Big Ten: Wisconsin Badgers

Big Ten bowl projections: Week 1

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
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We're only one week into the season, but your fearless Big Ten reporting crew is projecting how the postseason will shape up for the league. (Repeat after me: There are 14 weeks left).

And we have some immediate changes from our preseason projections. Nebraska and Michigan move up, while Iowa moves down. (The Wolverines not only looked pretty good in Week 1, but they're a very popular team for bowls). Northwestern, fresh off a home loss to Cal, is out. Rutgers, which won at Washington State, is in.

Michigan State remains a College Football Playoff pick for us, but this weekend's game at Oregon is obviously crucial to that.

It's ridiculously early, so don't overreact. But here are our latest Big Ten bowl picks:

College Football Playoff semifinal: Michigan State
Chick-fil-A Peach/Cotton: Ohio State
Capital One: Nebraska
Outback: Michigan
National University Holiday Bowl: Wisconsin
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Iowa
San Francisco: Minnesota
New Era Pinstripe: Maryland
Quick Lane: Indiana
Heart of Dallas: Rutgers

B1G conference call: Best of Week 2

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
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Week 2 of the Big Ten coaches' teleconference is in the books. And, as usual, we were on the calls to keep you up to speed.

Here's a look at some of the highlights:


My take: Mark Dantonio is right, but perception is a fickle thing. Before Braxton Miller's injury, Ohio State was still favored to win the Big Ten title. And, even now, the Spartans are the underdog this weekend by double digits. Michigan State keeps having to prove itself over and over again. So when's enough? I have to think if MSU upsets the Ducks that'll be it. You're up against the No. 3 team and a Heisman candidate in Marcus Mariota, so a win over a team like that should definitely vault MSU up the polls. If this doesn't do the trick this season, no other regular-season game will.
My take: The Illini aren't bound for a bowl, but I'm still surprised by the line. And I don't think I'm going out on a limb by saying, when Illinois initially scheduled this game, it didn't expect this line either. Western Kentucky tallied up more than 700 yards of offense against Bowling Green, so the Illinois game could end up being a shootout. Tim Beckman's crew really needs to improve its running game from last week; 3.5 yards a carry won't cut it vs. the Hilltoppers. My take: James Franklin also previously said a team needs to play up to its strengths -- and that's definitely the passing game. The Nittany Lions boast two very good tailbacks in Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak, but even the best backs in the B1G couldn't gain yards with an offensive line like Penn State's. The line did a decent enough job at pass protection, and this line could jell in the future. But for now? Hackenberg's right arm will dictate the success of this offense. Balance is a great thing to shoot for, but I don't know if we'll be seeing it against better opponents than Akron early in the season.

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 1

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
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Brian Bennett, Josh Moyer, Adam Rittenberg, Mitch Sherman and Austin Ward contributed to these rankings.

Badgers sticking with Tanner McEvoy

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
1:40
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For better or worse, Wisconsin is sticking with Tanner McEvoy at quarterback. Turns out it really has no other option right now.

Badgers coach Gary Andersen revealed Tuesday that backup quarterback Joel Stave is experiencing shoulder issues and will be out an undetermined period of time. The injury is the reason Stave didn't play in an LSU game that saw McEvoy finish 8-of-24 for 50 yards with two interceptions. And it's why redshirt sophomore Bart Houston will take over the No. 2 spot this week.

There's more logic -- and less mystery -- with this sudden injury announcement, unlike Melvin Gordon's. Andersen noticed Stave favoring his shoulder a few weeks ago, around the second scrimmage, and the staff made the call he wouldn't be available against the Tigers. Obviously, he didn't want to give LSU an advantage by tipping them off. And only recently did Andersen decide to shut Stave down completely.

[+] EnlargeTanner McEvoy
Mike McGinnis/Getty ImagesTanner McEvoy completed just 33 percent of his passes in the opening loss to LSU.
Still, there could be some good news for the Badgers. The next four weeks aren't loaded with big-time opponents, so there shouldn't be much short-term concern for Wisconsin. The big concern: Just when is Stave coming back?

"The time for him to be back is completely unknown," Andersen said during Tuesday's Big Ten teleconference, adding he didn't know whether he'd return in time for the conference opener. "It's a day-to-day injury; it's not anything more than that."

McEvoy will certainly have enough opportunities at improvement. Wisconsin faces FCS Western Illinois this weekend, then has a bye before going up against Bowling Green and South Florida. The Falcons had the No. 46 rushing defense last season, while the Bulls had just two total wins.

