Big Ten: Penn State Nittany Lions
@BennettESPN Has the Nebraska-MSU game taken over the preseason consensus pick of Ohio State-MSU as the biggest conference game of the year?— Adam Wilson (@wilsonadamiam) October 1, 2014
Brian Bennett: I'm going to East Lansing this weekend and simply cannot wait. This game should be terrific, especially since Nebraska has had more offensive success against Michigan State's defense than anyone else in the Big Ten. The Huskers have a real shot on Saturday night, and I'm expecting a thriller.
In some ways, it could be the biggest game of the year in the conference, because the loser is basically out of the running for the College Football Playoff. But I always think division games are bigger. Whichever team loses this weekend could still get to Indianapolis (perhaps to force a rematch). The Ohio State game may still loom larger for Michigan State because of the division stakes, just as Wisconsin (and possibly Iowa and Minnesota) will for Nebraska. But there might not be a better Big Ten matchup all year then the one on deck at Spartan Stadium.
@BennettESPN Didn't expect announcement of 2 QB system from Iowa coaches. Should we be nervous? Can't recall last time 2 QBs worked out.— DamirSD (@dspot23) October 1, 2014
Brian Bennett: Well, you don't have to look too far back to find successful two-QB systems in the Big Ten. Northwestern pulled it off during a 10-win season in 2012, while Indiana successfully juggled Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson last year.
So it can work, though in those examples, the two quarterbacks offered different skill sets. C.J. Beathard and Jake Rudock aren't all that dissimilar, though Beathard seems to throw a better deep ball and Rudock is a better scrambler. This will likely be more of a ride-the-hot-hand situation than a strict platoon. That has higher potential to be divisive, but at this point, neither quarterback has really separated himself with consistent play.
@BennettESPN 1yr ago UofM was said to be 'a year away' from title contention. Were there any overlooked signs of what has actually happened?— Matt Kirwin (@UofMKirwin12) October 1, 2014
Brian Bennett: I'm not sure who said Michigan was a year away, and in fact, I was always skeptical of the Wolverines this year. Still, it's Brady Hoke's fourth year and his roster should be full of his recruits by now. He can make excuses for being young all he wants, and yes, the offensive line is still fairly inexperienced. But look at Ohio State and how many first-year and second-year players are making key contributions.
The biggest knock on Hoke, in my mind, is the lack of player development in Ann Arbor. (Our Tom VanHaaren did a nice job of detailing that here.) The only two players Hoke has recruited who have made an All-Big Ten team are Blake Countess and Devin Funchess, who were both second-team selections in 2013, and outside of Funchess, none would make an All-Big Ten team if the season ended today. That's way too low of a number for Michigan.
Disrespected Husker Fan from Lincoln writes: Can you explain the reasoning for everybody keeping Nebraska so low in the polls despite their undefeated record? McNeese State would beat Kansas by two touchdowns.
Brian Bennett: I'm not sure comparing yourself to Kansas is the best way to earn respect. While it would be foolish to get hung up on meaningless polls, I do think Nebraska is ranked curiously low right now at 5-0. That's because, in my opinion, of two factors: 1. People still remember that close call with McNeese State (a team, by the way, that is ranked No. 5 in the FCS); and 2. Voters still have a healthy distrust for the Cornhuskers because of their stumbles in big games the past few years.
There's no reason to fret about it, however. If Nebraska manages to win this weekend, it will make a huge leap in the polls. More importantly, the committee will have to consider a 6-0 Huskers team very seriously. An unbeaten Big Ten champion would almost certainly get into the playoff.
@BennettESPN what will it take for IU to beat Iowa nxt week? are there 3 games remaining after NT that are winnable to get bowl eligible?— Iago (@_Blake_Jones) October 1, 2014
Brian Bennett: If Indiana's recent pattern continues, the Hoosiers probably will lose to North Texas and then beat Iowa. The win at Missouri stands as the most inexplicable result in the Big Ten thus far. Obviously, beating the Mean Green this week is crucial for Kevin Wilson's team, which then must find three more victories in Big Ten play. Indiana will be favored to beat Purdue at home in the finale, so there's one. The other three best options appear to be at reeling Michigan on Nov. 1, at home against Penn State (whom the Hoosiers beat last year in Bloomington) on Nov. 8 and at Rutgers on Nov. 15.
