CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - It's Ohio State and everybody else.
The Buckeyes are the Big Ten's undisputed top team but NCAA sanctions prevent Ohio State from competing in the postseason this year. It's anybody's educated guess as to who plays whom in Indianapolis' everybody-else Big Ten bowl this December. That's because No. 12 Ohio State has lapped its Big Ten competition, whether it's legitimate or pedestrian is open to interpretation.
Take last night's 63-38 pounding of No. 21 Nebraska. One week after giving up just 56 rushing yards to Wisconsin, the Cornhuksers allowed 377 yards and six touchdowns on the ground at Ohio State. It's the second time this year Nebraska's run defense was gashed on the road. At UCLA, the Cornhuskers gave up 344 rushing yards 653 total yards in a 36-30 loss.
Nebraska was stout early, holding the Buckeyes to 10 yards on nine carries after the first quarter. In fact, the Cornhuskers led 17-7 early in the second quarter.
"What changed after the first quarter was not getting off blocks, not making tackles and just not playing well enough," Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini said. "We overall just did not play good enough. Ohio State deserved that football game."
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller's fourth-down, 39-yard touchdown run with 23 seconds left in the first half gave the Buckeyes their 35th point, and history suggests that's enough for Ohio State. The Buckeyes are 272-0-1 when scoring 35 or more points.
A win would have handed Nebraska the mantle as Big Ten frontrunner. Instead, the Cornhuskers were undone by a porous run defense. The 63 points were the most allowed by defensive-minded Pelini in his Nebraska tenure.
Since joining the league last year, Nebraska is 2-3 away from Lincoln. The Cornhuskers have given up a combined 156 points in those road losses. Nebraska beat Penn State 17-14 last year, three days after Joe Paterno was fired, and stomped Minnesota 41-14. Nebraska still has road games at tough venues Michigan State and Iowa this year.
It's Ohio State and everybody else.
Nebraska is just like every other Big Ten bowl-eligible team. Wisconsin remains inconsistent in the running game. Michigan's success depends on quarterback Denard Robinson. Michigan State commits too many penalties and continues to struggle in the passing game. Ditto for Iowa. Purdue ... thanks for showing up. Northwestern struggles to hold leads.
It's Ohio State and everybody else.
Michigan rebounded from a six-turnover effort at Notre Dame to blast Purdue 44-13. Robinson did not throw an interception for the first time this season and ran for 235 yards and four touchdowns. The Wolverines outrushed Purdue 304-56. The Boilermakers converted just 1-of-11 third-down opportunities, committed four turnovers and held the ball 50 percent less than Michigan.
"It was consistent throughout the game that they played better and executed better than we did," Purdue Coach Danny Hope said.
Purdue re-entered the quarterback controversy derby, pulling starter Caleb TerBush for Robert Marve. Rob Henry also saw time at quarterback. Purdue has allowed a combined 95 points in the last two games.
Penn State battled from an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit to score 22 unanswered points and beat previously unbeaten Northwestern 39-28. Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin completed a school-record 35 passes, and the Nittany Lions were 5-of-6 on fourth down.
"A lot of times it's worked out this year, where it's been about field position," Penn State Coach Bill O'Brien said. "I don't think you see me going for it on fourth down backed up inside our own 20 or really on our side of the 50."
McGloin passed for 282 yards and two touchdowns. He now has 1,499 yards, 12 touchdowns and only two interceptions this year.
"(McGloin) understands it's a 60-minute game," O'Brien said. "He's grown up a lot. When you're a senior and playing your last few games here at Penn State, that means a lot to him. Again, I can't say enough about Matt McGloin. He's got the job done to this point this year."
Penn State, which is ineligible for the postseason, has won four straight games. After a tumultuous off-season, the Nittany Lions have shown resilience and toughness. Northwestern struggled in the passing game, going 21-of-36 for only 135 yards. It was Northwestern's sixth straight loss to Penn State.
"We can't throw the ball for 135 yards in a Big Ten game and win," Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "We've got to throw the ball better. It looked like to me that we had a lot of drops. We'll take a look at it and I promise you this that band of brothers in the locker room will stick together. It will be great. Our leadership will step up.
"Every once in a while, once you get your tail whipped, you realize just how hard it is to win a Big Ten football game."
Michigan State fell behind by 17 points in the first quarter but held Indiana scoreless after halftime to rally 31-27. The Spartans had four major penalties costing them 60 yards in the first quarter. Michigan State totaled eight penalties for 115 yards.
"We are 4-2, but that first half is something that you don't forget," Michigan State Mark Dantonio said. "I thought at halftime the players refocused and did a great job setting the tone in the locker room for themselves and started rallying back."
