In his usual upbeat fashion, Minnesota coach PJ Fleck was trying to come to terms with how his team’s Big Ten title chances fell apart.
“There are some things that we look at, and one or two stories are always around, but none of us wanted it to happen, but it happened,” he said. “I need you to be grateful for it. If you are grateful for your life, do not settle and choose what you are grateful for.”
Minnesota is now removed from contention for the conference championship game. The race to represent the Big Ten West comes down to Iowa and Purdue, with Illinois still a slim chance. The Hawkeyes, who are dead in the league in both passing and rushing, can win a spot in the title game with Nebraska this week. If that happens, Minnesota, Purdue and Illinois – three teams that have never reached a bowl game in Indianapolis – will miss out on a golden opportunity.
“Everybody had a chance in the West. It’s not just us,” Fleck said. .’
Fleck is just about that par – especially this season – but still, only four of seven Western teams have made it to the title game since it started in 2011. Iowa, Northwestern and Wisconsin went three seasons, and Nebraska brought it back when the league was divided between the Princes and the Legends Division.
In this respect the West is no different from the East, which is supposed to be more serious. Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State are the four teams from the East that made it to Indianapolis.
Conditions seemed promising for new blood from the West this year. Nebraska was set on a high, and Wisconsin had enough problems that coach Paul Chryst was fired in early October. Iowa’s offense was and still is a laughingstock — but if the Hawkeyes win on Friday, they’ll play for the championship against the winner of the Michigan-Ohio State game. Like last year.
“It’s our culture, man,” quarterback Spencer Peters said after Iowa beat Minnesota 13-10 for its fourth straight victory. “It starts with our head coach, his leadership. I can say enough about our defense leaders. That Ohio State game will put them in rough dirt and it would be easy for the unit to turn the class on offense right? But they didn’t.”
After losing to Ohio State 54-10, the Hawkeyes beat Northeastern, Purdue, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
If Iowa loses to Nebraska, Purdue can reach the title game with a victory over rival Indiana on Saturday. Iowa plays Friday, although Boilermakers coach Jeff Brohm is trying not to put too much focus on it, at least officially.
“I know it’s Friday. I don’t know what time the game is. I’m sure while traveling through people’s cell phones, things like that,” he said. .
Illinois needs to lose to Iowa and Purdue. If this happens, the Illini can make it to Indianapolis by beating Northwestern. Illinois actually beat both Iowa and Minnesota, but the three-game losing streak has the Illini needing help.
This season it was still a big step for Illinois and coach Bret Bielema, but the road to the Big Ten title will only get tougher after Southern California and UCLA join the league.
For Minnesota that road is tougher than that. Next year, the Gophers’ schedule includes back-to-back games against both Michigan and Ohio State from the East. So this time, perhaps the division title was needed to benefit.
“Be fooled, won’t fail. That’s how I’ll put it,” Fleck said after the Iowa loss.
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