1 thing I learned about every Big Ten team in Week 12
A week ago in this space, we wrote about the inevitability of there being a 4-way tie for the Big Ten West lead this November.
This week, that outcome has been surpassed by the even more inevitable: the anticipated showdown between an 11-0 Ohio State and 11-0 Michigan is here. That which had been written in pencil since the schedule was released can now be inscribed with ink. Or a chisel.
However, Saturday proved why you previously needed to use a pencil.
Illinois and Maryland both came agonizingly close to spoiling the Big Ten’s Game of the Century. Both the Illini and Terrapins had the ball with an opportunity to win late in the fourth quarter, which hasn’t been true of any other teams the Wolverines and Buckeyes have faced this season.
And in the West?
After an improbable late win over Minnesota, Iowa has risen to its inevitable status as the team to beat heading into the final week. The Hawkeyes just need to beat Nebraska to set up a rematch with either Ohio State or Michigan in Indianapolis.
Overall, it was the best week of Big Ten football of 2022 — by a mile. Let’s dive into it.
Here’s what I learned about each Big Ten team in Week 12.
Illinois: Best in the West, but not good enough
This season, no other team in the Big Ten West is capable of bringing Michigan down to the wire at The Big House. Illinois is the team that should have won this division.
The proof is in the results. The Illini are 4-1 against their West opponents, with the lone loss coming to a Purdue team that benefitted from an officiating crew that called any sliver of contact from an Illinois defensive back.
But Illinois finished 0-3 against the East, matching its solid effort against Michigan with inexplicable losses to Michigan State and Indiana. And that is why the Illini now need a minor miracle to get to Indianapolis.
Indiana: What a show of guts
The Hoosiers were outgained 540-288 by Michigan State — and won.
Indiana trailed 34-17 with 6:17 left in the third quarter — and won.
Quarterback Dexter Williams II completed 2 passes — the entire game! — and beat the quarterback who threw for 298 yards.
IU had a potential game-winning 37-yard field goal blocked at the end of overtime — then scored a touchdown and 2-point conversion in the second OT to beat the Spartans 39-31.
This team, which lost 7 straight, never quit. Not on its season, and not in this game. What this team lacks in skill and scheme, it carries in guts.
Iowa: Hawkeyes or Cockroaches?
You cannot kill Iowa football.
The entire college football world to Iowa: pic.twitter.com/QE9w0OOd4E
— David Eickholt (@DavidEickholt) November 20, 2022
Minnesota pulverized Iowa’s vaunted run defense for 312 rushing yards — but only a single touchdown.
The Hawks, meanwhile, set up their game-winning field goal drive with — what else? — a Jack Campbell interception.
The Pick-6️⃣ was taken off the board (stepped out of bounds), but it's still an INT.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 20, 2022
Stop fighting Iowa football. For Iowa football is inevitable.
Maryland: Another tragic ending
For the second time in 5 years, Maryland gave Ohio State all it could handle. But for the 36th straight time, the Terrapins lost against a ranked opponent. The streak still dates all the way to a win over No. 21 NC State on Nov. 21, 2010 — Ralph Friedgen’s final home game.
I think it’s safe to deem that one a bad firing.
The end of this game was particularly undignified for Maryland. Taulia Tagovailoa injured his knee on a strip-sack that the Buckeyes turned into a touchdown to create a 43-30 final score that didn’t jibe with the reality of how tight this game was.
Michigan: Ugly is beautiful
Forget style points. The Wolverines proved they have what it takes to win a game when everything isn’t going their way. And that may be an important skill to possess a week from now.
Michigan State: Ugly is ugly
If things go south for Mel Tucker long-term, this loss will be remembered as one of the lows. You cannot blow a 17-point third quarter lead to the Big Ten’s shakiest offense outside of Iowa and Rutgers. Especially when that team finishes the game 2-for-7 passing.
It should literally be impossible to blow a 3-score lead with 21 minutes left in that scenario.
Minnesota: A cursed program
Someone needs to burn sage at Huntington Bank Stadium, because the Gophers are inexorably cursed. At this point there’s no other explanation for Minnesota’s 8-game losing streak to Iowa.
Minnesota was on its way to a game-winning drive when superstar running back Mohamed Ibrahim fumbled at the Iowa 9 with 5 minutes left.
The Gophers forced a 3-and-out, setting up another probable game-winning drive until Jack Campbell picked off a deflected Athan Kaliakmanis pass. Here Minnesota appeared to get a break — Campbell returned the interception for a touchdown, but was incorrectly ruled out of bounds.
Instead, that ended up being the worst break of all. The Hawkeyes were able to take 1:35 off the clock and kick the game-winning field goal with 31 seconds left.
Sage. Lots of sage.
Nebraska: In need of more sage than Minnesota
With a 15-14 loss to Wisconsin, Nebraska is 1-13 in games decided by one score over the past 2 seasons.
Loooottttts of sage. And a new coach.
Northwestern: Bad team, good fight
The Wildcats are easily one of the 5 worst teams of the post-expansion B1G. But give the Cats credit for making Purdue play all 60 minutes of a 17-9 win that keeps the Boilers in contention for the Big Ten West crown.
Ohio State: See Michigan
Like the Wolverines, the Buckeyes couldn’t have asked for a better prep for The Game. No matter how tight things get next week, both teams now know they can win close games.
Penn State: The 12-team CFP can’t come soon enough
It took a while for the Nittany Lions to truly find their stride this season, but no team in the B1G is clicking on all cylinders like Penn State this November. Penn State has outscored its opponents 130-24 this month.
It won’t mean a thing this season, where there is no path to the College Football Playoff. But when the field does expand to 12, this is exactly the kind of team you don’t want to see in your bracket.
Purdue: Streak breakers
The Boilermakers beat Northwestern at Ross-Ade Stadium for the first time since 2007, snapping a 5-game home losing streak against the Wildcats.
The No. 1 song in the country the last time this happened:
Now the Boilers must beat Indiana and have Nebraska beat Iowa in order to reach the Big Ten championship game.
Rutgers: You stink
The Scarlet Knights finished with 32 rushing yards on 35 attempts. They were tackled for loss 15 times, “only” 4 of which were sacks. Rutgers committed 3 turnovers that Penn State converted into 21 points in a 55-10 blowout.
This was a pathetic showing from Greg Schiano’s team. Rutgers is almost always at a talent deficit, but rarely outworked. Penn State made the Scarlet Knights quit and cry uncle.
Wisconsin: Give Jim the job
We’ve seen enough. Wisconsin is going bowling for the 21st straight season. The Badgers shouldn’t waste much more time before naming Jim Leonhard the program’s full-time head coach.
The fact Wisconsin still won after Nick Herbig was ejected (twice!) and Graham Mertz passed for 83 yards on 18 attempts is impressive.