Ohio State, Michigan Battle for Big Ten Title in Historic Fashion
Nov. 16, 2006
#2 Michigan (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) at #1 Ohio State (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten)
When Michigan and Ohio State get together every year, the matchup is bound to stir up excitement. But never has the annual rivalry series seen a game with as much anticipation - or implications - as Saturday's clash, where the nation's two top-ranked teams will battle for the outright Big Ten Conference crown and a berth in the Bowl Championship Series title game.
In their 102 previous meetings, never have Ohio State and Michigan faced off as Nos. 1 and 2. The last time top two teams squared off this late in the regular season was 1996, and not since 1985 has it happened in the conference.
The top-ranked Buckeyes are currently riding the nation's longest winning streak of 18 after a 54-10 victory against Northwestern last weekend. Ohio State has claimed four of the past five games against Michigan under Jim Tressel, including last year's come-from-behind thriller in Ann Arbor. The Buckeyes trailed by nine half-way through the fourth quarter before Troy Smith led the Buckeyes to a 25-21 victory.
The momentous win sealed co-ownership of the 2005 Big Ten title and ignited Smith's Heisman Trophy resume. The senior slinger leads a Buckeye offense that is averaging 35.8 points and 401.3 yards per game. Smith has completed 66.4 percent of his passes and tossed only four interceptions on the season. He also passed for four touchdowns in a 54-10 road rout of Northwestern last week. Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez have combined for 96 receptions and 15 touchdown catches, while tailback Antonio Pittman has rushed for 1,032 yards and 12 scores.
One of the biggest questions facing Tressel and the Buckeyes this season was filling the void of nine defensive starters.
The Wolverines' defense is also one of the most formidable groups in the country. Michigan leads the nation in rushing defense, allowing only 29.9 per contest. Despite having only one defensive player listed among the top 50 in tackles in the Big Ten - David Harris is 12th with 78 stops - the Wolverines also lead the conference in total defense, sacks and third down defense. Michigan's defenders have shared the stop-making responsibilities well, with 19 players having recorded at least 10 tackles on the season, including 12 of which that have collected at least 20. Defensive end LaMarr Woodley is tops in the Big Ten in fumbles forced (4) and sacks (11). In the secondary, Leon Hall enters the Ohio State game after becoming Michigan's career leader in pass breakups. Another Nagurski award finalist, Hall passed Todd Howard for the school record with three pass breakups at Indiana. Hall has swatted away 43 passes during his career.
On offense, Mike Hart leads the Wolverine ground game. The junior tailback boasts the nation's sixth-best rushing average with 124.82 yards per game. He also posted 92 yards and a touchdown in one half of action in the Wolverines' 34-3 road win over Indiana on Saturday. Hart's presence helps balance the passing attack from Chad Henne, who is averaging 164.3 yards passing with 12 touchdowns this season.
Wide receiver Mario Manningham looks to make his second start since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery mid-October. The sophomore snagged a career-best nine touchdown catches in his first six games. Dual-threat Wolverine Steve Breaston has stepped up during Manningham's absence. The senior wide receiver and return specialist scored on a 62-yard passing play and added a career long 83-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Hoosiers on Saturday.
Tight end Tyler Ecker also returned from injury against the Hoosiers after being sidelined in the first play of the Wolverines' game against Minnesota. Last Saturday also saw the return of tight end Mike Massey, who hadn't made an appearance since injuring his shoulder against Penn State.
ABC's coverage of the battle for the 111th Big Ten Championship gets underway at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Buffalo (2-8, 1-6 MAC) at #12 Wisconsin (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten)
11 a.m. CT, ESPNU
Madison, Wis. - Camp Randall Stadium
Series: First Meeting
First-year Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema is looking to match a history this weekend. With a win against the Mid-American Conference's Buffalo on Saturday, the Badgers can tie the school record for single-season victories. The second-youngest Division I head coach at 36, Bielema became the first Big Ten sideline mentor to ever win 10 games in his first season with a 24-21 victory over Iowa last weekend.
Senior quarterback John Stocco is scheduled to return to action after relinquishing starting duties to junior Tyler Donovan against the Hawkeyes to recover an injured right shoulder. Making his first start, Donovan connected on 17-of-24 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. Wide receiver Luke Swan grabbed four passes for a game-high 113 yards and a touchdown to lead the 12th ranked Badgers to victory. Wisconsin reclaimed the lead 17-14 on a 42-yard touchdown pass from Donovan to Swan with 42 seconds left in the half. The Badgers scored their final touchdown on a 15-play, 97-yard drive that consumed 7:40 early in the fourth period.
