The Big Ten’s best team won’t compete for the league championship, a Rose Bowl berth or a national title. Instead of scarlet and gray invading nearby Indianapolis this weekend, it will be a whole lotta red.
Nebraska secured the Legends Division championship invitation with a 13-7 win at Iowa on Friday. The Cornhuskers received the divisional title outright on Saturday when unbeaten — but ineligible — Ohio State knocked off Michigan. It was an impressive run by Nebraska, which trailed in the second half five times in league action. Four times the Cornhuskers were down by double digits after halftime and still won.
Nebraska’s only league loss was a 63-38 pounding at Ohio State, where the Cornhuskers surrendered 371 rushing yards. It was after that game where Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini challenged his team to win the next six games and take the Legends Division title. They did by beating five straight games against either bowl teams or winning teams (Penn State). Nebraska’s only Big Ten victory against a team with a losing record was in the finale at Iowa.
“After Ohio State, I thought that is what we were capable of doing,” Pelini said.
Friday, Nebraska fought past an inspired but overmatched Iowa team. After allowing a touchdown on Iowa’s first possessions, Nebraska’s defensive stiffened and held the Hawkeyes to 138 yards for the final three quarters.
“I told them enjoy it today, but we’re looking for something more than winning our division,” Pelini said. “The team has come together, and put ourselves in this position.”
One of Nebraska’s four major comebacks came against Wisconsin, the Leaders Division representative. The Badgers finished third in divisional play and were 4-4 overall. But Wisconsin was competitive in every game this year and lost back-to-back overtime games to Ohio State and Penn State to finish the season.
In the Big Ten opener, Wisconsin led Nebraska 27-10 at the break. The Cornhuskers scored the game’s final 20 points and held the vaunted Wisconsin rushing attack to 12 yards on 18 carries in the second half.
Playing Nebraska again — the schools’ third meeting in two years — energizes the Badgers, Wisconsin Coach Bret Bielema said.
“When we left (Friday) from Camp Randall and Nebraska had beaten Iowa, there was a sparkle in our guys’ eyes that they were going to get the chance to play in that game,” Bielema said. “Where you have an early-season loss similar to what we did with Michigan State (last year), I know that that will be our rally cry and I think I need to be really, really smart. We backed off on this week physically and the amount of contact. We have played a lot of physical games, and it is clearly taking a toll.”
Ohio State completed its perfect season with a 26-21 win against archrival Michigan. Ohio State is ineligible for the postseason after several players received improper benefits and former Coach Jim Tressel lied to NCAA investigators in 2010. In the scandal’s wake, Tressel resigned, several players were suspended and former quarterback Terrelle Pryor left the program.
Ohio State could have self-imposed a one-year bowl ban last year as a 6-6 squad. But the Buckeyes didn’t, and the NCAA banned the school for this season.
Still, the Buckeyes were undeterred Saturday about missing the postseason. They finished unbeaten and they dispatched Michigan, which was enough for them on Saturday.
“It’s a perfect season, you can’t ask for anything better,” Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde. “You have to get all the wins you can, especially against The Team Up North and at home.”
Many have criticized Ohio State for its close wins against many subpar opponents and the Buckeyes wouldn’t be worthy of a BCS title nod even if they were eligible. Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer said that might have been true in late October, but not now.
“We could play with anybody in America as of today,” Meyer said.
Penn State closed out an impressive season with a 24-21 overtime win against Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions are ineligible for bowls for four seasons after the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal and subsequent administrative coverup. The NCAA allowed players to leave with immediate eligibility and the school was decimated by defections before fall camp. Penn State lost its first two games, but rallied to take eight of its final 10.
Saturday, the school honored the team by unveiling “2012″ on the stadium with its other champions. The players honored injured inspirational leader Michael Mauti by wearing “42″ on their helmets. Fellow linebacker Gerald Hodges wore 42 in honor of Mauti, who fought to keep the team together last summer when the sanctions were announced.
It was an emotional ending for the seniors, the players, the fans and first-year coach Bill O’Brien.
“When they put your 2012 team up there with those other teams … those are undefeated, championship teams,” O’Brien said. “That means a lot. I thought there was a lot riding on this game for these players. I’m not sure there are many bowl games out there that are going to be played like that one.”
Michigan State and Purdue earned bowl berths with wins over Minnesota and Indiana, respectively. Michigan State was considered the league favorite but couldn’t mount enough offensive consistency this year. The Spartans lost their five league games by a total of 13 points.
Purdue had dropped its first five Big Ten games before rebounding with close wins at Iowa and Illinois. The Boilermakers earned bowl eligibility by winning the Old Oaken Bucket.
Northwestern crushed in-state rival Illinois to send the Fighting Illini to their 14th straight league loss.
Wisconsin RB Montee Ball broke the NCAA touchdown record with his 79th in an overtime loss to Penn State. … Michigan State RB Le’Veon Bell blasted through Minnesota for 266 yards. … Indiana RB Stephen Houston rushed for 158 yards and three scores and caught 12 passes for 95 yards. … Northwestern QB Kain Colter completed 9-of-11 passes for 102 yards and 3 TDs and also rushed for 88 yards and a TD.
Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde ran for 146 yards and a score. … Purdue QB Robert Marve threw for 348 yards and four scores to lift the Boilermakers to their third straight win and a bowl berth. … Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead played for the first time in a month, rushing for 69 yards and scoring the team’s only touchdown. … Iowa RB Mark Weisman rushed for 91 yards. … Michigan QB Denard Robinson played primarily at RB, rushing for 122 yards on 10 carries. … Illinois RB Donovann Young rushed for 74 yards and a score. … Minnesota Coach Jerry Kill suffered another seizure at halftime and didn’t join the Gophers on the field in the second half. … Penn State’s Zach Zwinak ran for 179 yards to finish with 1,000 for the season.
1. Ohio State (1) 12-0, 8-0
Beat every upper-echelon team in the league
2. Nebraska (2) 10-2, 7-1
Huskers won six straight to clinch Legends title outright
3. Michigan (3) 8-4, 6-2
What happened to second-half offense against Ohio State?
4. Penn State (5) 8-4, 6-2
No coach and program had to overcome so much to achieve something so memorable
5. Northwestern (6) 9-3, 5-3
Definitely a “what could have been” season after blowing 3 fourth-quarter leads in losses
6. Wisconsin (4) 7-5, 4-4
Has a good shot to be league’s weakest Rose Bowl representative … maybe ever?
7. Michigan State (7) 6-6, 3-5
Will be a tough out in a bowl with that defense, running game
8. Purdue (10) 6-6, 3-5
Dead team walking in mid-November won 3 straight to become bowl-eligible
9. Minnesota (8) 6-6, 2-6
Little momentum going into bowl season
10. Indiana (9) 4-8, 2-6
Too some positive steps forward this year
11. Iowa (11) 4-8, 2-6
Lost close games against bowl-eligible Central Michigan, Iowa State, Purdue. Yippee
12. Illinois (12) 2-10, 0-8
Finished with 14 straight Big Ten losses
BIG TEN STANDINGS
LAST WEEK’S RESULTS
THIS WEEK’S GAME
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