- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Time to reflect ...
Team of the week: Ohio State became the first team to clinch a division title, winning the Leaders outright despite a postseason ban. The Buckeyes also moved to 11-0 while yet again defying defeat, this time on the road in overtime at a frenzied stadium after Wisconsin had seized all the momentum at the end of regulation. As Johnathan Hankins said after the 21-14 win, "We can't be beat. We're not settling for a loss."
Game of the week: There wasn't a whole lot of scoring at Camp Randall Stadium, but there was plenty of drama. You had Montee Ball getting stuffed at the goal line on his attempt to break the all-time FBS touchdowns record. You had the Badgers scoring to tie the game with eight seconds left. You had Ohio State's quest for perfection hanging over it all. These two teams have become division rivals, and Saturday's game provided more fuel to that fire.
Best call: Northwestern was clinging to a 23-20 lead when it took possession at its 12-yard line with 2:46 left at Michigan State. Wildcats fans must have been thinking: Here we go again. They have lamented how their team has gone conservative late in games with leads, only to end up with a loss. Not so Saturday, as Northwestern came out firing. A pass interference call on Johnny Adams resulted in a first down, and the Cats picked up a second first down with another pass. They eventually punted, but not before flipping field position and making the Spartans burn their timeouts. Perhaps not coincidentally, Northwestern held on for the win.
"I had our FBI guys to give me all those complaints from of our fans, so I changed," head coach Pat Fitzgerald cracked after the game.
Actually, the decision to pass had less to do with a philosophy shift then it did personnel. Kain Colter and Venric Mark were out with injuries, so there wasn't much running game to speak of. Still, many times you see teams do little to try to pick up a first down there, especially from that spot of the field. It was good -- and refreshing -- to see Northwestern stay aggressive.
Best moment: Nebraska found the perfect way to honor outgoing athletic director and all-around legend Tom Osborne in his 500th -- yes, 500th -- home game as a Husker at Memorial Stadium. Osborne led the team out of the locker room and through the famous tunnel walk, wearing a red Huskers jacket and hat. (You can watch it here). Bo Pelini, who has been doing just about everything right the past several weeks, came up with the idea. "He was reluctant to do it," Pelini said. "But it's the way it should be. It meant a lot to me and the football team. I think the fans wanted to see him walk out there one more time."
Worst moment: Football just isn't fair sometimes. That's all you could say after watching Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti go down with another apparently serious knee injury early in the team's win over Indiana. Mauti had battled back from two ACL tears and had given everything he had to the program. It's wildly unfair that he won't get to play on Senior Day, and that his pro career could be in jeopardy. "If I could give him one of my knees, I would, man,'' fellow linebacker Gerald Hodges said. "He's the heart and soul of this team. I hate the fact that I had to see that.'' The only good to come of the injury was the outpouring of support for Mauti at the game and around the country on Twitter afterward. But it still seems wildly unfair.
Best attempt: Speaking of unfair, Purdue's Ralph Bolden has gone through three ACL injuries to make it back on the field. He ran for 100 yards in Week 11 and was about to go over 100 on Saturday on what looked like an easy, 78-yard touchdown run at Illinois. But Bolden felt his hamstring give out along the way. He ran as far as he could on one leg, getting 63 yards before hobbling out of bounds. Bolden tore his ACL in the finale last year against Indiana and couldn't play in a bowl. Hopefully, he'll make it back this year if the Boilermakers reach the postseason. Danny Hope awarded him the game ball Saturday.
"We are so proud of him," Hope said. "He had one leg left and he was giving all he had, and I think that exemplifies what being a Boilermaker is and what college football is all about."
Big Men on Campus (Offense): Three players had spectacular offensive performances Saturday. Michigan's Devin Gardner piled up six touchdowns while throwing for 314 yards in a 42-17 scorching of Indiana. At Penn State, quarterback Matt McGloin (395 passing yards, four touchdowns) and wide receiver Allen Robinson (10 catches, 197 yards, three touchdowns) each had career days against Indiana, setting school records in the process.
Big Men on Campus (Defense): Ohio State turned in a vintage Silver Bullets defensive performance for maybe the first time all season in holding Wisconsin to two touchdowns. Linebacker Ryan Shazier (12 tackles, three tackles for loss, forced fumble) and defensive end John Simon (four sacks) stood out the most on that defense. After some early-season mistakes, Shazier has been so good in the second half of the season that he's a legitimate defensive player of the year candidate. Simon now leads the league in sacks (nine), while he and Shazier are tied for the most tackles for loss in the Big Ten (14.5).
Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Northwestern scored only one offensive touchdown in its win over Michigan State, but luckily it has Jeff Budzien. He made all three of his field goal attempts and is now 15-of-16 on the year, with his only miss a 53-yard attempt against Nebraska. The Spartans would like to have a kicker with Budzien's accuracy, as they have missed a field goal in four of their narrow losses.
Worst hangover: No one really expected Iowa to win at Michigan. But the Hawkeyes got embarrassed by a 42-17 score, losing for the fifth straight time. For much of the season, their defense played well while the offense struggled to score. Now, nothing is working. Iowa will miss a bowl for the first time since 2007 and will finish with fewer than six wins for the first time since 2000. A 4-8 record is likely with Nebraska coming to Iowa City next week, followed by a long offseason of questions for Kirk Ferentz.
Strangest moment: In terms of strangeness, little can top news breaking on a football Saturday that the Big Ten is about to add Maryland and Rutgers. But as far as on-the-field moments go, Denard Robinson opening the game at tailback for Michigan was a surprise. Even the Wolverines' official Twitter feed was momentarily confused, announcing Robinson as the starting quarterback as he jogged onto the field for his team's first possession. Instead, he lined up behind Gardner, took a pitch and began a new chapter of his Michigan career while saying goodbye to the Big House.
11hDavid M. Hale