Big Ten: Ohio State
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer addressed reporters Monday and expressed his commitment to Braxton Miller, who still plans to return for a final season. So, no matter how well J.T. Barrett performs, Miller is the clear starter in 2015.
Is that a surprise? Not at all. It’s a no-brainer. Miller was on pace for an unprecedented third Big Ten offensive-player-of-the-year award. And, while Barrett has shown flashes this season, he still has a long way to go before fans start forgetting about the quarterback who twice finished within the top-10 of the Heisman voting.
If anything, it’s a smart move by Meyer to get out ahead of any foreseeable controversy. Barrett is progressing every week, and this pre-emptive statement should put to rest any future murmurs on the subject. The fact is, even at Barrett’s best, he’s still no Braxton Miller. And even he knows that.
“I’m not Braxton,” Barrett said matter-of-factly back in August. “I’m J.T.”
That being said, the redshirt freshman is still on pace for a solid season. He’s thrown for 1,087 yards -- along with 13 TDs to five INTs -- and only Illinois’ Wes Lunt and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg have passed for more yards per game. Sure, he’s padded his stats against some suspect defenses like Kent State. But he’s only going to get better.
As long as Miller remains a part of the Buckeyes, this will always will be his team. Meyer’s statement just reinforced that. Miller was always expected to be the starter next season. But, on the bright side, Barrett has shown he’ll make for one capable backup in 2015.
Josh Moyer: It's not exactly a well-kept secret whom Michigan would like to get - Jim Harbaugh or Les Miles - but I would still label both candidates as "serious," too. Usually, successful NFL coaches don't take a step back down to college. But Harbaugh doesn't have a great relationship with the San Francisco 49ers' general manager, and Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio is already predicting a Harbaugh-to-Michigan move. If Harabugh would be willing to jump to the Wolverines, Michigan would be crazy not to take him. As for Miles, he's already twice been passed over for the Michigan job. But, even this summer, it sure didn't sound as if he held a grudge: "It's certainly a place I hold very near and dear to my heart." Miles to Michigan? ESPN's own Travis Haney believes there's smoke to that one. Either hire would be a slam dunk for Michigan. It'd be up to either head coach if he wants to keep Doug Nussmeier, but I wouldn't be surprised if he stayed.
@ESPNJoshMoyer Who do you think are some serious Michigan head coach replacements if Hoke gets the boot? And will Nuss stay?— Steve Crank (@stephencrank) September 24, 2014
Josh Moyer: It shows the Hoosiers are on the right track, but it's premature to start calling them a serious contender, or even a dark horse. Let's not forget, Indiana also just lost to Bowling Green in a shootout two weeks ago. You want a dark horse right now? Maybe Penn State. But Indiana still needs to show consistency, that it can string together solid some solid performances. Until the Hoosiers do that, they may be a team on the rise, but I hesitate to call them anything more. Maryland will be a good test Saturday.
@ESPNJoshMoyer I know it's still early but does Indiana's win over Missouri show that the they can actually be a dark horse conf. contender?— Paul Shen (@Pianopunster10) September 24, 2014
Josh Moyer: In this week's power rankings, we listed Ohio State as No. 4 while Wisconsin was listed at No. 5. And it's a good question -- but you know what? I absolutely agree with you. We don't agree on everything here on the Big Ten blog, so we each do our own rankings and then add them all up to get the Big Ten Power Rankings that you see. This week, two of us ranked the Badgers ahead of the Buckeyes. I was one of them. Wisconsin's lack of a vertical passing game definitely works against it - and I'd wager that's probably what's holding back some of my colleagues - but Ohio State hasn't exactly been impressive, either. The Navy game was a lot closer than the score indicated, and the Virginia Tech loss looks a lot worse now after losses to East Carolina and Georgia Tech. These teams still have a lot to prove, and that's why these rankings are so fluid. If OSU struggles against Cincinnati and Wisconsin dominates USF, you'll probably see our overall rankings flip-flop.
