Big Ten: Nebraska Cornhuskers
As we did for a portion of the season, we're projecting two Big Ten teams to New Year's Six bowls, as we now believe Michigan State will finish high enough for selection. The Spartans should get to 10-2 this weekend against Penn State, their only setbacks coming against playoff hopefuls Oregon and Ohio State. There's a possibility they would qualify for the Capital One Orange Bowl if they're ranked higher than the highest available SEC team. If so, the Big Ten would not have a team in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
This possibility would increase if Arkansas beats Missouri on Saturday, sending Georgia to the SEC championship game. Georgia is ahead of Michigan State in the College Football Playoff rankings, but a loss, either this week against Georgia Tech or in the SEC title game, likely would drop the Bulldogs behind Michigan State.
For now, we're keeping Michigan State out of the Orange and sending Wisconsin to the Citrus.
The Buckeyes still need some help to reach the playoff. Charlie Strong, a former Urban Meyer aide, can help his old boss Thursday when his Texas squad hosts TCU.
There are also some moves at the bottom of the projections. Michigan's loss to Maryland takes the Wolverines out of the postseason picture, as none of us expects them to win The Game at The Shoe.
The Big Ten has nine bowl-eligible teams, and there will be a 10th as Northwestern and Illinois, both 5-6, play Saturday at Ryan Field. Although the Wildcats will be without starting quarterback Trevor Siemian, we project them to win and reach the six-win threshold.
Nebraska's slide on the field means a slide in the projections, as we now have the Huskers headed to the Music City Bowl. Minnesota moves up to the Outback after its big win in Lincoln, and Maryland bumps up to the Foster Farms Bowl in the Bay Area as it positions itself for a somewhat surprising 8-4 season.
Both Penn State and Rutgers are limping toward the finish and likely will finish the regular season at 6-6. The Lions seem like a good bet to reach New York City for their postseason return, while Rutgers could be headed to Motown.
Enough jabbering. Here are the latest projections ...
Chick-fil-A Peach/Goodyear Cotton/VIZIO Fiesta: Ohio State
Chick-fil-A Peach/Goodyear Cotton/VIZIO Fiesta: Michigan State
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus: Wisconsin
National University Holiday: Iowa
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Nebraska
Foster Farms: Maryland
New Era Pinstripe: Penn State
Quick Lane: Rutgers
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas: Northwestern
While the award should have included Minnesota's David Cobb as a semifinalist, at least it got the next round of voting right. All three finalists for the trophy that goes to the nation's top running back are from the Big Ten: Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Indiana's Tevin Coleman and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah.
It's a richly deserved recognition for all three guys, and it's great to see Coleman get his due despite playing on a 3-8 team. It will be a major surprise if Gordon doesn't bring home the trophy next month.
Several other major college football awards announced their finalists Tuesday night. Gordon is also a finalist for the Maxwell Award --which goes to the nation's top player -- along with Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Mississippi State's Dak Prescott.
Here are other finalists from the league:
Bednarik Award (top defensive player)
Ohio State DE Joey Bosa
Outland Trophy (top lineman)
Iowa OT Brandon Scherff
John Mackey Award (top tight end)
Minnesota's Maxx Williams
Lou Groza Award (top placekicker)
Maryland's Brad Craddock
The one mild surprise out of the night's announcements was that Ohio State's J.T. Barrett wasn't a finalist for the Davey O'Brien Award (top QB). Mariota, Prescott and TCU's Trevone Boykin edged him out.
Congratulations to all the awards finalists. Winners will be announced at The Home Depot College Football Awards Show on Dec. 11 in Orlando.
By the way, if you’re not following us on Twitter, what are you waiting for? Follow along at @ESPNRittenberg, @BennettESPN, @ESPNJoshMoyer, @DanMurphyESPN, @MitchSherman and @AWardESPN.
Pat Fitzgerald says he would be in favor of the Big Ten giving its teams the week off for Thanksgiving.— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) November 25, 2014
Brady Hoke asked about the impact of Rutgers and Maryland joining the Big Ten: "Well, for us it hasn't been very good." Mich. lost to both.— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) November 25, 2014
Mark Dantonio says he's been "very impressed" with ability of Rutgers and Maryland to adjust to Big Ten. MSU beat them by a combined 82-18.— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) November 25, 2014
Brady Hoke on what has stood out watching Ohio State on film: "Both sides of the ball, and their kicking game, too." So, everything.— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) November 25, 2014
Kill on a chance to reach B1G title game with a win: "We're probably doing it sooner than I thought we would."— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) November 25, 2014
Franklin says that being in the pocket is Hackenberg's strength -- but having a pocket isn't a strength of the offense.— Josh Moyer (@ESPNJoshMoyer) November 25, 2014
Jerry Kill on stopping Melvin Gordon: "It's an issue... He's like a missile." Stresses gap control is essential.— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) November 25, 2014
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill on the status of running back David Cobb: "He'll be very questionable."— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) November 25, 2014
1. And then there were two ...: Bovada released its updated odds Monday on the Heisman Trophy winner, and only two names are left: Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon. Mariota is the favorite with 1-3 odds, while Gordon is at 2-1. All other players/bets are off the board.
