Tom's Top 10: Philip Nelson could be season-saver
Lots of interesting things took place on Saturday, as the Legends Division race got a lot more interesting with Michigan’s loss at Nebraska. It got me thinking that Cornhusker quarterback Taylor Martinez may not be getting all of the credit that he deserves. I discuss that and more in my top 10.
1. Ohio State’s chances of going unbeaten continue to grow. The Buckeyes are now 9-0. Up next is a visit from Illinois. Ohio State is then off before finishing the season with a bang at Wisconsin and vs. Michigan. Where would you rank the Buckeyes among the nation’s other unbeatens—Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State, Notre Dame?
2. I can appreciate all that Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and Michigan’s Denard Robinson do, but is there a more well-rounded signal-caller in the Big Ten than Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez? He leads the conference in passing efficiency, tossing a Big Ten-high 16 touchdown passes while passing for 1,781 yards. Martinez also is 12th in the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 57.6 yards per game. Running, passing, leading, winning … Martinez has a resume that’s hard to top.
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3. Michigan State has Wisconsin’s number—at least in the regular season. Last year, the Spartans notched a thrilling 37-31 win over the Badgers that saw MSU hit a 44-yard, game-winning touchdown pass in the dying moments. This year, the Spartans scored a game-tying touchdown with 1:08 to go (Watch it) and then won the game in overtime, 16-13 (Watch it). Of course, Wisconsin topped Michigan State in the Big Ten title game after last season, 42-39. This is one of the Big Ten’s hottest rivalries.
4. Speaking of the Spartans, they may be the most confounding team in the Big Ten. How can Michigan State win at Wisconsin one week (16-13 in overtime), and lose at home to Iowa on another (19-16 in double overtime)? Add it up, and the Spartans’ three Big Ten losses have been by a combined six points. MSU’s other loss was to Notre Dame, 20-3.
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5. Yes, Michigan’s 23-9 loss at Nebraska hurts, but don’t you wonder if the outcome may have been different if Denard Robinson hadn’t left the game in the second quarter with an elbow injury? We’ll never know, but Robinson is supposed to be OK for this Saturday’s game at Minnesota. And Michigan still can win the Legends Division if it wins out (at Minnesota; vs. Northwestern; vs. Iowa; at Ohio State) and Nebraska suffers a loss. Even if Michigan comes up short in winning the Legends, it still is ahead of schedule under Brady Hoke, who is in just his second season. Things only figure to get better.
6. Many people already have given the Big Ten Coach of the Year honor to Penn State’s Bill O’Brien. But don’t forget about Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald. He has the Wildcats 7-2 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten after a 28-17 victory vs. Iowa. In fact, NU is just two blown fourth-quarter leads away from being 9-0. The Wildcats lost an 11-point bulge at Penn State in a 39-29 loss and a 12-point lead vs. Nebraska (29-28). Northwestern needs help to win the Legends but can help its own cause by winning out at Michigan, at Michigan State and vs. Illinois.
7. Minnesota may have saved its season when it inserted Philip Nelson into the starting lineup last week at Wisconsin. Yes, the Golden Gophers got beat, 38-13, but the true freshman showed potential in hitting 13-of-24 passes for 149 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. On Saturday, Nelson looked even better in a 44-28 victory vs. Purdue in completing 15-of-22 passes for 246 yards with three touchdowns (Watch TD No. 1 | No. 2 | No. 3.
8. Can Iowa get to a bowl? The Hawkeyes are 4-4 overall, but they appear to be trending down with consecutive losses to Penn State (38-14) and at Northwestern (28-17). Iowa needs to find two victories vs. the likes of Indiana, Purdue, Michigan and Nebraska. And, honestly, those two wins probably have to come the next two weeks, when the Hawkeyes play at Indiana and then play host to Purdue. Winning at Michigan and vs. Nebraska may be too tough of a task.
9. The future looks bright at Indiana. The Hoosiers finally enjoyed a breakthrough on Saturday, winning 31-17 at Illinois to end an 11-game Big Ten losing streak. The last time Indiana tasted victory was at Purdue in overtime at the end of the 2010 season. The Hoosiers had come close to winning the last three weeks, falling 31-27 to Michigan State, 52-49 to Indiana and 31-30 to Navy before finally notching a victory to end a five-game losing skein. If IU can beat visiting Iowa this week, Wisconsin’s visit to Bloomington on Nov. 10 will be a huge Leaders Division game. Really.
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10. Will Illinois win a Big Ten game? The Fighting Illini are struggling under first-year coach Tim Beckman, having lost five in a row. And all have been in lopsided fashion that have seen the Illini allow at least 31 points in each game. More sobering news: Illinois has failed to score more than 24 points vs. a FBS school. The remaining games: at Ohio State; Minnesota; Purdue; at Northwestern. Can the Illini win any of those?
|BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|
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