Big Ten: Penn State Nittany Lions

Big Ten bowl projections: Week 13

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
8:00
PM ET
It's the penultimate version of the bowl projections, and we have some news at the top. Sorry, Buckeyes fans, we're not projecting the Scarlet and Gray to the College Football Playoff -- not yet, at least.

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
Outback: Minnesota
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

Best of Big Ten Week 14 conference call

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
3:30
PM ET
Questions were asked, and coaches had answers. Here are a few of the highlights from this week's Big Ten conference call.

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.

Big Ten morning links

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
8:00
AM ET
Good morning, Big Ten fans. Some notes and observations for Thanksgiving week:

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 ...

East Division
  • The father of Penn State's Christian Hackenberg says he "won't even touch" the prospect of transferring.
West Division
  • 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.

B1G early look: Setting up Week 14

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
2:00
PM ET
Wisconsin Badgers, Paul Bunyan Axe Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsThe Gophers have their best chance in years to win back the Paul Bunyan Axe from the Badgers.
Just one weekend left in the regular season. For some teams, it will be the last time they play football until next Labor Day weekend. A few will be fighting just to play one more game this season. And, of course, it's rivalry time.

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.

Big Ten morning links

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
8:00
AM ET
One more weekend to go in the regular season. Some thoughts to begin your Thanksgiving week:

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 ...

West Division
East Division

And, finally ... "Dilly Bar Dan" received more attention and some nice hospitality in Lincoln.

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 13

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
2:00
PM ET

Big Ten Friday mailbag

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
5:00
PM ET
You have questions, I have answers. So let’s skip the small talk and get on to the mailbag.


Josh Moyer: It’s difficult to answer that, Lynn, only because I disagree with the premise of the question. I think J.T. Barrett has gotten a lot of love in the Heisman race. A lot of outlets have him ranked in the top five – including Sports Illustrated (5), CBS (4), USA Today (3) and Yahoo! (5). Sure, he’s right on the outside of ESPN’s Heisman Watch at No. 6, but he’s just two points behind. And, quite frankly, I think it’s a no-brainer he should be ranked within those first five spots.

Since the loss to Virginia Tech, he’s statistically been the best quarterback in the nation – with a national-best 91.7 QBR and an FBS-leading 34 TDs. But, if I can play devil’s advocate just a bit here, he’s also played just four top-60 defenses and two of those games didn’t turn out so well (Virginia Tech, Penn State). He’s still obviously a great quarterback, one of the best in the country, but those stats appear at least a little inflated.

Does he deserve Heisman Trophy consideration? Absolutely. Should he be a top-five contender who travels to New York? You bet. But should he win the Heisman? Definitely not.


Josh Moyer: Nearly all of it comes back to the offensive line. I actually wrote about this more in-depth earlier today, but let me kind of build off that a little bit because Christian Hackenberg has faced two primary criticisms this year -- one, he’s making bad throws even when he does have time and, two, it’s as if he can’t read a defense anymore. As far as the first point, maybe this is an odd analogy, but follow me on this: It’s a bit like Pavlov’s dog. Hackenberg can almost never step up into the pocket and, on most snaps, he has no time. So what happens when the pocket doesn’t collapse? Well, he’s still been conditioned not to step up, because that leads to big hits. When the defense rings that proverbial bell, Hackenberg just can’t snap back to his normal behavior all of a sudden. That goes for any quarterback; just look at Eli Manning and his 27 picks last season for the Giants.

As far as not being able to read defenses, that’s just patently false. He’s been put in some no-win situations because he hasn't been allowed to audible out of every play this season, and a big part of that stems from the fact the rest of this offense – with four new linemen and inexperienced receivers – isn’t ready for that under a brand-new system. Last season, like former Penn State quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher mentioned to me, Hackenberg was able to walk to the line, inspect the defense and pick from three to five plays that were best suited for the situation. He doesn’t have that this season. He’s just living through a worst-case offensive scenario right now. He needs a better offensive line or this isn’t going to go away.


Patrick from Ypsilanti, Michigan, writes: If the Wisconsin coaching staff actually kept Melvin Gordon in for the second half against LSU, would he be the Heisman favorite? Assuming they hung on to win that game with him in, I think they’d still be in playoff contention, which would make his case stronger.