@ESPNJoshMoyer Why so high on Ohio st in your rankings. They struggled with harder teams and low with Wisconsin who has a good defense front— johnsg20 (@stevegred17) September 24, 2014
Josh Moyer: This has to be a Nebraska fan fishing for compliments, right? Because, right now, it's pretty clear the Cornhuskers are the team to beat. At 4-0, they're the Big Ten's best hope for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Ameer Abdullah could be part of the Heisman ceremony at the end of the year, the passing game is doing just fine, and the Huskers rank No. 31 in the nation in total defense. The Badgers appear to be the West's No. 2 team but, if Iowa's offense continues to play like it did against Pitt, then the Hawkeyes certainly have the potential to move up. Minnesota needs to get some kind of passing game going to legitimately compete in the West and the other three teams - Ilinois, Purdue, Northwestern - are just a mess.
@ESPNJoshMoyer who is the top team in the West right now?— Adam Boben (@abobes7) September 24, 2014
Brent Clarke writes: I'm a diehard PSU fan/alum. Based on the play this season and with the noted issues on the O-line and rushing (Umass game notwithstanding), I think they are an above-average B1G team. I think they could achieve 9ish wins. With that said, what do you think has to happen for Penn State to crack into the polls (Top 25)? Can they do it this week if they win against Northwestern?
Josh Moyer: I'm with you there, Brent. I said before that Penn State was likely capable of between seven and nine wins but, if this offensive line can show marked improvement, that ceiling rises. Regardless, the Nittany Lions are already receiving the 27th-most votes in both polls -- so a win against Northwestern should definitely vault them into the Top 25. That was my thinking before the season, so that obviously remains my thinking now. There's a decent chance Penn State might be 6-0 heading into its Oct. 25 matchup against Ohio State. If that's the case, PSU could be ranked in the teens. That's a game Penn State fans like to circle every year, and that could wind up being an incredibly important one.
1. Michigan should look to backup QB: Shane Morris doesn’t deserve to start, per se, but Devin Gardner has shown he’s not the answer to Michigan’s woes. Actually, he’s a big contributing cause. Against two Power-5 opponents, Gardner has led the Wolverines offense to exactly zero touchdown drives. Can Morris possibly fare any worse? Hoke should announce the starter later Tuesday. If he picks Gardner, this has to be the dual-threat’s last chance. But if U-M wants to turn things around now, maybe it should stop starting the same guy over and over again and expecting different results. You know what they call that ...
2. Ameer Abdullah still the best back in the Big Ten: Apologies to Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, who made enough highlight-worthy plays just on Saturday to fill up a season-long reel. But Abdullah has still had the more impressive season by far. Gordon put up video game numbers against Bowling Green, but Abdullah grinded it out against a good Miami run defense for 229 yards. Abdullah’s “worst” game came against McNeese State when he turned in this play. Don’t worry; you really don’t have to click that link because you’ve probably seen that crazy play -- where he breaks at least five tackles en route to a 58-yard TD -- at least a dozen times already. Gordon is great but, so far this season, Abdullah is better.
3. NCAA president Mark Emmert can’t admit when he’s wrong: Can we make something clear here? Whether or not you agreed with the NCAA’s initial move of sanctioning Penn State, it seems as if we can all agree that the NCAA handled the situation in a manner that was far from ideal. But, of course, the NCAA’s tone-deaf president was asked Monday about his handling of it all -- and, of course, disagreed. Emmert’s response: “I think that has gone really well.” It looks as if we need to talk, Mark. If you dole out a punishment and reduce said punishment twice in two years, then you probably missed the mark initially. Heck, you’re basically admitting you missed the mark with actions instead of words. ESPN.com’s own Ivan Maisel wrote something to that effect as well -- nearly a full year ago. The more Emmert talks, the more it becomes harder to believe him.
Now on to the links ...
- The Michigan job is too big for Brady Hoke, writes The Detroit News' Terry Foster.
- Despite improvements, Ohio State is still "not sure of" of its best offensive line rotation.
- Michigan State QB Connor Cook said he hasn't made a decision on the NFL and he's focused on this season.
- Penn State is starting to receive votes in the top 25 -- but who's not voting for the Nittany Lions?
- Rutgers coach Kyle Flood doesn't believe in "trap games."
- Injuries have forced quite a few changes on Maryland's depth chart.
- Indiana coach Kevin Wilson knows his team has to back up the win against Missouri.
- Nebraska's back seven needs to do some cleaning up.
