Michigan Wolverines: Vic Koenning

It's time to look back and recognize some of the highlights and lowlights from the Big Ten bowl season:

Best performance: Michigan State. After falling behind 16-0 to Georgia, the Spartans rallied back to take the lead in the second half. When they needed to drive the field for a tying touchdown with only 1:55 left, they did just that. When Kirk Cousins threw an interception on the first overtime possession, they responded by holding tough on defense. Michigan State had 17 tackles for loss against the Bulldogs, including five by defensive end William Gholston. Darqueze Dennard grabbed two interceptions, and the special teams came up with a blocked kick to win the game. The 33-30 triple-overtime victory was yet another milestone for the program under Mark Dantonio.

[+] EnlargeWilliam Gholston and Aaron Murray
J. Meric/Getty ImagesMichigan State's William Gholston is looking to build off his two-sack performance in the Outback Bowl.
Worst performance: Penn State clearly didn't want to go to the TicketCity Bowl, and it showed right away. Houston quarterback Case Keenum made a mockery of the Nittany Lions' defense, throwing for 227 yards in the first quarter alone. Penn State had allowed that many yards passing in an entire game only once all season. He'd finish with 532 yards passing as the Cougars breezed to a 30-14 victory.

Best new mascot: Northwestern brought a stuffed monkey with a No. 63 jersey to its Meineke Car Care Bowl game against Texas A&M, symbolizing its quest to end a 63-year bowl victory drought. Alas, the Wildcats will have to order a No. 64 uniform after losing 33-22. Better make it a big jersey, because this postseason curse is more like an 800-pound gorilla at this point.

Worst near-death experience: Near the end of Iowa's Insight Bowl loss to Oklahoma, star Hawkeyes receiver Marvin McNutt was nearly taken out by ESPN's skycam, which fell to the field from its cables. The heavy camera almost hit McNutt off the bounce, and he got caught up in its wiring as he left the Iowa huddle. The skycam was unceremoniously escorted off the field, kind of like how Iowa's season ended in a 31-14 loss.

Worst ball security: Purdue and Western Michigan combined for 11 turnovers in a wild Little Caesars Bowl. On two separate occasions, the Boilermakers forced a turnover only to give the ball right back to the Broncos as defenders coughed it up trying to go the other way. Ultimately, Purdue got the upper hand by creating seven takeaways and holding on for a 37-32 victory.

Best clock management: Michigan State trailed Georgia 27-20 late in the fourth quarter of the Outback Bowl when the Spartans were called for pass interference on third-and-3 from the Bulldogs' 37. The officials ruled that Georgia had completed the pass on the play even though receiver Malcolm Mitchell clearly dropped the ball. Dantonio challenged the ruling, despite the fact that Georgia was going to get a first down either way. Dantonio's successful challenge meant that instead of the clock running down toward three minutes, the clock was stopped and reset to 3:43. That extra time proved enormous, as the Spartans tied the game with 14 seconds left in regulation.

Worst clock management: Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema was unsure if he could challenge the ruling when Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas hesitated and nearly left the end zone before kneeling down for kick-return touchback. As Bielema asked the sideline official for a clarification, he was charged with a timeout. That was the second timeout burned by the Badgers early in the second half. They dearly could have used the stoppages when the offense ended the game at the Oregon 25-yard line. Russell Wilson hurried to the line and was instructed to spike the ball with two seconds left, but officials ruled there was no time left.

Best impersonation of a wide receiver: Michigan's fake field goal attempt late in the first half of the Allstate Sugar Bowl went awry when holder Drew Dileo's intended receiving target, tight end Kevin Koger, didn't know the fake was on. So Dileo threw the ball into a crowd, and Virginia Tech deflected it. But long snapper Jareth Glanda saved the day by hauling it in for an 11-yard gain. The Wolverines ended up with a field goal on the play, and they needed every point in an overtime victory.