Josh Moyer: You make an interesting point, Patrick, because it’s true that a playoff berth would only help Gordon’s chances. Look at Alabama’s AJ McCarron last season; I believe that’s the main reason he finished second on the ballot. His stats weren’t crazy – 28 TDs, seven INTs – but he was arguably the best player on the best team.

So, yeah, beating LSU would have helped slightly – but if last week’s rushing performance hasn’t changed your mind about Gordon, I don’t know if anything else would have, either. He’s actually within striking distance of Barry Sanders’ seemingly untouchable single-season record of 2,628 rushing yards. He’s averaging an insane 8.6 yards per carry. And on Saturday, he’ll almost certainly become the fastest player to reach 2,000 rushing yards when it comes to carries. It took Sanders 268 rushes, Nebraska’s Mike Rozier 258 rushes and Penn State’s Larry Johnson 251 rushes. Two of those players won the Heisman, and I think it would be a grave injustice if Gordon didn’t beat Marcus Mariota out for the trophy this year.


Josh Moyer: Purdue has shown marked improvement this year, especially with redshirt sophomore Austin Appleby under center. But make no mistake -- this team still has a long way to go. Its receivers are lacking -- Danny Anthrop is out until next spring and DeAngelo Yancey has been a disappointment -- and the defense hasn't at all helped matters.

Purdue is ranked No. 83 nationally in total defense and No. 97 in scoring defense, and it's a big reason Purdue didn't beat Minnesota or play Michigan State closer. The Boilermakers are simply giving up too many big plays. There are plenty of young players on both sides of the ball – such as linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, one of the biggest freshman surprises in the Big Ten – but the problem with this team is there’s more than one problem. Plus, just take a look at the nonconference slate next season when it faces Virginia Tech and Marshall.

So when will Purdue make it to the upper echelon? Not in the near future. Right now, the question has to be when it can become bowl-eligible – and I think Purdue will be improved, but still hard-pressed to do that next season.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Christian Hackenberg pulled his Penn State ballcap close to his eyes, furiously chewing a blue stick of gum while the media peppered him with the same questions he has heard since September.

How could he go from Big Ten freshman of the year to throwing twice as many interceptions (14) as touchdowns (7)? Why is his offense averaging a touchdown less per game compared to 2013? Whatever happened to the Hackenberg of old?

“There’s not a quarterback in the country that can come out and play a perfect game every week,” he said Saturday.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Walker
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarChristian Hackenberg has been sacked more than any other Power 5 QB this season behind a makeshift offensive line.
He’s not wrong. But Happy Valley is still growing impatient with the player it anointed as the program’s savior when he was a high schooler. One local radio station recently debated the merits of benching the team captain. Others have hurled countless insults on Twitter: “Hackenberg sucks.” “He’s just awful.” “Just sit Hackenberg already.”

But, according to opposing coaches, a former scout and Hackenberg’s past coaches, all of that criticism greatly misses the mark. Stats and mistakes tell only part of the story, they said, and Hackenberg’s talent and draft stock haven’t dropped off, even if casual observers believe otherwise.

“No, it hasn’t dampened at all,” said Dan Shonka, one-time scout for the Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins who now runs Ourlads.com. “You’re talking about a guy who’s really smart and is mentally alert. He’s a good athlete. He’s durable, he’s tough, he’s made big plays in the past. And just look at his arm strength, quickness and delivery. You can go right on down the line.”

That ability hasn’t always been on display this season. But the quarterback position isn’t a solution to a struggling offense inasmuch as it’s the product. Last season, Hackenberg thrived with an experienced offensive line and the two-time Big Ten receiver of the year in Allen Robinson. This year, Hackenberg is struggling with the thinnest line in the Power 5 and with an exceedingly young crop of wideouts. That correlation is no coincidence.

His 37 sacks this season are tied for second-most in the FBS and are the most for a Power 5 signal-caller. And, according to ESPN Stats & Info, he’s under pressure at a rate 15-percent higher than the Power 5 average. The reality off that stat sheet is even starker, too, considering Hackenberg has been forced to throw the ball earlier to avoid said pressure.

