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Doc's Big Ten News and Notes by Max Gundlach
The Big Ten Conference wrapped up the season with numerous upsets highlighted with a shocker in Columbus. Two teams will lay claim to the conference title and despite a lackluster performance last Saturday, the Michigan Wolverines will receive the automatic conference bid. The most impressive team this season is the Iowa Hawkeyes, who despite having their first five running backs go down with leg injuries and being humiliated in the desert, managed to regroup and finished the conference with a 7-1 record. This is a truly amazing accomplishment and if Kirk Ferentz does not receive every vote for coach of the year, there should be a full investigation. This team won the conference despite being one dimensional and undersized on defense. The following will recap last week's action and preview the upcoming bowls for teams in the conference that have qualified for postseason play.
In order for Iowa to lay claim to the title, the Buckeyes needed to do their part and upset the young, but talented Wolverines. The Bucks really responded well in this game despite all the turmoil that is going on at their campus. Numerous sources felt that this was a make or break game for Coach Jim Tressel, and a loss here might make his job status for the future uncertain. I could not disagree any more with that notion. This is a guy who won a National Championship two season ago and followed that up with an impressive performance in the Fiesta Bowl last season. That is two BCS bowl wins and that will definitely buy you at least one average season.
State trailed 14-7 after one quarter of play before exploding with 27 unanswered points topped off with an outstanding punt return by Ted Ginn Jr from 82 yards out. Michigan struck early in the fourth quarter on a 38-yard touchdown reception by Braylon Edwards but it was too little, too late as the Bucks went on to kick a field goal and win the game by a score of 37-21. Michigan moved the ball well on offense totaling 399 yards but two costly interceptions by QB Chad Henne proved to be their undoing.
This was a disappointing finish to an outstanding season for the Wolverines as they have taken the back door to the Rose Bowl and lost their chance to win an outright conference title by finishing an undefeated 8-0. Lack of experience finally caught up to them but look out for them in the future. They started numerous freshman this season and those players will be much better next season. Everything appears to be in place for a California/Michigan Rose Bowl and expect the Bears to come in around a nine-point favorite. Ohio State finished off their season winning two out of their final three games. They will be playing in Texas for the Holidays and I would imagine it would be the Alamo Bowl.
With the loss by the Wolverines, the winner in Iowa City would lay claim to a share of the Big Ten Title. The trophy arrived in Iowa, but unfortunately for us the Badgers failed to show up. We received a major blow when Wisconsin star RB Anthony Davis did not play due to injury. This guy is injury prone and one has to wonder what his NFL future holds because of the numerous injuries that he has suffered over the course of his collegiate career. As I had previously said, Davis is the only playmaker on offense and without him the Badgers have guys playing out of position and their offense is exposed. QB John Stocco cannot be effective without a strong running game and he must improve during this time off in order for the Badgers to have a chance against a strong SEC team.
The Badgers did tie up the game late in the second quarter on a five yard touchdown run by Booker Stanley but the defense let them down with under one minute remaining when Hawk QB Drew Tate scrambled, then threw a 51-yard TD to a wide open Clinton Solomon to end the first half. That was Solomon's second touchdown of the day and that would be all the Hawks would need to come away victorious. Bucky had a chance to jump on Iowa early but failed to score any points off of two interceptions by Jim Leonard in Iowa territory. Stocco returned the favor in the second half as Iowa took advantage of two interceptions and converted them into ten points. The final score finished up 30-7 and Iowa was able to celebrate the championship on its own field. I wonder how they were able to get the trophy there so fast, because the Michigan game ended right before kickoff. As I said before, Kirk Ferentz deserves credit for getting this team to the title. I cannot remember a team with no running game winning the Big Ten Conference. This is a remarkable accomplishment. Both of these teams should end up in New Year's Day Florida Bowls.
Joe Pa finally got his first conference win and it seemed like he matched his point total from the previous seven games in this contest. Betting on Michigan State will drive you to drink since they are the most unpredictable team in the conference and have been this way for the past two decades. Both of these teams will not be bowling, but State does have a vacation coming in Hawaii in two weeks.
Kyle Orton finished his career in style with a six-touchdown, 500-yard performance as Purdue beat in-state rival Indiana. With the performance Orton should edge out Tate for first team all conference despite being benched near the end of the season.
Northwestern survived a scare from in-state rival Illinois, winning the game in overtime 28-21. Standout Illini QB Jon Beutjer did not even play in this game and it was likely Ron Turner's last game as head coach.
Due to a poor non-conference performance and parity within the conference, the Big Ten may fall short of their allotted bowl bids unless Northwestern can win in the islands this Saturday. Here is how I predict the bowls will go:
Capitol One- Iowa
Alamo- Ohio State
Motor City- Northwestern (Assuming they beat HI)
Look for our special Bowl issue coming out in a couple of weeks which will do an in-depth analysis on the bowl games in which the Big Ten teams are participating in.
My free pick lives on in blowout fashion as, "The Civil War" went the way of the Beavers. This week we will go with Memphis (-3 ½) over South Florida. YTD Record 8-1-2.