Big Ten: Purdue Boilermakers
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.
@ESPNJoshMoyer what's wrong with hack and how do we fix it?— Pete Lagasse (@petelagasse) November 21, 2014
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.
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.
Here's a look at what's on tap Saturday (all times ET):
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?
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.
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
Awards race tracker
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.
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.
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:
- Rutgers is preparing for the late-November elements at Spartan Stadium.
- Brady Hoke says he's seen a lot of growth in his team this year at Michigan.
- Maryland receiver Stefon Diggs will not play before the Terps' bowl game.
- This Penn State defense is earning its place in school history.
- Nebraska needs a strong performance from its secondary in run support against Minnesota.
- Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner looks to bounce back after a rough game against Ohio State.
- Immaturity has plagued Northwestern, says Pat Fitzgerald.
- Place-kicker Paul Griggs is a bright spot for Purdue.
- Purdue defender Earnest Thomas III has grown into a leader.
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
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.
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)
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.
- Brady Hoke has spoken with Frank Clark, but the Michigan coach is keeping the details private.
- Michigan State is still looking for a "statement" victory.
- Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett admits it's a little "crazy" to think about being in the Heisman Trophy conversation.
- Janarion Grant is once again making an impact for Rutgers.
- Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs is unlikely to play this week due to injury.
- After four weeks away, Penn State safety Ryan Keiser was back in a team meeting on Wednesday.
- Kevin Wilson is making a sales pitch to keep star running back Tevin Coleman at Indiana.
- What in the world happened to Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon against Western Illinois? A look at the scheme that slowed down a Heisman hopeful.
- Jordan Westerkamp isn't counting the number of times he's targeted in the Nebraska offense.
- Taking stock of Darrell Hazell's rebuilding job at Purdue as the season winds down.
- Snubbed as a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award, Minnesota's Jerry Kill is expecting that to add fuel to David Cobb's fire.
- Does Illinois have a shot to spring an upset over Penn State? Not according to this comparison of personnel.
- Has Northwestern finally found a No. 1 wide receiver?
- Mark Weisman isn't going to win many head-to-head comparisons with Gordon, but the tenacious Iowa running back has a chance at least beat the Badgers on the field.
1. Record-setting rushing Saturday: No, not last Saturday. This Saturday. Three Big Ten running backs could break their respective schools' single-season rushing records -- all within hours of one another. Minnesota's David Cobb needs just 115 yards, Indiana's Tevin Coleman is just 128 yards shy, and Melvin Gordon needs to follow up his incredible effort against Nebraska with just 201 yards. Barring the unforeseen, all these records will fall this season. And it's incredible to think they could all fall within three or four hours of one another, and all on Game 11.
The longest-standing record is over at Indiana, where Vaughn Dunbar set the mark of 1,805 yards back in 1991. The shortest? Minnesota, where Laurence Maroney had 1,464 yards in 2005. (Wisconsin's Ron Dayne set the record of 2,109 yards in 1996.) This is one rare crop of Big Ten running backs, and it'd be even rarer to watch all three of these rushing records fall in one day. Don't blink Saturday.
2. Tim Beckman Quotables: He's had quite a few this season, but let's address his most recent from Monday's news conference, or as the media like to call it “Comedy Hour.” The Illinois head coach said, straight-faced, “We've played an incredible schedule.” There's just one small problem with that excuse, as the Chicago Sun-Times notes: The Sagarin index ranks Illinois' slate as the 96th -toughest in the nation and as the weakest among the 14 Big Ten teams. But, hey, those weak opponents are just a couple of plays away from being ranked higher ...
3. And the most underrated B1G offensive player is …: My vote would have to go to Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford. In any other year, he'd be singled out for his solid performance. But not in a year with the B1G's fantastic four of Abdullah, Cobb, Coleman and Gordon. Langford is No. 19 in the nation in rushing yards per game (111.6), and he's put up solid stats without simply pounding the cupcakes. He barely saw time against Jacksonville State and Eastern Michigan, but he gained at least 100 yards in every Big Ten game. He has 1,116 yards and 15 TDs so far this season -- and he's had 11 TDs in just the last four games. He's averaging more than a half-yard extra per carry compared to last season, and he's been a huge contributor to MSU's offense. He doesn't get the attention he deserves, because it just so happens to be the Year of the running back in the conference.
