Nov. 21, 2011
Michigan State Clinches Big Ten Championship Game Berth: With a victory over Indiana, and coupled with a Michigan triumph over Nebraska on Saturday, Michigan State will represent the Legends Division in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 3. The Spartans improved to 6-1 in conference play this season with their win over the Hoosiers last weekend. Michigan State can move to 7-1 and clinch the outright division championship with a victory over Northwestern on Saturday. Even if Michigan State and the division's second-place team, Michigan, were to finish tied atop the division standings at the end of the season, the Spartans hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with their Oct. 15 victory over the Wolverines.
It all Comes Down to This: While the Legends Division representative has been settled, the Big Ten Championship Game representative from the Leaders Division will be determined during the final weekend of the regular season. Division leader Penn State, which has already clinched at least a share of the division title with a 6-1 record in Big Ten play, travels to second-place Wisconsin, 5-2 in conference action. The winner between the Nittany Lions and Badgers will be the Leaders Division representative in the inaugural championship game. Both teams won on the road last weekend as Penn State knocked off Ohio State, while Wisconsin kept its division championship hopes alive after rallying to defeat Illinois.
Michigan, Wisconsin Eye Share of Division Titles: While Michigan State and Penn State have each earned at least a share of their respective division championships, two other squads still remain in the running to claim of piece of the divisional titles. In the Legends Division, Michigan eyes a piece of the division crown, but would need a Northwestern win over Michigan State, in addition to a win over rival Ohio State this weekend to share the title. In the Leaders Division, the Badgers hope to force a tie atop the division standings when they host Penn State on Saturday. A win against the Nittany Lions not only clinches the Badgers a share of the division title, but also the head-to-head tiebreaker over Penn State to send Wisconsin to the Big Ten Championship Game.
Big Ten in the BCS: The Big Ten is one of just three conferences with five or more teams among the top 25 in the latest Bowl Championship Series (BCS) standings. Michigan State leads the conference contingent at No. 14 after claiming at least a share of the Legends Division title and a berth in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game. Other Big Ten schools among the top 25 are No. 15 Michigan, No. 16 Wisconsin, No. 19 Penn State and No. 21 Nebraska.
Record Attendance: Welcoming more than 400,000 fans to last week's games, the Big Ten set a new all games attendance record. More than 5.6 million fans have flocked to Big Ten stadiums this year, breaking the old mark of 5.5 million set in 2009. The all game average of 71,970 would be third highest in conference history, while the conference games only attendance average of 71,757 would be the fourth highest in conference history. The conference also surpassed the three million mark in total attendance for conference games only and is poised set the new conference record for total attendance in a conference season next week, passing the 2010 total of 3,176,509.
Division Matchups: The final weekend of the regular season will feature four division games, including two in each division. In the Legends Division, Nebraska will host Iowa on Friday afternoon, while Michigan State plays at Northwestern on Saturday. In the Leaders Division, Purdue hits the road to face in-state rival Indiana, while Penn State heads to Wisconsin to face the Badgers. The tilt between Penn State and Wisconsin will decide the Leaders Division representative in the Big Ten Championship Game. With the beginning of divisional play, the Big Ten has instituted a new tiebreaker to determine the Big Ten Football Championship Game participants, if necessary. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head matchups, so a win by Wisconsin would give the Badgers and Nittany Lions identical 6-2 Big Ten records, but Wisconsin would get the championship game berth.
Friday Football: A pair of Big Ten teams will be a part of Friday's college football action around the country. At noon ET, Iowa will face Nebraska in Lincoln for the inaugural Heroes Game between the two teams. In the first year of the Heroes Game Trophy, the two teams will begin an annual tradition where not only the trophy will be on the line, but the programs will honor a citizen from their respective states who are admired for their brave deeds and noble qualities. These honorees will have their names and hometowns etched on the Heroes Game Trophy and will be recognized during the game for their extraordinary acts.
