Big Ten: Ball State Cardinals

Like every Big Ten team in 2011, Indiana wants to end its regular season at Lucas Oil Stadium for the inaugural league championship game.

If so, the Hoosiers will have come full circle.

Barring a late snag, Indiana will open the 2011 season against Ball State in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil. Ball State originally was set to host the Hoosiers in Muncie but has agreed to move the game to Naptown.

From The Indianapolis Star:
BSU athletic director Tom Collins said Tuesday that the university has signed its half of a contract to move the school's season-opening game against Indiana University to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Collins said officials at Lucas Oil are expected to sign their half of the contract -- completing the deal -- this week. The game will be Sept. 3, as it was originally scheduled. There is no time set, but Collins said he prefers an evening game.

Ball State, which remains the home team and will control all the game management, is moving the contest primarily because of financial reasons. Its home stadium has a capacity of only 22,500, and Collins tells the Star that his goal is to sell 40,000 tickets for the IU game at $40 per seat.

There are few if any drawbacks here for Indiana, which can generate some additional buzz for Kevin Wilson's coaching debut at the school. The Hoosiers' attendance has been pretty decent the past two years despite poor results on the field, and I'd expect IU fans to have a strong showing in Indianapolis on Sept. 3.

This will mark the second neutral-site meeting between the Big Ten and the MAC in 2011, as Wisconsin and Northern Illinois will meet Sept. 17 at Chicago's Soldier Field. The Big Ten will host eight games against MAC teams and Penn State will travel to Temple.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Ball State is trying to get out of its 2010 road game against Iowa.

Cardinals head coach Stan Parrish doesn't want to play Big Ten schools in back-to-back weeks, and Ball State is scheduled to face Purdue on Sept. 18, followed by Iowa on Sept. 25.

Though the Iowa game is more lucrative for Ball State, which would pocket $450,000 more from Iowa than Purdue, the Purdue contract was finalized in 2005 and includes a three-game basketball series that finishes in December.

Ball State athletic director Tom Collins is still figuring out a way to drop the Iowa game.

"It's one of those things where once you get the schedule set and see what the league has going, you can see if there's a chance to maneuver things around," he told The (Muncie) Star Press. "It's never easy to do."



Iowa's associate athletic director for legal affairs Mark Abbott said the school hadn't been aware of Ball State's intentions to drop the game. Abbott still expects Ball State to honor the contract the two schools signed for the 2010 game as well as another contest in 2014.

Iowa is scheduled to open the 2010 season against Eastern Illinois on Sept. 4. The Hawkeyes then host rival Iowa State before traveling to Arizona on Sept. 18. The Sept. 25 date is still listed as TBD on Iowa's future schedule.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

There are two lessons to be learned when dealing with transfers, especially those from high-profile programs. 

1. Don't always believe what the player says. 

2. Those who transfer quietly are often better off than those who don't

Former Michigan offensive lineman Kurt Wermers wanted you to think that problems with Rich Rodriguez and Wolverines assistant coaches led to his transfer to Ball State. He told The Times of Northwest Indiana that Michigan's coaches recruited players who were "not my kind of crowd." He echoed former Wolverines offensive lineman Justin Boren in describing how a family atmosphere under previous head coach Lloyd Carr had turned into a strictly business mood under RichRod. 

Turns out, the only business that mattered was of the academic variety, and that's where Werners fell short. Sources told ESPN.com that Wermers was academically ineligible and unable to suit up for Michigan this fall. Whether he liked the coaching staff or not, he wouldn't be playing for the maize and blue. 

Rodriguez and his staff have taken heat for player departures in the last year, and Boren's comments about eroding family values got a lot of traction in the national media. Whether or not it was his intent, Wermers added fuel to the fire with very similar comments. But in the end, he's the one who ends up getting burned.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

For the second straight year, a Michigan offensive lineman is transferring, and not before firing a few parting shots toward head coach Rich Rodriguez and his assistants.

Kurt Wermers' words weren't as pointed as those of Justin Boren in 2008, but he made similar statements about the changes in the Michigan program as he prepares to join Ball State. Wermers was initially recruited by Lloyd Carr's staff but never played for Carr. 

