While beat writer MATT DANIELS is still trying to come to grips with the size of the Beef House and its steaks, here’s what he learned Saturday:
1 Critics’ choice. Yes, the four-point win Illinois left West Lafayette with Saturday wasn’t overtly impressive. Yes, mistakes were made on both sides of the ball and on special teams. But, to steal an oft-used line by coaches, a win is a win. The victory basically dismissed the chances of Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas letting Tim Beckman go after only two seasons. Not saying he would have even if Illinois had stumbled against the Boilermakers, but the victory certainly helps Beckman out.
“He’s taken a lot of criticism,” left tackle Simon Cvijanovic said. “It’s all for these seniors. He’s happy that we didn’t send these seniors out the way we did last year without a Big Ten win.”
Now Beckman’s Big Ten record at Illinois stands at 1-14. Ugly. But better than 0-15.
“You talk about the players, but this is a huge family,” Beckman said. “We have 200 people involved in this family from trainers to coaches to managers. That’s what it’s about. Winning football games. Just about everybody hugged. It was outstanding.”
Hearty congratulations were in store after Saturday’s victory. Illinois now has a renewed sense of confidence heading into its winnable season finale against Northwestern. That both the offense and defense contributed to the win meant something to quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.
“We needed the other side of the ball to step up for us when we made mistakes, and they needed us to step up for them,” he said. “That was the biggest thing. We played as a team. We were all as one.”
2 Let’s go bowling. Illinois and Northwestern can’t make that statement leading into Saturday’s regular season finale. Neither can Indiana, Penn State or Purdue. The other seven teams in the Big Ten, however, will have a bowl game to attend. Coaches don’t like to look ahead at projections, but media types can’t do that enough. Here’s my projected outlook. Michigan will tangle with Texas Tech at the Texas Bowl on Dec. 27 in Houston. Minnesota will meet Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Dec. 28 in Tempe, Ariz. Iowa will head to Jacksonville, Fla., for a Gator Bowl matchup on New Year’s Day against Mississippi. Nebraska will head south to the Cotton Bowl, the venue, for a Heart of Dallas Bowl game against Rice. Plenty of red in the stands. Ditto for the Outback Bowl in Tampa, where Gary Andersen will lead his first Badgers squad against Georgia. Michigan State won’t win the Big Ten title game and will have to settle for a Capital One Bowl berth against Missouri. Ohio State will cap off another unbeaten regular season, but so will Alabama and Florida State. The Buckeyes will have to settle for their first trip to Pasadena since 2010 and play Stanford, the first time those two teams will meet in the Rose Bowl since 1971.
3 Big time. This is what Jim Delany envisioned when his league decided to hold a conference title game. Barring an upset in Ann Arbor, Ohio State will find itself smack in the middle of the BCS national championship game picture Dec. 7 in downtown Indianapolis. Against Michigan State. All the Spartans have on their mind — given they can beat Minnesota — is a Rose Bowl berth. This is by far the best Big Ten title game in its brief history. Bet the folks in Columbus are big Auburn and Florida fans this week. Just like they were big Oklahoma State supporters Saturday night. If Gus Malzahn’s team can knock off Alabama at home Saturday, Ohio State will play for a national title if it wins its final two games. No one can predict what the computers will decide, but Urban Meyer’s team has to feel a bit better about where it stands heading into this weekend.