Lessons learned after the final week of the Big Ten’s regular season.
1. J.T. Barrett is as cool as they come: Ohio State’s star quarterback stepped into the limelight with an ultracalm demeanor this season, but his reaction to a season-ending and cringe-worthy broken ankle Saturday showed how unfazed he can be. Barrett showed little, if any, emotion while being carted off the field in the fourth quarter of a 42-28 win over Michigan. He shook hands with a few teammates and told them to go win the game, which they did. Can they keep winning with Barrett already ruled out for next weekend’s Big Ten title game? The offense will undoubtedly take a significant step backward without the Heisman contender. He ran for two touchdowns and threw for another before leaving the game Saturday. Ohio State has plenty of weapons to keep its offense rolling, but good luck finding another signal-caller who has the presence to step in like Barrett has done during his rookie season.
2. Wisconsin is your new Big Ten favorite: The Badgers' offense, led of course by Melvin Gordon, has been one of the hardest to stop in the country during the month of November. Gordon ran for 151 yards and a score in Wisconsin’s 34-24 win over Minnesota. The victory clinched a spot in the Big Ten championship game against Ohio State. Cardale Jones, Barrett’s replacement, has to face a stingy Badgers defense for his first career start. It won’t be easy for the sophomore to keep up with Wisconsin’s offense if Gordon keeps rolling. As impossible as it may have seemed after they lost to Northwestern on the first weekend in October, the 10-2 Wisconsin Badgers could be the favorite to win the conference championship.
3. The Spartan Dawgs haven’t fallen very far: Michigan State’s defense isn’t as dominant as the Rose Bowl-winning crew from a year ago. Ohio State made that much clear in early November. The 2014 unit can still dominate, though. Since giving up 49 points to the Buckeyes, Michigan State has allowed a total of 28 points in three games against Maryland, Rutgers and Penn State. Those three teams rushed for an average of 46 yards. None of those teams will be confused for an offensive juggernaut this season (although the Terps have shown flashes), but the Spartans can still make an average football team look hopeless when trying to reach the end zone.
4. Beckman, Pelini turn down the heat: Bo Pelini won’t be getting free meals in Lincoln this offseason, and the same goes for Tim Beckman in Champaign, but both coaches at least temporarily sidestepped the angry mobs with wins this weekend. Illinois hung 47 points on Northwestern to reach bowl eligibility for the first time in Beckman’s three years. His teams have gone from two to four to six wins, and he’s already promised eight in 2015. Pelini avoided the dreaded fourth loss with a comeback overtime win over Iowa on Friday. If the Cornhuskers can win whatever bowl game they play, they will finish with a 10-3 record, which is at least a small step forward.
5. Rutgers-Maryland has the makings of a Big Ten rivalry: The Big Ten might have built itself a new rivalry Saturday, and the league didn’t even need a patriotic trophy or pregame handshake shenanigans to do it. Rutgers completed the biggest comeback in school history to pick up its seventh win in its first year in the Big Ten. The two conference newcomers finish with identical 7-5 records and seem to be programs on similar footing. The Terps led 35-10 late in the first half at Byrd Stadium before Gary Nova stormed back with his 347 passing yards and four touchdowns. Now that’s how to develop some bad blood.