NCF Nation: James Van Fleet

Let's take a look back at Week 12 before looking ahead to rivalry week.

Team(s) of the Week: Wisconsin and Illinois. Both teams get the nod for different reasons. The Badgers overcame their Michigan misery and won in Ann Arbor for the first time since 1994. After Wisconsin's red-hot offense surged out to a 24-0 lead, the Badgers survived a mini scare in the third quarter before steamrolling Michigan with 28 consecutive designed run plays. Running backs James White and Montee Ball combined for 354 rush yards and six touchdowns in the win. Speaking of the ground game, no back in America had a bigger day than Illinois' Mikel Leshoure, who racked up a team-record 330 rushing yards against Northwestern. Behind Leshoure's brilliance, Illinois piled up 519 rush yards and claimed a must-win game against Northwestern at Wrigley Field to become bowl eligible.

[+] EnlargeOhio State Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor
Reese Strickland/US PresswireOhio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor overcame a pair of interceptions to lead the Buckeyes to a win.
Game of the Week: Ohio State at Iowa. The game featured three lead changes and an exciting fourth quarter defined by big plays on both sides of the ball. Both defenses came to play, and only one touchdown was scored in the first half. Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor overcame two interceptions to lead a pair of fourth-quarter scoring drives. After Buckeyes receiver DeVier Posey dropped a wide-open touchdown pass in the end zone with the Buckeyes down 17-13, Pryor saved the day with a 14-yard scramble on fourth-and-10. Ohio State scored the go-ahead touchdown moments later and its defensive line stepped up down the stretch. Iowa's season of heartbreak continued, while Ohio State kept its streak of Big Ten titles intact.

Biggest play: Three immediately come to mind. Pryor's scramble on fourth-and-10 likely saved Ohio State's season. Michigan State's Denicos Allen blocked a Purdue punt late in the fourth quarter to set up the game-winning touchdown as the Spartans rallied from a 28-13 deficit. And Penn State's Andrew Dailey and James Van Fleet teamed up for a punt block and a touchdown return that broke a 24-24 tie against Indiana at FedEx Field.

Specialist spotlight: The two punt blocks by Michigan State and Penn State loomed large in both teams' victories. Michigan State punter Aaron Bates had another big game, averaging 43.4 yards per punt and placing three inside the Purdue 20-yard line. After not attempting a punt the week before against Indiana, Wisconsin's Brad Nortman made the most out of his only chance against Michigan, pinning the Wolverines at their 1-yard line. Ohio State's Devin Barclay kicked a clutch field goal against Iowa for the second straight year, this time a 48-yarder in the fourth quarter. Both punters looked comfortable at Wrigley, as Illinois' Anthony Santella averaged 53.5 yards per punt and Northwestern's Brandon Williams had a 45.2-yard average. Northwestern's Venric Mark had a 58-yard punt return that set up a Wildcats touchdown against Illinois.

Best sign: The Big Ten's last-minute decision to primarily use one end zone at Wrigley Field became the top story in college football heading into Saturday. But just in case players from Northwestern and Illinois didn't hear about the rule changes, a fan sitting behind the dreaded East end zone provided a reminder. He held up a sign that read: "Wrong Way!" Nice.

Game balls (given to players on winning or losing teams who didn't receive helmet stickers)

  • Penn State QB Matt McGloin: The sophomore racked up a career-high 315 pass yards and two touchdowns against Indiana, completing 22 of 31 attempts in the win. His 315 pass yards tie for the 10th most in team history.
  • Illinois LB Martez Wilson: The Chicago native sparkled in his hometown Saturday, recording three tackles for loss, two sacks, two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble in the win against Northwestern.
  • Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien: He completed his first 13 pass attempts against Michigan and showed good toughness, absorbing several hits before releasing the ball. Tolzien finished the game 14-for-15 for 201 yards and an interception.
  • [+] EnlargePenn State quarterback Matt McGloin
    AP Photo/Nick WassPenn State quarterback Matt McGloin had a career day in a win over Indiana.
    Michigan State WR Mark Dell: Dell made Senior Day a memorable one by recording eight receptions for 108 yards and two touchdowns against Purdue. The senior receiver hauled in scoring passes of 24 yards and nine yards to match a career high for touchdowns.
  • Michigan QB Denard Robinson: He started slowly against Wisconsin but came on strong in the second half. Robinson racked up 121 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, breaking the FBS single-season record for quarterback rushing. He also had 239 pass yards and two touchdowns with an interception.
  • Purdue CB Ricardo Allen: Any postseason awards list of top freshmen should include Allen, who recorded his second pick-six in as many weeks against Michigan State. He tied Mike Rose's single-season record for interceptions returned for touchdowns. Allen now leads Purdue with three interceptions this season.
  • Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins: The junior played through pain and overcame an early miscue to record four touchdowns (3 pass, 1 rush) and 276 pass yards. Cousins completed passes to 10 different receivers in the come-from-behind win against Purdue.
  • Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor: It's not how you start in football, and Pryor finished extremely strong against Iowa. He led two fourth-quarter scoring drives, racked up 78 rush yards against a stout Iowa defense and passed for 195 yards.
  • Indiana WR Tandon Doss: The dynamic junior led Indiana in both receiving yards (90) and rushing yards (61) against Penn State. Doss had seven receptions and five rushes on the day. He also shined as a return man and finished the game with 293 all-purpose yards, tied for the seventh-best effort in team history.