I've said this before, but I'm really not sure what else Gordon has to do to pass Mariota here. In a land where there's just Jesus, girls and Marcus Mariota, the Oregon quarterback has had an unbelievable season. But Gordon's performance is maybe the best from a running back in the last 25 years. Look at past Heisman-winning running backs -- Mark Ingram, Rashaan Salaam, Ron Dayne, Ricky Williams, Eddie George -- and, with the exception of Williams, Gordon has more rushing yards, more yards per carry and more TDs than all of them. And he's just 15 yards and two TDs shy of tying Williams' production; plus, he's averaging 2.4 yards a carry more than Williams. This isn't just a great season for Gordon; it's historically great. He's having one of the best seasons in NCAA history.
2. Ralph Friedgen returning to Maryland: The Rutgers' offensive coordinator is not being made available to the media this week ... but it's pretty clear he doesn't like this week's opponent in Maryland. OK, let's be honest: He hates Maryland. He was fired as its coach in 2010, the same year he was named ACC Coach of the Year, which obviously doesn't happen too often. And he didn't hold back a few years ago when discussing his alma mater: "I could care less about Maryland, I've burned my diploma. ...Well, they talk about Maryland pride. They didn't show me a whole lot of Maryland pride, either getting the job or getting fired."
Think this game doesn't take on a bit more of added importance? Rutgers players told NJ.com there's some added motivation this week. It's a storyline worth following, and it'll be interesting to see how both Friedgen and Maryland fans react to his homecoming.
3. Jerry Kill or Urban Meyer?: One of them has to wind up as the Big Ten coach of the year -- but which one is it going to be? Minnesota has undoubtedly exceeded expectations this season by picking up the Little Brown Jug and the Floyd of Rosedale ... but Meyer's on the cusp of a playoff berth with a redshirt freshman quarterback who was supposed to spend this season on the sideline. If Kill fails to grab Paul Bunyan's Axe by beating Wisconsin this week, Meyer might have the edge. If the Gophers win and wind up in the Big Ten title game? Well, it'd be hard to pick against Kill. Minnesota hasn't finished first or second in the conference since 1967.
Now, on to the links ...
- Urban Meyer says The Game is all that matters this week.
- Michigan center Jack Miller, a native Ohioan, has disliked the Buckeyes for years.
- If Michigan State wants to prove itself further, it'll need a bowl against an SEC opponent.
- The father of Penn State's Christian Hackenberg says he "won't even touch" the prospect of transferring.
- Kyle Flood says Rutgers' margin of defeat lately doesn't change his outlook.
- Takeaways from Maryland's win over the weekend.
- Kevin Wilson is still looking for consistency from the Hoosiers.
- Jerry Kill has become a hot name for some coaching vacancies -- but, for Minnesota fans, that's the price of success.
- Silence from Nebraska's athletic director makes sense for now, writes the Lincoln Journal Star's Steven M. Sipple.
- Looking back on the last time Wisconsin played Minnesota for the B1G title ... 52 years ago.
- Illinois coach Tim Beckman is receiving a bit of a reprieve from the hot seat, at least for now.
- Quarterback Jake Rudock isn't getting a lot of love from Iowa fans, in spite of his likable numbers.
- Purdue coach Darrell Hazell says the Boilermakers are "self-destructing more so than not competing."
- Brandon Vitabile is irreplaceable as Northwestern's man in the middle.
@mitchsherman What do you think should happen at Nebraska?— Shonny Schneider (@sss809) November 24, 2014
@mitchsherman what is the final straw for making changes at NU? Sellout streak?— Christopher Hawkins (@GoBigRedRev) November 24, 2014
@mitchsherman: Nebraska is a hot topic again late in the season for its failure to win key games. The Huskers' 28-24 loss to Minnesota on Saturday squashed the final strand of hope to play for a Big Ten title, officially extending the drought to 15 years without a conference crown. I think the Nebraska administration needs to ask a different set of questions this year than last, when Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst offered a vague statement in support of coach Bo Pelini at the close of the regular season. Is Nebraska satisfied with its place in the Big Ten? Are the Huskers content to win nine games a year but rarely, if ever, factor in the national conversation? If so, change is unnecessary. But if the Huskers want more, some kind of fix appears in order. Clearly, the formula in place isn't working to improve Nebraska. As for the streak of 340 consecutive sellouts, Nebraska can't afford to wait until it ends before taking action. Apathy is growing as the Huskers slide further down the Big Ten pecking order. And the streak of sellouts should not be taken for granted.