Best use of the kicking game: Purdue coach Danny Hope turned into a riverboat gambler in the Little Caesars Bowl, calling for two consecutive onside kicks in the first half. Both worked and led to points. Raheem Mostert also returned a kickoff 99 yards for a score.

Worst use of the kicking game: Ohio State had a punt blocked for a touchdown and allowed a 99-yard kickoff return by Florida. The Buckeyes lost by seven points in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

Worst loss of composure: Nebraska star cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery let their emotions get the best of them in the third quarter of the Capital One Bowl. Dennard took a coupLe of swings at Jeffery, who pushed Dennard's helmet back. Both players were rightly ejected. Amazingly, Jeffery was still named MVP of South Carolina's 30-13 win.

Best crisis management: We saw what happened to Penn State and Ohio State as they played for lame-duck head coaches. Illinois not only had to deal with that but also a six-game losing streak and a group of assistants threatening to boycott the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl hours before the game. Somehow, interim head coach Vic Koenning managed to hold things together to help the Illini win 20-14 over UCLA.

Best inspiration: As Michigan's Brendan Gibbons lined up for the 37-yard kick to win the game in overtime, he had one thing on his mind. "Brunette girls,” Gibbons said. “Every time we were like struggling in kicking, coach tells me to think about girls on a beach or brunette girls," Gibbons told reporters. "So that's what we did. Made the kick." And they say blondes have more fun.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 7

October, 13, 2011
10/13/11
12:44
PM ET
Ten items to track Saturday as a five-pack of Big Ten games is on tap.

1. A Legendary rivalry: Pardon the pun, but Michigan and Michigan State meet Saturday at Spartan Stadium with more than bragging rights on the line. The winner has to be considered the frontrunner in the Legends division. Michigan can improve to 7-0 overall, 3-0 in Big Ten play and, most important, 2-0 in division play with both wins coming on the road. Michigan State arguably has more on the line as Saturday marks one of just two Legends division home games. The Spartans still must travel to Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern, so defending their home turf against Michigan is critical.

2. Desperate Buckeyes hope to avoid history: These are tough times for Luke Fickell and the Ohio State Buckeyes, who are in an unfamiliar spot at 3-3 after last week's meltdown at Nebraska. A loss Saturday at No. 16 Illinois would drop Ohio State below .500 for the first time since 1999 -- and for the first time this late in the year since 1988, the Buckeyes' last losing season. After months of disappointing news and heightened criticism for Fickell and the coaching staff in recent weeks, Ohio State desperately needs something good to happen.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesWill Denard Robinson be able to break loose against Michigan State, or will the Spartans bottle him up again?
3. Denard vs. the Spartan Swarm: "There's no way to stop that kid," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said earlier this week, referring to Michigan star QB Denard Robinson. While no team has slowed down "Shoelace" this season, Michigan State put the brakes on Robinson in 2010. The Spartans were the first team to stifle Robinson last fall in a 34-17 win, picking off three of his passes and holding him to just 86 rush yards on 21 carries. Michigan State has an even better defense this year, a unit that leads the nation in fewest yards allowed (173.4 ypg) and ranks third in points allowed (10.2 ppg). It'll be strength vs. strength Saturday as Robinson goes up against the Spartans' defense.

4. Must-win game at Kinnick: Night games at Kinnick Stadium are always electric, but the intensity level might go up a few notches Saturday as Northwestern comes to town. Both Northwestern and Iowa are winless in Big Ten play and in danger of moving closer to the league's bottom-feeders than the lead pack. Throw in the fact that Northwestern has won three straight at Kinnick and five of the past six against Iowa, and Hawkeyes fans will be geared up. They hope their team displays better energy after a lackluster performance at Penn State. One squad will walk out of Kinnick with some momentum.

