- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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With apologies to Ohio State fans, the Big Ten championship game was a smashing success.
Two top-10 teams battling it out in prime time with national title implications created the most juice in the game's short history. According to the overnight Nielsen ratings, an estimated 11.6 million viewers watched Michigan State's 34-24 win over the Buckeyes. That's more than twice as large as the audience for last year's game between Nebraska and Wisconsin, which drew 5.1 million. The inaugural game between Michigan State and Wisconsin in 2011 attracted just more than 7 million viewers.
And despite some challenging weather in Indianapolis, the title game had its best crowd in three years. The presence of Ohio State surely helped, as it appeared that scarlet and gray made up about 70 percent of the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium. Attendance figures for the first three Big Ten title games:
Take that and rewind it back ...
For good measure: Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has faced a lot of criticism for his disciplinary measures and player conduct from his time at Florida. So it's only fair to commend Meyer for taking strong disciplinary actions with the Buckeyes.
There was much hand-wringing last week about the lack of additional punishment for Ohio State offensive lineman Marcus Hall, who got a public reprimand from the Big Ten but nothing more after he was ejected for fighting at Michigan and offered his now infamous two-gun salute to the crowd. Meyer announced on Friday that Hall wouldn't start against Michigan State, which led to a lot of wisecracks about Hall coming in on the second or third play.
But Meyer kept Hall sidelined the entire Big Ten championship game. Even when Ohio State fell behind 17-0 and was doing nothing on offense early on, Hall stayed glued to the bench. For a senior to miss three quarters of his team's biggest rivalry game and then the conference title game, that's pretty stern discipline.
Meyer said Saturday night that he'd decided not to play Hall "a while back." Both Ohio State and the Big Ten could have avoided criticism had Meyer announced early in the week that Hall was suspended for the game. But the Buckeyes probably didn't want Michigan State to have that information.
Meyer's other disciplinary moves during his Ohio State tenure, including the three-game suspension for Carlos Hyde and one-game suspension for Bradley Roby earlier this year, have all seemed fair. So it's time to cut the Buckeyes' coach some slack in that department.
Big Man on Campus (offense): Raise your hand if you predicted in the preseason, or even in September or October, that Connor Cook would be MVP of the Big Ten championship game. But Michigan State's sophomore quarterback earned it by throwing for a career-high 304 yards and three touchdowns, delivering some terrific, clutch throws all night. Cook is uncannily confident in himself, and he's inspiring confidence with the way he's been playing.
Big Man on Campus (defense): Ohio State's airspace was under strict no-fly zone restrictions thanks largely to the play of cornerback Darqueze Dennard. As he so often does, Dennard locked up his side of the field. He had two big pass breakups, and the Buckeyes went just 8-of-21 for 101 yards through the air, including an 0-for-5 showing by Braxton Miller in the fourth quarter.
Big Man on Campus (freshman): Despite the loss, Ohio State's Joey Bosa introduced himself to the country as a future major star. Bosa created havoc all night from defensive end, finishing with two tackles for loss, a sack and three total quarterback hurries. It seemed like he was in the backfield all night. Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington got all the preseason pub, but Bosa looks like the most fearsome Buckeyes pass-rusher of the future.
Bring on 2014: We're about to say goodbye to both the dreaded BCS and its ridiculous use of the coaches' poll. Even more promising changes are in store for next season when it comes to bowls.
Leagues like the Big Ten promise to have a much greater input on bowl matchups starting in 2014. That should help prevent a situation like we got on Sunday, when the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl took Michigan over Nebraska to play Kansas State. Selecting the Wolverines might have been in the best interest of that bowl, but it created a matchup with no history or really much of a storyline. It also meant the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl got a rematch nobody wanted in Nebraska-Georgia.
It would make much, much more sense, both geographically and in terms of the matchups, to have Kansas State-Nebraska and Michigan vs. Georgia games. The Huskers went to the same bowl in back-to-back years in the 2009 and 2010 seasons (Holiday) and again in 2011 and 2012 (Capital One), and now they play the same team as last year.
Of course, bowls and common sense have rarely gone together. Maybe next year they will.
Fun with numbers (via ESPN Stats & Info): Miller did not convert a first down on 11 third- or fourth-down attempts, including the stuffed fourth-and-2 rush that all but clinched the game. Miller entered Saturday with a 91.7 Total QBR on third and fourth downs, ninth-best in the FBS. He had converted 49 percent of those downs while averaging 8.1 yards per play the first 12 games of the season. Against Michigan State, he averaged minus-1.4 yards in those situations.
Overall, Ohio State converted just 1 of 12 third or fourth downs against Michigan State. That was its lowest conversion percentage in the past 10 seasons. Entering the game, the Buckeyes had converted 54 percent of third- or fourth-down chances this season, the sixth-highest percentage in the FBS.
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