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After close calls, Michigan, Nebraska football will battle for Legends leverage

Michigan held Michigan State running back Le’VeBell 68 yards 26 carries Wolverines’ 12-10 victory Saturday. | LeHalip~Getty Images

Michigan held Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell to 68 yards on 26 carries in the Wolverines’ 12-10 victory Saturday. | Leon Halip~Getty Images

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SUN-TIMES BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS

Michigan and Nebraska on collision course after narrow escapes. Badgers cruising to second Big Ten title game.

LW

1. Ohio State (7-0) 1

2. Michigan (5-2) 2

3. Penn State (5-2) 3

4. Nebraska (5-2) 4

5. Wisconsin (6-2) 6

6. Northwestern (6-2) 5

7. Iowa (4-3) 7

8. Michigan State (4-4) 8

9. Purdue (3-4) 10

10. Indiana (2-5) 9

11. Minnesota (4-3) 11

12. Illinois (2-5) 12

Updated: November 23, 2012 6:22AM



The Victors may be saying, ‘‘Hail! Hail!’’ but they aren’t humming along like a well-oiled machine yet.

‘‘We didn’t play perfect at all,” Brady Hoke said after Michigan beat Michigan State 12-10 on a late field goal. ‘‘We made mistakes. But they kept going, they kept fighting.’’

And the Blackshirts probably will need laundering this week.

‘‘I’m frustrated with getting in that situation,’’ Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said after the Cornhuskers rallied to beat Northwestern 29-28 after trailing 28-16 with 81/2 minutes left. ‘‘But I’ll take this win any day.’’

The Cornhuskers and the No. 20 Wolverines will take their victories and move along. In this down Big Ten year, for all the troubles on both sides, Michigan’s trip to Nebraska on Saturday night shapes up as this week’s Survival Bowl. At stake: inside position for a slot in the second Big Ten championship game.

‘‘I firmly believe we can win them all,’’ Pelini said. ‘‘But we’ve got to play cleaner football.”

Nebraska relies on a rushing offense that’s sixth in the nation at 272 yards per game. Michigan — 10th in the nation in total defense after holding the Big Ten’s leading tailback, Le’Veon Bell, to 68 yards on 26 carries — thinks its defense is stout enough to win the league.

‘‘We believe it,’’ safety Jordan Kovacs said, ‘‘but we’ve got to keep getting better. And that’s what we plan on doing.’’

Somebody will get better in Lincoln on Saturday night.

Walking wounded

If Michigan-Nebraska is the survivors’ showdown, Northwestern is hanging on by a thread after blowing a late lead for the second time in three weeks.

But if it can hold serve at Ryan Field against Iowa on Saturday and work miracles at Michigan and Michigan State the next two weeks, it could keep itself in the divisional hunt. That’s especially true because the Wolverines must play at Ohio State as well as Nebraska.

‘‘We’re going to have to flush this one pretty quickly,’’ NU coach Pat Fitzgerald said, using an apt verb.

Biggest loser

At least NU is in position to do some damage control. That possibility is looking bleak for Michigan State. The Spartans, who were ranked 10th in the nation in September, qualify as one of the nation’s most disappointing teams.

Not only are their hopes of returning to the Big Ten title game gone. With heavy hearts and a tough remaining schedule that includes Wisconsin and Nebraska, they’ll need to be careful or risk not even becoming bowl-eligible.

The pill is especially bitter because MSU, which is coming off back-to-back 11-win seasons, has lost to Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan by a combined six points.

Badger QB

Not everybody can be like Russell Wilson.

The former N.C. State star made it look easy when he transferred to Wisconsin a year ago and guided the Badgers to Pasadena. Wilson added to the legend this fall, winning the starting job with the Seattle Seahawks as a third-round pick.

Hoping to work another magic act, the Badgers brought in another ACC quarterback, Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien. From there, the Wilson analogy stopped. With O’Brien and the Badgers’ offense struggling, coach Bret Bielema has turned to redshirt freshman Joel Stave.

Thanks to favorable circumstances, Stave is learning on the job. Aided by consecutive games against Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota — who are a combined 0-9 in Big Ten play — Stave just might be ready by the time Wisconsin goes after its third consecutive Rose Bowl trip in the Big Ten title game.



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