Wisconsin's passing game is a huge concern, so defenses are sure to key in on the run. Gordon and Corey Clement will have their work cut out for them, unless one of two things happens: One, Stave is OK by Oct. 4 -- the B1G opener at Northwestern -- or McEvoy can put the first week behind him.

It's not an easy situation for the Badgers. But, with Stave out, there's no easy fix.

"We're going to keep going with Joel and hope to get him back in the position where he'll be ready to go and help this football team," Andersen said. "And we're all looking forward to that day moving forward. But it's very frustrating for that man today."

Big Ten morning links

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
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On a Sunday night conference call with reporters, six days before another measuring-stick game for his team, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio provided a dose of perspective.

"Win or lose, you know, we still have a lot of football games ahead of us, and we have to understand that that's every bit as important as this one single game," Dantonio said.

He's right. As tempting as it can be to draw conclusions about teams and leagues after Week 1, it's also irresponsible. Seasons have plot twists. What we think is true on Sept. 1 rarely proves true on Jan. 1.

But there's an undeniable angst around the Big Ten entering Week 2. It might have been there even if Wisconsin had held onto a 17-point lead against LSU. But after the Badgers' collapse, which knocks them out of the playoff picture for now, the stakes are even higher.

I still think a narrow Michigan State loss to Oregon keeps the Spartans alive for a playoff spot. But a convincing defeat -- and, in the minds of some, any defeat -- will hurt the Big Ten's chances of having a representative.

League commissioner Jim Delany, in an interview with SI.com, called the MSU-Oregon game "disproportionally important" in terms of playoff perception. That phrase -- disproportionally important -- underscores the unfairness and the reality of Week 2 games like Spartans-Ducks.

It's not really fair to punish Michigan State for a loss -- Oregon is 34-2 at Autzen Stadium since the start of the 2009 season. But the bashing will come, perhaps more for the Big Ten than MSU, if the Spartans fall short.

There's also pressure for both Ohio State and Michigan in Week 2. The Buckeyes should win against a Virginia Tech team that isn't what it used to be, but Bud Foster's defense can be tricky, and Ohio State needs its revamped offensive line to improve after struggling for the first three quarters against Navy.

"Our offensive line did not play like an Ohio State offensive line," coach Urban Meyer said Monday. "The second half we played pretty good. But pretty good is not what we expect. You play pretty good this week you won't win that game."

Speaking of offensive lines, we'll have a better idea about Michigan's after Week 2. The embattled group looked better in the opener (350 rush yards), but Notre Dame, despite some personnel issues on defense, provides a better test.

Although beating Notre Dame hasn't been much of a springboard for Michigan in recent years, a road win would be huge for Brady Hoke's crew. A loss suggests there's still much to fix.

"The talent level [at Notre Dame] is very similar," Hoke said "That, as much as anything else, gives you a little bit of an idea about where we stand."

MSU, OSU and Michigan aren't the only Big Ten teams entering pressure-packed games. Northwestern can't afford to drop to 0-2 -- and lose its sixth straight home game -- against Northern Illinois. Purdue and Iowa face potentially tricky MAC foes in Central Michigan and Ball State. Wisconsin needs to get quarterback Tanner McEvoy going.

Patience is a nice idea, but it runs in short supply in college football. Don't kid yourselves: This is a huge week in the Big Ten.

Post-Labor Day linkage:

West Division
East Division
And, finally ...

Michigan State hopes to go all NES on its opponent Saturday ...

More than 36 hours later, we finally have an explanation for why Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon was so curiously absent in the second half of Saturday's 28-24 loss to LSU.

Badgers coach Gary Andersen said on Monday that his junior running back suffered a hip flexor strain during the game. Gordon later told reporters that the injury occurred late in the second quarter.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
AP Photo/David J. PhillipMelvin Gordon's stellar first half was wiped out by his second-half absence and LSU's comeback.
Gordon opened the second half with a 63-yard run but had only two more carries after that as Wisconsin's offense stalled during LSU's comeback. After the game, Andersen said Gordon had a "scenario" at halftime and that he didn't know why Gordon -- who did return in the fourth quarter on pass protection -- didn't play more.

On Monday, Andersen said, "we were trying to be smart" with Gordon's injury. Gordon, who told the media after the game that he was not hurt, said on Monday that there was miscommunication between him and the coaching staff.

"I should have let them know, let Coach A know and stepped up and told them, 'Look I need to be in there," Gordon said, according to Fox Sports Wisconsin's Jesse Temple. "I put that on myself."

Gordon also said he didn't feel like he was hurt that much and that he has played through worse pain than what he felt on Saturday.

