Tom's Top 10: Abdullah, Huskers getting it done

Lots went on in Week 11. Wisconsin clinched the Leaders Division spot in the Big Ten championship game. Also, Nebraska stayed in control in the Legends, Minnesota became bowl eligible, Purdue’s bowl hopes remained alive, Northwestern’s hopes of getting to the Big Ten title game ended, Indiana’s Rose Bowl dreams got smashed … here’s my Top 10.

1. Montee Ball needs one more touchdown to tie former Miami (Ohio) running back Travis Prentice for the NCAA all-time lead. With two games left, plus the Big Ten title game and a bowl game, I think it’s a cinch Ball will get there, right? Up next is a visit from Ohio State this Saturday. I wonder: Where will Ball rank in the minds of Badger fans among all the great Wisconsin backs?

2. The Buckeyes’ visit to Wisconsin really means nothing. The Badgers already have clinched the Leaders Division spot in the Big Ten title game. But it would like to win the Leaders. To do that, Wisconsin needs to topple Ohio State, win at Penn State, and see the Buckeyes lose at home to Michigan. Meanwhile, Ohio State will be motivated to continue its unbeaten run.

[RELATED: Dienhart's Week 12 Big Ten Power Rankings]

3. Yes, Indiana got beat, 62-14, by Wisconsin, ending its dreams of playing in the Big Ten title game and getting to Pasadena. But the Hoosiers still have made strides in their second season under Kevin Wilson. Indiana has four wins overall and two in the Big Ten after going 0-11 last season. This program is pointed in the right direction.

4. Purdue just may get to a bowl, which is amazing when you consider the malaise that the team was in prior to its 27-24 win at Iowa, losing five in a row. The Boilermakers need two more wins and could get them with tilts left at Illinois and vs. Indiana.

[RELATED: Dienhart: 5 things I learned in Week 11]

5. Will Northwestern’s defense learn how to protect a big lead? The Wildcats blew a third second-half double-digit lead in a 38-31 overtime loss at Michigan, which trailed 24-14 in the third quarter. Northwestern also blew similar leads at Penn State (28-17) and vs. Nebraska (28-16). Just think of how special this season could have been for Northwestern.

6. How good is Devin Gardner? And is he better than Denard Robinson? The Wolverine offense has gotten life in the two games Gardner has started in place of the injured Robinson. He hit 16-of-29 passes for 286 yards in the overtime win vs. Northwestern, as the Wolverine offense has changed from being more rushing oriented to passing oriented under Gardner. Once Robinson is healthy, will he be No. 1 again? Probably, but Gardner sure looks good.

[RELATED: How did we do? Week 11 picks revisited]

7. Illinois’ offense continues to be in a major funk. In six Big Ten games, the Fighting Illini have scored an aggregate 63 points. (That’s a good game for Oregon.) That’s 10.5 per game. And that’s not good. Illinois hasn’t scored more than 24 in any game vs. a FBS foe.

8. It is impressive how Nebraska’s ground game hasn’t missed a beat without injured (knee) running back Rex Burkhead, who has played in just five games. Ameer Abdullah has been a revelation. In the last three games vs. good defenses, Nebraska has run for 160 yards (101 by Abdullah) vs. Michigan; 313 vs. Michigan State (110 by Abdullah); 267 vs. Penn State (116 by Abdullah). That’s 740 yards rushing as a team and 327 by Abdullah. Not bad. For the year, Abdullah has 942 yards rushing with eight touchdowns.

[RELATED: See who took home BTN.com's Week 11 Game Balls]

9. This is gut-check time for Iowa, which saw its losing streak reach four games after a 27-24 loss at home to Purdue. The offense has been at the root of the Hawkeyes’ ill, as the team hasn’t eclipsed 400 yards in a game since notching 430 vs. Central Michigan on Sept. 22. How will Iowa finish the season playing the top teams in the Legends (at Michigan; vs. Nebraska)? It needs to win both games to go to a fifth bowl in a row.

10. Is there a most courageous player in the Big Ten than Purdue quarterback Robert Marve? He was at his best in a 27-24 win at Iowa that kept the Boilermakers’ season alive. He hit 25-of-33 passes for 266 yards with two touchdowns. Marve has battled back from three ACL injuries but won’t quit and now is the force behind Purdue’s push to go to a second bowl in a row. Marve, in his sixth season, refuses to go out with a whimper.

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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