VanDeSteeg wins award, Buckeyes and Wolverines collide

The sophomore defensive end’s four sacks against Michigan State ties Minnesota’s single-game high.

Tyler Rushmeyer

Minnesota’s Willie VanDeSteeg played a big role in keeping the Gophers’ bowl dreams alive with a career-best performance Saturday.

For his efforts, the sophomore defensive end took home his first Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week award.

VanDeSteeg posted five tackles, including four sacks, for a combined loss of 33 yards, in Minnesota’s 31-18 victory over Michigan State.

His sack total ranks as the third-highest single-game total in Big Ten history. It also equals the highest total in Gophers’ history, tying Karon Riley’s mark set against Iowa on Nov. 18, 2000.

The Big Ten handed out Co-Offensive Player of the Week awards to two seniors: quarterback Troy Smith of Ohio State and running back Tony Hunt of Penn State.

Smith threw four touchdowns in the Buckeyes’ 54-10 win on Saturday at Northwestern, matching a career high. He finished the day 12-of-19 for 185 yards despite sitting out the final quarter of the contest.

Hunt rushed for a career-best 167 yards on 16 attempts in the Nittany Lions’ 47-0 route of Temple on Saturday.

He also caught two passes for 25 yards to give him 192 total all-purpose yards in just over one half of work.

Penn State offensive coordinator Galen Hall said Hunt’s efforts have been vital to the Nittany Lions’ success.

“I don’t think enough can be said about the young man,” he said. “When Tony does well, we do well.”

Michigan senior wide receiver Steve Breaston took home his fourth Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week award for his 231 all-purpose yards, highlighted by an 83-yard punt return touchdown in the Wolverines’ 34-3 victory over Indiana on Saturday.

Big time matchup

For the first time in conference history, the Big Ten features two 11-0 teams in Michigan and Ohio State, who will meet on Saturday with the conference crown on the line.

Michigan will be playing for its conference-best 43rd Big Ten title and Ohio State for its 30th, which ranks second in conference history.

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel will be aiming for his third conference title in six seasons, while Michigan coach Lloyd Carr will be seeking his fifth title in 12 seasons.

Tressel said his players are focused and ready to go.

“It’s the greatest rivalry in college football. Obviously it’s even more special this year playing for the conference title,” he said. “It should be a fun week.”

Carr, who is 1-4 against Tressel’s Buckeyes, said players never forget the importance of the rivalry.

“From the time he gets here until the time he leaves, players are reminded of this game,” he said. “They respect the tradition and they know the ramifications of Saturday’s game.”

The last time two Big Ten teams that were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation faced off was on Oct. 19, 1985, when top-ranked Iowa defeated second-ranked Michigan 12-10.

The top two winning streaks in the nation will also be facing off on Saturday as Ohio State’s national-best 18 consecutive wins will match up against Michigan’s 11.

Going bowling

With Purdue’s seventh win of the season over Illinois on Saturday, the Boilermakers became the sixth Big Ten program to become bowl eligible.

Minnesota and Indiana will try to be number eight and nine this coming weekend. Both programs can become bowl-eligible with wins on Saturday.