There's still something very odd about this whole story. Why did neither Andersen nor Gordon mention the hip problem after the game? Some coaches want to protect their players by not revealing injury news publicly, but the game was already over and it came out on Monday, anyway. Why was there such poor communication, apparently, between Gordon and his coaches in such an important game and when the offense needed him most? What role did the athletic training staff play here?

It might not have ultimately mattered to the outcome, because once LSU adjusted its defense and started loading the box to stop the run, the Badgers had no passing game whatsoever to counter. Even the best tailbacks will struggle against nine- and 10-man fronts. Yet Gordon is one of the most talented players in the country, and he might have been able to at least help Wisconsin gain a few first downs to stem the Tigers' comeback and possibly break off a home run.

If Gordon is still injured, even a little bit, then he really doesn't need to play much if at all this week against Western Illinois, a wildly overmatched FCS team. Wisconsin doesn't need him to win that game, and it really needs to work on improving its passing, especially with Andersen's announcement that Tanner McEvoy would remain the starting quarterback despite going 8-of-24 for 50 yards and two interceptions.

Seeing Gordon carry the ball often against Western Illinois would only add to the confusion about what happened on Saturday night, which Monday's news only partially clarified.

Weekend rewind: Big Ten

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
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There was a lot of good and some bad during opening week for the Big Ten, which went 12-2 but missed a golden opportunity Saturday night with Wisconsin. Let's review:

Team of the week: Rutgers. That’s right. All the naysayers (and you can include me in that group) said the Scarlet Knights were bound for an ugly first season in the Big Ten. Though it was just one game and the remaining schedule is still daunting, beating Washington State 41-38 on the road should quiet that chatter. Kyle Flood’s team showed it has top-level athletes and cannot be taken lightly. The Sept. 13 league opener against Penn State should be a whole lot of fun.

Game of the week: Penn State's dramatic, 26-24 win over UCF in Ireland was the perfect way to begin the first Saturday of college football season. Nittany Lions fans should thank George O'Leary for playing the wrong quarterback for a half. James Franklin looked like he had just won the Super Bowl after Sam Ficken's game-winning field goal, though he might never want to go back to Croke Park after the first-half headset malfunctions. This game had to be great simply to overshadow the mesmerizing hurling display at halftime.

Biggest play: Was LSU's fake punt against Wisconsin in the third quarter the turning point in the Tigers' comeback, 28-24 win? Badgers coach Gary Andersen didn't think so, because his defense only allowed a field goal after the fake and his team still led 24-13. Maybe LSU still storms back regardless, given how little Wisconsin's offense could do in the final 25-plus minutes. But the heavily pro-Tigers crowd was absolutely dead before that fake, and that field goal brought it back to life. If the Badgers get the ball back there and at least burn some clock and change field position, who knows? One thing's for certain: When leading a Les Miles team in the second half, just keep your defense on the field for all kicking situations.

Acrobatic and important catches by Penn State's Geno Lewis and Iowa's Tevaun Smith also deserve mention.

Coolest play: It wasn't all that significant, since Nebraska was already well on its way to a 55-7 whitewashing of Florida Atlantic at the time. But receiver Jordan Westerkamp's behind-the-back grab was still one of the coolest plays you'll ever see. He almost looked like another guy named Jordan.

Big Man on Campus (offense): Penn State's Christian Hackenberg. He shattered the school's single-game record with 454 passing yards, and it was even more impressive considering how little run support and or experience at receiver he had. He needed to be great and he was, especially on his game-winning drive that included a key fourth-down scramble. Very honorable mention to Rutgers' Paul James (29 carries, 173 yards, three TDs).

Big Man on Campus (defense): Ohio State's Darron Lee had a pair of tackles for loss and scooped up a fumble that he returned 61 yards for the Buckeyes' first touchdown in a 34-17 win over Navy.

Big Man on Campus (special teams): Ficken drilled all four of his field-goal attempts for the Nittany Lions, including the 36-yard game-winner.

Biggest hangover: Northwestern talked in the summer about how the unionization effort brought them closer together as a team. The Wildcats looked like a prime bounce-back candidate this year, until a slew of bad news (Venric Mark’s suspension and subsequent transfer, season-ending injuries to starters) began cropping up in August. Then Cal raced out to a 31-7 lead at Ryan Field Saturday and held on for a 31-24 upset win. Northwestern is 1-7 since "GameDay" came to Evanston last October.