Now let's look ahead to rivalry week.

Michigan (7-4, 3-4 Big Ten) at No. 8 Ohio State (10-1, 6-1): If the Buckeyes win, they will tie a Big Ten record with their sixth consecutive league title (won or shared). They also aim for their seventh consecutive win against their archrival. Michigan can spoil it all for Ohio State and take the heat off of third-year coach Rich Rodriguez, but a Wolverines win would qualify as a major upset. Pryor takes aim at a Wolverines defense that ranks 99th nationally in points allowed (33.6 ppg).

No. 10 Michigan State (10-1, 6-1) at Penn State (7-4, 4-3): A special season for the Spartans comes down to this, the biggest game in recent team history. Michigan State can record a team record for wins if it beats Penn State, and a victory ensures the Spartans of at least a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since 1990. McGloin and the Nittany Lions look to spoil the party and end the regular season with wins in five of their final six games.

Indiana (4-7, 0-7) at Purdue (4-7, 2-5): For the second straight year, the Bucket game will be played with just pride and bragging rights on the line. Neither Indiana nor Purdue will be going bowling this season, but both teams want to end 2010 on a good note. It could be a pivotal game for Hoosiers coach Bill Lynch, who has recorded just two Big Ten wins since his Hoosiers beat Purdue in 2007 to clinch a bowl berth.

No. 24 Iowa (7-4, 4-3) at Minnesota (2-9, 1-6): Iowa has shut out Minnesota in each of the last two seasons, and the Hawkeyes will come in angry after dropping back-to-back games. The Golden Gophers, meanwhile, come off of an open week after an uplifting win against Illinois and look for their first home victory of the season. It'll be the last game for quarterback Adam Weber, the other Minnesota seniors and probably most of the coaching staff. Iowa has won eight of the teams' last nine meetings.

Northwestern (7-4, 3-4) at Wisconsin (10-1, 6-1): The Badgers are playing for a share of their first Big Ten title since 1999 and most likely their first Rose Bowl appearance since that year. Barring an Ohio State loss, a Badgers win likely punches their ticket to Pasadena. Wisconsin's offense has been sensational as of late, and starting running back John Clay should be back in the fold. It likely spells bad news for Northwestern, which had no answer for Illinois' rushing attack at Wrigley.

Bye: Illinois (6-5, 4-4)

Big Ten power rankings: Week 13

November, 22, 2010
Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

There aren't many changes to this week's power rankings, as the top three remain in order. Illinois makes a nice move after running all over Northwestern. Iowa beat Penn State way back on Oct. 2, but I can't keep the Hawkeyes on the No. 4 line after back-to-back losses.

Remember, these rankings reflect how a team is performing right now. They're supposed to change and will change each week.

1. Wisconsin (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten): The Badgers look like the Big Ten's top team in 2010. Yes, they lost to Michigan State, but that defeat seems long ago as Bret Bielema's crew has surged since the setback in East Lansing. Wisconsin now ranks sixth nationally in scoring (40.9 ppg) after putting up 131 points in its past two games. The Badgers only need to beat Northwestern at home this week to claim their first league title since 1999.

2. Ohio State (10-1, 6-1): There was the typical slow start and some miscues from quarterback Terrelle Pryor, but the Buckeyes played like a championship team down the stretch. Pryor picked up teammate DeVier Posey in directing the game-winning touchdown drive, and a talented defensive line smothered Iowa in the closing minutes. Ohio State isn't as dominant as most of us thought it would be, but the Buckeyes still know how to win.

3. Michigan State (10-1, 6-1): Spartans teams of the past would have crumbled after Purdue took a 28-13 lead entering the fourth quarter. But the 2010 Spartans have been resilient all season, and they showed it with a furious rally to beat the Boilers. Quarterback Kirk Cousins played through pain and redshirt freshman Denicos Allen made the latest in a series of huge special-teams plays as Michigan State kept its league title hopes alive.

4. Penn State (7-4, 4-3): Behind streaky quarterback Matt McGloin and a huge special-teams play from Andrew Dailey and James Van Fleet, Penn State ensured its sixth consecutive winning season by pulling away from Indiana. This isn't a great Penn State team, but the Nittany Lions have learned how to win in the second half of the season. This should help as a young squad builds toward 2011. Penn State can finish the regular season with a flourish by knocking off Michigan State this week.

