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Football Mon Nov 29 2010

Big Ten Football Monday: The Weekend That Was

b10logo.jpgAfter weeks of buildup, the Big Ten championship race just kind of ended without much of a conclusion. All the best teams kept winning, so they finished with identical 7-1 conference records. A three-way tie. Oh joy.

The big prize, a Rose Bowl bid, seems all but guaranteed for Wisconsin, thanks to the jury-rigged, intentionally illogical BCS computer rankings.

But while the Badgers, Buckeyes and Spartans took care of business Saturday to claim one-third of the conference title, two of their weakest rivals celebrated smaller victories.

Best win -- Indiana 34, Purdue 31, OT

Best Bachman Turner Overdrive* -- Wisconsin 70, Northwestern 23

Et cetera -- Ohio State 37, Michigan 7 ... Michigan State 28, Penn State 22 ... Minnesota 27, Iowa 24.

Sitting this one out -- Illinois

Best Charley Steiner** -- Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin

tolzien.PNGRanked eighth in the Big Ten with 2,300 passing yards, Tolzien doesn't get the kind of attention bestowed on quarterbacks like Denard Robinson and Terrelle Pryor (or even Dan Persa, Ricky Stanzi and Kirk Cousins). But numbers don't entirely reflect his importance for a Wisconsin team that capped a roaring November by rolling over Northwestern.

While Montee Ball, James White and the Badgers' superlative offensive line gave Northwestern the Mikel Leshoure treatment, Tolzien rather quietly completed 15 of 19 passes for 230 yards and four touchdowns.

He delivered the ball on target. He made few mistakes. This sounds easy, but it's not. Robinson, Michigan's newly minted Big Ten offensive player of the year, can't do it, and that's been a huge problem for the Wolverines offense.

Tolzien leads the nation with a .742 completion percentage (just ahead of Persa). His 169.8 passing efficiency rating ranks fourth behind national stars Kellen Moore and Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett.

His reward: a spot on the coaches' all-Big Ten second team and a whole lot more media attention a month from now in Pasadena.

Bittersweet finish -- Bill Lynch, Indiana

Lynch got the axe Sunday after another tough season, but the Hoosiers sent him out a winner, finally getting their first Big Ten win of the season and recapturing the Old Oaken Bucket from cross-state rival Purdue.

Ben Chappell closed his college career with a 330-yard performance, setting a new IU season passing record in the process, and led a 14-play drive to tie the game with nine seconds left in regulation.

Freshman linebacker Jeff Thomas made the game's biggest defensive play. He picked off Rob Henry on the third play of overtime, setting up the Hoosiers for a stress-free possession and a short game-winning field goal.

Worst finish -- Iowa

It's understandable, to a degree, that Northwestern's season ended when Persa ruptured his Achilles tendon moments after throwing the game-winning touchdown pass at Iowa. He was perhaps more valuable to his team than any other player in the Big Ten, and his freshman backups, Evan Watkins and Kain Colter, were largely awful.

But what the heck happened to Iowa after that loss? With their hopes for a Big Ten title apparently dashed, the Hawkeyes tumbled into two more losses, going from 7-2 to 7-5. In each of their losses, they've allowed a game-winning touchdown in the final five minutes.

Formerly hapless Minnesota did the honors Saturday, sending quarterback Adam Weber and interim coach Jeff Horton out strong by winning the coveted Floyd of Rosedale rivalry trophy. DeLeon Eskridge and Duane Bennett led a Gophers running game that grinded out 216 yards, the most for an Iowa opponent this season.

Fastest feet -- Dan Herron, Ohio State

Two weeks after gashing Penn State for 190 yards, the man they call Boom ran for 175 and a touchdown on 22 carries. He was first among equals for a Buckeyes squad that easily beat Michigan for the seventh straight year. That's their longest win streak in the rivalry since winning nine in a row from 1901-09.

Not helping -- Roy Roundtree & Darryl Stonum, Michigan

Catch the ball, guys. Come on. Your quarterback has enough accuracy issues as it is without you dropping passes left and right.

Worst brain cramp -- Trenton Robinson, Michigan State

The Spartans cruised through most of the fourth quarter -- an 18-point lead with 8 1/2 minutes left meant they just needed to prevent defensive disaster -- but Robinson made things a little too interesting with a bone-headed play that had even his teammates yelling at him.

Michigan State led by 12 with 1:11 left when Robinson intercepted a pass from Matt McGloin in the back of the end zone. Yet instead of taking a knee, he ran out of the end zone and got stripped off the ball at the 4-yard line by Penn State's Derek Moye (who darn near took over the game in the final minutes).

Robinson, a second-team all-conference pick, got an earful from three senior teammates: cornerback Chris L. Rucker, defensive end Colin Neely and especially linebacker Eric Gordon. Fortunately for him, the touchdown the Nittany Lions scored on the next play was too little too late.

NEXT WEEK

Last one before the bowls -- Illinois at Fresno State (Friday)

* Bachman Turner Overdrive: "Taking care of business"
** Charley Steiner: "Follow me to freedom"

 
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