Numbers to know: In the last two games he has played, dating back to last season, before his ankle injury, Indiana’s Tevin Coleman has run for 462 yards and four touchdowns on just 38 carries. His 247 rushing yards Saturday against Indiana State were the second-most by an FBS player in Week 1, behind USF's Marlon Mack. ... Nebraska set a modern Big Ten record for total offense with 748 yards and threw a pass on the final play of the game. That one’s for you, Carl Pelini. … Michigan had two running backs gain more than 100 yards -- Derrick Green (170) and De'Veon Smith (115) -- in the same game for the first time since 2007. The Wolverines only had a tailback eclipse 100 yards in a game twice all of last season.

Big Ten morning links

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
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He's only 19, it's important to remember, and his college experience consists of just 13 games. Yet how many quarterbacks would you take right now over Penn State's Christian Hackenberg if your team needed to orchestrate a game-winning drive?

Florida State's Jameis Winston would be one answer, for sure, but I can't think of many others beyond the reigning Heisman winner. Fact is, with Ohio State's Braxton Miller sidelined for the season, Penn State's super sophomore is poised to become the Big Ten's king of clutch.

As a true freshman, Hackenberg led a touchdown drive to tie the score in regulation against Michigan and a two-minute drill to set up a tying field goal against Illinois. Penn State went on to win both of those games. He was even better Saturday, when the Nittany Lions took over on their own 26 with 1:13 remaining, trailing UCF by a point. Hackenberg went 4-of-6 for 55 yards on the drive, and his best play was probably an 8-yard scramble on fourth-and-3, to get in range for Sam Ficken's game-winning field goal.

"The key is [No.] 14," UCF coach George O'Leary said after the game. "I think everybody in the country would like to have him.''

We tend to think young quarterbacks need time to mature into late-game magicians, but some just seem to naturally have it in them. Winston, Johnny Manziel and Miller all showed that as freshmen. So did Hackenberg.

He did throw two interceptions Saturday, but the entire offense was riding on his right arm. A patchwork offensive line couldn't open holes for the running game, which managed just 57 yards on 28 carries, so he chucked it 47 times en route to a school-record 454 passing yards. It was a master class on the QB position, Ben Jones writes.

Penn State will likely have to lean hard on Hackenberg all year long, and keeping him healthy is likely the No. 1 key to its season. But if the Nittany Lions can just hang around long enough in games to give No. 14 a chance to win them at the end, good things could happen.

On to the Labor Day links:

East Division
West Division
Finally...

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HOUSTON -- The game turned -- and isn't this always the case for LSU under Les Miles? -- with a bold call on special teams.

The game ended -- and how many times have we seen this in recent years? -- with Wisconsin falling just short of a marquee win and wondering where it all went wrong.

The No. 13 Tigers and No. 14 Badgers came into the Advocare Texas Kickoff as mystery teams because of all the new faces in key positions for both sides. But there was no mystery remaining at the end of LSU's 28-24 victory at NRG Stadium. A new season began, but these teams simply keep regurgitating their old storylines.

For the Tigers, it was another rise-from-the grave, how-did-that-happen victory under Miles, who improved to 11-0 in season openers and an impossible 22-21 when trailing in the fourth quarter.

[+] EnlargeLSU's John Diarse
AP Photo/David J. PhillipLSU's John Diarse gets past Wisconsin's Darius Hillary for a 36-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
"We did everything we could possibly have done, the latest possible time to do it, before we decided to play best," Miles said.

Wisconsin led 24-7 after scoring early in the second half, and LSU looked doomed. Its offense mustered only 136 yards in the first half, with 80 of them coming on a long pass play against busted coverage for a touchdown. The Badgers were averaging more than eight yards per carry and bulldozing a Tigers defense that kept missing tackles and assignments.

Just when things appeared the bleakest, after an apparent three-and-out on LSU's first possession of the second half, Miles called for one of his patented special teams gambles. Kendell Beckwith only ran for five yards on the fake punt, but it led to a first down and eventual field goal. It also triggered a run of 21 unanswered points by the Tigers.

"I felt like we had to make a play," Miles said. "It was the right call, and it was the right time. The momentum change at that point was significant. I think our guys started feeling it."

Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen disputed that the fake caused such a momentous momentum shift. After all, he said, the Badgers only gave up a field goal and still held an 11-point lead.

He might be right. Other changes happening in the game proved just as important, if not more so. For one, Melvin Gordon suddenly morphed from leading Heisman Trophy candidate to invisible man without much explanation.

Gordon opened the second half with a 63-yard burst to set up Wisconsin's final score. But from then on, Gordon received only two more carries the rest of the game and stood on the sideline at times with his helmet halfway on his head.