- Jake Rudock was listed as the starter on Iowa's depth chart Monday morning, but Kirk Ferentz will undoubtedly be asked about the brewing QB controversy Tuesday.
- Despite Illinois 3-1 record, the Fighting Illini are still searching for consistency.
- Minnesota needs a sharper passing game in its Big Ten opener.
- An early preview package on Purdue's matchup against Iowa.
Sorry, B1G fans, it has nothing to do with this current college football season ... which probably doesn't come as a surprise. But at least it's something, right? In the NFL on Sunday, the Big Ten fared pretty darn well -- specifically at quarterback:
NFL QB Wins in Week 2 by College Affiliation: Big Ten 4 << I-AA 3 SEC 3 ACC 2 >> 3 from Michigan St (via @ESPNStatsInfo)— Kevin Negandhi (@KNegandhiESPN) September 15, 2014
Let me help you out with the names since two of these players aren't regular starters: First, of course, you have New England's Tom Brady (Michigan) with a win against Minnesota. And you have the names that should make Spartans fans smile: Washington's Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) against Jacksonville, Cleveland's Brian Hoyer (Michigan State) against New Orleans, and Arizona's Drew Stanton (Michigan State) against the New York Giants.
Stanton and Cousins were both filling in because of injuries to the regular starter. But Cousins performed so well he might start a quarterback controversy once Robert Griffin III returns, and Stanton sparked a fourth-quarter comeback.
Granted, it's possible -- possible -- that only Brady will still be starting by year's end. But it's positive news for now, and the Big Ten does still have some current talent at the position.
One AFC veteran scout recently called Penn State's Christian Hackenberg the "top QB in college football." And, as long as Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller returns as planned, the Big Ten should once again boast at least one Heisman front-runner.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. It might not have been a good weekend for the Big Ten (again), but at least the conference had a good showing in the NFL. At least it's something.
Anthony from New York, N.Y., writes: Who had the worst weekend, Michigan State, Ohio State, or Michigan?
Josh Moyer: That’s a tough one, but I have to go with Michigan. The Buckeyes had a freshman signal-caller up against a strong defense, while the Spartans played arguably the best team in the nation. To me, those outcomes weren’t nearly as surprising as with the Wolverines. This was the final contest in the series against Notre Dame, and the entire game was an absolute embarrassment as U-M failed to score a point and lost 31-0. At least MSU led in the second half, and OSU kept the game close. This was the first time Michigan was shut out in 365 games – that’s 30 years – and it was the most lopsided victory for Notre Dame in a series that dates back to 1887. Michigan State and Ohio State didn’t help themselves with those losses, but those games weren’t historically bad. Michigan’s was.
@ESPNJoshMoyer so, OSU line showed reason 4 concern. Any chance Warriner can get them right this season? D was bad, but O lost that game— Matt Pacholski (@Mpachol) September 8, 2014
Josh Moyer: I was more down on Ohio State after its Navy win than most people, so maybe this answer will surprise you: Yes. Sure, this offensive line still has a ways to go. But it showed improvement in the second half of the Navy game - and the unit didn't perform as badly as the Virginia Tech game indicated. On 43 of J.T. Barrett's dropbacks, the Hokies brought five or more pass-rushers on 34 of them. Frank Beamer blitzed mercilessly all night, and Ohio State just didn't have an answer. Any offensive line would've struggled under that kind of pressure. As Barrett matures and Urban Meyer opens the playbook, they'll be able to make teams pay with that kind of aggressive scheme. But it's just not in the cards right now. This line will get better, and Ed Warinner will get them "right." But it's going to take time.
Josh Moyer: Careful about comparing scores like that, Cal. Those don't mean much. And my view of Rutgers has changed quite a bit since the preseason. The Knights have proved they're far from a pushover. Paul James belongs with the group of B1G backs who sit a notch below the elite ones. Gary Nova has looked good, and Leonte Carroo provides a speedy threat at receiver. So I'd be surprised if Penn State plowed right through this team. I still think the Lions will - and should - be favored, but I do expect a close one. Sure, on paper, the Howard game looked tighter than it should've been - but it was 31-7 at halftime, and Howard scored only when the game didn't matter anymore. (It was 21-0 at Akron-Howard halftime, if you're curious.) Penn State has a better defense than Rutgers' first two opponents, but Rutgers should provide the biggest offensive test for PSU since UCF's Pete DiNovo struggled in the opener. Rutgers will need to force turnovers in this one, while Christian Hackenberg needs to remain calm and not force the ball. It should be a good one.
