Big Ten: Penn State Nittany Lions

When simply picking the games doesn't cut it, the Big Ten blog crew takes it to another level. For some bolder, more specific predictions for the opening weekend of what could be an unforgettable November, we hit the roundtable.

Adam Rittenberg: Purdue will pace Nebraska well into the second half.

This isn't a knock on the Huskers, who are quietly putting together a very solid, and refreshingly drama-free, season. But Purdue's offense is hitting its stride behind quarterback Austin Appleby, speed backs Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert and a much-improved offensive line. The Boilers have had two weeks to prepare and face a Nebraska defense that still has too many technical breakdowns for my liking. This will be a track meet for two, maybe three quarters -- thinking 28-24 Nebraska at halftime -- before Ameer Abdullah and Nebraska pull away in the fourth.

Mitch Sherman: Wisconsin will make its biggest statement yet.

The Badgers served notice to the rest of the West last week with a 52-7 win over Maryland that they’ve turned a corner. Still, it was one game. It was at home, and we’ve seen previous flashes from Wisconsin. But with most of the attention focused on the exploits of Melvin Gordon and uncertainty at QB, the Wisconsin defense has built a résumé as the Big Ten’s best. Now, with Joel Stave back in command, the Badgers will streamroll Rutgers, beat up at QB and elsewhere after trips to Ohio State and Nebraska, and enter the final four weeks as the favorite in the West despite that ugly Northwestern loss.

Brian Bennett: Northwestern and Iowa will head to overtime. Again.

Just like last year in Iowa City, the Wildcats and Hawkeyes will play to a draw in regulation. They're similar teams, with good defenses and running games but who struggle to score at times. Justin Jackson and Mark Weisman will each find the end zone twice as the teams go into overtime tied at 20. Northwestern makes one more play in the second extra period to win it.

Austin Ward: Tevin Coleman will be held in check.

The Indiana tailback wasn’t getting all that much support from the passing game even when Nate Sudfeld was healthy and that didn’t slow him down even against stout rush defenses. But with the attack even more one-dimensional now, his string of 100-yard outings is going to come to an end on the road against Michigan and a defense allowing just 3.1 yards per carry. That’s about the only thing the Wolverines do well at this point, and any chance of salvaging something positive out of this season for Brady Hoke’s club will require coming out inspired to take care of Indiana. That’s yet another sign of how bad things are at Michigan, but there is a talented, proud defense waiting for a chance to do something nobody else has done yet this season.

Dan Murphy: Ohio State hits 60 points for the second time this season.

Any chances of the Buckeyes looking ahead to the Michigan State next weekend were knocked out after the close call in Happy Valley. J.T. Barrett will be back in his comfort zone at home and looking to pick a part the Fighting Illini defense. Ohio State hung 66 points on Kent State earlier this year. While Saturday might not be quite as big of a blowout, the Buckeyes will get to 60 for the second year in a row against Illinois.

Josh Moyer: Penn State hits its highest rushing total of the Big Ten season.

OK, maybe this is a bit of a gamble considering that left tackle Donovan Smith -- the only returning starter on the line this season -- suffered an injury Saturday, and his status is unknown against Maryland. But the Nittany Lions fared better than I expected against Ohio State, and the offensive line has a much easier test against the Terrapins. Only 17 teams in the nation are faring worse in run defense than than the Terps, so we should see a healthy dose of Penn State speedsters Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch. James Franklin has vowed to keep running the ball, and I think that strategy finally pays off this weekend.
James Franklin waited years for the opportunity. When the news conference finally came, he was all smiles. He sat next to the athletic director, intimated he’d spend his entire career there – and even added that he’d “always dreamed” of this.

But on that chilly day, Feb. 6, 2009, he donned a red tie instead of a blue one. And he was referring to Maryland, not Penn State.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty ImagesJames Franklin, shown celebrating on the Maryland sideline in 2010, was once the Terrapins' coach in waiting.
On that Friday, the longtime Maryland assistant coach was named the Terrapins’ head coach in waiting. The boy who spent his Thanksgivings near College Park, whose aunt worked for admissions, was supposed to take over for Ralph Friedgen by the 2012 season. He was supposed to be the young coach to continue Maryland’s transformation. And with the Terps traveling to Penn State for their first meeting since 1993, Franklin at one time was supposed to be on the opposite sideline.

“Things happen for a reason,” Franklin said Wednesday evening, from the Penn State practice fields. “And I’m blessed and fortunate to be here.”

Before Franklin referred to himself as the “Pennsylvania boy with a Penn State heart,” he embraced his time at a campus 200 miles south of Happy Valley. He carved out a reputation as a top-notch recruiter even then, helping snag current Maryland defensive end Andre Monroe and quarterback C.J. Brown. He was as an assistant coach there from 2000 to 2004 and from 2008 to 2010.

“He’s still a great guy,” Brown told the media Tuesday. “I have a lot of respect for him.”

