College football: Two a good number for Buckeyes
No one was playing for a Big Ten title on Saturday. The division winners were determined the previous week. But the final weekend of the regular season still provided plenty of drama and a few surprises.
The drama: Ohio State extended its winning streak to 24 — barely. The Buckeyes dodged a major upset at Michigan when Wolverines coach Brady Hoke elected to try for a two-point conversion after a touchdown with 32 seconds left. It failed and Ohio State escaped with a 42-41 victory in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Then, the Buckeyes’ BCS championship game hopes received a miraculous boost a few hours later when Auburn scored on an improbable field goal return for a touchdown on the final play of the Iron Bowl game to knock off previously unbeaten and top-ranked Alabama.
That raises the stakes in the Big Ten championship game next weekend. If No. 2 Ohio State gets past Michigan State in Indianapolis, it could punch its ticket for the BCS national championship game, possibly against No. 1 Florida State.
The surprises: Wisconsin went into its home game against Penn State with designs on a BCS at-large berth. That proved to be premature, wishful thinking. The Badgers failed to take care of business on the field and Penn State came away with a stunning 31-24 victory.
Wisconsin likely fell behind Michigan State in the Big Ten’s bowl pecking order. The Spartans moved to 11-1 and finished with an 8-0 Big Ten record after getting past Minnesota 14-3.
A win over Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game would send Michigan State to the Rose Bowl. A close loss might be enough for the Spartans to land a BCS at-large berth.
Another mild surprise turned out to be Iowa’s 38-17 thumping of Nebraska on Black Friday and the meltdown of embattled Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini. He ranted on the sideline and then went off in interviews after the game while defending his record.
Pelini stole the show from the Hawkeyes, who capped a turnaround season. Iowa went from 4-8 in 2012 to 8-4 in 2013 — its four losses to teams with a combined 44-4 record — and a possible Outback Bowl bid.
Only seven of the 12 Big Ten teams qualified for bowls. Minnesota and Michigan will join Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska in the postseason.
Minnesota and Michigan closed out the regular season with two consecutive losses, but the outlook is very different in Minneapolis and Ann Arbor. Gophers fans are hopeful about the future and Wolverines fans are depressed after an uncharacteristic 7-5 season.
Michigan wasn’t the only underachiever this season, at least according to preseason expectations. Indiana, in its third year under coach Kevin Wilson, fell short of bowl eligibility with a 5-7 record. Northwestern, which was 4-0 in September and ranked in the top 20, lost seven straight before edging Illinois on Saturday for its only Big Ten win.
The final weekend also produced some impressive individual performances.
Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde rushed for more than 200 yards for the second straight week, three Indiana backs ran for more than 100 yards against Purdue and Hoosiers quarterback Tre Roberson threw six touchdown passes.
Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner passed for 451 yards and four touchdowns against Ohio State, Purdue freshman quarterback Danny Etling threw for 485 yards and four touchdowns against Indiana, Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian completed 31 of 44 passes for 414 yards against Illinois and Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg spearheaded an upset at Wisconsin with 339 passing yards and four touchdowns.
Minnesota (8-4, 4-4)
Game: Michigan State 14, Minnesota 3. The Gophers found out Saturday that points and yards are hard to come by against Michigan State’s top-ranked defense. Minnesota’s only score was a 21-yard field goal by kicker Chris Hawthorne in the second quarter. The Gophers hung with the Legends Division champion and trailed 7-3 at halftime, but Michigan State drove to a touchdown on the first possession of the third quarter and Minnesota was shut out in the second half. The Gophers’ best scoring opportunity after halftime was snuffed out when quarterback Mitch Leidner lost a fumble at the Michigan State 14-yard line with 4:45 left in the game.
Takeaway: Minnesota finished the regular season with its second straight loss, but the program made significant strides in the third year under coach Jerry Kill. Despite Kill’s health issues that forced him to take a medical leave, the Gophers posted eight wins and will head to a bowl game for the second straight season. Against Michigan State, the Minnesota defense held its own, giving up 324 yards and stopping the Spartans on all eight of their third-down conversions. Offensively, Minnesota’s only consistent weapon against the nation’s top-ranked defense was running back David Cobb, who rushed for 101 yards on 27 carries. The Gophers’ passing game, ranked 116th in FBS with 141.8 yards per game, remained a liability — two interceptions and only 125 yards against Michigan State.
Next: Bowl game TBA.