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Indiana-Wisconsin winner will be in driver’s seat for Big Ten football title game

Indiancoach KevWilswaits during timeout second half an NCAA college football game BloomingtInd. Saturday Oct. 13 2012. Ohio State wgame 52-49.

Indiana coach Kevin Wilson waits during a timeout in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Bloomington, Ind., Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012. Ohio State won the game 52-49. (AP Photo/Sam Riche)

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Updated: March 1, 2013 10:02PM


11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN2 Records: Wisconsin 6-3, 3-2 Indiana 4-5, 2-3
The line: Wisconsin by 7.. Gould’s pick: Wisconsin, 24-20

The elections may be over. But Wisconsin is still a battleground state.

It’s a one-man, one-vote situation. When the Badgers travel to Indiana Saturday for a game with Rose Bowl implications, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema will have to choose between junior transfer Danny O’Brien and fifth-year senior Curt Phillips at quarterback.

What’s the difference, you say? The Badgers are playing Indiana, which hasn’t won a November home game since 2007. Hold that thought. Because when you get past the stereotype, as shocking as it may sound, IU will put itself in the driver’s seat for a slot in the Big Ten championship game with a victory over Wisconsin. And IU is capable enough.

If the favored Badgers handle the Hoosiers, they’ll clinch their second straight title-game appearance. If IU wins, though, it’ll hold the tie-breaker over Wisconsin.

And while Indiana goes on the road to Penn State and Purdue for its final two games, the Badgers still have a home date with No. 5
Ohio State and a trip to Penn State.

In a measure of how faint the Big Ten’s football pulse is this fall, the two Leaders Division leaders could lose those last four games without raising any eyebrows —and yet one of them would be in Indianapolis on Dec. 1, 60 minutes away from Pasadena.

Heavens to Harry Gonso. It would be the Hoosiers’ first Rose Bowl trip since they lost to O.J. Simpson-led USC 14-3 in 1968.

It’s no wonder that second-year Indiana coach Kevin Wilson is keeping his Hoosiers focused.

‘‘This is not going to be an emotional Senior Day,’’ said Wilson, who starts 13 freshmen and sophomores and only three seniors. ‘‘We’re not going to be teary-eyed and having a bunch of hugs. We’ll recognize those seniors, and thank their parents and give them big hugs. But we’ve got a bunch of football left to play.’’

It’s no wonder that a wary Bielema is keeping his quarterback choice under wraps.

After redshirt freshman Joel Stave went down with a broken collarbone in the third quarter, the Badgers lost their last game 16-13 in overtime to Michigan State on Oct. 27.

The safe choice would be O’Brien, who opened the season as Wisconsin’s QB after transferring from Maryland. O’Brien lost the starting job to Stave in September, when the Badgers’ vaunted running game was so bad Bielema fired his offensive line coach.

On the other hand, Phillips, who has undergone three knee surgeries since 2009, is valued for his mobility, leadership and perseverance. A three-play cameo vs. Illinois on Oct. 6 was his first appearance since 2009.

Phillips reportedly is the choice, but Bielema declined to confirm that.

The QB decision matters because the Badgers’ running game still isn’t what it used to be. And while Indiana’s run defense has been torched by spread offenses, it has held its own against traditional running attacks such as Michigan State, which managed only 2.9 yards per rush, and Iowa (3.2 yards).

The NCAA sanctions against Ohio State and Penn State explain the absence of a legitimate leader in the Leaders Division. With the Buckeyes seemingly poised to seize the Leaders by the throat, at least Wisconsin and Indiana are trying to take advantage of this year’s opportunity.

The schools that ought to be kicking themselves are Purdue and Illinois, which are both 0-5 in league play. The Boilermakers, who lost 20-17 at Notre Dame in September, have fizzled mightily. And Illini Nation has to be wondering what might have been if athletic director Mike Thomas hadn’t had such an itchy trigger finger with Ron Zook, who seemed poised for another middling season.

In the Leaders Division, 7-5 could get you elected to the Big Ten championship game. Maybe even 6-6. Just ask Wisconsin and Indiana.

Purdue at Iowa

Time: 11 a.m., BTN

The records: Purdue 3-6, 0-5 Big Ten; Iowa 4-5, 2-3

The story line: In a game only a mother could love, two underachievers meet. Boilers, who also play Illinois and Indiana, could get to 6-6 if they get their act together. Iowa, which finishes with Michigan and Nebraska, has a tough path.

The line: Iowa by 41/2

Gould’s pick: Iowa, 24-13

Penn State at
No. 18 Nebraska

Time: 2:30 p.m., Ch. 7

The records: Penn State 6-3, 4-1 Big Ten; Nebraska 7-2, 4-1

The story line: Huskers need to handle their toughest remaining opponent to remain in division driver’s seat. If given an opening, Penn State is capable.

The line: Nebraska by 71/2

Gould’s pick: Nebraska, 31-20

No. 15 Texas A&M
at No. 1 Alabama

Time: 2:30 p.m., Ch. 2

The records: Texas A&M 7-2, 4-2 SEC; Alabama 9-0, 6-0

The story line: Bama, coming off a great win at LSU, needs to stay focused vs. the Aggies (44.7 ppg, 4th in nation), who can score if the Crimson Tide defense isn’t its usual tough self.

The line: Alabama by 131/2

Gould’s pick: Alabama, 38-28

No. 3 Kansas State
at TCU

Time: 6 p.m., Fox-32

The records: Kansas State 9-0, 6-0 Big 12; TCU 6-3, 3-3

The story line: Horned Frogs, who won at West Virginia in double OT last week, can be thorny, especially if K-State QB Collin Klein (possible concussion) is limited or sidelined.

The line: Kansas State by 7

Gould’s pick: Kansas State, 38-34

No. 13 Oregon State
at No. 16 Stanford

Time: 2 p.m., Fox-32

The records: Oregon State 7-1, 5-1 Pac-12; Stanford 7-2, 5-1

The story line: Stanford defense needs to cope with Beavers’ offensive speed in a good matchup of two really solid all-around teams.

The line: Stanford by 4

Gould’s pick: Stanford, 20-17

West Virginia at Oklahoma State

Time: 2:30 p.m., ESPN2

The records: West Virginia 5-3, 2-3 Big 12; Oklahoma State 5-3, 3-2

The story line: Mountaineers, who were a top-five team, have lost three straight and need to halt the skid before facing Oklahoma next week.

The line: Oklahoma State by 81/2

Gould’s pick: Okla. State, 42-31

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