Around the Big Ten: Week 12

Story posted November 16, 2012 in Sports, CommRadio by Phil Constantino

As the season hits the home stretch the battle for the Big Ten conference title heats up. With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible, Wisconsin has locked up the conference title game birth from the Leaders division. However, the Legends division is wide open as Nebraska controls their own destiny, but still has key road blocks to maneuver around.

Penn State takes on Indiana at 12 p.m. Saturday on ComRadio. Here’s a look at the rest of the games around the Big Ten.

Iowa (4-6, 2-4 Big Ten) at No. 21 Michigan (7-3, 5-1 Big Ten)

This week the Michigan Wolverines jumped back into the polls after a close 38-31 overtime win over No. 24 Northwestern, a result of some late game heroics from junior quarterback Devin Gardner and senior wide receiver Roy Roundtree.

Michigan’s starting quarterback Denard Robinson has missed the last two games due to an elbow injury and Head Coach Brady Hoke has listed him as doubtful for the game this weekend against Iowa. Although, Hoke did say he has not 100 percent ruled out using Robinson at another position to get him into the game. Robinson’s athletic ability has always been perceived by many to be better suited at wide receiver, the position he is expected to play if he makes a run at the NFL after graduation.

Without Robinson, the Wolverines have not seen a drop off in production since Gardner stepped in two weeks ago. In two games Gardner is completing just below 60 percent of his passes for 520 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.

As for Iowa, their star player has also missed the last two games. Sophomore running back Mark Weissman has been out with an ankle injury and has reportedly been ruled out of this weekend’s game too.

Iowa is currently in a four game skid after a 4-2 start. With a 4-6, 2-4 record, the Iowa faithful are unhappy with the team’s poor performance and 14 year Head Coach Kirk Ferentz’s job security is under question. However, with wins in both of their final two regular season games the Hawkeyes can still become bowl eligible and most likely save Ferentz’s job.

Like Iowa, Michigan is in a must win situation. The Wolverines need to win this game to stay in the hunt for the Legends division title and bid to the Big Ten title game. Currently tied with Nebraska with a 5-1 conference record, Nebraska owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Michigan. The game will be played Saturday at 12 p.m. at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Ohio State (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) at Wisconsin (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten)

Coming off of a bye week Ohio State looks to continue where they left off, on the undefeated trail. In his first season with the Buckeyes, Head Coach Urban Meyer is yet to lose a game and is the clear front runner for Big Ten coach of the Year. Sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller is also having a stellar season completing near 57 percent of his passes for 1753 yards, 14 touchdowns and only six interceptions; and rushing for 1166 yards and 13 touchdowns. Miller is currently fifth in Heisman voting according to ESPN’s Heisman Watch.

Last week Wisconsin blew out Indiana 62-14 and due to the postseason ineligibility of Penn State and Ohio State, clinched their spot as the Leaders representative in the Big Ten championship game. Many have said that the Badgers have nothing to play for the rest of the regular season, but there is still a division title to be won. Although Ohio State has already clinched a share of the division title, if Wisconsin wins their final two games and Ohio State loses again next week to Michigan, Wisconsin would legitimize their title game appearance as the division co-champion plus the tie-breaker over Ohio State.

Wisconsin does have an injury concern heading into this game. Defensive standout, junior linebacker Chris Borland, who leads the team with 4.5 sacks, is tied for third in the league with 3 forced fumbles and has 82 tackles, nine for loss; is a game-time decision after injuring his hamstring last week. If Borland can’t go sophomore Marcus Trotter will start in his spot.

Surprising to many Ohio State is the underdog this weekend as they travel to Wisconsin. If the Buckeyes win, they clinch the outright division title. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. at Camp Randall Stadium.

Minnesota (6-4, 2-4 Big Ten) at No. 14 Nebraska (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten)

With a 17-3 win over Illinois last weekend, Minnesota is now bowl eligible for the first time since 2009. However, it is not all good news for the Golden Gophers as they have quite a few injury concerns.

Minnesota’s No.1 wide receiver, junior A.J. Barker, is out again for the third straight game with an ankle injury. The defensive side of the ball also brings concerns as senior defensive end D.L. Wilhite, who is tied for the Big Ten conference lead with 7.5 sacks, is listed as questionable. Junior defensive tackle Roland Johnson and sophomore backup linebacker Lamonte Edwards have also been ruled out by Head Coach Jerry Kill.

Injuries are also a concern for the Nebraska Cornhuskers as running back Rex Burkhead is a game-time decision. Burkhead has missed the last three games, but the Cornhuskers have continued on strong winning them all including a controversial nine point victory over Penn State last week.

Nebraska controls their own destiny toward winning the Legends division and a conference title game birth. With a win this weekend over Minnesota and a loss by Michigan, the Cornhuskers can wrap things up on Saturday. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.

Northwestern (7-3, 3-3 Big Ten) at Michigan State (5-5, 2-4 Big Ten)

Northwestern fell out of the top 25 after a 38-31 overtime loss at Michigan last week. This has been a common them for the Wildcats this season, every time they crack the rankings, they lose and fall out. Sustained success in the top 25 will be needed if Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald is trying to keep the Wildcats among the Big Ten elite.

While all the attention surfaces around Nebraska and Michigan in the Legends division race, Northwestern still holds a slim chance to win it. Currently (7-3, 3-3) the Wildcats would have to win-out and hope that both Nebraska and Michigan lose the rest of their games. Then all three schools would be tied at 5-3 in conference, be named co-division champs and a series of tiebreakers would decide who gets the nod to play in Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game. For Northwestern, it is a possibility, but highly unlikely.

After a Big Ten title game birth last season, this year brought lofty expectations for Michigan State. With a 5-5, 2-4 record, it is safe to say the Spartans are not satisfied with how this season has gone. However, Michigan State can salvage this season by becoming bowl eligible with a win. Kickoff is a Saturday at 12 p.m. at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich.

Purdue (4-6, 1-5 Big Ten) at Illinois (2-8, 0-6 Big Ten)

There is not much to be said about this matchup except that it matches the fifth place team in the Leaders division, Purdue, and the sixth place team, Illinois. To put it plain and simply, the loser of this game can be crowned the worst team in the Big Ten in 2012. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill.

Phil Constantino is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, e-mail pvc5105@psu.edu.