Big Ten goes down to wire with champion named on Saturday

Sarah Mitchell

If you’re having trouble with the plethora of pundits, partisans and possibilities clouding the presidential recount in sunny Florida, don’t even bother with the mess of Big Ten football in the upper Midwest.
The conference championship will be decided Saturday — the final weekend of competition — and as many as three teams could share this year’s crown.
If No. 17 Purdue (7-3, 5-2 Big Ten) defeats Indiana and No. 23 Northwestern (7-3, 5-2) beats Illinois on Saturday, the two teams will share the title. The winner of the No. 19 Michigan (7-3, 5-2) at No. 12 Ohio State (8-2, 5-2) game is also guaranteed part of the crown.
Under the tie breaker system, the Boilermakers control who represents the conference in the Rose Bowl. If Purdue wins, it will go to Pasadena.
Boilermakers coach Joe Tiller said the hype of playing for the Rose Bowl berth is not a burden for his team.
“Our emphasis has not been on what goes along with winning the championship, but rather trying to win the championship,” Tiller said.
Five conference teams are bowl eligible and three more are still in the picture. Ohio State, Michigan, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin are eligible while Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota are just one win away.
If those three pick up a win over the weekend, it would set a Big Ten record for conference teams in post-season play. The most teams the league has ever sent to bowls is seven (four times).
Ray Guy Award finalists
Three Big Ten punters were among ten finalists named for the Ray Guy Award, presented to the nation’s top punter. Michigan’s Hayden Epstein, Minnesota’s Preston Gruening and Wisconsin’s Kevin Stemke made the cut.
Florida State’s Keith Cottrell, Oregon’s Kurtis Doerr, Oklahoma’s Jeff Ferguson, California’s Nick Harris, Notre Dame’s Joey Hildbold, Tennessee’s David Leaverton and Arizona State’s Nick Murphy are also finalists.
The winner of the award will be announced on the ESPN College Football Awards Show on Dec. 7.
Players of the Week
Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker earned offensive player of the week honors after leading his team to a 30-10 upset over then-ninth-ranked Purdue. The true freshman completed 12 of 23 passes for 195 yards and one touchdown while rushing 11 times for 46 yards and one score.
“I thought Jeff Smoker certainly had the best game of the season,” Tiller said. “He was certainly exceptional Saturday and I think went a long way towards them winning that particular football game.”
Iowa linebacker Roger Meyer and Ohio State linebacker Matt Wilhelm shared defensive honors.
Meyer recorded a career-best 16 tackles (10 solo) — including three for a loss of 10 yards — in his team’s 27-17 upset of Northwestern.
Wilhelm posted a team-high 12 tackles (eight solos) — including two for a loss of six yards — in the Buckeyes 24-21 win at Illinois.
Buckeyes kicker Dan Stultz was named special teams player of the week. Stultz made all four of his field goal attempts (19, 41, 17, 34) against the Illini, including a 34-yard-game winner with no time left on the clock.