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GOULD: Northwestern’s loss part of bigger trend in Big Ten

Northwestern players including safety TraveHenry (10) walk off field following an NCAA college football game Lincoln Neb. Saturday Nov. 2

Northwestern players including safety Traveon Henry (10) walk off the field following an NCAA college football game in Lincoln, Neb., Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013. Nebraska won 27-24. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

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The seven Big Ten schools that dominate at the ticket window also dominate on the scoreboard.

Avg. 2013 vs. Last

Attend. Little 5 3 yrs.

Michigan 111,086 2-0 10-0

Ohio State 104,923 2-0 7-1

Penn State 96,221 1-1 9-1

Nebraska 90,889 3-1 6-2

Wisconsin 79,069 3-0 11-0

Mich State 72,479 3-0 8-1

Iowa 67,361 2-0 6-4

Totals 16-2 57-9

Avg. 2013 vs. Last

Attend. Big 7 3 yrs.

Purdue 52,835 0-4 2-12

Minnesota 46,674 1-2 2-11

Illinois 45,071 0-4 0-12

Indiana 44,177 1-2 2-11

N-western 37,561 0-4 3-11

Totals 2-16 9-57


Rutgers 49,466

Maryland 40,977

Updated: December 7, 2013 6:29AM

Who’s hurting more this week?

Illinois, which got to overtime before a shocking first-down interception consigned it to its 18th straight Big Ten loss?

Or Northwestern, which lost its fifth straight game on a ‘‘Hail Mary’’ set up by feeble fourth-and-long tackling?

We’ll give the nod to NU, which had its heart cut out and dealt its bowl hopes a big blow, by losing a game that seemed to be over.

As wrenching as these two losses were, they were reminders of a strange truth in Big Ten football: The seven schools that routinely fill giant stadiums not only crush the other five teams at the box office. They also stomp them on the playing field.

Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa are 16-2 against the Little Five this year. They are 57-9 against Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Northwestern and Purdue in the two-plus seasons since Nebraska joined the league.

In the likely event that the trend continues, at least attendance-challenged Maryland and Rutgers will balance things out to a Little Seven/Big Seven.

What’s the correlation between winning and having athletic-department ticket revenue that rivals the GNP of small countries? It’s difficult to say with certainty, because ‘‘amateur’’ sports don’t have New York Yankees/Miami Heat payroll opportunities.

The most logical explanation: The best players tend to want to play in front of the biggest crowds for the teams that will give them the best opportunity to showcase their skills and win the most games.

Fortunately for the Little Five, they’re still members of the richest club in college sports. Losing in the Big Ten still is a very lucrative deal. And there’s always basketball. Hockey and lacrosse also are on the horizon.

Third-quarter report

As the Big Ten heads into the final quarter of the season, some truths are self-evident:

† The biggest gainer is Michigan State, which is in the driver’s seat to play Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. But Nebraska is lurking in case the Spartans take their eyes off the road.

If Northwestern had finished off the Cornhuskers, Sparty would be a major lock to meet the Buckeyes. MSU’s throttling of Michigan was impressive stuff in a generally uninspired Big Ten season.

But thanks to NU’s gift for squandering late leads, Nebraska can slip in through the back door if it wins out. Besides playing host to Michigan State on Nov. 16 though, the shaky Cornhuskers play Penn State and Iowa. So the Spartans still could get to Indy even if the trip to Lincoln doesn’t go so well.

† The biggest loser is Northwestern. The Wildcats’ previous four losses came with the twin asterisks of injuries and a nasty schedule. Their meltdown in Loss No. 5, at Nebraska, would have given NU a chance to salvage a bowl trip by winning one of its last three, including Illinois.

Now the Cats need to win two out of three, a major task for a reeling team. That’s unfortunate because this was supposed to be a breakout season for Pat Fitzgerald’s crew.

† Bottom line: Pencil in the Big Ten for seven bowl teams. Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Nebraska, Michigan and Minnesota already are eligible. Iowa can secure its sixth win at lowly Purdue on Saturday.

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