Franklin was nearly Brown’s head coach instead of Christian Hackenberg’s. Maryland extended the coach-in-waiting offer after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came calling about an offensive coordinator position. A clause in his Maryland contract guaranteed him $1 million if Friedgen hadn’t retired after the 2011 season.

If then-athletic director Debbie Yow remained in her position, that might have come to fruition. She clearly thought highly of Franklin.

“What I saw in James was a relentless work ethic and hunger to excel,” Yow said earlier this week.

Yow left Maryland 16 months after that news conference, when she and Franklin excitedly announced the deal. She had decided to return home to become athletic director at North Carolina State, which was just an hour’s drive from her childhood home.

That changed everything. When Yow left, it seemed as if Franklin’s deal to become the next head coach left along with her. Current athletic director Kevin Anderson signed on in September 2010 and, about a month into his new job, he told The Baltimore Sun he wasn’t a fan of such “successor” agreements: “I can’t see how this serves the program well,” he said at the time.

Yow declined to speculate whether Franklin would have become head coach had she stayed. Through a spokesman, Anderson declined to comment on the decision-making process.

Without a guarantee, Franklin decided to leave to become the head coach at Vanderbilt in December 2010 and led the Commodores to three straight bowl games, reviving a dormant SEC program. He was hired by Penn State in January. Meanwhile, Anderson fired Friedgen after the 2010 season and hired former UConn coach Randy Edsall. The Terps had losing seasons in 2011 and 2012 before making the Military Bowl last year.

After practice Wednesday, Franklin didn’t seem eager to relive his past. He said he appreciated his time in in Maryland, along with the recruiting relationships he built, but declined to get into the what-ifs and the maybes of his career.

“It’s awesome to be at Penn State,” he said.

Big Ten Week 10 predictions

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
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After a weird week in which everyone agreed on their selections, things are back to normal and our experts are fighting among themselves.
Why Indiana will win: This season Michigan's offense is averaging 1.16 touchdowns per game against Power 5 conference competition. Hoosiers RB Tevin Coleman is averaging 1.25 touchdowns per game against Power 5 competition. Big plays from Coleman and IU receiver Shane Wynn will be the difference. The Wolverines' run defense has been strong this year, but not against marquee running backs. David Cobb ran for 183 yards in Minnesota's win at the Big House, and Jeremy Langford finished with 177 last week. Coleman will do the same, and Michigan's offense doesn't have enough horsepower to keep up. ... Indiana 27, Michigan 23 -- Dan Murphy

Why Michigan will win: Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for the Wolverines, this week happened, with the controversies surrounding Joe Bolden’s spearing of the Spartan Stadium turf and Dave Brandon’s alleged angry email exchanges with fans. Yes, it got worse. Michigan has been dodging disasters for nearly two months now. At some point, it’s got to get better in Ann Arbor, right? This is the week, as Indiana brings its downtrodden defense to the Big House, for Devin Gardner and the U-M offense to get healthy, even if temporarily. What about Tevin Coleman and the Hoosiers’ offense? Yeah, that’s a concern, but the Wolverines have been strong against the rush, allowing 3.1 yards per carry to rank second in the Big Ten. ... Michigan 34, Indiana 24 -- Mitch Sherman

Why Maryland will win: Penn State is primed for a letdown game after an emotionally exhausting overtime loss at home. The Terps didn't inspire much confidence last week in their loss to Wisconsin, but they've been hot and cold all season. Maryland's run defense has been miserable (110th nationally), which should make for a good matchup with Penn State's woeful offensive line. The Nittany Lions' defense should keep this a low-scoring game. Expect a lot of action for the field goal kickers, and Maryland's Brad Craddock is the best in the Big Ten in that department. ... Maryland 19, Penn State 17 -- Dan Murphy

Why Penn State will win: Penn State will have to bounce back from an emotional overtime loss to Ohio State, but the Nittany Lions' defense proved it was one of the league's very best vs. the Buckeyes. Meanwhile, schizophrenic Maryland nearly got shut out at Wisconsin. The Terps won't have any easier time moving the ball in Beaver Stadium, and Christian Hackenberg will do just enough for Penn State to improve to 36-1-1 all-time in this "rivalry." ... Penn State 17, Maryland 14 -- Brian Bennett

Why Iowa will win: Let's take a three-point look at Northwestern's offense: QB Trevor Siemian has been so inconsistent this season that he's ranked behind both Devin Gardner and Tanner McEvoy in passing efficiency. Northwestern RB Justin Jackson is good, but the Wildcats have managed to average more than four yards a carry in only one game. And only 19 offenses in the nation are averaging fewer points per game (20.9). Add that all together, and you get a struggling offense that Iowa should take advantage of. The Hawkeyes aren't a one-dimensional offense, so this shouldn't be a repeat of the Wisconsin game. It should be close, but the Hawkeyes win in the end. ... Iowa 24, Northwestern 20 -- Josh Moyer

Why Northwestern will win: Iowa and Northwestern both have had disappointing seasons to date. Both come off of bye weeks and both look to finish strong. The vibe around Iowa is more concerning. Other than the Indiana game, when has Iowa actually looked good? Northwestern at least has solid wins against Penn State and Wisconsin. The Wildcats have a better defense and should be able to run against Iowa with Justin Jackson. Iowa has more offensive firepower, but can the Hawkeyes deliver in a critical game? These are typically close contests, and Northwestern comes out on top this time. ... Northwestern 23, Iowa 21 -- Adam Rittenberg


Unanimous selections

Ohio State 49, Illinois 21: If the Buckeyes can grab a comfortable edge, look for Urban Meyer to rest J.T. Barrett, nursing a knee sprain, in advance of the season-defining trip next week to Michigan State. Though the Illini are riding high after an upset victory over Minnesota, Ohio State and its defensive front pose a new kind of challenge.