But until Wilson's team can find some consistency from week to week on both sides of the ball, I'll believe it when I see it.
Three head coaches in four years, unprecedented scholarships lost and a postseason ban are not the typical building blocks to success. But with NCAA sanctions suddenly lifted, Penn State is off to a 4-1 start and can make a surprise push for the Big Ten crown. We asked the team's seniors how they've adapted to the constant changing of the guards.
Under Joe Paterno, practice might as well have been a game: "Hitting every day," says fifth-year senior linebacker Mike Hull. Then Bill O'Brien's NFL-like approach (lower impact equals fresher legs) became a necessity with the loss of scholarships. As for new head man James Franklin, he's only added more levity -- like the water bottle. The 42-year-old squirts senior kicker Sam Ficken while he's taking reps, then makes the team run laps based on the number of Ficken's misses. Sometimes he simply cancels practice in favor of bowling. "People respect that a lot," Hull says.
To continue to read how Penn State weathered NCAA sanctions and three different coaches in four years to become a Big Ten contender again, click here.
Expect the races for individual awards to be fully shaped in the next few weeks. But we're keeping track of where they stand on a week-to-week basis. We've been looking at the offensive and defensive player of the year races since the start of the season, and with more data in the books, we'll be adding a bonus category from here on out.
Away we go ...
Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year
2. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: The Hoosiers are incredibly inconsistent, but Coleman is not. He leads the FBS in rushing at 172.8 yards per game.
3. Michigan State QB Connor Cook: He was able to hit the showers early again against Wyoming, but Cook leads the Big Ten and is No. 3 nationally in pass efficiency while completing better than 69 percent of his throws.
4. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: After a slow first half against South Florida, Gordon came out firing in the second half for another big performance. He's on pace for more than 1,900 yards this season.
5. Minnesota RB David Cobb: Our panel all agreed on the top five offensive candidates right now, though in different orders. Cobb has a strong argument for player of the year consideration because he's basically carrying the Gophers' offense. His 124 carries are the most in the FBS, and he's making the most of them.
Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year
1. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa (five first-place votes): Bosa takes over first place this week thanks to his playmaking ways. He has forced three fumbles this season, all of which have led to Buckeyes touchdowns.
2. Maryland CB William Likely (one first-place vote): Likely may not be very tall, but he makes big plays. He leads the Big Ten in interceptions with three, including a pick-six.
3. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel: The Nittany Lions interior disruptor drops a couple spots after his team lost to Northwestern. But he's still having a heck of a season, with seven tackles for loss.
4. Nebraska DE Randy Gregory: Welcome back, Mr. Gregory. He was all over the field against Illinois, and after missing some time with injury he now leads the league in sacks per game.
5. Wisconsin LB Derek Landisch: He leads the Big Ten in tackles for loss per game, and Badgers coach Gary Andersen said Tuesday that Landisch has been the best player on what is the best statistical defense in the conference right now.
Also receiving votes: Minnesota LB Damien Wilson; Minnesota CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun; Penn State LB Mike Hull; Iowa DE Drew Ott
Thompson–Randle El Freshman of the Year
1. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett (three first-place votes): Braxton who? OK, let's not go that far. But guess who leads the Big Ten in total offense? It's the Buckeyes redshirt freshman, who just keeps getting better.
2. Penn State WR DaeSean Hamilton (three first-place votes): There were questions about who would catch the ball for the Nittany Lions this season, and Hamilton has provided a nice answer. The redshirt freshman leads the conference in total receiving yards (502) and receptions (36) and is well on pace for a 1,000-yard season.
