Big Ten: Ryan Colburn

After looking disinterested and disoriented for the first quarter, Illinois has started to show a pulse against Fresno State.

Make no mistake: the Bulldogs are very much in control of this game. Illinois' offensive line really struggled against the Fresno pass rush, which dropped quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase for three sacks. After imposing its will against Northwestern at Wrigley Field on Nov. 20, the Illini line is really struggling to stop Fresno State's front four. The Bulldogs scored on their first four possessions as Ryan Colburn is finding big holes in the Illini D.

Illinois has mounted a few drives and could surge in the second half. The run game is there with Scheelhaase and Mikel Leshoure, but Scheelhaase has struggled to settle into a passing rhythm. The Illini need more balance.

The Illini defense seemed to regain its swagger late in the half. Rush end Michael Buchanan made several nice plays.

There's still a lot of time to turn things around, but Illinois needs to step things up in all three phases.
There's only one Big Ten team in action this weekend, but I have five reasons why you should pay attention. So pay attention!

1. Mikel Leshoure: If you haven't watched the Big Ten's best running back this season, stay up late Friday night and tune into ESPN2 as Leshoure and Illinois visit Fresno State (10:15 p.m. ET kickoff). Leshoure comes off of a team-record 330-yard rushing performance at Wrigley Field and has racked up 664 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns in his past three games. The Illini junior, who will weigh his NFL options after the season, needs 311 yards to break the team's single-season rushing record held by Rashard Mendenhall.

[+] EnlargeMikel Leshoure
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesMikel Leshoure is coming off a career game against Northwestern: 33 carries for 330 yards and two touchdowns.
2. Games that can impact the BCS standings: The final BCS standings on Sunday night will determine which team earns the Big Ten's automatic BCS berth. Wisconsin pretty much has a trip to the Rose Bowl locked up, but a few games this weekend could impact the standings. Keep an eye on Illinois-Fresno State, Arizona State-Arizona, Oregon-Oregon State and Auburn-South Carolina. Both Ohio State and Michigan State beat Illinois, while Wisconsin didn't play the Illini but beat Arizona State on Sept. 20.

3. Nebraska in the Big 12 title game: The Cornhuskers play their final Big 12 game, and it's a big one. Nebraska renews one of the great rivalries in college sports as it takes on Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game at JerryWorld. Although Nebraska's performance the rest of the way will be credited to the Big 12, the Big Ten would love to have a reigning league champion and a BCS bowl champion entering its league in 2011. Big Ten fans scouting the Huskers should keep a close eye on the quarterback position, as Taylor Martinez and Cody Green both could play.

4. Illinois defense aims for redemption: The Illini defense reached its low point last fall against Fresno State, which racked up 53 points and 233 rush yards in a win at Memorial Stadium. Vic Koenning's defense performed better against Northwestern at Wrigley Field but is still trying to recapture its midseason form. Fresno State provides a good test Friday with Robbie Rouse, the nation's No. 13 rusher, as well as veteran quarterback Ryan Colburn.

5. The bowl selections: Michigan State this week launched a full-blown campaign to get in the discussion for a BCS at-large berth. Will it work? Probably not, but you never know if there will be a surprise on Selection Sunday. The real drama likely will come with the Outback and Gator Bowls, who have more options than usual, albeit lukewarm ones. Will Penn State, Iowa, Michigan or Illinois head to the Outback? What will the Gator do? It should be very interesting to watch.
If you haven't done so already, bookmark our blog from ESPN's Stats & Information crew. They do a great job of providing in-depth statistical analysis for college football.

There's a new post on today's early games around the Big Ten and some of the big numbers put up. Be sure and check it out.

Some of the best nuggets:
  • Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson ran for 128 yards on five carries. Over the last five seasons, only West Virginia running back Noel Devine has run for more yards on five or fewer carries among FBS players. Devine ran for 136 yards on five carries against the Maryland Terrapins.
  • Wolverines reserve quarterback Tate Forcier becomes only the third FBS player since 2004 to complete all of his passes with a minimum of 10 attempts. The last was Fresno State's Ryan Colburn (14-14 vs Idaho) last season.
  • The Wisconsin Badgers score a school-record 70 points and win by a school-record 67-point margin. The Badgers gained over 600 yards in total offense (618) for the first time since gaining 601 at Indiana in 2008.
  • Iowa had been 0-3 over the previous three seasons in the game after its first loss.
  • Michigan State ran for 200 yards for the fourth straight game. They had just one 200-yard rush game last season.
I feel sick for Juice Williams. And Arrelious Benn. And Ron Zook.

If there's a more heartbreaking way to lose a football game, please feel free to let me know. Illinois seemingly had a shootout victory in hand, up 52-45 in the closing seconds. But Fresno State reached the end zone on an incredible stretch by wide receiver Jamel Hamler on a 19-yard reception.

Hamler's touchdown set up The Craziest Play of the 2009 Season.

Fresno State head coach Pat Hill went for the 2-point conversion and the win, which didn't surprise me one bit. Illinois got the penetration it wanted and had quarterback Ryan Colburn in its grasp, forcing a desperation throw to Hamler. Illinois couldn't knock down the pass, and it caromed to Devan Cunningham, a 6-6, 350-pound offensive tackle, who rumbled into the end zone to put Fresno State up 53-52.

A replay review upheld the call, though it looked like the ball hit Hamler first, which would have prevented a teammate from advancing it. What a tough blow for Illinois.

The Illini offense really showed up today, especially sophomore running back Mikel Leshoure, who rushed for 184 yards and two touchdowns on only 11 carries. Williams passed for 211 yards and three scores, though he also had two interceptions. Still, Juice deserved to win this game.

Illinois' defense didn't show up when it mattered, and it likely will lead to changes on the staff. Williams is gone, and Benn could join him.

You can't fault the effort from the Illini today. But the results are still ugly:
This has turned into running back showcase in Champaign, as Illinois' Mikel Leshoure and Fresno State's Ryan Mathews own the stage. We're tied at 45-45. Wow.

Leshoure is making a strong case for Illinois' starting running back spot in 2010. He has 184 yards and two touchdown on only 11 carries. Jason Ford certainly will be in the mix as well, but Leshoure looks like the complete package to me.

Fresno State refuses to go away, though, as a Mathews run set up another touchdown burst, this time by quarterback Ryan Colburn. Illinois' defense isn't showing up at all right now.