Wisconsin 45, Rutgers 14: With or without Gary Nova, the Scarlet Knights are feeling the effects of trips over the past two weeks to Ohio State and Nebraska. And Rutgers is getting the Badgers at a bad time, right as Wisconsin finds itself offensively behind rejuvenated QB Joel Stave and the relentless Melvin Gordon.

Nebraska 52, Purdue 28: Lots of points in Lincoln, but look for the Huskers to control this from the start. Purdue has made huge strides offensively behind Austin Appleby, but its defense still lacks the playmakers to slow Ameer Abdullah. Another big day, too, for Kenny Bell, set to break Johnny Rodgers’ career receiving-yardage record at Nebraska.

Our records:
1. Mitch Sherman: 66-14 (.825)
2. Brian Bennett: 64-16 (.800)
3. Austin Ward: 63-17 (.786)
4. Adam Rittenberg: 62-18 (.775)
5. Josh Moyer: 60-20 (.750)
6. Dan Murphy: 32-11 (.744)

Big Ten morning links

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
8:00
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A wild November is two days away. Buckle up.

1. Conversation starter: The College Football Playoff rankings are going to change, that much is certain. But as a starting point, the first-ever edition is pretty useful for gauging where the Big Ten sits and what it must do hitting the homestretch over the final month of the regular season. The heavy lifting mostly applies to Nebraska and Ohio State, and the spots those programs hold at Nos. 15 and 16 might have revealed more about the thinking of the selection committee than just about anything else on Tuesday. For starters, at this point, it's hard to argue that the Huskers didn't deserve the higher ranking since their lone loss was at Michigan State and they own a reasonably attractive win over Miami. The loss to Virginia Tech is currently weighing down the Buckeyes, and despite how hard-fought the victory was at Penn State against its stout defense, there isn't much else on the resume right now worth getting too excited over for the committee. But it's important to keep in mind that even with all those teams standing between Nebraska and Ohio State and a playoff berth, there is a lot of football left to play -- and if either of them can win out, it still seems likely that a one-loss Big Ten champ is going to climb enough rungs to get into the field. Only one of those teams can do it since they would face off in the conference title game, but the Big Ten as a league remains very much alive in the race for the national crown.

2. Bucking up: J.T. Barrett isn't completely healthy yet on his sprained knee, but the Ohio State quarterback made it clear after practice on Wednesday that he was on track to play on Saturday night against Illinois. Considering what's looming for the Buckeyes on Nov. 8 at Michigan State, though, it might be best for Urban Meyer to get him out of the game as early as possible to make sure he's in one piece for such a critical matchup with both the Big Ten and national-title implications. Like any week, nothing can be taken for granted, and Illinois has put together some decent game plans on defense and is coming off an upset win over Minnesota. But if the Illini do live up to their billing as the worst total defense in the league in the Horseshoe this weekend, Meyer would be wise not to leave Barrett on the field into the fourth quarter behind backup offensive linemen in an effort to get him extra reps like he did two weeks ago against Rutgers. The stakes are too high, and Michigan State is more than capable of beating the Buckeyes again even if they're at full strength.

3. Under-the-radar matchup: Basically from here on out, the West will have a matchup every week that could serve as an elimination game for the division title. The undercard for a heavyweight November starts with Northwestern visiting Iowa, which isn't exactly a showdown between leading contenders but will nevertheless leave one team in the race and essentially knock the other out. The Hawkeyes have had an extra week to address the issues that popped up in a loss at Maryland that cut down on their margin for error in the rough-and-tumble West. Playing at home will also be an advantage for Kirk Ferentz and his club. Northwestern has been something of a wildcard, though, and it already has gone on the road and come home with a surprising victory after taking apart Penn State in late September. The Wildcats do have two losses in the league already, and they don't have much going for them in a theoretical tiebreaker should they win out. But they're not all that different than the Hawkeyes at this point -- and the loser on Saturday will effectively be out of the race.