@ESPNJoshMoyer What should B1G fans do now? I am thinking about learning a foreign language or something.— John Babri (@JohnBabri) September 8, 2014
Josh Moyer: I hear knitting's a relaxing hobby. Or maybe B1G fans could adopt an NFL team or take to watching hockey? No doubt, it's difficult to be a Big Ten fan right now. I wish I could tell you that better times are ahead, but ... ummm ... it can't get any worse? That's the best I can do right now. It's basically impossible for this conference to prove itself the rest of the regular season. It missed its big chance. So the hope has to be this conference can regroup, solidify those weak points (e.g. Wisconsin - QB, Penn State/OSU - OL) and have a strong bowl season. That's quite a while away, but what more can I tell you? In the words of Jeremy Fowler, the whole Big Ten had an "Urban-Meyer-eating-pizza-outside-the-locker-room kind of day." And it won't get any better until the conference can change minds by beating better nonconference opponents, an opportunity that really won't present itself until bowl season. A team like Michigan State needs to win out, gain a playoff spot and put up a solid showing for outsiders' minds to change about the conference.
Rutgers RB Paul James: It sure looks as if we can add James to the growing list of solid running backs in the conference. James was the constant in the Knights’ offense Thursday and, whenever it faltered, he was the one to pick it up. His stat line: 29 carries, 173 yards, three TDs. He was the workhorse against Washington State, and he was the reason the Knights were able to match the Cougars’ high-scoring offense. Maybe Leonte Carroo was a bit flashier -- maybe -- but James was Mr. Consistent.
Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: All he did was set a single-game school record with 454 passing yards. And, oh yeah, he went 4-of-6 for 55 yards and ran for another 8 yards on the game-winning drive. He took his share of hits in the pocket and didn’t get much run support, but he did just about everything he could for the win. Did he force it at times? You bet. But he was the main reason PSU moved the ball downfield, and he is now the only player in the 127-year history of the Nittany Lions to reach the 400-yard passing plateau. How could we not give him a helmet sticker?
Penn State K Sam Ficken: It’s only fair. Hackenberg drove the offense; Ficken won the game. After missing four field goals in the 2012 loss to Virginia, Ficken redeemed himself by going 4-of-4 on Saturday -- and by nailing the last-second, game-winning 36-yard field goal. Kickers don’t earn helmet stickers all that often, but kickers don’t have days like Ficken too often, either. It’s a true underdog story.
Michigan WR Devin Funchess: Tell me if you see a pattern here. First score, first passing TD -- Funchess. Second score, second passing TD -- Funchess. Third score … OK, OK. You get it. Funchess finished with seven catches for 95 yards and scored the game’s first three TDs. He helped ice this game before it really started. Props to Devin Gardner for getting him the ball, but Funchess has to get most of the credit on those last two tosses. He leaped, made an adjustment and broke a tackle for the second TD. And he came up with a catch in double coverage for the third.
Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: His video game-esque stats are a bit misleading, since a lot of his yards came after the catch. But Barrett didn’t let up in his first career start. He kept a cool head in the second half and helped lead the Buckeyes to a comeback win. His final numbers? Check this out: 12-of-15, 226 passing yards, two TDs, one interception, 50 rushing yards. He really earned this helmet sticker with his final two quarters, going 4-of-4 for 130 yards and two TDs. It was a memorable first start.
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: The impressive part? Abullah rushed for 232 yards and a TD on just 21 carries. The more impressive part? He was pulled in the middle of the third quarter when the game was in hand. He was nearly perfect after the first drive; nine of his last 15 carries went for at least 10 yards. He’s shifty, he’s quick, and he just outright confused the hapless Florida Atlantic defense. We see many more helmet stickers in Mr. Abdullah’s future.