@mitchsherman: The Badgers, in that scenario, would land in the Cotton, Fiesta or Peach. The College Football Playoff committee would then be tasked to determine if Ohio State or Michigan State belonged in another of the New Year's Six games -- other than the Orange, which will be determined by conference tie-ins. The Orange Bowl gets the Big Ten runner-up only if it ranks ahead of every available SEC team. The Spartans appear in decent shape today for a New Year's Six spot, especially if Ohio State keeps winning. Of course, the Buckeyes, with a close loss to Wisconsin, could remain ahead of Michigan State and steal a New Year's Six spot, knocking MSU to the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. Remember, though, if a Big Ten team lands in the Orange Bowl, another can't go to the Citrus. Got that? In a nutshell, it's complicated.
@mitchsherman assume 10 bowl eligible teams this year. What are chances B1G can win 6-7 with conference setting up matchups with bowls?— Dave Fitzgerald (@BuckeyeFitzy) November 24, 2014
@mitchsherman: It's a safe assumption that the league will get 10 teams in the postseason. Nine are eligible, with Northwestern or Illinois to get a sixth win on Saturday. For an 11th team to make it, Michigan must upset Ohio State. The Big Ten, as usual, will be matched against the SEC as a likely underdog in the Outback and possibly the Citrus or TaxSlayer (formerly Gator). If Ohio State wins the league and misses the playoff, it figures to go in as a favorite to win a New Year's Six bowl, though the same can't be said for other remaining Big Ten contenders Michigan State, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Moving down the line, Pac-12 foes will likely bring stronger resumes than the Big Ten in San Diego and Santa Clara. By my count, the league will be fortunate to go 3-3 with its top six teams. It looks slightly better for the lower-division teams, matched against the ACC in New York and Conference USA in Dallas, though the SEC could loom in Nashville. The Big Ten's at-large matchups might determine its chance to get above .500 in the postseason. I'd say, expect four to five wins and hope for six..
Here are five storylines to watch in Week 14:
1. A Bunyan-sized game: We know Ohio State will represent the East Division in the Big Ten title game. The Buckeyes' opponent will be determined on Saturday in Madison. In an excellent bit of scheduling prowess, Minnesota plays at Wisconsin with the West Division championship on the line. The Gophers are also looking to snap a 10-year losing streak in the Paul Bunyan Axe game, but this may be the best team they've had during that streak. Playing Wisconsin might help Ohio State's chances for the College Football Playoff more since the Buckeyes have already beaten Minnesota. This game is always physical and emotional, and it will have more riding on it than it has in years.
2. Brady Hoke's last stand? Michigan sits at 5-6, needing a win at Ohio State in order to reach a bowl game. Even that might not be enough to save Hoke's job, but it's his best Hail Mary option since beating the Buckeyes always carries weight. Problem is, the Wolverines are a massive underdog in Columbus, and their offense doesn't have enough playmakers to hang with the Buckeyes. It will take a miracle, and Ohio State doesn't figure to be distracted after a subpar performance against Indiana likely snapped the Buckeyes back into focus.
3. The Beckman Bowl? The Land of Lincoln game between Northwestern and Illinois has the potential for some serious fun. Both teams are one win away from bowl eligibility. Illinois might save Beckman's job with a win on the road over the Wildcats, while Northwestern would complete an improbable, bizarre season by reeling off three straight victories to make a bowl. Throw in the recent sniping about who is Chicago's Big Ten team, and this game shapes up as a whole lot more interesting than we had a right to expect.
4. Rivalries old and new: Not many people will pay attention the Old Oaken Bucket game between Purdue and Indiana, as neither will make a bowl, but it still means something in the Hoosier State. Michigan State and Penn State will play for one of the ugliest trophies in sports. More recent rivalries hold more intrigue. The Nebraska-Iowa Heroes Game won't be for a division title, but the Bo Pelini watch could be in full effect. Meanwhile, Rutgers and Maryland play for the first time as Big Ten members and could start a new rivalry on the East Coast.
