What can I possibly say about last week’s Wisconsin-Michigan State game that hasn’t already been said by the greatest of men – or at least by those who talk about college football and publish their material in the immediate aftermath of the game?
I realized there might be something wrong with me when I was on the floor in our green room so I could be as close to the TV as possible in trying to ascertain whether Keith Nichol had indeed crossed the goal line Saturday night. It did afford me a good view, though.
On top of being one of the greatest finishes I have ever seen, Nichol’s TD brought out some amazing numbers.
2 of 24: In the history of the Big Ten, 24 teams have played Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin consecutively (though not necessarily in that order). Of the 24, only 2 have beaten all three of them – Michigan State this year and Penn State, which did so in 2008 en route to the Rose Bowl.
And then there’s this little nugget, which I dropped on the air a couple of times this weekend. Any time one can bring Amos Alonzo Stagg into the discussion, though, I feel it’s worth repeating.
1898: Michigan State became the first Big Ten team to defeat two conference foes that were (6-0) or better in the same season since Stagg’s University of Chicago Maroons pulled it off in 1898. Chicago knocked off (8-0) Northwestern and (7-0) Wisconsin that season.
If the Spartans can defeat Nebraska this weekend, they’d join some elite company as well.
2008: The Spartans would be the first team since Texas in 2008 to win three straight games against AP Top 15 teams. The ‘Horns knocked off Oklahoma, Missouri and Oklahoma State in succession before losing the crazy Michael Crabtree game to Texas Tech the next week in Lubbock. Before that, it hadn’t been done since 2003.
1936: It would also be the first time ever that the Spartans have won three consecutive games all against ranked teams. The rankings go back to 1936.
The formula for beating this week’s foe, Nebraska, is a straight-forward one – you have to slow down their run game. It’s just easier said than done.
0-5, 16-0: The Huskers are 0-5 since the beginning of last season when being held under 200 yards rushing. They’re 16-0 when they reach that mark.
While not as formidable as Nebraska’s rushing attack, Penn State’s run game is becoming more and more difficult to stop – thanks largely to the efforts of Silas Redd.
2006: Redd has gone over 100 yards rushing in each of the last four games. That’s the longest such streak for a PSU back since Tony Hunt went four straight in 2006.
The real story with Penn State, though, continues to be the defense – which has improved by leaps and bounds when compared to last season.
21, 17: After recording seven sacks in the win against Northwestern Saturday night, Penn State now has 21 on the season. The Nittany Lions recorded just 17 sacks all of last season.
The Nittany Lions will face an Illinois team that has lost two straight, due in large part to an offense that stalled out after a hot start.
38.7, 10.5; 226.2, 118.5: Going into their game against Ohio State, the Illini had averaged 38.7 points per game over their previous 13 games. They have scored just 21 points in those two losses – an average of 10.5 ppg. Among the concerns – a run game which has dropped off dramatically. The Illini averaged 226.2 yards per game on the ground over their first six outings this year. They’ve run for just 118.5 ypg during their two losses.
Based on recent history, a game against a ranked opponent like Penn State does not seem like a recipe for getting well.
4 of 34: The Illini have won just 4 of their last 34 games against the AP Top 25 dating back to 2002. Three of those wins were in their Rose Bowl season of 2007. The other was this year against Arizona State.
Of course, heading into their match-up last week, we could have said a similar thing about the team that beat the Illini.
2 of 24: Including its win over the Illini, Purdue has now won 2 of its last 24 games against AP Top 25 teams. If they can knock-off Michigan this week, it will mark the first time they’ve beaten ranked teams in consecutive weeks since topping Michigan and Northwestern in 2000.
A win in Ann Arbor would also put Danny Hope in some elite company.
4th: Hope is trying to become just the 4th Big Ten coach since Bo Schembechler arrived in Ann Arbor in 1969 to win his first two games at Michigan Stadium. Earle Bruce, Joe Paterno and Mark Dantonio are the only three who have pulled it off.
The game will match Purdue’s improved defense against a Michigan attack that gains yards in major chunks.
16.5: Denard Robinson comes into the game averaging 16.5 yards per completion. That leads the nation.
Ohio State had a similarly-prolific offense last year, but has seen its big-play production drop precipitously this season.
67, 23: OSU had 67 offensive plays go for 20 or more yards last season, the most in the Big Ten. They have just 23 such plays this season. That is the second-fewest in the conference.
This week, the Buckeyes face a Wisconsin team that, even in defeat, made a little history on Saturday.
30+: The Badgers 31-point output on Saturday marked their 14th regular season game scoring 30+ points. That is the longest such streak in Big Ten history, breaking their tie with the ’93 and ’94 Penn State teams.
Iowa has a nice little scoring run of its own going – one that may soon be unprecedented in school history.
1889: The Hawkeyes have scored 31 or more points in six of their first seven games for the first time since 2002. If they hit the 31-point mark again this week, it would mark the first time in the school’s football playing history dating back to 1889 that they have done so in seven of their first eight games.
Based on their opponent’s recent struggles, you kind of have to like their chances – as the Gophers are on the verge of making history of a different sort.
1882: Minnesota has allowed more than 40 points in three straight conference games for the first time since 2002. If Iowa hits 40 this week, it would mark the first time ever that the Gophers have given up that total in four consecutive Big Ten battles. Minnesota began playing football in 1882 (though the conference didn’t technically start until 1896).
The Gophers aren’t the only ones who are struggling on defense.
20: Northwestern has allowed 20 plays of 30 yards or longer. That is the most in the Big Ten. In fact, only five teams nationally have given up more.
They’ll face an Indiana team that, while far from overwhelming, is finally starting to have some offensive success.
Twice in 2; twice in 39: The Hoosiers have gone over 200 yards rushing twice in their last 2 games – totaling 223 yards on the ground against Wisconsin and 217 against Iowa. Before that, Indiana had hit the 200-yard mark on the ground just twice in the previous 39 games going back to September of 2008. It is the first time they’ve had back-to-back 200-yard rushing games against Big Ten teams since 2001.
If recent history is to be our guide, the Northwestern–Indiana game should be a close one.
26: The last seven games between these two schools have been decided by a combined total of 26 points – with the margin of victory in all seven having been seven points or less. Northwestern has won six of those seven games.
We have the ‘Cats and Hoosiers Saturday at Noon ET on BTN – part of a double-header that also includes Minnesota and Iowa at 3:30 ET. We get you set for all of the games at 10:30 a.m. on the Auto Owners Insurance Pre-Game.
See you then.