COLUMBUS, Ohio - Unless we witness a collapse of epic proportions, our Big Ten title game is pretty much set in stone. The Buckeyes punched their ticket in early October while the Spartans possess a comfortable lead in the Legends and could have everything locked up in a few weeks. So why are these programs making early reservations for Indianapolis? The rest of the Big Ten, outside of Wisconsin, are pretty lame. Let's review some of those disappointments in this week's Big Ten Rewind.
The beat down on "big brother"
If they would have met in a boxing ring rather than a football field, I believe Brady Hoke would have thrown in the towel shortly before halftime. The domination displayed Saturday was astounding and while Michigan State deserves the accolades, the final score was more about Michigan's glaring issues. No disrespect to the Spartans' defense but they're not legendary good. Like '85 Bears good. They're the product of a poor conference and a favorable schedule. So the question is why are the Wolverines so inferior to their in-state rival?
For one, and this may be the only excuse they can use, they're rather young. The Wolverine depth chart is mostly made up of first year starters and freshmen so their inexperience was expected to hinder their abilities, especially against veteran squads like Sparty (although being young hasn't slowed down the Buckeyes).
Former five star recruits Kyle Kalis and Derrick Green were being counted on to play significant minutes this fall despite their age and while early projections were through the roof, both have yet to provide any impact this season. Green only sees spot-time behind underwhelming Fitzgerald Toussaint while Kalis lost his starting gig to true freshmen Kyle Bosch in week eight.
When you take into account that the Wolverines have one of the worst rushing attacks in the conference (154.9 yards per game - 10th in the Big Ten, 3.7 yards per rush - 11th in the Big Ten), it doesn't bode well for players like Kalis, Green and the other top-tier prospects that play key roles in the running game.
Watching Toussaint struggle to find positive yards and get tossed around in pass coverage against Michigan State also leads me to believe that Hoke and his staff have no faith in any other Wolverine running back right now. You would think after watching Toussaint scrap for small results for two years, they'd look to another option.
Part of the blame for Saturday's monstrosity falls on offensive coordinator Al Borges for his predictable and sluggish play-calling. The Spartan defense is all about providing pressure from the front seven and bullying opponents around. They're fast, physical and intense. So you either have to match their nastiness, which the Wolverines failed to do in the trenches, or counter their pass rush with quick, short yardage plays.
If utilized correctly, Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner could have had a successful day in East Lansing. It was due to poor game management from Borges (continually running the read option and play actions without any payoff for three quarters) that led to Gardner's beat-up body and eventual late exit from the game. Some of the blame also falls on Gardner as well. At times, the junior hung onto the ball a little too long, continues to lock-in on Jeremy Gallon and was hesitant to pull the trigger. Perhaps fear of turnovers got in his head before kickoff?
With Big Ten title hopes all but dead, "big brother" can focus their attention on finishing strong, maintaining their home winning streak and ending their woes against the Buckeyes. Ohio State will more than likely enter Ann Arbor undefeated with 23-straight wins and if Michigan wins this Saturday against Nebraska, they'll have 20 straight victories in the Big House. Something will have to give on November 30.
Are the Huskers still in the hunt?
Statistically, yes they are. They only have one conference loss and still need to play Michigan State at home. So Ron Kellogg's hail-mary heroics against Northwestern was more than just a job saver for coach Bo Pelini. The Huskers still have a chance to return to Indy but as injuries continue to pile up, they may have a difficult time picking up another win, let alone play for a title.
The most significant wounded player, quarterback Taylor Martinez, is now suffering from an abdominal strain which was the product from a hip pointer problem he sustained a few weeks ago. The senior will likely sit out again this Saturday against Michigan with backup Tommy Armstrong expected to start in his place.
Three of Martinez's favorite targets, Kenny Bell, Jake Long and Jamal Turner are also dealing with the injury bug. All three may play against the Wolverines, with Long being the closest to game-day ready. After Armstrong's three INT's (including one late in the fourth quarter) against the Wildcats and when you factor in his depleted offensive line, the freshman will need all the help he can get in his first start in a true hostile environment.
Fully healthy, the Huskers would be sitting strong in the Legends race but losing key contributors from the strength of the team significantly impede their odds. I enjoy a good underdog story and after watching the Wolverines stink it up last weekend, it's possible for Nebraska to win in Ann Arbor but I expect their title hopes to fade in the coming weeks.
Quote of the week
"How did we do it? We just played good defense. There was no surprises. What they saw, is what they saw on tape. It's just how we play. We do what we do,'' said Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.
Week 10 Power Rankings
1.) Ohio State - He won't win the Heisman but Braxton Miller is playing as well as anyone right now. He may have some difficult decisions to make shortly after New Years.
2.) Michigan State - Statement game from the Spartans. Some are starting to believe they're good enough to beat the Buckeyes, if they do in fact meet on December 7.
3.) Wisconsin - It must be nice to have that type of depth at running back. Only thing standing in their way from a BCS bowl bid is BYU this Saturday.
4.) Michigan - Wait, what? How could they not plummet after the blowout loss in East Lansing? Welcome to the Big Ten, where mediocrity starts from number four down.
5.) Minnesota - Sitting pretty at 7-2 with sights set on a New Year's Day bowl. Pretty amazing how well they've responded since coach Kill's leave.
6.) Nebraska - Congratulations to Ron Kellogg III, who was recently inducted to the Hail Mary Hall of Fame. Now we'll see if the Cornhuskers can feed off of this play moving forward.
7.) Iowa - If they just had a few more playmakers on offense, they'd be contending for the Legends title. Christmas comes early as they travel to West Lafayette with bowl eligibility on the line.
8.) Indiana - Kevin Wilson will never succeed until things improve defensively. With a mediocre defense, they'd likely be bowl eligible.
9.) Penn State - Almost a near disaster against Illinois. A loss would have dropped moral well below par. Will have to play better against the Gophers.
10.) Northwestern - The fitting end to a disastrous streak. This bye week can become dangerous if they find themselves dwelling on the wrong rather than finding a way to fix their errors.
11.) Illinois - The Illini laugh at Northwestern's little losing spell. Mostly because they hit 18-straight conference loses this past weekend. 20 is certainly in play.
12.) Purdue - Well they got through the root canal that was playing the Buckeyes. It's amazing a year ago they almost defeated the same team in the Horseshoe.