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November 19, 2013

Big Ten Rewind: Week 12

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - It's amazing only two weeks remain in the regular season. With the Big Ten title game pretty much decided, every team below Ohio State and Michigan State are looking to finish strong and secure a New Year's Day bowl. But before moving forward, let's look back on week 12 and review the curse in Evanston, why the Buckeyes and the Badgers continue to pile up the numbers and of course our updated Power Rankings.

No end in sight

Should we be surprised the Wildcats lost in such a dramatic fashion Saturday? When this team loses, whether it's from a Hail Mary, a last-second field goal, through costly turnovers or fourth quarter collapses, they make it memorable.

"It's pretty unbelievable," Northwestern kicker Jeff Budzien said. "It's shocking. It's depressing. If you had told me we'd be 4-6 at this time of year, I would have laughed at you."

And Budzien wouldn't have been wrong to do so.

The one time favorite of the Legends division has now dropped six straight (all in Big Ten play) and need to win their final two games to become bowl eligible. The preseason experts weren't wrong about Northwestern. They're well coached and have the talent to be successful in the Big Ten. This is a simple case of a good team with a phobia of winning.

It certainly doesn't help that star running back Venric Mark has been injured since week one. The all-Big Ten standout from 2012 will not return for the final two or three games, finishing his year with only 97 rushing yards. Mark plans to apply for a medical redshirt, which would give him one more season with the Wildcats.

You also have to wonder what their record would be today if Ohio State's Carlos Hyde was dismissed rather than suspended from an offseason altercation. Hyde was the x-factor in the come-from-behind win against Northwestern on October 5 and is currently a candidate for multiple Big Ten awards. Without him in the lineup, not only do the Buckeyes likely lose in Evanston but the Wildcats may had carried the momentum from such a huge win and started a completely different kind of streak.

So with bowls hopes likely coming to an end this Saturday against the Spartans, Pat Fitzgerald will have plenty of time in the offseason to review what went wrong and develop a remedy for their problems. And keep in mind, unlike programs like Purdue or Illinois, this does not require a complete rebuild from the ground up so bouncing back stronger in 2014 should be expected.

Running over the competition

Throwing the football is not required for the Badgers and the Buckeyes to win (well at least when facing the bottom of the Big Ten). Two of the best running attacks in the country were on display this past weekend as they combined for nearly 1,000 rushing yards and 275 passing yards.

For the majority of the season, Wisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon has been the player everyone can't get enough of. His numbers are outstanding (1,306 rushing yards, 130.6 yards per game) and he's the focal point to every opponent. The sophomore 'back finished with 146 rushing yards on 13 carries against the Hoosiers and upped his touchdown total to 12.

Shockingly enough, Gordon was outdone by teammate James White, who's quietly having an incredible season. The senior has split carries his entire tenure in Madison, yet he currently sits third in the Big Ten in rushing yards (1,156), has two-1,000 yard seasons with Wisconsin and is closing in on 4,000 rushing yards in his collegiate career. Against Indiana, White totaled 205 rushing yards, including a 93 yard touchdown run 71 seconds into the game.

While he may not win the rushing title this year in the Big Ten, Ohio State's Carlos Hyde is certainly outperforming everyone per contest. The Florida native is averaging 135.1 rushing yards a game, which is tops in the Big Ten. When you add quarterback Braxton Miller, who's the most elusive QB in the conference, you can see why the Buckeyes have won 22 straight.

Their philosophies may be different but both teams continue to dominate through the ground game. And with both finishing their schedules against less than stellar teams, we should expect to see more from their stable of 'backs.

Stat of the week

When reviewing the top ten in Passing Yards and Rushing Yards, there are only three seniors listed. Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase, Wisconsin's White and Ohio State's Hyde. The rest are made up of eight junior's, seven sophomore's and a freshman.

I'm not saying the Big Ten will be competing with the SEC or Pac 12 for the top conference next year but there could be an improvement if the majority of the top underclassmen return.

Week 12 Power Rankings

1.) Ohio State - You know things are going well when a 25-point win is viewed negatively. Will Hyde or Miller win the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year?
2.) Michigan State - Not their finest performance but when the Cornhuskers handed them opportunities, they made the most of it. One more win from clinching the Legends.
3.) Wisconsin - Is it too late to change divisions? It only seems fair that the winner of Wisconsin/Michigan State would meet the Buckeyes in Indy. BCS at-large spot is still in play.
4.) Minnesota - Took a week off to prepare for two of the best in the conference. Are the Gophers legit or just the sharpest looking mediocre Big Ten team?
5.) Iowa - Bowl eligibility is secured. Now it's all about finishing strong. An 8-4 finish would send the Hawkeyes to a New Year's Day bowl and give the coaching staff at least another year in Iowa City.
6.) Nebraska - You can't expect to turn the ball over five times and defeat the Spartans. Back to reality for the Cornhuskers.
7.) Michigan - They were sloppy Saturday but the hex in Evanston gave them the W. If they somehow pull off the upset against Iowa, they might have enough juice to feel slight confidence in "The Game."
8.) Penn State - Bill O'Brien is a victory away from his second straight winning season. A lot to be proud of, especially with the limited options on his depth chart.
9.) Northwestern - I know they dropped five or six interceptions but can you really hold them accountable for that loss? Sometimes the forces that be simply do not favor you.
10.) Indiana - Another losing season is all but wrapped up. Kevin Wilson is moving the Hoosiers in the right direction but will he receive enough time to meet all expectations?
11.) Illinois - Didn't quit till the final minutes against the Buckeyes. It's a shame Nathan Scheelhaase isn't on a better team. At least he'll pick up his first Big Ten win in two years against Purdue this week.
12.) Purdue - I know there isn't much to be excited about in West Lafayette but they have at least found a quarterback in Danny Etling. Finishing the season strong can be a nice boost going into the offseason.

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