Big Ten Digest: Two Eggs Over Easy With A Side Of Upset

Week eight in an on-going series on the teams of the Big Ten...

By now if you don't know that Wisconsin upset Ohio State over the weekend, in the process making the conference picture in the Big Ten even more ridiculous, then you've been living under a rock. Or some place without SportsCenter. In any case, it happened, and now that the dust has settled, those of us who write on the conference have been left scratching our heads. The number one team has been felled by a team who, despite high pre-season expectations, had let lackluster play drag them out of the conference picture. The only undefeated team left is Michigan State, at 7-0, and everyone (including Sparty's fans) seems only to be waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Iowa, the forgotten team, suddenly sees a very clear path to the conference title that eluded them last year. The headlines around the sports blog world have proclaimed that the Big Ten championship race now goes straight through Iowa City, and they couldn't be more correct. Iowa finds themselves in the unusual position of being host, over the next several weeks, to all of the zero or one-loss contenders for the Big Ten crown. It begins this week with Wisconsin, continues the very next with Michigan State, and finishes later in the season with a date with the Buckeyes. If the Hawkeyes take care of business, they will be sitting pretty for the title crown and a trip to the Rose Bowl. But that's a big if. Iowa has the ability to do it, to be sure, but if this season in the conference has taught us anything at this point, it's that nothing is ever close to a sure bet.

 

News Update:

After last Saturday's game, Wisconsin became the third bowl eligible team in the conference (behind Michigan State at 7-0, and Ohio State at 6-1). This weekend, the bowl watch is on for Iowa (5-1), and Northwestern (5-1). Michigan, at 5-2, is idle this weekend but will resume their own bowl quest on Halloween weekend.

On the slightly interesting front, with last Saturday's games, the conference has officially surpassed the million fan mark for attendance at in-conference games only. The conference as a whole is averaging 76,045 fans per conference game and 73,220 fans for all games. Both measures would break the previous records, set in 2005, if they last for the rest of the season.

Tim Brewster, coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, has finally been told to pack his bags. With the loss to Purdue this week, the administration apparently had had enough. Offensive coordinator Jeff Horton will take the reins for the remainder of the season.

 

Rankings Watch:

Big news! Rankings watch adds a new poll this week as the first edition of the BCS standings have been published. The conference has four schools within the top 25 of the BCS standings. For those who are unaware or just a bit foggy, the BCS standings are the poll that is used to determine both the two teams that will play for the national championship at the end of the season, any automatic qualifier teams (generally the conference champions of the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, and SEC conferences, as well as very highly ranked teams from the non-AQ conferences) for BCS bowls, and the remaining pool of teams eligible for at-large selection to a BCS bowl game.

The BCS rankings are compiled based on three factors: A team's rank in the Harris Poll, a team's rank in the Coaches' Poll, and the average of six computer rankings systems. Each component counts for 1/3 of the total potential BCS score.

The six computer rankings system averaged in the BCS scores are: the Sagarin, Anderson & Hester, Richard Billingsley, Colley Matrix, Kenneth Massey, and Dr. Peter Wolfe rankings. Each computer rankings system uses varied formulas to rank the teams. Of the six rankings then produced, the highest and lowest are discarded and the remaining four assigned points. Points are then assigned in reverse order, with the highest ranked team receiving 25 points and the 25th ranked team 1 point. These four point totals are then averaged.

Through complicated wizardry that would make this column too long if I tried to explain it, the three different rankings (Harris, Coaches, and Computer Average) are turned into percentiles which are then themselves averaged to produce an average percentile. I will include each BCS ranked team's average percentiles in parentheses next to their BCS ranking. The current No. 1 ranked team in the BCS is Oklahoma, with an average of: .9215

Iowa:

Was: No. 15 in the AP poll, No. 14 in the Coaches' poll

Now: No. 13 in the AP poll, No. 12 in the Coaches' poll, No. 15 in the BCS standings (.4824)

Michigan State:

Was: No. 13 in the AP poll, No. 11 in the Coaches' poll

Now: No. 8 in the AP poll, No. 8 in the Coaches poll, No. 7 in the BCS standings (.7628)

