What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 12

November, 22, 2009
11/22/09
10:23
AM ET
Five lessons from the final week of Big Ten play.

1. Opportunity knocks for Buckeyes' defense: You can take shots at Jim Tressel's play calling or the fact Terrelle Pryor isn't a Heisman Trophy candidate by now. Or, you can admire what has happened with the Buckeyes' defense this season. A unit that lost several national award winners has gotten even better this fall, and Saturday's five-takeaway triumph against Michigan means Ohio State leads the nation in turnovers forced with 33. Ohio State's offense isn't always a masterpiece, but it's awfully fun to watch Kurt Coleman, Brian Rolle, Ross Homan, Cameron Heyward and the rest of the Buckeyes' defenders.

2. Penn State can play to its potential: It had been a ho-hum season for Penn State -- some would even call the campaign disappointing -- but the Nittany Lions saved their best for the regular-season finale. Penn State made a major statement in East Lansing, throttling Michigan State and executing on both sides of the ball. A secondary that I doubted all year stepped up to shut down Kirk Cousins, and Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark had arguably his best performance of the season. If Penn State gets a BCS at-large berth ahead of Iowa, the Lions will represent well if they play like they did Saturday.

3. Mike Kafka and Joey Elliott should gain All-Big Ten consideration: Both senior quarterbacks have made the most of their only full season as starters. Kafka has been accurate and extremely efficient for a surging Northwestern team, while Elliott turned in another terrific performance in Purdue's 38-21 victory at Indiana. In a year where returning starters struggled at quarterback (Adam Weber, Juice Williams, Pryor), these two signal-callers answered the bell for their teams. Kafka will be rewarded with a bowl trip, and Elliott should get some love on the All-Big Ten ballots.

4. The Iowa-Penn State debate is on: Both the Hawkeyes and the Lions finished the regular season 10-2, and both will be eligible for Big Ten at-large consideration. The league remains in pretty good shape for a second BCS berth, so will it be Iowa or Penn State? Iowa owns the head-to-head victory back on Sept. 26 and a stronger overall schedule, and the Hawkeyes should get starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi back for a bowl game. Penn State looked more impressive Saturday, and the Lions boast a national fan base, a history with both the Orange and Fiesta Bowls and the Joe Paterno factor. It will be very interesting to see which team gets the nod.

5. Four Big Ten coaches will be on the hot seat in 2010: We could still see changes in the coming days, but it's likely that all 11 Big Ten head coaches will be back next fall. But four of them -- Illinois' Ron Zook, Indiana's Bill Lynch, Michigan's Rich Rodriguez and Minnesota's Tim Brewster -- will certainly be feeling the heat. Zook has lost the momentum from the Rose Bowl run in 2007, while Lynch's team can't get over the hump or field a consistent defense. Rodriguez owns a 3-13 record in Big Ten play and has missed bowls in each of his first two years at Michigan. Brewster's change in offensive philosophy looks like a mistake as Weber has regressed and the Gophers were shut out for the second straight time against Iowa on Saturday.

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