8:30 a.m. ET
Penn State vs. Central Florida (Dublin, Ireland), ESPN2: This overseas contest isn't the same without the O'Brien vs. O'Leary headline or the Hackenberg vs. Bortles undercard. But it could still be one of the more interesting games on tap, as it's James Franklin's debut as Penn State's head coach. The Nittany Lions are looking to once again shock the conference, and that will have to start with success from an inexperienced offensive line. The Nittany Lions have talent on offense -- Christian Hackenberg, Jesse James, Donovan Smith, Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak -- but a win won't come easy against a loaded Central Florida defense.
Indiana State at Indiana, ESPNews: If you haven't fallen asleep from waking up early for the Nittany Lions game, this one might cause you to fluff up that pillow. The Hoosiers upended the Sycamores 73-35 the past season and should once again put on an offensive clinic. Will Indiana's new defense be better? We probably won't find out based on this game.
Northern Iowa at Iowa, BTN: Kirk Ferentz's crew hasn't made quick work of its FCS opponents the past two seasons. Last year, Iowa edged out Missouri State 28-14 and the year before beat Northern Iowa 27-16. Northern Iowa is a middle-of-the-road FCS team this season, but those past two FCS games featured teams that finished below .500. It shouldn't be close, but then again, it shouldn't have been in 2012 or 2013 either.
Appalachian State at Michigan, ESPN2: Can history possibly repeat itself here? The 2007 game -- Mountaineers 34, Wolverines 32 -- was one of the greatest upsets in college football history. If you're a Big Ten fan, you should probably remember where you were when Julian Rauch nailed the field goal heard 'round the world to give App State a two-point lead with 26 seconds left in the game. No doubt the Wolverines will be more prepared this time around, but you can bet Appalachian State's confidence is pretty high, too.
Western Michigan at Purdue, ESPNU: Thankfully, it's not our job to tell you why you should watch these games. We're coming up relatively empty on this one. Purdue is just a nine-point favorite, which means this game should technically be closer than most of the others here. But the ratings for this game won't skyrocket based off that fact. Purdue's offense should be better, so if quarterback Danny Etling struggles in this game, it might already be time for Boilermakers fans to worry.
Ohio State at Navy, CBS Sports Network: Can Ohio State move on without Braxton Miller? Will Navy's triple-option fool this defensive line? How will J.T. Barrett fare in his first career start? The Midshipmen aren't a bad team, and plenty of questions are swirling around the Buckeyes' quarterback situation with the season-ending injury to Miller. All eyes will be on Barrett -- and how long a leash Urban Meyer gives him here.
Youngstown State at Illinois, BTN: Tim Beckman could be on the hot seat this season, and if he loses to a team with a Penguin mascot, that seat will start heating up in no time. Wes Lunt could be in for a big season, but it'll be interesting to see who in the receiving corps can step up. Beckman is also counting on some juco players to plug roster holes, so we'll start to see how that's working out in this opener.
James Madison at Maryland, BTN: First, Rutgers comes away with a win in its first game as a Big Ten member. Next, the Terrapins should follow suit. We should see offensive fireworks here, especially though the air, now that quarterback C.J. Brown is healthy, along with wideouts Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. James Madison is an average FCS team, though it nearly knocked off Akron the past season in a 35-33 loss.
Cal at Northwestern, ABC/ESPN2: No Venric Mark, no Christian Jones ... no problem? The Golden Bears are lousy, and the reins are now in the hands of Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian. The Wildcats are hoping to rebound from the past season with a bowl berth, and it'll have to get off on the right foot -- with a win over Cal -- to make that happen. Northwestern should start off 3-0 after a disappointing 5-7 finish in 2013.
Florida Atlantic at No. 22 Nebraska, BTN: It won't be the “Battle of the Pelinis” this season, as FAU coach Carl Pelini was fired the past season in the wake of drug allegations against his staff. The move wasn't without its controversy. We'll see if Bo Pelini is out to avenge his brother based on how ugly this game gets. If Ameer Abdullah wants to be a Heisman contender, he has to post crazy numbers in games like this.
No. 14 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 LSU (Houston), ESPN: Admit it. You're waiting all day for this Big Ten game. This could give the B1G respect on a national scale -- or, if it turns ugly, could give the rest of the Power 5 more ammunition to point a finger and label the conference weak. Melvin Gordon might be the best running back in the country, and he'll be facing a slightly above-average run defense. Is that enough to give the Badgers the win? LSU might have the advantage everywhere except at tailback and offensive line. This is the game to watch.
