IOWA CITY, Iowa –- There goes Marcus Coker, rumbling right for 13 yards and a touchdown early the fourth quarter. That happened a lot on a gray November day in Eastern Iowa. But this rumble—and that’s what Coker does; he doesn’t run–was the fatal blow, pushing Iowa’s lead to 24-9 in what would be an impressive 24-16 triumph over No. 13 Michigan.
Following the action every Saturday, BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart breaks down what every game, every result means for the teams involved and the Big Ten itself. Week 10 featured a quartet of close games that were in doubt into the fourth quarter, and you can find Tom’s analysis in this post.
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November will serve as a de facto playoff of sorts for the conclusion to the Big Ten’s first season of 12-team, two-division football. Four teams remain in the hunt in the Legends, while three are in the mix in the Leaders (full Big Ten football standings here). Michigan’s trip to Iowa highlights the opening salvo of this important month. Here’s a look at my pick for that game and the others for this first Saturday of November.
With Saturday at our doorstep, many questions nag: Can Wisconsin get back on track after losing two in a row? Should Michigan State be worried about its offense? Can Iowa stop anyone from running the ball? Is Michigan’s defense for real? Following is a look at those topics and what else to watch for this Saturday.
Michigan’s trip to Iowa is without a doubt the biggest Big Ten clash of the weekend. It’s a key battle in a Legends Division race that is wide open and features four schools still in the thick of the hunt: Nebraska, Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa. Suffice it to say, neither the Wolverines nor the Hawkeyes can afford to lose. And the fact it’s a road game makes matters more difficult for Michigan, playing just its third game away from the Big House this season and in the midst of playing four road games in a five-game stretch.
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It hasn’t taken Greg Mattison long to revive the Michigan defense. And that’s a major reason why the Wolverines are in the thick of the Legends Division race as they travel to Iowa for a big game Saturday (noon ET, BTN). Defense had been a dirty word in Ann Arbor under the Rich Rodriguez regime the past three seasons. In 2010, Michigan hit a nadir, ranking last in the Big Ten in total defense (450.8 ypg), scoring defense (35.2 ppg) and pass defense (261.9 ypg). One year later, those numbers are now: 340.6, 15.3 and 196.3.
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Have a Big Ten football question you want answered? I’m Tom Dienhart and I want you to fire off an email to me. This is a great place for us to interact, sharing our passion for all things Big Ten as the season prepares to hit the home stretch. This week, there were many good questions—as usual—but there was a theme in many emails that I received, asking: What are the tiebreakers to determine division champs? I address that, as well as—get this—a BASKETBALL question. Really.
The Big Ten is loaded with many good running backs (see the stats). In fact, it may be the deepest position in the conference. So, it should be no surprise that Penn State’s Silas Redd has taken over the No. 1 spot in my weekly ranking of the Top 25 players in the Big Ten.
There’s a lot of talk going on about the Penn State football team. It seems, most of the nation thinks the Nittany Lions are overrated and that their 8-1 record, including a perfect 5-0 clip in the Big Ten, is the product of a soft schedule. At the same time, many Penn State backers think their team is being disrespected and is underrated. To settle the issue, BTN.com web editor Brent Yarina and BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart attacked the topic on e-mail. See the entire thread in this post.
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The calendar turns to November, when the games that we all remember will be played. Many big contests loom down a home stretch that will go a long way toward determining who will meet in the inaugural Big Ten championship game. There’s Nebraska at Penn State; Penn State at Ohio State; Nebraska at Michigan; Penn State at Wisconsin; Ohio State at Michigan.
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Indiana had already begun to move along without receiver Damarlo Belcher, who was dismissed from the squad Monday for violating team rules. Belcher had started six games this season, but he missed the Iowa and North Texas games due to injury and was suspended for last week’s game against Northwestern. He paced Indiana with 25 catches for 286 yards and a touchdown.