“It’s the line. It’s all the line,” one opposing coach said. “We could see going in that he was taking a ton of hits, and big hits. He just can’t operate like he wants to with so much pressure.”

Hackenberg could only peel himself off the turf so many times before the frustration mounted. Against Maryland, following some drives, he’d angrily unbuckle his chin strap, jog over to the sideline – and then start shouting at Penn State’s offensive coordinator. During one sequence, he placed his hands on his hips and just stared at an assistant coach. At other points, he’d gesture and point until the frustration simmered down.

Even earlier in the season, during Week 2, Hackenberg grabbed the white phone on the sideline and it went viral when he appeared to mouth, “I don’t know what the f--- we’re doing.”

“It’s just being competitive,” Hackenberg explained after the 20-19 loss to Maryland.

But Hackenberg’s struggles aren’t especially surprising, scouts and coaches said, because the struggles haven’t started with him. He can’t step up in the pocket because two of his offensive guards were smacking around ball-carriers as defensive tackles in February. He’s a pro-style quarterback who has been forced to operate more out of the shotgun. And his high football IQ is countered by the fact the second-youngest team in the nation is still adjusting to a new system; he’s not even allowed to audible out of every play.

In other words, to some extent, he has been handicapped.

“More than anything, he’s a guy that is trying really hard to make plays,” said former Penn State quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher, who taught Hackenberg last season. “And sometimes you can force yourself, or try harder than normal to make plays, and we’ve all seen that before. I mean, Brett Favre threw more picks than anybody. That’s not just Christian Hackenberg.

“He’s a major, major talent. What really stuck out to me is how quickly this kid learned the offense and what we were doing. You don’t see that a lot with a younger player.”

[+] EnlargeChristian Hackenberg
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarNFL scouts haven't soured on the arm and toughness of Christian Hackenberg.
One Big Ten coach after another has taken turns praising the sophomore signal-caller this season, in spite of the performances. It hasn’t just been lip-service because it has been so consistent. Brady Hoke and Pat Fitzgerald both called him one of the nation’s best quarterbacks. Randy Edsall and Kyle Flood both lauded him as a rare talent. Urban Meyer called him “an NFL quarterback,” and Kevin Wilson referred to him as “one of the better players in the conference.”

They continue to compliment Hackenberg – even when not directly asked about him – because no quarterback, no matter how elite or mature, can operate at a high level without an average offensive line. Even professionals. Drew Brees’ production has dropped off this season – and the New Orleans Saints stand at just 4-6 – thanks in part to poor pass protection. Eli Manning just so happened to suffer the worst season of his career (18 TDs, 27 INTs) with the New York Giants in 2013, when he was sacked the most in his career. (And Manning was sacked 39 times in 16 games; Hackenberg has been sacked 37 times in 10 games.)

“You get gun-shy because you can’t step up anymore and then you start doing other stuff that throws off your timing. That goes for anyone, even Peyton Manning,” Shonka said. “But, with Hackenberg, I think this is just a bump in the road right now. He’s just got to work through it.”

Added Micky Sullivan, Hackenberg’s high school coach: “When you have two seconds to throw it versus three-and-a-half or four seconds, it changes your reads. He hasn’t regressed; his physical attributes haven’t disappeared.”

Sometimes, that’s hard to see on the field. Against Temple, broadcasters chided the sophomore for throwing a pass behind intended target Mike Gesicki – who flipped the ball up shortly before it was intercepted. James Franklin acknowledged afterward that Gesicki, a true freshman, simply ran the wrong route. There have been countless plays like that this season, where a Hackenberg mistake is actually a teammate’s gaffe. Granted, not enough to explain away 14 picks – but the fact is he’s playing better, especially given the circumstances, than what it appears on paper.

He’s a great quarterback in a not-so-great situation. And, for as animated as he has been on the field, he has been calm and thoughtful during postgame interviews. He hasn’t railed against this offensive line or criticized the bad drops and wrong routes by his receivers. He just hides his eyes under his ballcap and walks out of the locker room every week prepared to answer the same question: Whatever happened to the Hackenberg of old?

Turns out the answer is pretty simple: He never left.

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 13

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
10:00
AM ET
It's the second-to-last week of the season, and it's the first time all year that all 14 Big Ten teams are in action against one another in conference play. (Still hate you, double bye.) And there are no night games, so you'll have to be on top of your remote control game in the early afternoon.

