Big Ten: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Big Ten morning links

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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Three bite-sized opinions, with links below, to start off your morning:

1. Larry Johnson deserves cheers, not jeers from Penn State fans. The longtime Nittany Lions assistant, now an Ohio State coach, is returning to Happy Valley for a Saturday night game. One fan tweeted at me, referring to LJ as “Larry Judas.” He’s not the only PSU fan that still harnesses some bitterness toward Johnson. But that really misses the mark. Johnson knew James Franklin was big on defensive line coach Sean Spencer -- he admitted as much Monday -- so Johnson simply stepped aside. This is the same man who declined a defensive coordinator position with Illinois in 2008 which would’ve reportedly doubled his salary. And who, in 2011, declined to put his name in for Maryland’s next coordinator job because he already promised Penn State’s recruiting class he’d coach them the next season. Just because a coach leaves somewhere doesn’t mean he’s “disloyal.” I’m not 100 percent certain what kind of reception he’ll receive Saturday night, but a standing ovation seems much more appropriate than any boos.

2. Purdue fans have a reason to be excited -- finally. Danny Etling was heralded as Purdue's savior before he ever took a snap last season. And when he did finally step under center for the first time, against Northern Illinois, the crowd offered him a standing ovation. Well, it turns out the quarterback to turn this Boilermakers team around might just be the lesser-known Austin Appleby. At least, he was lesser-known until a few weeks ago. In his last three starts, the Boilermakers are averaging 35.7 points a game. Before Appleby, that number was 23.8. He has some weapons on offense and, if this defense can step up, Purdue could really be a good team. Seriously. Appleby stuck with it after Etling twice beat him out for the starting job, and Appleby still has no shortage of confidence. He said last week that Purdue "could've hung 40" on Michigan State.

3. Illinois’ “Gray Ghost” uniforms deserve a thumbs-up. Maybe it’s just because I’m a sucker for history, but I really dig the uniforms the Fighting Illini plan to wear this weekend for Homecoming. It’s not necessarily how they look -- and they look fine -- but it’s the story behind them that really gets me. Ninety years ago, during Illinois’ Homecoming against Michigan, Red Grange scored four touchdowns in the first 12 minutes of the game. He ended up with six TDs as the Illini became the first team to beat Michigan in two years. After that game, famous sportswriter Grantland Rice referred to Grange as a “gray ghost.” So, that’s the idea behind Illinois’ uniforms. Wish more teams would honor history like that. Seems like fans are embracing the new design, too. The jerseys have already sold out online.

Now, on to the links ...

East Division
West Division

Iggy Azalea, Eddie Vedder noticing Gophers

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
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Iggy Azalea and Eddie VedderAP PhotoIggy Azalea and Eddie Vedder both have noticed the Gophers' recent success.

Minnesota is finally getting some national attention.

While pollsters have been slow to notice (the Gophers debut at No. 24 in the coaches poll, but are still outside the AP top 25), the music world seems to be paying attention to 6-1 Minnesota.

Pop star Iggy Azalea was part of the Minnesota homecoming weekend and her plea for everyone to "Do The Gopher" could turn it into a national craze. She also got a game ball from coach Jerry Kill. She wasn't the only one to give some love to the Gophers. Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam were also in town over the weekend and Vedder gave props to freshman kicker Ryan Santoso's 52-yard game-winning field goal and the Minnesota program, although he did make one note about the mascot's toughness.

B1G early look: Setting up Week 9

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
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Curse the double bye, as we have another week coming up with just five Big Ten games. But there are a few good ones on tap, including a couple intriguing rivalries. Here's your early look at the storylines for Week 9:

1. Can Michigan close the Bunyan-sized gap with Michigan State? Based simply on this year's performances, Saturday's game between Michigan and Michigan State could be one of the most lopsided in the history of the Paul Bunyan Trophy series. The Spartans are riding high, having won 13 straight Big Ten contests, while the Wolverines are just 3-4. Michigan State has won five of the past six in this rivalry, including three straight in East Lansing. The inability to beat his rivals is a big reason Brady Hoke is fighting for his job right now. Maybe the Wolverines can rally behind their embattled coach. If not, this has a chance to get ugly.

2. Will Ohio State keep it rolling? The Buckeyes have scored 50 or more points in each of their past four games to build their case for the College Football Playoff. This week brings their toughest road test of the season to date, a night game at Penn State. Beaver Stadium will be decked in white, and Nittany Lions fans will do their best to rattle young quarterback J.T. Barrett. Penn State's defense is probably the best one Ohio State has played in at least a month as well. Of course, the Lions have lost their first two Big Ten games and are having all sorts of issues with their offensive line, which they spent last week's bye week trying to solve. Don't be surprised if James Franklin and his staff throw out some new wrinkles this Saturday night.