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Penn State is the lone Big Ten squad that is unbeaten in league play. But it has a tough stretch run—Nebraska, at Ohio State, at Wisconsin–giving the Badgers a shot to still win the Leaders Division and advance to the conference title game.
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Prior to the 2011 college football season, the Big Ten announced the creation of 18 new trophies, including two for the new Big Ten Championship Game and two for postgraduate awards. Each trophy honors the Big Ten’s rich history, with two Big Ten legends’ last names on it (i.e. Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year).
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In arguably the biggest weekend this season in the Big Ten, Nebraska announced that it still is in the hunt for the Legends Division title with a dominating win over Michigan State, Minnesota carded its first Big Ten win and Penn State remained perfect in Big Ten play. Following is a look at who was hot and who was not in Week 9 action.
BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart held is inaugural Big Ten football chat with fans this morning. Did you miss it? We took questions for an hour and Dienhart answered as we all got ready for football to kick off on Week 9 of the Big Ten season. Look back at the conversation we had and come back next Saturday at 10:30 a.m. ET for the next football chat with Dienhart. Just come to BTN.com’s homepage and find the link every Saturday.
We sat down with Big Ten Network’s newly hired senior writer Tom Dienhart for a Q&A session. Dienhart is covering both football and men’s basketball, and will also contribute to the network’s on-air and social media platforms. Fans can follow him on Twitter at @BTNTomDienhart.
Week 9 is here, and my picks are in. It’s a huge Saturday with a myriad of storylines. Can Michigan State win its fifth in a row while navigating through a brutal gauntlet of games? Will Wisconsin rebound from the adversity of its first loss? Can Illinois stop the bleeding of a two-game losing skid? Could Purdue win at Michigan for a second time in a row? I pick those games and the others.
This is the biggest week yet in the Big Ten with many marquee matchups. Each division features a headlining game with the big Legends Division matchup of Michigan State at Nebraska and the key Leaders Division clash between Wisconsin and Ohio State. Here are my 12 things to watch for this Saturday.
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The Big Ten championship game won’t be played until December 3 in Indianapolis. But a de facto Legends Division game may be taking place at Nebraska this weekend. Michigan State plays at Nebraska in a game that will go a long way toward determining who will win the Legends Division. The Spartans are the lone unbeaten team in the division. The Cornhuskers have one loss—and likely can’t afford another. Bottom line: A win by Michigan State would give it a virtual stranglehold on the Legends Division race.
Have a Big Ten football question you want answered? I’m Tom Dienhart and I want you to fire off an email to me. This is a great place for us to interact with each other, sharing our passion for all things Big Ten as the season prepares to hit the home stretch. This week, readers want to know if Purdue will qualify for a bowl, what the tiebreaker procedures are for divisional play and how Russell Wilson was able to be eligible right away at Wisconsin, among other subjects.
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Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins has a sense for history. He knows his 44-yard desperation touchdown heave to Keith Nichol with four seconds hanging on the clock was an instant classic. The epic play that knocked off an unbeaten and top-10 ranked Wisconsin team will go down in Big Ten lore. And the play will loom even bigger among Michigan State fans if Cousins and the 2011 Spartans are able to deliver the school its first trip the Rose Bowl since the 1988 season. I caught up with Cousins earlier this week to get his thoughts on his epic pass—as well as a few other subjects.
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The Big Ten is loaded with standout players on both sides of the ball. There’s Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson, Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus, Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff, Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David and Michigan State wide receiver B.J. Cunningham, who joined The Next Level on Tuesday night. Watch the interview now.
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The stretch drive of the season is entering a higher gear with two big matchups on tap in what looks like the best collection of games yet in 2011. The headliner is Michigan State at Nebraska in a key game that will determine pecking order in the Legends Division. The other tilt to watch is a big Leaders Division battle between Wisconsin at Ohio State. The Buckeyes are coming off an off week rested, ready and perhaps with a few new wrinkles. How will the Badgers respond coming off their first loss of the season? Come tell me in the comments box below, or drop me a note in my BTN.com mailbag.