Dienhart: 5 things I learned in Week 12

As you recover from the excitement of that overtime thriller between Ohio State and Wisconsin, check out the five things I learned on Saturday. Time is running out on teams searching for bowl eligibility. I’m looking at you, Purdue and Michigan State.

1. It’s going to be difficult for Michigan to beat Ohio State on Saturday in Columbus. The Buckeyes seem to be a team of destiny. Their latest close win was Saturday at Wisconsin, when Ohio State took a 21-14 overtime decision in which its offense didn’t play that well (236 yards). The Buckeyes have now won four Big Ten games by seven points or less—and two have come in overtime. This team seems to have a special mojo about it that will make it difficult to beat.

[RELATED: Dienhart: Defense wins this one for Ohio State]

2. Nebraska is the hottest team in the Big Ten. It has been an amazing turnaround for the Cornhuskers following their 63-38 loss at Ohio State on October 6. Since then, Nebraska has ripped off five victories in succession to take control of the Legends Division. With a win at Iowa on Friday, the Huskers will punch their ticket to the Big The championship game. That’s when Nebraska will aim for its first conference title since winning the Big 12 in 1999.

[RELATED: How did we do? Week 12 Big Ten picks revisited]

3. Devin Gardner is good. Really good. There is no doubt that Michigan’s offense is better with the junior under center, as the Wolverines are more of pass-oriented team with better balance. Gardner has started the past three games since Denard Robinson injured his right elbow in a fateful loss at Nebraska. Gardner passed for 234 yards in a win at Minnesota; 286 yards in a victory over Northwestern; 314 yards in a triumph over Iowa. He’s accounted for 13 touchdowns in the three games, to boot.

[RELATED: Gardner highlights BTN.com’s Week 12 Game Balls]

4. Northwestern can protect a late lead! Northwestern held a 23-20 edge in the fourth quarter at Michigan State on Saturday—and hung on. The Wildcats have squandered three second-half double-digit leads this season (24-14) in a 38-31 overtime loss at Michigan. Northwestern also blew similar leads at Penn State (28-17) and vs. Nebraska (28-16). Just think of how special this season could be for Northwestern if the defense had remained tight in the second halves of games. At least it delivered at Michigan State.

[RELATED: Check out the latest Big Ten standings]

5. Purdue has a great shot to get bowl eligible. And I thought I’d never type that last sentence a few weeks ago. A 34-9 thrashing at home by Penn State on November 3rd was the fifth loss in a row for the Boilermakers and dropped them to 3-6 overall and 0-5 in the Big Ten. Purdue could afford no more losses if it wanted to reach the postseason. So far, so good. The Boilermakers’ 20-17 win at Illinois was their second in a row. With a victory at home over 4-7 Indiana in the Old Oaken Bucket clash, Purdue will be bowl eligible.

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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bob jones on 11/18/2012 @ 1:52pm EST Said:

Huskers making a nice 2nd half run to possible Big title, but it’s really amazing to look at Northwestern and Penn St and see how close both of those teams are to being undefeated right now. Lots of nice coaching jobs this year, O’Brien, Fitzgerald, Pelini, Meyer, Hoke, and Kill have all done great jobs this year and Wilson at Indiana has shown progress too. It’s really been an exciting season so far, can’t wait for Indy.

sbuel2 on 11/18/2012 @ 3:15pm EST Said:

I agree with the Huskers, I think a lot of the early defensive woes were on the new defensive coordinator calling too many late changes and messing the guys up. After Ohio State Bo Pelini seems to have stepped in and making the calls, but in Penn State first half even he was slo getting the right call and using all first half timeouts for defense. We did much better in second half after stafford and pelini argued on the sidelines. So much for the days of Tom Osbourne where he never changed his expression. I also agree that there are a lot of coaches doing well this year. Many of the teams started with good talent so Jerry Kill probalby brought his team the farthest this year. Kevin Wilson gave Indiana a belief in their offense, with some good recruiting in the next few years they will improve. It was nice to see the Huskers start the game strong and the one lost fumble resulted in an interception on the very next play. And the second team and seniors go to play in the second half, did not keep the shutout but playing time is important.

Doug on 11/19/2012 @ 3:57pm EST Said:

MSU has 5 big ten losses for a total of 13 points, so we know all about close losses….