Big Ten Review: Midway Progress Report

 The most interesting game in the Big Ten this past weekend was played in Beaver Stadium, starred the pride of Scranton, and sent the visiting team's fans reeling. Elsewhere, the games were a whole lot of meh. Nothing illustrates that better than the fact that the closest game of the weekend came when Northwestern traveled to Bloomington to take on the Hoosiers.

Neither QB played particularly well in a game that was advertised as the matchup of the two best passing signal callers in the league from a statistical standpoint. Northwestern only won by 3, but that was due to a garbage touchdown in the last minute by Indiana (to help them cover the 3.5 point spread). Indiana's folk hero Ben Chappell looked exceedingly ordinary, routinely overthrowing his receivers. Northwestern's Dan Persa played pretty well -- 18-28, 221 yards and two touchdowns -- before leaving the game halfway through the fourth quarter with an apparent concussion. When asked about the post-concussion evaluation, Bob Saget Persa said,

"There were a bunch of questions. I don't know if I could answer them without a concussion."

Persa passed the post-concussion test on Sunday, however, will practice Wednesday and is set to start this week against the Nittany Lions.

In other games, Illinois embarrassed Purdue, Ohio State did the same to Minnesota, and Iowa added Michigan State fans to the list of those who now hate the Hawkeyes for ruining a reasonable shot at a MNC.

Indeed, thanks to the Hawkeyes ritual disembowelment of Sparty, the Big Ten now has four teams -- Iowa, MSU, OSU, and Wisconsin -- with one loss in the conference and no team with a viable chance to play in the MNC. 

The cream has begun to rise to the top in the Big Ten and we can see some definite separation within the league. While the four teams listed above are clearly the conference's brightest lights this year, Minnesota, Indiana, and Michigan are the dullest. That leaves Illinois, Penn State, Northwestern, and Purdue in the middle. Illinois now looks to be one of the elite teams in the conference and unless something unexpected happens, will likely finish the year 9-3 and attend a high profile bowl.  Very much to head coach Danny Hope's credit, Purdue appeared to have rebounded from its slate of injuries to start conference play 2-0 by beating Northwestern and Minnesota.  But they'll lost their last two games on the road at Illinois and Ohio State by a combined 83 points.

Northwestern was supposed to be in a rebuilding year, but they're an uncertain 6-2, including 4-0 on the road. But they still haven't beaten anyone. Their two conference wins are against Indiana and Minnesota, and their high-profile out-of-conference win was in week one at Vanderbilt, which is among the worst teams in recent SEC history. Nevertheless, they gave both Purdue and Sparty tough games in their two losses and are not to be overlooked this Saturday in Happy Valley.

Other random thoughts:

In the early lines, Michigan is somehow a 3 point favorite hosting Illinois.  The logic here, I guess, is that this is a must win for the Wolverines, but honestly, I have no idea. The kid's college fund is riding the Illini this weekend. (Other early lines: Penn State -6 v. NW; Iowa -17 at Ind; Wis -20 at Purdue; MSU -24 v. Minny) 

You know this coming Saturday's games are weak because only two -- Northwestern @ PSU and Illinois @ Michigan -- aren't on the Big Ten Network. The other three, all of which start at noon, are.

A couple of surprising records only halfway through the Big Ten season:

  • This past Saturday, the Big Ten surpassed the four-million mark in overall attendance for the 18th consecutive year and 21st season overall.
  • After his yards in Beaver Stadium, Denard Robinson has already broken the Big Ten season record for most rushing yards by a quarterback.

And a tip of the cap to Adam Rittenberg for explaining the Big Ten's tiebreakers to determine who gets the automatic BCS bid:

If two teams are tied: Head-to-head result is the first tiebreaker, followed by overall record and then highest-ranked team in the final BCS standings

  • Example: If Ohio State and Michigan State both are tied at 7-1, the team ranked higher in the final BCS standings would earn the berth because the teams would have identical overall records (11-1) and didn't play each other

If three teams are tied, here are the tiebreakers in order ...

  • If one team beat both of the other teams, it earns the berth
  • If two teams beat the third team, the third team is eliminated and the two-team tiebreaker commences
  • If two teams haven't played, overall record is used to eliminate. If one team has a better overall mark than the other two, it earns the berth. If one team is eliminated because of a weaker overall record, the other teams revert to the two-team tiebreaker.
  • If all three teams have the same overall record, the team ranked highest in the final BCS standings earns the berth


Examples:

  • If Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa tie at 7-1, Iowa would be eliminated because of a weaker overall record (10-2 vs. 11-1). The two-team tiebreaker then goes into effect and Michigan State would win based on its head-to-head victory against Wisconsin.
  • If Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State tie at 7-1: All three teams would have the same overall record (11-1), and because Michigan State and Ohio State don't play, the team with the highest ranking in the final BCS standings gets the berth.
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