3. Rutgers DE Kemoko Turay: He's basically a pass-rushing specialist, but his specialty sure is, uh, special. Turay has five sacks already this season, tops in the Big Ten and more than all but seven players in the FBS.
By the way, if you’re not following us, what are you waiting for? Follow along at @ESPNRittenberg, @BennettESPN, @ESPNJoshMoyer, @DanMurphyESPN, @MitchSherman and @AWardESPN.
Hoke says he won't add anything to Brandon's statement today. "I feel bad for Shane."— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) September 30, 2014
Hoke says "we'll see" about Morris playing Saturday at Rutgers. At this point, I see no good reason why Michigan would play him.— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) September 30, 2014
Brady Hoke: "The statement is out there, and it is what it is." That really cleared things up. Bizarre teleconference.— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) September 30, 2014
Pelini says there's no coach in the B1G who would trot out someone on the field who's "dinged." "Anyone who would imply otherwise is wrong"— Josh Moyer (@ESPNJoshMoyer) September 30, 2014
Gary Andersen notes there's not a player on Wisconsin roster that has played in Evanston. Calls Northwestern "a new venue" for Badgers.— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) September 30, 2014
"I don't think we have a talent problem. I think we have some young corners that need to play better." Urban Meyer on his secondary— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) September 30, 2014
Dantonio notes SR DE Marcus Rush in line to have most career starts in Michigan State history. Still one of most underrated guys in B1G.— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) September 30, 2014
Minnesota's Jerry Kill: "The ceiling for our whole team is that we can get a lot better." If so, Gophers will be a contender in the West.— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) September 30, 2014
Franklin: "It's not like a whole lot of things popped up on Saturday that we haven't been writing stories about all year long."— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) September 30, 2014
1. Michigan recruiting backlash. With all the Brady Hoke talk and the loss to Minnesota, you knew it was only a matter of time before something like this happened. Michigan commit and ESPN 300 tight end Chris Clark tweeted Sunday -- since deleted -- that if Hoke is fired then “that changes everything.” He likely just said what other recruits are thinking, and it'd be na´ve to think opposing coaches aren't going to exacerbate the situation by trying to use Hoke's lack of job security against Michigan. Recruiting could wind up being an uphill battle the rest of the season, despite the Wolverines' No. 19 ranking. They currently have 11 commits, and Clark is the highest-rated one.
2. Offensive line woes. Penn State offensive line coach Herb Hand has taken up the practice this season of tweeting out highlights of his Nittany Lions on Sundays. He doesn't do it every week, but he does it most of the time. Needless to say, he skipped the exercise this weekend -- but it's difficult to blame him. There were few highlights Saturday against Northwestern, and the clip of his linemen that most stuck out involved one of his offensive guards inadvertently blocking a teammate. Hand is a good coach, but he doesn't have depth or experience to work with here. He took the blame for Saturday's disastrous performance, but it's clearly not his fault. This is a young offensive line and, quite frankly, it just doesn't have much talent right now.
3. David Cobb's importance cannot be understated. The Minnesota running back has accounted for slightly more than 47 percent of the Gophers' offense. Not just rushing offense, mind you -- entire offense. That means he's a bigger part of the offense than Ameer Abdullah at Nebraska, Melvin Gordon at Wisconsin and Tevin Coleman at Indiana. Cobb has 722 rushing yards (5.8 ypc) and four TDs so far this season. He's worth watching.
Now, on to the links:
- The Harbaughs believe in Michigan's Brady Hoke.
- Mark Dantonio thinks fans might be a little spoiled from Michigan State's 2013 defense and that some mistakes are inevitable.
- Pass defense (or lack thereof) remains a hot topic for Ohio State.
- Penn State is hoping to improve over the bye week.
- Maryland is a 7.5-point underdog heading into the game against Ohio State.
- IU coach Kevin Wilson is seeking more consistency from the Hoosiers.
- No Big Ten team gives Michigan State's defense more trouble than Nebraska.
- Gary Andersen still sees room for improvement when it comes to his Badgers.
