Blog Entry

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 8

Posted on: October 23, 2011 6:57 am

Posted by Adam Jacobi

A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNER: The fans at Spartan Stadium

The scene in East Lansing Saturday night was Big Ten football at its best: a packed house under the lights, a national audience, and two highly-ranked programs duking it out for all 60 minutes. The end of the Wisconsin-Michigan State game was phenomenal beyond comparison, of course, but even without the miracle touchdown from Kirk Cousins to Keith Nichol to finish the game off it was still probably the best of the year in the Big Ten. This time, there was no collapse, no widespread ineptitude, nothing but a mighty good football game.

So being that the fans at Spartan stadium were nice and loud (and probably, ahem, well-lubricated by the time of the late kickoff) and they got to see such a stellar effort by both sides, the myriad big plays by MSU -- including the blocked punt for a touchdown being celebrated above -- and the astonishing game-winning play, yes, they are all the winners here. I've personally been part of a home crowd who saw a game anywhere close to that once: Purdue at Iowa, 2002. That was an incredible, euphoric experience, and Saturday's MSU win hit those notes of amazement even better than the 2002 game did. Sparty fans, you don't need to be told this, but you just witnessed a game for the ages. Treasure it.  

LOSER: Russell Wilson's Heisman campaign

For the first half of the season, Russell Wilson looked like a great quarterback making fools of bad defenses (Nebraska included). His yards per throw not only led the NCAA, it was a full yard ahead of the pace to set a new FBS record, at 12.16. Wilson was a legitimate Heisman contender, and hey, with what Wisconsin was doing to everybody on its schedule, why not?

Unfortunately, on Saturday, Wilson looked like a quarterback who hadn't played a good defense all year, playing a good defense. The end result was several ill-advised throws, two picks, an intentional grounding call for a safety, and easily the worst start of his brief Badger career: 14-21, 223 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs (Yes, that is his worst start. Like we said, bad defenses). Now, Wilson did engineer four touchdown drives, so it's not as if he was beaten into submission all night, but the offense completely fell apart when Montee Bell was on the sidelines, leading one to wonder if the key to keeping the Badger offense rolling has never actually been Wilson to begin with. 

WINNER: Keith Nichol

Keith Nichol, seen at right with a very good reason to smile, hasn't had very many opportunities to be a hero in his college career, though it seemed at the start that he'd have chances at every turn; he was originally recruited by Bob Stoops to be a quarterback for Oklahoma, and he only went to MSU because of the emergence of one Sam Bradford down there. Once Nichol transferred to Michigan State, he split time in a QB platoon with Kirk Cousins at the beginning of 2009 before Cousins was named the full-time starter.

Now, there are plenty of quarterbacks who would have simply transferred to an FCS school in search of immediate playing time at that point, and nobody would have begrudged Nichol if that was the path he had chosen. Instead, a spate of WR suspensions going into the 2009 Alamo Bowl against Texas Tech prompted Nichol to switch to wideout, and while he hasn't set the world on fire there, he has at least remained a productive 4th option for Cousins -- and a loyal teammate to the rest of the program. It takes a lot of maturity to catch passes from the guy who beat you out for a starting role at QB, and if that doesn't sound true, try beign forced into a different job at work and taking orders from the person who took the job you wanted. Right. Not fun.

So, seeing Nichol go through the first 59 minutes and 59 seconds of the game without a catch, only to become the hero on the last play like that? That's not only a joy, it's a testament to program stability. Does a hypothetical freshman backup wideout in Nichol's stead know to be in that position to look for a deflection? Does that hypothetical WR also have the will to push the ball across the plane against multiple tacklers? Neither is a given, but we do know the answer is yes for Nichol. The phrase "couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy" is trite to the point that it's usually used sarcastically, but it absolutely applies here.