3. Make-or-break game in Madison: Is Maryland for real? Is Wisconsin a serious contender? The season has failed to adequately answer these questions thus far. The Terrapins are 2-1 in their first year in the league and are coming off a solid win over Iowa. They've been up and down (the down includes a home blowout loss to Ohio State), but they also have a lot of explosive playmakers. Wisconsin has a Heisman Trophy candidate in Melvin Gordon but hasn't figured much else out on offense, especially in the passing game. The Badgers already have one conference loss and likely can't afford another one if they want to win the West Division. Can Wisconsin keep pace with Maryland's skill players like Stefon Diggs? Can the Terps' shaky defense slow down Gordon? One team will be left standing as a serious division contender after Saturday.

4. Beckman's last stand? Illinois coach Tim Beckman may well have to make a bowl game to save his job this season. That means the 3-4 Illini probably have to win this week at home against Minnesota, because the rest of the schedule isn't kind. The Gophers sit atop the West Division at 3-0 but looked vulnerable to a big-play passing offense on Saturday against Purdue. Illinois will have to follow the Boilermakers' game plan, though either Aaron Bailey or Reilly O'Toole must make a big jump at quarterback. Here's the best reason to predict that Minnesota will come away with the road win in Champaign: Beckman's defense is surrendering a Big Ten-worst 271.1 rushing yards per game. David Cobb could run all day.

5. Rutgers' mettle being tested: You really wanted to join the Big Ten, Rutgers. Well, here you go. After dealing with the piping-hot cauldron of the Horseshoe last week -- where the Scarlet Knights got scalded in a 56-17 loss to Ohio State -- Kyle Flood's team jumps back into the fire this week with a trip to Nebraska. It's harder to imagine many more difficult back-to-back road challenges than that in the Big Ten, and it highlights the difficulty of Rutgers' second-half schedule (a November trip to Michigan State still awaits). Nebraska looked terrific last week in the second half at Northwestern and must simply avoid complacency before the big West Division showdowns arrive the final three weeks (at Wisconsin, Minnesota, at Iowa). For the Scarlet Knights right now, this is mostly about survival and not letting a promising season go up in flames

Weekend rewind: Big Ten

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
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As expected, the teams at the top are rounding into frightening form and flexing their muscles.

Behind them, the race is beginning to really take shape in the Big Ten, and one surprising squad remains in position to take on the heavyweights with the conference crown on the line.

Minnesota certainly didn’t make as positive of an impression in the West Division as Michigan State and Ohio State did in the East on Saturday, but it’s late rally to escape at home against Purdue kept it unbeaten in the league and still on the inside track for a potential date in Indianapolis in December.

Nebraska, though, sent a message that it won’t be going away anytime soon with an emphatic road win over Northwestern. Even the other game on a weekend that again included four teams enjoying byes brought some clarity with inconsistent Iowa dropping down a peg in the jumbled West race.

Before diving into what’s in store for Week 9, take one more look back at Week 8.

Team of the week: Maybe the Buckeyes truly haven’t turned in their best performance yet, as Urban Meyer was quick to point out after wrapping up another easy blowout in Big Ten play. But if that’s the case, it’s scary to think what Ohio State might be capable of down the stretch with its young talent seemingly getting better every week. Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett is suddenly looking like a dark-horse contender for national awards, a previously suspect defense scored another touchdown to complement the high-powered offense and the schedule still sets up nicely for the Buckeyes ahead of the showdown with Michigan State on Nov. 8. Left for dead in September, Ohio State is right back in the College Football Playoff conversation.

Biggest play: Cedric Thompson’s athletic interception sealed the deal late in the fourth quarter, but in terms of impact, it was a previous defensive stop for Minnesota that could go down as a turning point for the entire season. With Purdue going for it on a fourth-and-1 in Minnesota territory with the lead and a chance to keep working on the clock, Damarius Travis was all alone as Austin Appleby came around right end and tried to dive for the first down. The Gophers safety delivered a stout blow, popped the ball loose and kept the Boilermakers short of the sticks, setting the stage for the game-winning field goal on the ensuing drive.

Big Man on Campus (offense): A record-setting onslaught is rolling right along for Barrett, and it’s starting to get difficult to imagine the Ohio State quarterback ever giving his job back even when Braxton Miller returns down the road. The redshirt freshman accounted for five more touchdowns in the rout of Rutgers, showing complete command of the offense while throwing for 261 yards and rushing for 107. The Buckeyes are a contender again thanks to Barrett and his rapid development, and he’s still started only six games.

Big Man on Campus (defense): Coming off a rough performance and a bye week to think about it, William Likely took out his frustration on Iowa and reclaimed his spot at the top of the Big Ten in a couple categories. The Maryland cornerback nabbed his league-leading fourth interception early in the fourth quarter of a tight battle, returning it for his second touchdown of the season to create some separation from the Hawkeyes and offer a reminder that Likely is among the best big-play defenders in the conference.