Andersen said Gordon had "a scenario" at halftime that made it doubtful whether the star tailback could return to the game. But he did not elaborate, and Gordon did come back late in the game to provide pass protection. Asked after the game if he tweaked anything or was injured, Gordon responded, "Nah, I was good, man. All good."

But he clearly wasn't the same, and neither was the Wisconsin offense. LSU began stacking against the run and walking its safeties down to within five yards of the line of scrimmage. First-time starting quarterback Tanner McEvoy couldn't counter and went just 8-of-24 for 50 yards and two interceptions. He finished 1-of-13 on throws of 10 yards or more, as his receivers struggled to get separation and he missed them when they were open.

Andersen said he didn't consider turning to Joel Stave -- who started every game last year and has a more accurate arm than McEvoy -- because the protection was so bad it wouldn't have mattered.

"They weren't passing too often, so that gave us the opportunity to put more people in the box," LSU linebacker D.J. Welter said. "We really benefited from that."

After a shaky start, Tigers sophomore quarterback Anthony Jennings started to find his footing late, and Wisconsin's valiant defensive effort crumbled after it lost a second starting lineman to injury. LSU outgained Wisconsin 140-22 in the fourth quarter.

But what else is new? The Badgers have made a habit of doing just enough to lose in major nonconference showdowns of late, including close losses in three straight Rose Bowls against TCU, Oregon and Stanford, plus last year's bizarre ending at Arizona State.

They squandered a golden chance here to strike a blow for the Big Ten and boost the league's image, not to mention announce themselves as a College Football Playoff contender given their pillowy remaining schedule. Instead, it was more of the same.

"It was a big game for us, and we fell short," Gordon said. "Obviously, people will say Wisconsin can't win the big game. I'm sure they'll be saying that all year."

LSU's immediate outlook is murkier. Playing with scores of freshmen and sophomores and missing two starters due to suspension, the Tigers made plenty of mistakes. Highly hyped freshman running back Leonard Fournette looked more like a 19-year-old in his first college game than the reincarnation of Adrian Peterson, as he had just 18 yards on eight carries. Freshman quarterback Brandon Harris came in for one series and promptly got sacked when he failed to recognize a blitz.

But other youngsters, such as receivers Travin Dural (three catches for 151 yards) and John Diarse (who bounced off three tackles to score in the fourth quarter) and defensive tackle Christian LaCouture, showed immense potential. Miles said that while there is much to fix, doing so after a victory means those issues are only "light tremors and a mild infection."

"That was our first game, and you're going to see us keep getting better and better," senior wideout Quantavius Leslie said. "Young guys can't play young in the SEC."

LSU can feel optimistic about the rest of the way, while Wisconsin must regroup. It's more SEC pride and another Big Ten slide. One team finds a way to win, while the other finds ways to lose. And the beat goes on and on and on.
Five lessons from the opening week of Big Ten play.

1. Familiar issues preventing Wisconsin from next step: The Badgers had a wonderful chance to springboard themselves into the playoff conversation, as they had a young LSU team down 24-7 in the third quarter. But it unraveled in a hurry as several familiar problems -- and some bad luck on the injury front -- doomed Wisconsin in a 28-24 loss. Wisconsin won't become an elite program until it has more dynamic quarterback and receiver play to complement its bread-and-butter run, can avoid blunders in the kicking game and shores up the secondary. Injuries to two starting defensive linemen certainly hurt, and star running back Melvin Gordon wasn't right after a long run in the third quarter. But the same limitations we've seen before with the Badgers surfaced again in a painful season-opening loss. There's still a lot to play for, but a win would have been huge for Wisconsin and the Big Ten.

[+] EnlargeWisconsin's Melvin Gordon
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsWisconsin's Melvin Gordon rushed for 140 yards and a touchdown but never seemed right again after a long run in the third quarter.
2. Quarterback play is on the uptick: To take a step forward as a league, the Big Ten must make strides at the most important position on the field. Week 1 was a promising start. Michigan State's Connor Cook picked up where he left off last year and played almost flawlessly (12-of-13 passing, 285 yards, three touchdowns) against Jacksonville State. Other veterans such as Michigan's Devin Gardner (13-of-14 passing, three touchdowns), Iowa's Jake Rudock and Rutgers' Gary Nova started off strong. Second-year players such as Penn State's Christian Hackenberg, Nebraska's Tommy Armstrong and Purdue's Danny Etling made big-time throws in victories, and Ohio State freshman J.T. Barrett delivered in his debut as the starter. Illinois' offense had some hiccups but new starting quarterback Wes Lunt finished with four touchdown passes. No one will confuse the Big Ten's quarterback contingent with the Pac-12's, but there are some good signs heading into some bigger games.