5. The scoreboard at Camp Randall: Last year Wisconsin hung 83 points on Indiana, the third-highest total scored in a Big Ten game and the most ever allowed by the Hoosiers. The Badgers' offense is arguably more dangerous this year with Russell Wilson at the helm, and Indiana ranks 11th in the Big Ten in total defense (421.5 ypg). Will Bucky Badger eclipse his 573 push-ups from last year on Saturday, or will Indiana's defense respond and make Wisconsin work for its points? It should be interesting to see how Wisconsin looks following a bye week, and how Indiana performs at a place where it was embarrassed last year.

6. Penn State's never-ending QB competition: The biggest mystery in the Big Ten isn't who should start for Penn State at quarterback, but why it's taking Joe Paterno and his staff so long to reach a decision. The numbers point to Matthew McGloin over Rob Bolden, and Penn State's offense has consistently operated better with McGloin calling the signals. But Paterno isn't budging, saying he's not convinced one quarterback is better than the other. Perhaps Saturday's game against Purdue provides a resolution under center. McGloin can help himself with a completely clean performance after tossing an interception in the end zone last week against Iowa. Also worth watching: how Purdue uses quarterbacks Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve.

7. Illinois' Mercilus defense vs. Braxton Miller: Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning has pulled the right strings for most of the season, mixing fronts and formations and maintaining an aggressive style from week to week. You can bet Koenning will turn up the heat on Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, who left the Nebraska game with a sprained right ankle but will play against Illinois. Keep an eye on Illini defensive end Whitney Mercilus, who leads the nation in sacks (8.5) and leads the Big Ten in both tackles for loss (10.5) and forced fumbles (4). Illinois also gets linebacker Jonathan Brown back from suspension. Ohio State must protect Miller and find the gaps in Illinois' defense, as it did for the first two and a half quarters at Nebraska.

8. Rushing the field in East Lansing: It's all about the ground game in the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry. The team with more rushing yards has claimed 38 of the teams' past 41 meetings. Michigan State has outrushed Michigan 613-274 during its current three-game win streak in the series, but Michigan boasts the nation's No. 7 rushing offense, led by Robinson, the Big Ten's leading rusher (120 ypg). Michigan State is No. 3 nationally against the run, but the Spartans also must get their own run game going. Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker gashed Michigan last year in Ann Arbor, but Michigan State's green offensive line is still building chemistry and faces an improved Michigan defense.

9. Boom is back: You could see the difference in Ohio State's offense with left tackle Mike Adams back on the field from suspension at Nebraska. The Buckeyes regain another key piece as running back Dan "Boom" Herron returns from suspension at Illinois. Herron gives the Buckeyes another option in the backfield, which should allow Jordan Hall to be utilized in different ways. Herron is Ohio State's most seasoned skill player and a guy performed well in Big Ten games last year (876 rush yards, 11 TDs in eight games). With Miller likely not 100 percent, Herron could play a big role for the Buckeyes' offense.

10. Persa vs. Vandenberg: The Northwestern-Iowa game could be a high-scoring affair, and quarterbacks Dan Persa and James Vandenberg will have opportunities to showcase their talents. Northwestern ranks last in the Big Ten in total defense (439.4 ypg) and pass defense (263.8), so Vandenberg and his receivers should regain their swagger after a rough outing at Penn State. Persa shredded Iowa's defense in the fourth quarter of last year's game in Evanston, firing the game-winning touchdown pass with 1:22 left and rupturing his Achilles' tendon on the play. The senior has been sharp since his return and faces an Iowa team allowing its opponents to complete 64.7 percent of their passes.

Predictions: Big Ten Week 7

October, 13, 2011
10/13/11
9:52
AM ET
Big Ten play has been no match for us so far, as we're 21-for-22 in predictions for league games (Bennett's miss on Iowa-Penn State being the only blemish).

But Week 7 certainly has the potential to trip us up. It's by far the most difficult set of games we've had this season. The teams, the locations, winning/losing streaks, rivalries and other factors all could play into what takes place Saturday afternoon and evening. There are at least three potential toss-up games on the Week 7 slate.

Let's get picky ...