5. The race for records: Melvin Gordon needs one yard to break Ron Dayne's Big Ten single-season rushing record, and he still has Barry Sanders in his sights. David Cobb could set Minnesota's school record for rushing, if he's healthy enough to play. Indiana's Tevin Coleman needs 94 yards to reach 2,000 for the season, which would give the Big Ten two 2,000-yard rushers in the same season for the first time ever. Ohio State's J.T. Barrett is six touchdown passes away from the Big Ten single-season record held by Drew Brees . And if Buckeyes teammate Joey Bosa can get three more sacks, he'll break the school season record. He has promised to do a backflip if he gets the record, so we should all root for that.
LINCOLN, Neb. -- A split second after the last catch he will ever make at Memorial Stadium, Kenny Bell cut back and sprinted past the big red "N" at midfield on the third play of Nebraska’s opening possession Saturday against Minnesota.
Eyes on the end zone, the receiver crashed to the turf 4 yards from the goal line, caught from behind by cornerback Eric Murray.
Much like Bell’s career in Lincoln, it was a thing of beauty and triumph. With an unfortunate twist.
The third-down reception covered 73 yards, one short of his career long. But his helmet hit the ground hard, and Bell struggled to his feet, with help from teammates. Seconds later, he was down again, and with assistance from trainers, Bell staggered to the locker room, knocked out with a head injury on Senior Day.
Before his final home game, kids in No. 80 jerseys -- a few with iterations of the Afro that places Bell among the most recognizable players in college football -- walked the concrete outside Memorial Stadium. Inside, Bell grew misty-eyed when he was introduced to the crowd, and then he weaved across the end zone, arms extended like an airplane, enjoying the moment as always.
As Nebraska (8-3, 4-3 Big Ten) approaches its season finale Friday at Iowa (noon ET, ABC), Bell prepares to depart the school, a beloved figure and one of the unique Huskers of his era.
This season, he shattered the Nebraska receiving-yardage record of Johnny Rodgers, which had been untouched for 42 years. He also passed Rodgers, the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner, in receptions and sits atop that chart, too.
Bell is flamboyant and outspoken, yet self-aware like few athletes at the age of 22, and full of perspective toward the game. The son of former Denver Broncos running back and return specialist Ken Bell, Kenny is a beacon of positivity amid an unsettling period in Nebraska history.
The Huskers, after back-to-back losses to Minnesota and Wisconsin, have gone 15 years without a conference title (including in the Big 12 before moving to the Big Ten in 2011). Despite the presence of Bell and record-setting I-back Ameer Abdullah, inconsistency and a lack of identity on offense have continued to plague Nebraska.
It played for a Big Ten title only once, losing by 39 points to Wisconsin in 2012.
It used to bother Bell, but not anymore. He has largely ignored the armchair critics this season, he said, though he remains active on his popular Twitter account, @AFRO_THUNDERBIRD80.
"I’ve gotten away from trying to make everybody happy," Bell said last week in a wide-ranging interview. "It makes me that much happier.
"I just wanted to be liked so much. You want everyone to love you, and it’s impossible."
Bell said he learned perspective from his mother, Tami Campbell. In August 2003, at age 11, he served as the best man to Dan Campbell in their wedding, and Kenny grew up happy in Boulder, Colorado.
"When Kenny wakes up, he’s happy," Bell’s stepfather said. "He has a happy personality. He enjoys life, and he’s done it forever. It’s his spirit. That’s who he is."
Last month, after a 63-yard touchdown catch against Illinois, Bell hugged back judge Mike Brown. When he caught a first-quarter touchdown at Wisconsin that broke Rodgers’ yardage record, Bell bowed to the pocket of Nebraska fans at Camp Randall Stadium.
"That he allows his personality to come out," Dan Campbell said, "Tami and I are very proud of the way that he represents himself and represents his family. He’s very genuine and authentic to who he is."
That much is clear. Bell has never tried to disguise anything.
"You can control what kind of day you’re having," he said. "You can always have a better attitude about things. Does it suck that we lost? Yeah, nobody likes to lose when you invest the kind of time we put into it. But is the world over? Do we wrap it up and throw it in?
"That’s just absurd. You would think the sky was falling."
Bell said he wants to be remembered at Nebraska for treating people the right way.
"What I’ll remember is coming out here with these guys and having the time of my life," he said. "If I were to be put on my deathbed this week and you asked me [about] the most important thing to me, it would be the relationships I have in my life. That’s what matters to me. Stats and the game of football are not."
Coach Bo Pelini said Bell has "really grown up a lot" in four years. Teammates appreciate his genuine nature.
Cornerback Josh Mitchell, a fellow senior, said Bell brought "excitement and joy" to the Huskers.
"He’s someone who loves the game," Mitchell said, "a player that his teammates love, the fans love and a guy that’s always going to put a smile on your face."