The Buffalo Bulls also feature a new head coach in Turner Gill. Despite a 1-6 conference record, the Bulls make up the second-highest scoring team in the MAC this season. Buffalo has scored 173 points in conference play, second only to Ball State's 175.
Leading the Bulls offense is quarter back Tony Paoli, who made his first career start against Kent State on Nov. 4. The senior signal caller finished the day 14-of-20 for 193 yards and a touchdown. Prior to that game, Paoli had appeared
The Bulls are also currently paced by several first-year players in rushing, receiving, scoring, kick returns, punt returns, all-purpose yardage, interceptions and passes defended. Redshirt freshman James Starks leads the team in rushing attempts (156) and yards (657, 4.2 yards per carry), scoring (36 points) and receptions (32). He has posted two 100-yard games this year, including a career-best 162 yards and three touchdowns against Kent State with three touchdowns.
Game time is set for 11 a.m. CT on ESPNU.
Iowa (6-5, 2-5 Big Ten) at Minnesota (5-6, 2-5 Big Ten)
11 a.m. CT, ESPN Plus
Minneapolis, Minn. - Metrodome
Series: Minnesota leads 58-39-2; Last Meeting: 2005 - Iowa 52, Minnesota 28
Iowa and Minnesota will put their high-powered offenses to the test when the teams battle for possession of Floyd of Rosedale trophy in Minneapolis on Saturday. After 52-28 victory in Iowa City last year, the Hawkeyes' stranglehold on the bronze pig traveling trophy has withstood the past five meetings between the teams.
Iowa Drew Tate, who ranks among the top 30 QBs nationally in total offense, will look to stretch the streak to six. The senior quarterback has completed 57 career touchdowns, a total that ties Ohio State's Bobby Hoying (1992-95) for ninth in Big Ten history. In the Hawkeyes' 25-21 loss to Wisconsin last weekend, Tate threw three touchdowns on 10-of-31 passing.
Purdue's offense is also led by a potent veteran quarterback. Bryan Cupito became Minnesota's all-time leading passer and threw a pair of second-half touchdown passes to help the Golden Gophers pull away for a 31-18 victory over Michigan State last weekend. In Minnesota's second straight win, Cupito completed 16-28 passes for 243 yards - nothing 6,916 for his career - with two touchdowns. Tailback Amir Pinnix also racked up 113 yards rushing. With 26 more rushing yards, Pinnix would seal the Gophers' eighth straight season with a 1,000- yard rusher.
Defensively, the Hawkeyes are led by linebacker Mike Klinkenborg. The eighth-best stopper in the nation, he averages 10.8 tackles per contest. Iowa had four players post double-digit tackles against the Badgers. Marcus Paschal earned a game- and career-high 14 while Klinkenborg had 12. Linebacker Edmond Miles amassed 11, and tackle Matt Kroul collected a career-high 10.
The Gophers defense limited the Spartans to only three rushing yards on 28 attempts behind senior defensive lineman William VanDe Steeg. The reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, VanDe Steeg recorded five solo tackles, including a career-high four sacks for 33 yards lost in the win. The four sacks tie the third-highest single-game total in Big Ten history and equal Karon Riley's program mark set in 2000. Junior safety Dom Barber leads the team in interceptions with four and is ranked third in the Big Ten. That total is the most picked passes in a season by a Gopher since 2003.
The teams collide at 11 a.m. CT on ESPN Plus.
Michigan State (4-7, 1-6 Big Ten) at Penn State (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten)
Noon ET, ESPN2
State College, Pa. - Beaver Stadium
Series: Tied 11-11-1; Last Meeting: 2005 - Penn State 31, Michigan State 22
Penn State is coming off its second shutout in three games with a 47-0 rout of Temple last Saturday.
The Nittany Lion defense continued its superb play by limiting the Owls to just two first downs and a mere 74 yards of offense, the fewest for an opponent in Joe Paterno's 41 years as head coach. The Lions did not allow Temple to cross midfield, forced three turnovers and allowed just 58 yards passing - fewest for an opponent since 1989. Linebacker Paul Posluszny made a game-high seven stops. On Temple's first play from scrimmage, the All-American made a sack and forced a fumble to lead Penn State to an early 7-0 margin.
On offense, Tony Hunt rushed for a career-high 167 yards on just 16 carries and three touchdowns. He added an 11-yard touchdown grab for a career-best 192 all-purpose yards. The senior tailback garnered Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors for his career performance.
The Spartans are looking to halt a three-game losing skid this weekend. In its last outing - a 31-18 loss to Minnesota - Michigan State lost senior quarterback Drew Stanton late in the first quarter due to dizziness. Sophomore quarterback Brian Hoyer stepped in and set career highs in passing yards with 330. That tally is also the most this season for a Spartan quarterback and the most ever for a Spartan against Minnesota. Senior wide receiver Matt Trannon caught seven passes, moving him up to second all-time on the MSU career receptions chart with 140.
