Monday, October 31, 2011
Halloween in the Big Ten
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
The Big Ten blog is haunted today. Bennett is going as Albert Pujols, for obvious reasons.
Halloween came a little early for teams like Michigan State and Wisconsin, which has endured a two-week nightmare.
In keeping with the Halloween spirit in Big Ten country and beyond, we present this primer ...
Haunted House: Camp Randall Stadium remains the toughest place to win in the Big Ten, and Wisconsin can't wait to return home after the past two weeks. Wisconsin has won 14 consecutive games there, including the past seven by 31 points or more. The Badgers have averaged 48.5 points during the span. Spartan Stadium is quickly becoming a haunted house, too.
Boo (boo): Nebraska's defense lost one of its leaders and stars as tackle Jared Crick suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle against Ohio State. Purdue couldn't avoid the injury bug before the season, losing projected starting quarterback Rob Henry to a season-ending ACL tear.
Ohio State's Devin Smith caught this winning TD pass against Wisconsin in one of the Big Ten's most thrilling games this season.
Thriller: The Big Ten has had three ultimate thrillers this season. Michigan and Notre Dame combined to score three touchdowns in the final 72 seconds, including the game-winner by the Wolverines with two seconds left. Wisconsin and Michigan State then had a see-saw battle that ended with a 44-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Keith Nichol with no time left on the clock. And Wisconsin and Ohio State combined to score four touchdowns in the final 4:39 Saturday night, including the game-winning pass from Braxton Miller to Devin Smith.
Graveyard: The Big Ten's BCS title hopes; Russell Wilson's Heisman Trophy hopes; Penn State's losing streak against Iowa; Iowa's losing streak against Northwestern; Michigan State's road losing streak against Ohio State.
Trick or treat (high-stakes game): The Nov. 12 matchup between Penn State and Nebraska in State College should have enormous implications for both teams and both divisions. Penn State is the only unbeaten team in Big Ten play and holds a two-game lead in the Leaders division. A victory would move Joe Paterno's team one big step closer to Indianapolis. If Nebraska gets by 3-5 Northwestern this week, the Huskers will remain in good shape to challenge for the Legends division championship. They'll need some signature road wins at Penn State and the following week at Michigan to stay alive.
Jason Voorhees (team that won't die): Ohio State. Written off after a Week 3 loss at Miami and left for dead after its collapse at Nebraska, Ohio State has sprung back to life following back-to-back Leaders division wins. Luke Fickell's team stepped up in every phase against Wisconsin and remained very much in the division race. The Buckeyes have no margin for error, but they seem to embrace the adversity and everyone counting them out.
Witchcraft: Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson haunted Notre Dame for the second consecutive year, lifting his team to a dramatic win against the Fighting Irish. After racking 502 yards of total offense last year in South Bend, Robinson helped Michigan rally from a 24-7 fourth-quarter deficit to beat Notre Dame 35-31 in Week 2. Michigan scored 28 fourth-quarter points and won on Robinson's touchdown strike to Roy Roundtree with two seconds left.
Cursed team: Wisconsin. No team in America has experienced back-to-back losses in more heartbreaking fashion than Bret Bielema's Badgers. Wisconsin has mounted impressive comebacks on the road the past two weeks, only to lose on a Hail Mary at Michigan State and Miller's on-the-run heave at Ohio State. The Badgers have made enough mistakes to lose both games, but they have to be questioning the football gods. Iowa certainly feels cursed after its second consecutive loss to Minnesota on Saturday, a game in which Hawkeyes running back Marcus Coker racked up 252 rush yards and two touchdowns.