Big Man on Campus (special teams): The outing wasn’t perfect, but Ryan Santoso probably won’t spend much time thinking about the extra point he missed in Minnesota’s win over Purdue. He more than made up for that mistake with a clutch 52-yard field goal with the game on the line, a pressure-packed kick that kept the Gophers unbeaten in the league and protected their spot on top of the West Division.

Biggest face plant: Some of the luster from a surprising start is fading for the Scarlet Knights, who were outclassed in talent all along against Ohio State but still didn’t make much of an impression in their first road game in the Big Ten. Rutgers was pushed around on both sides of the ball, could barely slow down the Buckeyes on offense and rarely put any drives together when it had the ball during its chilly, rainy visit to the Horseshoe. Kyle Flood’s team needs only one more win to get to a bowl game and it figures to get it, but there’s a large gap between the Scarlet Knights and the top contenders in the conference.

Facts and numbers to know: Barrett has been responsible for at least four touchdowns in each of the last four games, the longest current streak in the FBS and the first such stretch in the Big Ten since Kyle Orton's run in 2004. ... Minnesota clinched a bowl berth with its sixth win of the season, giving it postseason eligibility for three consecutive years for the first time since a five-year streak ended in 2006. ... Purdue's Raheem Mostert posted just the second 100-yard game of his career and he needed only five carries to hit the mark.

Big Ten morning links

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
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video
Good morning. A few thoughts before we get to the links:

1. Quarterback J.T. Barrett is receiving loads of attention as Ohio State continues its incredible offensive surge. And rightly so, because Barrett's numbers (20 total touchdowns, five interceptions, 65.2 percent completion rate) are astounding. He has the highest ESPN QBR score in the country since Sept. 6, the date of the Buckeyes' loss to Virginia Tech.

But let's not forget the improvement of Ohio State's offensive line. The young group with four new starters looked like a liability in the first couple of games. Since then, it has become a source of strength. The Buckeyes allowed no sacks on Saturday against Rutgers, whose defense came into the game leading the Big Ten in that category. The Scarlet Knights only had two tackles for loss and just one quarterback hurry. Ed Warriner's group showed similar dominance against Maryland, whose defensive front caused Iowa's offensive line all kinds of problems on Saturday.

Urban Meyer had his players give the assistant coaches a standing ovation after the Rutgers win. It's hard to tell just how good the Buckeyes are right now, Bob Hunter writes. But they look pretty darn good.

2. As great as Ameer Abdullah is, I thought Nebraska needed one more weapon to take its offense to a truly elite level. The Huskers might have found that extra option on Saturday at Northwestern.

De'Mornay Pierson-El, who to this point had done most of his damage on punt returns, had three catches and even threw a touchdown pass to Tommy Armstrong Jr., evoking memories of a famous trick play from Nebraska's past. The speedy true freshman gives Armstrong another target along with Kenny Bell and Jordan Westerkamp. The Huskers were dominant offensively in the second half against a pretty good Northwestern defense, and Pierson-El was a big reason why.

"De’Mornay and Ameer and Kenny, when does it end?” offensive coordinator Tim Beck told the Omaha World-Herald. “You want those guys on the field, because now you've got to guard them all.”

3. Indiana just can't seem to sustain any kind of positive momentum. The Hoosiers were a trendy pick to make a bowl this season, especially after winning at Missouri on Sept. 20.

But since then, Kevin Wilson's team has gone just 1-3 (with the lone win over North Texas). And as IU showed in Saturday's 56-17 loss to Michigan State, it's highly doubtful that there is another win left on the schedule.

True freshman quarterback Zander Diamont clearly isn't ready, as his 5-for-15, 11-yard performance vs. the Spartans confirmed. He should be redshirting, but season-ending injuries to Nate Sudfeld and Chris Covington thrust him into action. Even with Tevin Coleman having a season for the ages, the Hoosiers don't have much of a chance without a passing attack and with a defense that can't win Big Ten games on its own. There's much to like about the young talent Wilson has brought to Bloomington, but Indiana continues to be stuck in program quicksand. The last five games will test the resolve of Wilson and his players.

West Division
East Division
And finally ...

Ohio State's band put on another amazing halftime show. Rock out to it. The Pinball Wizard part is my favorite.

Big Ten bowl projections: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
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The leaves are turning, the mercury is dropping and teams are becoming bowl eligible. Welcome to the heart of the college football season. It's a wonderful place to be, don't you agree?

Three Big Ten teams (Michigan State, Minnesota and Nebraska) have reached the six-win threshold, ensuring bowl placement for this year. Four other squads -- Ohio State, Maryland, Rutgers and Iowa -- are one win away.

