Nov. 7, 2011
Penn State Eyes Share of Division Championship: Boasting an unblemished record in conference play at 5-0, Penn State could clinch at least a share of the Big Ten Leaders Division championship with a win over Nebraska this weekend. With a two-game lead over Ohio State and Wisconsin, the Nittany Lions can even clinch a spot in the inaugural Big Ten Championship game with a victory over the Cornhuskers and losses by both the Buckeyes and Badgers.
Leaders Division Breakdown: With three weeks to play, five Leaders Division squads remain eligible for the divisional title. Ohio State and Wisconsin are tied for second in the standings with 3-2 records, while Illinois and Purdue are tied for fourth with 2-3 marks. While the Nittany Lions can clinch a share of the division title with a victory over Nebraska, PSU closes the season on the road against the Buckeyes and Badgers, which means both teams would have a chance to earn an advantage over Penn State in the tiebreaker with head-to-head victories.
Legends Division Breakdown: All six Legends Division squads remain in the hunt for a division championship with Michigan State leading the pack with a 4-1 conference mark. Iowa, Michigan and Nebraska are in a three-way tie for second in the standings with 3-2 Big Ten records. Minnesota and Northwestern also maintain hopes for a share of the division title but must win out and hope no team finishes better than 4-4 in the division. The Spartans can earn a share of the division title with a victory in Iowa City combined with losses by the Wolverines and Cornhuskers, but the Big Ten Championship Game berth would still be up for grabs with two games to play.
Big Ten One of Three Conferences With Five or More Teams in Latest BCS Rankings: The latest Bowl Championship Series (BCS) standings have been released and the Big Ten is one of three conferences with five or more teams among the top 25. The Big Ten and Big 12 are tied for second among all conferences behind only the SEC (six teams) and followed by the ACC (three). Penn State is the Big Ten's highest ranked team at No. 12 overall, moving up four spots from last week's poll. Michigan State, Wisconsin and Nebraska appear at Nos. 17, 18 and 19, respectively, while Michigan rounds out the Big Ten contingent at No. 24.
Two Divisional Matchups on Tap This Week: With just three weeks to play, divisional play continues with key matchups in the Legends and Leaders Divisions. In the Legends Division, Michigan State puts its first-place status on the line against Iowa, which is tied for second place. The Spartans own a one-game lead over Michigan, Nebraska and Iowa with three games to play. Ohio State, which is tied for second in the Leaders Division, travels to Purdue. The Buckeyes look to keep pace in the division standings, entering the week tied with Wisconsin for second and two games behind division leader Penn State. With the beginning of divisional play, the Big Ten has instituted a new tiebreaker (see page 11) to determine the Big Ten Football Championship Game participants, if necessary. After head-to-head matchups, the next tiebreaker is records within the division, which makes winning divisional games an important part of the Big Ten title chase.
Big Ten Now Boasts Eight Bowl-Eligible Squads: Wins by Iowa and Ohio State last Saturday give the Big Ten eight bowl-eligible squads, the most of any conference in the nation. The Hawkeyes have 25 bowl berths in their history, while the Buckeyes have made 41 bowl appearances in their history. Iowa and Ohio State join Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin as the conference's bowl-eligible teams. Northwestern and Purdue, with four wins apiece, each remain in the hunt for bowl berths with three weeks to play. The conference record for bowl-eligible squads is 10, set in 2007.
Passing the 1,000-Yard Mark: Three running backs and one wide receiver from the Big Ten have surpassed the 1,000 yard-mark in their respective specialties this season. Iowa's Marcus Coker leads the conference with 1,101 yards through nine games this season, an average of 122.3 yards per game. Wisconsin's Montee Ball trails close behind with 1,076 yards, good for 119.6 yards per game, and Penn State's Silas Redd is the conference's third leading rusher with 1,006 rushing yards, an average of 111.8 yards per game. Two other players are also nearing the milestone in Nebraska's Rex Burkhead (951 yards) and Michigan's Denard Robinson (880). Through the air, Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins has 1,030 receiving yards this season, an average of 114.4 per game. Iowa's Marvin McNutt (959) and Michigan State's B.J. Cunningham (827) are less than 200 yards from joining Jenkins in the 1,000-yard club.
Pass Masters: A pair of Big Ten quarterbacks have surpassed the 2,000-yard mark through the air this season, with three other signal callers less than 400 yards from the achieving the feat. Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, who leads the nation in pass efficiency, leads the conference with 2,238 passing yards, an average of 248.7 yards per game, while Iowa's James Vandenberg ranks second in the Big Ten with 2,089 yards for an average of 232.1 yards per outing. Other conference signal callers nearing the 2,000-yard club are Michigan State's Kirk Cousins (1,989 yards), Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase (1,687) and Michigan's Denard Robinson (1,617).
Scoring in Bunches: With 24 touchdowns this season, including 21 rushing and three receiving scores, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball is just two away from matching the Big Ten's single-season record for total touchdowns. Three conference standouts are tied for the Big Ten record with 26 total touchdowns in a season. Ohio State's Pete Johnson (1975), Indiana's Anthony Thompson (1988) and Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter (1994) each recorded 26 touchdowns in a single season. Ball's 24 touchdowns are the most in the Big Ten since former Badger Brian Calhoun set the school record, now matched by Ball, with 24 scores in 2005.
Youth Movement: When Indiana's Tre Roberson and Ohio State's Braxton Miller took the field last Saturday, it marked the first time since 1988 that two true freshman quarterbacks started a Big Ten game. The last conference contest to feature two first-year starters was when Purdue's Brian Fox faced Wisconsin's Lionell Crawford on Oct. 29, 1988. Last weekend, Miller was one of three Buckeyes to rush for more than 100 yards, finishing with 105 yards and two touchdowns, while Roberson had nearly 250 yards of total offense, including 174 through the air with a touchdown pass.
The Nation's Best Fans: After welcoming 413,680 fans into its stadiums on Saturday, the Big Ten surpassed the two-million mark for attendance during Big Ten games only. In six weeks of the conference season, the Big Ten boasts a total attendance of more than 2.2 million, an average of 73,449 fans, with 17 sellouts. In all games, the conference will climb past the five-million mark in total attendance next Saturday for the seventh straight season and ninth time overall. The Big Ten is on pace to establish average attendance records for both all games (73,483 average) and conference games only (73,449) this season. The Big Ten set a new record last year with an average of 72,193 patrons per outing in conference games only, while the all games high mark for average attendance of 72,566 was set in 2005.
Battle for the Axe: In a conference with 16 traditional trophy games, the nation's oldest rivalry will be renewed when Wisconsin travels to Minnesota. It will be the 121st meeting between the two programs, and the 64th time the teams will battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe, awarded to the winner of the contest since 1948. Minnesota holds a 59-53-8 edge in the overall series, but Wisconsin maintains the advantage in the battle for the Axe with a 37-23-3 record.
Game Tracker: Times and television designations have been set for games on Nov. 19.
Nebraska at Michigan, Noon ET, ESPN or ESPN2
Wisconsin at Illinois, Noon ET, ESPN or ESPN2
Iowa at Purdue, Noon ET, BTN
Minnesota at Northwestern, Noon ET, BTN
Indiana at Michigan State, Noon ET, BTN
Penn State at Ohio State, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC (regional), ESPN (outer market)