Wisconsin grinded 173 rushing yards in a 31-14 win against Illinois. Running back Montee Ball rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns. He now has 69 rushing touchdowns, four from tying Miami (Ohio) running back Travis Prentice's NCAA record.
The Badgers (4-2, 1-1) scored three touchdowns and rushed for 96 yards in the fourth quarter.
"If everything goes as planned, if we end up where we want to end up at the end of the season, we'll look back at that fourth quarter," Ball said.
The last time the Big Ten experienced this kind of parity or mediocrity if you prefer was 2000. Michigan, Northwestern and Purdue tied atop the league standings with a 6-2 record. Ohio State was 5-3 and Wisconsin, Minnesota and Penn State were 4-4. Perhaps a better measure was 1990, when four teams tied for the league title and six were within one game of the league lead.
"The Big Ten is up for grabs," Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs said. "We are taking it one game at a time and looking at Illini next week."
It's Ohio State and everybody else.
STARS OF THE WEEK
Ohio State Braxton Miller rushed for 186 yards and completed 7-of-14 passes for 127 yards to guide the Buckeyes to their sixth victory, matching last year's win total. Wisconsin running back Montee Ball rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns in the Badgers' 31-14 win against Illinois. Ball now has 69 rushing touchdowns, four shy of tying the NCAA record. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson passed Antwaan Randle El as the Big Ten's career leader for rushing yards by a quarterback. Robinson rushed for 235 yards Saturday and now has 3,905 rushing yards, 10 more than Randle El. Robinson is in fifth place all-time for rushing yards by a quaterback.
Indiana quarterback Cameron Coffman passed for 282 yards and three touchdowns. Michigan State wide receiver Aaron Burbridge caught eight passes for 134 yards. Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde rushed for 140 yards and four touchdowns. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez threw three interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown. Martinez rushed for two touchdowns and threw for one. Purdue defensive end Robert Maci had five tackles, including two for loss, and forced one fumble. Penn State linebacker Gerald Hodges recorded a team-best 11 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, added two pass break-ups and a forced fumble. Northwestern running back Venric Mack returned his second punt for a touchdown this season, only the second Wildcat to do so. Mack finished with 189 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. Illinois backup defensive back Steve Hull recorded a tackle for loss and an interception. Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead suffered a knee injury but should "be fine," running backs coach Ron Brown told the Omaha World-Herald.
1. Ohio State (6-0, 2-0)
Buckeyes have shown they can win in defensive slug-fest or offensive shootout
2 (a). Vacant
Nobody deserves to be here, so they won't be this week
3 (a). Michigan (3-2, 1-0)
Wolverines shake off non-conference losses to blast Purdue
3 (b). Michigan State (4-2, 1-1)
Second-half effort keeps Spartans' title hopes alive
4. Penn State (4-2, 2-0)
Nittany Lions keep fighting, a tribute to Coach Bill O'Brien
5. Northwestern (5-1, 1-1)
Team faded in fourth quarter road loss but offense still formidable
6. Nebraska (4-2, 1-1)
Defense exposed yet again in Big Ten road loss
7. Iowa (3-2, 1-0)
The league's true X-factor; could finish first or last
8. Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1)
Badgers running game has moved up from N.G. (not good) to unk ... unk ... there's no name on it
9. Purdue 3-2 (0-1)
Boilermakers are back at square one, as usual
10. Minnesota (4-1, 0-1)
Big question is when will quarterback MarQueis Gray return?
11. Indiana (2-3, 0-2)
Hoosiers could be a spoiler this year but not a contender
12. Illinois (2-4, 0-2)
Not seeing the promised culture change in Champaign, just embarrassment
Iowa 1-0 3-2
Michigan 1-0 3-2
Northwestern 1-1 5-1
Michigan State 1-1 4-2
Nebraska 1-1 4-2
Minnesota 0-1 4-1
Ohio State 2-0 6-0
Penn State 2-0 4-2
Wisconsin 1-1 4-2
Purdue 1-1 3-2
Indiana 0-2 2-3
Illinois 0-2 2-4
Ohio State 63, Nebraska 38
Michigan 44, Purdue 13
Wisconsin 31, Illinois 14
Penn State 39, Northwestern 28
Michigan State 31, Indiana 27
Iowa at Michigan State, 11 a.m. (ESPN)
Northwestern at Minnesota, 11 a.m. (ESPN2)
Wisconsin at Purdue, 11 a.m. (BTN)
Illinois at Michigan, 2:30 p.m. (ABC)
Ohio State at Indiana, 7 p.m. (BTN)