Ohio State:

Was: No. 1 in the AP poll, No. 1 in the Coaches' poll

Now: No. 11 in the AP poll, No. 10 in the Coaches' poll, No. 10 in the BCS standings (.5726)

Wisconsin:

Was: No. 18 in the AP poll, No. 16 in the Coaches' poll

Now: No. 10 in the AP poll, No. 11 in the Coaches' poll, No. 13 in the BCS standings (.5335)

 

Week Seven Recap:


Big 10 Conference Standings

(updated 10.10.2010 at 3:29 AM CDT)



Week seven was capped off by the upset of No. 1 ranked Ohio State by No. 18 ranked Wisconsin. Michigan State avoided an upset by Illinois with a late surge, Iowa hung on against the offensive juggernaut of Denard Robinson, and Purdue, Minnesota, and Indiana were... Purdue, Minnesota, and Indiana.

Arkansas State at Indiana (Indiana, 36-34)

It never gets dull being a Hoosier fan, does it? The lone non-con game in the conference this week saw Indiana hosting a not so great Sun Belt team. For the first half it looked as though Indiana might actually drop this one, and place themselves in an even more precarious position on the road to bowl eligibility. Then, Ben Chappell started playing like himself. Chappell threw for 292 yards in the second half alone, on the way to a 380 yard, 4 TD performance. The Indiana defense was just as bad as its always been, though, and narrowly missed giving the game away in the final minutes. With this win, Indiana has swept their non-conference schedule and sits at 4-1, with a decent shot at a bowl. Unfortunately for them, the brutality of their upcoming games makes that unlikely. Win at Illinois this week, and it becomes just one upset away...

Minnesota at Purdue (Purdue, 28-17)

The predicted icky game of week seven was just that, with Purdue hanging on to continue their undefeated in-conference streak at the hands of the poor Golden Gophers. Tim Brewster, the underachieving coach of the Gophers was the casualty of the game, as he was fired shortly after the loss. Purdue is still undefeated in the conference, but the question must be asked: what is going to happen when they encounter the good teams? Maddeningly inconsistent Northwestern and terrible Minnesota don't give me confidence that they can outplay Ohio State, Michigan State, or Wisconsin when the time comes. Bowl eligibility is within reach for the gimpy Boilermaker squad, but it's going to take some work and some serious luck to get there.

Illinois at No. 13 Michigan State (MSU, 26-6)

The score of this game does not accurately portray how close it was for most of three quarters. Until Kirk Cousins let loose with a 46 yard pass to B.J. Cunningham with just over eight minutes remaining in the third, this game had been a defensive slug fest. The score was tied at 6-6 with neither team actually managing to find the end zone. Freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase of Illinois had an absolutely terrible day, throwing for just 140 yards and three interceptions. Cousins turned in a merely average performance at 200 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps most interesting was that the Illini were able to hold the Spartan running game in check, keeping MSU to under 100 yards rushing as a team. Illinois does have a better D-Line than they often get credit for, but to my mind this game just shows that Michigan State is vulnerable, even at home. Sparty may yet have a special season in store, but they can't get caught napping along the way if they want to make it there.

No. 15 Iowa at Michigan (Iowa, 38-28)

While many Hawkeye fans would crow that they should be considered top dog after Ohio State's loss, I'd point to this game as proof that the Hawkeyes aren't quite as dominant as they might like to think they are. Oh, yes, I know, Michigan has a great offense. Uh huh. Well most of that has come from Denard Robinson this season, yet, when Iowa managed to knock him out of the game with an arm injury, they still ended up giving up nearly 250 passing yards to backup Tate Forcier. Going into the 4th quarter, Iowa led 28-7, yet ended up winning the game 38-28, ultimately giving up 383 total yards. Is this Hawkeye squad a formidable opponent? Yes, but they are clearly not the force they were last season.