"I really didn't get along with the new coaches," Wermers told The Times of Northwest Indiana. "They were bringing in a lot of different kids that were not my kind of crowd. Coach Carr's staff was a whole different ballgame. It was like a family. But when Rodriguez came in it was a whole different feeling. It was more of a business.

"I figured I'd get out while I could."

Wermers' departure comes on the heels of offensive lineman Dann O'Neil transferring to Western Michigan. The program has lost a portion of players since the new staff arrived, and the offensive line has seen the most attrition.

It's clear that Rodriguez's methods don't work for everybody, and that's fine. But it's interesting to see all the departures on the offensive line, a position that demands toughness and, in the spread option offense, an improved conditioning level.

This is big-boy football with big-money stakes, and some of the best coaches are the nastiest toward their offensive linemen. Plus, the offensive lines who are pushed the hardest often perform the best. 

But then there's Boren, a player who, by all accounts, brought a much needed edge to Ohio State's offensive line after transferring from Michigan. He doesn't seem like the type of player who needs to get meaner.

In the big picture, Wermers isn't a major loss, but his comments could momentarily fuel the hate toward Rodriguez and his staff. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

After reading all the Big Ten scheduling snapshots, a friend tipped me off to a unique element of the league's non-league slate -- Syracuse appears three times. 

Big Ten teams make up three-fifths of Syracuse's non-league rundown, as the Orange host Minnesota and Northwestern and travel to Penn State. In an era when BCS teams rarely play more than two non-league games against foes from other BCS conferences, Syracuse's scheduling approach is rare.

When was the last time a team from another BCS conference played three Big Ten teams during the regular season?

Notre Dame does it every year -- the Irish have contracts with Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue -- but the program has more scheduling flexibility as an FBS independent.

I checked the schedules of several common Big Ten nonconference opponents from BCS leagues -- Syracuse, Iowa State, Pitt, UCLA, USC -- and found that UCLA faced Purdue, Wisconsin and Ohio State in consecutive weeks during the 1980 season. UCLA's run through the Big Ten nearly three decades ago appears to be the last time that this has happened. 

According to the Big Ten, MAC member Ball State was the last FBS team to face three Big Ten teams in the regular season, as the Cardinals played Indiana, Purdue and Michigan in 2006. Arizona State faced three Big Ten teams in 2004, though the final meeting against Purdue came in the Sun Bowl.

Indiana Hoosiers season recap

December, 15, 2008
12/15/08
11:45
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The pieces were in place this fall for Indiana to continue its momentum after a bowl breakthrough in 2007.

All-Big Ten quarterback Kellen Lewis returned to the offense after a spring suspension. National sacks leader Greg Middleton anchored a promising defensive front. Perhaps most importantly, a favorable schedule featured eight games at Memorial Stadium, where construction in the north end served as a symbol for a program on the rise.

Instead, Indiana returned to an all-too familiar spot, the Big Ten basement. After a 2-0 start, the Hoosiers dropped nine of their final 10 games to finish with their worst record since 2003.

Injuries played a major part in the downfall, as Indiana was hit on both sides of the ball and at key positions. Lewis struggled to stay healthy for long stretches and the coaches began rotating him and backup Ben Chappell at quarterback. The secondary was depleted and the offensive line struggled to stay unified. Head coach Bill Lynch acknowledged he couldn't remember so many injuries afflicting a team in one season.

Health and depth were major problems, but the Hoosiers also failed to make strides in key areas.

Lewis struggled without a dominant receiver (James Hardy), and the offense ranked 10th in the league in scoring (20.5 ppg). The defense once again produced a sack specialist in Jammie Kirlew (10.5 sacks), but the league's worst unit against the pass couldn't limit explosion plays. Indiana allowed 34 points or more in eight of its final 10 games.

Offensive MVP -- Running back Marcus Thigpen

Thigpen quietly turned in a very solid senior season after struggling to cement himself as Indiana's featured back. He led Indiana with 631 rushing yards and seven touchdowns and had an impressive 6.7 yards-per-carry average. Thigpen continued to show his track-star speed on special teams and finished the year ranked fourth in the league in all-purpose yards (143.2 ypg).

