Tom's top 10: Will Spartans ever make BCS bowl?

So much to talk about in the final regular-season weekend of the year. Has Braxton Miller sewn up Big Ten offensive player of the year honors? How hot is Le’Veon Bell? Has this been the Year of the Backup Quarterback? Check it all out in my weekly Top 10.

1. The best is yet to come for Ohio State. And that’s a frightening thought. The Buckeyes just capped a 12-0 season with a 26-21 win over Michigan, giving Ohio State eight wins in the last nine meetings with the Wolverines. This is a relatively young Buckeye squad that will return most of its key components for next season. This is gonna be fun in Columbus with Urban Meyer running the show.

[RELATED: Dienhart: Time to wonder "What if?" with Ohio State]

2. Speaking of Ohio State, it seems like quarterback Braxton Miller is the favorite to win Big Ten offensive player of the year accolades. But what about Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez? He led the league in passing efficiency, throwing for 21 touchdowns and 2,483 yards for the Legends Division champs. Martinez also ran 156 times for 833 yards and eight touchdowns. The guy was good. Really good.

3. One label you can put on this season: It was the Year of the Backup Quarterback. Minnesota (MarQueis Gray-Philip Nelson), Purdue (Caleb TerBush-Robert Marve), Michigan (Denard Robinson-Devin Gardner) and Indiana (Tre Roberson-Cam Coffman) all ended the season with different starting quarterbacks. (Marve did start the opener for Purdue but only because TerBush was suspended.) And Illinois had to rely extensively on Reilly O’Toole when Nathan Scheelhaase battled injury.

[RELATED: View 2012 Big Ten passing leaders]

4. Zach Zwinak may be the most surprising player in the Big Ten. The running back came on at big-time position of need for Penn State. He ran for a career-high 179 yards in a 24-21 overtime vs. Wisconsin yesterday, pushing his season total to 1,000 yards. It was the sophomore’s fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing game and sixth of the season. By the way, Penn State transfer running back Silas Redd finished with 817 yards for a 7-5 USC team. On the same note, wideout Allen Robinson seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the Big Ten with 77 catches for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns. Top Nittany Lion receiver Justin Brown bolted Penn State for Oklahoma and finished with just 62 catches for 795 yards and four touchdowns. Life sure is funny.

[RELATED: Bill O'Brien lets out "Holy Schnikes!" in postgame presser]

5. Illinois is no stranger to football struggles, unfortunately. The Illini finished 2-10, riding a nine-game losing skid and having lost 14 Big Ten dates in a row dating to 2011. Ron Turner endured 0-8 Big Ten marks in 1997 and 2003. Ron Zook went 0-8 in the Big Ten in 2005. Now, Tim Beckman just finished an 0-8 conference mark. That is four winless Big Ten seasons in the last 15 years in Champaign. The good news for Beckman, perhaps: Turner (Sugar) and Zook (Rose) each took Illinois to BCS bowls.

6. My hat is off to Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell. The guy has quietly gone about his work each week, serving as the lone stable force in a Spartan attack that has battled inconsistency all season. Bell capped this season with a career-high 266 yards rushing in MSU’s 26-10 victory at Minnesota. That effort (Watch these runs: No. 1 | No. 2) has vaulted Bell to the top of the Big Ten rushing chart and to No. 3 in the nation. He has carried a national-high 350 times for 1,648 yards (137.3 ypg) and 11 touchdowns. A quiet warrior.

7. If there was an award for most courageous Big Ten player, my vote would go to Purdue quarterback Robert Marve. The guy has stuck it out through three mostly down seasons in West Lafayette, battling through multiple knee issues and quarterback competitions. Marve’s persistence and gritty toughness were rewarded down the stretch, as the sixth-year senior excelled in leading the Boilermakers to three consecutive victories and bowl eligibility. The latest effort included career highs 348 yards and four touchdowns (Watch TD No. 1 | No. 2 | No. 3 | No. 4). What a great story that hasn’t gotten enough attention.

[RELATED: See who took home Week 13 Big Ten Game Balls]

8. Yes, Ohio State finished 12-0 and is hot, but Nebraska also is on a roll. The Cornhuskers have won six in a row and nine of their last 10, heading to the Big Ten title game with lots of momentum. During that run, Nebraska has allowed less than 20 points in five of those wins.

9. Will Michigan State ever make it to a BCS bowl? The Spartans are one of just three Big Ten teams—Minnesota and Indiana are the others—that never have gone to one. The Spartans were coming off consecutive 11-win seasons and were the pick by some to win the Big Ten this season. Alas, Michigan State had to battle just to get to 6-6 in 2012. And the Spartans finished with their first losing Big Ten mark (3-5) since 2007.

[RELATED: Dienhart: What I learned in Week 13]

10. Where has the Minnesota offense gone? Since scorching Purdue for 458 yards in a 44-28 win on Oct. 27, the Golden Gophers attack has notched 275, 309, 177 and bottomed out with 96 yards yesterday in a home loss to Michigan State. Not surprisingly, Minnesota hasn’t scored more than 17 points in any of those games and went 1-3.

About Tom Dienhart 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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Roslan Amir (@roslamir) on 11/26/2012 @ 1:13am EDT Said:

About the backup quarterbacks, you missed Wisconsin which also ended the season with a different starting quarterback.