- Reflecting on Minnesota's win and reclaiming the Little Brown Jug.
- Let the Iowa quarterback controversy begin.
- Contrarian-in-chief Pat Fitzgerald focused on his team's foibles on Monday.
- In an all-too-familiar theme, Darrell Hazell hasn't yet made a decision on Purdue's starting quarterback.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Wideout Kyle Prater embraced one of his Northwestern teammates Saturday afternoon, while another player turned to the crowd and emptied his lungs: “We are … N-U!”
With more than a minute left, before the Wildcats’ 29-6 upset win over Penn State became official, Northwestern’s sideline erupted into joy. Players high-fived, at least a half-dozen patted quarterback Trevor Siemian on the shoulder pads, and smiles on the sideline might’ve eventually outnumbered the lingering Penn State fans.
“Yeah, baby!” superback Dan Vitale yelled.
For a full calendar year, Northwestern had waited for a win like this. Since Sept. 22, 2013, the Wildcats had beaten only one other FBS team -- Illinois -- and that was simply by a field goal. One disappointment had stacked upon another, and there was no telling when the Wildcats might lift that burden. Last season, they lost on a last-second Hail Mary and, two weeks later, fell in triple overtime. This season, they came up short in a comeback bid against Cal and felt the pang of disappointment in a 23-15 loss to Northern Illinois.
But, on Saturday afternoon, that chapter of close calls and mounting losses finally ended. For once, frustration gave way to the feeling of a win. A good win, one Northwestern has been searching for for more than 370 days.
But this game, this effort, wasn’t just about the win itself for Northwestern, it was about the overall performance. The Wildcats were finally able to increase the offensive tempo, they were finally able to overcome injuries (wideout Tony Jones played, and Collin Ellis’ replacement at linebacker returned an interception for a TD), and this finally looked like a Big Ten team capable of making a bowl game.
Even the demeanor of Pat Fitzgerald seemed different. Two weeks ago, he labeled his football team an “embarrassment.” On Saturday afternoon, inside a humid media room, he still cracked a few self-deprecating jokes (e.g. -- “I don’t know how many times you’ve seen us play this year -- yeah, we haven’t been very good.”), but every sentence was punctuated with a smile.
More importantly, he continued to voice just how proud he was of this team. That praise has been rare for these Wildcats over the past year.
“They’ve persevered, they’ve stayed together, and we’ve been hard on them because we need to be,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re an immature football team that’s maturing in front of our eyes, and I’m really pleased with our seniors. This is a senior-type statement win.”
This was the Wildcats' biggest margin of victory since Nov. 24, 2012, when they beat Illinois by 36 points. So the change was evident, even as the players deflected any talk of altering the scheme or gameplan. They simply chalked up any differences to an increased focus -- and attributed that to their head coach.
Fitzgerald was criticized for taking a soft approach to practice in August, but he changed his philosophy in September. Northwestern players were forced to practice in the rain at one point, and mistakes often met the ire of Fitzgerald’s whistle -- which would signal the dreaded “up-downs.” For the last two or three weeks, players said, this team was evolving and improving from that first uninspired performance. This win against Penn State wasn’t an anomaly; it was simply the end result.
“You could see the passion in everybody’s eyes,” Vitale said. “I think we didn’t have that the first couple weeks. But, with the way we’re practicing, we really turned it around out there.”
Added Siemian: “I think we put three weeks together. As bad as it is to say, those first two weeks we kind of lulled through.”
If Northwestern was asleep before its matchup against Penn State, it was certainly awake by the end. Once the clock finally ticked down to zero, after Northwestern patiently waited for Penn State to finish singing its alma mater, the Wildcats sprinted about 30 yards to celebrate with the smattering of purple shirts left in the crowd.
If it wasn’t for a post-game performance by the band, Northwestern might’ve stayed on that field for a half-hour. They jumped, hugged, yelled and clapped right as the band director made his way to the stand. It was a moment they awaited for far too long.