Now on to the links …
- Ohio State is preaching patience when it comes to fumbles.
- Michigan State's senior class represents the Spartans perfectly.
- Mario Ojemudia is taking over for Michigan defensive lineman Frank Clark, who was kicked off the team.
- Penn State's bowl benefits start with extra practices.
- Rutgers wide receiver Leonte Carroo wasn't surprised by his Biletnikoff Award snub.
- Indiana quarterback Zander Diamont is showing marked improvement since his season debut.
- Maryland receiver Juwann Winfree is suspended for two weeks for violating the student athlete code of conduct.
- Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon is rushing into Heisman contention.
- Bo Pelini says that Nebraska is "on the right track."
- The Big Ten championship is still within reach for Minnesota -- if it shows discipline.
- Northwestern had its ... Best. Day. Ever.
- Iowa's rush defense will obviously be critical this week, with Wisconsin on the horizon.
- Illinois coach Tim Beckman is shooting for a seven-win season.
- Ten questions for Purdue as it gets ready to face Northwestern.
The Big Ten's first act in 2014 was a tragedy or comedy -- probably both. It also was surprisingly short, lasting just two weeks. A face-plant in Week 2 elicited national mockery, confirmed the stereotypes and brought more bad vibes to a league that has had more than its share. Many cropped the Big Ten from the College Football Playoff picture after high-profile losses by Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan, coupled with three losses to Mid-American Conference foes.
Was it over for the Big Ten? Many said yes. And if the league is left out of the playoff -- translation: if Ohio State finishes with one loss (Week 2 against Virginia Tech) and still doesn't make it in -- it will trace back to that sorry Saturday.
The Big Ten's second act, not surprisingly, is a lot easier to watch. Nebraska fans are understandably flinging tomatoes, eggs and anything they can find at Bo Pelini after his team's latest big-game flop, but Saturday, overall, was really good for the Big Ten. So was the previous Saturday, as league heavyweights Ohio State and Michigan State played a high-scoring, visually appealing game on the national stage.
What has changed in the Big Ten?
Start with much-needed star power. The Big Ten hasn't had a Heisman Trophy winner since 2006, when Ohio State's Troy Smith claimed the award. Worse, the league has had just one Hesiman finalist since then (Wisconsin's Montee Ball in 2011).
Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon will be going to New York. That became clear as he took down record after record on a snowy Saturday in Madison, culminating with LaDainian Tomlinson's single-game FBS mark of 406 yards. Gordon finished with 408 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries (16.3-yard average). He has 15 runs of 40 yards or longer, more than any other FBS team.
"I'm glad we never play him again!" one Big Ten coach text-messaged me Sunday.
It's a sentiment undoubtedly shared by others, but at least we can enjoy Gordon for several more games.
#GordontoGotham will happen, and if Gordon keeps dazzling, he could be the one holding the trophy Dec. 13.
Gordon might not be the only Big Ten player at the Heisman ceremony. Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett continues his rapid rise. He set Ohio State's single-game quarterback rushing record with 189 yards Saturday at Minnesota. Barrett is responsible for 38 touchdowns, eclipsing Braxton Miller's single-season record set last season.
Though Gordon has separated himself in the Big Ten's unparalleled running back group, three other players -- Indiana's Tevin Coleman, Minnesota's David Cobb and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah -- rank in the top 10 nationally in rushing. Coleman ran for 307 yards Saturday at Rutgers, a performance overshadowed by Gordon's, but deserving of major recognition.
There are also intriguing teams around the Big Ten. Ohio State is still very much in the playoff hunt. Michigan State is pushing for New Years Six consideration. Wisconsin overcame early season drama/losses to put itself in position for a third Big Ten championship appearance in four years. Minnesota continues to make strides. The West Division is far from settled, and if Iowa upsets Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium, it will really get wild.
Penn State somewhat quietly became bowl-eligible Saturday with a win against Temple. Regardless of your opinion on the initial sanctions, it's nice to see these players rewarded, especially resilient seniors like linebacker Mike Hull. The Lions still have a lot to improve -- quarterback Christian Hackenberg's future will be a major offseason topic -- but their defense is superb and they will play into the postseason.
Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers also are going bowling, no small feat given the gloomy outlook (especially for Rutgers) and apathy surrounding their arrivals. Rutgers has overcome key injuries and a grinding schedule to reach six wins. Maryland finally has stayed relatively healthy and recorded notable wins against Iowa and Penn State, with Michigan up next.
Northwestern still needs work to reach bowl eligibility, but is there a wackier 4-6 team? Three of the Wildcats wins have come against Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Penn State, the latter two on the road. Northwestern has endured a rough 13 months, but the Notre Dame win -- how it happened, where it happened -- provides a boost.
It's not all warm and fuzzies in this league. Michigan could soon follow Florida in dumping its coach, and the situation involving defensive lineman Frank Clark appears extremely disturbing. Illinois coach Tim Beckman is on the ropes. Indiana, which beat SEC East-leading Missouri in September, remains winless in conference play.
Still, the Big Ten is doing enough good to keep fans in their seats, on the edge of them or even standing.
The second act is nearing its conclusion, and this time, no one is turning away.
If you're just watching the Week 12 games from someplace warm, then A) you're smart and B) here's what you need to know about today's lineup (all times ET):
Iowa (6-3, 3-1) at Illinois (4-5, 1-4), Big Ten Network: The maddeningly inconsistent Hawkeyes look to bounce back from that 51-14 thrashing in Minneapolis last week; remember, they can still win the Big Ten West by winning out and having the Gophers lose twice more. The Fighting Illini are just hoping to get closer to bowl eligibility and possibly preserving Tim Beckman's job. Having Wes Lunt back at quarterback this week should help.
Temple (5-4, 3-3 American) at Penn State (5-4, 2-4), ESPN2: The Owls will try to beat the Nittany Lions for the first time since 1941 and for the first time ever in State College. Penn State hopes to clinch bowl eligibility and use that get-out-of-jail card from the NCAA. Don't expect a lot of points from either side in this one.
No. 16 Nebraska (8-1, 4-1) at No. 20 Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1), ABC: This is much more than Ameer Abdullah vs. Melvin Gordon, though that showdown between the two marquee backs could be great if Abdullah is healthy. The winner will remain in great shape in the West Division race, while the loser will need a lot of help. Wisconsin has the home-field advantage, but the Cornhuskers will be by far the best team the Badgers have played since the season-opening loss to LSU.
Northwestern (3-6, 2-4) at No. 18 Notre Dame (7-2), NBC: The Wildcats have been looking forward to this game for a long time, but they'd hoped to be in better shape for it. Northwestern has lost four straight and is averaging just 12.5 points per game in that span. The Fighting Irish aren't scheduled to play another Big Ten team until September 2016, when they'll face Michigan State.
Indiana (3-6, 0-5) at Rutgers (5-4, 1-4), BTN: This is the first-ever meeting between these two teams, and no one is exactly clamoring for it right now. The Hoosiers have lost five straight against Power 5 opponents since beating Missouri and have virtually no offense to speak of. Rutgers has lost three straight and was outscored by 94 points in that span but should clinch bowl eligibility here.
No. 12 Michigan State (7-2, 4-1) at Maryland (6-3, 3-2), BTN: How will the Spartans respond to the Ohio State loss? Will they come out swinging or still be smarting over the loss of their playoff (and most likely Big Ten title) hopes? Maryland has enough big-play ability to make this interesting, even without Stefon Diggs.
Bye: Michigan, Purdue
Week 12 predictions | Bold calls
Nineteen years later, Northwestern looks to shock Irish again
Melvin Gordon's Heisman moment
Ameer Abdullah gets another shot to beat the odds
Gophers dance into November relevancy
Explosive plays expose cracks in Michigan State's defense
Buckeyes trust Jalin Marshall to do it all
Indiana's Tevin Coleman defies the odds
Take Two: Big Ten's best defense
Awards race tracker
Fan talk: Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has a few concerns about the fan reaction around East Lansing to Ohio State’s victory over MSU last week. Dantonio offered a little pep talk for fans of the Spartans Thursday night during his radio show, saying, “We can still have the best team in the Big Ten Conference just by winning out and winning our bowl game and being the highest ranked.” That’s an interesting spin. Michigan State, barring a meltdown this month by the Buckeyes, is not going to win the league. And it’s not going to be remembered as the Big Ten’s best in 2014. But hey, it says something about how far Michigan State has come that anything less than a championship is considered a disappointment. And if anyone at MSU is struggling to move on, they’ve got company Saturday as the Spartans visit Maryland. Seems the Terps are just now moving past the craziness of their victory two weeks ago over Penn State. Should make for an interesting matchup in College Park -- assuming enough players from both teams are in the right frame of mind.
