Posted by Adam Jacobi
A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.
WINNER: Michigan in the trenches
In the biggest "statement game" of Michigan's season, the Wolverines welcomed Nebraska to the Big House with a 45-17 butt-kicking. The game had been tied 10-10 midway through the second quarter, then Denard Robinson and Fitz Toussaint -- seen above -- simply took over the game (with Nebraska's complicity; more on that in a second), especially on the ground.
Before the Nebraska field goal by kicker Brett Maher tied the game at 10, Michigan had thrown the ball on nine of 25 plays. Afterwards? 10 throws on 55 plays. The difference was that offensive coordinator Al Borges was able to put his trust in the offensive line to give Toussaint rushing lanes and Robinson the time to scramble and improvise. The result was 186 rushing yards after that 10-10 tie, and 238 as a whole.
LOSER: Nebraska's special teams
Of course, we would be remiss in not pointing out that the reason that Michigan stayed so run-heavy in the second half was because Nebraska's defense just plain couldn't get off the field -- and the Husker special teams had a lot to do with that. Kenny Bell and Tim Marlowe each fumbled second-half kickoffs, and Nebraska also allowed a fake field goal to be converted on 4th and 1 at the 5-yard line and committed a costly roughing the punter penalty in the 4th quarter. All in all, the four miscues would eventually lead to 21 points for the Wolverines, and the worst part for Nebraska is that it could have been worse; Marlowe's fumbled return only led to a missed field goal.
All in all, that's a level of generosity that cost Nebraska the opportunity to even make a game of it against Michigan, and while those miscues are more an aberration than a trend that needs to be remedied, they still led to a costly third loss for Nebraska -- one that could very welll keep the Huskers out of the top tier of the Big Ten's non-BCS bowls.
WINNER: Michigan State
Coming into this week, Michigan State needed a win over Indiana and a Michigan win over Nebraska to sew up the Legends division. Michigan, of course, played its part. And good heavens, did Michigan State ever put an exclamation point on its division title, slamming Indiana 55-3 in a contest that probably violated an international statute of warfare or 12. Geneva is unamused by this use of Keshawn Martin on helpless Hoosiers, Sparty.
So while it's a little misleading to say MSU is playing its best football of the season just three weeks after being drubbed 24-3 by Nebraska (and two weeks after beating Minnesota by only a touchdown), it is safe to say the Spartans are looking capable of bringing a dangerous team to Indianapolis in December. The Capital One Bowl brass is probably the happiest of anyone to see this bumplet of success from East Lansing as the Spartans prepare for the championship; MSU lost 49-7 to Alabama in that bowl just last season, and bowl reps usually don't need much of a reason not to bring a team back for a second year in a row.
LOSER: Ohio State's momentum
QB Braxton Miller is improving week to week, RB Boom Herron is healthy and putting up big numbers in the terrifying Buckeye ground game, and now WR DeVier Posey's back and making big plays from the word go. So why's Ohio State on a two-game losing streak and in real danger of going .500 on the year?
It's a legitimate question, and one that a simple answer of "because Luke Fickell isn't good enough" doesn't adequately answer. Perhaps some of it is Fickell's inexperience as head coach, but he also had to deal with a slew of suspensions and the loss of a quarterback -- a loss that Ohio State just plain wasn't prepared to address this season. Braxton Miller may be showing flashes of greatness now, but in September, he could barely outplay Joe Bauserman. Things were not good.
Still, losses to Purdue and a reeling Penn State team are probably enough to convince Ohio State brass that no matter how unlikely the problems of 2011 are to repeat in 2012, the program needs a more experienced coach at the helm. And that's probably the correct call. But you've got to think that if Fickell gets replaced, he'll look back at these last two weeks and think about how close he was to delivering a solid season -- and earning the head coaching job long term.
WINNER: The rest of Penn State's season
No, Penn State didn't gain any ground in the Leaders Division race; that situation continues to come down to next week's Penn State-Wisconsin game, and it wouldn't have mattered if the Nittany Lions came into that one with a one-game lead or a tie. But strictly from the perspective of returning to normal, Penn State gained a huge victory by hanging on to win at Ohio State. PSU never threatened to score after being stuffed on a goal line stand midway through the third quarter, and all the Buckeyes needed to do in the second half was score seven points to take the lead. That, clearly, didn't happen; Linebacker U stood tall on defense and kept the Buckeyes from taking a single snap in field goal range after halftime, and the second half shutout preserved a 20-14 victory.
In terms of what the win represents to Penn State, division ramifications aside, it's huge. Even leaving out the emotional impact of the football program on the fanbase -- that's a can of worms best kept shut -- there's basically no way Penn State could have taken two straight losses to lower-ranked opponents, then walked into Camp Randall (where the Badgers have outscored their opponents by an average score of 52-12 this year) and come away with a win -- especially not with an interim head coach on the sidelines, forced to argue against all evidence that the world is not caving in on the program in a tailspin. But with this win, that tailspin's not happening, and Penn State can take a deep breath and begin preparation for the Badgers.
LOSER: Wisconsin's what could have been
In case you hadn't noticed, the Top 10 was basically incinerated this week, starting with Iowa State's shocking upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State on Friday and continuing on through Baylor's 45-38 stunner vs. Oklahoma late Saturday night. No, Wisconsin doesn't have anything to do with those games, but therein lies the problem. Just one month ago, Wisconsin was 6-0, ranked fourth in the nation, and rolling through its competition. Then two Hail Mary losses demolished Wisconsin's national standing, and the Badgers are still ranked 17th and unlikely to move much higher after a lackluster 28-17 win over Illinois.
It's a shame, because Wisconsin's got the talent to hang with just about anybody in the nation, and this sudden swarm of chaos in the Top 10 would have been the perfect way for the Badgers to start sneaking up toward the Top 5 even with one loss; they'd quite assuredly be ranked second if undefeated. But alas, Kirk Cousins and Braxton Miller had other ideas for the fate of Wisconsin's season, and as a result a team that looked like a very strong BCS contender will likely walk into the Rose Bowl as a borderline Top 10 team instead.
WINNER: Marvin McNutt
It's getting difficult to find a way in which Marvin McNutt isn't the best receiver Iowa's ever had. McNutt owns career marks in yards, touchdowns, and receptions at Iowa, and he just added the single-season touchdown mark to his single-season yardage mark today in a nine-catch, 151-yard, two-touchdown effort. McNutt made multiple highlight-reel catches in the game, including this juggling wonder that basically sealed Iowa's 31-21 victory over Purdue. It's a crying shame that McNutt, who's putting up these numbers in a non-pass-wacky offense, isn't being considered for the Biletnikoff Award, because he's been nearly unguardable this season.
LOSER: Anyone who felt like paying attention to more than two or three Big Ten games this week
We understand that networks have their reasons for wanting certain games at certain times, and that it's going to be difficult to drum up support for 'Cats-Gophers as anything but an early kickoff. We get that. We also realize that there's a very good reason for the Big Ten to not allow night games in November, since the Midwest is a cold, inhospitable prison of a region once the sun goes down this time of year. But when the Big Ten ends up with five of its six games all taking place at the same time, something's clearly out of whack, and it makes it extremely difficult for the most passionate fans of the conference to enjoy very much of it.
That all said, it's also a credit to the conference that it has a media presence robust enough to get all five of those games televised live (and in HD!), and without having to resort to an online video service (pay-per-view or otherwise) or ESPN GamePlan. Sure, it took two Big Ten Network overflow channels to make it happen, and not everybody has those extra channels, but as other major conferences struggle to get every game on TV even when there aren't many other conference games going on, it's nice to see the Big Ten at least up to this task.