Even after that emotional win, the Wildcats still haven’t arrived. But, instead of taking one step forward and 10 steps back, they finally took a giant leap in the right direction. They finally look like a team that doesn’t belong in the West’s cellar.
“Are we there yet? Not even close,” Fitzgerald said. “But that, to me, is what’s most encouraging -- how much better we can be in all three phases.”
Pretenders and contenders will be more easily defined at the open of October than during the mayhem of the early weeks, when next to nothing went right for the Big Ten. Even just last week, confusion reigned after the league went 12-1 with four wins over Power 5 foes.
Well, Saturday was more down to Earth. Week 5 offered a better look at the Big Ten’s true colors than we’ve seen at any time this season.
The verdict: The talent on display in offensive outbursts on Saturday can take Michigan State and Ohio State far in this league. Wisconsin and Iowa might have to win ugly all year. Penn State is not as good as it looked through four games; Northwestern is better than it appeared through three.
Indiana still isn’t consistent enough to pencil into a bowl game. Minnesota and Maryland should not be overlooked.
And Nebraska, the league’s lone unbeaten, gets its chance this week to prove it belongs in the national conversation with MSU and OSU. The Huskers visit Spartan Stadium on Saturday.
We’ll get to that soon enough. First, let’s rewind.
Biggest play: Down 20-10 to Wisconsin, South Florida QB Mike White hit Kennard Swanson for a 52-yard gain that looked set to get the Bulls in position for a touchdown that could cut the Badgers’ lead to three points. But a lunging hit by Wisconsin freshman Lubern Figaro jarred the football loose from Swanson. Linebacker Vince Biegel recovered at the 10-yard line, and Wisconsin drove 90 yards in 18 plays for the backbreaking score. Without that turnover, it might have ended differently.
Big Man on Campus (offense): Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova fired four touchdowns in the Scarlet Knights’ 31-6 win over Tulane. Nova was notably efficient in the first half, hitting 9 of 9 throws for 195 yards and three scores. In the process, he moved his career total to 61 touchdown passes, passing Mike Teel for the school record.
Big Man on Campus (defense): Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory is officially back. The intimidating junior, who missed the Huskers’ first two games with a knee injury, recorded 2.5 sacks among his seven tackles and three quarterback hurries in a 45-14 Nebraska thumping of Illinois. Gregory looks more dangerous than ever, often lining up at the second level as a linebacker hybrid. He even delivered a devastating block on Nate Gerry’s 53-yard interception return.
Big Man on Campus (special teams): Maryland place-kicker Brad Craddock connected on three field goals, including two from 48 yards in the Terrapins’ 37-15 win over Indiana, to stay perfect for the season on 10 attempts.
Biggest faceplant: Aside from Michigan -- no repeat winners -- it’s Indiana. What happened to the Hoosiers? They followed the groundbreaking win at Mizzou by failing to show at home as Maryland looked solid in its inaugural league game. So much for the Hoosiers' triple threat on offense. The Terps’ quarterback duo of C.J. Brown and Caleb Rowe teamed with receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long to steal the show.
Facts and numbers to know: Michigan ranks last nationally in turnover margin at minus-12 and 90th in offensive efficiency, according to ESPN Stats and Info. ... Nebraska I-back Ameer Abdullah rushed for 208 yards, moving his nation-leading season total to 833 yards. The Huskers, as a team, rushed for 458 yards against Illinois, totaling 190 on the ground, with no passing yards, in the first quarter. ... Rutgers has recorded 21 sacks in five games. ... Wisconsin remains the only team nationally not to surrender a red-zone touchdown. ... Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz earned his 65th conference victory to tie former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez for 10th all time. ... Ohio State’s 710 yards of offense against Cincinnati came within 8 yards of the school record and marked its highest output since totaling 715 against Utah in 1986. ... Michigan State has scored 174 points in three home games and 50 in back-to-back games for the first time since 1978. ... Northwestern held Penn State to 18 rushing yards in the first three quarters of its 29-6 win.