It looks as if the weather is pretty split this week -- nice and sunny in some places with chances of thunderstorms in others. First off, the good news: It'll be nice and clear for Penn State, Indiana, Ohio State, Illinois and Nebraska. Outside of Ireland, where it should be in the 60s, the temperature should vary between the 70s and 80s.
Elsewhere? Teams might not be so lucky. For Maryland and Wisconsin, thunderstorms could strike later in the games. For the other four teams -- Northwestern, Michigan, Purdue, Iowa -- thunderstorms could strike early but could clear up later.
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We talked about Illinois’ Red Grange and Minnesota’s Bronko Nagurski. We even mentioned modern players like Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne and Purdue’s Drew Brees. But there’s one guy I feel we skipped over, one player who has never really gotten the due he deserves.
Michigan running back Willie Heston (1901-1904).
Maybe you’ve heard of him; maybe not. BTN’s Dave Revsine wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal earlier this week and mentioned player compensation and past precedents like “Willie Heston Cigars.” Adam Rittenberg recently alluded to the same anecdote, as well. But Heston is not exactly a household name.
Sure, you’ve heard plenty about other old-time legends, like Yale’s Walter Camp and Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne. But what about Heston? Why should you care? Well, Camp named him to four of his All-American teams (two on his first team). And Heston was so good, give a listen as to what Rockne had to say about him:
“Willie Heston gets my vote as the greatest back of all-time. Since those days many wonderful backs have flashed on the gridiron, including Red Grange and my own Four Horsemen of 1924, and my choice is still Heston.”
That’s right – one of college football’s coaching legends just said Heston was better than Grange. That’s high praise. But look at the numbers. In Grange’s career, which spanned from 1923 to 1925, he finished with 2,071 rushing yards, 5.3 yards a carry and 34 total touchdowns. Heston? 2,339 rushing yards, 8.4 yards a carry and 72 touchdowns.
Still not impressed? Well, did I mention most of Heston's rushing stats only came from 17 – let me emphasize that again, 17 – of Heston’s career games, since the NCAA couldn’t confirm numbers from them all? Some estimate Heston actually rushed for 5,000 yards in his career; others go as high as 7,000 yards.
Heston’s on-field exploits read like a comic book hero's. He could reportedly outrun gold medalist Archie Hahn in short races, he helped Michigan win four national titles and outscore opponents – this isn’t a typo – during his career by 2,326 to 40. He went 43-0-1 in four years and was just as tough on defense.
I’ll stop listing details before you start accusing me of hyperbole. But I’m sure by now you’re wondering why on earth you don’t know the Wolverines’ Superman. Well, when Heston played, we were still nearly 20 years away from the official start to the NFL. Heston tried his hand at coaching following his U-M career, then went into law and real estate.
In many ways, his football career – at least the most important part of it – lasted just four seasons. That counts for something when it comes to seeping into the national consciousness. If that's incorrect, Penn State linebacker Dennis Onkotz – who played incredible college ball but sparingly in the NFL due to an injury --would still be mentioned in the same breath as Jack Ham.
My point is simply this: There are a lot of great players in the Big Ten, and there are a lot of unsung heroes. None tower above Heston. And he deserves to be remembered.
Who do you think is an unsung hero? List him in the comments. But let’s move on to more current football now …
- Maryland coach Randy Edsall voiced disappointment with his receiving corps last week. Now? It's a different story in Week 2 of practice.
- Alabama transfer and current Ohio State Buckeye Chad Lindsay is competing for a starting spot at center.
- Michigan State boasts about seven offensive linemen who can be a part of the rotation, but assistant coach Mark Staten wants more.
- Indiana coach Kevin Wilson says this has been the Hoosiers' best summer and believes his team could be poised to break out.
- A closer look at Rutgers' Thursday practice, from the opening song (Jackson 5's "ABC") to highlights of the day.
- Observations from Penn State's practice and who's standing out so far.
- Michigan's Saturday scrimmage will likely have an impact on how the starting offensive line turns out.
- Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda wants to play up to his players' intelligence by asking them to be more versatile. The Badgers' freshman class is already starting to make an impression.
- Northwestern is remaining mum on the surprise transfer of Venric Mark but, the Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein writes, "it seems apparent Mark would have faced more discipline beyond the two-game suspension ..."
