A lot went on during the final weekend of the regular season, with Ohio State and Michigan State ending with wins to set up a clash between a 12-0 and 11-1 teams in the Big Ten title game. It should be a great battle. Here’s what I learned. Hang on, there’s a lot to cover.
1. If Braxton Miller had played every game this season, he’d be a top Heisman contender—if not THE top Heisman contender. No quarterback is playing better coming down the stretch. Miller was at his best as a runner at Michigan, carrying 16 times for 153 yards and three touchdowns. At times, he was unstoppable, illustrated best in his 53-yard TD jaunt late in the first quarter. Spectacular. Too bad he missed almost three early-season games with a knee injury.
2. Carlos Hyde is the Big Ten’s top back. Yes, Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah paces the league with 1,568 yards rushing; Hyde has 1,290. But he averages 7.8 yards per carry and has 14 touchdowns in roughly eight games of action. Hyde is a physical workhorse who can bang between the tackles and get to the edge. He’s a stud and big-time future pro.
3. I expect Ohio State to move to No. 2 in the BCS standings, staying ahead of Auburn. The Tigers should be No. 3, with Florida State No. 1. And if the Buckeyes down Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, they should stay at No. 2, even if Auburn wins the SEC title game.
4. Wisconsin’s BCS at-large bowl hopes are over, thanks to that ugly home loss to Penn State. The Badgers appeared poised to likely qualify for selection; and looked like a good bet to have been chosen. But at 9-3 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten, those dreams are dashed.
5. Even if Michigan State loses the Big Ten title game, it figures still to be ranked high enough in the BCS standings to qualify for selection as an at-large team. So, as strange as it seems, MSU could lose to Ohio State in Indianapolis on Saturday—and still go to the Rose Bowl. Regardless of who wins the Big Ten title game, the league stands a great chance of sending two teams to BCS bowls.
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6. Michigan State’s defense continues to impress. The unit has allowed six points or less in five of eight Big Ten games. And it yielded only 14 in another. The only league offenses that gotten traction vs. the Spartan defense are Nebraska, which had 28 points, 182 yards rushing and 392 yards with a beat-up offense, and Indiana, which had 28 points, 259 yards passing and 351 yards. Ohio State will be a massive test.
7. Michigan’s offense showed a lot of fire in the loss to Ohio State. Devin Gardner was especially impressive, hitting 32-of-45 passes for 451 yards and four touchdowns. But the rushing attack remains woeful. The unit had just 152 yards on 35 carries vs. OSU, which was solid. But none of the running backs got on track for an offense that entered the game ranked No. 11 in the Big Ten in rushing (128.8 ypg). Keep an eye on true freshman De’Veon Smith, who had a team-high 57 yards rushing vs. OSU. Bottom line: The line has to improve a lot.
8. Penn State pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the Big Ten season by winning at Wisconsin. The victory allowed the Nittany Lions to finish 7-5, giving PSU consecutive winning seasons in Bill O’Brien’s first two years in State College. Very impressive, considering the scholarship limits the program has had to deal with. How good will this program be in a few years as scholarships are added back?
9. Minnesota’s offense needs work. The unit has gone 10 quarters without a touchdown, last scoring in the second quarter of a home win over Penn State on Nov. 9. The defense scored the Golden Gophers’ lone TD last week in a defeat vs. Wisconsin, and the unit had just a field goal in loss at Michigan State on Saturday. The passing game is the biggest issue, as there are a lack of playmakers at receiver. And the quarterbacks remain works-in-progress.
10. Iowa’s trio of senior linebackers further solidified its case as the best in the Big Ten. No doubt, we already knew Anthony Hitchens, Christian Kirksey and James Morris were as good as it gets when it comes to a linebackers entering Friday’s game at Nebraska. But in the trio’s final game together, it combined for 28 tackles, seven tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, two interceptions and two sacks. Not bad, huh? We’ll miss these guys next year. Good luck to all of them at the next level.
|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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