Miller tops midseason awards
Notes: Michigan conquers MSU and Penn State continues to roll
As play in the Big Ten hits the midway point, we pass out the midseason hardware.
Offensive Player of the Year: Ohio State QB Braxton Miller
Miller has helped Urban Meyer have a pleasant inaugural trip through Big Ten country, leading the Buckeyes to an 8-0 start. The sophomore has gotten it done through the air and on the ground, throwing for 1384 yards and 11 touchdowns as well as running for 959 yards and 10 touchdowns. The underclassman has shown no signs of a second-year slump, and turned Ohio State from a top 20 team in the preseason into a serious threat to finish in the top 5.
Others in the mix: Matt McGloin, QB, Penn State; Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin; Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska;
Defensive Player of the Year: Penn State LB Gerald Hodges
Hodges has posted 54 tackles and one interception this season in helping the Nittany Lions yield only 15.2 points per game, good for 13th best in the nation. The senior has been named the conference's defender of the week a pair of times and is a candidate for the Bednarik, Butkus and Nagurski trophies; awarded to the country's top linebacker. Hodges has been instrumental in Penn State's five-game winning streak following its 0-2 start.
Others in the mix: Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State; John Simon, DE, Ohio State
Special Teams Player of the Year: Iowa K Mike Meyer
Meyer almost fell out of this spot after a trio of misses last week against Penn State, but the underclassman has been so important to an anemic Hawkeyes offense this season he still holds this position. He kept Iowa afloat with four field goals in the season-opening win against Northern Illinois, and went 4-for-4 in field goals, two of which came in overtime to help the Hawkeyes beat Michigan State. The sophomore is also a perfect 12 for 12 on extra point attempts en route to racking up a team-high 56 points thus far in 2012.
Others in the mix: Mike Sadler, P, Michigan State; Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern
Coach of the Year: Bill O'Brien, Penn State
After dropping his first two games in Happy Valley, O'Brien has led a downtrodden program out of dark times and into a five-game winning streak. The first-year head man has helped Penn State boast one of the top defensive units in the country and the former coach of Tom Brady has seen senior QB Matt McGloin flourish in his system. O'Brien was a relative unknown to most in the college ranks when he arrived from Foxboro in the offseason, but he is proving each week that he may be the right man to lead the Nittany Lions through the toughest stretch in program history.
Others in the mix: Urban Meyer, Ohio State, Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Biggest Surprise: Penn State
For reasons stated above, the Nittany Lions have been the biggest surprise in the Big Ten this season. Back to back losses to Ohio and Virginia seemed to be a precursor to a disastrous 2012 in Happy Valley, but instead Penn State has rattled off five-straight wins by a combined score of 170-69. They are shaping to be one of the conference's top squads, and are easily the best all-around team in the league at the halfway mark with a 3-0 record.
Others in the mix: Northwestern; Ohio State
Biggest Disappointment: Michigan State
The Spartans win the prize as the conference's largest let-down at the midway point of the campaign. QB Andrew Maxwell has been underwhelming to say the least, and the Michigan State defense has taken a step backwards following last-season's top conference performance. The Green and White have lost three home games after going undefeated in East Lansing in 2010 and '11, and are 1-3 in conference play heading into the last stretch of games. With a tough remaining schedule, it isn't farfetched to suggest the preseason Big Ten favorites may end up out of the bowl picture completely come December.
Others in the mix: Purdue, Illinois, Iowa
Illinois (2-5, 0-3 Big Ten)
• The Illini offense has been one of the nation's worst in 2012 with a revolving door at quarterback between senior Nathan Scheelhaase and sophomore Riley O'Toole. The unit ranks 98th in the country in rushing (123.4), 107th in passing (186.1) and 114th in points for (18.1).
• The Illini entered the season with many wondering if they could win the Leaders division; but now most are wondering if Illinois will win another game this year. A match-up against Indiana this week seems to be the best chance, and a loss to the Hoosiers could be the precursor to one of the worst finishes ever in Champaign.
Next Game: vs. Indiana
Indiana (2-5, 0-3 Big Ten)
• The Hoosiers' had a nine-point advantage midway through the fourth quarter before allowing Navy to rattle off 10 points in the final 5:30, en route to a demoralizing 31-30 loss. Sophomore quarterback Cameron Coffman threw for 244 yards, but his 2 interceptions kept the Midshipmen in the game before staging their late comeback.
• The Hoosiers have lost five-straight games, the last three by a combined eight points and are once again at the bottom of the conference. A date this week with Illinois presents perhaps the Crimson and White's best opportunity to score the program's first Big Ten win since 2009.
Next Game: at Illinois
Iowa (4-3, 2-1 Big Ten)
• The Hawkeyes fell behind two touchdowns in the first quarter and never recovered as Penn State throttled them 38-14 under the lights last week. The Iowa offense was lifeless once again, gaining 209 yards total with only 20 on the ground. Senior quarterback James Vandenberg struggled once again by throwing for 189 yards with a pair of interceptions before tossing a score late in the fourth, well after the game had been decided.
• The Black and Gold were brought back to earth after back to back emotional wins against Minnesota and Michigan State to kick off the Big Ten season. The blowout loss, though decisive, means little in the conference race for Iowa as they still have three division games remaining against Northwestern, Michigan and Nebraska. The Hawkeyes travel to Evanston this week for a crucial contest against the Wildcats.
Next Game: at Northwestern
Michigan (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten))
• The Wolverine offense was held in check for most of the day, but junior kicker Brandon Gibbons' 38-yard field goal with 5 seconds left carried Michigan to a 12-10 victory over Michigan State last week. The win snapped a four-game losing streak to the Spartans and was the 900th triumph in school history.