East Division
  • Jabrill Peppers has obviously not had the season anybody envisioned for Michigan, and Brady Hoke admitted the freshman is frustrated.
  • Mark Dantonio is only focused on taking care of business with Michigan State after the first rankings were unveiled.
  • Thanks to an injury to veteran safety Ryan Keiser, Penn State will take the redshirt off Troy Apke.
  • Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova took another step forward, but his status remains unclear for this week's game against Wisconsin.
  • Maryland started its preparation for Penn State in the summer by breaking down Vanderbilt film, looking for ways to get pressure on Christian Hackenberg.
  • J.T. Barrett left no doubt about his intentions this week for Ohio State.
  • Word continues to spread about Indiana running back Tevin Coleman.
West Division
  • Nebraska has received a boost for its offensive line off the bench.
  • Where does Minnesota's loss at Illinois rank among the most deflating for the program over the last 15 years?
  • Reilly O'Toole remembers vividly the noise at Ohio Stadium two seasons ago. The Illinois quarterback will actually have a chance to play in front of that crowd this time.
  • Wisconsin has already had success in the past recruiting New Jersey. Putting on a good show at Rutgers might open up a few more doors.
  • Iowa is fed up with poor tackling, and it has made cleaning it up a priority this week.
  • Statistically, Northwestern has plenty in common with Iowa.
  • Raheem Mostert is running down a record at Purdue.

Watch: B1G Show replay

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
5:10
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Join Big Ten reporters Dan Murphy, Josh Moyer, Mitch Sherman and Austin Ward as they look around the conference heading into Week 10.

Champions are made in November. That's the same for individual award winners. But as we close the book on October in the Big Ten, several players have already built strong foundations for their awards push.

We're tracking the offensive and defensive player of the year races every week. And this week's bonus category is offensive lineman of the year.

Here we go:

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (five first-place votes): Abdullah had been overtaken in our poll by Melvin Gordon in recent weeks, but he's back on top after he broke the Nebraska record for all-purpose yards versus Rutgers. This race should last all year.

2. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (one first-place vote): Gordon did nothing wrong in running for 122 yards and three scores against Maryland last week. It's just that his competition is steep.

3. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: He and the Hoosiers were off last week. He will try to keep his streak of 100-yard games going at Michigan on Saturday.

4 . Michigan State WR Tony Lippett: He had his fourth straight 100-yard day and sixth of the season against Michigan, while recording his Big Ten-best ninth touchdown catch.

5. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: The Buckeyes freshman didn't have his best day at Penn State. But battling through a knee injury and leading the team to two scores in overtime was very impressive.

Also receiving votes: Minnesota RB David Cobb

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa (six first-place votes): He came up with the walk-off sack at Penn State and won his first Big Ten defensive player of the week award. It likely won't be his last.

2. Penn State LB Mike Hull: Inexplicably left off the Butkus Award semifinalist list, Hull leads the Big Ten in tackles and was sensational against Penn State with 19 stops.

3. Nebraska DE Randy Gregory: Despite missing some time earlier this year, he still has 5.5 sacks and is a holy terror to block.

4. Iowa DE Drew Ott: With the Hawkeyes off, Ott fell out of the Big Ten sacks lead. But he still has seven in as many games

5. Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun: He was a little quiet early in the season, but the defending Big Ten defensive lineman of the year has come on strong of late and has six sacks on the season.

Also receiving votes: Penn State DT Anthony Zettel; Wisconsin LB Derek Landisch; Maryland CB William Likely.

Rimington–Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year

1. Michigan State LT Jack Conklin (six first-place votes): We unanimously agrees that the Spartans sophomore, who had no other Division I scholarship offers out of high school, is the Big Ten's best offensive lineman so far this year. What a great story.

2. Ohio State LT Taylor Decker: The Buckeyes' O-line has made great improvement since early in the season, and Decker is the anchor at left tackle. That's why he is somewhat surprisingly ahead of ...

3. Iowa LT Brandon Scherff: The Hawkeyes senior probably still will be an early first-round draft pick, and he made the ESPN midseason All-American team. But he and the Iowa line have been disappointing, especially last time out against Maryland.
Some Penn State fans have grown a little paranoid this week, after the latest series of bad calls against them. But can you really blame the group? The missed calls against Ohio State weren’t isolated incidents; they were part of a pattern. It’s systematic! A conspiracy!

Luckily, our equipment -- laptop/TV -- isn’t broken, so let’s replay Saturday’s egregious acts and then break this case wide open. Two minutes into the game, the officials’ replay system just so happened to fail when Christian Hackenberg threw a clearly incomplete pass that was ruled an interception. It didn’t help much that the refs insisted they couldn’t see the play on their own equipment and weren’t allowed to look elsewhere, like, oh, I don’t know, up at the TWO NEW GIANT VIDEO BOARDS. Yeah, tough to get a good look when there are two big screens that feature a combined total of 10,285 square feet of video space and show replays in high definition just behind each end zone.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
MCT via Getty ImagesPenn State's James Franklin wasn't real pleased with the officiating last Saturday.
Or maybe they could just borrow a smart phone from one of the fans in the front row (maybe the fan could put a jacket over an official so he could feel like he was in a booth) if they felt they needed a closer look.

Innocent mistake or malice?

