Athlon recaps the Week 8 action in the Big Ten.
Penn State continues to be a national story with another easy road conference win. Montee Ball's record-setting pace is creeping in on two huge all-time milestones as Wisconsin continues to improve. Michigan exercised some demons with a final-minute drive to beat the Spartans. Nebraska won a must-win division game on the road. There was a lot to like about Week 8 in the Big Ten, however, a Heisman Trophy front-runner and odds-on favorite to win the Big Ten Player of the Year had to be taken to the hospital on Saturday. Everyone in the league is even more focused on Braxton Miller now.
Post-Week 8 Offensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State - Miller is still on top... for now. He struggled against Purdue but still compiled 160 total yards of offense and a touchdown before getting hurt in the third quarter. He was taken to the hospital and cleared all concussion, head, neck and shoulder tests. If he doesn't miss any time, he is still the frontrunner for Player of the Year.
2. Matt McGloin, QB, Penn State - This award will likely be decided next weekend in Happy Valley when (and if) Miller can play against the Nittany Lions. McGloin closed the gap dramatically with 289 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the easy road win over Iowa this weekend.
3. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin - It is a two-horse race for Big Ten POY but names like Ball, Venric Mark and Taylor Martinez deserve some mention. Ball has 10 rushing touchdowns in four Big Ten games and is averaging 124.4 yards rushing per game in those four.
Post-Week 8 Defensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Mike Mauti, LB, Penn State - Mauti might have clinched the award this weekend with eight tackles, an interception, a sack and a tackle for loss in the dominating road win over Iowa. Ohio State, Wisconsin and Nebraska still loom.
2. Mike Taylor, LB, Wisconsin - After 12 total tackles against rival Minnesota, the leader of the Badgers defense is now No. 2 in the Big Ten in tackles. His defense has allowed no more than 14 points during the three-game winning streak.
3. John Simon, DL, Ohio State - Simon had nine total tackles in the come-from-behind win over Purdue. He is the leader of the only unbeaten team in the league and helped hold the Boilermakers scoreless for the final 35 minutes of play and overtime.
Post-Week 8 Coach of the Year Standings
1. 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 offseason. Penn State has won four straight and is a few plays from being 6-0. Coach BOB has done a remarkable job.
2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State - His team continues to survive and advance. If Miller is out for any extended period of time, the odds of going unbeaten shrivel up and die. However, there is only one 8-0 team in the entire nation.
3. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern - His team is just a few points from being unbeaten after a second tough loss in the league to a superior team. He was one point away from turning the entire Legends Division on its head this weekend against Nebraska.
Post-Week 8 Power Rankings
1. Ohio State (8-0, 4-0)
Previous rank: 1
Week 8 result: Beat Purdue 29-22 (OT)
This was a valiant win by the Buckeyes to stay unbeaten and become the only 8-0 team in the nation. Yet, the only storyline that matters is the health of Braxton Miller. An undefeated season, a win over archrival Michigan and his Heisman candidacy are what Ohio State fans are focused on this fall without the chance for a Big Ten title or bowl game. So after Miller was released from the hospital and cleared all major medical hurdles, all eyes will be focused on what Urban Meyer has to say this week in his press conference about his star quarterback's availability. The Bucknuts travel to Happy Valley this weekend with Offensive and Head Coach of the Year honors potentially hanging in the balance.
This week: at Penn State (5-2)
2. Michigan (5-2, 3-0)
Previous rank: 2
Week 8 result: Beat Michigan State 12-10
The Wolverines cleared their first big hurdle in the Legends Division round robin with their first win over in-state rival Michigan State in five years. Denard Robinson drove his team 41 yards on eight plays in 1:55 to set-up the game-winning field goal with five seconds left on the clock. It wasn't pretty — Robinson didn't account for a touchdown for only the fourth time in the last three seasons — but the Maize and Blue are now in clear control of the division. The biggest test left on the schedule en route to Indianapolis will come next week in Lincoln, Neb. A win next weekend and this team should be 7-0 in the Big Ten heading into Columbus on the final weekend.
This week: at Nebraska (5-2)
3. Wisconsin (6-2, 3-1)
Previous rank: 5
Week 8 result: Beat Minnesota 38-13
This Badgers team is quietly improving each and every weekend. The defense was more than adequate for the third week in a row while Montee Ball and the offensive line is beginning to look more and more like 2011. Ball scored twice and rushed for 166 yards while James White added multiple big plays en route to 175 yards and three scores of his own. Ball is now five total touchdowns from passing Travis Prentice's all-time record of 78 and eight rushing scores away from Prentice's all-time rushing touchdown mark of 73. This team has all but wrapped up a trip to the Big Ten title game and should only continue to improve.
