DES MOINES — Indiana and Illinois had some fun with the scoreboard last weekend in Bloomington, Ind. The Hoosiers and Illini combined for 87 points, and had a 450-yard passer, a 200-yard receiver and two backs with at least 150 yards rushing.
Yet, neither of those teams is likely to even reach a bowl.
In Big Ten football, title contention is still driven by defense.
It’s no coincidence that the three best teams — No. 3 Ohio State, No. 14 Michigan State and No. 17 Wisconsin — have the top three defenses in the league and rank in the top 10 nationally in points allowed a game.
“All three of them play a different style of defense, and yet they’re all really effective,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, whose Hawkeyes have lost to the Buckeyes, Spartans and Badgers this season. “There’s no one way to be successful in football. But the bottom line is you have to have good players, they’ve got to be well-coached and they have to play well on Saturday. I think that certainly describes all three of those teams.”
Ohio State (9-0, 5-0) has surged to the top of the Leaders Division thanks in large part to Braxton Miller and its high-powered offense, which is fifth nationally at 48.2 points a game.
Miller and company have made it easy to overlook a defense that, at least statistically, is nearly as good. The Buckeyes are eighth in the country in scoring defense at 17 points a game, and they allowed just 14 total points in recent blowouts of Penn State and Purdue.
The Spartans (8-1, 5-0) have put themselves in position to join the Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game by leaning on a defense that trails only No. 1 Alabama and No. 20 Louisville by allowing just 11.6 points a game.
Their numbers over the past three games are simply staggering.