Bell’s status for Friday's game is unknown. He might not return until Nebraska’s bowl game.
Count on Bell, though, for a memorable finish. His career, amid distractions on the periphery, never lacked for interesting moments.
"The game of football is just that," Bell said. "It’s a game, meant to be played for fun. People forget that. I know for dang sure people at this place have forgotten it. You want to win every single one, but when you don’t, you can’t crawl in a corner and hide. You can’t be sad forever. You lick your wounds and you get better.
"Enjoying these last few weeks with my teammates -- and winning -- that’s really the only thing that’s on my mind."
The Wisconsin junior is having a Heisman Trophy-caliber season even if he doesn't win the award next month. Although Gordon's FBS single-game rushing record of 408 yards lasted a single week, as Oklahoma's Samaje Perine eclipsed it Saturday, Gordon still became the fastest player in FBS history to reach 2,000 yards in a season (241 carries). He leads the nation with 2,109 yards. According to Wisconsin, his rushing total from the first three quarters alone (1,915 yards) still would lead the nation.
But there are other standout running backs in the Big Ten -- great ones and really good ones. As the season concludes this week for a handful of teams, it's important to acknowledge all of them. Because we might never a group of Big Ten backs like this one in the same season.
"There's a lot of guys in this league that are going to be playing on Sundays from that specific position," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said Sunday.
How high would Coleman's stock be if he played for a contender?
At least Coleman's name is known around the Big Ten and, to a degree, around the country. No one is talking about Jeremy Langford. Not even in the Big Ten. OK, maybe in East Lansing. But nowhere else.
Here's what Langford did this past Saturday: rushed for 126 yards and two touchdowns as Michigan State stomped Rutgers. It marked his 15th consecutive 100-yard rushing performance against a Big Ten opponent. Think about that. He has the longest active streak of 100-yard rushing performances against conference opponents since at least 1996.
Langford has 1,242 rush yards and 17 touchdowns, and he's barely a blip on the Big Ten radar. It's a tribute to the league's incredible depth at running back. Langford is quietly having another productive season a year after quietly rushing for 1,422 yards on a team that won the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl. But it's time he gets his due as one of the more consistent runners in the country the past two seasons.
"He's one of the reasons we won 13 games last year and won nine this year," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said Sunday night. "Remember, he had 23 yards rushing coming into his junior year. He's put together a string of 14 100-yard games in [regular-season] conference play.
"He's been a tremendous performer for us."
Minnesota's David Cobb has a slightly higher profile than Langford, but he also gets overlooked in a league loaded with star running backs. Cobb is one of the nation's most physical and prolific backs, yet his steak evidently doesn't match Gordon's or Coleman's sizzle. Despite 1,350 rush yards entering play Saturday, Cobb amazingly didn't make the cut for Doak Walker Award semifinalists.
Cobb left Saturday's win against Nebraska with a hamstring injury. He's questionable for this week's showdown against Wisconsin, although he tweeted that he'll be ready to go. If so, the game at Camp Randall Stadium will feature the longest uninterrupted rivalry in the FBS, the Big Ten West Division title at stake, a giant axe and two of the nation's best running backs. Sign me up.
Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott and Northwestern's Justin Jackson both eclipsed 1,o00 yards. Elliott recorded his fourth 100-yard rushing performance in Big Ten play and fifth of the season against Indiana. Jackson, a true freshman, boasts five 100-yard rushing performances in the past seven games and consistently produces for a Northwestern offense that has struggled most of the season.
The Big Ten now has seven 1,000-yard rushers with a week to go in the regular season. No other league has more than five. The Big Ten has four players -- Gordon, Coleman, Cobb and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah -- with more than 1,400 rush yards. No other league has more than two.
The surge has taken place without star rushers from Michigan or Penn State, two traditionally elite running programs, and despite the season-ending injury to Rutgers standout Paul James. Dantonio, who has spent much of his career in the Big Ten, recalls the running back depth in the mid-to-late 1990s, when the league had stars like Wisconsin's Ron Dayne, Ohio State's Eddie George, Michigan's Tim Biakabutuka and Penn State's Curtis Enis.
"It seemed like everybody had a guy," Dantonio said. "It's very similar to that [now]. You've got four or five guys who really deserve to be first-team all-conference players. Somebody's going to get left out in the cold a little bit."
That's life in the league of running backs, but this group, not just Gordon, should not soon be forgotten.
The Big Ten has actually been pretty fun this season after all.
The calendar has flown by, particularly since those rough couple weeks at the end of August and start of September, but this last weekend offered yet another reminder of why the conference has been so enjoyable for the most part and almost universally underrated for what it has brought to the table nationally.