3. PSU, OSU lines are works in progress: A Penn State offensive line with just one returning starter and two converted defensive tackles starting at the guard spots topped any fan's list of concerns entering the season. Ohio State's offensive line might not have been the biggest red flag following Braxton Miller's injury, but there was some curiosity with four new starters. Both units did some good things Saturday, especially down the stretch in wins against UCF and Navy, respectively. But Penn State struggled to get its power run going and endured two holding penalties and two false starts. Ohio State had just 71 rush yards on 24 attempts through the first three quarters against an undersized Navy defense. The Buckeyes finished strong (122 fourth-quarter rush yards) but need to make strides, beginning this week against Virginia Tech. Michigan also entered its opener with the offensive line in the spotlight. Although Appalachian State isn't a great gauge, Michigan got its ground game going with 350 yards and two 100-yard rushers (Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith).

4. Rutgers could be a surprise team: Few expected much from the Scarlet Knights, including the Big Ten reporter crew, but Kyle Flood's team began the season on an impressive note. It's never easy to travel to the West Coast, and Rutgers opened with a Washington State team poised to expose its shaky pass defense. Although Washington State racked up 532 pass yards, Rutgers controlled the line of scrimmage and much of the game in a 41-38 win. New offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen has made an immediate impact, and Rutgers showcased a powerful run game led by Paul James and a big-play pass attack. The defense still needs work, and the competition level will improve, but Rutgers should be 2-0 before its highly anticipated Big Ten debut Sept. 13 against Penn State at High Points Solutions Stadium.

5. Northwestern is reeling: Few FBS teams had a rockier offseason than Northwestern, which endured the union debate, Venric Mark's stunning departure and several key injuries in the preseason. Pat Fitzgerald always had found ways to get his teams ready for the season and entered Saturday with an 8-0 mark in openers. But Northwestern didn't look ready against Cal and was outplayed in all three phases during the first 42 minutes. The Wildcats made a nice run at the end of the third quarter and had chances to complete a comeback but went conservative at the wrong times and made too many errors in a 31-24 home loss, its fifth consecutive setback at Ryan Field. You wonder if this team has reached a breaking point after all the setbacks since the past October. A Week 2 win against Northern Illinois is critical.

LSU 28, Wisconsin 24

August, 31, 2014
Aug 31
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LSU finished the game on a 21-0 run to stun Wisconsin 28-24 on Saturday.

Plays that changed the game: LSU

August, 31, 2014
Aug 31
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HOUSTON -- For a large portion of three quarters, Wisconsin controlled Saturday night’s Advocare Texas Kickoff game. But about the time “Jump Around” blared from the stadium loudspeakers and giddy Wisconsin fans obliged, LSU began reversing its fortunes.

The No. 13 Tigers reeled off 21 unanswered points in a 28-24 win over No. 14 Wisconsin on Saturday at NRG Stadium thanks to the help of some timely strong defense and three huge plays. Let’s take a look at the plays that changed the game.

Slippery Diarse

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A textbook comeback route turned into a huge play thanks to the tackle-breaking of LSU redshirt freshman receiver John Diarse. The LSU offensive line provided good protection, Anthony Jennings hit Diarse squarely in the chest, and the 6-foot, 210-pound Diarse did the rest, shaking off three would-be Wisconsin tacklers en route to a 35-yard touchdown on third-and-20. The Tigers went for a two-point conversion and succeeded to narrow Wisconsin’s lead to 24-21 with 12:08 to go in the fourth quarter.

Timely turnover

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On second-and-12 on the ensuing Wisconsin drive, quarterback Tanner McEvoy tried to find tight end Troy Fumagalli on the left side of the field. LSU safety Jalen Mills beat Fumagalli to the ball. The timing by Mills was perfect and he went up against a much bigger guy (Fumagalli is 6-foot-5, 246 pounds; Mills is 6-0, 194) and stole the ball away to give the Tigers the ball back with 11:26 remaining.

Hilliard to the house

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LSU, which struggled to develop a consistent running game throughout the night, smelled blood and took over the line of scrimmage on the ensuing drive. With momentum shifting and Wisconsin missing two injured starters on the defensive line, the Tigers simply handed the ball to Kenny Hilliard three times, letting him and the LSU front do the rest. The third time they did, they created a big hole in the middle of the field which Hilliard sprinted right through for a 28-yard touchdown, giving the Tigers the lead with 9:41 left. Wisconsin would get the ball back, but the Tigers didn’t yield another point and escaped the Bayou City with a victory.

