Nov. 26, 2012
The Matchup: Nebraska and Wisconsin will meet in the Big Ten Football Championship Game on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The Huskers, after winning the Legends Division last weekend, eye their first Big Ten Championship in just their second year as a conference member. The Badgers, representing the Leaders Division, make a return trip to the Big Ten Football Championship Game after appearing in the inaugural event a season ago. The Badgers are looking for their third straight conference title for the first time in program history. The teams will compete for the Amos Alonzo Stagg Championship Trophy and the right to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl Game on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif.
Perfection: With its victory over Michigan on Saturday, Ohio State secured the sixth perfect season in program history, finishing the season with a 12-0 record. The Buckeyes’ unblemished record marks the first perfect season since Ohio State went 14-0 in 2002. The last Big Ten team to post an unbeaten record in the regular season was also OSU, which went 12-0 in 2006. Big Ten teams have now produced 34 perfect seasons (including postseason, no ties) and 59 undefeated seasons (including postseason and ties). The Buckeyes are one of just two teams in the nation to finish the regular season with an unblemished record, joining Notre Dame with an identical 12-0 mark.
History Between the Huskers and Badgers: Since it entered the Big Ten at the start of the 2011 season, Nebraska has faced Wisconsin twice during the regular season, with the teams splitting the matchups. In 2011, the Badgers defeated the Huskers in their first Big Ten Conference game, 48-17. This season, the teams once again met in the conference opener with the Huskers earning the victory, 30-27. After trailing by 17 points early in the third quarter, Nebraska rallied to score the game’s next 20 points to earn the victory. In seven all-time meetings between the programs, Nebraska holds a 4-3 advantage over the Badgers.
How They Got Here: Boasting a 7-1 record in Big Ten play, Nebraska won its final six games of the regular season to cement its spot in Indianapolis. After opening the conference season with a come-from-behind win over Wisconsin, the Huskers dropped a road contest to Ohio State, making them 1-1 in the Big Ten. Nebraska won its final six games, after trailing in four of those contests, to secure the Legends Division title. Wisconsin represents the Leaders Division after finishing behind Ohio State and Penn State, which are ineligible for postseason play. After falling to the Huskers on Sept. 29, the Badgers won three straight games to pull to 3-1 in conference play. Despite an overtime setback to Michigan State, Wisconsin clinched its berth in the title game with a road win over Indiana. In total, the Badgers have lost their conference contests by an average of four points, three of which have come in overtime.
A Look at the Huskers: Ranking among the national leaders in scoring offense, total offense and rushing offense, Nebraska boasts plenty of offensive firepower. Guided by quarterback Taylor Martinez, a three-year starter, the Husker offense is averaging more than 35 points per game and averages better than 460 yards per game. Nebraska’s leading rusher is sophomore Ameer Abdullah, who has totaled 1,071 yards on the ground this season after assuming the starting role following an injury to Rex Burkhead. Burkhead ranks third on the team in rushing yards this season after appearing in just six games, but did play in the Huskers’ season finale against Iowa. Wide receiver Kenny Bell is fourth in the Big Ten with 65.8 receiving yards per contest. Defensively, Nebraska is the nation’s top defense against the pass, allowing just 152.2 yards per game, and ranks 15th the country in total defense at 318.3 yards per game. Defensively, Eric Martin is tied for second in sacks and third in tackles for loss with 8.5 and 14.5, respectively, while Daimion Stafford is tied for the Big Ten lead with four interceptions.
Breaking Down the Badgers: The statistical strengths of the Wisconsin Badgers have been the defense and rushing attacks, both ranking among the top 25 in the country. Defensively, Wisconsin ranks in the top 25 in scoring, total, pass and rush defense, one of only two conference teams to appear in the top 25 of all four categories. Offensively, Montee Ball leads a talented rushing attack that ranks 23rd nationally. Individually, Ball ranks eighth in the country at 127.3 yards per game this season, while the number has jumped to 146.0 yards per game during the conference season. The senior has rushed for 18 touchdowns this season, helping him become the all-time NCAA leader in total touchdowns last week against Penn State. Adding depth to the Badger backfield is James White and Melvin Gordon, both of whom are averaging better than 6.5 yards per carry this year. Defensively, linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland rank among the Big Ten’s top 10 in tackles, with Taylor ranking second with 115 stops. Devin Smith is tied for fifth in the Big Ten with three interceptions this season.
That’s the Record: With his 17-yard touchdown run in the opening quarter against Penn State on Saturday, Wisconsin’s Montee Ball scored the 79th touchdown of his career to become the all-time NCAA leader in total touchdowns. He passes Travis Prentice of Miami (Ohio), who completed his career with 78 total scores. Ball also recorded the 73rd rushing touchdown of his career, which ties Prentice for the most rushing scores all-time. In addition to holding the conference record for total touchdowns, rushing touchdowns and points, Ball ranks in the top 10 in rushing yards and all-purpose yards.
Elite Coaching Starts: Only five first-year coaches in Big Ten history have won 11 or more games in their debut seasons, and Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is one of three current Big Ten coaches to have accomplished that feat. Guiding the Buckeyes to an undefeated 12-0 season, Meyer joins Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema as the only two coaches in conference history to win 12 contests in their first seasons. Bielema (who won 12 games in his first season in 2006), Meyer and current Michigan coach Brady Hoke (who won 11 games in 2011 in his first year in Ann Arbor) join Ohio State’s Earle Bruce and Michigan’s Fielding Yost as the only coaches to win 11 or more games in their first season. In addition, Meyer’s 12 consecutive victories to start his Buckeye tenure are tied for the third-best start by a new Football Bowl Subdivision coach.
Two More Heading to the Postseason: A pair of Big Ten teams recorded their sixth victories on Saturday, securing bowl eligibility. Michigan State defeated Minnesota and Purdue knocked off Indiana last weekend, giving the conference seven bowl-eligible teams. The Spartans have appeared in 22 bowl games in their history, and will play in the postseason for the sixth straight season. MSU posted a victory over Georgia in the Outback Bowl last season. Purdue will make its 17th postseason appearance in program history, claiming victories in their last two bowl games. Last season, the Boilermakers defeated Western Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Michigan State and Purdue join Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin as the Big Ten’s bowl eligible teams.
Finishing on Top: With the completion of the regular season, the Big Ten crowned stat champions in conference games only for the 2012 season. For the second straight season, Wisconsin’s Montee Ball led the conference in rushing yards at 146.0 per contest, the third time in the last four seasons a Badger running back has led the Big Ten in the category. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez led the conference in total offense, accounting for 280.9 yards per game. Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson led the Big Ten in receptions (6.0 per game) and receiving yards (76.8 per game), the first time the same player has led the conference in both categories since Purdue’s Keith Smith in 2009. He is the first Nittany Lion to lead the Big Ten in receiving yards and the first since Bobby Engram in 1995 to lead the conference in receptions. Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde and Ball finished the year tied for the conference lead in points per game, each averaging 11.2 points per game. It marks the third year in a row Ball has led the Big Ten in scoring, and is the first time a player has led the conference in scoring three years running since at least 1939. Hyde is the first Buckeye to lead the Big Ten in scoring since Eddie George in 1995.
Another Banner Year: The Big Ten concluded the regular season with the second-highest season attendance among all games and conference games only. In 83 games this season, the Big Ten welcomed 5,842,112 fans this year, behind only the 6,008,124 patrons that attended conference contests a season ago. Among conference games only, nearly 3.4 million fans passed through the turnstiles in 48 Big Ten contests this year. The averages of 70,387 patrons among all games and the conference games only average of 70,493 rank eighth all-time in Big Ten history in their respective categories.