November 9, 2012

Around the Big Ten: Week 11 Notes

Game of the week: Indiana (4-5, 2-3) at Wisconsin (5-5, 3-3)

This could not have been what the Big Ten envisioned when it announced the birth of a conference title contest in 2010.

Following a thrilling 42-39 Badger victory over Michigan State in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game last season, this week's matchup between an underachieving Wisconsin squad and a below .500 Hoosier team is for the driver's seat for the Leaders Division bid.

This has turned into one of the most unlikely big-time games in Big Ten history, and perhaps the most important game for IU in the past 20 years. Should the Hoosiers win, with Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for postseason competition, they would control their own destiny on the road to Lucas Oil Field.

Who would have thought?

IU would own the same conference record as UW (3-3) and own the head-to-head tiebreaker. More importantly Indiana finishes the season with a tough matchup against Penn State and a clash with a Purdue team that couldn't beat a BYE week at this point. The Badgers' stretch run, on the contrary, consists of matchups with the aforementioned Nittany Lions and undefeated Ohio State.

This is a must win for Wisconsin, which will plug in fifth-year senior Curt Phillips into its seemingly constantly revolving quarterback carousel. Phillips, who missed two full seasons with a serious ACL injury, will be making his first collegiate start, and will replace struggling junior Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien. Redshirt freshman

Joel Stave captured the starting job midway through the season, but had his season ended with a broken collarbone suffered against Michigan State Oct. 27.

Indiana has proven the ability to score on anybody, averaging 33.1 points per game and a Big Ten-best 299.9 passing yards per game.

This will certainly be an intriguing matchup at Camp Randall, and Saturday's Big Ten Pick 'Em article will offer a prediction for not only this contest, but the rest of the week's Big Ten slate.

News and notes:

  • Hope on the hot seat?: After calling his 2012 team the best team he has had as the head man in West Lafayette, head coach Danny Hope's Boilermakers have laid an egg in Big Ten play.

    A popular darkhorse pick in the Leaders Division, Purdue is 0-5 against conference foes, and is being outscored 37.8-17.2 during that stretch despite having multiple future NFL players on the defensive side of the ball, including fifth-year senior defensive tackle Kawann Short and junior cornerback Ricardo Allen.

    Hope has gone 19-27 as the program's head man and the 3-6 the Boilermakers must win out to even be considered for a bowl game this season - and even that might not save his job.

    To make matters worse, offensive coordinator Gary Nord will not be with the team in Iowa City this weekend after being hospitalized with a back injury. Hope and wide receivers coach Patrick Higgins will both chip in on the play calls.

  • Three Big Ten backs up for the Doak Walker: Wisconsin senior Montee Ball,
    Michigan State junior Le'Veon Bell and Northwestern junior Venric Mark were all named semifinalists for the Doak Walker trophy, awarded to the nation's top running back.

    Despite playing for a lethargic Michigan State offense, Bell leads the Big Ten with 1,249 yards on the ground and has added 10 scores.

    Mark has been one of the more surprising players in the conference, leading the Big Ten with 184.1 all-purpose yards per game and has scored nine rushing touchdowns.

    Ball, last year's Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and a finalist for this very award, has had a somewhat disappointing senior campaign for a struggling Badger offense, but has still rambled for 1,028 yards and 13 touchdowns this year.

  • Burkhead out again: Nebraska senior I-back Rex Burkhead is expected to be sidelined for a third-consecutive game with a knee injury when the Huskers host Penn State.

    The 2011 All-Big Ten performer gained 405 yards and three touchdowns on 47 carries (8.6 yards per carry) this year prior to being injured in a 29-28 victory over Northwestern Oct. 20.

    Sophomore Ameer Abdullah has been superb in his place, rambling for 826 yards and eight scores on 151 attempts (5.5 yards per carry).

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