A quarter later came Ohio State’s 49-yard field goal, which was snapped about three seconds after the play clock expired. Referee John O’Neill and his crew messed up so many calls that there has to be something more sinister at play. Ohio State needed the win to keep its – and the Big Ten’s -- playoff hopes alive. The Buckeyes’ game at Michigan State is a playoff elimination game if both enter with just one loss, and can’t have Ohio State stumble before that Nov. 8 primetime matchup, right? Naturally, the B1G officials had to protect the B1G. If it takes out Penn State in the process, that’s acceptable collateral damage. So, of course, the biggest screw-ups just so happened to go against the Nittany Lions.

Coincidence? Even Dana Scully thinks that’s a reach.

O’Neill is the same official who worked the Penn State-Nebraska game in 2012, when the crew ruled tight end Matt Lehman did not cross the goal-line for a score. Here’s visual evidence to the contrary.

But wait, there’s more proof that officials are clearly out to get Penn State. Remember the Penn State-Michigan game earlier this season? How about the Lions’ onside kick recovery, when tight end Jesse James was ruled offside and the ball was mistakenly given to the Wolverines? Does THIS look offside to you?

And just for fun apparently, on Monday, somehow, linebacker Mike Hull – easily the best linebacker in the conference – didn’t make the list of Butkus semifinalists. Penn State’s coaches didn’t hide their feelings there.

So how do you explain all that?

To quote Joseph Heller, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

Overreaction of the week: All this fuss over the College Football Playoff Rankings, and there’s still a lot of season left.

No, the committee is not out to get your team. Sure, three SEC teams are currently ranked within the top four. But that really doesn’t matter. Seriously. Take a look at where we would’ve stood at this time last season with the rankings, and you’ll see why. After Week 10 in 2013, Michigan State was ranked No. 22 and Auburn was No. 11. But both teams entered the bowl season ranked within the Associated Press' top four.

Oregon and Ohio State were also ranked within those four spots at this time last year -- but finished outside of those four spots following losses late in the season.

In other words, let this serve as a reminder: Rankings can change a lot in a couple weeks and, just because a team’s ranked outside the top four, top 10 -- or maybe even the top 20 doesn’t mean it’s out of the playoff hunt. Six of the committee’s top-10 teams will play at least one other top-10 team, after all.

Underreaction of the week: Why isn't anyone talking about Marshall? Maybe Conference USA should ask for its money back from the PR firm it hired to boost Marshall’s profile in the College Football Playoff. Because the undefeated Thundering Herd (8-0) didn’t make any noise in the inaugural CFP Rankings.

They’re not even ranked.

As was mentioned earlier, teams can move up. Plenty of season is left. But that doesn’t quite hold true for a Group of 5 member that doesn’t boast a single ranked team on its schedule. It’s a bit of a shame, but we just don’t know how good Marshall is. Even Marshall’s nonconference slate is sickeningly easy, with three MAC teams and an FCS school.

The PR firm, Brener Zwikel & Associates, still has time to boost Marshall’s profile. But, since it’s not yet ranked, even overtaking No. 23 East Carolina for a contract bowl won’t be an easy accomplishment.

Big Ten bowl projections: Week 9

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
8:15
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Tuesday nights have become rather significant in college football with the release of the playoff selection committee's rankings. As a result, bowl projections also move to Tuesdays and will be released immediately after the committee's rundown.

Last week, we projected Maryland to the Holiday Bowl based on merit, while noting that the Terrapins would have to prove themselves again at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin ended up mauling Maryland, so the Badgers move up the projections. Remember: the Big Ten is taking greater control over bowl pairings this season, so the teams that have earned it on the field, not necessarily those with the largest fan bases, will land in the higher-profile games.

We had a brief discussion about projecting Michigan State or Ohio State to the playoff, but a few more things need to break the Big Ten's way. There's a good chance the winner of the Nov. 8 showdown at Spartan Stadium moves up a rung, but we're not ready to pull the trigger.

We also discussed whether to project Illinois to its first bowl game under coach Tim Beckman after a big home win against Minnesota. The Illini only need two more wins, but we need to see a little more.

Maryland and Rutgers move down after losses. Penn State, meanwhile, actually moves up after taking Ohio State to the brink before falling in two overtimes.

Here are the latest projections:

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

Best of Week 10 Big Ten conference call

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
3:29
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Questions were asked. 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.

The College Football Playoff selection committee will issue its first-ever set of rankings Tuesday night.

It's an exciting time for fans and the signal of a bold new beginning for the sport. Many will be glued to their TV sets for the unveiling of the Top 25.

But in terms of appointment viewing for the three Big Ten figures who have the most to gain or lose tonight, this show might as well be a rerun of "New Girl."

On Tuesday's Big Ten coaches' teleconference, I asked Nebraska's Bo Pelini, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and Ohio State's Urban Meyer -- all of whom should see their teams ranked in the top 20 -- how much attention they'd pay to the rankings release. All three said they didn't even plan on watching the show.

"I think you'll notice it, but I think our focus has got to be on our next football game," said Dantonio, whose team has a bye this week before hosting Ohio State. "That will be where the challenge is. I think this is the starting point for everything from a media perspective. I'm really not quite sure how it will even work."

