- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Some notes and nuggets to hopefully make you smarter as you watch the final weekend of the regular season in the Big Ten. As always, thanks to the ESPN Stats & Info crew and the sports information staffs from around the league for these.
Nebraska owns a 17-5 record since 1990 in games on the day after Thanksgiving, including a 5-1 record against Oklahoma, an 11-4 mark against Colorado and 1-0 against Iowa, following a 20-7 win in Lincoln last year. Nebraska is 7-3 in road games during that stretch. Nebraska has won its regular-season finale each of Bo Pelini’s first four seasons and is 29-21 in the final game of the regular season since 1962.
Iowa leads the country with six games decided by three points or fewer (2-4 record in those games), including two contests decided by one point (1-1 record). This season marks the first time in school history that six games have been decided by three points or less; Iowa had five (4-1) in 2009. Iowa has lost two home games (Central Michigan and Purdue) this year on the final play of the game (field goal).
Ohio State first-year coaches are 5-11-1 in games against Michigan. Sam Willaman (1929), Francis Schmidt (1934), Carroll Widdoes (1944), Earle Bruce (1979) and Jim Tressel (2001) are the Ohio State coaches to have their first Ohio State team defeat Michigan. Urban Meyer’s 11-0 start ties his mentor -- Bruce -- for the second-best start for a head coach all-time in Ohio State history. Bruce opened the 1979 season 11-0. Only Widdoes, who went 9-0 in 1944 and eventually won his first 12 games, has opened a coaching career at Ohio State with more wins.
Last week against Iowa, Michigan QB Devin Gardner became only the sixth FBS player since 2000 to throw for at least 300 yards, pass for three touchdowns and rush for three scores in the same game. Collin Klein, Johnny Manziel, Keith Price, Dan Lefevour and Kellen Clemens are the only other players to accomplish the feat during that span.
Penn State enters the week as stingiest FBS defense in the first quarter. Nittany Lions opponents have seen 12 of their 29 drives end in three-and-out fashion and two have ended with turnovers. A big reason for the solid opening quarter is time of possession. Penn State controls the ball for an average of 8:36 in the initial quarter to just 6:23 for the opposition.
Michigan gives up 41.4 yards after the catch per game this season, the second-lowest average by an BCS automatic-qualifying team. The Wolverines have allowed 72.7 yards after the catch per game in their three losses and just 29.6 in their eight wins. Ohio State is giving up 113.4 yards after the catch per game this season, most in the Big Ten and fourth most by an AQ school. The Buckeyes have also allowed the most yards after contact (90.2) in the Big Ten this season.
After allowing an average of 15.3 points in its last six Big Ten games, Wisconsin ranks 13th nationally in scoring defense at 17.5 points per game. The Badgers also rank 11th in total defense, allowing 302.9 yards per game, and have held each of their last six opponents to fewer than 300 total yards.
Purdue will look to win three consecutive games in the same season for the first time since 2007 and become bowl eligible in back-to-back years for the first time since 2006 and 2007. The last time Purdue closed out the Big Ten Conference slate with three straight victories was 2006 (at Michigan State, at Illinois, vs. Indiana).
Northwestern enters Saturday's game with the third-best third-down conversion rate in the conference at 44.2 percent, and will put that mark on the line against an Illinois defense that leads all Big Ten teams in opponents’ third-down conversions at 29.6 percent. The Wildcats have finished in the top 20 nationally each of the last three years in third-down success rate, including 13th a year ago.
In each of its last two meetings against Northwestern , an Illini offensive player has broken an individual program record against Northwestern. In 2010, RB Mikel Leshoure ran for an Illinois record 330 yards in the Illini win at Wrigley Field. Last season, WR A.J. Jenkins had a school-record 268 receiving yards and three touchdowns in Illinois' win over the Wildcats.
Indiana has allowed just 17 sacks, one per every 28.7 pass attempts, and committed just 12 turnovers this season (10 interceptions, 2 fumbles), which is tied for the 13th-lowest mark in the country.Last season, the Hoosiers allowed 31 sacks (one every 12.2 attempts), threw 11 interceptions and lost seven fumbles.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has 48 wins to his credit since 2006, leaving him only one shy of Lynn "Pappy" Waldorf's school record of 49 set between 1935-46.
Michigan State has lost five Big Ten games this season by a combined total of 13 points, including one in double overtime (Iowa) and two within the last 10 seconds of regulation (Michigan, Nebraska). MSU's last seven games have been decided by four points or fewer, the longest such streak in school history and the longest by an FBS team since at least 1996.
Minnesota CB Troy Stoudermire is the Big Ten record holder in kickoff return yards with 3,359. With two games to play, Stoudermire is just 158 yards shy of Tyron Carrier's NCAA record. Carrier recorded 3,517 yards at Houston from 2008-11. Stoudermire recorded 1,083 return yards in 2008 and 1,057 yards in 2009. In 2010, he had 789 yards, and he had 173 yards last year before missing the final eight games with an injury. He has 257 return yards this year.
Wisconsin has never lost back-to-back games in November under seventh-year coach Bret Bielema, going 3-0 after a loss in the month.
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