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December 8, 2006

Postseason Breakdown: Big Ten

Prior to the college football season we offered up an inside look at what to expect in the Big Ten.

As expected, we pegged some things right and were off the mark on a few others.

Here is our look back at the Big Ten season:

Big Ten Standings
Rivals.com's Preseason Predictions:
1. Ohio State
2. Michigan
3. Iowa
4. Penn State
5. Michigan State
6. Wisconsin
7. Northwestern
8. Purdue
9. Minnesota
10. Illinois
11. Indiana
Actual Big Ten Standings:
1. Ohio State
2. Michigan
3. Wisconsin
4. Penn State
5. Purdue
6. Minnesota
7. Indiana
8. Iowa
9. Northwestern
10. Michigan State
11. Illinois
Offensive MVP: Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith. Since he's a near lock to win the Heisman Trophy, it stands to reason he's the offensive MVP of the Big Ten. Smith completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,507 yards and 30 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He had at least two TD passes in nine games. He was at his most spectacular in big games, too. Twice Ohio State played teams ranked No. 2, and in those games Smith completed 46 of 67 (nearly 70 percent) passes for 585 yards and six touchdowns with only one interception. He's the chief reason the Buckeyes are 12-0 and will play for the national title.
Defensive MVP: Michigan defensive end LaMarr Woodley. The senior led the conference in sacks with 11, which ranked among the best totals in the nation. And we're not talking about him getting to a quarterback near the line of scrimmage. His 11 sacks went for minus-111 yards. He had 15.5 tackles for loss and 33 total tackles. Woodley notched multi-sack performances against Vanderbilt, Central Michigan, Penn State, Iowa and Northwestern. He also forced four fumbles and recovered four fumbles, including one he returned 54 yards for a touchdown against Notre Dame.
Coach of the Year: Wisconsin's Bret Bielema. The nation's second-youngest coach did a first-rate job in his first season replacing Madison legend Barry Alvarez. The Badgers were picked no higher than fourth in the league and went 7-1 to tie for second with Michigan (yes, the Big Ten considers it a tie for second even though the Wolverines beat the Badgers). UW finished 11-1 overall, with its only loss at Ann Arbor. Bielema's team played the way coaches love for their teams to play: they had a solid defense and a solid running game. The Badgers were third in the nation in scoring defense and second in the nation against the pass. Wisconsin finished 26th nationally in rushing.
Freshman of the Year: Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill. The Rivals.com National Freshman of the Year rushed for 1,533 yards and 15 touchdowns on 292 carries. He posted eight 100-yard games and allayed any fears the Badgers had after 2005 All-Big Ten first-team running back Brian Calhoun left early for the NFL.
Coordinator of the Year: Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English. The first-year coordinator stressed all season that his goal was to have his defense "play fast and play physical." Mission accomplished. The Wolverines were tops in the nation against the run, yielding just 43 yards per game. They also ranked in the top 10 in turnover margin (second), sacks (third), total defense (sixth), scoring defense (ninth) and tackles for loss (tied for 10th). It all added up to a strong 11-1 season, with the only loss coming at top-ranked Ohio State in the season finale.
Surprise team: Wisconsin. See above.
Disappointing team: Iowa. Ranked 16th in the AP preseason poll, the Hawkeyes got off to a 4-0 start before welcoming top-ranked Ohio State to Iowa City. Iowa had climbed to 13th, but Kirk Ferentz's team got crushed by the Buckeyes, 38-17. The Hawkeyes bounced back to beat Purdue then lost five of their last six games to barely qualify for the postseason.
Team on the rise: Indiana. The Hoosiers narrowly missed going bowling for the first time since the 1993 season. They went 5-7, including three Big Ten victories. IU's 31-28 victory over Iowa was its first over a top-15 team since 1987. Even better news for the Hoosiers was the fact that seven IU players made The Sporting News Big Ten All-Freshman Team, four more than the next-closest school. Two of those honored, QB Kellen Lewis and linebacker Josh Bailey, were Rivals.com Freshman All-Americans.