There continues to be a legitimate threat to not only qualify for the College Football Playoff, but -- with Ohio State continuing its resurgence from the early loss to Virginia Tech -- perhaps Urban Meyer’s team has become one that nobody would want to face in the postseason. And look out if the Buckeyes could cut down on the turnovers, because that’s about the only thing keeping some of the scores close recently.
Meanwhile, a handful of Big Ten Heisman Trophy candidates are making cases to appear in New York City, with Melvin Gordon again shining down the stretch, J.T. Barrett accounting for four more touchdowns and Tevin Coleman submitting one more eye-catching performance for an Indiana team that has no other credible weapon aside from the dynamic running back.
There have been some low points, sure. But take a moment before the end of the regular season sneaks up on Saturday to appreciate what the Big Ten has provided this season -- before football is gone again for the interminable offseason.
Team of the week: After a 28-24 win at Nebraska, Minnesota is halfway through the closing two-week gauntlet on the road with the West Division title on the line, and its dreams of winning the West and setting up a rematch with Ohio State remain intact. The Gophers even stared down a little extra adversity with running back David Cobb getting injured, but that wasn’t enough to slow down a program that has proved several times this season that it has capable backups ready and waiting for a chance to step in and contribute to a victory.
Biggest play: A hard-nosed, opportunistic defense has been the true calling card for the Gophers this season, and the defense solidified its reputation when Briean Boddy-Calhoun ripped the ball away from Nebraska’s De'Mornay Pierson-El at the 2-yard line with just more than a minute left. The turnover was absolutely critical for Minnesota, and it set the stage for one of the biggest Axe games ever against Wisconsin next weekend.
Big Man on Campus (Offense): After coughing up a pair of fumbles the week before and then becoming the target of social-media scorn, Jalin Marshall left no doubt about why Meyer and the Buckeyes were standing so firmly in his corner. Starting with an electrifying punt return, the redshirt freshman almost single-handedly saved Ohio State’s season with four consecutive second-half touchdowns -- and one of his three scoring catches literally only required one hand.
Big Man on Campus (Defense): Essentially an afterthought as recently as two weeks ago, Northwestern has charged back into postseason consideration with consecutive wins, the latest spurred by another veteran effort from a freshman linebacker. Anthony Walker helped pin down Purdue with sideline-to-sideline work that included nine tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. The Wildcats face a bowl-or-bust battle with Illinois on Saturday.
Big Man on Campus (Special Teams): Marshall’s game-changing punt return makes him a worthy candidate, but Ohio State punter Cameron Johnston had previously pinned Indiana on its 1-yard line to help set up the situation, and he was invaluable in a game that didn’t include Ohio State’s best offensive or defensive efforts this season. Johnston was called on five times in all Saturday, averaging nearly 50 yards per punt with three of them downed inside the 20-yard line.
Biggest face-plant: There’s no question it would have been asking a lot for Rutgers to go on the road and upset a fired-up Michigan State squad on Senior Day, but the first-year Big Ten member once again was completely steamrolled when it stepped on the field with one of the league’s best in a 45-3 laugher. The Scarlet Knights deserve credit for earning bowl eligibility this season, but lopsided losses to Ohio State (56-17), Nebraska (42-24), Wisconsin (37-0) and now Michigan State show how far they have to go still.
Facts and numbers to know: Barrett added Ohio State’s single-season records for both total offense (3,507 yards) and passing touchdowns (33) to his growing collection. ... In the losing effort, Coleman established a new record for Indiana by pushing his season total to 1,906 rushing yards. His 90-yard touchdown was the longest for the Hoosiers since 1912. ... Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford rushed for 100 yards or more for the 15th consecutive game against a Big Ten opponent, the longest streak by an FBS player in the last 10 seasons.
There will be teams left out who can make perfectly compelling cases to be playoff participants. There will be voices raised and criticisms leveled regarding which program truly deserved the final spot in the playoff. This much is a certainty.
But which teams have the best chances of cracking the field? It still seems to be a matter of conjecture beyond the top three teams: Alabama, Oregon and Florida State.
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1. Next week, the Big Ten will hand out its individual trophies, as well as reveal the all-conference teams. And the media and coaches are going to have a hard time deciding on the coach of the year award.
On one hand, you have Urban Meyer, who has led a very young Ohio State team to a 10-1 record while developing freshman J.T. Barrett into a Heisman Trophy contender on the fly. Eventually, a Buckeyes coach has to win this thing again, right? It hasn't happened since Earle Bruce took home the hardware in 1979, and that's silly.
