Wednesday, November 7, 2012
What B1G teams have left to play for
By Brian Bennett
There are only three weeks left in the Big Ten regular season. Some teams are in the heat of a division race, while others are hoping to make a bowl game. Still others are all but finished, while there are two teams with no hope of a postseason because of sanctions.
Yet each team has some motivation remaining the rest of the way. Let's take a look at what every Big Ten team still has left to play for, in alphabetical order:
Illinois (2-7, 0-5 Big Ten) is basically playing out the string at this point while dealing with a six-game losing streak. But the program wants to build some momentum for next year, and players need to give good effort for first-year coach Tim Beckman or risk having him recruit over them. Ending an 11-game Big Ten conference skid should also be a motivating factor.
Iowa (4-5, 2-3) is technically still alive in the Legends Division race, though the Hawkeyes would have to win out and get some help elsewhere. Maybe more importantly, they need to find two wins to go bowling for the fifth consecutive year. Beating new rival Nebraska in the finale at home would also be nice.
Indiana (4-5, 2-3) has a losing record but controls its destiny for a bid in the Big Ten championship game and perhaps the Rose Bowl. If the Hoosiers beat Wisconsin on Saturday, they will be in the inside lane for the Leaders berth to Indianapolis. Even if that doesn't happen, earning two more wins and making a bowl would still be a huge milestone for second-year coach Kevin Wilson.
Michigan (6-3, 4-1) badly wants to win a Big Ten title and can do so by winning out and getting a Nebraska loss somewhere else. There's also an outside chance the Wolverines can snag an at-large BCS bid if they win out and the Huskers don't lose. They won't need any extra motivation for the season finale at Ohio State.
Michigan State (5-5, 2-4) has had a very disappointing season after coming into the year with Rose Bowl hopes. But the Spartans can still get to a bowl with one more victory. And given the state of the rest of the league, it could actually be a pretty good bowl.
Minnesota (5-4, 1-4) is just one win away from its first bowl game since the 2009 season. That would be an excellent achievement under second-year coach Jerry Kill, whose Gophers went just 3-9 last year.
Nebraska (7-2, 4-1) needs only to win its final three games to guarantee itself a spot in the Big Ten championship game and play for its first conference title since 1999. Up to No. 16 in the BCS standings, the Huskers also have an outside chance of grabbing an at-large berth if they stumble in the title game.
Northwestern (7-2, 3-2) still can win the Legends Division by winning out and having Nebraska lose twice. The Wildcats debuted in the BCS standings this week and could possibly finish in the top 14 for at-large consideration if they finish 10-2 and Nebraska claims the division. A 9- or 10-win season is still special at Northwestern, and the program is desperate to win its first bowl since 1949.
Ohio State (10-0, 6-0) can't go bowling because of probation, but the Buckeyes made finishing 12-0 a preseason goal and are just two games away from achieving it. Ohio State could also win the Leaders Division title, finish in the top 5 of The Associated Press poll, send Braxton Miller to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist and maybe most importantly, build momentum for a potential championship run in 2013. Beating Michigan to cap a 12-0 year would be pretty sweet, too.
Penn State (6-3, 4-1) also can't make the postseason because of probation, but the Lions can win the Leaders Division title. Their seniors in particular want to go out on a high note and prove that the program isn't going away after the harsh sanctions were handed down. And a great finish could help in recruiting, which will become more difficult when the scholarship reductions really kick in.
Purdue (3-6, 0-5) has lost five in a row but can still get to a bowl by winning its final three contests. That also might be the only way to save head coach Danny Hope's job.
And finally Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2) wants to make its third straight Rose Bowl and can clinch a spot in the Big Ten title game simply by beating Indiana this weekend. Getting to Pasadena -- and winning after two consecutive losses there -- would erase the memory of this year's early-season struggles. Wisconsin has never been to three straight Rose Bowls.