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Athlon recaps the Week 6 action in the Big Ten.
There may not be an elite team capable of winning a national championship in the Big Ten this fall, but no one can criticize the league for lacking dramatics. Michigan State survived a thriller. Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State made statements in big games against quality opponents. Wisconsin continues to show gradual improvement. But trying to pinpoint who will play in the Big Ten title game is impossible after six weeks of action. One week, the Huskers look like the favorites. The next, it's Michigan and Penn State. There won't be a national title in the Midwest this fall, but there will be plenty of excitement that should make fans proud.
Post-Week 6 Offensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State - There is no way to watch No. 5 in Scarlet and Gray and not be impressed. He provides jaw-dropping shiftiness and explosiveness (186 yards rushing, TD) while continuing to efficiently lead his team to victory. He has accounted for 17 total TDs and is already 237 yards away from 1,000 yards rushing.
2. Matt McGloin, QB, Penn St - This is starting to be one of the more amazing stories nationally. After 282 yards passing and two more scores, the Penn State passer leads the Big Ten in passing TD (12), passing yards (1,499) and completions (136) on a team that could be one of the best in the league. He has also scored five rushing touchdowns in the last three games.
3. Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern - It wasn't enough to get a win, but Mark is quickly becoming one of the league's top play-makers. He is fifth in rushing (102.5), second in all-purpose yards (180.5) and third in scoring (9.0 ppg) after two more scores against Penn State.
Post-Week 6 Defensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Mike Mauti, LB, Penn State - He posted another nine total tackles as Penn State shutout Northwestern in the fourth quarter for the Lions' fourth straight win.
2. John Simon, DL, Ohio State - There are a few POY candidates on the OSU defense, but Simon gets the nod this week after a monster performance against Nebraska. He posted seven total tackles, five tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble.
3. Mike Taylor, LB, Wisconsin - The Badgers' defensive leader had another workman-like performance in the key divisional win over Illinois. After a 12-tackle (1.5 for a loss) effort, Taylor is now No. 2 in the Big Ten in tackles on a team quietly showing improvement.
Post-Week 6 Coach of the Year Standings
1. Urban Meyer, Ohio State - This was beginning to look like an instant classic until Meyer's bunch blitzed the Huskers in the final 20 minutes of play. Dropping 63 on Nebraska is about as impressive as it gets in the Big Ten.
2. Bill O'Brien, Penn State - The only coach who could earn Coach of the Year honors over an unbeaten Urban Meyer would be the guy taking over Penn State following this particular off-season. Penn State has won four straight and is a few plays from being 6-0. Coach BOB has done a remarkable job.
3. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern - His team battled to the end in a hostile environment against a superior team. It didn't end in victory, but Northwestern belongs in the Legends Division race conversation due to Coach Fitz' leadership.
Post-Week 6 Power Rankings
1. Ohio State (6-0, 2-0)
Previous rank: 1
Week 6 result: Beat Nebraska 63-38
This was a great game — for about 35 minutes. Back and forth these two traditional powers went until Braxton Miller does what Braxton Miller does best. Take over a game and single-handedly abuse a defense en route to another victory. He rushed for a school-record (for a QB) 186 yards and passed for 127 yards while scoring two touchdowns in electrifying fashion as Ohio State ended the game on a 28-7 run over the final quarter and a half. But what should make Buckeyes fans excited about the rest of Big Ten play was the contributions of complementary pieces. Special teams and defense chipped in a touchdown each while Carlos Hyde rushed for a career-best 140 yards and four touchdowns. Miller is a Heisman front-runner, but if Urban Meyer wants the best record in the Big Ten, he will have to continue to get support from the rest of his team.
This week: at Indiana (2-3)
2. Michigan (3-2, 1-0)
Previous rank: 3
Week 6 result: Beat Purdue 44-13
After a dominating road win over the Boilermakers, Michigan takes it turn back atop the Legends Division weekly power poll. Denard Robinson got back on track with a huge day on the ground (24 att., 235 yards), but more importantly, didn't turn the ball over. Brady Hoke, as expected, established the run early, but it was his defense that won the game. Purdue entered Week 6 averaging 42.5 points and 463.5 yards per game, but the Maize and Blue defense impressively held the Boilers to 56 yards rushing on 26 attempts and only 157 yards passing. The formula for success is obvious for Michigan: Robinson needs to protect the football and make plays with his legs, while the front seven needs to continue to develop. A home test against Illinois precedes the two-week round robin with Nebraska and Michigan State, so a win is a must next weekend.
This week: Illinois (2-4)
3. Michigan State (4-2, 1-1)
Previous rank: 4
Week 6 result: Beat Indiana 30-27
Michigan State did everything in its power to give this one away, but its defense came up with two huge three-and-outs late in the game to preserve the comeback road victory over Indiana. The Hoosiers jumped out to a 17-0 lead before Andrew Maxwell and Le'Veon Bell led the Spartans on a 30-10 run over the final three quarters. Maxwell played his best game of his short starting career, throwing for 290 yards and two scores without a turnover. He showed improved leadership, poise and toughness while attempting 40 passes. Bell finished with 121 yards and two scores of his own. Michigan State has obvious warts in the passing game — and playing IU might not be the truest barometer — but Maxwell and his receivers played their best game to date. All of that said, however, inching out a victory over a coaching staff that has yet to win a Big Ten game for Mark Dantonio has to be very concerning.
