friend of mine has become somewhat skeptical of Michigan State. He pointed out that the Spartans folded after a tough loss a year ago. He also seemed to think the same thing happened two years ago.
Well, it apparently isn't happening this year. Michigan State bounced back from their 37-6 defeat at the hands of Iowa to throttle Minnesota 31-8.
Kirk Cousins didn't have his best day. However, Edwin Baker averaged 6.6 yards per carry and scored four times.
The defense did its part, holding the Gophers to only 76 yards rushing. They gave up a passing touchdown, but also picked up an interception.
The bigger picture is looking up nicely for the Spartans. At 9-1 overall and 5-1 in the conference, they're still at the forefront of the conference title race. There are tie-breaker rules that may or may not allow the Spartans into the Rose Bowl, but conference co-championship is still a big deal for a team that went 6-7 a year ago.
Ahead of the Spartans lie Purdue and Penn State. Purdue is in shambles and Penn State has had issues of their own this year. It's not at all impossible for the Spartans to end their 2010 campaign with an 11-1 record.
The Buckeyes finally got a much-needed rest. They got the enviable job of sitting on their couches, eating munchies, and moving up the BCS ladder.
Ohio State moved up two places to No. 9 in the most recent BCS standings without playing a single down this week.
There are all kinds of bowl scenarios for the Buckeyes. The Rose Bowl is in. A BCS bowl is in. A January bowl is pretty much a given. Only a national championship berth is out, and we could split hairs all day about how that's still mathematically possible too.
Either way you cut it, it's a pretty good day when you can do nothing and still move into the top 10 in national standing.
This is kind of an interesting time of year. On the one hand, the conference title race is hitting the home stretch and anything can happen. On the other, there's really only one marquee game left on the schedule (Ohio State at Iowa, Nov. 20).
Wisconsin has played every ranked team and conference title contender that they're going to. Michigan State still has to contend with a Penn State team that could be turning a corner, but (on paper, at least) should be able to beat them.
Iowa and Ohio State have that contest against each other in two weeks, but otherwise they should both beat their remaining opponents.
Everyone else is jockeying for bowl positions or trying to become bowl eligible, period.
That last fact makes every week at least a little exciting from here on out. At the same time, it's a little disappointing that there aren't more really intriguing matches during the most critical portion of a really tight conference race.
As far as this last weekend went, the Michigan-Illinois game was far more entertaining than I thought it would be. The Iowa-Indiana game was much closer than it needed to be. Penn State made it a special weekend for JoePa and Penn State fans.
Michigan State and Wisconsin took care of business and Ohio State sat the week out.
That pretty much sums it all up. It could have been much worse. Then again, I sure could use a good match between some ranked teams...