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Sunday, November 9, 2008
What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 11

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Study hall is in session. Here are five lessons from the week that was in the Big Ten.

1. If you don't go for the kill on the road, you become road kill -- Penn State made five trips inside Iowa's red zone and scored only two touchdowns. The Nittany Lions reached Hawkeyes territory six times and emerged with only 23 points. Penn State's inability to finish off drives like it has for most of the season cost the team a shot at the national championship. There were some questionable officiating calls on both sides, but Penn State had multiple chances to put away Iowa in a possession-oriented game played in lousy weather. The Lions failed and it came back to hurt them.

2. This isn't a very good league top to bottom -- I know I'll get ripped for this one, but it's the truth. After Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan State, there isn't much to get excited about. Minnesota is struggling to handle its first brush with adversity. Northwestern crumbles every time it's in the spotlight. Iowa posted a huge win but still sits at 6-4. Wisconsin and Illinois trade the title of "league's biggest disappointment" every week. Michigan won't have a 10-loss season. Yippee. The MAC has four victories against Big Ten teams, the most ever in a season. The Big Ten can make strides in the bowl season, but Saturday reinforced what many around the country think of this conference. Sorry guys, the truth hurts.

3. Michigan State has learned how to win -- I'm getting several e-mails saying the Spartans deserve more credit than they're getting. Well, here's some. Michigan State is a disciplined, physical team that has learned how to win this season. The Spartans have won nine games for the first time since 1999 and are off to their best start in Big Ten play (6-1) since 1987. Though Michigan State doesn't win with style points and looked miserable in a national showcase game against Ohio State, Mark Dantonio has turned a corner with this program. He gets more out of his talent than any coach in the Big Ten.

4. Iowa has the foundation to rise again -- Saturday's upset of No. 3 Penn State could be a program-changing win for Iowa, which entered the fall with its head coach somewhat on the hot seat and a cloud of off-field problems hanging over its head. After losing nine consecutive games decided by three points or fewer, Iowa finally showed it could step up in the clutch. This is a relatively young team led by a sophomore quarterback (Ricky Stanzi), an offensive line made up mostly of sophomores and juniors and several exciting defenders (Adrian Clayborn, A.J. Edds, Pat Angerer, Tyler Sash) who will be back next season. My sense is Shonn Greene turns pro after this season -- along with Chris "Beanie" Wells, he's the most NFL-ready back in the league -- but Iowa will be very tough in 2009.

5. Three teams remain alive in league title race -- Penn State still controls its own destiny and can win the Big Ten's BCS tiebreaker by winning its final two games against Indiana and Michigan State. The Spartans should have been rooting for Penn State to beat Iowa. The only way Michigan State wins the tiebreaker is by beating Penn State on the road and having Ohio State lose one of final two games (at Illinois, vs. Michigan). Those hated Buckeyes, who looked great Saturday at Northwestern, will win the tiebreaker if they win out and Penn State stumbles against Indiana or Michigan State.