On the other side of the ball, David Herron Jr. led the Spartans defensively with 10 tackles and Kaleb Thornhill added nine.
Kickoff is set noon ET on ESPN2.
Indiana (5-6, 3-4) at Purdue (7-4, 4-3)
Noon ET, ESPN Classic
West Lafayette, Ind. - Ross-Ade Stadium
Series: Purdue leads 67-35-6; Last Meeting: 2005 - Purdue 41, Illinois 14
Indiana travels to rival territory on Saturday in search of bowl eligibility for the first time since 1993 when it takes on Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind. Facing off for the 108th time - the 86th consecutive meeting - the longtime in-state rivals will battle for the Old Oaken Bucket, the annual trophy awarded to the winner.
Purdue enters Saturday's clash with the top offense in the Big Ten, averaging 420.7 yards per game. The unit also ranks 12th in the nation. Behind quarterback Curtis Painter, the Boilermakers are also tops in the conference - and sixth nationally - with 288.7 yards per contest through the air. Last weekend, the sophomore quarterback completed 20 of 42 passes for 229 yards and rushed for 54 yards on only three carries to give the Boilermakers a 42-31 win over Illinois. Painter is the Big Ten's top passer - seventh nationally - with an average 282.2 yards every contest. His favorite target is junior wide receiver Dorien Bryant, who also leads the conference with six receptions and 74.3 yards per game.
On the defensive side of the ball, senior defensive end Anthony Spencer leads all defenders in the country with 26.5 tackles for loss. He also ranks second in the Big Ten with 9.5 sacks and sits ninth among league leaders with 7.5 tackles per game. An all-around defensive weapon, Spencer is tied also for the league lead with four forced fumbles and has added five pass breakups, one fumble recovery and a blocked kick.
Indiana's Kellen Lewis will look to rebound after the Hoosiers suffered a 34-3 setback against second-ranked Michigan last weekend. The redshirt freshman QB is averaging 193.1 yards per contests, but the Wolverienes held him to 16-of-33 passing for 105 yards with one interception. Lewis and sophomore wide receiver James Hardy make a potent offensive duo. The pair connected in the end zone for the eighth time in four games at Minnesota, and Hardy grabbed five passes for 115 yards. The contest marked his seventh-career 100-yard receiving game, tying him for third all-time in school history.
The game will be televised by ESPN Classic with a noon EST kickoff.
Illinois (2-9, 1-6 Big Ten) at Northwestern (3-8, 1-6 Big Ten)
Noon CT, ESPN360
Evanston, Ill - Ryan Field
Series: Illinois leads 51-43-5; Last Meeting: 2004 - Northwestern 28, Illinois 21
Illinois and Northwestern will collide in another historic rivalry matchup on Saturday at the Wildcats' Ryan Field. The contest marks the 100th all-time meeting between the two schools, which are are battling for the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk Trophy. Both teams are looking to rebound from home losses last weekend.
Illinois suffered a 42-31 setback against Purdue, but the statistics show that the Fighting Illini are an improved team this season, especially on the defensive side of the ball. After surrendering 469.3 yards and 39.5 points per game last year, the Illini have trimmed those totals to 305.2 yards and 26.7 points allowed per contest. Senior linebacker J Leman has led the defense, averaging a Big Ten-best 11.7 tackles per game. He notched a career-best 19 tackles in Illinois' 17-10 loss to Ohio State, earning him Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Offensively, true freshman quarterback Isiah "Juice" Williams has sparked the Illini, averaging 14.4 yards per completion. He has connected with eight different players for 30-yard receptions or better. On the running attack, Pierre Thomas leads the way with 64.4 yards per outing and five touchdowns. Rashard Mendenhall has also averaged 47.9 yards per game with four scores. Williams rushed for a career-high 145 yards on 22 carries and scored his first touchdown on a 20-yard run in the first series of the game.
The Wildcats fell to top-ranked Ohio State with a 54-10 decision last Saturday. C.J. Bacher led the Wildcats offensively through most of their last outing. He was 17-of-28 for 212 yards before being replaced by Mike Kafka midway through the third quarter. The team's rushing leader, sophomore tailback Tyrell Sutton ran for 57 yards and caught seven passes for 75 against the Buckeyes. On defense, senior safety and co-captain Bryan Heinz returned to action against the Buckeyes after missing the Wildcats' first 10 games with ankle and foot injuries.
Kickoff is slated for noon CT, and ESPN360 will broadcast the game to an internet audience.