This week: Iowa (3-2)
4. Nebraska (4-2, 1-1)
Previous rank: 2
Week 6 result: Lost to Ohio State 63-38
Taylor Martinez accounted for three touchdowns and led his team to 38 points and 437 yards of offense. Rex Burkhead topped the 100-yard mark and moonlighted as a quarter/full-back on two scoring runs for Ameer Abdullah. But the defense simply couldn't stop the dynamic play-making ability of Braxton Miller and Martinez threw three costly interceptions. Bo Pelini was up to his old tricks berating his players on the sideline as he watched his team give away a chance at a road win over the Buckeyes. This defense had shown improvement at playing in opponents backfields of late, yet allowed a season-worst 371 yards rushing. This unit has allowed nine rushing touchdowns over the last two games and will have plenty to think about during the off week.
This week: Open Date
5. Penn State (4-2, 2-0)
Previous rank: 8
Week 6 result: Beat Northwestern 39-28
Bill O'Brien is entering National Coach of the Year territory with yet another gutty performance from his much-maligned program. In fact, with the unlikely development of Matt McGloin and continued leadership of Michael Mauti, Penn State could be in line for all three Big Ten "Of the Year" awards (Coach, Offensive Player, Defensive Player). This team is a few plays from being unbeaten and is quickly becoming one of the great stories in college football. There is a chance that the best two teams in the league could be ineligible to win the league title. And O'Brien gets all of the credit for implementing a complex and innovative offensive scheme in such short order. This is a totally different football team than a year ago — and that team started 8-1.
This week: Open Date
6. Northwestern (5-1, 1-1)
Previous rank: 5
Week 6 result: Lost to Penn State 39-28
Northwestern missed a golden opportunity to make a statement on the road against Penn State. The Wildcats took a 28-17 lead with less than a minute left in the third quarter on Venric Mark's second punt return touchdown of the season. But after holding up extremely well against the physical Nittany Lions rushing attack and ever-improving passing game for three quarters, the Wildcats crumbled in the fourth. Penn State exerted its will in the final frame, scoring three touchdowns in a nine minute span to give Coach Ftiz' group their first loss of the year. Penn State was the better team, but Northwestern played valiantly.
This week: at Minnesota (4-1)
7. Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1)
Previous rank: 7
Week 6 result: Beat Illinois 31-14
Joel Stave was able to start and finish the game. The rushing attack looked more like 2011 than it did 2012. And the defense played a physical brand of football, holding everyone on the Illini offense not named Nathan Scheelhaase to 22 total yards. Stave, who missed a key drive late against Nebraska, threw for 254 yards and two touchdowns while Montee Ball rushed for 116 yards and two scores of his own. Ball is quietly returning to form, after scoring five times in the last two weeks to bring his season total to eight and his career total to 69 total touchdowns. It won't have much national fanfare, but the road trip to West Lafayette next weekend could decide the Leaders Division crown.
This week: at Purdue (3-2)
8. Purdue (3-2, 0-1)
Previous rank: 6
Week 6 result: Lost to Michigan 44-13
This was one of the more disappointing performances by any team in the league this fall. Purdue still controls its own destiny with a visit from Wisconsin coming in Week 7, so a Big Ten title is certainly within grasp. However, if the Boilers play like they did against Michigan again, the Badgers will end those hopes next weekend. The normally stout Boilers front-seven was gashed by Denard Robinson and company for 304 yards rushing on 54 attempts. And the normally explosive Caleb TerBush-led offense was completely shut down by a Michigan defense that has struggled at times this fall. The season is still out in front of the Boilermakers, but this team needs to regroup quickly after being crushed in its Big Ten opener.
This week: Wisconsin (4-2)
9. Iowa (3-2, 1-0)
Previous rank: 9
Week 6 result: Off
Iowa played arguably its best game of the year back in the Week 5 win over Minnesota. So fans have to wonder if the bye week was perfectly placed to allow this team to build on its confidence or if it halted what little momentum the Hawkeyes may have built in the victory?
This week: at Michigan State (4-2)
10. Minnesota (4-1, 0-1)
Previous rank: 10
Week 6 result: Off
Getting MarQueis Gray healthy and addressing the defensive woes that led to a blowout loss to Iowa was the likely focus of Jerry Kill's squad during the off week. The Gophers have a winnable home game this weekend that is bordering on must-win status.
This week: Northwestern (5-1)
11. Illinois (2-4, 0-2)
Previous rank: 11
Week 6 result: Lost to Wisconsin 31-14
Things continue to get worse for Tim Beckman. After an embarrassing loss to Penn State at home last week, the Illini failed to show up in Madison. Illinois has allowed 108 points in its three-game losing streak as both PSU and UW rushed for 173 yards over the last two weeks. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase accounted for all but 22 yards of total offense on a team that offered little support to its quarterback. Things only appear to be getting worse for a team that is scoring the fewest points per game in the Big Ten (21.2 ppg) and that is allowing the most points in the league (28.3 ppg). Illinois will face Michigan and Ohio State on the road in the next three weeks.
This week: at Michigan (3-2)
12. Indiana (2-3, 0-2)
Previous rank: 12
Week 6 result: Lost to Michigan State 30-27
This was his chance. Kevin Wilson has yet to win a Big Ten game and after a 17-0 lead at the end of the first quarter — and a 27-14 halftime lead — the Hoosiers failed to capitalize on a golden opportunity. The Indiana defense allowed Andrew Maxwell to grow up in Bloomington on Saturday and Cameron Coffman went three-and-out on the game's final two possessions. This would have been a signature win for Wilson and company, but he now finds himself 0-10 in Big Ten play.
This week: Ohio State (6-0)
by Braden Gall
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