• Michigan won't get any style points for their performance, but the narrow victory keeps the Maize and Blue atop the Legends division standings heading into the home stretch of the season. The biggest obstacle separating Michigan from a trip to Indianapolis may be their trip to Lincoln this week and a date with Nebraska.
Next Game: at Nebraska
Michigan State (4-4, 1-3 Big Ten)
• The Spartans' defense turned in another good performance, holding the high-powered Michigan attack out of the end-zone; but the offense was once again underwhelming in their 12-10 loss. Junior Le'Veon Bell carried much of the load, running the ball 26 times but only managing 68 yards.
• Michigan State has lost two-straight divisional games and three of their first four conference games, the lone victory against lowly Indiana, and have been all but eliminated from the conference title race. Questions are arising whether or not the Spartans will even reach a bowl game, and the schedule doesn't get any easier as the Green and White head to Wisconsin this week.
Next Game: at Wisconsin
Minnesota (4-3, 0-3 Big Ten)
• Freshman quarterback Philip Nelson got the start under center in place of injured senior MarQueis Gray and backup Max Shortell who has struggled this season. Nelson had an up-and-down day, throwing for 149 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. No word on who will get the start next week against Purdue.
• Minnesota went perfect in non-conference play but is winless in conference play, putting doubts on whether or not the postseason in attainable. The Gophers have lost all three conference games by a combined total of 51 points and finding two more victories on their remaining schedule might not be possible. This week's home game against the Boilermakers may be a must win for Minnesota in terms of gaining bowl eligibility.
Next Game: vs. Purdue
Nebraska (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten)
• Senior quarterback Taylor Martinez threw a pair of touchdowns in the final six minutes, capping off a furious rally in the Cornhuskers' 29-28 come-from-behind victory at Northwestern last week. Martinez led the visitors with 342 yards and 3 touchdowns while running for another in a big divisional win.
• Nebraska gets its shot at taking control of the Leagends division when Michigan storms into Lincoln next week. The Huskers are looking to avenge last season's 45-17 drubbing at the hands of the Wolverines in Ann Arbor. The winner of this year's clash will control its own destiny on the road to Indianapolis.
Next Game: vs. Michigan
Northwestern (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten)
• Northwestern held a 12-point lead and was just half of a quarter away from picking up a huge divisional win, but yielded 13 points in less than 4 minutes in the Wildcats' 29-28 loss last week. Junior running-back Venric Mark had another big day, rushing for 118 yards on 16 carries but in the end it wasn't enough.
• Last week's loss was the first of four-consecutive divisional match-ups which will make or break Northwestern's season. Following their next game hosting Iowa, the Purple and Black will hit the road for a pair of contests at Michigan and Michigan State. Each game from here on out is must-win if the Cats want to storm into Indianapolis.
Next Game: vs. Iowa
Ohio State (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten)
• After sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller was knocked out of the game at the end of the third quarter, back-up junior quarterback Kenny Guiton threw for 77 yards and the game-tying touchdown and two-point conversions with: 03 left to force overtime and later beat Purdue 29-22. Junior running-back Carlos Hyde scored the winning points on a 1-yard touchdown run in the extra period.
• Miller was tested at the hospital for a concussion, but was determined to not be suffering any symptoms. He was released later that night and is probable to be under-center when the Buckeyes head to Happy Valley in a battle of the top-two teams in the Leaders division. Neither team is bowl-eligible in 2012, but both can still win the division title.
Next Game: at Penn State
Penn State (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten)
• The Nittany Lions continue to roll after their slow start, smacking Iowa 38-14 in Iowa City last week. Senior quarterback Matt McGloin was once again stellar, throwing for 289 yards and two touchdowns; while the defense shut down an uninspired Hawkeye attack by forcing three turnovers.
• Penn State reaffirmed its position as one of the Big Ten's best and most complete teams, and head coach Bill O'Brien deserves a lot of credit for keeping the world from crumbling in Happy Valley following the team's 0-2 start. The Lions host Ohio State next week in what may be the de facto Leaders division championship game as both are ineligible for postseason play.
Next Game: vs. Ohio State
Purdue (3-4, 0-3 Big Ten)
• The Boilermakers seemed in control following a safety off of an illegal block by Ohio State in the end zone, staking Purdue to a 22-14 lead with 10:11 left. The defense however, couldn't stop back-up Buckeye quarterback Kenny Guidon from leading a game-tying drive with :03 left and a winning-drive in overtime as the Boilers fell 29-22.
• The loss to Ohio State pretty much finished off any chance Purdue had of winning the Leaders division and keeps them winless in league play heading into the final stretch of the season. The Boilermakers will head to Minnesota this week in a match-up of two winless in-conference teams. It perhaps will determine which team ends up as bowl-eligible and which misses out on the postseason at year's end.
Next Game: at Minnesota
Wisconsin (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten)
• The running-back tandem of senior Montee Ball and junior James White combined to rush for 341 yards and five touchdowns as the Badgers whipped Minnesota, 38-13 in Minneapolis last week. The little-known White stole the show for the visitors, posting 175 yards and three scores on only 15 carries.
• Wisconsin's non-conference woes seem to be a thing of the past as they enter the final quarter of the season in control of the Leaders division. The Badgers have a two-game lead with four to play and all that remains in the division are match-ups with Ohio State and Penn State; both of which are ineligible for a trip to Indy.
Next Game: vs. Michigan State