Defensive MVP -- Defensive end Jammie Kirlew

Middleton's production fell off sharply this fall, but Kirlew picked up the slack on the other side of the defensive line. He ranked second in the Big Ten in both sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (19.5), earning first-team all-conference honors from the media. Kirlew led the Big Ten in tackles for a defensive lineman (74) and finished second on Indiana's team tackles chart. Linebacker Matt Mayberry also deserves a mention here.

Turning point -- Sept. 20 vs. Ball State

Things really went south for Indiana after Nate Davis, MiQuale Lewis and the Cardinals visited Bloomington. Ball State exposed defensive deficiencies that would plague Indiana all season, racking up 463 yards in a 42-20 win. Indiana's offense showed flashes, as it did for much of the fall, but struggled to produce points. The loss triggered a five-game slide for the Hoosiers.

What's next

The Hoosiers return most of their core for 2009, but they have to sort out issues at quarterback, running back and several other spots. If both Middleton and Kirlew return for their senior seasons, Indiana's defensive front should be solid. But the Hoosiers must build greater depth throughout their roster to survive injuries. Despite a vote of confidence from Indiana's new athletic director, Lynch is very much on the hot seat entering next fall.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As Ohio State inches closer to a BCS at-large berth, the Motor City Bowl inches farther away from having a Big Ten representative in Detroit on Dec. 26. 

Unfortunately for Motor City Bowl executive director Ken Hoffman, this scenario has been the rule rather than the exception.

Since becoming a Big Ten tie-in bowl in 2002, the Motor City has hosted only two Big Ten squads, Northwestern in 2003 and Purdue last year. Should Ohio State reach a BCS bowl as expected, the Big Ten won't have enough bowl-eligible teams to fill its Motor City spot for the fifth time in seven seasons. 

"We would certainly like to have Big Ten representation here," Hoffman said Thursday. "That's why we signed the contract with the Big Ten. We share the same geography as the Mid-American Conference and the same fan base, essentially. But the good news is we have lots of other, positive, very strong options, and that's what we'll do this year if Ohio State gets a BCS at-large spot."

One of those options appears to be Rutgers. If Ohio State goes to the BCS and Rutgers beats Louisville tonight, the Motor City Bowl could swap choices with the International Bowl and take the Scarlet Knights. It would set up a possible matchup with No. 12 Ball State, which plays in the MAC Championship Game on Friday night (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET). 

Since 2002, the Big East has placed the same number of teams as the Big Ten in the Motor City Bowl, with Boston College going in 2002 and Connecticut in 2004. 

"We have a verbal agreement with [the Big East]," Hoffman said. "We're going to have to see what the results are of the game tonight and Saturday, but there's a very good chance that it could happen."

If Ohio State is somehow left out of the BCS, the Motor City Bowl would select the seventh Big Ten team, most likely Minnesota. 

The lack of Big Ten representation in the Motor City Bowl over the years doesn't concern Hoffman, who noted that last season the Big Ten had 10 bowl-eligible teams and two (Iowa and Northwestern) stayed home. 

"It's just one of those situations," Hoffman said. "This year was 30 percent fewer bowl-eligible teams out of the Big Ten. Next year could be 10 again. You just don't know from year to year." 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

With all this extra time to reflect on the Big Ten regular season, it seems only natural to try and spot exactly where things went right or wrong for each team. These turning points resonate with players and coaches, either serving as moments of pride or incentive to get things corrected the following season.

For two teams, there are multiple turning points.

Here's the rundown.

ILLINOIS

Final record: 5-7 (3-5 Big Ten)

Turning point: Oct. 11 vs. Minnesota (27-20 loss)

The skinny: The inconsistent Illini finally appeared to have found their footing behind junior quarterback Juice Williams, who set the single-game total offense record (431 yards) at Michigan Stadium the previous week. Williams set another stadium record against the Gophers (503 yards of offense), but critical turnovers (3) and special-teams miscues (two kickoffs out of bounds) that plagued Illinois down the stretch surfaced in a home loss.

INDIANA

Final record: 3-9 (1-7)

Turning point: Sept. 20 vs. Ball State (42-20 loss)

The skinny: The Hoosiers felt pretty good about themselves after beating up on two inferior opponents (Western Kentucky and Murray State). But they were ill-prepared for the surging Cardinals, who exposed a defense that wound up struggling all season. After an All-Big Ten season in 2007, quarterback Kellen Lewis threw two interceptions in the loss and never really got back on track the rest of the way.