Ball Joins Elite Class: When Wisconsin's Montee Ball added three scores to his single-season Big Ten record touchdown total against Illinois last week, he reached a landmark only four other players in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) had accomplished. With 30 total touchdowns on the season, Ball became just the fifth player in FBS history to score 30 or more touchdowns in a single season. He is the first player since Central Florida's Kevin Smith reached the end zone 30 times in 2007. Ball needs nine total touchdowns to match the single-season record set in 1988 by former Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders. The national leader in scoring at 16.36 points per game, Ball has 25 rushing scores on the season, one shy of the conference's single-season record. He is tied for sixth on the conference's all-time list with 47 career rushing touchdowns, and his 52 total touchdowns rank seventh in conference annals.
Going for Double-Digit Wins: As many as three conference teams can reach the 10-wins mark with victories this weekend. Michigan can claim its 10th win of the season with a win over its rival Ohio State on Saturday. The Wolverines eye their first 10-win campaign since they won 11 games in 2006. Michigan State eyes its 10th win of the season, but will need to knock off Northwestern on the road to do so. The Spartans won 11 games a year ago and look to win 10 or more games in consecutive seasons for the first time since joining the Big Ten in 1949. Penn State and Wisconsin each have nine wins this season, but only one will get to 10 wins on Saturday as the two programs square off. Penn State eyes double-digit wins for the second time in three years, having won 11 games in 2009, while Wisconsin eyes a third consecutive season with 10 or more wins.
Current Big Ten Stat Leaders: With one game to go in the conference season, Big Ten players are jockeying for position in hopes of finishing as the statistical champions of the 2011 season for conference games only. With an average of 158.0 rushing yards per game, Wisconsin's Montee Ball is on pace to lead the conference in rushing, the highest average since 2002 when Penn State's Larry Johnson averaged 183.1 yards per game. Already with 122 points scored in conference games, more than double the total of next closest player, Ball is the new conference games only record holder for most points in a single season. Badger quarterback Russell Wilson looks to make it two years in a row a Wisconsin player would lead the conference in pass efficiency as he looks to maintain his 186.8 rating, which currently rates as the best efficiency rating in Big Ten history. With 7.4 receptions per game, Illinois' A.J. Jenkins holds a narrow edge over Iowa's Marvin McNutt, who is second with 7.0 catches per game. Jenkins looks to become the first Illini to lead the Big Ten in catches since Kameno Bell did so in 1991. The roles are reversed in receiving yards as McNutt is averaging 118.1 yards per game, just ahead of Jenkins' 114.4 yards per game. McNutt is on pace to become the first Iowa player to lead the conference in receiving yards since Deven Harberts achieved the feat in 1988.
Northwestern Gives Big Ten Nine Bowl-Eligible Teams: After earning their fourth straight victory, including Saturday's win over Minnesota, Northwestern became the Big Ten's ninth bowl-eligible team. The Wildcats have nine bowl appearances in their history, including the last three seasons. Northwestern joins Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin as the nine postseason-eligible teams from the Big Ten, the most of any conference in the nation. Purdue remains in the hunt for a bowl berth, and can become the 10th conference squad to become bowl eligible with a win over in-state rival Indiana. A Boilermaker win would match the Big Ten record of 10 bowl-eligible teams set in 2007.
Trophy Games: In a conference with 16 traditional trophies, one of the conference's oldest keepsakes will be on the line during the final weekend of the regular season. The Old Oaken Bucket will be up for grabs when Purdue travels to Bloomington to face Indiana, the 87th time the teams will meet with the trophy at stake. Contested each year since 1925, Purdue holds a 56-27-3 advantage in trophy game series, and a 70-37-6 advantage overall. The Hoosiers look to maintain control of the bucket following a 34-31 overtime win last season. In addition, the inaugural Heroes Game Trophy will be up for grabs when Nebraska hosts Iowa. The Huskers hold a 26-12-3 advantage in the series, with the first game between the two as members of the Big Ten set for Friday.