NO. 11 MICHIGAN at NO. 23 MICHIGAN STATE

Brian Bennett: Denard Robinson's mistakes finally catch up to him against a nasty Michigan State defense, which comes up with three turnovers. Kirk Cousins and B.J. Cunningham hook up early and often, and the Spartans make it four Bunyans in a row. ... Michigan State 24, Michigan 20

Adam Rittenberg: Four Bunyans? Sounds nasty. I wrestled with this one all week, as there are so many interesting subplots, all of which could go by the wayside because it's a rivalry game. Although Michigan is undefeated, I think this game has greater significance for Michigan State. The Spartans do enough to slow down Robinson and get enough from running backs Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker. Michigan State rallies in the fourth quarter and wins on a last-minute field goal. ... Michigan State 23, Michigan 21

PURDUE at PENN STATE

Adam Rittenberg: Purdue will hang around in this one, but the Boilers make too many mistakes (8.6 penalties per game) to win in a place like Beaver Stadium. Penn State's defense bends but doesn't break, and the Lions' offensive line builds on its performance from last week as Silas Redd and Curtis Dukes both reach the end zone. ... Penn State 24, Purdue 13

Brian Bennett: The Lions could have a little letdown after an emotional win over Iowa last week. But Purdue just doesn't have enough playmakers to puncture that Penn State defense. Devon Still introduces himself to Caleb TerBush a couple of times, and the formula of defense and just enough offense gets it done for JoePa again. ... Penn State 20, Purdue 7

INDIANA at NO. 4 WISCONSIN

Brian Bennett: Not quite 83-20, but it's still ugly. A struggling IU team is no match for the Badgers' freight train. Four more touchdowns for Montee Ball in a Wisconsin laugher. ... Wisconsin 58, Indiana 17

Adam Rittenberg: Yeah, I can't see Wisconsin hanging 83 on Indiana again (or the Hoosiers lying down like they did last year). The Badgers won't be sweating this one out, as Ball adds to his touchdowns total and James White reaches the end zone twice. Russell Wilson has a short day, as Wisconsin can start gearing up for the Michigan State showdown. ... Wisconsin 54, Indiana 10

OHIO STATE at NO. 16 ILLINOIS

Adam Rittenberg: Upset special! Yes, Ohio State is fragile and Illinois is rolling. But the Buckeyes are desperate, and Illinois hasn't paid for some of its miscues (turnovers, penalties, forgetting the score). It catches up to the Illini this week. Dan Herron scores two touchdowns in his return, and Ohio State's defense does just enough to slow down Nathan Scheelhaase and A.J. Jenkins. ... Ohio State 21, Illinois 20

Brian Bennett: What? No love for the Zooker, Adam? I agree this will be a tough test for the Illini, but I'm not convinced Braxton Miller will be able to move effectively on his sprained ankle. And if he can't elude Whitney Mercilus, Jonathan Brown and the rest of Vic Koenning's defense, it will be another long day for the Buckeyes' offense. ... Illinois 17, Ohio State 14

NORTHWESTERN at IOWA

Brian Bennett: I went with history with last week's Iowa-Penn State pick and it let me down. But I was a history major in college. So I'll try it again and say Northwestern continues its dominance in this series. The Wildcats look close to breaking through, and Dan Persa tortures the porous Hawkeyes defense in an Iowa City shootout. ... Northwestern 38, Iowa 35

Adam Rittenberg: History was one of my majors, Bennett, but this is the Year of the Opposites -- Penn State beats Iowa, Iowa beats Northwestern, you're amazingly beating me in picks. Both defenses will struggle, but James Vandenberg and his receivers get well against a Northwestern team that can't stop anyone. Iowa feeds off the home crowd and rallies in the fourth quarter for a win. ... Iowa 27, Northwestern 24

BYE: Nebraska, Minnesota

SEASON RECORDS

Bennett: 46-11 (.807)

Rittenberg: 44-13 (.772)

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