This week: Michigan State (4-4)
4. Penn State (5-2, 3-0)
Previous rank: 4
Week 8 result: Beat Iowa 38-14
This Nittany Lions team continues to impress after another dominant showing on the road against a team that had yet to lose in Big Ten play. Penn State is one of the great stories in college football this fall as this team is averaging over 400 yards on offense while allowing just 15.7 points per game on defense. Bill O'Brien's team is leading the league in turnover margin and could sweep the big three awards (Coach, Offensive, Defensive Player of the Year) should Braxton Miller miss significant time for Ohio State. The Ineligible Bowl should be fun to watch this weekend.
This week: Ohio State (8-0)
5. Nebraska (5-2, 2-1)
Previous rank: 3
Week 8 result: Beat Northwestern 29-28
The road win in Evanston was a statement performance for Nebraska. The winner was going to be the top challenger to Michigan in the division and the loser was going to have two conference losses already. It took 407 yards of total offense and two fourth-quarter touchdown passes from star quarterback Taylor Martinez to do it, but Nebraska returns home poised to battle Michigan for the Legends Division championship. The Huskers quarterback now leads the Big Ten in passing efficiency and is third in total offense.
This week: Michigan (5-2)
6. Northwestern (6-2, 2-2)
Previous rank: 6
Week 8 result: Lost Nebraska 29-28
Pat Fitzgerald has to wondering what-if right now. The Wildcats once again gave up a late lead to a superior football team and it cost them their second league loss of the year. Coach Fitz has one of his most talented offenses ever assembled in Chicago, and a potential eight-win season would be nothing to sneeze at, but the outside Big Ten title chance slipped through his grasp during the fourth-quarter this weekend. With Iowa, both Michigan schools and Illinois left, an 8-4 season looks like the best-case scenario.
This week: Iowa (4-3)
7. Michigan State (4-4, 1-3)
Previous rank: 8
Week 8 result: Lost to Michigan 12-10
The Spartans lost for the third time in four weeks and have for intents and purposes been eliminated from Big Ten title contention. The defense once again played well, holding Denard Robinson in check all game long. Yet, one short last minute drive and very little offensive balance allowed Michigan to escape with a win over Sparty for the first time in five years. Andrew Maxwell threw for just 192 yards on 34 attempts and Le'Veon Bell was shut down (68 yards on 26 carries). Until this offense can develop an efficient passing attack, teams will continue to stack the box. And beat Michigan State.
This week: at Wisconsin (6-2)
8. Purdue (3-4, 0-3)
Previous rank: 9
Week 8 result: Lost to Ohio State 29-22 (OT)
Danny Hope likes to face the Buckeyes. After getting destroyed by Michigan and Wisconsin at home in back-to-back weeks, the Boilermakers nearly upset Ohio State in the Horseshoe this Saturday. They held Braxton Miller in check before knocking him out of the game with a vicious tackle on a long run in the third quarter. Yet, the offense failed to score a point in the last 36 minutes of play and overtime. And the defense couldn't keep backup Kenny Guiton from leading the Buckeyes to victory. It's been a tough start to Big Ten play for Hope's bunch.
This week: at Minnesota (4-3)
9. Iowa (4-3, 2-1)
Previous rank: 7
Week 8 result: Lost to Penn State 38-14
Without walk-on fullback turned star tailback Mark Weisman, the Hawkeyes' offense looked downright atrocious. Yes, Penn State's salty defense deserves plenty of credit but Iowa wasn't even competitive. They fell behind 38-0, totaled 209 yards of offense (20 of which was rushing) and turned the ball over three times. James Vandenberg has made fans completely forget about his efficient and productive 2011 breakout season. That said, there are winnable games left on the schedule and a 4-4 season in the league isn't out of the question.
This week: at Northwestern (6-2)
10. Minnesota (4-3, 0-3)
Previous rank: 10
Week 8 result: Lost to Wisconsin 38-13
The longest running rivalry in college football has been decidedly one-sided of late. Wisconsin rushed past the Gophers for the ninth straight time in the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe. After another health scare this week, Jerry Kill was on the sidelines for his team's third straight loss since beginning the season 4-0. Despite the struggles and rough final month of the season that features one or two winnable games, there is some good news for Minnesota. Record-setting prep quarterback Phillip Nelson appears to be the long-term future at quarterback and the extremely youthful roster has a lot of upside.
This week: Purdue (3-4)
11. Illinois (2-5, 0-3)
Previous rank: 11
Week 8 result: Off
Fans in Illinois are hoping that the off week will help erase the memory of a hideous first half of the 2012 season. This weekend will determine who finishes last in the Leaders Division this fall.
This week: Indiana (2-5)
12. Indiana (2-5, 0-3)
Previous rank: 12
Week 8 result: Lost to Navy 31-30
The Big Ten's brutal non-conference season came to a fitting end this weekend when the Hoosiers lost by a single point to a struggling Navy team. Indiana allowed 10 straight fourth-quarter points despite outgaining the Midshipmen to lose in painful fashion. Indiana will be hard-pressed to win another game this season, however, their best chance at a conference win will come this weekend against the teetering Ilini.
This week: at Illinois (2-5)
by Braden Gall
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