Here's a look at what's on tap Saturday (all times ET):

Noon

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMelvin Gordon and Wisconsin are looking to punch their tickets to Indianapolis in Iowa.
No. 25 Minnesota (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten) at No. 23 Nebraska (8-2, 4-2), ESPN: The Gophers can win the Big Ten West by winning their final two games. But first they'll have to get through a Nebraska team that should be fighting mad after last week's embarrassment in Madison. Bo Pelini said this week that Ameer Abdullah might not be 100 percent the rest of the year.

Rutgers (6-4, 2-4) at No. 11 Michigan State (8-2, 5-1), Big Ten Network: League championship dreams are all but over for the Spartans, but they can still win 10 games and get to a major bowl. The Scarlet Knights are looking to score an upset over one of the upper-tier teams in the league, but they're going bowling regardless.

Indiana (3, 7, 0-6) at No. 6 Ohio State (9-1, 6-0), BTN: The Buckeyes are around a five-touchdown favorite, and understandably so. This one might be about style points for the selection committee, and not much else.

Northwestern (4-6, 2-4) at Purdue (3-7, 1-5), ESPNU: After a surprising upset in South Bend, the Wildcats now have a bowl game in sight if they can win this one and close out the season against Illinois. But Purdue had a week off to prepare, and Northwestern has had a habit of playing up or down to its competition.

Penn State (6-4, 2-4) at Illinois (4-6, 1-5), ESPN2: Tim Beckman's last stand? The Illini have to win here to have any hope of getting to a bowl game and potentially saving their coach's job. Christian Hackenberg is scuffling for Penn State, but is Illinois' defense enough to lift his doldrums?

3:30 p.m.

No. 16 Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1) at Iowa (7-3, 4-2), ABC/ESPN2: The Heartland Trophy game has enormous West Division implications. If Wisconsin wins, it can do no worse than tie for the division title and could clinch a spot in Indianapolis with a Minnesota loss. Melvin Gordon, who originally committed to Iowa, will look to add to his Heisman Trophy credentials after his 408-yard day last weekend.

Maryland (6-4, 3-3) at Michigan (5-5, 3-3), BTN: Can Brady Hoke lead Michigan to a bowl game? He'll almost certainly have to win this one to do so, since the Wolverines' finale is in Columbus. Maryland already has wins over Penn State and Iowa, and would solidify a nice first season in the Big Ten by winning in the Big House.

Required reading
Week 13 predictions | Bold calls

Ohio State offensive line again rises from the ashes

J.T. Barrett speeds toward Heisman race

Minnesota, Nebraska fight to move forward

Revised image suits Michigan's Jake Ryan

Rutgers not satisfied with bowl eligibility

'Chevy Bad Boys' power Wisconsin's No. 1 D

The cold truth: Embrace the B1G weather

Big Ten's second act worth watching

West Division title scenarios

"Dilly Bar Dan" enjoys his brush with fame

Bowl projections

Awards race tracker

Big Ten morning links

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
8:00
AM ET
Since Ohio State stormed Spartan Stadium on Nov. 8 in the Big Ten’s regular season game of the year, the Buckeyes have dominated headlines in the league -- well, aside from the Melvin Gordon Heisman push.

Urban Meyer’s team deserves the attention.

Yes, it has more talent on the bench than most Big Ten teams feature in their starting lineups. But OSU rise behind freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett rates as a truly unexpected story of national significance.

Take a moment, though, as Michigan State honors 18 seniors on Saturday, to appreciate the legacy of Spartans like Jeremy Langford, Tony Lippett and Taiwan Jones.

It’s shame that their careers are closing on something of an anticlimactic note.

They’ve anchored the most consistent and most winning program in the conference over the past four years and traveled various paths, as Matt Charboneau of the Detroit News writes, to earn a shot to equal the 2013 senior class as the best in school history.

If they beat Rutgers on Saturday, Penn State next week and notch a win in a bowl game -- perhaps among the New Year’s Six -- the MSU seniors would finish 42-12.

