The Indiana Hoosiers control their own destiny to the Big Ten championship game as the final quarter of the college football season gets under way.
That’s right, Indiana.
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The first half of 2012 was typical in recent Hoosiers history; a 2-5 start, a winless beginning to conference play and unrest with the fan base.
Then, two weeks ago, a beautiful thing happened: Illinois came up on the schedule.
Indiana defeated the Illini 31-17 to snap a year-and-a-half conference victory draught. Then last week, the Hoosiers showed more progress in head coach Kevin Wilson’s second season by knocking off a sluggish Iowa team 24-21.
Now at 4-5 overall and 2-3 in the Big Ten, the math is simple: If the Hoosiers win their final three games, they will represent the Leader’s division in the conference title game.
Wilson was happy his upperclassmen could taste conference relevance for the first time in their careers. He explained how hard the group has worked in building the program to the point where a conference championship is attainable come early November, even if it comes because other teams are ineligible.
“I’m very excited for our seniors,” Wilson said. “Those guys are playing a lot to come out and get the W.”
Senior defensive tackle Adam Replogle has seen a lot of losing in his four years in Bloomington, Ind. He pointed out how his team hasn’t changed anything in its approach since Day 1.
“You know what, we’re confident but we’ve just got to get better every day,” Replogle said. “That’s what we’ve been doing and that’s what you see on the field.”
Standing in the Hoosiers’ way to Indianapolis are the Badgers, the defending Leaders division champion and overwhelming favorite heading into this season. Wisconsin holds a one-game edge against the Crimson as the two teams head are set to collide this week in Indiana.
The matchup sets up as one of the program’s biggest games in the past two decades, but most of the players don’t want to hear it. When asked about the light at the end of the tunnel and potentially reaching Indianapolis, Replogle said he chooses to treat the upcoming clash like each of the previous nine.
“We’re just focused on Wisconsin right now,” he said. “We’re going to take this win as a win.”
Realistically, the road will be tough for the Hoosiers to emerge from the Leaders division; after Wisconsin, they close the season with trips to play Penn State and Purdue. Still, for most of those around the program, being relevant in November is good enough for what seems to be a consistently rebuilding program.
“It’s very encouraging [knowing we control our own destiny] but we’ve just got to get through Wisconsin,” sophomore wide receiver Cody Latimer said. “That is the first thing that we’re worried about right now.”
Illinois (2-7, 0-5 Big Ten)
• The Illini held an early 3-0 lead before getting overwhelmed in a 52-22 blowout loss at Ohio State last week. Illinois’ defense was porous, allowing 567 total yards and 32 first downs in a matchup of the conference’s best and worst teams.
• The Illini are on a six-game losing streak and have been outscored 246-84. Back-to-back home games with Minnesota and Purdue await before Illinois ends what may be one of the worst seasons in program history at Northwestern.
Next Game: vs. Minnesota Nov. 10
Indiana (4-5, 2-3 Big Ten)
• Sophomore quarterback Cameron Coffman threw for 315 yards and a trio of touchdowns in leading the Hoosiers to an important 24-21 victory against Iowa last week. Indiana continued its nationally touted aerial assault, notching 406 yards through the air and 473 yards overall in a game in which it trailed 14-0 at one point.
• The win set up an important matchup in Bloomington against Wisconsin this week. The Hoosiers and Badgers will square off for the leading spot in the Leaders division as Wisconsin enters holding a one-game edge and coming off a bye week. If Indiana wins, it controls its own destiny to Indianapolis.
Next Game: vs. Wisconsin Nov. 10
Iowa (4-5, 2-3 Big Ten)
• The Hawkeyes jumped out to a 14-0 lead on an interception return for a touchdown by junior linebacker Christian Kirksey, but Indiana outscored them 24-7 the rest of the way, leading to a 24-21 defeat in Bloomington last week. Sophomore wide receiver Kevonte-Martin Manley had a career day with 131 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions, but it wasn’t enough.
• The Hawkeyes have lost their last three games after starting conference play 2-0. They have fallen under .500, and must win out to finish with a winning record in 2012. Iowa must also find two victories out of its final three contests (vs. Purdue, at Michigan, vs. Nebraska) to avoid missing a bowl game for the first time since 2007.
Next Game: vs. Purdue Nov. 10
Michigan (6-3, 4-1 Big Ten))
• Senior quarterback Denard Robinson didn’t dress, but that didn’t stop Michigan from holding onto the Little Brown Jug for another year in a dominant 35-13 victory against Minnesota last week. Junior quarterback Devin Gardner stepped in for Robinson and went 12 of 18 for 234 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
• Michigan got back from Minneapolis unscathed sans their starting quarterback, but may not be as fortunate when a hungry Northwestern squad comes to Ann Arbor this week. Robinson’s status is currently unknown, but the bottom line is that Wolverine fans can sleep a little better knowing that there is a viable option under center besides the Shoelace.