5. Iowa (7-4, 4-3): A football season is shaped by just a handful of plays, and arguably no team in America has proved this more than Iowa the past two seasons. In 2009, the Hawkeyes made all the plays they needed to in clutch situations. This season, they're failing to do so. Iowa has blown three fourth-quarter leads in Big Ten play and allowed late touchdowns in all four of its losses. While Iowa's record is very disappointing, how the Hawkeyes got to this point stings the most.

6. Illinois (6-5, 4-4): Vic Koenning's defense carried Illinois in the first half, but Paul Petrino's offense has caught up in a big way. Both of Illinois' first-year coordinators have fostered impressive turnarounds as the Illini are going bowling for the first time in three seasons. Mikel Leshoure had a historic rushing performance (330 yards) at Wrigley Field and Illinois' offensive line imposed its will against Northwestern.

7. Northwestern (7-4, 3-4): Northwestern got the fans and the media to come to Wrigley, but Pat Fitzgerald's defense was a major no-show. The Wildcats' defense got totally steamrolled by Leshoure and the Illini in a game where it needed to help out new starting quarterback Evan Watkins. Things could get very ugly this week against a red-hot Wisconsin offense at Camp Randall Stadium.

8. Michigan (7-4, 3-4): All four of Michigan's losses have followed a similar pattern. The Wolverines start slowly on offense before rallying but can't overcome their chronic miscues on defense. Wisconsin's running backs consistently broke tackles and Badgers quarterback Scott Tolzien completed his first 13 pass attempts at the Big House. Michigan's defense won't be fixed for a while, so the Wolverines need better starts from Denard Robinson and crew.

9. Purdue (4-7, 2-5): The sting from Saturday's loss will linger as it eliminated Purdue from bowl contention. But the Boilers' toughness this season after enduring an incredible number of injuries is impressive. Cornerback Ricardo Allen is blossoming into one of the Big Ten's top freshmen, and quarterback Rob Henry did a lot of good things before a troublesome fourth quarter. Three consecutive bowl-less seasons is a major concern, but I still think the future will be bright for Purdue.

10: Minnesota (2-9, 1-6): The Gophers got an extra week to savor their first Big Ten victory of the season. Now they aim for their first win at TCF Bank Stadium in 2010, and it would be a huge one. Minnesota has been shut out in each of its past two games against Iowa, but the Gophers seem to be gaining some confidence on offense. A major upset this week would finally bring a rivalry trophy to Minneapolis.

11. Indiana (4-7, 0-7): Bill Lynch's teams can compete for stretches in Big Ten games, but they simply can't win them. While the Hoosiers overcame a lackluster start against Penn State and tied the score at 24-24 late in the third quarter, a special-teams disaster doomed them at FedEx Field. Will a win in the Bucket game ensure Lynch returns in 2011? Tough to say. This much is clear: Indiana has lost all the momentum it generated from the 2007 season.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 12

November, 20, 2010
It's time to recognize the best and the brightest from Week 12 in the Big Ten.

Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure: The Big Ten's most consistent running back produced a historic performance at Wrigley Field. Leshoure rushed for a team-record 330 yards -- the fifth-highest total in Big Ten history -- in a 48-27 win against Northwestern. The junior had five runs of 30 yards or longer, including bursts of 70 and 62 yards. Leshoure now has seven games with 100 rushing yards or more this season.

Wisconsin RBs James White and Montee Ball: The Badgers' backs were unstoppable at Michigan Stadium and are therefore inseparable in the helmet stickers. They combined for 354 rushing yards and six touchdowns in Wisconsin's 48-28 win against Michigan. White (181 rush yards, 2 TDs) and Ball (173 rush yards, 4 TDs) became the first Badgers' tandem to both eclipse 150 rush yards in a game since Billy Marek and Ken Starch in 1973, and just the second tandem to do so in team history.

Michigan State LB Denicos Allen: Allen made the latest huge special teams play in a season full of them for Michigan State, and it helped save the day in a 35-31 win against Purdue. The redshirt freshman blocked a punt midway through the fourth quarter, setting up the winning touchdown run two plays later. Allen shares this with receiver Mark Dell (8 catches, 108 receiving yards, 2 TDs).

Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward, DT John Simon and LB Brian Rolle: Although quarterback Terrelle Pryor came up big in the clutch, he wouldn't have had the chance if not for a stifling defensive performance. These three combined for six tackles for loss, two sacks, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry as Ohio State survived a scare in Iowa City, winning 20-17. Ohio State held Iowa to 81 rush yards.

Penn State S Andrew Dailey and LB James Van Fleet: These two combined for the biggest play of Saturday's 41-24 win against Indiana. With the score tied 24-24 late in the third quarter, Dailey blocked a punt and Van Fleet returned it 21 yards to the end zone for a touchdown. They share the sticker with quarterback Matt McGloin (315 pass yards, 2 TDs) and receiver Derek Moye (90 receiving yards, TD, 39 rush yards).