- Who's going to be Minnesota's No. 2 tailback? Good question -- because the Gophers are still trying to figure that out.
- Purdue hasn't named Danny Etling the starting quarterback quite yet. Right now, it's an "equal opportunity" for all the signal-callers.
- Nebraska junior Givens Price might have found a home as the starting right tackle.
- True freshman wideout Mike Dudek is already impressing on-lookers at Illinois' practices, and one teammate called him the "most consistent wide receiver this camp."
- Without three of last season's top linebackers, the Hawkeyes have plenty of questions at the position -- but they also have plenty of depth.
- Our friends over at Grantland previewed the Big Ten.
Bovada released an updated version of its Heisman odds earlier this week, and five Big Ten players now find themselves on the list. The conference currently has more odds-on candidates than the ACC (3) and Big 12 (2), but trails the SEC (8) and Pac-12 (8).
Before, only Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon made the cut. Now there are three new faces. Here are the odds:
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State -- 15/2 (Was 4/1 before)
Melvin Gordon RB, Wisconsin -- 16/1 (Was 16/1 before)
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska -- 33/1
Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State -- 40/1
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State – 50/1
Bovada lists Miller with the third-highest odds in the country to win the Heisman, behind Florida State's Jameis Winston and Oregon's Marcus Mariota. Gordon is also getting a lot of respect, as only one running back -- Georgia's Todd Gurley -- is ranked ahead of him.
As for the two new quarterbacks, Hackenberg and Cook are among 17 other signal-callers to make the cut.
In preparation for the 2014 season and in conjunction with interviews conducted by ESPN CFB analyst Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN Stats & Info will take a deeper look at the top QBs entering the fall. Today, we take a look at Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.
A look back at 2013
Braxton Miller had an outstanding junior season, becoming the first player in Big Ten history (since 1990 when the award was first given) to win the Offensive Player of the Year award in consecutive seasons. He was the only Power Five conference quarterback to throw for at least 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards last year. If Miller can accomplish that feat again, he will join Colin Kaepernick and become the second FBS quarterback in the past 10 years to reach those thresholds in three seasons.
Miller has rushed for at least 100 yards in 14 games since the start of 2011, second most among FBS quarterbacks. He had five such games last season, which tied for fourth among FBS quarterbacks. Miller has always been a prolific rusher, but he’s also improved as a passer every year at Ohio State. Miller’s completion percentage, passing yards and touchdowns have increased every season.
He was more willing to operate from the pocket last year. He attempted 85 percent of his passes from the pocket, nearly 20 percentage points higher than in 2012. His 19 touchdown passes from inside the pocket were tied for the most in the Big Ten with Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg.
A look ahead to 2014
With another 11-win season, Miller will pass Art Schlichter for the most wins in school history (36). Assuming Miller stays healthy, he has a good chance of passing Schlichter.
According to the ESPN Football Power Index, Ohio State has the best chance (41 percent) of winning the Big Ten, nearly 20 percentage points better than Wisconsin, and is projected for between 10 and 11 wins heading into bowl season. The Buckeyes have won 24 consecutive regular-season games, four shy of tying the Big Ten conference record.
The Buckeyes have big shoes to fill. They must replace six of 11 starters on offense, including league-leading rusher Carlos Hyde and four starters from an offensive line that combined for 135 starts.
Miller might have to shoulder more of the load. In the past, he has stepped up when his team needed him. Miller enters 2014 with six career game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, including three last season. The six career game-winning drives are the most among returning FBS quarterbacks and five more than any other returning quarterback in the Big Ten.
One area in which Miller needs to get better is on third down. He ranked in the bottom third of the FBS in Total QBR (47.1) and completion percentage (50.9) on third down. Only Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Purdue’s Danny Etling were sacked more on third down than Miller (12) among Big Ten quarterbacks. Only two of the past 10 national championship quarterbacks have had a third-down QBR less than 70 in the season they won the title.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
12:00 PM ET Purdue Illinois 12:00 PM ET 20 Ohio State Maryland 2:30 PM ET North Texas Indiana 3:30 PM ET 17 Wisconsin Northwestern 7:00 PM ET Michigan Rutgers 8:00 PM ET 19 Nebraska 10 Michigan State