LOSER: Ron Zook, again

Forget the 21-14 final score of the Illinois-Purdue game, please, because it paints a very inaccurate picture of how close the contest really was. The Boilermakers ran out to a 21-0 lead in the first half, and Illinois never touched the ball again after bringing the game to 21-14. Despite the large lead Purdue rang up in the win, we'll refrain from saying the game "didn't feel like an upset," because it absolutely did; Illinois had scoring chances but blew them, while Caleb TerBush and the rest of the Purdue offense just flailed ineffectually in the second half and got a win to show for it anyway. 

Illinois should not have been so mentally flat coming into the game, though, especially coming right off a loss to Ohio State (who, like Michigan, was off this week) where the Illini handed the anemic OSU offense scoring chances in the second half time and time again. The mental errors need to be corrected coming off a game like that, not magnified. That is on Ron Zook and his coaching staff, 100%. And so even with Illinois at 6-2, it's that "2" that looms larger at this point in the season, and that threatens to balloon in a hurry if Zook doesn't get the team back on track. Otherwise, there's really no telling how much more patience the Illinois brass will have for him. 

WINNER: Marvin McNutt

Coming into this week's action against Indiana, Iowa WR Marvin McNutt just needed one TD to break the all-time Hawkeye receiving touchdown record of 21 that he shared with Tim Dwight and Danan Hughes. McNutt got that touchdown on Saturday. Then he got two more. In the first half. In related news, the Hawkeyes-Hoosiers game was not very close.

McNutt now has 41 catches for 757 yards and eight TDs in seven games thus far, all of which lead the team by substantial margins. If he keeps that pace up for the rest of the year, he would shatter Iowa single-season receiving records in both yardage and scoring -- and he would also set Iowa career marks in receptions and receiving yardage to go with his touchdown mark. So keep your eyes on No. 7, Iowa fans; he's probably the best wide receiver in school history.

LOSER:  PersaStrength

It would be inappropriate to lay the struggles of Northwestern at the feet of Dan Persa, since he's hardly the worst performer on the Wildcats; for one, Persa isn't responsible for the defense, which currently gives up about 250 yards of passing per game and can't crack the top 100 in FBS in pass efficiency defense.

That said, though, Persa is at least the most visible of the Wildcats, and is so by the direct actions of an athletic department that hyped him as "PersaStrong," even as he (understandably) struggled to recover from a severe Achilles injury. And the fact is, Persa's just not at the level he played at last season. His mobility is hampered to the point that he doesn't run designed rushes, and he doesn't have the same timing down with his receivers that he did last year. He also doesn't seem entirely recovered from that injury, though he's at least at the point in the process where it's going to take play on the field to get back to the "100%" of 2010 and not more time with team doctors.

All in all, though, Persa's barely even beating out Kain Colter for the starting QB role, and while we expect Persa to at least continue that mastery of the starting lineup, the fact that Colter's still getting snaps there every week demonstrates that even the Northwestern coaches don't fully trust Dan Persa's leg yet. And given that, it seems more than a little silly that he was the focus of a Heisman campaign coming into the season, doesn't it? 

Since: Aug 26, 2008
Posted on: October 24, 2011 2:20 pm

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 8

Genius post Over the Rheign.  They are smug pricks because they hold press conferences.  Doesn’t every team have a post game press conference?  Man, what a complete boner you are.

