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Athlon previews the coming week of gridiron action in the Big Ten Conference.
Wisconsin is in and waiting for either Nebraska or Michigan in the Big Ten Championship game. Senior day will take place all across the Midwest, including what should be a very emotional day in Happy Valley. Michigan and Ohio State renew arguably the greatest rivalry in all of college football. And, oh by the way, the Big Ten is no longer at 12 teams as Maryland and Rutgers have officially been added to the league. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Big Ten's Top Storylines to Watch in Week 13:
1. Brady Hoke vs. Urban Meyer, Part 1
There are many who believe that this rivalry has a chance to reach a new level now that both programs apparently have long-term stability at the head coaching position. These are two old-school coaches with old-school philosophies and old-school personalities who understand the old-school tradition inherent in this matchup. Urban Meyer is completely obsessed with beating Michigan, while Brady Hoke has never lost to That School from Down South in his short stint as coach at That School from Up North. The 10-Year War has a chance to be revived with these two leaders in place — and this Saturday at noon in Columbus, Ohio, they will face each other for the first time. Here's hoping the ghosts of Woody and Bo enjoy what they see.
2. Ohio State, Braxton Miller's 2012 legacy
The Buckeyes would be no lower than third in the BCS standings — and more likely second — if they weren't ineligible. Braxton Miller should end up in New York but won't win the Heisman Trophy due to NCAA sanctions. However, a win over hated Michigan would give Meyer his first unbeaten season as a BCS head coach and would send the Heisman hype around Miller soaring into the offseason (which might be a terrible thing if you are a Buckeye, considering the preseason favorite never seems to win). Should Nebraska somehow lose to Iowa, the Wolverines would be playing for a spot in the Big Ten game. Knocking the Maize and Blue out of the Big Ten Championship game would completely out-weigh the what-ifs that would swirl in Bucknuts' heads for eternity about what this 12-0 team could have done had it been eligible to compete for a national championship.
3. Better yet, what is Denard Robinson's legacy?
Shoelace was used almost exclusively as a runner last weekend, rushing 13 times for 98 yards, catching a few passes and attempting no passes. Devin Gardner, meanwhile, dissected the Hawkeyes with six touchdowns with his arm (3 TD) and his legs (3 TD). Robinson deserves kudos for taking his role in stride, especially considering what he was able to do last fall in this rivalry. He got the Wolverines into the win column against their bitter rival for the first time since 2003 and has weeks of highlight reel performances over three years of starting games with that famed winged helmet on. He is one of the most productive players in the history of college football, but he never won a championship and it will feel weird watching him take hand-offs and catch passes from someone else in what could be his final Big Ten football game. Just imagine what a big play or two in an upset win over unbeaten Ohio State would mean to his legacy as a Wolverine?
4. Conduct business in Iowa City
Kirk Ferentz has major issues at Iowa. His team is going to have its first losing season since 2001 — which is simultaneously both a credit and debit on his resume — and these Hawkeyes should pose little threat to the Nebraska Cornhuskers title run. With a win, Bo Pelini will have led the Big Red to the Big Ten championship game in only its second season in the league. Taylor Martinez, who could push Braxton Miller for Player of the Year honors should Ohio State lose to Michigan, should have no issue carving up a Hawks defense that has looked anything but what a Ferentz-coached defense normally looks like. SEE: Devin Gardner's stat line from last week. This should be a corn-onation of sorts for Pelini and Martinez.
5. Michigan State's bowl eligibility
The question this summer about Michigan State was whether Mark Dantonio built the Spartans into a "reload" program or would they have to "rebuild" after losing so many key players. After the school's greatest quarterback and all-time leading receiver moved on, it certainly appeared as though Sparty was rebuilding this season. The defense has been stout, even without Jerel Worthy, but the offense has struggled to find balance all season. And now, after back-to-back 11-win seasons, Dantonio is faced with a must-win situation against Minnesota just to keep from having a losing campaign. Look for Le'Veon Bell to get upwards of 40 carries if that is what it takes to demoralize the underrated Minnesota defensive line and get Michigan State to the postseason.
6. Montee Ball's TD records
The Wisconsin tailback is tied with Travis Prentice for the NCAA's all-time lead in total touchdowns with 78. With one more score, he will have reached paydirt more than anyone else in the history of the game. It's quite a statement for a player who really has only started for two-and-a-half seasons. Additionally, Ball is one rushing touchdown behind Prentice's all-time NCAA mark for rushing scores with 73.
7. Emotional senior day in Beaver Stadium
No matter which side of the Wisconsin-Penn State rivalry you may land on, everyone will be cheering for Nittany Lions' senior linebacker Michael Mauti on Saturday. His career in Happy Valley came to an end last weekend when he was carted off the field with a knee injury. This is the same knee that needed ACL surgery in 2011 and, right or wrong, his draft stock is undoubtedly slipping. This was supposed to be his final home game in front of a fanbase that understands and appreciates first-hand what Mauti and the rest of the seniors sacrificed the last 12 months. Mauti, Matt McGloin and the rest of this class have set a tremendous example of how to overcome adversity and what it means to commit to something larger than the individual. Win or lose, both teams should applaud how a collection of young people performed in the face of unthinkable atrocities.
8. Can Danny Hope save his job with a win?
The rumblings from West Lafayette are getting louder by the day. Even on a two-game winning streak that has Danny Hope poised to make his second-straight bowl game, there are those that feel a change is needed atop the Boilermakers program. A loss for Hope in the in-state Battle for the Old Oaken Bucket would effectively end his head coaching career at Purdue. Unfortunately, a win might not help much either.
Week 13 Big Ten Predictions:
|Week 13 Games||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Nebraska at Iowa||Nebraska, 34-10||Nebraska, 30-10||Nebraska, 31-14||Nebraska, 35-10|
|Illinois at Northwestern||Northwestern, 35-17||Northwestern, 31-17||Northwestern, 38-13||Northwestern, 28-14|
|Indiana at Purdue||Purdue, 34-31||Indiana, 34-17||Indiana, 34-31||Purdue, 17-10|
|Michigan at Ohio St||Ohio St, 41-31||Ohio St, 30-17||Ohio St, 31-28||Ohio St, 28-14|
|Michigan St at Minnesota||Michigan St, 28-7||Michigan St, 20-17||Michigan St, 27-17||Michigan St, 14-7|
|Wisconsin at Penn St||Penn St, 24-20||Penn St, 24-17||Wisconsin, 27-24||Penn St, 21-14|
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