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Big Ten Notebook: Two a good number for Buckeyes

The SportsXchange

No one was playing for a Big Ten title on Saturday. The division winners were determined the previous week. But the final weekend of the regular season still provided plenty of drama and a few surprises.

The drama: Ohio State extended its winning streak to 24 -- barely. The Buckeyes dodged a major upset at Michigan when Wolverines coach Brady Hoke elected to try for a two-point conversion after a touchdown with 32 seconds left. It failed and Ohio State escaped with a 42-41 victory in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Then, the Buckeyes' BCS championship game hopes received a miraculous boost a few hours later when Auburn scored on an improbable field goal return for a touchdown on the final play of the Iron Bowl game to knock off previously unbeaten and top-ranked Alabama.

That raises the stakes in the Big Ten championship game next weekend. If No. 2 Ohio State gets past Michigan State in Indianapolis, it could punch its ticket for the BCS national championship game, possibly against No. 1 Florida State.

The surprises: Wisconsin went into its home game against Penn State with designs on a BCS at-large berth. That proved to be premature, wishful thinking. The Badgers failed to take care of business on the field and Penn State came away with a stunning 31-24 victory.

Wisconsin likely fell behind Michigan State in the Big Ten's bowl pecking order. The Spartans moved to 11-1 and finished with an 8-0 Big Ten record after getting past Minnesota 14-3.

A win over Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game would send Michigan State to the Rose Bowl. A close loss might be enough for the Spartans to land a BCS at-large berth.

Another mild surprise turned out to be Iowa's 38-17 thumping of Nebraska on Black Friday and the meltdown of embattled Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini. He ranted on the sideline and then went off in interviews after the game while defending his record.

Pelini stole the show from the Hawkeyes, who capped a turnaround season. Iowa went from 4-8 in 2012 to 8-4 in 2013 -- its four losses to teams with a combined 44-4 record -- and a possible Outback Bowl bid.

Only seven of the 12 Big Ten teams qualified for bowls. Minnesota and Michigan will join Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska in the postseason.

Minnesota and Michigan closed out the regular season with two consecutive losses, but the outlook is very different in Minneapolis and Ann Arbor. Gophers fans are hopeful about the future and Wolverines fans are depressed after an uncharacteristic 7-5 season.

Michigan wasn't the only underachiever this season, at least according to preseason expectations. Indiana, in its third year under coach Kevin Wilson, fell short of bowl eligibility with a 5-7 record. Northwestern, which was 4-0 in September and ranked in the top 20, lost seven straight before edging Illinois on Saturday for its only Big Ten win.

The final weekend also produced some impressive individual performances.

Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde rushed for more than 200 yards for the second straight week, three Indiana backs ran for more than 100 yards against Purdue and Hoosiers quarterback Tre Roberson threw six touchdown passes.

Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner passed for 451 yards and four touchdowns against Ohio State, Purdue freshman quarterback Danny Etling threw for 485 yards and four touchdowns against Indiana, Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian completed 31 of 44 passes for 414 yards against Illinois and Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg spearheaded an upset at Wisconsin with 339 passing yards and four touchdowns.

FIVE BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK 14 IN THE BIG TEN:

1. Ohio State was a missed two-point conversion from its perfect season going up in flames against a team that was struggling mightily. But the Buckeyes survived Michigan's fourth-quarter comeback to keep their 24-game winning streak and BCS championship hopes intact heading into the Big Ten title game against Michigan State next week.

2. Despite athletic director Shawn Eichorst's expression of support, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini's job security is in question after the 38-17 loss to Iowa on Friday. The seventh-year coach was defiant after the game, saying his record speaks for itself. The Cornhuskers are 57-24 under Pelini, but 8-4 seasons fall short of expectations at Nebraska and patience could be running thin among Big Red fans.

3. Wisconsin took itself out of contention for a Bowl Championship Series at-large bowl berth with a 31-24 loss to Wisconsin at home. The Badgers had won six in a row and were rising in the rankings before they were blindsided by the heavy-underdog Nittany Lions. The surprising result ended the debate about the second-best team (Wisconsin or Michigan State) in the Big Ten behind Ohio State.

4. Michigan State cemented its status as the best program in the state of Michigan. Not only have the Spartans dominated Michigan in recent years, but MSU's 14-3 victory over Minnesota on Saturday gave Mark Dantonio-coached teams 11 wins for the third time in the past four seasons. And for the second time in three years, the Spartans will play in the Big Ten championship game. If Michigan State loses to Ohio State on Saturday night, it still has a good shot at a BCS game.

5. Ohio State might have the best 1-2 backfield combination in the country with running back Carlos Hyde and quarterback Braxton Miller. No two backs are playing better. Hyde has 1,290 yards rushing and averages 7.8 yards per carry after missing the Buckeyes' first three games because of a suspension. Miller bounced back from an early season knee injury and would be a primary Heisman Trophy contender with a full season under his belt. Miller has thrown for 1,759 yards and 21 touchdowns with five interceptions and rushed for 891 yards and eight touchdowns.
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