IOWA

Final record: 8-4 (5-3)

Turning point: Nov. 8 vs. Penn State (24-23 win)

The skinny: Until that cold night in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes were a good team that couldn't close out games, dropping four contests by a combined 12 points. They were coming off a mistake-ridden loss at Illinois and started slow on offense. But star running back Shonn Greene (117 rush yards, 2 TDs), a blossoming Ricky Stanzi and one of the Big Ten's top defenses surged after halftime, and Iowa rallied for a milestone win against No. 3 Penn State.

MICHIGAN

Final record: 3-9 (2-6)

Turning point: Oct. 11 vs. Toledo (13-10 loss)

The skinny: The Wolverines hadn't played well to this point, but they still had an excellent chance to improve to 3-3 and set up a potential postseason run down the stretch. But Rich Rodriguez's offense stalled, as it did for much of the season, as Michigan committed three turnovers that turned into 10 Toledo points. In a season of historic lows, Michigan lost to a Mid-American Conference team for the first time in 25 tries.

MICHIGAN STATE

Final record: 9-3 (6-2)

Turning point: Oct. 25 at Michigan (35-21 win)

The skinny: Michigan State showed newfound mental toughness this fall and changed its reputation as a team prone to fast starts and incredible collapses. Coming off an embarrassing home loss to Ohio State, the Spartans faced a team that had owned them at the Big House. Despite a blown call that gave Michigan a touchdown, Michigan State didn't flinch, rallying behind running back Javon Ringer (194 rush yards, 2 TDs) and quarterback Brian Hoyer (282 pass yards, 3 TDs). Michigan State ended a six-game losing streak to Michigan.

MINNESOTA

Final record: 7-5 (3-5)

Turning point I: Oct. 11 at Illinois (27-20 win)

The skinny: The Gophers' formula of opportunistic defense and disciplined offense spurred them to a 7-1 start. They showcased those traits at Illinois, sacking Juice Williams five times and forcing a fumble that turned into the decisive touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg was a beast, and quarterback Adam Weber showed incredible toughness by playing only six days after knee surgery.

Turning point II: Nov. 1 vs. Northwestern (24-17 loss)

The skinny: Minnesota followed its plan early, recording an interception for a touchdown to jump ahead of the Wildcats. But the problems that crippled the Gophers down the stretch -- no run game, poor offensive line play, turnovers -- surfaced in the second half, and a deflating loss in the final minute kicked off a four-game slide to close the regular season.

NORTHWESTERN

Final record: 9-3 (5-3)

Turning point: Nov. 1 at Minnesota (24-17 win)

The skinny: In the past, Northwestern didn't have enough depth to survive a rash of injuries to key players. After losing quarterback C.J. Bacher, running back Tyrell Sutton and middle linebacker Malcolm Arrington, the Wildcats appeared doomed for another middling season. But a team that lacked superstars but possessed plenty of resiliency upset then-No. 17 Minnesota, riding backup quarterback Mike Kafka (Big Ten quarterback record 217 rush yards) and a stout defense to a crucial win. Northwesern won three of its final four games.

OHIO STATE

Final record: 10-2 (7-1)

Turning point: Oct. 18 at Michigan State (45-7 win)

The skinny: The Buckeyes embarrassed themselves at USC and continued to struggle on offense behind a young quarterback (Terrelle Pryor) and an underperforming line. Many pegged Ohio State for a loss in East Lansing, but the Buckeyes came up with arguably their best performance of the season. Pryor and Chris "Beanie" Wells sizzled, and a defense that played well following the USC debacle had two fumble returns for touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Ohio State re-established itself as a Big Ten bully.

PENN STATE

Final record: 11-1 (7-1)

Turning point: Oct. 11 at Wisconsin (48-7 win)

The skinny: Any doubts about Penn State as a legitimate national title contender were put to rest in Madison, as the Nittany Lions handed Wisconsin its worst home loss since 1989. Quarterback Daryll Clark and wideout/return man Derrick Williams led the Spread HD offense that highlighted Penn State's league title run, while Aaron Maybin and the defense shut down the Badgers. Though Penn State later stumbled against Iowa, most of its games played out like this one.