"I'm sure I'll hear about it, but I've got other things on my mind than what that vote is today," Pelini said. "It's not something that affects me."

"I'm sure I'll look at them tomorrow morning," Meyer said. "We're practicing and it's a heavy game plan night. So I know I won't watch it, though I'm aware it's going to happen."

Playoff talk has dominated college football since the end of last season. But even though there are two men with major Big Ten ties on the committee -- Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez and former Nebraska coach/athletic director Tom Osborne -- the coaches all said they were unfamiliar with how the process will work.

Pelini even said he's had no conversations with Osborne about the playoff selection in the past year. I asked him if he'd address the playoff rankings with his team.

"No," he said. "Other than to ignore them."

None of the coaches expected to learn much from the rankings, either, though the committee could tip its hand on which areas -- like strength of schedule, good wins vs. bad losses -- it prioritizes.

"I haven't followed it that much," Meyer said. "I don't know if it's much different than the old BCS system when the BCS rankings came out. The only thing I look at it as, it's four teams instead of two. I really don't understand the whole dynamics."

"I think it's just another poll," Dantonio said. "I'm sure they have their methodology. It will be interesting to watch as it goes through. [But] we need to try and live in the present."

Tonight's show should attract a lot of interested college football fans. But not so many Big Ten coaches, apparently.

"I didn't know the rankings were tonight and will not watch them," Penn State's James Franklin said. "But I am curious about how the whole thing will play out. I will follow it from a distance in my free time."

Big Ten morning links

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
8:00
AM ET
You know the drill: Coffee first. Notes and observations here second. And links at the bottom third.

1. Iowa transfer?: It appears as if freshman wideout Derrick Willies might have played his last game for the Hawkeyes. He posted a cryptic message on his Instagram Monday night that read, "It's been real Iowa, things are just moving on to a different chapter in the story..." A Hawkeyes spokesman told the Des Moines Register that any roster updates would be addressed by coach Kirk Ferentz on Tuesday. Willies was not listed on the team's Monday depth chart.

2. Hoke domino effect: Brady Hoke says no one's talked to him about his job status, and that kind of uncertainty is not what you want to hear when it comes to recruiting. As a result, ESPN 300 DB Garrett Taylor decommitted from the Wolverines on Monday. And U-M will be lucky if he's the last recruit to decommit. Oft-given advice is for a player to commit to a school, not a coach, but it rarely seems to work out that way. Michigan is down to nine commitments right now.

3. No Nova?: Rutgers senior QB Gary Nova is listed as "questionable" for Saturday's game against Wisconsin, which means redshirt freshman Chris Laviano could be in line for his first career start. Laviano could push Nova for time, regardless, as he outplayed Nova in the Nebraska game and even led his team with 54 rushing yards. But I'm more in line with the thinking of NJ.com's Dan Duggan: If Nova is medically cleared, he should play. A one-game sample size isn't enough to vault Laviano over Nova, who's been pretty good this year. Nova still gives the Scarlet Knights their best chance to win.

East Division
  • The chance for pride in Michigan's season vanished on Saturday, writes the Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder.
West Division

B1G early look: Setting up Week 10

October, 27, 2014
Oct 27
2:00
PM ET
Just one game short of a full schedule in the Big Ten as the calendar turns to November for Week 10. Michigan State and Minnesota are off, though not out of our minds. Here’s an early look at the best of the league’s storylines:

The College Football Playoff rankings are coming out. Cue the Big Ten cries and anger. The 12-member playoff committee is meeting in Dallas -- so exciting -- and set to release on Tuesday its first list of 25 teams, the top four of which will eventually create matchups for our New Year’s Day semifinals. Let me remove some of the suspense for you: The Big Ten is going to be on the outside looking in. Michigan State figures to fit into the top 10, with Ohio State and Nebraska among the top 20. If you have a short memory, here’s what happened on Sept. 6. It looms large in the lack of respect this league receives nationally. All is not lost, though, as SEC and Pac-12 and Big 12 teams continue to knock each other from the top. Six weeks remain for one of the Big Ten’s top three teams to climb toward the top. It could happen.

What will happen next at Michigan? Just when you thought the season couldn’t get any worse for Brady Hoke and his team, Saturday happened. Not the 35-11 loss at Michigan State. That was expected. And hey, the Wolverines rushed for 61 yards -- 109 better than a year ago. But before the game, Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden drove a stake through the turf at Spartan Stadium. Not a good idea. Later, the Michigan Daily, the U-M student newspaper, gave up on the game. Ouch. So have the fans, especially the students, given up on the Wolverines? It will be interesting to see what happens in the seats at the Big House on Saturday as Indiana visits.

