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While there was surely a big sigh of relief in Columbus late Saturday night, it was nothing compared to the one breathed by Jim Delany.

The Big Ten commissioner was no doubt pulling for Ohio State and got what he needed when the Buckeyes pulled out a 31-24 victory over Penn State in double-overtime.

Why did he, and by relation the Big Ten, want Ohio State to win?

Simple. The College Football Playoff.

There is no argument that the Big Ten is in strong position in regards to the playoff. That will become clearer Tuesday when the selection committee releases its first set of rankings. But generally, the Big Ten is seen as one of the weakest of the Power Five, making a spot in the playoffs far from a sure thing.

And that's why Ohio State couldn't lose that game. In two weeks, the Buckeyes travel to Michigan State with the chance of it being a matchup among top 10 teams. It's the sort of big stage the conference needs.

For Michigan State, it would be the second victory over a ranked team in three games against a ranked opponent. Ohio State hasn't played a ranked team all season.

So needless to say, either team faltering would be bad, especially considering teams in the Southeastern Conference are playing against ranked teams on a near-weekly basis.

The Big Ten needs a pair of top-10 teams playing each other. Michigan State will likely have done its part after dispatching Michigan with ease before heading into a bye next week.

Ohio State must still take care of Illinois, something that seems like a foregone conclusion, but who knows after Illinois actually won a game this week and the Buckeyes needed a lot of breaks at Penn State.

And that win at Penn State was a good one for the conspiracy theorists. If you believe Delany is behind the scenes, pulling all the strings, this was a good one.

In the first quarter, Ohio State's Vonn Bell intercepted a pass from Christian Hackenberg at the Penn State 39-yard line. The play was reviewed and the call was upheld despite the fact replays in Beaver Stadium showed the ball hit the ground. Apparently, the officials had technical issues and couldn't see all angles of the play.

"The play, technically, was not thoroughly reviewed due to some technical difficulties with the equipment," head referee John O'Neill said. "The feeds that the replay team looks at are the feeds that you get at home. We can't deviate. We can't create our own rules. The replay rules are clear that we have to use the equipment provided."

And in the second quarter, when Sean Nuernberger kicked a 49-yard field goal, replays showed the clock with zeros for at least two or three seconds before the ball was snapped.

O'Neill said the officials didn't see it and it's not reviewable.

"That is not reviewable, in terms of when the ball is snapped in relationship to the zeros on the clock," replay official Tom Fiedler told the Associated Press.

With that, the Buckeyes ran their conference regular-season unbeaten streak to 19, kept the showdown with the Spartans intact and the Big Ten continued to cling to at least a shot at the playoff.

Now we'll just have to see what the committee thinks.

'It's like Christmas' for Illinois

And how about the Fighting Illini?

The 28-24 win over Minnesota ended a three-game losing streak and was just the second Big Ten win in two-plus seasons under coach Tim Beckman.

"It was electric," Beckman said after the game. "That's what it's supposed to be. That's what locker rooms are supposed to be like. I don't think we'll ever take the gray off."

The Illini were wearing "Gray Ghost" uniforms intended to honor "Galloping Ghost" Red Grange and played in front of a homecoming crowd. And the defense played like it had been sent to the past because it didn't look like the unit that had been allowing nearly 500 yards and 35.9 points a game.

With Minnesota leading 24-21, running back David Cobb had the ball stripped by Illinois linebacker T.J. Neal. The ball went right to cornerback V'Angelo Bentley, who scooped it up and ran 12 yards for the winning touchdown.

"It's like Christmas, when you open up a present and they see it, their eyes get big," Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. "It's like that whenever you get a win. They're excited and when they're excited, I'm excited."

It might not be enough to save Beckman and his staff, but for one week, the Illini were winners. They should relish it — they head to Ohio State next week.

Abdullah making memories

Each week, you have to wonder how Ameer Abdullah ran for only 45 yards against Michigan State. Obviously the credit has to go to the Spartans, one of the top defenses in the nation.

It's still remarkable, considering how Abdullah has run over the rest of the Big Ten. In Saturday's victory over Rutgers, he ran for 225 yards and three touchdowns, and set a school record with 341 all-purpose yards.

Abdullah surpassed 200 yards rushing for a nation-leading fourth time this season and fifth time in his career. He broke Roy Helu Jr.'s record of 321 all-purpose yards with his 23-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

"Every time I step on the field, whether practice or games, I'm always creating memories here," Abdullah said. "These are always things I'm going to remember, coming here and playing football for this great university."

And he might just get another shot at Michigan State. The Cornhuskers seem destined to win the West and reach the Big Ten Championship game, and if Michigan State can beat Ohio State and run the table, the teams will meet again.

Something tells me Abdullah will do a bit better than 45 yards.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

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