PURDUE

Final record: 4-8 (2-6)

Turning point: Sept. 13 vs. Oregon (32-26 loss OT)

The skinny: Purdue should have won this game, and things could have been very different had the Boilers finished off the Ducks. A plucky Purdue defense gave up yards but limited points, as it did for much of the season, but quarterback Curtis Painter and the offense couldn't execute consistently enough when it counted. Purdue's inability to convert scoring chances into touchdowns became a theme for much of the fall.

WISCONSIN

Final record: 7-5 (3-5)

Turning point I: Sept. 27 at Michigan (27-25 loss)

The skinny: A BCS bowl was still very much in the picture for Wisconsin, which took a 3-0 record and a No. 9 national ranking into Michigan Stadium. The Badgers built a 19-0 halftime lead behind punishing defense and a balanced, disciplined offense. But they totally lost their edge on defense after the break, and quarterback mistakes that appeared throughout a four-game losing streak surfaced as Michigan mounted the greatest comeback in Big House history.

Turning point II: Oct. 25 vs. Illinois (27-17 win)

The skinny: The team seemed to gain confidence after making a quarterback switch from Allan Evridge to Dustin Sherer. After a rocky start at Iowa, Sherer led Wisconsin to wins in four of its final five games, beginning with this contest against the Illini. He accounted for three touchdowns (two pass, one rush) as Wisconsin ended its four-game slide. The Badgers easily could have finished with a five-game win streak if not for a late stumble in East Lansing.

Is the MAC gaining on the Big Ten?

November, 13, 2008
11/13/08
6:04
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten and Mid-American Conference formed a scheduling partnership several years ago, with the intent to give the MAC more exposure and the Big Ten more home games and, presumably, more non-league wins.

All but one Big Ten team (Iowa) had a MAC opponent on this year's slate. Both Indiana and Minnesota faced two MAC squads. 

With regular-season nonconference play almost complete -- Wisconsin faces Cal-Poly next week -- the MAC has to be pleased with how the season turned out. The MAC posted a record four wins against Big Ten teams, including a historic win by Toledo at Michigan. 

Bill Simonson, who hosts a popular sports talk radio show in Michigan, recently opined on his blog about whether the MAC is better than the Big Ten top to bottom this year. He notes the accomplishments of MAC West teams like Ball State, Central Michigan and Western Michigan and points out that several other teams (Ohio, Northern Illinois) nearly knocked off Big Ten foes. 

"Ball State could be on its way to a BCS bid this year if the Cardinals win out. Western Michigan had more votes in The Associated Press Top 25 poll this week than Iowa, and the Hawkeyes just beat No. 2 Penn State. (Hey, JoePa, at least Bill Cubit and the Broncos could win in Iowa City last year).

I think America sees the growth of this so-called mid-major conference into a college football machine. Central, Western and Ball state all could beat any Big Ten team this year -- that includes Ohio State and Penn State."

I'm a big non-BCS advocate and enjoy watching MAC games, but I don't agree with this at all. Sure, Ohio State got a scare from Ohio on Sept. 6, but the Buckeyes in their current form (Terrelle Pryor/Chris "Beanie" Wells) would beat any MAC team, including Ball State. The same holds true for Penn State. It would be interesting to see Ball State match up with Michigan State or Iowa. 

Central Michigan ended its prolonged drought against BCS teams by beating Indiana, the Big Ten's worst squad, two weeks ago. But to be considered a legitimate non-BCS threat, the Chippewas need to consistently beat BCS teams. There were too many lopsided scores last year. 

The MAC West is certainly on the rise, and it has been a better season for the league overall after some lean years. But the fact that Ball State isn't in the BCS discussion despite a strong chance to go undefeated shows there's still a long way to go. If the MAC can pull off similar results against the Big Ten in the Motor City Bowl and next fall -- the opportunities are there because of the scheduling agreement -- it will have a stronger case. 

Big Ten mailbag

October, 7, 2008
10/07/08
6:22
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The conference title race is taking shape, some teams are surging and others are sliding.

It's time to take the pulse of Big Ten fans.

