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Friday, November 28, 2008
Team-by-team turning points from the season

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

With all this extra time to reflect on the Big Ten regular season, it seems only natural to try and spot exactly where things went right or wrong for each team. These turning points resonate with players and coaches, either serving as moments of pride or incentive to get things corrected the following season.

For two teams, there are multiple turning points.

Here's the rundown.

ILLINOIS

Final record: 5-7 (3-5 Big Ten)

Turning point: Oct. 11 vs. Minnesota (27-20 loss)

The skinny: The inconsistent Illini finally appeared to have found their footing behind junior quarterback Juice Williams, who set the single-game total offense record (431 yards) at Michigan Stadium the previous week. Williams set another stadium record against the Gophers (503 yards of offense), but critical turnovers (3) and special-teams miscues (two kickoffs out of bounds) that plagued Illinois down the stretch surfaced in a home loss.

INDIANA

Final record: 3-9 (1-7)

Turning point: Sept. 20 vs. Ball State (42-20 loss)

The skinny: The Hoosiers felt pretty good about themselves after beating up on two inferior opponents (Western Kentucky and Murray State). But they were ill-prepared for the surging Cardinals, who exposed a defense that wound up struggling all season. After an All-Big Ten season in 2007, quarterback Kellen Lewis threw two interceptions in the loss and never really got back on track the rest of the way.

IOWA

Final record: 8-4 (5-3)

Turning point: Nov. 8 vs. Penn State (24-23 win)

The skinny: Until that cold night in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes were a good team that couldn't close out games, dropping four contests by a combined 12 points. They were coming off a mistake-ridden loss at Illinois and started slow on offense. But star running back Shonn Greene (117 rush yards, 2 TDs), a blossoming Ricky Stanzi and one of the Big Ten's top defenses surged after halftime, and Iowa rallied for a milestone win against No. 3 Penn State.

MICHIGAN

Final record: 3-9 (2-6)

Turning point: Oct. 11 vs. Toledo (13-10 loss)

The skinny: The Wolverines hadn't played well to this point, but they still had an excellent chance to improve to 3-3 and set up a potential postseason run down the stretch. But Rich Rodriguez's offense stalled, as it did for much of the season, as Michigan committed three turnovers that turned into 10 Toledo points. In a season of historic lows, Michigan lost to a Mid-American Conference team for the first time in 25 tries.

MICHIGAN STATE

Final record: 9-3 (6-2)

Turning point: Oct. 25 at Michigan (35-21 win)

The skinny: Michigan State showed newfound mental toughness this fall and changed its reputation as a team prone to fast starts and incredible collapses. Coming off an embarrassing home loss to Ohio State, the Spartans faced a team that had owned them at the Big House. Despite a blown call that gave Michigan a touchdown, Michigan State didn't flinch, rallying behind running back Javon Ringer (194 rush yards, 2 TDs) and quarterback Brian Hoyer (282 pass yards, 3 TDs). Michigan State ended a six-game losing streak to Michigan.

MINNESOTA

Final record: 7-5 (3-5)

Turning point I: Oct. 11 at Illinois (27-20 win)

The skinny: The Gophers' formula of opportunistic defense and disciplined offense spurred them to a 7-1 start. They showcased those traits at Illinois, sacking Juice Williams five times and forcing a fumble that turned into the decisive touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg was a beast, and quarterback Adam Weber showed incredible toughness by playing only six days after knee surgery.

Turning point II: Nov. 1 vs. Northwestern (24-17 loss)

The skinny: Minnesota followed its plan early, recording an interception for a touchdown to jump ahead of the Wildcats. But the problems that crippled the Gophers down the stretch -- no run game, poor offensive line play, turnovers -- surfaced in the second half, and a deflating loss in the final minute kicked off a four-game slide to close the regular season.

NORTHWESTERN

Final record: 9-3 (5-3)

Turning point: Nov. 1 at Minnesota (24-17 win)

The skinny: In the past, Northwestern didn't have enough depth to survive a rash of injuries to key players. After losing quarterback C.J. Bacher, running back Tyrell Sutton and middle linebacker Malcolm Arrington, the Wildcats appeared doomed for another middling season. But a team that lacked superstars but possessed plenty of resiliency upset then-No. 17 Minnesota, riding backup quarterback Mike Kafka (Big Ten quarterback record 217 rush yards) and a stout defense to a crucial win. Northwesern won three of its final four games.

OHIO STATE

Final record: 10-2 (7-1)

Turning point: Oct. 18 at Michigan State (45-7 win)

The skinny: The Buckeyes embarrassed themselves at USC and continued to struggle on offense behind a young quarterback (Terrelle Pryor) and an underperforming line. Many pegged Ohio State for a loss in East Lansing, but the Buckeyes came up with arguably their best performance of the season. Pryor and Chris "Beanie" Wells sizzled, and a defense that played well following the USC debacle had two fumble returns for touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Ohio State re-established itself as a Big Ten bully.

PENN STATE

Final record: 11-1 (7-1)

Turning point: Oct. 11 at Wisconsin (48-7 win)

The skinny: Any doubts about Penn State as a legitimate national title contender were put to rest in Madison, as the Nittany Lions handed Wisconsin its worst home loss since 1989. Quarterback Daryll Clark and wideout/return man Derrick Williams led the Spread HD offense that highlighted Penn State's league title run, while Aaron Maybin and the defense shut down the Badgers. Though Penn State later stumbled against Iowa, most of its games played out like this one.

PURDUE

Final record: 4-8 (2-6)

Turning point: Sept. 13 vs. Oregon (32-26 loss OT)

The skinny: Purdue should have won this game, and things could have been very different had the Boilers finished off the Ducks. A plucky Purdue defense gave up yards but limited points, as it did for much of the season, but quarterback Curtis Painter and the offense couldn't execute consistently enough when it counted. Purdue's inability to convert scoring chances into touchdowns became a theme for much of the fall.

WISCONSIN

Final record: 7-5 (3-5)

Turning point I: Sept. 27 at Michigan (27-25 loss)

The skinny: A BCS bowl was still very much in the picture for Wisconsin, which took a 3-0 record and a No. 9 national ranking into Michigan Stadium. The Badgers built a 19-0 halftime lead behind punishing defense and a balanced, disciplined offense. But they totally lost their edge on defense after the break, and quarterback mistakes that appeared throughout a four-game losing streak surfaced as Michigan mounted the greatest comeback in Big House history.

Turning point II: Oct. 25 vs. Illinois (27-17 win)

The skinny: The team seemed to gain confidence after making a quarterback switch from Allan Evridge to Dustin Sherer. After a rocky start at Iowa, Sherer led Wisconsin to wins in four of its final five games, beginning with this contest against the Illini. He accounted for three touchdowns (two pass, one rush) as Wisconsin ended its four-game slide. The Badgers easily could have finished with a five-game win streak if not for a late stumble in East Lansing.