Sunday, November 14, 2010
What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 11
By Adam Rittenberg
Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.
1. The league title race is down to three: Iowa's loss to Northwestern likely eliminated the Hawkeyes from the Big Ten title race. Although we could still see a tie at 6-2 in league play, it's unlikely that Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State all will stumble once more in the final two weeks. Wisconsin and Ohio State both overcame slow starts to pull away for impressive victories, while idle Michigan State benefited from Iowa's loss and Notre Dame's win. Iowa can now be branded as a disappointment given the preseason expectations placed on the senior-laden Hawkeyes.
Dan Persa's season is over, but not before he led Northwestern to a comeback win.
2. Dan Persa is the league's most valuable player: Both the good side and the bad side of this lesson played out Saturday at Ryan Field. Persa willed Northwestern to a dramatic come-from-behind win, leading two fourth-quarter scoring drives and accounting for all three Wildcats touchdowns (2 pass, 1 rush) in the game. But he suffered a freak injury after throwing the game-winning touchdown pass, rupturing his Achilles' tendon while celebrating. Persa's season is over and Northwestern will sorely miss him the rest of the way, but No. 7 has earned a ton of respect around the Big Ten this season.
3. The Big Ten is a non-factor in the Heisman race: Yes, I know this probably was true before Saturday, but I continued to drive the bus for Big Ten players like Ricky Stanzi, Denard Robinson and Terrelle Pryor. Well, the bus has officially broken down. Stanzi threw a costly interception and lost his poise in the clutch at Northwestern, while Robinson committed four turnovers and briefly was benched in an ugly win at Purdue. Pryor threw an interception and was unspectacular against Penn State. I'd be surprised if the Big Ten is represented in New York next month.
4. More Big Ten coaches could be in trouble: We've already seen one coaching change this fall in the Big Ten, and the heat is rising on two others. Indiana's 83-20 loss to Wisconsin is the type of game that could really hurt Bill Lynch as he tries to save his job. The Hoosiers couldn't stop Wisconsin in the final three quarters and suffered a humiliating defeat. It's one thing to lose a Big Ten game; it's another to look non-competitive. Ron Zook seemed safe two weeks ago, but Illinois' back-to-back losses could revive calls for change as the Illini still aren't bowl eligible.
5. Wisconsin and Ohio State are in a beauty contest: The two teams might say otherwise, but there's definitely incentive among both the Badgers and the Buckeyes to win with style points. It's very possible that Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State all win out to force a three-team tie atop the league standings on Nov. 27. If so, the team with the highest rank in the final BCS standings goes to the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin and Ohio State are in a BCS battle despite Wisconsin's head-to-head win, and their coaches have no incentive to call off the dogs. Both teams have put up historic offensive numbers this year, and they're not going to let up in the final two weeks.