Next Game: vs. Northwestern Nov. 10
Michigan State (5-5, 2-4 Big Ten)
• Michigan State didn’t trail the entire game until Nebraska scored a touchdown with 6 seconds left in a devastating 28-24 home loss last week. The Spartans took a 10-point lead into the final eight minutes of the fourth quarter, but allowed 14 unanswered points to close the game and end their hopes in the Legends division race.
• Junior running back Le’Veon Bell did everything he could to carry the Green and White, toting the ball 36 times for 188 yards and two touchdowns. The defeat knocked the preseason Big Ten favorite out of the divisional race and further adds to a disappointing season. The Spartans get a much needed week off before trying to reach bowl eligibility against Northwestern.
Next Game: vs. Northwestern Nov. 17
Minnesota (5-4, 1-4 Big Ten)
• The Golden Gophers hung around for three quarters before getting overwhelmed down the stretch in a 35-13 loss at the hands of Michigan last week. The defense had trouble stopping a Wolverines offense missing Denard Robinson, as it allowed 389 total yards.
• Minnesota still rests one victory away from its first potential bowl appearance since 2009, and this week may be the best — and last? — chance to get it. The Gophers head to Illinois to take on an Illini team that has been blown out in six consecutive weeks. Lose to Illinois and Minnesota will be forced to win either at Nebraska or against Michigan State to clinch a bowl game, a less enviable spot.
Next Game: at Illinois Nov. 10
Nebraska (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten)
• Junior quarterback Taylor Martinez did not look good through the air, but made enough big plays; the biggest a five-yard touchdown pass with 6 seconds remaining in an important 28-24 win at Michigan State last week. Martinez accounted for 365 of his team’s 473 yards of total offense, but threw three interceptions in could have been a disastrous outing for the veteran until the dramatic final score.
• Nebraska was moments away from falling out of first place in the Legends division, but instead rallied to maintain its one-game lead with three contests remaining. The Huskers control their own destiny and can clinch a trip to Indianapolis with victories in each of the next two weeks, starting with Penn State in Lincoln.
Next Game: vs. Penn State Nov. 10
Northwestern (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten)
• The Wildcats reemerge through a bye week with the nation’s 15th-best rushing attack, averaging 236.4 yards per game. The passing game is another story as Northwestern’s 162.3 yards each outing is good for 114th in the FBS.
• The Wildcats head to Michigan for a Legends division elimination game with the Wolverines this week. Even with a win, Northwestern would still need help to reach the Big Ten championship game as Nebraska holds the tiebreaker and a one-game edge against NU heading into the final three games.
Next Game: at Michigan Nov. 10
Ohio State (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten)
• The Buckeyes looked like they started their bye week seven days too soon during what seemed like an effortless 52-22 win against Illinois last week. Sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller racked up 299 total yards and three touchdowns as part of an offensive unit that posted 567 yards on the afternoon.
• Ohio State enters the bye week at 10-0 and still with a shot in being awarded the AP national championship at season’s end. The Scarlett and Grey are also one win away from clinching the Leaders division title even though they cannot play in the conference championship game.
Next Game: at Wisconsin Nov. 17
Penn State (6-3, 4-1 Big Ten)
• Senior quarterback Matt McGloin’s magical season rolled along as the veteran threw for 321 yards and a couple of touchdowns in the Nittany Lions’ 34-9 thumping of Purdue last week. McGloin now has tossed 16 touchdowns and only three interceptions, doubling his total of eight from all of 2011.
• Penn State’s defense has been one of the country’s best; the unit is yielding a mere 18.1 points per game (19th in the nation) and has held opponents under 10 points on three separate occasions. The Nittany Lions will look to ruin Nebraska’s conference title hopes when they head to Lincoln this week.
Next Game: at Nebraska Nov. 10
Purdue (3-6, 0-5 Big Ten)
• The Boilermakers struggled in all facets of the game, losing its fifth consecutive game 34-9 to Penn State at home last week. Senior quarterback Caleb TerBush had a pedestrian outing, throwing for 155 yards and a touchdown in what was the Boilermakers’ only trip to the end zone all day.
• After a sub-par start to league play, Purdue can stlil get to a bowl once again by winning out, and the schedule is anything but tough. Iowa, Illinois and Indiana remain, beginning with a trip to Iowa City this week.
Next Game: at Iowa Nov. 10
Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten)
• The Badgers come out of the bye week searching for answers remaining under center. Freshman quarterback Joel Stave is out for the season with a broken collar bone, and now previously displaced junior Danny O’Brien seems to have assumed the starting role once again.
• Wisconsin’s loss to Michigan State two weeks ago has set up a matchup for first place with Indiana in Bloomington this week. A Hoosier victory hands Indiana its own destiny heading into the final two weeks of 2012. A Wisconsin win sends it back to Indianapolis for the second consecutive season.
Next Game: at Indiana Nov. 10
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