On the other hand, how do you overlook what Jerry Kill has done at Minnesota? He has the Gophers sitting at 8-3, with a chance to win the West Division by beating Wisconsin this week. It would be nearly impossible to ignore Kill for the award if Minnesota does win that game and forces a rematch with Ohio State in Indianapolis. The Gophers are 16-7 in their last 23 regular-season games and 9-4 in their last 13 Big Ten contests. Remarkable stuff, especially considering a lot of people thought Kill would not return to the sidelines after last year's health issues.
The 28-24 win at Nebraska may have been Kill's best one yet, and it shows the progress this program has made, Chip Scoggins writes.
2. Just think about how much better Minnesota's season would look if its only losses were at TCU and a close one at home vs. Ohio State. But, of course, the Gophers somehow stumbled at Illinois. That was undoubtedly the biggest win in the Tim Beckman era. But Beckman just might have a chance to top that.
Beating Penn State these days is no great achievement, considering the dilapidated state of the Nittany Lions' offense. Still, winning that game in Champaign on Saturday meant that Beckman has doubled his previous Big Ten win total this season and, more importantly, has the Illini in contention for a bowl. If they beat Northwestern this Saturday, the postseason awaits.
Can athletic director Mike Thomas really fire Beckman if he goes 6-6? Attendance remains a major issue, especially considering the embarrassing crowd that showed up to Memorial Stadium on Saturday -- less than 10,000 by most media estimates. But Beckman would have gone from two wins to four wins to six wins in three seasons. It's hard not to call that progress, even if it hasn't been pretty at times.
The ticking clock on Beckman's job has stopped for now, Mark Tupper writes.
3. You couldn't talk about Iowa this season without mentioning that dream schedule: No games against Michigan State, Ohio State Michigan or Penn State (though in hindsight, it would have been better to play those last two than Maryland). West Division rivals Wisconsin and Nebraska coming to Iowa City. A very manageable nonconference slate.
That schedule is a major reason why people were predicting as many as 10 or 11 wins for the Hawkeyes, who were a trendy pick to win the West. But Kirk Ferentz's team has been eliminated from the division race already, and if it doesn't beat a reeling Nebraska team on Black Friday, it will finish 7-5. Even an 8-4 record would feel underwhelming, given all the advantages that Iowa squandered.
The Hawkeyes gave a great effort against Wisconsin on Saturday, especially in the second half. You wonder if things would have been different had they played like that all season. Instead, there's no way to talk about this Iowa season without using the word disappointing.
Let's hit the links ...
- Melvin Gordon was disappointed to lose his rushing record after just one week. But he beefed up his Heisman résumé.
- The heat is turned back up for Bo Pelini and Tim Beck after another loss. The writing's on the wall for Pelini, Tom Shatel writes.
- Northwestern's defense smothered Purdue to get a win shy of bowl eligibility.
- The Boilers were just too sloppy.
- Jalin Marshall has solved Ohio State's three-year search for H-back production.
- At least the Hoosiers made the Buckeyes work for it.
- Michigan State won't win a title this year but is building towards continuity at the top.
- Rutgers' message after the loss to the Spartans was a little hard to stomach.
- Maryland added to its growing list of firsts this season.
- Michigan needs a miracle in Columbus now.
- Penn State got beat by less-heralded Illinois offensive players.
And, finally ... "Dilly Bar Dan" received more attention and some nice hospitality in Lincoln.
Cookie cakes are one of the more popular recruiting tools when it comes to social media posts and the Cornhuskers put together an excellent looking cookie cake.
Finally Here ?? pic.twitter.com/ysunOOChrw— Django (@OchoCinco018) November 21, 2014
There were no cookies tweeted from Michigan State's visiting targets, but there were plenty of happy faces after the big win against Rutgers.
ESPN Jr. 300 tight end Luke Farrell tweeted a few pictures after his visit and showed off his view.
Farrell was joined by fellow ESPN Jr. 300 target Sean Foster, who got to meet Spartans basketball coach Tom Izzo on the trip.
MSU today pic.twitter.com/b4PSfP55cC— Luke Farrell (@LukeFarrell88) November 22, 2014
The Wolverines hosted a few big targets of their own, including Florida State receiver commit Auden Tate.
In-state ESPN 300 running back Mike Weber might have added insult to injury when he tweeted that he was decommitting from Michigan almost immediately after Maryland scored its go ahead touchdown in the game.
Weber wasn't visiting Michigan, but had just come off a big playoff loss of his own and decided he had seen enough. The Michigan coaches have now lost seven ESPN 300 commits in the 2015 class and there is potential to lose more as tight end Chris Clark is planning visits as well.