Video: Melvin Gordon carrying the load

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
12:55
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Melvin Gordon bypassed the NFL to return to the Wisconsin Badgers to become the feature running back. Scott Van Pelt talks with Gordon about this upcoming season.

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 1

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
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Take a deep breath, Big Ten fans. The wait is over. Our first weekend of Big Ten football is finally here. And though we might be lacking in quality this weekend, at least there's quantity.

8:30 a.m. ET

Penn State vs. Central Florida (Dublin, Ireland), ESPN2: This overseas contest isn't the same without the O'Brien vs. O'Leary headline or the Hackenberg vs. Bortles undercard. But it could still be one of the more interesting games on tap, as it's James Franklin's debut as Penn State's head coach. The Nittany Lions are looking to once again shock the conference, and that will have to start with success from an inexperienced offensive line. The Nittany Lions have talent on offense -- Christian Hackenberg, Jesse James, Donovan Smith, Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak -- but a win won't come easy against a loaded Central Florida defense.

Noon ET

Indiana State at Indiana, ESPNews: If you haven't fallen asleep from waking up early for the Nittany Lions game, this one might cause you to fluff up that pillow. The Hoosiers upended the Sycamores 73-35 the past season and should once again put on an offensive clinic. Will Indiana's new defense be better? We probably won't find out based on this game.

Northern Iowa at Iowa, BTN: Kirk Ferentz's crew hasn't made quick work of its FCS opponents the past two seasons. Last year, Iowa edged out Missouri State 28-14 and the year before beat Northern Iowa 27-16. Northern Iowa is a middle-of-the-road FCS team this season, but those past two FCS games featured teams that finished below .500. It shouldn't be close, but then again, it shouldn't have been in 2012 or 2013 either.

Appalachian State at Michigan, ESPN2: Can history possibly repeat itself here? The 2007 game -- Mountaineers 34, Wolverines 32 -- was one of the greatest upsets in college football history. If you're a Big Ten fan, you should probably remember where you were when Julian Rauch nailed the field goal heard 'round the world to give App State a two-point lead with 26 seconds left in the game. No doubt the Wolverines will be more prepared this time around, but you can bet Appalachian State's confidence is pretty high, too.

Western Michigan at Purdue, ESPNU: Thankfully, it's not our job to tell you why you should watch these games. We're coming up relatively empty on this one. Purdue is just a nine-point favorite, which means this game should technically be closer than most of the others here. But the ratings for this game won't skyrocket based off that fact. Purdue's offense should be better, so if quarterback Danny Etling struggles in this game, it might already be time for Boilermakers fans to worry.

No. 5
Ohio State at Navy, CBS Sports Network:
Can Ohio State move on without Braxton Miller? Will Navy's triple-option fool this defensive line? How will J.T. Barrett fare in his first career start? The Midshipmen aren't a bad team, and plenty of questions are swirling around the Buckeyes' quarterback situation with the season-ending injury to Miller. All eyes will be on Barrett -- and how long a leash Urban Meyer gives him here.

12:05 ET

Youngstown State at Illinois, BTN: Tim Beckman could be on the hot seat this season, and if he loses to a team with a Penguin mascot, that seat will start heating up in no time. Wes Lunt could be in for a big season, but it'll be interesting to see who in the receiving corps can step up. Beckman is also counting on some juco players to plug roster holes, so we'll start to see how that's working out in this opener.

3:30 ET

James Madison at Maryland, BTN: First, Rutgers comes away with a win in its first game as a Big Ten member. Next, the Terrapins should follow suit. We should see offensive fireworks here, especially though the air, now that quarterback C.J. Brown is healthy, along with wideouts Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. James Madison is an average FCS team, though it nearly knocked off Akron the past season in a 35-33 loss.

Cal at Northwestern, ABC/ESPN2: No Venric Mark, no Christian Jones ... no problem? The Golden Bears are lousy, and the reins are now in the hands of Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian. The Wildcats are hoping to rebound from the past season with a bowl berth, and it'll have to get off on the right foot -- with a win over Cal -- to make that happen. Northwestern should start off 3-0 after a disappointing 5-7 finish in 2013.

Florida Atlantic at No. 22 Nebraska, BTN: It won't be the “Battle of the Pelinis” this season, as FAU coach Carl Pelini was fired the past season in the wake of drug allegations against his staff. The move wasn't without its controversy. We'll see if Bo Pelini is out to avenge his brother based on how ugly this game gets. If Ameer Abdullah wants to be a Heisman contender, he has to post crazy numbers in games like this.