Some of the critics, I thought, went too far in saying that Morris was obviously concussed after he got hit by Minnesota's Theiren Cockran. Morris was having trouble standing after that hit, for sure, but I'm not comfortable in making that kind of medical evaluation from afar. No one but the team's medical staff and Morris really know the severity of his injuries. It certainly didn't help appearances that Morris was carted off the field after the game.
On Sunday, Michigan issued a statement from Hoke on the Morris situation. In it, Hoke says his quarterback was removed from the game after "further aggravating an injury to his leg that he sustained earlier in the contest. He was evaluated by our experienced athletic trainers and team physicians, and we're confident proper medical decisions were made." The statement went on to say the team trainers and physicians are solely responsible for determining a player's physical ability to play and that "our coaches have no influence or authority to make determinations if or when an injured player returns to competition."
In no way do I think Hoke would willfully ignore a player's personal safety. But the part in the statement about coaches deciding a player's availability strikes a false note. Any one watching the game could see that Morris was not physically right, and leaving him in the game subjected him to potential further injury. And here's the thing: There was no real reason to have him in there playing hurt. Morris was not effective at all in the game, Michigan had no real chance to mount a meaningful comeback and the veteran Gardner was ready. In fact, Gardner immediately brought a small spark to what had been a listless offense (which only reinforced the notion that the Wolverines' best offensive option is still spreading the ball out and taking advantage of Gardner's mobility.). Surely Russell Bellomy could have come in for the handoff after Gardner lost his helmet.
Hoke's vague answers Saturday night about not seeing Morris look wobbly on the field did not help the image many fans already have of a guy who does not wear a headset on the sidelines. Fairly or unfairly (and it's far more likely the latter), Hoke is looking more and more like someone who is not on top of all the details in his program. Add that to the more obvious on-field problems and it's hard to see how he'll remain the head coach in Ann Arbor much longer.
Michigan's problems all lie at Hoke's feet, Shawn Windsor writes. It's time for Hoke to go, George Schroeder says.
More links ...
- Indiana reinforced its old stereotypes in the Maryland loss.
- Brandon Ross flashed his versatility for the Terrapins.
- Michigan State could get two defensive tackles back in time for Nebraska.
- Chris Ash explains how Ohio State's pass defense gave up three long touchdowns against Cincinnati.
- Penn State gets a week off to lick its wounds and prepare for Michigan.
- Rutgers QB Gary Nova set a record Saturday, but his legacy remains unsettled.
- Going behind the scenes with Illinois on the night before the Nebraska game.
- Iowa won because its defense smothered Purdue.
- The growth of Minnesota's program under Jerry Kill was evident in the Big House.
- Tommy Armstrong will be pivotal for Nebraska against Michigan State this week.
- Northwestern's win at Penn State was simply a stunner.
- What we learned about Purdue in the Iowa loss.
- Wisconsin needs a better sense of urgency.
We'll find out during the next two months, but for now, the Wolverines have fallen out of the bowl projections. Brady Hoke's team sits at 2-3, and the offense has shown no signs of a turnaround. It's hard to envision Michigan winning one Big Ten game right now, much less the four it will need in its final seven to qualify for a bowl berth.
Indiana also falls out of the projections after a 37-15 home loss to Maryland. After seemingly turning a corner the week before at Missouri, the Hoosiers struggled to build on the victory as a normally potent offense did next to nothing against the Terrapins. Kevin Wilson's team has the talent to go bowling but must show it can handle success better going forward.
Penn State tumbles a bit in the projections after being exposed in a 29-6 home loss to Northwestern. We're not quite ready to put Northwestern back in the projections, but another big win would change that.
Nebraska and Maryland are among this week's risers. We still have both Michigan State and Ohio State heading to top bowls. Minnesota is another team to watch as the Gophers try to build on a strong performance at the Big House.
Without further ado ...