The projections don't change much this week after a Saturday where things more or less went according to plan. One debate among the Big Ten reporting team was whether to remove Northwestern, which lost its second consecutive game and continued to struggle offensively. Yet with four winnable Big Ten games left -- Iowa (road), Michigan (home), Purdue (road) and Illinois (home) -- we think Pat Fitzgerald's team can finish well.

Another factor is the Big Ten taking more control of the game assignments this year, rather than leaving it up to the bowls, who often prioritize brand name and size of fan base over on-field results. The league wants better, fresher matchups and no repeat appearances, if at all possible.

Would the Holiday Bowl rather have Wisconsin than Maryland? No doubt. But Maryland has earned its way into the Holiday Bowl slot on the field, so we're giving the Terrapins the nod. Fortunately, Wisconsin and Maryland can settle things on the field this week in Madison.

Should Michigan State or Ohio State be projected into the College Football Playoff? Not yet. But the winner of their Nov. 8 showdown at Spartan Stadium could move into elite company.

Iowa takes a tumble after its loss in College Park. The Hawkeyes have to take care of business at home in November to move up again.

OK, enough rambling. The projections ...

Chick-fil-A Peach/AT&T Cotton/Fiesta/Capital One Orange: Michigan State
Chick-fil-A Peach/AT&T Cotton/Fiesta/Capital One Orange: Ohio State
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus: Nebraska
Outback: Minnesota
National University Holiday: Maryland
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Wisconsin
San Francisco: Rutgers
New Era Pinstripe: Iowa
Quick Lane: Penn State
Heart of Dallas: Northwestern

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
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Best of the visits: Big Ten

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
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Minnesota and Purdue ended up stealing the show over the weekend within the Big Ten. The two programs went back and forth with touchdowns, interceptions and exciting plays.

The Gophers were the home team and pulled out the victory in front of a few important visitors on Saturday.

Athlete Alex Barnes is still on the board and made his way to campus for the game. He chose a good game to visit for as the atmosphere and weather were both great.
Barnes could either be a running back or end up on defense, so his versatility would be useful at Minnesota. The Gophers also had a big defensive lineman in attendance with 2015 defensive end Anree Saint-Amour. Northwestern had a big game at home as well, hosting Nebraska. While the Wildcats got off to a good start, the second half was a different story in the loss to the Huskers.

It was still an exciting atmosphere and a good game for prospects to see the program up close.

The coaches made an offer before the game with 2016 defensive end Khalid Kareem, who traveled from Michigan for the visit. The biggest game of the weekend, though, was probably Ohio State and Rutgers. The Buckeyes were the home team and as usual, they had a ton of big recruiting targets on campus.

The coaches secured a commitment from 2016 tight end Kierre Hawkins and had the opportunity to impress a few other potential commits as well.

One of the bigger 2015 prospects on hand was offensive lineman Josh Wariboko, a former Oklahoma commit, who took an official visit to Ohio State on Saturday. Wariboko put an X in place of the letter M in his tweet, following suit with the Ohio State coaches as a shot at rival Michigan.

The Buckeyes got a double-dip visit with brothers Daniel and Josh Imatorbhebhe on Saturday as well. Daniel is a 2015 tight end while Josh is an ESPN Jr. 300 wide receiver, ranked No. 162 overall in the 2016 class. Getting both prospects on campus at once was a bonus for the Buckeyes and Josh will be a big target for the next class.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
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Reviewing the best and brightest performances from Week 8 in the Big Ten.

Minnesota RB David Cobb: The Gophers’ senior had 14 carries for 76 yards before the end of the first quarter. Minnesota’s human perpetual motion machined finished Saturday’s back-and-forth battle with 194 yards and a touchdown on 35 touches. His early pounding also helped set up several big play-action completions for the Gopher offense.

Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: Four touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter to pull away from Northwestern in a 38-17 win, gets Abdullah another sticker to add to his well-decorated helmet. He had 146 rushing yards, which makes him the first player in Cornhusker history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in three seasons. He’s the third Big Ten back to get past four digits in the rushing column this season.

Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: The rookie is now the full-fledged leader of an impressive Ohio State offense. He accounted for five touchdowns (three passing and two rushing) while hanging 56 points on Rutgers. He threw for 261 yards and ran for 107 more without making any costly mistakes.

Minnesota DB Cedric Thompson: Thompson bookended Saturday’s 39-38 victory with a pair of momentum-swinging interceptions. He picked off Purdue’s Austin Appleby on the first play of the game and brought it back to the 2-yard line. He clinched the game with a very athletic catch at midfield with 2:31 left on the clock.

Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford: The Spartans put together a definitive 56-17 win over Indiana with a team effort on offense. Tony Lippett had 123 yards receiving and a couple highlight catches. Nick Hill led the team with 178 rushing yards -- 76 of which came on a garbage time touchdown. But Langford stood above them with his three rushing scores. The first two came when the game was still in doubt and the third was a fourth quarter knockout punch that helped the Spartans kick their recent trend of not slamming the door after they build a lead.
Five observations from Saturday in the Big Ten:

1. Ohio State and Michigan State are widening the gap over the rest of the league. The Spartans and Buckeyes continued their march toward Nov. 8 in East Lansing with resounding wins by identical scores of 56-17 over Indiana and Rutgers, respectively. The Buckeyes topped 50 points in four consecutive games for the first time in school history and dealt the Scarlet Knights their worst loss in 12 years with an introduction to the big-time side of Big Ten football. MSU was slow at the start, as Indiana’s Shane Wynn and Tevin Coleman scored on long runs, but Michigan State blanked the Hoosiers in the second half. Just as importantly, both Big Ten powers climbed closer to consideration for the College Football Playoff as two top-10 unbeatens went down.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsJ.T. Barrett is playing at a high level as Ohio State's offense continues to roll.
2. J.T. Barrett is a Heisman Trophy darkhorse. No, we’re not kidding. The same redshirt freshman who struggled mightily in the Buckeyes’ loss to Virginia Tech the past month has played better than any quarterback in the country as of late. He ran for 107 yards and two scores and threw for 261 and three touchdowns against Rutgers. Under his guidance, Ohio State has averaged 614 yards over its past four games, albeit against suspect defensive competition, though Rutgers appeared set to pose a challenge. Barrett won’t be considered a serious candidate unless he can play like this, without a blip, for the rest of the season.

3. Minnesota might never win pretty, but it almost always wins. The Golden Gophers beat Purdue 39-38 behind two interceptions of Austin Appleby by safety Cedric Thompson, including the game-clincher with 2:28 to play. Minnesota is 3-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1990. It was a typical Gopher effort, with 194 rushing yards from David Cobb and just nine completions from quarterback Mitch Leidner, who threw two touchdowns. Give credit to fast-improving Purdue, for sure, but this game deviated from Minnesota form only in that the Gophers trailed at halftime -- they earned the first win in 23 such occasions under Jerry Kill -- and needed a 52-yard field goal by Ryan Santoso for the decisive points with 4:59 left.

4. In spite of Minnesota’s start, Nebraska still looks like the best in the West. The Huskers beat Northwestern 38-17 at Ryan Field and outscored the Wildcats 24-0 in the second half to move to 6-1. Barring an upset win in Lincoln by Rutgers or Purdue over the next two weeks, Nebraska will be 8-1 on Nov. 15 when Bo Pelini’s team travels to Wisconsin for a final stretch that includes Minnesota and Iowa. In bouncing back from a loss to Michigan State, Nebraska displayed new depth at the line of scrimmage against Northwestern and found new ways to feature spark-plug freshman De'Mornay Pierson-El, who threw a touchdown pass to QB Tommy Armstrong Jr.

5. It might be November (if even then) before we understand Maryland and Iowa. The Terrapins overcame a slow start to beat the Hawkeyes 38-31. Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown returned from a back injury, suffered in the second half, and receiver Stefon Diggs and cornerback Will Likely contributed their usual big plays. But is Maryland really a threat to get to nine wins and a New Year’s Day bowl? Maybe, in the watered-down Big Ten. What about Iowa, still a player in the West Division with its favorable schedule but unable to break through in a winnable game Saturday? Just as the Hawkeyes’ offense appears to have gained speed, the defense took a step back in College Park.
College football has become fast food. More teams are ingesting as much as possible, as quickly as possible, and putting bloated numbers on the scoreboard.

Games like last Saturday's captivating track meet between Baylor and TCU -- it featured 1,267 yards, 119 points, 62 first downs, 198 plays and a staggering 39 possessions -- are becoming common, like fast food joints on a main drag.

Does the game still have room for the five-course meal? As they say in Minnesota, you betcha!

Shortly after TCU-Baylor kicked off, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald lamented a 24-17 loss to Minnesota. The Wildcats had recorded twice as many first downs (28-14) and 119 more yards than Minnesota, and ran 30 more plays, but they couldn't fatten up on points or possessions (11 total, just four in the first half).

[+] EnlargeDavid Cobb
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesWith David Cobb helping the offense control the clock, Minnesota is off to a 5-1 start.
"To Minnesota's credit," Fitzgerald said, "[Jerry Kill's] offense takes half the game away by standing in the huddle and talking about what they're ordering for dinner."

Matt Limegrover loved that line. Minnesota's offensive coordinator also liked hearing Fitzgerald say his team pressed a bit too much against a team trying to shorten the game.

"I don't think it'll ever be sexy," Limegrover said of Minnesota's approach, "but at least somebody's saying they're a little affected by it. I got a kick out of that."