The Rutgers quarterback situation. The Scarlet Knights ranked as the top feel good story in the first half of the Big Ten season. Commonly picked to finish last in the East Division and miss a bowl game, Rutgers raced to a 5-1 start behind a solid defense and revitalized quarterback Gary Nova. But on Saturday at Nebraska, Nova went down with a knee injury late in the the first half as Rutgers -- instructed by coach Kyle Flood -- aggressively tried to drive the entire field, down 21-7 with one minute to play. Redshirt freshman Chris Laviano took over as Nova missed the second half. His status is uncertain for Saturday at home against Wisconsin. The rest of this season for Rutgers goes as Nova goes. It could win two more games and even push the Badgers if Nova is healthy. Without Nova, a crash-and-burn scenario is possible. Don't book the bowl trip yet.

On Wisconsin. Just like that, the Badgers are back. Sure, that loss at Northwestern still stings. But Wisconsin looked like a re-energized group in dispatching Maryland 52-7 on Saturday. And now, it’s got trips to Rutgers and Purdue before a big game in Madison on Nov. 15 against Nebraska opens the crucial three-game finish. It’s all out there for Gary Andersen’s team. With Melvin Gordon running the football and the quarterback situation apparently resolved, the Badgers are rounding into the team that ought to strike fear into the rest of the West -- and might just serve as the division’s best shot to beat Michigan State or Ohio State in Indianapolis.

The Under the Radar Bowl in Iowa City. Iowa and Northwestern sat out in Week 9, giving our short memories just enough time to forget about them. Not long ago, the Hawkeyes and Wildcats were contenders in the West. Then Iowa lost at Maryland, and Northwestern fell apart in the second half against Nebraska. The winner of this game remains in the mix, especially if it’s Iowa, which visits vulnerable Minnesota next week and gets Wisconsin and Nebraska at home to finish. But beware of Northwestern. It has won six of the past nine games in this series.
Maybe most of the Butkus Committee fell asleep early Saturday night. Or maybe their TVs aren't normally tuned to unranked teams.

[+] EnlargeMike Hull
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsPenn State linebacker Mike Hull has been left off of the Dick Butkus Award semifinalist list.
Really, those seem to be the only feasible explanations to leave Penn State linebacker Mike Hull off the Dick Butkus Award semifinalist list. Because anyone who's watched Big Ten football this season wouldn't have put maybe the third best backer in the conference over Hull.

Let's get one thing straight here: This isn't a bias against Penn State. Former Nittany Lions Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges both made the list two seasons ago. Hull's exclusion is simply pure ignorance, lack of research and ... well ... a black eye for the committee.

A cursory glance at the statistics would show Hull has more tackles per game (11.9) than any candidate on the semifinalist list. This isn't extensive research, folks. You'd think that alone should merit some pause.

But let's take a closer look at some of the semifinalists, if for no other reason than to just grasp how truly crazy this omission is. Three candidates -- Alabama's Reggie Ragland, Georgia's Ramik Wilson and UCLA's Myles Jack -- didn't even make their respective midseason all-conference teams, whether it came from the conference itself or the first- or second-teams from Phil Steele. Hull is on our awards tracker as one of the best overall defenders in the conference.

How about numbers? Well, none of those three have more sacks, tackles-for-loss, interceptions, solo tackles, assisted tackles or total tackles than Hull -- and two of them played in an extra game. How about team rankings? Jack's UCLA defense is No. 86 in total defense; Penn State is No. 7. How about big-game performances? Against heavily favored Ohio State, Hull just turned in a 19-tackle game, complete with 2.5 stops in the backfield and an interception.



"I think he should be on every award list," head coach James Franklin said immediately following the loss to the Buckeyes. "I've got a man-crush on that guy."

This happens every season. Good players are always going to be left off these lists, with debate and controversy following closely behind. Hull is just the latest overlooked player.

But the fact is he should've made the cut. And the Butkus committee made a mistake.

Weekend rewind: Big Ten

October, 27, 2014
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Rutgers and Maryland both got off to nice starts in their first season in the Big Ten. But reality is beginning to set in for both programs.

The Scarlet Knights beat Michigan and the Terrapins notched a solid victory over Iowa earlier this season. So both teams have been more than competitive and should go bowling. Yet hanging with the Big Ten's best teams in the league's toughest environments is another story entirely.

Rutgers fell to Nebraska 42-24 on Saturday in Lincoln, a week after losing 56-17 at Ohio State. Maryland got hammered by Wisconsin 52-7 in Madison and lost 52-24 earlier this season to Ohio State at home. The Terps were outgained by a total of 575 yards in those two blowout defeats, while the Scarlet Knights gave up 616 rushing yards to Ohio State and Nebraska.

Many Big Ten teams would suffer the same fates in those stadiums and against those opponents, so this is not really a knock on the newbies. It's just a reminder that while both Maryland and Rutgers are far from Big Ten bottom-feeders, they're not all that close to the cream of the crop, either. And both still have to play Michigan State.

[+] EnlargeDrew Meyer
Dan Sanger/Icon SportswireBadgers punter Drew Meyer tosses a pass during Saturday's Week 9 game against Maryland.
On to the Week 9 rewind:

Team of the week: Illinois. Like many others, we have given Tim Beckman a hard time. But he has always struck me as a decent guy who really cares about his players, and his joy for them was evident after the Illini upset Minnesota on Saturday. It was the program's first Big Ten home win since October 2011, incredibly. As bad as things have seemed in Champaign this season, especially after the home loss to Purdue, Illinois is still 4-4. A bowl game -- and another year for Beckman -- is still in play.

