What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 11

November, 15, 2009
11/15/09
10:00
AM ET
Five lessons from the week that was in the Big Ten:

1. Ohio State is simply the best: They might not be the people's choice, but until someone beats the Ohio State Buckeyes, they will set the standard in the Big Ten. Ohio State's 27-24 overtime triumph against Iowa didn't resemble many of its other wins, but the defense stepped up when it counted and running backs Brandon Saine and Dan Herron performed well. Ohio State is going to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1997 and claimed at least a share of the Big Ten title for the fifth consecutive year. Ohio State has been the team of the decade in the Big Ten.

2. Iowa deserves a BCS at-large berth: The Hawkeyes must win next week against Minnesota, but if they do, they should gain serious consideration for a BCS at-large berth. With USC and Miami losing, Iowa's only real competition for the fourth at-large berth comes from the Big East, which has two elite teams in Cincinnati and Pitt. If Cincinnati wins out, I'll bet Iowa heads to the Fiesta Bowl. The Hawkeyes have shown a ton of heart this year and always play exciting games. Backup quarterback James Vandenberg exceeded all expectations Saturday against Ohio State, though it wasn't enough.

3. John Clay is the Big Ten's best offensive player: Penn State's Daryll Clark held the title for most of the season, but his struggles the past two weeks, combined with Clay's emergence, have changed the race. The Wisconsin sophomore is without a doubt the Big Ten's best running back and had another huge day against Michigan with 151 rush yards and a touchdown in the 45-24 victory. In a league without many offensive stars, Clay is the real deal and should enter 2010 as a legit Heisman Trophy candidate.

4. The Big Ten hierarchy is set: It took a while, but the Big Ten has some well-defined tiers heading into the final week of conference play. Ohio State and Iowa are clearly at the top, followed by Wisconsin and Penn State in the second tier. Northwestern and Michigan State have separated themselves in the next tier, then Minnesota, Purdue and Indiana. Illinois and Michigan are at the bottom, as both teams have been major disappointments given preseason expectations.

5. Conservative coaching defines this league: You certainly saw it in Columbus, as Jim Tressel and Kirk Ferentz both coached not to lose at the end of regulation. Tressel-ball won out, but these two looked like they'd run away from the nickel slots. You also saw few risks from Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Minnesota's Tim Brewster in close wins against Illinois and South Dakota State. And there's Penn State's Joe Paterno, the dean of conservative coaching. The formula clearly works in the Big Ten, but these coaches likely will need to take more risks to win in the postseason, where the Big Ten has struggled in recent years.

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