Chick-fil-A Peach/Cotton/Fiesta/Orange: Michigan State
Chick-fil-A Peach/Cotton/Fiesta/Orange: Ohio State
Capital One: Nebraska
National University Holiday: Iowa
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Maryland
San Francisco: Penn State
New Era Pinstripe: Rutgers
Quick Lane: Minnesota
Heart of Dallas: Indiana
Cincinnati vs. Ohio State:
The Buckeyes came away with the victory against the Bearcats and the Ohio State coaches are hoping they come away with a win with ESPN 300 linebacker Jerome Baker as well.
The Buckeyes also played host to several other big prospects, including ESPN Jr. 300 running back Elijah Holyfield. The 2016 back is very interested in Ohio State, so it was good to get him on campus for this game.
Illinois vs. Nebraska:
The Cornhuskers also came away with a victory on the field and off it on Saturday. The coaching staff was able to reel in two big 2016 prospects in John Raridon and Bryan Brokop.
Both prospects are huge for Nebraska as Raridon is the No. 69-ranked prospect in his class and Brokop is No. 226 overall.
After my 2016 season I will be attending the university of Nebraska. #ProudToBeaHusker— John Raridon (@hines_bittleman) September 28, 2014
There is some serious momentum happening right now for Nebraska, and that could continue if the team continues its stellar play on Saturdays.
Minnesota vs. Michigan:
The Wolverines have spiraled out of control and the loss to the Gophers could just be the start. Michigan hasn't lost any commitments yet, but if the play doesn't improve quickly there could be some movement in the near future.
ESPN 300 defensive end commit Darian Roseboro took an official visit to NC State this weekend.
Northwestern vs. Penn State:
The Nittany Lions didn't win the game against the Wildcats, but there was a big opportunity to impress some top prospects.
The main target on campus for the 2015 class was ESPN 300 defensive back Jordan Whitehead, who has Penn State among his favorites.
USF vs. Wisconsin:
The Badgers had one of the biggest weekends in the Big Ten in terms of official visitors.
Wisconsin had running backs Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Stevenson on campus. The weather was perfect to bring up a few southern prospects and the Badgers pulled off the win, too.
Another Jordan, Jordan Griffin, was scheduled to make the trip as well, but tweeted that complications at O'Hare airport in Chicago prevented the trip from happening.
My official to Wisconsin has been rescheduled due to the fire at Chicago O'hare airport— Jordan Griffin (@HawkStar40) September 27, 2014
2. Defenses carrying Wisconsin, Iowa: Things are going the other way in Madison and Iowa City. Other than the past week's shredding of Bowling Green, Wisconsin has yet to play an impressive, full game offensively. The Badgers had only three points at halftime against South Florida before they finally got on track in the second half of a 27-10 win. But Wisconsin's defense has been stout all season. Gary Andersen's team is the only FBS squad yet to give up a red zone touchdown this season, and the defense forced two turnovers against the Bulls. Iowa fans found out Saturday that C.J. Beathard isn't going to single-handedly transform an at times frustrating offense. But the Hawkeyes' D held Purdue without an offensive touchdown and allowed only 156 total yards -- and only 82 in the final three quarters -- in a 24-10 road win. If the offenses ever get revved up, both Wisconsin and Iowa will be very dangerous. Right now, at least, both are winning with defense.
3. Minnesota and Maryland are stealth contenders: Neither the Gophers nor the Terrapins generated much buzz this preseason as possible division contenders -- understandably so, given their recent histories. But both will at the very least be factors in the race to Indianapolis. Maryland is a play or two against West Virginia from being 5-0 and has shown explosive playmaking ability on both sides of the ball. Even with quarterback C.J. Brown injured in the first half at Indiana, Randy Edsall's team kept rolling behind Caleb Rowe in an easy 37-15 win -- the Terps' second straight, double-digit road victory. Minnesota thoroughly dominated Michigan in the Big House 30-14 and -- in a refreshing change -- displayed at least some competency in the running game. With their defense and the running of David Cobb, the Gophers can make some noise in the West despite a challenging final four games (Iowa, Ohio State, at Nebraska, at Wisconsin). Meanwhile, Maryland could have a big say in the East as division powers Michigan State and Ohio State (next week) have to go to College Park.