Derek from St. Louis writes: Explain this to me... Illinois has 2 losses, both to top 5 teams, both on the road, neither were embarrassing. They don't break the top 25 in ANY poll after destroying Michigan in Ann Arbor after (still ranked and 0-2 in the Big Ten) Wisconsin loses there a week prior. Auburn (also still ranked) also has 2 losses and a pillow fight 3-2 victory AT HOME to Miss St. WAKE FORREST is still ranked... and they're coming off of a loss to NAVY... AT HOME. How is ANY of this possible. I can't say it's because the Big Ten doesn't get any love because WISCONSIN is included in this mess.

Adam Rittenberg: For the first time this season, the Illini played to their potential in the final three quarters at Michigan and will regain some respect by continuing to win. Illinois soured some people with a poor performance against Louisiana-Lafayette, but pounding Michigan at the Big House still means something, even this year. Wisconsin fell out of the AP Poll, if it makes you happy, and the Badgers need to beat No. 6 Penn State at home to remain in any other rankings. Auburn's continued inclusion has to do with the strength of the SEC, nothing else. Wake Forest moved up in the poll only because a bunch of teams between 20-25 lost last week.


J.Z. from Bloomington, Ind., writes: Many IU fans including me had high expectations for the football team this year. Coming off our first bowl game in ages, 8 home games, a super soft OOC schedule. The way I see it we should have ended with at minimum a winning record this year. Ending the year with 4 wins seems like wishful thinking now. There are many fans that never wanted Coach Lynch hired based off his terrible past in the MAC and lack of Big school experience. With the new stadium and facility renovations come higher expectations. Do you think if things continue the way they are that Coach Lynch could get his walking papers this year? With a new AD coming in I could see that happening. I do also realize that IU also needs to step up and be willing to pay a new coach to come in, as there are some coaches in conf USA that make double what our Head Football coach makes. Do you think IU will be willing to finally spend the cash on football that they do on basketball?

Adam Rittenberg: The Ball State loss looks better and better, but I agree with you that Indiana has been a major disappointment this year. Lynch acknowledged today that the team could still be looking for its identity, which should be based around quarterback Kellen Lewis and several promising defenders. But turnovers and penalties kill teams, and Indiana hasn't been able to avoid them so far. The new athletic director will have a decision to make if things don't improve, but I don't see Lynch getting fired less than a year after receiving a contract extension. Next year, maybe, but the program has been through some tragedy and transition, much like Northwestern went through in 2006-07, and Lynch deserves a ton of credit for last year's bowl run. Indiana is making a greater commitment to football with the stadium renovations and even with the eight home games, so expectations are justifiably higher. But I would wait a little bit longer to see how things play out.


Andrew from Pittsburgh writes: What are your thoughts on the Spartan defense? We're giving up tons of yards between the 20s the last several weeks, but we keep coming up with stops or turnovers in the red zone. Is that the mark of a better defense, or have we just been lucky?

Adam Rittenberg: They are tough and physical, a perfect reflection of head coach Mark Dantonio. They don't have the most talent in any one area, but stars like safety Otis Wiley and linebacker Greg Jones take on a lot of responsibility and guys like Adam Decker step up and make big plays like the fourth-down stop on Iowa's Shonn Greene to seal last week's win. Honestly, giving up yards between the 20's doesn't matter if you make stops in the red zone, and that's how teams like Michigan State and Northwestern have improved on the defensive side. Michigan State is limiting the big play and forcing other teams to execute near the goal line.

(Read full post)

Big Ten picks for Week 5

September, 25, 2008
9/25/08
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Big Ten play finally arrives for 10 of the 11 teams, and some intriguing opening matchups are on tap Saturday. Last week brought another solid record, but I underestimated the strength of several Big Ten defense. It won't happen this time around.

Not an easy slate of games, and recent history is working against favorites like Penn State (1-7 in its last eight Big Ten openers) and Wisconsin (hasn't won at Michigan since 1994). Here's how I see things shaking out.

Michigan State 30, Indiana 21 -- The Hoosiers allowed Ball State's MiQuale Lewis to rush for 166 yards last week. That's not a good sign as Javon Ringer, the nation's second-leading rusher, comes to Bloomington. Ringer could record his third straight 200-yard rushing performance, but this is an important game for Brian Hoyer to finally get going. The Spartans senior quarterback faces a depleted Indiana secondary. Kellen Lewis makes some plays for the Hoosiers, but Michigan State has the stronger defense.