I'm decommiting from the university of Michigan thank you Michigan for the love and support I'll remake my decision at the army bowl— Mikey (@mikeweber25) November 22, 2014
Clark is the highest-ranked commit Michigan has left and he took to Twitter after the game to express his disappointment.
Man michigan has officially hit rock bottom— Chris Clark (@Clark8Chris) November 23, 2014
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska lost 28-24 to Minnesota on Saturday, blowing a two-touchdown lead in the Golden Gophers’ first win at Memorial Stadium in eight tries since 1960 and their first win on the road over a ranked team in 21 attempts, dating to 2000.
For Minnesota, it marked a major hurdle cleared and set it up to play in a Big Ten West title game next week in Madison, Wisconsin. Heady stuff for Jerry Kill’s team.
And for Nebraska? It changed nothing.
A victory on Senior Day would have felt nice and looked good. It would have made for a more enjoyable Nebraska Thanksgiving before the regular season ends Friday at Iowa.
Nothing changed here, though. This is the new normal at Nebraska, and even the coach won't argue.
“We don’t play very smart,” Bo Pelini said after the game in matter-of-fact fashion.
“We had some good things happen,” Nebraska quarterback Tommy Amstrong Jr. said. “We had some bad things happen. Bad things happened at the wrong time.”
This is what you get now with Pelini’s program. There’s no way around it.
As Nebraska stands one defeat from a seventh straight four-loss season -- it merits mention alongside the streak of six consecutive nine-win seasons -- fans and school administration must ask these questions:
Are the Huskers in a good spot? And are they moving in the right direction?
Nebraska has lost three of its past four November home games. Pelini is 10-6 in the money-making month since the Huskers joined the Big Ten in 2011, including a 4-0 finish in 2012 before they fell off a cliff on Dec. 1. Remember that 70-31 Big Ten title game whooping by Wisconsin?
I don’t pretend to know what athletic director Shawn Eichorst thinks about this cycle of painful late-season weekends. Many people failed last year to forecast his moves.
When Eichorst, in August, last discussed football in public, he said Pelini’s program was “stable.”
The possibility exists that nothing has changed in Eichorst’s evaluation.
The Huskers lost by five touchdowns a week ago at Wisconsin, their 10th loss by 20 points or more since 2008. Minnesota didn’t break any all-time records in Lincoln, but the Gophers rushed for 281 yards and four touchdowns.
And even if Minnesota hadn’t exposed the Huskers on defense again or if Pierson-El hadn’t lost those fumbles, it wouldn’t have provided any answers about Nebraska’s direction.
Last week was about answering those questions. Not Saturday.
Pelini said he saw signs in practice for weeks of the defensive meltdowns that occurred the past two weeks. Before November, the breakdowns in execution had not hurt the Huskers badly.
“Last two weeks, they hurt us,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Nebraska drilled repeatedly in practice on Minnesota’s zone-heavy rushing attack. The Gophers did not hurt Nebraska with new tricks.
“They were things that we covered, went over, executed, and then [when] we got into the game, it was like we never saw them before,” Pelini said. “It’s a bad recipe.”
According to safety Nate Gerry, the Huskers did not realize Minnesota would rely so much on QB Mitch Leidner in the run game. He carried 22 times for 111 yards.
All of it speaks to a disconnect. Either the Huskers aren’t coaching it right or they’ve got the wrong players in place. Regardless, Pelini is tasked to find the fix.
Will he? Can he?
Nebraska lost starting center Mark Pelini and star receiver Kenny Bell to injury on the first offensive series. For Minnesota, standout tailback David Cobb went down in the second half.
The Gophers simply responded better, getting tough play from backups Rodrick Williams and Donnell Kirkwood.
Williams burned Nebraska with a 19-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, bouncing to the outside on fourth-and-1 as the Huskers sold out to the inside. It was a gutsy call by Kill.
Minutes later as Nebraska led by three points, Pelini told offensive coordinator Tim Beck to look for a big play on second-and-1. A wasted down, Pelini said. Theiren Cockran sacked Armstrong to kill the drive.
“You know what, you live and learn,” Pelini said. “That call isn’t why we lost the game. Trust me on that.”
Trust in Pelini is waning, a reality unchanged by the result on Saturday.
No, this game didn’t change anything for Nebraska, which is perhaps more disturbing than the alternative.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
12:00 PM ET Illinois Northwestern 12:00 PM ET Purdue Indiana 12:00 PM ET Michigan 6 Ohio State 3:30 PM ET 10 Michigan State Penn State 3:30 PM ET 18 Minnesota 14 Wisconsin 3:30 PM ET Rutgers Maryland