It wasn’t the regular-season cruise most thought it would be, but, in the end, Wisconsin is who we thought they were.
One of the two teams that will play for the 2012 Big Ten title.
Thanks in small part to its 62-14 win over Indiana Saturday — and in large part to NCAA sanctions levied on Penn State and, especially, Ohio State — the Badgers have clinched the Big Ten Leaders division’s spot in the conference championship game with still two league games remaining. The Hoosiers came into the game with a chance to take control of the Leaders at 3-3 with a win, but it was UW that moved to 4-2 in a division where the other three postseason-eligible teams have won a combined three Big Ten games as of this posting.
And, as expected, the Badgers clinched in a manner that has become their annual trademark: a punishing ground game. Montee Ball (104) and James White (103, pictured) rushed for 100-plus yards in the first half alone. For the game, the Badgers ran for 564 yards as a team — versus just 41 passing — in punching their early-December ticket to Indianapolis for the second consecutive season.
As for who Wisconsin will face in the Dec.1 title game, that’s completely and totally in Nebraska’s hands. If the Cornhuskers win their last three, including this afternoon’s game with Penn State, it would be UW-NU v2.0 — Cornhuskers 30, Badgers 27, in Lincoln Sept. 29 — for the conference championship.
Right on Nebraska’s heels, though, is Michigan. Thanks to UM’s thrilling win over Northwestern Saturday afternoon, the Wolverines are now 5-1 in conference play, a half-game ahead of the Huskers at the moment. Nebraska, though, holds the tiebreaker over UM by virtue of a 23-9 win two weeks ago.
In other words, Michigan will need to win out and hope that Nebraska stubs its toe at least once against either Penn State, Minnesota or Iowa.