No. 1 Ohio State at No. 18 Wisconsin (Wisconsin, 31-18)

I really can't get tired of talking about this game. Part of that is due to my personal loyalties, and part due to the fact that I correctly picked it as the most likely upset of the week. The Buckeyes came in to Camp Randall fresh off a No. 1 ranking for an evening date on ESPN. They left dispirited and faced with a route to the conference title that will require mistakes on the part of their opponents. Their destiny is now out of their control. Meanwhile, the Badgers are suddenly relevant again. They played a complete game and looked like the pre-season team everyone thought they would be.

The running duo of John Clay and James White put up 180 yards and three TDs on Ohio State, with the much maligned OSU special teams giving up the fourth TD in an opening kickoff return by David Gilreath. Scott Tolzien managed to throw just enough short routes to keep the Wisconsin ground game churning and the Badgers fed off the energy of an incredibly amped Madison to propel them to the win. Can the Badgers make it to Pasadena this year? Yes, but the early loss to Michigan State suddenly looms large. For that to happen, Wisconsin needs to take care of business against Iowa and hope that Michigan State can't.

BONUS: Texas at No. 5 Nebraska (Texas, 20-13)

Ugh. What happened here? The Cornhuskers were looking for a parting victory shot against Texas before they leap to the conference promised land. Instead, they got embarrassed on national television. At home. Standout QB Taylor Martinez was held to just 62 passing yards and 21 rushing yards. If not for a late punt return in the fourth quarter that gave Nebraska their only touchdown of the game, this score would have been even more lopsided. All of a sudden, Oklahoma once again looks to be the top team in the Big 12. If Nebraska wants to rebound, taking down No. 14 Oklahoma State and then No. 11 Missouri would be a good way to do it.

 

Week Eight Preview:

The question for this week is: will it all actually go the way we think it should? There's more upset potential this week as MSU travels to Evanston to take on an outwardly not-all-that-threatening Northwestern team. But upsets have been the name of the game for the Wildcats for some time now, and MSU still has some proving to do on the road. And that's not all that's happening this week...

Penn State at Minnesota (11:00 A.M., ESPNU)

The Nittany Lions travel to The Bank looking for what should be an easy win. Then again, we thought that about the Illini game, didn't we? The X-factor here is the removal of Tim Brewster as head coach. Will the Gopher players be inspired by a new coach, or play even more dispirited than before? Penn State has had a bumpy season thus far. Can Evan Royster finally show up for a game and perform like everyone expects him to? Will Rob Bolden avoid the mistakes that have led to serious problems on offense for PSU? In any other week, I'd say Penn State wins this hands down. But the new coaching situation in Minnesota makes this more of a toss-up than you might think...

No. 7 Michigan State at Northwestern (11:00 A.M., ESPN/ESPN3)

It's homecoming in Evanston. And you better believe the ‘Cats smell upset in the air. After having the week off and watching the top team in the Big Ten bumped off by a Badgers squad energized by their home field advantage, that Wildcats will definitely be looking to do the same. Last year, they toppled an undefeated 9-0 Iowa team, and this year they're gunning for MSU. The prize is conference respect and bowl eligibility. Can they do it? Uncertain. The Wildcats have had problems defending the run this year, even against teams like Minnesota and Purdue. The power run game is now MSU's bread and butter, and unless the Wildcats figure out how to consistently do more than arm-tackle, this game could get ugly quick. Further, the Spartans actually have a decent secondary that might make the Northwestern passing game less than effective. Take away the pass and you've basically declawed Northwestern. Even with all the odds stacked against them, Northwestern is not a team you want to be against in situations like this. MSU has the edge, but only if they don't get cocky.

