Before moving forward, let’s take the temperature of the Big Ten at the midway point of 2012. We’ve had every single quarter of every single game covered, and we’ll do the same right through the Big Ten Football Championship and the bowl games.
Biggest surprise: Northwestern. Look, I figured the Wildcats would be good, but I didn’t think they’d be contending for the Legends Division crown. But here they are at 6-1 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten, prepping for the biggest game of Week 8 in the Big Ten.
Biggest disappointment: Michigan State. The Spartans have gone from Big Ten favorite and national championship sleeper to now maybe struggling to make a bowl. Michigan State is 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the Big Ten. The defense has done its part, but offensive struggles have been ruinous.
Best game: Nebraska 30, Wisconsin 27. The Cornhuskers roared back from a 17-point deficit to win. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez was on his game, hitting 17of-29 passes 181 yards and two touchdowns and running 13 times for 107 yards and a touchdown. The Huskers outscored the Badgers 20-7 in the second half. Gotta tip my cap to Northwestern’s wild 42-41 win at Syracuse, when the Wildcats scored a game-winning touchdown in the last moments.
Best performance: There have been some good ones, but let’s go with Wisconsin running back Montee Ball running for a career-high 247 yards at Purdue last week in a 38-14 win. And in the same game, Ball had a career-long 67-yard touchdown run and scored three touchdowns to become the all-time Big Ten leader.
Most surprising player: C’mon. Do you have to ask? It’s Iowa running back Mark Weisman. The guy transferred from Air Force and was a second-team fullback in camp. Now, Weisman is No. 6 in the Big Ten in rushing (105.2 ypg) with four 100-yard games after attrition offered him a shot. I just hope he gets over an ankle injury ASAP. This story is too good. Someone call Hollywood.
Look at Weisman’s stats to date.
Biggest upset: Honestly, there really hasn’t been one—at least not a positive one.
Best remaining game: Michigan at Ohio State. It’s just too bad that the Buckeyes are on NCAA probation and ineligible to win the Big Ten and play in a bowl. But Ohio State won’t lack motivation to beat the Wolverines in what essentially will be the Buckeyes’ de facto bowl game. In fact, the Buckeyes may be trying to cap a perfect season in this game, while Michigan may be trying to sew up a Legends Division crown. Delicious.
Other games to watch:
- Oct. 27: Michigan at Nebraska; Iowa at Northwestern; Ohio State at Penn State
- Nov. 10: Penn State at Nebraska; Northwestern at Michigan
- Nov. 17: Iowa at Michigan; Ohio State at Wisconsin
- Nov. 23: Nebraska at Iowa
- Nov. 24 Wisconsin at Penn State
Offensive player of the first half: Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State. Watch Braxton run. Watch Braxton make foes look silly. It really has been a simple but effective formula. Miller ranks second in the Big Ten in total offense (311.9 ypg). And the sophomore sits third in the conference and seventh in the nation in rushing (130.3 ypg). He has been the closest thing to a one-man gang as you will see in football.
Defensive player of the first half: Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State. The tough senior linebacker is No. 4 in the Big Ten in tackles (9.5 pg). But his contributions go way beyond statistics. Mauti’s leadership and grit have been in valuable to a Nittany Lions program that is dealing with depth issues. He is helping will this team over some tough spots to surprising success. Bottom line: I want Mauti in a fox hole next to me.
Coach of the first half: It has to be Penn State’s Bill O’Brien. Many left the Nittany Lions for dead after an 0-2 start vs. Ohio and Virginia. But O’Brien—in his first season in State College–has rallied Penn State to four victories in a row. The program has quickly taken on O’Brien’s tough, steely edge and laser focus.
Freshman of the first half: Joel Stave, QB, Wisconsin. The redshirt freshman took over for Danny O’Brien in the Utah State game and hasn’t looked back, hitting 58 percent of his passes for 871 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions. Stave has started the last four games, leading the Badgers to victory in each contest. Is he Dan Marino? No, but Stave limits mistakes and will become more of a playmaker over time.
Have a look at Stave’s stats over five games for yourself.
Fearless Big Ten title game prediction: Michigan vs. Wisconsin. The Wolverines appear to be coming together after an uneven 2-2 start, opening Big Ten play 2-0. The defense has really come on, while the offense is fine as long as it relies heavily on Denard Robinson running the ball. The Badgers seemingly took control of the Leaders Division last week with a win at Purdue. With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible because of NCAA probation—and Illinois and Indiana struggling—Wisconsin seemingly has a direct path to Indianapolis.
MIDSEASON ALL-BIG TEN TEAM
WR Allen Robinson, Penn State
WR Corey Brown, Ohio State
TE Dion Sims, Michigan State
L Taylor Lewan, Michigan
L Patrick Ward, Northwestern
L Andrew Norwell, Ohio State
L Spencer Long, Nebraska
L Travis Frederick, Wisconsin
QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State
RB Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State
RB Mark Weisman, Iowa
L Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
L John Simon, Ohio State
L Joe Gaglione, Iowa
L Kawann Short, Purdue
LB Max Bullough, Michigan State
LB Michael Mauti, Penn State
LB Anthony Hitchens, Iowa
DB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
DB Derrick Wells, Minnesota
DB Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern
DB Micah Hyde, Iowa
K Mike Meyer, Iowa
P Mike Sadler, Michigan State
KR Dennis Norfleet, Michigan
PR Venric Mark, Northwestern
GRID BITS: Penn State hasn’t won at Iowa since 1999, as the Nittany Lions are 0-4 at Kinnick Stadium. … Ohio State (10) and Purdue (nine) have combined for 19 picks, making them 1-2 in the Big Ten. … Indiana has yet to lose a fumble. … Iowa linebacker Anthony Hitchens leads the nation in tackles. … This will be Nebraska’s first game at Northwestern since 1931, a span of 81 years. Want more? Saturday will mark Nebraska’s first visit to the state of Illinois since winning 59-14 at Illinois in 1986. … Iowa is 98th in the nation in total offense (343.67 yards) and 99th passing offense (189.0). … Ohio State is coming off consecutive 300-yard rushing performances, ripping off 371- and 353-yard efforts in wins over Nebraska (63-38) and Indiana (52-49). It’s the first time that the Buckeyes have had consecutive 300-plus rushing games since gaining 317 against Rice and 369 against Pitt in the first two games of 1996. … And Ohio State’s 724 combined rushing yards in the past two weeks is the most since 1980, when the Buckeyes rushed for 800 against Northwestern (418) and Indiana (382). … In the second half was week at Michigan, Illinois had 13 yards — passing AND rushing — on 23 plays, averaging about a half-yard per play. Illinois is averaging approximately nine points in a nine-game Big Ten losing streak dating to a 41-20 defeat of Indiana last October. … Wisconsin running back Montee Ball is warming up. Check out his numbers through seven games as compared to last year. 2012: 172 carries for 816 yards (4.7 average) with 11 rushing touchdowns. 2011: 125 carries for 768 yards (6.1 average) with 17 rushing touchdowns. … Road teams are 8-7 in Big Ten play.