These seniors have already won two Big Ten crowns and three bowl games, including the Rose Bowl last season. The News article shows that Michigan State's senior classes since 2010 have posted the five highest win totals in program history. It’s an incredible accomplishment. And all but Jones, who did not redshirt, have been there in East Lansing with each class.

They deserve a share of the spotlight this month.

Decisions ahead

Staying with the Spartans, coach Mark Dantonio made an interesting comment Thursday on his radio show about quarterback Connor Cook as a future team captain. That would, of course, only happen if Cook returns next season for his senior year.

Cook is considered a potential early-round selection if he declares for the NFL draft. No Big Ten quarterback has been selected in the first round since Kerry Collins in 1995.

Cook could end the drought.

MSU junior defensive end Shilique Calhoun also faces a decision. Calhoun, ranked on Mel Kiper's 25-player Big Board, said this week that he had not reached a decision.

"My primary focus is this season," Calhoun told MLive.com, "and this season isn't over yet. I'm just trying to do great things to help my team win."

These decisions figure to factor heavily in the bid of the Spartans' senior class of 2015 to match the accomplishments of the five that came before it.

Seeing double

As Gordon has nearly pulled even with leader Marcus Mariota in the Heisman Watch and Barrett continues to surface in conversation for out the award, what could it mean for the Big Ten to send two finalists to New York for the ceremony?

It wouldn't exactly change the suffering national perception of the league, but it couldn't hurt, what with the Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC unlikely to produce more than one finalist apiece.

Only the SEC, with Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, can match the Big Ten with two potential finalists.

Just as important, when Gordon and Barrett play during this stretch run of the season, it's a must-see TV event.

Wisconsin and Gordon, after his 408-yard explosion against Nebraska, visit Iowa (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) on Saturday. And the Hawkeyes are taking notice.

Barrett stays home to face Indiana. That could get out of hand.

Around the rest of the league:

East Division
West Division

Big Ten Show: Week 13 (2 p.m. ET)

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
10:30
AM ET
Join ESPN.com Big Ten reporters Brian Bennett, Josh Moyer, Mitch Sherman and Austin Ward as they discuss the biggest matchups on the weekend slate and answer your questions.

Big Ten Week 13 predictions

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
9:00
AM ET


Why Minnesota will win: There’s no letup coming for the Blackshirts, who were historically carved up by Melvin Gordon last week and must turn right around and face the Gophers' David Cobb and another productive rushing attack, with flickering hopes of winning the West Division hanging in the balance for both teams. Ameer Abdullah doesn’t look quite back to full speed on his injured knee, and the Gophers are perhaps underrated for their defensive ability when they’re dialed in and aggressive, which could make it tough for the Huskers if the star rusher is limited again. Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner has been inconsistent this season, but this seems like a good opportunity for him to bounce back in the play-action passing game with the Huskers trying to avoid another soft performance on the ground. ... Minnesota 27, Nebraska 24 -- Austin Ward

Why Nebraska will win: Melvin Gordon had his way with the Huskers last week, but Minnesota’s David Cobb -- who’s accounted for more than 40 percent of the offense -- is a different kind of runner. Most of Gordon’s yards came with speed outside the tackles; most of Cobb’s will come from power between the tackles. Nebraska shouldn’t allow half as many big offensive plays this weekend, and the Huskers’ offense clearly has the edge here. Bo Pelini’s squad averages 8.8 more points per game, the offense gains an average of 100 more yards a game, and Ameer Abdullah is one week healthier. Minnesota won’t be able to keep up. ... Nebraska 34, Minnesota 24 -- Josh Moyer



Why Michigan wins: It's the last home game for Michigan seniors such as linebacker Jake Ryan and quarterback Devin Gardner and possibly the last for coach Brady Hoke. The Wolverines will ride their defense and limit mistakes on offense to outlast a Maryland team that has been tough to figure out week-to-week. It's a field-goal fest early on, but Michigan records a defensive touchdown in the third quarter and holds off a Terrapins rally to get bowl-eligible. ... Michigan 19, Maryland 16 -- Adam Rittenberg

