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October 24, 2012

Battling for pride in the Big 10

NORMAN — Only three teams in the Big Ten are unbeaten in league play — and two of them are ineligible for the postseason.

That takes a bit of the luster from this weekend’s impressive slate of games — but not all of it.

No. 9 Ohio State and Penn State are both undefeated in conference, and they’re playing each other this weekend. Thanks to sanctions, neither can compete for the Big Ten championship or go to a bowl — and because of that, it’s looking exceedingly likely that Wisconsin will cruise to the league championship game.

Still, the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions can play for pride, and the winner of this weekend’s game will have a decent chance to finish atop the standings in the Leaders Division.

A cosmetic distinction? Sort of. But that’s the best these two programs can hope for after being beset by off-the-field problems.

“We’ve got great kids here. We’ve got a hell of a coaching staff,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said. “It’s never been doom and gloom in here.”

The sanctions have taken a bit of the luster off the Big Ten’s postseason prospects. Ohio State (8-0, 4-0) is the conference’s highest-ranked team in the AP poll. The only other team in the Top 25 is No. 20 Michigan, which is also without a conference loss.

But Penn State’s resurgence after an 0-2 start has added some buzz to the division races. Not only do the Nittany Lions (5-2, 3-0) host Ohio State on Saturday, but the Michigan-Nebraska game could decide the Legends Division. The Wolverines (5-2, 3-0) finally snapped their four-game losing streak against Michigan State (4-4, 1-3) last weekend. Nebraska (5-2, 2-1) will try to avenge a 45-17 loss to Michigan last year.

Even the matchup between Iowa (4-3, 2-1) and Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) could be crucial in the Legends race, especially if Michigan stumbles.

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