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BIG TEN REPORT: Illini, Wildcats belong to Big Ten’s have-not branch

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Updated: January 2, 2014 6:47AM



All Big Ten football teams are not created equal.

In Minnesota, an 8-4 record makes Jerry Kill a truly Golden Gopher. In Nebraska, 8-4 has left Cornhuskers fans fuming that Bo Pelini should be shucked.

What does it all mean? There are haves in the Big Ten. And have-nots.

The groups are easily distinguished this way: Seven teams in the league routinely fill 70,000-and-beyond stadiums — Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa.

And five teams — Illinois, Northwestern, Minnesota, Indiana and Purdue — struggle to reach the 50,000-attendance threshold.

Guess who dominates?

When Minnesota lost Saturday at Michigan State, the Little Five finished the season with a dismal 3-25 record against the Big Seven. In the three years since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten, the Little Five are 8-61 against the Big Seven.

Why does attendance matter? In general terms, it translates into facilities, the excitement of playing in front of big crowds, the attraction of showcasing skills on teams that tend to be successful.

The dynamic will change a bit next year, when Maryland and Rutgers join the league. Based on their attendance, the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights will increase the Little Five to a Little Seven.

In the new East Division, Indiana, Maryland and Rutgers will see a steady diet of perennials Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State.

Illinois and Northwestern should benefit a bit under the new divisional alignments. They’ll play in the West with fellow little guys Minnesota and Purdue as well as big draws Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Next year, the Illini and Wildcats each will play three games against schools in their weight class. They’ll see each other plus fellow West teams Minnesota and Purdue.

Illinois’ cross-division games will be against Ohio State and Penn State. NU’s will be against Penn State and Michigan. In years when they catch IU, Maryland or Rutgers, the playing field will be even more favorable.

Both Land of Lincoln combatants will see Nebraska on a regular basis. And, apparently, they’ll see Pelini.

Reacting to grumbling that Pelini should not return for a seventh season, Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst issued a statement Saturday, saying he looks forward ‘‘to our bowl game and coach Pelini continuing to lead our program in the future.’’

After the Cornhuskers’ 38-17 loss Friday at Iowa, an agitated Pelini got snippy with a TV sideline reporter. He remained edgy at his postgame media conference.

‘‘They want to fire me, go ahead,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t apologize for what I’ve done. I don’t apologize to you. I don’t apologize to anybody.’’

That chip-on-the-shoulder stuff may be OK when lining up against opponents. But when it’s aimed at members of the media and fan base, it’s dangerous talk — even at a school that has a long string of 90,000-seat sellouts.

Or should that be, especially at a school that has a long string of 90,000-seat sellouts?

WEEK 14 STARS

Devin Gardner, Michigan QB

The junior from Detroit completed 32 of 45 passes for 451 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for a one-yard TD.

Carlos Hyde, Ohio State RB

The senior from Naples, Fla., rushed for 226 yards on 27 carries. Already the first running back to rush for 1,000 yards in Urban Meyer’s 12 years as a head coach, Hyde helped the Buckeyes prevail despite their porous defense.

Christian Hackenberg, Penn State QB

The true freshman from Palmyra, Va., completed 21 of 30 passes for 339 yards and four touchdowns as Penn State shocked Wisconsin 31-24.

BUCKEYES HAVE IT, BARELY

Somebody forgot to tell Michigan, which had lost three of its previous four, that unbeaten Ohio State would roll in Ann Arbor. The No. 3 Buckeyes survived The Game with the Wolverines 42-41 when nickel back Tyvis Powell intercepted a two-point conversion try with 32 seconds left.

It was the 24th straight win for Ohio State, which hopes to move up to No. 2 and sneak into the BCS championship in light of Auburn’s upset of top-ranked Alabama.

HOOSIERS POUR IT ON

The clash for the Old Oaken Bucket was not much of a contest. Indiana routed Purdue 56-36 in Bloomington behind a career-high six touchdown passes from Tre Roberson. IU holds the bucket for the first time in three years but finished one win short of a bowl berth.

Indiana, which led 14-0 early and 35-9 at the half, never gave much of an opening for Purdue. It was the 10th straight loss for the Boilermakers, the second-longest skid in school history.

Besides passing for 273 yards, Roberson rushed for a career-high 154 yards.

BADGERS BUNGLE BCS CHANCE

Seemingly in position to move up to a BCS at-large berth — maybe even the Rose Bowl — Wisconsin let it all slip away with a sloppy 31-24 loss to Penn State before a stunned Camp Randall Stadium crowd. The Nittany Lions made three interceptions against Badgers quarterback Joel Stave, the only turnovers of the game.

Going into the game, Wisconsin, which had won six straight, was 15th in the BCS standings, just one slot removed from a BCS bowl berth and the big pay day that comes with it.

Penn State dashed that plan.

BY THE NUMBERS

1 — Times Ohio State and Michigan have scored 40 or more points each in The Game.

3 — Perfect Big Ten seasons for Michigan State (8-0), which also ran the conference table in 1965 and ’66. Imagine if Sparty, a 17-13 loser at Notre Dame on Sept. 21, had muscled up a bit in South Bend.

40 — Nominees for the Broyles Award (top assistant coach), including seven from the Big Ten. Only problem is, Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit is not among them. There aren’t five assistants in the nation who’ve done a better job.

HE SAID IT

“That was an instant classic. Someone asked me which means more, our 24th win in a row or our second win against our rivals. No question, it’s the second against our rivals. That was a battle. A classic.” — Ohio State coach Urban Meyer



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