Purdue at No. 10 Ohio State (11:00 A.M., Big Ten Network)

This year it was the Badgers that ended Ohio State's perfect in-conference record. Last year? The Boilermakers. When Purdue took down OSU in '09, OSU had already become a one loss team after dropping an early non-con game in embarrassing fashion against USC. Believe it or not, these Boilermakers, despite early season losses to Notre Dame and Toledo, are actually undefeated in the conference. Rob Henry has been making the most of his opportunity to start, but you know that Ohio State is going to be looking to take out their frustration over the Badger game on someone, and the reality is that Purdue is still trying to limp through the season to get to a bowl, any bowl. Purdue could pull off the upset two years in a row, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Indiana at Illinois (11:00 A.M., Big Ten Network)

Welcome to the bowl-eligibility uh... bowl. This game features two teams that are trying to put together strong second half records to get to a bowl. Illinois looked to be improving rapidly until the Michigan State game. Yes, they held the top ranked Big Ten team to two field goals for almost three quarters, but freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase finally looked the part with three interceptions. Meanwhile Indiana, after having their defense gashed by Michigan, nearly dropped their last non-con game to a Sun Belt team. While a victory for either team doesn't guarantee bowl eligibility, it makes it much easier. Win this game, and suddenly the Hoosiers need just one victory from the set of Northwestern, Penn State, and Purdue to make it to a bowl game for the first time since 2007. For the Illini, at 3-3, a victory here would mean taking two from Purdue, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Fresno State.

The interesting thing about this game is the contrast presented by these two teams. The Illini managed to keep the MSU game close because they stopped the Spartan run game. Guess what? Indiana doesn't run. They air it out. While the Illini secondary has been okay, it's the D-Line that has been the standout in that unit. Expect Indiana to do decently well throwing the ball against the Illini. What will determine this game is whether the Hoosier D can stop ANYTHING. We haven't seen that yet. The fewest points the Hoosiers have allowed all season? Seventeen. To Towson. Come on Indiana. Step up and show us you're not Minnesota.

No. 13 Wisconsin at No. 15 Iowa (2:30 P.M., ABC/ESPN)

The "late" game of the week eight schedule features perhaps the most obvious trap game in the history of college football. Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration. Seriously though, Iowa and Wisconsin are relatively evenly matched. Iowa knows that this week and the next are critical if they want a chance at Pasadena. The only question is, can they go out there and play smart? They determine their destiny. It's great to have that kind of control, but also a bit intimidating. The Badgers seemed rejuvenated last week - but will the high of that game cause them to forget that the season did not end on Sunday? Both of these teams are just on the fringes of the BCS right now. Win, and do so impressively, and all of a sudden you're right back in that discussion. I think much of this game is going to come down to mistakes. Wisconsin has been (surprisingly) one of the least penalized teams of the FBS. But they, like Iowa, have had serious issues on special teams this year. This is a game of discipline. The team that goes out and executes, secures the ball, and doesn't act stupid wins. I like Bucky over Herky, but just by a smidge.

BONUS: No. 14 Oklahoma State at No. 16 Nebraska (2:30 P.M., ABC)

So, what kind of a football team is Nebraska? Are the Huskers capable of bouncing back from the disappointment of losing to an inferior Texas team? Or will they wilt at the first sign of adversity? Okie State has been playing well this year, and is currently undefeated in the Big 12. They can definitely give the Huskers a run for their money, even if Taylor Martinez is back on his game. After this game and the game against Mizzou, the Huskers don't have much in the way of challenging match-ups for the rest of their season, so if they want to make a resume for the BCS, this is the time to do it. I think they rise to the challenge.

 

Hilary's Picks:

Most likely rout: Purdue at Ohio State. Sure, the Boilermakers could pull off the upset two years in a row. But I think revenge is a dish best served along the Olentangy.

Most likely upset: Michigan State at Northwestern. Trust me, this isn't just because of loyalties. This is because this is what Northwestern does. Ask Hawkeye fans. If Michigan State is looking past the ‘Cats to their tilt against Iowa, they'll be in for a rude awakening.

Best game to watch: You get a choice of four games at the early time of 11:00 this week. Avoid Penn State at Minnesota, unless you are a fan of those teams. Actually, even if you are a fan of those teams. The Michigan State, Ohio State, and Illinois games will all be vastly more entertaining. Take your pick. Just make sure not to miss the afternoon tilt at Kinnick.

Big Ten player of the week: Dan Persa, quarterback, Northwestern. If the 'Cats have any chance against Michigan State, it'll come on the back of Persa. If an upset occurs here, it'll be because of him.

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