Moving up: Tom Dienhart of the Big Ten Network is buying J.T. Barrett as the MVP of the Big Ten after the freshman quarterback dissected Michigan State last week on the road in the league’s regular-season game of the year. And I agree. I cast the lone first-place vote in our weekly awards tracker for Barrett as offensive player of the year, disagreeing with popular choice Melvin Gordon. It’s not that I think Barrett is better than the senior Gordon -- not yet, at least -- but his impact as a quarterback is more significant. What’s the difference for the Buckeyes between the team that lost to Virginia Tech on Sept. 13 and the group that looks as dangerous today as any outfit nationally? Primarily, it’s the development and maturation of Barrett. His stats are nice, but Barrett’s impact goes beyond the numbers. He’s leading the Buckeyes like only a quarterback can do, and if he keeps it up, I suspect the others will come around to my way of thinking in the player of the year race.
No update: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini continued to play it coy on the status of I-back Ameer Abdullah after the Huskers’ final practice of the week in Lincoln on Thursday. And why not? No reason exists for Pelini, who surely knows more than he's saying about Abdullah's left knee -- injured Nov. 1 in the Huskers' win over Purdue -- to offer any information to Wisconsin. Pelini, asked about Abdullah on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, has responded with a series of polite but brief answers. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck and Abdullah's teammates said little more in interviews this week. And in assessing what any of them did say, it's impossible to know what to believe. Looks like we'll all have to wait until the first quarter on Saturday to see for ourselves.
Around the rest of the league:
- Rutgers will try to take advantage of Indiana’s inexperience at quarterback, but the Scarlet Knights know that Tevin Coleman presents a big test.
- Interesting stuff from the Cleveland.com writers in their outrageous predictions on Ohio State.
- A review of the week that was for Michigan President Mark Schlissel. (Hint: It wasn't too good.)
- Here's a prediction on Penn State-Temple as both teams fight for bowl eligibility.
- The September loss to TCU may have helped Minnesota get ready for Ohio State.
- Iowa receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley is chasing a notable record.
- It’s getting late this season at Illinois.
- Purdue safety Frankie Williams looks set to return next week against Northwestern.
- A look back at Northwestern’s 1995 upset of Notre Dame.
- Has Wisconsin overtaken USC as the top collegiate producer of running backs?
- Nebraska defensive backs vow not to get “lulled to sleep” by the threats of the Wisconsin passing attack.
1. B1G and not bad: Those early-season debacles outside of the league were supposed to be the death knell for the Big Ten, and they certainly generated a lot of punchlines. But in case anybody hasn’t noticed, the conference is actually a lot more highly thought of by the selection committee than it might be getting credit for, with only the SEC boasting more teams in the current Top 25 than the Big Ten’s five. There are some caveats that must be mentioned, starting with the number of teams still blocking the path of No. 8 Ohio State to the four-team field. And Minnesota might not be long for its spot at No. 25 if it can’t beat the Buckeyes on Saturday. But it’s worth noting that the Big Ten schedule might not actually be a drag on a potential one-loss league champ, because as it stands right now the résumés of Ohio State and Nebraska would both be boosted down the stretch by multiple matchups with ranked opponents in a league that seems to have overcome its rough start.
2. Under-the-radar matchup: The schedule this weekend is well stocked with intrigue, which should probably be enjoyed because Nov. 22 is looking pretty barren. But before worrying about that, Saturday presents a clear heavyweight battle in the West between Nebraska and Wisconsin, with a solid undercard between Ohio State and Minnesota. But while those games are stealing the spotlight, Michigan State’s visit to Maryland should be worth monitoring as well and could be meaningful in sorting out the final pecking order in the East and when bowl bids are handed out. The Terrapins have had some ups and downs in their first season in the Big Ten, but if they can overcome the fired-up, frustrated Spartans on Saturday, they could actually pull ahead into second place in the division with a head-to-head tiebreaker. Maybe that doesn’t mean all that much in the grand scheme of things, but it could be a useful recruiting tool for Randy Edsall down the line.
