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Around the Big Ten, Week 12: Clarity in chaos

Big Ten football was a joy to watch on Saturday.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Boy, what a week of college football that was. Whether it was TCU remaining unbeaten by the skin of their teeth, USC surviving a crosstown battle with UCLA, North Carolina’s playoff hopes being fully shattered by Georgia Tech or Oregon surviving Utah to stay in the Pac-12 hunt, there was a ton going on. There was somehow even more going on in the Big Ten, where the only game that wasn’t within a single possession with under two minutes to play was Penn State-Rutgers. Top teams almost fell, Nebraska almost won and Iowa’s offense scored double-digit points. It was a wild week, so let’s dive right in to some of the best stories from Week 12.

Michigan makes the cut...barely

Why was this game close? On one side was a No. 3 Michigan team that’s beaten their last five opponents by at least 20 points. On the other was an Illinois squad falling apart at the seams after losses to Michigan State and Purdue. Yet, thanks to the magic of college football, Michigan was in danger of losing everything — an undefeated season, a potential playoff spot, any sort of momentum heading into Ohio State week — until Jake Moody sliced a 35-yarder through the uprights with nine seconds on the clock, providing just enough for Michigan to squeak by, 19-17. Perhaps the biggest reason why this game was close was the absence of Heisman candidate Blake Corum: after rushing for 108 yards and a score in the first half, he carried the ball just once in the second half. Corum appeared to injure his knee late in the second quarter, though coach Jim Harbaugh did say in the postgame press conference that the knee appeared “structurally sound.” Considering that the Wolverines had just one drive of 50 yards or longer without Corum, they better hope that knee is structurally sound enough to go next Saturday against Ohio State.

As for the Illini, it’s their third straight one-possession loss in a season that once seemed so promising. Chase Brown certainly did his part, rushing for 140 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but the rest of the offense couldn’t help him out, committing a cursing turnover on downs with eight minutes to go that flipped the momentum to Michigan. With all hopes of a trip to Indianapolis dashed, all Illinois has to play for now is the hope of a mid-tier bowl game and a New York invitation for Brown. If they dominate Northwestern next week and Brown rushes for over 170 yards, he’ll probably be a Heisman finalist.

Ohio State wins offensive onslaught

What a wonderful game of football that was. Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa had one of his best games of the season, completing 26 of his 36 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns, and he also picked up a score on the ground. As for the Buckeyes, freshman running back Dallan Hayden showed just how deep Ohio State is, rushing for 146 yards and a trifecta of touchdowns. Combining that performance with another solid outing from Heisman favorite CJ Stroud and a stifling Buckeye rush defense, Ohio State was able to survive the Terrapins, 43-30.

The late fumble recovery for a touchdown by Ohio State’s Steele Chambers makes this game seem a lot easier than it was for the Buckeyes. This was easily their worst defensive performance since the Penn State game, and 11 penalties is not a good look for a team that’s normally a disciplined outfit. Make no mistake, the No. 2 Buckeyes still deserve that ranking and will be a participant in this year’s CFP barring disaster over the next two weeks, but giving up 400 yards to a Maryland team that just got shut out by Penn State is not a good look, and that defense better figure things out before The Game on Saturday.

Iowa’s going to Indy, isn’t it?

Turning now to the Big Ten West, things just got a lot easier for the Hawkeyes. This time one week ago, all they had to do was win out and they’d be the Big Ten West champions. Following their dramatic 13-10 victory over Minnesota, they are now just one game away from back-to-back division titles. I’ve been about as critical of Spencer Petras as anyone, but he was by far the Hawkeyes’ best offensive player on Saturday. I don’t know what he started doing after the Ohio State game, but it worked, because Iowa is 4-0 in the last 22 days with Petras going 63-for-100 over that span with 727 yards and three touchdowns to no interceptions. All Iowa has to do now is beat Nebraska for the eighth year in a row and it will once again be the Big Ten West champions.

As for Minnesota, they are officially eliminated from Big Ten west contention. Mohamed Ibrahim did all he could, rushing for 263 yards and a score (he’s now second in the nation with 1524 rushing yards), but Athan Kaliakmanis is simply not a good quarterback. Tanner Morgan’s injury against Illinois still looms large — without him getting hurt, Minnesota almost certainly beats Iowa and maybe Illinois as well — and it’s a shame such a wonderful season from Ibrahim has all been for naught.

Purdue’s hopes are still possible

I have no idea what to make of this Purdue team. They’ve lost to Syracuse and Wisconsin and almost lost to FAU, but beat Maryland, Minnesota, and Illinois. After muddling past Northwestern 17-9, all they need is a little bit of help to travel to Indianapolis for the first time in school history. Aidan O’Connell continues to do a very good job helming this team and is now 23rd in the nation in passing yards. He's thrown 11 touchdowns to just three interceptions in the team’s last four wins, and his play generally determines how well the team does. The ground game has been inconsistent and the defense can suffer a lot of lapses, especially against teams with a multifaceted offense. However, this is Big Ten West football, so none of it matters. If Purdue beats Indiana and Nebraska beats Iowa (and those two things aren’t that shocking), then the Boilermakers are going to the Big Ten title game. I love this stupid sport.

Other Scores

Wisconsin 15, Nebraska 14

Indiana 39, Michigan State 31 F/2OT

No. 11 Penn State 55, Rutgers 10