Biggest play: V'Angelo Bentley's 12-yard fumble return with 6:33 left provided the winning score for Illinois. It was sad to see David Cobb cough up such a big mistake since he's had an amazing season and has carried Minnesota's offense on his back, including on Saturday.

Coolest play: Never sleep on the punter. Well done, Wisconsin's Drew Meyer.

Worst play: Uh, not so well done, Devin Gardner.

Big Man on Campus (offense): Ameer Abdullah set a Nebraska record with 341 all-purpose yards. I think he blew up all the red balloons before the game, too. We're running out of superlatives for this guy.

Big Man on Campus (defense): Several Penn State defensive players were great, including Mike Hull and Anthony Zettel. But when the game was on the line in State College, guess who came through? No, don't just shrug. Take a bow, Joey Bosa.

Big Man on Campus (special teams): Ohio State's Cameron Johnston averaged 45 yards on six punts and had four of them downed inside the 20, including a pair inside the Penn State 10-yard line in the fourth quarter.

Biggest faceplant: Minnesota was angling toward a 7-1 start and starting to gain some national respect before it lost to an Illinois team that had lost 24 of its previous 25 Big Ten games. For a second straight week, the Gophers fell behind early, and it's not a team built to play that way. With the closing foursome of Iowa, Ohio State, at Nebraska and at Wisconsin still left, Jerry Kill's team needs to regroup quickly or risk losing some serious steam.

Dumbest stake-plant: Well, duh. If you're keeping track, Michigan's ratio of wins to public apologies this season stands at 3-to-2. What a bizarre year in Ann Arbor.

Fun with numbers: Budget some extra time if you're going to Beaver Stadium for a league matchup. Five of Penn State's last seven Big Ten home games have gone into overtime. ... Michigan's fourth-quarter touchdown against Michigan State was its first versus the Spartans in 186:08 of game action, dating back to the fourth quarter of the 2011 game. ... Abdullah now ranks second in Big Ten history with 6,604 career all-purpose yards. He needs 825 more to break Ron Dayne's record, and with four more regular-season games plus a bowl (and a possible Big Ten title game) he should get there. ... Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon has five games with at least three rushing scores over the past two seasons, the most among all Power 5 conference players. His 15 touchdowns in his last five games ties Billy Marek (1974) for the school record for most scores in a five-game stretch.

Big Ten morning links

October, 27, 2014
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Does the Big Ten have a credibility problem with its officiating?

We're just two years removed from a very poor year by the league officials. And on Saturday night, the crew working the Ohio State-Penn State game was involved with several head-scratching -- and at times, just plain botched -- calls. "Clownish" is how PennLive.com's David Jones described the refereeing in State College, and it's hard to argue against that wording.

For years, fans have long accused the league of protecting its brand-name teams and have theorized that those schools get the benefit of the whistle. That's a bit too much tinfoil-on-the-head, conspiracy-mongering for me. After all, Michigan lost at Rutgers earlier this season in part because of a bad call on a Wolverines' pass that should have been ruled a completion.

But it's also true Ohio State got some breaks in its overtime win Saturday, most notably on the interception by Vonn Bell that actually hit the ground and on a field goal that came clearly after the play clock had expired. James Franklin had to hold himself back from saying what he really thought about those calls.

ESPN.com asked the league to clarify what happened on the Bell interception, after the officials told a pool reporter Saturday night that there were technical difficulties on the replay. The Big Ten's response:
"[T]he video feed to the replay booth was tested and confirmed on Friday and prior to the game on Saturday, but at the start of the game, the booth was no longer receiving all available feeds. The technician in the booth followed procedure by contacting the production truck, which immediately began working on the issue. Due to these technical difficulties, only one isolated shot from the overhead camera was available and the view did not provide sufficient information to reverse the call. As a result, the play stood as called. The production truck rectified the technical issues shortly thereafter, and the replay booth had access to multiple feeds for the remainder of the game."

And the league office also responded about the no delay-of-game penalty before that field goal:
"In this case, a breakdown in officiating mechanics occurred and the crew failed to properly monitor the play clock. There is flexibility for a slight delay between the play clock and the snap of the ball, but in this case, the timing far exceeded the tolerance for normal play clock procedures. The proper ruling should have been a five-yard penalty for delay of game. This is not a reviewable play."

It's good that the Big Ten provided some explanations here and that the league admitted a failure on the missed delay-of-game. That may not be enough for some fans who find it convenient those breakdowns happened to help one of the conference's remaining playoff contenders.

I don't believe there's a conspiracy in play. But I do believe the Big Ten needs to continue to demand better from its officiating, because it was far from acceptable on Saturday night.

East Division
West Division

Finally: RIP, Oscar Taveras. Incredibly sad.

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