4. Bill comes due for Penn State's issues: It's never been any secret the Nittany Lions had serious deficiencies on their offensive line and, consequently, in the running game. James Franklin and his staff did a great job covering those in the first four games, all Penn State wins. But it's hard to win with those weaknesses in Big Ten play, and Northwestern -- despite its own problems of late -- exploited them in a big way during Saturday's stunning 29-6 win at Beaver Stadium. Penn State ran for only 50 total yards, and Christian Hackenberg was sacked four times while being pressured all game. Hackenberg had one of the worst games of his short career, but it was unreasonable to expect him to carry the entire offense the entire season. The Nittany Lions' problems aren't easy to fix, but at least they have a bye week coming up to search for answers.
5. Ameer Abdullah deserves to be a leading Heisman contender: Nebraska's senior running back is putting together a potential season for the ages. Against Illinois, he ran for 208 yards and three touchdowns while barely playing in the second half of a 45-14 win. That's the third 200-plus yard game for Abdullah this season, and he's on pace for 2,000 yards. The Cornhuskers are the lone remaining unbeaten Big Ten team, and they wouldn't be if not for their leader. Abdullah gets a spotlight opportunity next week at Michigan State, but he deserves all the Heisman love you can throw at him right now.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- For the first time in a long time, the Northwestern Wildcats can finally celebrate.
Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian opened up hot, and the defense clamped down for all four quarters as the Wildcats won 29-6, pulling off the upset against the Penn State Nittany Lions. It’s just Northwestern’s second win in its past 10 games against FBS opponents.
With the victory, Northwestern improves to .500 (2-2, 1-0 Big Ten), and Penn State drops its bid for perfection (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten).
How the game was won: Siemian started off on a hot streak, completing 11-of-15 for 150 yards in the first quarter. He capped two first-quarter drives with identical 1-yard rushing touchdowns. From there, the Wildcats' defense took charge, and Penn State made too many mistakes as the game wore on.
Game ball goes to: Northwestern’s defensive line. Ifeadi Odenigbo really led the charge here, but it wasn’t just Odenigbo who dominated. This entire line outmuscled PSU, pressured quarterback Christian Hackenberg and bottled up the run. The Wildcats finished with four sacks and nine tackles for loss.
It was over when ... : Linebacker Anthony Walker, in his first career start, made an easy interception on a pass from Hackenberg in the fourth quarter and returned it 49 yards for a critical touchdown. PSU’s offense was starting to gain some momentum, but that halted it. Northwestern led 20-6 at that point.
What it means: Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald asked two weeks ago what came first -- success or confidence? Well, his team has to feel pretty confident after its best win in a full calendar year. The only other win that Northwestern had against an FBS team since Sept. 22, 2013, came against Illinois. Fitzgerald is undoubtedly hoping this marks the end of those struggles.
Playoff implications: Entering the game at 4-0, Penn State still had an outside shot of gaining a playoff spot if it ran the table. Obviously, those hopes have all but ended now. Nebraska is the only remaining unbeaten team in the Big Ten.
What’s next: Penn State has a bye week before it travels to the Big House to face Michigan. The Wildcats face a stiffer test next week when they take on Wisconsin at home.
The move is significant for fans of the Nittany Lions. For more than 120 years, Penn State wore the same, plain no-name jerseys, and it’s a tradition many purists hold dear. Even first-year head coach James Franklin said the most common question he received this offseason centered around the jerseys.
A Penn State spokesman said the change was in honor of Homecoming, but would not discuss the move further. He said Franklin would address the topic after the noon game at Beaver Stadium.
Former coach Bill O’Brien changed the practice of wearing no-name jerseys in 2012, when he felt players who stayed during the sanctions deserved to be honored. Franklin has said he wants to strike a balance between honoring the past and respecting players’ opinions.
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