November 17, 2012
Around the Big Ten: Week 12 Notes
Game of the Week: No. 6 Ohio State at Wisconsin Huskers closing in: Nebraska can take another huge step in securing the program's first Legends Division title today against an inconsistent Minnesota squad in Lincoln.
Although the Buckeyes technically cannot play for the Big Ten championship due to NCAA sanctions, they can still clinch an outright Leaders Division title and keep hopes of the first undefeated season in Columbus since 2002 alive with a victory in Madison.
Urban Meyer's high-octane spread attack has averaged 41.3 points per game in conference play this season, but will be facing the Big Ten's second best scoring defense in UW (17.2 points yielded per game) and third best total defense (309.6 yards allowed per game). The last time OSU faced a truly stout defense on the road, it barely escaped East Lansing with a 17-16 victory over a disappointing 5-5 Michigan State team.
Still, it would foolish to count out an offense led by sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller, who leads the conference with 291.9 yards of total offense per game and has accounted for 27 total touchdowns.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, has plenty of firepower of in its own right. Bret Bielema's squad possesses the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in senior running back Montee Ball, and looks to be hitting its stride after gaining a school-record 564 yards on the ground in a must-win game against Indiana a week ago. Ball's 77-career touchdowns are just one shy of tying the all-time NCAA record of 78 set by former Miami (Ohio) running back Travis Prentice.
Ohio State upset Wisconsin last year in Columbus 33-29 on a 40-yard touchdown pass by Miller with only 20 seconds remaining, and this year's contest has all the makings of another classic matchup.
Today's Big Ten Pick 'Em article will offer a prediction for not only this contest, but the rest of the week's conference slate.
Other news and notes:
Tied at 5-1 within the conference with Michigan, the Huskers hold the head-to-head tie breaker following a 23-9 victory over the Wolverines Oct. 17 and should be heavy favorites against both the Gophers and Iowa to close out the season. Michigan, on the other hand, still has an undefeated Ohio State team on the horizon in one of the nation's most bitter rivalry games.
Senior I-Back Rex Burkhead, who has missed the last three games with a knee-injury, will be a game-time decision against UM, and would be yet another strong addition to a NU ground attack that has been beyond potent in recent weeks.
Must win games: Three Big Ten teams face must win games with bowl eligibility on the line today. Indiana, Iowa, and Purdue all sit at 4-6 and must win out to experience postseason competition.
The Hoosiers look to rebound from a 62-14 decimation by Wisconsin last week in a matchup with Penn State at Happy Valley, the Hawkeyes have the tall task of encountering a hot Michigan squad at the Big House on U-M's Senior Day, and the Boilermakers clash with a fledgling Illinois team in Champaign.
While not necessarily as dire of circumstances, Michigan State, sitting at 5-5, needs a win against either Northwestern this week or Minnesota next week to go bowling.
Five Big Ten teams are bowl eligible already this year. The conference finished 2-5 in the postseason a year ago.
Illinois's conference drought: Illinois hasn't captured a conference win in over 400 days, and despite closing out the season against Purdue (4-6, 1-5) and Indiana (4-6, 2-4), the Illini haven't shown many signs of improvement in recent weeks.
Today is Senior Day in Champaign, but the Illini haven't sent their seniors out on a high note since 2007, and today has the potential to be another long one for the Orange and Blue.
Borland questionable: Star Wisconsin redshirt junior linebacker Chris Borland will be hindered during the Badgers clash with Ohio State this Saturday with an apparent hamstring injury. Borland, who has stockpiled 82 tackles, including nine for loss and 4.5 sacks, has practiced this week but remains a game-time decision. He appeared to injure his leg during UW's 62-14 victory over Indiana last week, but was also hobbled by hamstring issues in preseason camp.
Minnesota's thin offensive line: Minnesota faces a tall task in Lincoln against a motivated Nebraska team, and will be doing so with a third-stringer in the middle of the offensive line.
The Gophers will employ left guard Zac Eppling at center for the second-straight week with both starter Jon Christenson and second-stringer Zach Mottla out with injured ankles. Ailments in the trenches are no stranger to Jerry Kill's squad, which has started five-different offensive line combinations already this season.
Northwestern at Michigan State, Noon, ESPN2
Indiana at Penn State, Noon, Big Ten Network
Iowa at Michigan, Noon, ESPN
Ohio State at Wisconsin, 3:30 p.m., ABC
Purdue at Illinois, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Minnesota at Nebraska, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
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