In an age when more teams are ramping up tempo and possessions, Minnesota is going the other direction. The Gophers are slow-playing their opponents, averaging just 62.7 plays per game, the third lowest rate in the FBS. The only teams logging fewer snaps than Minnesota -- Florida Atlantic and South Florida -- are both 2-4.

Minnesota is 5-1 and in tied for first place in the Big Ten West Division. Maybe Limegrover is wrong -- slow is sexy.

"I don't know if you want to call it a dinosaur or an outlier," Limegrover said. "The best way to put it is the world around us has changed and we've remained the same."

Added Kill: "Sometimes it's not bad to be different."

One reason why Minnesota plays this way is that Kill's staff has remained the same. Limegrover has worked for Kill since 1999. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has done so since 1995. Two other offensive assistants, Brian Anderson and Pat Poore, have been with the group since 2001. H-backs/tight ends coach Rob Reeves began his coaching career with Kill in 1996 and has never left Kill's staff.

Limegrover wonders whether things would be different if the group assembled two years ago rather than 12.

"The current trend is, let's speed up, let's go as fast as we can," he said. "Everybody clamors, 'They're a relic, they're a dinosaur.' But because we've been together for so long and it's developed, we know it's a good blueprint.

"Why mess with it?"

Minnesota's philosophy seems simple but is exceedingly rare: Play great defense and special teams, limit turnovers, score a few touchdowns to gain a lead, bleed the clock, sing the fight song. The Gophers are tied for 16th nationally in points allowed and limit explosion plays, especially through the air, ranking ninth in yards per pass attempt (5.49). They beat Northwestern primarily because of a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown in the fourth quarter. Other than a five-turnover disaster in its lone loss at TCU, Minnesota has committed two or fewer turnovers in its other five games and none in a Sept. 27 win at Michigan.

The offense is tied for 112th nationally in yards (331.8 ypg) and 121st in passing (119.8 ypg). But the scoring is adequate (27 ppg), and with a deliberate style (38th nationally in possession time) and a punishing running back in David Cobb, Minnesota can inflict slow death with a lead.

"Every possession's important," Limegrover said. "Every time you get your hands on that football, you've got to make something positive happen, but you can't be negligent."

While HUNH (hurry-up, ho-huddle) offenses gain an edge by snapping the ball before defenses are set, Minnesota uses presnap motion and shifts to flummox its foes. The Gophers might show three different formations before the snap, forcing defenses to adjust their calls and possibly creating numbers advantages.

"They're very patient offensively," said Purdue coach Darrell Hazell, whose team visits Minnesota on Saturday. "They do a great job of running the ball. ... They throw the play-action passes at you, they throw the naked passes at you, and then they're very content with punting the ball and playing great defense.

"That's been their formula for winning."

There are drawbacks. Three-and-outs are killers and, until the Northwestern game, Minnesota struggled on third down. Though a 10-point lead can feel like 21, especially with Cobb pounding away in the fourth quarter, Minnesota isn't built to rally.

The most telling stat: Under Kill, Minnesota is 19-0 when leading at halftime and 0-22 when trailing.

"If our defense wasn't playing great, there'd be a lot bigger issues," Limegrover said.

But Minnesota will remain methodical, huddling up and discussing what's for dinner.

Lately, it's been a lot of chicken.

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 8

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
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Let the second half of the season begin.

The Big Ten's West Division is still as muddled as ever, Rutgers is searching for more respect, and several teams still aren’t secure at quarterback. This week's games could help make the overall conference picture a bit clearer, but plenty of time – and storylines – remain. Here’s a look at Saturday’s games and what to expect (all times Eastern):

Noon

Iowa (5-1) at Maryland (4-2), ESPN2: The Terrapins have had a week to rest, and they’ll need it against a tough Hawkeyes team. Iowa scored an uncharacteristic 45 points last week, and Maryland’s defense is giving up more yards – but fewer points – than the Hawkeyes’ last opponent, Indiana. This is an interesting matchup for a lot of reasons. Not only is Iowa trying to remain atop the West, but we could possibly see four quarterbacks. Kirk Ferentz still wants to play both Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard, while Randy Edsall won’t hesitate to pull C.J. Brown for Caleb Rowe if Brown struggles the way he did against Ohio State.

Purdue (3-4) at Minnesota (5-1), BTN: The Boilermakers shocked the Big Ten last week by hanging 31 points on Michigan State -- and that wasn’t lost on Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, who praised Purdue’s offensive line. With Austin Appleby now playing well at quarterback, this isn’t the “gimme” game it appeared to be a few weeks ago. Regardless, Purdue’s run defense is still lacking, and that’s not good news against Minnesota. David Cobb is rushing for more than 136 yards per game, and he’s one of the more underrated players in the Big Ten. He isn’t just the spark in this offense, he’s the engine – and he’ll again be key to the Gophers’ success. If Minnesota keeps winning, voters in both polls won’t be able to ignore this team for much longer.