Ohio State 35, Minnesota 17 -- The return of running back Chris Wells provides the emotional lift Ohio State has lacked the last three games. Wells might not put up huge numbers, but his presence sparks quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the offense. I haven't lost faith in Minnesota, but the timing just isn't right for an upset. And unlike previous Gophers opponents, Ohio State will actually bother to cover star wide receiver Eric Decker with All-America cornerback Malcolm Jenkins.

Iowa 20, Northwestern 17 -- A really tough call here. Iowa hopes it finds a quarterback in sophomore Ricky Stanzi, but Northwestern's defense looks greatly improved and the Hawkeyes' offense really hasn't done much the last two games. The difference comes at the line of scrimmage, where Iowa's defensive front overpowers Northwestern's new-look offensive line and neutralizes Tyrell Sutton. The game could come down to special teams or a fourth-quarter turnover, but Iowa holds on at home.

Wisconsin 27, Michigan 17 -- Like two years ago, the game stays close for the first half, but this time Wisconsin pulls away behind its power run game. Michigan's offense will be improved coming off the bye week and running back Sam McGuffie will force the Badgers to tackle in space. But Wisconsin knows how to grind out victories, and in the fourth quarter the Badgers will control the clock with P.J. Hill and force a mistake or two from Wolverines quarterback Steven Threet. Michigan's streak of 22 consecutive wins in Big Ten home openers comes to an end.

Purdue 27, Notre Dame 24 -- For the second straight season Notre Dame can't run the ball, and the Irish will be forced to stretch the field with young wideouts Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. The plan could work well, but Purdue's secondary has improved and picks off a pass or two. Curtis Painter put up big numbers (398 pass yards) in his last trip to Notre Dame Stadium, and Purdue's offense looks more balanced with running back Kory Sheets. The Boilers win on a last-minute Chris Summers field goal.

Penn State 38, Illinois 24 -- The Lions face adversity for the first time this season, but ultimately their offense is simply too powerful for Illinois. Illini quarterback Juice Williams has proven he can win in tough environments, but unless Arrelious Benn steps up his play, the offense doesn't have enough firepower to keep pace with Penn State. Lions quarterback Daryll Clark makes an early mistake but recovers, and running backs Evan Royster and Stephfon Green wear down the Illini defensive line.

Byes: None

Season record: 35-4

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's nice to see that Chris Adkins' Indiana teammates are doing whatever they can to support him this week. Catastrophic football injuries are terrible for all involved, and my thoughts are certainly with Ball State wide receiver Dante Love and his family. There's the other side, too, the guys who walk away from collisions like the one Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.

Adkins has to be going through a lot right now, and this is the time when he needs his teammates the most. The cornerback also will spend some time with a sports psychologist who regularly comes to the Indiana campus.

A few happenings around the league:

"There was a heavy cloud over the community for about a year or so," Decker said. "People were sad for the families; everybody knew them. Every once in a while we'll talk about it. But, to be honest, it's something you don't want to remember. You want to learn from it."

Big Ten mailbag

September, 23, 2008
9/23/08
5:23
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's Tuesday. That means mailbag time. As a reminder, please include your name and hometown on your e-mails. I had to leave out several good ones this week because they had no names attached.

Let's begin.

Cory from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam, Chris Fowler wrote a column a few weeks back about a desire for more 'Clemson-Alabama' type early season games. I, too, would like to see more of these - and I think I found at least one possibility. Instead of OSU opening up w/ Youngstown State or another in-state team, the Colorado Buffaloes have an opening, as do the Bucks on Saturday August 31, 2013...I know it's a distance off, but what do you think of the possibility? Can we start a write-in campaign from your readers?

Adam Rittenberg: That would be an interesting matchup, and Ohio State certainly could benefit from scheduling another BCS team in addition to its annual premier matchup. It's almost like Ohio State gets more criticism for the three cupcakes it plays every year than for going out on a limb and playing teams like Texas and USC. Maybe Ohio State should schedule two solid BCS teams instead of one elite one. The Buckeyes host Cal in 2012, and they might have to return that game in 2013, so it's unlikely they would add Colorado to the slate. Minnesota already plays Colorado in Boulder in 2013, and I'm not sure the Buffaloes would want to face two Big Ten teams in the same year.


