Posted by Adam Jacobi
Michigan State isn't exactly BCS Championship material after all: Not even in our Insane Predictions did we ever see a 31-point Iowa throttling of Michigan State coming; the Hawkeyes dominated from the get-go and harassed Kirk Cousins into irrelevance, forcing three interceptions and keeping the Spartans off the scoreboard until the game was well out of hand. The vaunted Michigan State rushing was even more forcefully debilitated; the Spartans managed only 31 yards on 20 carries, and even that might overstate the Spartans' effectiveness rushing the football, as only one of their 13 first downs came on the ground: an 11-yard end-around by WR Bennie Fowler. The MSU tailbacks? No-shows. That, plus a harried performance by the quarterback, equals disaster, and that's what rained down on the Spartans in Iowa City on Saturday.
This makes four one-loss teams in the Big Ten, and with tiebreaker rules being what they are, there are essentially no teams left in the Big Ten that can win the conference crown "without help"; each of the four teams' Rose Bowl hopes depends directly on another team winning or losing. Might we see some eyes casting furtive glances at scoreboards from here on out? Don't be surprised.
Quietly, Ohio State marches on. Don't look now, but Ohio State is back to 8-1 (4-1) on the season, tied for first with Michigan State in the standings. The Buckeyes' latest act of aggression against the rest of the conference was a 52-10 spanking of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, OSU's sixth victory of 28 points or more on the season. Terrelle Pryor's still really good, and the defense is tightening up after that 31-18 horror show in Madison two weeks ago. A 12-1 mark to finish the year isn't exactly out of the question for the Buckeyes, whose only real tests are a visit to Iowa and whatever high-level bowl game they're awarded.
Now, even if the Buckeyes win out and even if they're ranked ahead of Michigan State in the BCS ratings (which they would be), they're not guaranteed a Rose Bowl bid; like everyone else crowded at the top, OSU needs one little bit of help. Again, more on that later. But rest assured that at the very least, an 11-1 Ohio State gets an at-large BCS bowl bid.
Sorry, but Michigan's not legitimate. The Michigan defense's ability to breathe life into a moribund opposing offense is truly a sight to behold, and its 41-point performance against Penn State and former walk-on QB Matt McGloin (making his first start ever) might have been its magnum opus. Evan Royster, who basically hasn't found rushing lanes all season long, gashed the Wolverines for 150 yards and two scores. McGloin threw for 250 yards and another touchdown, and the Nittany Lions converted on 10 of 16 third downs (and went 2-2 on fourth downs, so really, 12 of those 16 third downs ended up getting converted). Again, this is the same Nittany Lion offense that scored three points against Iowa and Alabama, scored 13 against Illinois, and "racked up" 24 on Kent State. Throw in the backup quarterback, and Michigan still gives up 41 points -- and that's not even counting PSU kneeling at Michigan's 2-yard line to end the game. It could have been worse.
What this means is that even for Denard Robinson's heroic 380 yards of total offense in the loss, Michigan's overall ineptitude makes him more the next Antwaan Randle-El than a potential conference-winning quarterback at this point. And don't get it twisted, Randle-El was truly great, but there's no doubt that he'd have traded his first-team All-American designation for so much as a bowl bid in his four years of play. Didn't happen. Now, Michigan's not there yet, but the Wolverines are at least on their way; under Rich Rodriguez, the Wolverines are now an astonishing 4-16 in Big Ten play with Saturday's loss. They're not exactly "program-defining" wins, either (or they could be, perhaps, but certainly not in any positive sense): at Indiana this year, vs. Indiana in 2009, vs. Wisconsin in 2008, and vs. Minnesota in 2008. That's all. No teams with over seven wins on the season, one win by over seven points. At Michigan. In fact, only Indiana has fared worse in Big Ten play since RichRod showed up; for those keeping track at home, that's the second unflattering comparison to Indiana in this paragraph alone.
Stanzi for Heisman? Let's start with Stanzi for New York: Ricky Stanzi had his third straight game of three passing touchdowns and no turnovers, pushing his season totals to 19 TDs and two picks in eight games. That's usually not a Heisman-winning pace, and especially not this season, but the efficiency (second in the nation and gaining on Boise State's Kellen Moore) is awfully reminiscent of another QB in Iowa City just eight years ago: Brad Banks, who threw 26 TDs and four interceptions en route to a runner-up spot for the Heisman to Carson Palmer in 2002. If Stanzi keeps this up and if Iowa upends Ohio State in Iowa City (big ifs), might we see Stanzi at the Downtown Athletic Club? With Denard Robinson's (or more accurately Michigan's) season fading and Taylor Martinez dinged up, don't rule it out quite yet.
Wisconsin's biggest fans are the Spartans, and its biggest enemies are its victims. How badly does Michigan State need Wisconsin to win out? If the Badgers lose while either Iowa or OSU finish at 7-1, the Spartans' grasp on the conference title evaporates; Iowa has beaten MSU head-to-head, while it's extremely unlikely that MSU can overtake the Buckeyes in the BCS standings after its jarring defeat in Iowa City on Saturday. Meanwhile, the fact that Ohio State and Michigan State don't play each other has suddenly swung heavily in OSU's favor; more on that later this week. As for Wisconsin itself, its Rose Bowl chances hinge entirely on either Michigan State or the Iowa-OSU winner losing another game. But again, more later; trust us, that stuff gets complicated, especially now that "Just win, baby" isn't automatically enough for anybody in the conference anymore.