Odds against Big Ten champion with 2 losses

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 13, 2003

And then there were three. OK, make that five.

Heading into the final two weeks of the Big Ten's regular season, Michigan, Ohio State and Purdue each have one loss and share the lead. Minnesota and Michigan State are a game back.

In the conference's 107 years, only four times have teams with two losses tied for the football title. Once, in 1984, Ohio State won the championship outright with two losses. Incredibly, that was the last time that the Buckeyes finished alone at the top of the Big Ten standings.

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Two losses might not eliminate teams from the Big Ten race, and Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said it might not even erase hopes of playing for the national title in the Sugar Bowl.

''Anything is possible,'' Carr said.

With games left at Northwestern on Saturday and then at home against Ohio State, Michigan defensive end Larry Stevens insisted he is not looking ahead.

''People like to think that we're thinking about the national championship, but as soon as we start looking at that, we'll get our brains beat out,'' Stevens said. ''That's basically what it is. We will do like we have all year. No one cares (about the national championship game). Who wouldn't like to go? But when you start to key on that, it's disaster setting up.''

Michigan knows it can't overlook the Wildcats.

Since Carr took over as head coach in 1995, the Wolverines are just 3-3 - and 1-2 on the road - against Northwestern.

The teams have not played in three years, but most of Michigan's seniors were on the travel roster the last time the Wolverines visited Evanston, Ill., in 2000 when the Wildcats won a 54-51 shootout that featured an astounding 1,189 yards in total offense.


55 LIMIT: Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker became the seventh Big Ten passer to throw for more than 8,000 yards in his career with a 352-yard day in a 33-23 loss at Ohio State last week.

With 8,212 yards through the air, Smoker trails Michigan quarterback John Navarre by 205 yards over the last four seasons. Both should pass Illinois' Kurt Kittner (8,722) and Jack Trudeau (8,723) in the next two games.

Smoker was 35-for-55 passing against the Buckeyes but threw two costly interceptions.

''When you throw 55 passes a game, that's pretty much the offense right there,'' Smoker said. ''It rests on my shoulders for the most part - not completely. But I have to play close to a perfect game. I knew I had to do that to win. And I didn't.''


NO SALUTING! Purdue coach Joe Tiller didn't criticize the Big Ten officials Tuesday but did make it clear he's unhappy with how some rules are being interpreted.

Tiller asked the conference this week about a celebration penalty called during Saturday's game against Iowa in which a Purdue player walked toward the fans and saluted them.

''We want to encourage our guys to be happy when they score,'' he said. ''We're out of taking our hats off, we're out of dancing, there's not much left to do other than jump up and down. And that may be next.''


BENJI'S NO DOG: Benji Kamrath has spent five years waiting on the Minnesota sideline, a perpetual backup to guys such as Andy Persby, Travis Cole and now Asad Abdul-Khaliq.

''You've got your starting pitchers and you've got your relievers,'' coach Glen Mason said.

Kamrath has played in 10 games this season, going 16-for-34 for 250 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

His biggest performance came last Saturday when he threw for 93 yards in the Gophers' 37-34 win over Wisconsin. He completed crucial passes on Minnesota's final, game-winning drive.

''He's been great,'' Mason said. ''He's been there every time he's been called upon. He's been well-prepared and he's made the most of it.''

Kamrath could make the third start of his career on Saturday if Abdul-Khaliq, who injured his left shoulder against the Badgers, can't play.

''I'm sure he would've liked to have played more,'' Mason said of Kamrath's career. ''Maybe at times he thought he should've been the guy that should've been given the nod. But that wasn't in the works.''


QUICK-HITTERS: Michigan State has committed 99 penalties this season, 28 more than league's second-guiltiest team (Iowa) and has been slapped with 853 yards in walkoffs. … Michigan safety Marlin Jackson is expected to play against Northwestern after missing the past three games with an undisclosed injury. … Should Northwestern (5-5) beat either Michigan or Illinois, it would give the Big Ten eight bowl-eligible teams for the first time ever. … Highlight clip of the year: Minnesota's Rhys Lloyd kicking a 35-yard field goal as time expired to beat Wisconsin, then racing AWAY from his teammates who were storming the field like a scene from ''Braveheart.'' Lloyd ran past the Badgers sideline, picked up Paul Bunyan's ax that goes to the winner of the game and held it aloft while he was swarmed by the Gophers. … After Ohio State's practice on Veteran's Day, the Buckeyes signed footballs for a soldier in Iraq, with his mother then videotaping as they offered thanks and good luck.