3. Michigan meltdown: If nothing else, the Wolverines can claim the national lead in public apologies this season. And the mess at Michigan this season isn’t just limited to on-field issues or even the athletic department, with president Mark Schlissel the latest to stick his foot in his mouth and seek forgiveness. Given everything that has gone wrong with the Wolverines this season, it’s getting to the point where nothing can really come as a surprise anymore and missteps barely even cause people to bat an eye. But that’s still pretty remarkable considering the history, tradition and reputation of that university on the field and in the classroom, and it’s fair to wonder if perhaps that might have an impact on the likely coaching search the program will be starting after the season. The problems don’t seem to be limited to just the football team, and maybe that will give a high-profile candidate a reason to pause if the Wolverines come calling.
- Michigan has not ruled out a possible return this season for running back Derrick Green.
- Michigan State was "handled" up front and not consistent enough on its defensive line last weekend, and it's aiming to get that cleaned up against Maryland.
- Rutgers right tackle Taj Alexander has seen the value of being part of a rotation as a younger player, so he can't complain about being in one again as a veteran.
- The "blackout" at Maryland will extend to the uniforms for the prime-time matchup with Michigan State.
- Ohio State H-back Dontre Wilson could be back in time for a bowl game.
- The future of Penn State's depth chart at quarterback.
- The conversations about Indiana all revolve around quarterbacks.
- What if Ameer Abdullah isn't 100 percent for Nebraska? Terrell Newby will be ready for a heavy workload if needed.
- Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon began his friendship with Abdullah over breakfasts at Denny's.
- The return of Wes Lunt could be a significant boost for Illinois at quarterback, and it may be an issue for Iowa.
- Like just about every part of the Iowa roster, the linebackers have been inconsistent from week to week. Quinton Alston is looking for more discipline on Saturday.
- Danny Anthrop was having his best season with Purdue before his ACL injury ended it, but the junior receiver is already focusing on getting healthy for next year now.
- An insightful look at the state of Northwestern from the perspective of a former player.
- Minnesota is gearing up for the cold weather with outdoor practices.
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.
Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald said he told his team he's not sorry about going for 2 -- but he's sorry it didn't work. "Play to win."— Josh Moyer (@ESPNJoshMoyer) November 11, 2014
Same tone from Pelini today on Abdullah: "If I was a doctor and I had a crystal ball, I'd be able to answer it with some certainty."— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) November 11, 2014
Beckman says academic standards at Illinois are higher than other B1G schools. He says it's the biggest issue in recruiting for Illini.— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) November 11, 2014
Gary Andersen on Abdullah: "Everything I've heard he's supposed to be, he is. ... He's not a good running back, he's a great running back."— Josh Moyer (@ESPNJoshMoyer) November 11, 2014
Does Andersen hope Abdullah plays? "Yeah. For him, I absolutely do...I truly hope he's 100%." Says Abdullah is a class act and deserves it.— Josh Moyer (@ESPNJoshMoyer) November 11, 2014
Temple, who plays Penn State Saturday, averages one non-offensive TD per game. "That's interesting," says James Franklin.— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) November 11, 2014
Dantonio says MSU has moved on from loss: "We're looking forward to the next thing in our lives, and there's a lot still left to play for."— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) November 11, 2014
Urban Meyer: "There were a lot of issues. We could have played much better in that game Saturday." That's kind of a scary thought.— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) November 11, 2014
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill says he didn't get much sleep this weekend after watching Ohio State on Saturday night.— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) November 11, 2014
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Penn State 14 Illinois 16 Final Indiana 27 6 Ohio State 42 Final 25 Minnesota 28 23 Nebraska 24 Final Northwestern 38 Purdue 14 Final Rutgers 3 11 Michigan State 45 Final 16 Wisconsin 26 Iowa 24 Final Maryland 23 Michigan 16