Best game: Ohio State 42, Michigan 39. This year's "Game of the Century" mostly lived up to the hype. It surely sealed the deal on the Heisman Trophy as Buckeyes QB Troy Smith was sublime. The senior completed 29 of 41 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns as top-ranked Ohio State prevailed over No. 2 Michigan. Wolverines running back Mike Hart did all he could, rushing for 142 yards and three TDs.
Biggest upset: Indiana 31, Iowa 28. It was hard to see this one coming, but the Hoosiers knocked off the 15th-ranked Hawkeyes and sent them into a season-ending tailspin. Hoosiers redshirt freshman QB Kellen Lewis had one of his best games, completing 19 of 25 for 255 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. All three TDs were hauled in by sophomore wide receiver James Hardy.
Team most likely to win bowl game: Ohio State. The Buckeyes were Rivals.com's Preseason No. 1 team, and there is no reason to back off now. They've handled every challenge. While Florida will be formidable, the Gators will have trouble scoring with Jim Tressel's team.
Team least likely to win bowl game: Iowa. The Hawkeyes lost five of their last six, with the only win coming against Northern Illinois. They went 2-6 in conference play to tie for eighth. The bowl matchup couldn't have been worse: A Texas team that stumbled to a 9-3 finish not only will be out to ensure it doesn't lose its final three games of the season, but it gets to play a virtual home game in San Antonio. The Longhorns opened as 11-point favorites.
Worth noting: The Big Ten surpassed the five-million mark in total attendance for just the fourth time in league history. Three of the conference's games were sold out on Nov. 18, boosting the total number of packed houses this season to 34, the fifth consecutive season with at least 34 sellouts. The Big Ten went 33-12 in non-conference games to match its modern-era record for regular-season non-conference victories. With seven teams playing in bowl games it marks the eighth time the conference has sent at least that many teams to the postseason. All three finalists for the Bednarik Award, which goes to the defensive player of the year, are Big Ten players. It's the first time in the 12-year history of the award that all of the finalists are from the same league. It's also the first time two are from the same school: Penn State linebackers Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor. The other finalist is Michigan defensive end LaMarr Woodley. Posluszny won the Bednarik last year; if he wins it again he'll join former Northwestern linebacker now NU head coach Pat Fitzgerald as the only repeat winner. The Big Ten produced three of the four finalists for the Lombardi Award, which goes to the outstanding lineman on either side of the ball. The Big Ten is represented by Posluszny, Woodley and Quinn Pitcock of Ohio State. Ohio State's 19-game winning streak is the nation's longest. The Big Ten boasts three teams (Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin) with 11 or more victories for the first time in conference history. Wisconsin's Bret Bielema is just the sixth first-year head coach (no prior head-coaching experience) to win 11 games, joining Tennessee's Bill Battle (1970), USC's John Robinson (1976), Bowling Green's Gary Blackney (1991), Bowling Green's Gregg Brandon (2003) and Miami's Larry Coker (2001). Penn State's Joe Paterno and Michigan's Lloyd Carr moved into the top 10 on the list of coaches with 100 or more wins at a Big Ten school. The Nittany Lions are 115-54 under Paterno since joining the Big Ten in 1993; the Wolverines are 113-35 under Carr in his 12 seasons. Wisconsin redshirt freshman P.J. Hill edged Michigan junior Mike Hart (1,533 yards to 1,515) for the Big Ten rushing title. Hart was the league's rushing champ as a frosh as well. Troy Smith was a unanimous selection by the media as the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year and as the quarterback on the All-Big Ten team. Inexplicably, he was not a unanimous selection for either honor by the league's coaches. The only unanimous selections by the coaches were Michigan's LaMarr Woodley and Leon Hall.
Season prediction record: 73-16. Season against the spread: 8-4.

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