In most years, heck any other year but this one, Saturday's Ohio State-Penn State tilt would have garnered major national attention.
Traditionally, the teams compete among college football's blue bloods. Both teams entered the game without a Big Ten blemish, and Ohio State was unbeaten overall. In a normal year, it virtually would have decided the Leaders Division title.
The Buckeyes are 9-0 after their 35-23 road win, but there's no national title talk. The Buckeyes — and Nittany Lions — are ineligible to compete for the Big Ten championship because of past indiscretions. That relegated the match-up to borderline irrelevance except for the most basic of the reasons: beating a border rival in a major environment.
"The one thing about coming on the road you find out about your team because it's a gladiator-type mentality that it's us-against-the-world and our guys seem to thrive on that," Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer said.
The result might loft the Buckeyes to best-team status, but it won't determine the Big Ten's Rose Bowl representative. For those eligible to compete for the Big Ten crown, the races became too close to call with Saturday's results.
Michigan could have ended the Legends Division race but instead lost quarterback Denard Robinson and the game at Nebraska, 23-9. The Wolverines and Cornhuskers are tied atop the division with 3-1 records, just ahead of Northwestern (3-2) and a game up on Iowa (2-2).
"Obviously, with the Big Ten standings, it was kind of a must-have," Nebraska linebacker Sean Fisher said. "Not that it wasn't still possible to get to the Big Ten championship, but it was out of our control if we lost it. We kind of talked about how we wanted to control our own futures and winning tonight took us one step closer to that. Obviously, that doesn't seal any deals or anything like that. Now we just keep it up against Michigan State and just take it one step at a time."
On the Leaders' side, Wisconsin's chances of sealing the division fizzled in a 16-13 overtime home loss to Michigan State. The Badgers' yo-yo running game — which produced 804 rushing yards against Purdue and Minnesota — crumbled to 20 yards against the Spartans. Wisconsin (3-2) has given slight hope to Indiana (1-3), which earned its first Big Ten win after 11 straight league losses. The teams play Nov. 10 in Bloomington.
"They handled themselves like a winning team and while our record doesn't speak that yet, we're working hard and trying to move it in the right direction," Indiana Coach Kevin Wilson said.
Northwestern kept its divisional hopes flickering with a dominating 28-17 win against Iowa. The Wildcats led 28-3 in the third quarter before nearly allowing the Hawkeyes back in the game.
"We’ve put ourselves in position now to be in the postseason," Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "We’ve put ourselves in position to have a significant November."
Wisconsin still remains in charge of the Leaders Division. The Badgers, who are idle this week, will have at least a one-game edge on Indiana entering the teams' game on Nov. 10. But should Indiana beat Iowa and then upset the Badgers -- both games are in Bloomington -- the schedule favors the Hoosiers to earn the divisional nod.
Indiana closes out the season at Penn State (3-1) and Purdue (0-4). Wisconsin plays host to Ohio State (5-0) and Penn State (3-1). If they are tied, the game's winner heads to Indianapolis.
The Legends Division race is a bit more muddied. Nebraska owns the head-to-head tiebreaker against Michigan, but the Cornhuskers travel to Michigan State, then play host to Penn State. Northwestern has road games at Michigan and Michigan State. The Wolverines play at Minnesota and archrival Ohio State and play host to Northwestern and Iowa. The Hawkeyes went from contender to pretender in eight days and will struggle to qualify for a bowl game.
Nebraska's game at Michigan State is pivotal this week. A win puts the Cornhuskers squarely in the driver's seat. But since entering the Big Ten last year, the Cornhuskers have struggled at tough road venues, giving up 48 points at Wisconsin, 45 at Michigan and 63 at Ohio State. In its five road losses since joining the Big Ten last year, Nebraska's opponents have averaged 261 rushing yards, and Michigan State boasts powerful back Le'Veon Bell.
For all its rhetoric about running the table and winning the Big Ten title, Nebraska has suffered at least four losses per season in the each of the last eight years. Only once since 2001 has Nebraska lost fewer than four games (10-3 in 2003), and the travel-crazy Husker fans have yet to propel the school to a BCS bowl since 2001. Ohio State has eight BCS bowl appearances since Nebraska's last major bowl. Michigan has four, while Penn State, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois each have two over that span.
So who's the Legends favorite? Magic 8-ball says ask again next week.
Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter achieved career highs with 26 rushes, 166 rushing yards and four total touchdowns. ... Minnesota true freshman quarterback Philip Nelson threw for 246 yards and three touchdowns in his second career start. ...Indiana middle linebacker David Cooper had 10 tackles, including three for loss, in the Hoosiers' win at Illinois. ... Northwestern linebacker David Nwabuisi totaled 18 tackles against Iowa.
Ohio State sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller completed only seven passes but rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns to surpass the 1,000-yard mark, the first OSU QB to do so. ... Penn State tight end Kyle Carter caught six passes for 77 yards and a touchdowns. ... Iowa cornerback Micah Hyde stopped a punt at the 1-yard line, recovered a fumble and caught Northwestern's Venric Mark from behind on a 72-yard run. Mark rushed for 162 yards. ... Indiana's defense sacked Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase seven times and produced 12 tackles for loss. ... Illinois running back Donovann Young rushed for 124 yards. ... Three Purdue quarterbacks tossed at least six passes and a touchdown. ... Michigan State middle linebacker Max Bullough registered 9.5 tackles, including two sacks. ... Wisconsin running back Montee Ball ran for only 46 yards on 22 carries. ... Minnesota wide receiver A.J. Barker caught five passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns.
1. Ohio State (2) 9-0, 5-0
- Bellwether state in a bellwether election
2. Penn State (1) 5-3, 3-1
- From hanging tough to hanging chads
3. Nebraska (5) 6-2, 3-1
- Conservative home effort for conservative state
4. Michigan (3) 5-3, 3-1
- Needed a major bailout at quarterback
5. Northwestern (6) 7-2, 3-2
- Stimulus package appears to be working
6. Michigan State (8) 5-4, 2-3
- Staying the course has its benefits
7. Wisconsin (4) 6-3, 3-2
- Recalled offensive line coach but running game shows no collective bargaining
8. Iowa (7) 4-4, 2-2
- All about personal responsibility, at least for the players
9. Minnesota (9) 5-3, 1-3
- Showing signs of recovery
10. Indiana (10) 3-5, 1-3
- Is the recession over?
12. Purdue (11) 3-5, 0-4
- How's that Hope and change treating you?
12. Illinois (12) 2-6, 0-4
- Are you better off today than you were four years ago?
- Nebraska 3-1 6-2
- Michigan 3-1 5-3
- Northwestern 3-2 7-2
- Iowa 2-2 4-4
- Michigan State 5-4 2-3
- Minnesota 5-3 1-3
- Ohio State 5-0 9-0
- Penn State 3-1 5-3
- Wisconsin 3-2 6-3
- Indiana 1-3 3-5
- Purdue 0-4 3-5
- Illinois 0-4 2-6
- Northwestern 28, Iowa 17
- Nebraska 23, Michigan 9
- Ohio State 35, Penn State 23
- Minnesota 44, Purdue 28
- Michigan State 16, Wisconsin 13 (OT)
- Indiana 31, Illinois 17
- Michigan at Minnesota, 11 a.m. (BTN)
- Iowa at Indiana, 2:30 p.m. (BTN)
- Nebraska at Michigan State, 2:30 p.m. (ABC)
- Illinois at Ohio State, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)
- Penn State at Purdue, 2:30 p.m. (ESPNU)