3:30 p.m.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesJ.T. Barrett's rapid improvement has the Buckeyes as a big favorite at home against Big Ten newcomer Rutgers.
No. 8 Michigan State (5-1) at Indiana (3-3), ESPN: This matchup is happening at the worst time for the Hoosiers. Not only is starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld out for the season, but backup Chris Covington will reportedly not play Saturday, either. That leaves true freshman Zander Diamont, who weighs 160-some pounds, according to Indiana coach Kevin Wilson. Indiana boasts the nation’s leading rusher in Tevin Coleman, but it’s no secret Michigan State will stack the box and dare the Hoosiers to pass. And even if Indiana succeeds in scoring, it still might not be enough to keep up with a balanced Spartans offense. It could be a long day for Indiana.

Rutgers (5-1) at No. 13 Ohio State (4-1), ABC/ESPN2: Rutgers is the surprise team in the Big Ten right now, but there would be no bigger surprise than if it were able to knock off the Buckeyes at the Horseshoe. Quarterback J.T. Barrett is rolling, running back Ezekiel Elliott is solid and the Scarlet Knights’ defense will be tested, B1G time. Ohio State holds the advantage in scoring defense, total defense, pass defense, scoring offense, passing offense and rushing offense. Rutgers has embraced its underdog role so far this season, and it’s a big underdog in this one.

7 p.m.

No. 19 Nebraska (5-1) at Northwestern (3-3), BTN: The Wildcats have faced three one-dimensional offenses in a row, but that ends with the Cornhuskers. Not only does Nebraska have one of the nation’s best running backs in Ameer Abdullah, but quarterback Tommy Armstrong is also fourth in the Big Ten in both passing yards per game and pass efficiency. This is the highest-rated offense (No. 10 in total offense) that the Wildcats have faced all season. Nebraska’s defense isn’t too bad, either, and Trevor Siemian will have to be on top of his game for Northwestern to stand a chance.

Required reading

Big Ten's top recruiting visits 

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
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Ohio State faces off against Rutgers this weekend, and the Buckeyes are going to be hosting some big-name prospects as well. A few other Big Ten teams will have important visitors on campus, but none bigger than Ohio State’s list.

Rutgers at Ohio State

Big Ten morning links

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
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I went to college with Brook Berringer. I did not know him well.

Berringer was 17 months older than me. The few times I interviewed him for the school newspaper, I thought he seemed much older than that, probably because he somehow stayed above the fray -- especially late in his career as a quarterback that happened to coincide with the most controversial and successful period in Nebraska football history.

Because of my own youth and lack of awareness, I failed at the time to recognize the impact of Berringer on people in Nebraska.

I saw him as just another guy with a good story. That is, until April 20, 1996, two days after Berringer died when the small plane he piloted crashed in a field north of Lincoln.

At Nebraska’s spring game, instead of celebrating consecutive national championships or another batch of Cornhuskers drafted into the NFL -- Berringer likely would have been among them -- the school and state mourned its fallen hero by playing a video tribute on the big screens.

Sports are often emotional. But not like that. That was not about sports. The stadium went completely silent. It remains the only time I’ve shed tears while sitting in a press box. I was far from alone.

The Big Ten Network documentary, “Unbeaten,” a 54-minute production on the life and death of Berringer, set to premier after the Nebraska-Northwestern game on Saturday, will similarly stir emotions for those who remember Berringer, and it will educate a generation of fans too young to have watched him play.

This fall marks the 20-year anniversary of his greatest football achievement, leading Nebraska to eight wins in place of injured star Tommie Frazier.

The documentary, directed by Matthew Engel and Kevin Shaw with Bill Friedman, BTN coordinating producer for original programming, hits all the right notes on Berringer.

It features no narration, only sound from a diverse lineup of former Berringer teammates and testimony from others, including Nebraska assistant Ron Brown, who recruited Berringer to Lincoln, and Kyle Orton, who has worn No. 18 since high school as a tribute to the QB.

An archived Berringer interview away from the field is particularly haunting. Forgotten audio from Keith Jackson lends important historical perspective.

“We wanted Brook to have a voice,” Engel said.

For Nebraska fans, the first half of the film largely serves as review of the 1994 and ’95 seasons, with impressive insight into the complicated dynamic of the Frazier-Berringer relationship. The final 25 minutes includes powerful reporting on the plane crash and its aftermath, poignant footage and a final sequence certain to move viewers like that April Saturday 18 years ago in Lincoln.

“He’s a guy who represents all that’s good about a college football player,” Friedman said. “He was a symbol of how Nebraskans want their football to be portrayed.”