Since: Oct 24, 2011
Posted on: October 24, 2011 1:45 pm

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 8

The entire big ten both lost and won this weekend... it lost because of the stupid BCS standings are extremely flawed, with Wisconsin losing it pretty much drops the big ten out of ANY title opporunities, with no unbeatens left and the national bias toward SEC and Big 12 teams going against the Big Ten. Heck, even the terrible ACC gets more consideration than the Big Ten.
The win side for the Big Ten is that they now have 5 teams in the top 20 of the BCS, which is more than any other conference. The SEC has 6 teams, but it is quite obvious that Auburn does not belong with 3 losses, and chances are the SEC will only have 5 by this time next week.
WIN Of the Big Ten teams, only 2 do not have their sole loss against one of the other Ranked Big Ten schools, being PSU and MSU. When you look at the losses, Wisc and Michigan have only lost to MSU, and Nebraska's only lost to Wisconsin. PSU's only loss was week one against what I feel is an overrated Bama team. How the Big Ten is NOT considered the power conference in FCS is more than anyone will ever know. Im sure any of Wisc, MSU or Nebraska could hang there if not beat LSU, and would likely beat Bama, which is Wisconsin with a weaker QB and slighty better D. It is obvious that Big Ten has more very good teams than the SEC, but because of LSU, and the fact that all SEC teams are given the benefit of the doubt because it is the money conference, do not have more than one team in the top ten. The Big Ten also has 2 strong heisman candidates (How Montee Ball is not a forerunner is anyone's guess... average 2.5 rushing Tds over 14 games) and Russell Wilson.
LOSS Another major loss for the Big Ten is the fact that MSU still has Nebraska on its schedule, which will mean one of the two will likely drop from the BCS standings, and Nebraska still has 3 games against top 20 ranked teams (MSU, Michigan, and PSU) means that likely 3 out of the four will have 2 or more losses, which is a death mark in any conference except SEC and Big 12. The Big ten has a BRUTAL conference schedule for ALL of its ranked teams, and now a title game, meaning that we could see a team that would be undefeated or one loss where they were last year (Neb in Big 12) with possibly 3-4 conference losses. Chances look right now that we will see a MSU Wisc rematch in the Big Ten title game, and even if its neither of those two, we are looking at the runner up in the Big Ten having 2 conference losses, which destroys chances of having 2 Big Ten teams in BCS games.
TIE LSU and Bama get their war as 1 and 2 and OKSU is a huge wild card. This opens the door for a one loss team in the Title game, but it will likely NOT be a Big Ten team, even if MSU or Wisc wins out from here. should a one loss team make it, it will be Bama or possibly and Oklahoma team that lost to an average TTU team at home because of the anti Big Ten (sans Ohio St.) stance the BCS committee seems to hold.
MAJOR LOSER: College football and the BCS. With the Big Ten being BRUTAL and beating the tar out of each other, the conference is being forgotten by the media and because of that, the BCS rankings. The Big Ten will most likely produce a better 2 loss team than the ACC and Big 12's unbeatens. There is even chance the Big Ten has a 3-4 loss team that can play with and have a good chance to beat the Big 12 and ACC champion in Nebraska and/ or Michigan. This will KILL any argument for the BCS rankings and will make the Big Ten look really bad because of the possibility of 3 very good 2 loss teams and a very good 3-4 loss team. The remainder of the season will show me correct or wrong.
MAJOR WINNER: The Big Ten. Given the board chooses to, the big ten now has the schedule to add 2 more major players should they choose to. Missouri has already shown major interest in the Big Ten, but Boise State could be a team that would be interested in joining. Imagine a Legends Division with BSU, MSU, Michigan, and Nebraska and Leaders wtih OSU, PSU, Wisconsin, and Missouri. If the big ten were willing to do that, the SEC would become the second best conference and we would see a Big Ten team in the title game nearly every year... just a thought..

Since: Oct 20, 2009
Posted on: October 24, 2011 11:50 am

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 8

rollupurpantlen...I'm also a big PSU fan but realize they haven't beaten a decent opponent yet. Giving up 400+ yards against a 2 win team is something the old school PSU defenses would allow. The majority of our wins come against teams with losing records or weak OOC teams. In closing, Penn State is not very good and it will show when we face another good opponent not named Alabama.

Since: Oct 24, 2011
Posted on: October 24, 2011 10:54 am

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 8

I am a huge PSU fan and even I will admit that the toughest portion of the schedule is yet to come, but they are playing really well for having two awful QB's on their roster.  I don't know what happen to Boldin since he left High School, but he is not very good and Matt McGloin with his awful Irish mouthpiece is not much better.  The O-line is playing well and RB's and WR's are making up for the awful QB play.  This PSU team reminds me a lot of the OLD SCHOOL psu teams that had great running games and defenses.  I hope that they can at least win 1 out of the last three with Nebraska, OSU and Wisconsin then maybe JOEPA will ride off into the sunset and Urban Meyer will come to Happy Valley!!!!