9 ET

No. 14 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 LSU (Houston), ESPN: Admit it. You're waiting all day for this Big Ten game. This could give the B1G respect on a national scale -- or, if it turns ugly, could give the rest of the Power 5 more ammunition to point a finger and label the conference weak. Melvin Gordon might be the best running back in the country, and he'll be facing a slightly above-average run defense. Is that enough to give the Badgers the win? LSU might have the advantage everywhere except at tailback and offensive line. This is the game to watch.

Weather

It looks as if the weather is pretty split this week -- nice and sunny in some places with chances of thunderstorms in others. First off, the good news: It'll be nice and clear for Penn State, Indiana, Ohio State, Illinois and Nebraska. Outside of Ireland, where it should be in the 60s, the temperature should vary between the 70s and 80s.

Elsewhere? Teams might not be so lucky. For Maryland and Wisconsin, thunderstorms could strike later in the games. For the other four teams -- Northwestern, Michigan, Purdue, Iowa -- thunderstorms could strike early but could clear up later.

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Big Ten Friday mailbag

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
5:00
PM ET
No longer do you need a Friday mailbag to help survive the football-free weekend. Still, we are here to help you digest the results of Thursday in the Big Ten and prepare for Saturday.

Mitch Sherman: It's complicated, Andrew. In theory, the Spartans should be rewarded for scheduling the Sept. 6 trip to Oregon, win or lose a tight game. But how would the College Football Playoff committee view a defeat? It depends, of course, on Oregon's body of work and the other contenders late in the season for the four coveted spots. A year ago, MSU would have made it in with an early season road loss to Notre Dame, which finished the regular season with eight wins. Michigan State's schedule is not exactly filled with heavyweights after next week. Its top competition (Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State) comes to East Lansing, presenting the Spartans with the best chance to wow the committee with impressive wins. And if a 10-win team emerged from the West to face the Spartans in Indianapolis, that would obviously help. I'm inclined to say, yes, Michigan State would have a good shot to make it at 12-1.

Mitch Sherman: I'm glad you asked, Collin, and thanks for being such a big fan. If anyone missed it, I wrote this week that Nebraska and Michigan marketed tickets with unusually aggressive tactics this offseason to combat soft sales, in particular from students. And on Wednesday, I tweeted that the Huskers had achieved their 334th straight sellout, extending an NCAA record, for the Saturday opener against Florida Atlantic. (I know, what a terrible thing to publicize.) If your feelings were hurt that we drew attention to ticket sales at Nebraska or Michigan, in spite of the packed houses expected this weekend at both schools, I say this: It's Nebraska and Michigan. We are talking about two schools that are known as much for their history of selling tickets as producing titles. When they are still working at it days before the opening game -- as rivals Ohio State and Penn State watch demand escalate -- it's interesting.

Mitch Sherman: A great start for coach Kyle Flood's team as a member of the Big Ten, beating Washington State 41-38 in non-neutral Seattle. Rutgers accomplished more offensively, even against a suspect defense, than I thought possible. Quarterback Gary Nova's performance, especially in the second half, tells me that he is ready for a bounce-back season under new coordinator Ralph Friedgen. And the Scarlet Knights' defense will have better days; Wazzu is going to put up yardage on most teams. I saw a motivated team in Rutgers that has a chance now to carry big momentum into October. The Penn State game in two weeks, already sold out in Piscataway, is huge for Rutgers. It has a chance to beat the Nittany Lions, but I'm not ready to change my prediction about the second half of this season. That is going to be a little rough. Just look at the schedule. But please, Rutgers, continue to prove us wrong.

Mitch Sherman: The Big Ten East is strong, with two contenders for the College Football Playoff, and a pair of giants in Michigan and Penn State that aren't quite at the top of their games. Indiana remains a borderline bowl team, and I'm not ready to anoint Rutgers or Maryland in their first seasons of league play. Historically, few divisions can compare. Today, the SEC West and the Pac-12 North are better, and the ACC Atlantic might be, too.

Mitch Sherman: I wasn't overly impressed with the Gophers. Their performance against Eastern Illinois was more dominant than the 42-20 score indicated as the FCS Panthers, who went 12-2 last season, scored two touchdowns in the final 30 seconds. But Minnesota looked out of sync at times, and I still wonder if it has enough high-end talent to contend for an upper-division spot in the West. That said, yes, David, be concerned about Iowa's Nov. 8 visit to TCF Bank Stadium. The Hawkeyes can beat every team on their schedule -- and also lose to about six, including Minnesota..

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