Big Ten title race takes to Pennsylvania

Matt Perkins

With a victory over Minnesota on Saturday, Ohio State not only clinched bowl eligibility but also kept pace in the Big Ten race.

Along with the Buckeyes (6-2. 4-1), Michigan (6-3, 4-2), Iowa (5-3, 3-2) and Northwestern (5-3, 3-2) still cling to Big Ten title hopes with three weeks of play remaining.

And they will know who they are chasing after this weekend.

Wisconsin and Penn State are tied at the top of the conference with 5-1 records, and the two teams will meet Saturday in State College, Pa.

The winner will improve to 6-1 in the Big Ten and inch closer to wrapping up the conference title.

Offensive outburst

The teams in the Big Ten average 31.5 points per game, a number that is making defensive coordinators around the conference scratch their heads.

The Gophers are third in the conference and tied for 15th in the nation with a scoring average of 35.9 points per contest. Their border-rival Badgers lead the conference with 39.7 points a game, good enough for seventh in the country.

Case in point: The Gophers put up 31 points against Ohio State’s defense, which came into the game with the third-ranked overall defense in the country.

“We played well against Ohio State,” Gophers running back Laurence Maroney said. “But those mental errors always seem to kick in, and they kicked in at a bad time.”

Gophers coach Glen Mason said scoring 31 points is no consolation to those mental mistakes.

“To beat Ohio State, you have to do a lot of things right,” Mason said. “You have to do most things right, let’s face it. We did some, and we didn’t do some others.”

Best backs in Big Ten

The Big Ten has seen its share of standout running backs over the years, and this season’s roster ranks with the best.

The conference showcases five of the top 15 national leaders in rushing yards, including 1,260 yards from Laurence Maroney, good for third in the nation.

But Wisconsin running back Brian Calhoun is stealing the headlines with his 19 rushing touchdowns.

Penn State needs to find a way to stop him Saturday if it hopes to take home the Big Ten title.

“Calhoun is one of the best backs we have played against in a long time,” Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. “If he runs for 150 or 160 yards, it will be a long day.”

Goin’ bowlin’

With wins Saturday, Michigan and Ohio State secured bowl eligibility alongside Penn State and Wisconsin.

But plenty of other Big Ten teams are on the verge.

Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan State and Northwestern are all one win away from locking up a bowl game appearance.

The Wildcats host the Hawkeyes this Saturday, so one of those teams will assure itself postseason action.

The Gophers look to secure eligibility Saturday as they travel to take on the Hoosiers (4-4, 1-4).

“Well, I wasn’t happy with the way that we performed a year ago down there,” Mason said Tuesday of the Gophers’ 30-21 loss last season in Bloomington, Ind. “It’s hard to explain, and you start off and everything goes right. Then, you think you are in pretty good shape, and we fell asleep as a team, offensively, defensively and in the kicking game.”

The game is set for 11 a.m. Saturday on ESPN2.