Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, November 20, 2012
This is the last week of the regular season. Rivalry trophies are on the line. (Hello, Old Oaken Bucket, Land of Lincoln Trophy, Heroes Trophy!) Bowl eligibility is up for grabs. A division title still must be decided. Here are the key questions for each team this week.
Will the misery stop? The Fighting Illini have lost eight in a row this season-and 13 Big Ten contests in succession. The team is struggling in most every phase of the game and needs to taste some success before the door closes on the debut season of Tim Beckman.
Can the Hoosiers finish on an upbeat? Since ripping off victories at Illinois and vs. Iowa to bolster its bowl hopes and division title dreams, Indiana has lost two in a row-and in ugly fashion. The Hoosiers lost at home to Wisconsin, 62-14, and at Penn State, 45-22. That?s 107 points allowed in two games after IU had yielded only 38 in the two games before that.
How much fight is left in this team, which has lost five in a row? The Hawkeyes are reeling, guaranteed to miss a bowl for the first time since 2007 and strapped with its most losses since 2000. It has been a season of closes losses (four by 10 points), offensive struggles and defensive meltdowns in the second-half of the season. Finishing vs. Nebraska will make it tough for the Hawkeyes to close on an up note.
Can the Wolverines run the ball? Fitz Toussaint is likely out with a leg injury suffered last week vs. Iowa. Denard Robinson came on and played a big role running the ball, leading the team with 98 yards on 13 carries. He likely will have to carry a big load again at Ohio State. Thomas Rawls also will be asked to step up.
Will the Spartans get bowl eligible? MSU needs to win at Minnesota to get that sixth win that guarantees bowl eligibility. Michigan State has lost two in a row and four of five, as it has battled offensive inconsistency all season. And the Spartans also have been stung by closes losses, dropping five Big Ten games by a combined 13 points. Time is running out.
Can the Gophers find some offense? Since burning Purdue for 44 points, Minnesota has scored 13 in a loss to Michigan, 17 in a win at Illinois and 14 in a loss at Nebraska. Facing a rugged Michigan State squad whose defense ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten (289.4 ypg) will make things difficult for Minnesota and its true freshman quarterback Philip Nelson.
Can the defense keep it up? Since getting blasted for 63 points at Ohio State, the Cornhuskers have won five in a row. And much of the credit goes to the defense, which has allowed 301, 188, 361, 391 and 177 yards in each of the last five games. And that dominance should continue vs. an Iowa offense that ranks 11th in the Big Ten (320.5 ypg).
Can the Wildcats break their win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win pattern? That has been Northwestern?s pattern since opening the season 5-0. The Wildcats won?t lack for motivation vs. rival Illinois, which has beaten Northwestern the last two years and three of the last five as the Wildcats look to enhance their bowl profile.
Can the Buckeyes close out a perfect season? The Buckeyes must beat Michigan at home to cap the year. They lost at Michigan last season. Coming off a tough 21-14 overtime win at Wisconsin-Ohio State?s second overtime victory this season,–the Buckeyes may feel like a team of destiny, as they are playing well on both sides of the ball.
Can the Nittany Lions notch an eighth victory? Few could have envisioned Penn State reaching that level before the season started, considering the roster took some hits with the transfers of key players like running back Silas Redd and receiver Justin Brown. And overall depth was an issue. Couple an 0-2 start, and the fact the Nittany Lions are 7-4 with one game left is impressive.
Can the Boilermakers get bowl eligible? It has been a nice reclamation project by Danny Hope, whose team was mired in a five-game losing skid that threatened to derail the season. But the Boilermakers have responded with road wins at Iowa and at Illinois to save the season and put Purdue on the precipice of bowl eligibility for a second year in a row. Only a home win over Indiana stands in the way.
Will the Badgers play with a sense of urgency? The Badgers already have wrapped up a spot in the Big Ten title game. And they have been eliminated from winning the Leaders Division crown. So, it?s all about playing for pride and momentum this Saturday at Penn State. Wisconsin doesn?t want to arrive in Indianapolis with 7-5 record (4-4 in the Big Ten) and riding a two-game losing skid-and losers of three of four.
|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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