Berringer’s impact is lasting, memorialized with a statue of the quarterback in uniform with his coach, Tom Osborne, that stands outside the entrance Nebraska’s athletic offices on the north side of Memorial Stadium.

Shaw said he visited Lincoln prior to documenting Berringer and saw the statue without knowing its significance. In learning about Berringer and remembering the statue, Shaw said, it was a “wow moment.”

“It was like, that’s that guy,” he said.

With “Unbeaten,” BTN succeeded in creating a film that will touch Nebraskans and teach others across the Big Ten about a quarterback who’s worth remembering for another 20 years and beyond.

Let’s go around the league:

East Division
West Division

Roundtable: Missing from the All-B1G team

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16
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Coming up with the midseason All-Big Ten team wasn't an easy exercise. There were only 26 available spots on our squad, and there are obviously more than 26 solid players in the conference. So, naturally, we had to make some tough calls -- and some players were left off the list.

As a result, each of us decided to highlight one deserving player who didn't make the team. Maybe he was just overshadowed by better players, maybe he was injured or maybe his inconsistency gave us pause. So here are our honorable mentions, the players who were close to making the cut and could very well make our end-of-season All-Big Ten team:

[+] EnlargeTrae Waynes
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMichigan State cornerback Trae Waynes (No. 15) had two interceptions against Nebraska, including the game-clincher in the final minute.
Brian Bennett: Michigan State CB Trae Waynes

Cornerback was the toughest position to decipher, and a lot of deserving players didn't make it. Waynes is asked to do a lot as Michigan State's boundary corner. He's often left alone on an island against the other teams' top weapons. That's a job he usually does very well, though there have been some breakdowns this season, notably against Oregon. The No Fly Zone is allowing more visitors than in the past, as the Spartans rank just eighth in the Big Ten in pass defense. But Waynes also had a game-clinching interception against Nebraska. So it was a tough call leaving him off, though I suspect he may work his way back at the end of the season

Austin Ward: Minnesota TE Maxx Williams

Lack of separation between Ameer Abdullah, Tevin Coleman and Melvin Gordon made it easy to just load up the All-Big Ten backfield and ditch a traditional offensive lineup. But getting rid of a spot for tight ends unfortunately left Williams out of the picture, and yet another talented tailback in Minnesota’s David Cobb would be among the first to talk about the value of having a big, physical presence blocking at that position to help out a rushing attack. As limited as the passing game may be for the Gophers, Williams has also been an asset there with 12 catches and three touchdowns. Assuming a more familiar-looking roster is settled on at the end of the season, expect to see Williams on it.

Adam Rittenberg: Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo

The Big Ten once again lacks depth at wide receiver, but Carroo has been a major bright spot for Rutgers' transformed passing attack. Carroo carried over his touchdowns trend from 2013 and is tied for second in the league this season with five scoring grabs while ranking third in receiving yards (91.3 per game). Although Penn State's DaeSean Hamilton had a better start, Carroo seems to be surging after a three-touchdown performance Sept. 27 against Tulane. Of his 29 catches this season, 21 have gone for either first downs or touchdowns. He also blocked a punt against Penn State and is a big reason why quarterback Gary Nova stretches the field so well. You can definitely make a case for Carroo over Hamilton on the team.

Josh Moyer: Nebraska DE Randy Gregory

Gregory is one of the best players the Big Ten has to offer, but an injury in the opener put a damper on his odds for the midseason team. He played in just the first series against Florida Atlantic, missed the next game and finished with just three tackles against Fresno State when he wasn't yet 100 percent. Even when you take all that into account, he's still among the conference leaders in sacks (4.5). That speaks to his ability; he makes the kind of plays that opposing quarterbacks don't forget. He's only had two great games so far, but there's plenty of season left. It would surprise absolutely no one if he made our end-of-season All-Big Ten team.

Mitch Sherman: Iowa DT Louis Trinca-Pasat

Much of the attention on the interior of Iowa’s defensive line is directed at Carl Davis. And rightfully so; Davis is a handful. But fellow tackle Trinca-Pasat has benefited more than anyone -- enough to earn consideration over Davis for a spot on the midseason team. Trinca-Pasat leads Big Ten linemen with 39 tackles, and his 5.5 tackles for loss rank 16th in the league. A third-year starter, the 6-foot-3, 290-pound senior had a huge game in the early nailbiter against Northern Iowa, and he has generally created a way to impact every game alongside Davis, forming one of the Big Ten’s best interior duos.

Dan Murphy: Michigan State CB Trae Waynes

The Spartans ask so much more of their cornerbacks than most teams that's it not entirely fair to judge them on the same criteria as their peers. Waynes is constantly on his own in coverage, which means his minor slip-ups are magnified. He's broken up three passes this season and intercepted two others, including a game-clinching pick in the final minute against Nebraska. For as much as he allows his teammates to do on defense, he probably deserves a closer look.

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