Why Maryland wins: Maryland has been a puzzle this season, but my bet is Randy Edsall fits the right pieces together Saturday at Michigan. The Terps are at their best when airing out the deep ball on offense (even without Stefon Diggs). If Michigan can't get a decent pass rush in the absence of Frank Clark, C.J. Brown should have enough time to connect with his receivers on a couple bombs. Michigan's seniors will pour their hearts onto the field for a final time at the Big House, but in close games, Maryland kicker Brad Craddock has been a difference-maker for the Terps. He plays the heartbreaker role again in Ann Arbor. ... Maryland 24, Michigan 21 -- Dan Murphy



Why Northwestern will win: It's a risk picking the Wildcats here because they only seem to play well against top-20 teams. But I've got to believe Pat Fitzgerald's team built some confidence in that upset at Notre Dame, and certainly that was the best Trevor Siemian has looked all year. Purdue has some big-play ability that will give Northwestern trouble, but the Wildcats now have a realistic shot at a bowl and should play with all-out effort with that in mind. ... Northwestern 24, Purdue 21 -- Brian Bennett

Why Purdue wins: Northwestern has shown great fight in coming back from the dead twice this year. Its most remarkable achievement -- slightly ahead of the home victory over Wisconsin last month -- came Saturday with a road win at Notre Dame. But I just don’t trust the Wildcats, who are dreaming of a bowl game. Remember, this is a team that lost by 41 at Iowa three weeks ago. Purdue is playing without pressure. Sure, it has struggled down the stretch, but Austin Appleby is capable of a strong performance against a mediocre defense. If you want my real strategy in pick the Boilermakers, look no further than the calendar. Since 1947, Purdue is unbeaten in nine games on Nov. 22. ... Purdue 35, Northwestern 31 -- Josh Moyer

Unanimous decisions

Ohio State 59, Indiana 10: Shield your eyes from this one, folks. The league's best team and top offense take aim at the winless-in-conference Hoosiers at home and with a need to impress. It's going to get ugly early and stay that way.

Michigan State 42, Rutgers 21: The Scarlet Knights got bowl eligible last week but weren't terribly impressive against Indiana. Meanwhile, the Spartans regained their mojo at Maryland and should have an easy time dissecting a very leaky Scarlet Knights defense. Jeremy Langford will close out his home career in style on senior day with 175 rushing yards.

Penn State 17, Illinois 13: Odds are the Nittany Lions aren't going to blow any Big Ten opponents away because of their limited offense. But their defense has been one of the best in college football, and Anthony Zettel and Mike Hull will consume the Illini offensive line. A pick-six helps Penn State escape Champaign with win No. 7.

Wisconsin 31, Iowa 24: The Badgers won't have as easy a time running the ball as they did against Nebraska last week (historically speaking, that would be almost impossible). But Melvin Gordon isn't going to slow down now that he has a Heisman Trophy in his sights. Iowa will hang around all day, but Wisconsin's defense will make the necessary stops to pull another step closer to the West Division title.

Our records:
T-1. Mitch Sherman: 78-20 (.796)
T-1. Austin Ward: 78-20 (.796)
3. Dan Murphy: 47-14 (.787)
4. Brian Bennett: 77-21 (.786)
T-5. Adam Rittenberg: 73-25 (.745)
T-5. Josh Moyer: 73-25 (.745)

Big Ten morning links

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
8:00
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November upside: Competitive games, division races. Downside: Dropping temperatures, snow flurries.

The Big Ten is definitely making the trade worth it.

1. Boiling down the Broyles: The guys on the field jockeying for individual awards deserve the attention, and their coaches are always quick to deflect any praise back to the players doing the work in pads. But it's time to take a minute and give a little credit to the assistants in headsets, either on the sidelines or in the booth, because the Big Ten might have the deepest pool of candidate for the coveted but often overlooked Broyles Award for the country's top assistant. The list is longer than three names in the league, of course, but Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop would all be deserving winners for the incredible work they've done this season. The guys on the defensive side of the ball have put together units that both rank in the top three in the nation in total defense, with the Badgers currently No. 1. That gives Aranda a slight edge over Shoop, but it's a tougher call against Herman, who not only has Ohio State leading the Big Ten in scoring again, but as the quarterbacks coach, is also responsible for the rapid rise of redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. If both teams stay on track for a collision in the Big Ten title game, maybe they can settle the matter once and for all in Indianapolis.