Since: Feb 20, 2010
Posted on: October 24, 2011 10:45 am

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 8

that timeout by the badgers didn't effect the hailmary, so the throw would have been an extra five yards, but they shouldn't have caught the touchdown no matter far they had to go

Since: Mar 25, 2008
Posted on: October 24, 2011 10:45 am

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 8

"Speaking of zebras, am I the only one who was stunned by the grounding call for a safety?  Wilson was clearly outside the tackle box by about 3 yards..."  Yea, thats what I thought too, but I hadn't heard it mentioned anywhere -- I know I have seen that scenario expained in the NFL, but I'm not sure if that is the rule in college too.  Im certianly not "shocked" though, grounding is probably the most erratically called penalty in the game at every level.<br /><br />This whole notion that Wilson is out of the Heisman race Is pretty stupid, I still think he is in 3rd place behind Luck and Richardson.  This whole anti Russel Wilson arguement popping up is really stupid too. If UW would have went into OT and won w/out throwing a pass (Wilson has the exact same numbers), He would have jumped to the top of the heisman list, and the media would be raving about how he brought them back from 14 down on the road against a top 20 team...

Since: Oct 24, 2011
Posted on: October 24, 2011 10:09 am

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 8

Speaking of zebras, am I the only one who was stunned by the grounding call for a safety?  Wilson was clearly outside the tackle box by about 3 yards, as shown by Herbstreet's telestrator, then scrambled back into the pocket area before throwing.  Hasn't that nullified "grounding" for about the last 10 years of football?

Since: Apr 21, 2007
Posted on: October 24, 2011 9:55 am

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 8

Good post gisparten except for one thing. You're correct about the zebra's although I believe the Sparten's did not have one penelty called agaist them. Emagine that!

Since: Oct 21, 2006
Posted on: October 24, 2011 9:18 am

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 8

"Prime Time" is classified by TV networks regarding advertising dollars as the time when television historically has the highest possible viewing audience. Generally seen as 7-11pm for the most part for program starting time. So yes, on that front, the game started in prime time.

Did the game hurt Wilson's Heisman? For the reasons stated, probably so. He looked pedestrian and average against a team that was ranked in the top defenses in the country. In essence the article is saying, he ran up gaudy numbers against below average defenses the first half of the season. 223 yds, 2 TDs and 2 picks is not a terrible day by any stretch really, but when compared to the rest of the games, that is a big decline. Even as a Spartan fan, I don't think the defense has really been top 3 material. Wisconsin is the best offense they played all year just like MSU is the best defense by far the Badgers played. I can honestly see the B1G championship being a rematch of this game. All Sparty has to do is get past Nebraska this week and I no longer see that as a major hurdle as I once did.

Great game all around though, except the zebras. They made some really bad calls both ways. I almost turned if off and thought Wilson was going to light up the defense when it got to 14-0 so quick. Never would have imagined both teams giving up 14 point leads and I was more than a little worried that Dantonio would just run the ball into the line until the clock ran out or Wisconsin had taken the lead. Should be just about a clear choice for conference game of the year. These two are getting a rather nifty rivalry going.

Since: Oct 10, 2006
Posted on: October 24, 2011 9:17 am

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 8

The sad thing is, if you want Heisman consideration, and your team has a loss, you don't have much of a chance. SO the biggest downfall in Wilson's demise was not his play but that his team lost. Wisconsin had all the momentum at the end of the game, I don't think there are many of us who think the Spartans would have won in overtime. So Bielema's decision to try and win in regulation that backfired and turned the game into a MSU victory, now hurts Wilson's chances. I bet the next hot shot quaterback thinking of going to Wisconsin will think twice. Beilema will be coaching for years and will get another shot at a championship. Wilson however will never get another shot at the Heisman. I Bet Russel Wilson wishes he'd come to Ohio State at this point. At Ohio State, there's nothing wrong with winning in overtime. Apparently there's something tainted about an overtime win at Wisconsin.

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