2. B1G love: The first time could have been written off as a fluke, but the College Football Playoff selection committee proved it truly respects the depth at the top of the Big Ten this week with five teams ranked among its Top 25. It would have been easy to write off No. 25 Minnesota following a home loss or to drop Nebraska out entirely after getting crushed by Wisconsin. But just like Michigan State last week, the way the committee has reacted to losses in the conference reflects how highly it thinks of the Big Ten despite those early missteps to start the year. The Huskers and Gophers square off Saturday in what will definitely serve as an elimination game in the West Division and will probably wind up being a loser-leaves-town matchup for the committee, which would drop the Big Ten down to four teams in its poll. But considering how that compares with the ACC or Big 12, the committee still clearly isn't buying the supposed demise of the Big Ten.

3. Under-the-radar matchup: Michigan has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons essentially all season long, and this week has been no exception with the troubling off-the-field issues with defensive lineman Frank Clark and his subsequent dismissal. The Wolverines may even be in a hurry to get the year over with and move on. Even with all their problems on the field, they are in position to qualify for the postseason and go out on a high note as Brady Hoke's tenure likely draws to a close. The odds are going to be stacked against them in a major way next week against Ohio State, but the Wolverines have home-field advantage, an underrated defense and potentially no shortage of motivation with Maryland coming to the Big House -- and if the chance to earn a trip to a bowl game doesn't bring out the best in Hoke's club, there's really no reason to even consider it a possibility he could return for another year.

East Division
West Division
In just a couple of weeks, the Big Ten will announce its individual award winners for 2014. We've been giving you the scoop on those races all season long, and it's time again to see who leads for the top offensive and defensive honors. Plus, this week we look at the chase for the punter of the year award. Hey, punters need love, too!

Here we go:

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (six first-place votes): Well, yeah. After his 408-yard performance last week, Gordon has solidified his grip here. He's on pace to do things that only one or two FBS running backs have ever done, like finish with 2,000 yards and 30 TDs.

2. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: He's coming on strong and is a bona fide Heisman contender now. In another year, Barrett would be running away with this award. If Gordon falters in the next two weeks, maybe he can sneak in.

3. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: Speaking of "in any other year ..." Coleman is No. 2 nationally in rushing yards (1,678) and put up 307 at nearly the same time Gordon was doing his thing. Phenomenal player on a crummy team.

4. Minnesota RB David Cobb: If you still had any doubts about Cobb, he answered them with a 145-yard, three-touchdown performance against Ohio State. He should break Minnesota's single-season rushing record.

5. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: We hate to see Abdullah finish this way. He clearly wasn't himself against Wisconsin, running for just 69 yards on 18 carries. Hopefully he'll get healthier and end his illustrious career on a high note.

Also receiving votes: Michigan State WR Tony Lippett

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa (six first-place votes): Ho hum, just 1.5 sacks against Minnesota. He's got 11.5 sacks in 10 games, or more than any Big Ten player managed in either of the past two full seasons.

2. Penn State LB Mike Hull: The Nittany Lions rank third nationally in total defense, and Hull -- the Big Ten's top tackler -- is a big reason why.

3. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel: Did we mention how good Penn State's D has been? Zettel has been the anchor up front all year long. He's got 11 tackles for loss, which is a big number for an interior lineman.

T-4: Michigan LB Jake Ryan: There haven't been many bright spots for Michigan all season, but Ryan (90 tackles, 13 for loss) has been a beacon of hope.

T-4: Wisconsin LB Vince Biegel: It's hard to pick just one of the Badgers' outstanding quartet of linebackers. But Biegel might be the most versatile, and he's second in the league in TFLs with 14.

Also receiving votes: Iowa DE Drew Ott

Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year

1. Minnesota's Peter Mortell (six first-place votes): Mortell was brilliant against Ohio State, consistently flipping field position. He leads the league with a 45.4-yard average.

2. Illinois' Justin DuVernois: He's right behind Mortell with a 44.9-yard average, including a league-best 74-yarder. Illinois also leads the Big Ten in net punting

Also receiving votes: Ohio State's Cam Johnston

Watch on Thursday: B1G Show, 2 p.m. ET

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
12:00
PM ET
Join Big Ten reporters Brian Bennett, Josh Moyer, Mitch Sherman and Austin Ward as they look around the conference heading into Week 13.

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