Nick from Mayville, Mich., writes: Michigan going into the next two games against ranked teams #8 Wisconsin and #22 Illinois, what do you think our chances are to upset against these two teams?

Adam Rittenberg: The bye week should really help the Wolverines, who I think will give Wisconsin a good game this weekend (could be wishful thinking since I'll be at the Big House). As Rich Rodriguez said today, inexperienced teams can make significant improvements in short periods of time, and that's what Michigan is hoping for on Saturday. As bad as the Notre Dame loss was, Michigan found its quarterback (Steven Threet) and its running back (Sam McGuffie). That said, Wisconsin is simply too powerful up front, and Michigan's D-line will need an especially strong showing against P.J. Hill & Co. If Michigan loses big, confidence could be a factor when Illinois comes to town. But if the Wolverines hang in there with the Badgers, they could knock off the Illini, who will be coming off a tough game at Penn State.


Brad in Bloomington, Ind., writes: So after that disgusting loss to Ball State is it safe to say the Hoosiers are the worst team in the Big Ten this year? I would have to imagine there is no chance they will make a bowl this year.

Adam Rittenberg: I wouldn't count out the Hoosiers just yet, but they really struggled against a Ball State team that could have lost its composure after the injury to Dante Love. This is the problem when a team begins the season with two opponents -- Western Kentucky and Murray State -- that provide no challenge whatsoever. Indiana had faced little to no adversity in the first two games and crumbled when Ball State provided some on Saturday night. I still like Kellen Lewis and blog-favorite Matt Mayberry, but Indiana has to do a better job of stopping the run. The Hoosiers still aren't good enough to overcome mistakes, and Lewis made several against Ball State.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Several newsworthy items already have been covered from today's Big Ten coaches' teleconference, but here are a few more afternoon tidbits for you. 

PATERNO STAYING PUT ON SIDELINES: After spending the second half of last week's win against Temple in the press box, Penn State coach Joe Paterno has no plans to leave the sideline Saturday night against Illinois (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). Paterno said he could have stayed on the field the whole game but with Penn State comfortably in the lead, he opted to rest his injured right leg.

The 81-year-old coach hurt his leg days before the season opener while attempting an onside kick during practice. 

"I've given up my onside kicking for a while," he joked. 

BOECKMAN HANDLING DEMOTION WELL: Ohio State coach Jim Tressel named freshman Terrelle Pryor as the team's definitive starting quarterback Tuesday. The coach praised Pryor's ability to avoid turnovers and other major mistakes and make good decisions.

Tressel also isn't worried about the team's response to having Pryor replace senior Todd Boeckman as the leader of the offense. 

"It starts with Todd," Tressel said. "Everyone else looks on and sees a good example of how Todd is handling a difficult situation. ... The fact he's handled it so well has given the right message to anyone else that might want to start conjuring up any thoughts in their mind."

Tressel clearly made the right call by going with Pryor, but Boeckman deserves some credit for staying as positive as possible. The senior was booed after throwing an incomplete pass last week against Troy, which isn't right.

Ohio State fans have justifiably been ripped both locally and nationally for booing Boeckman. Not all Buckeyes' backers should be blamed for the stupidity of a few, but the booing only restores the perception that they're obnoxious, crass and not too far above the SEC fans they love to hate.

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A look back at the Week 4 picks

September, 22, 2008
9/22/08
10:16
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Much like the Big Ten itself, the picks continue to avoid a bad week. The score predictions were way off once again, but with a 7-1 record and the lone blemish a 1-point decision, I'll take it. The Big Ten is turning into a defense-oriented league -- at least outside of State College, where Penn State continues to roll -- so expect some lower scores this week as conference play begins.

Time to review the picks:

OHIO-NORTHWESTERN

  • My pick: Northwestern 30, Ohio 24
  • Game result: Northwestern 16, Ohio 8
  • 20-20 hindsight: I've come to accept bizarre games from the Wildcats, but this one set a new standard. Suddenly the defense is dominant and the offense stinks? That was certainly the case against Ohio. Quarterback Boo Jackson didn't provide the test I thought he would, as Northwestern forced him into repeated mistakes and generated four takeaways. The Wildcats' superb defensive effort rescued quarterback C.J. Bacher, who threw four interceptions.
FLORIDA ATLANTIC-MINNESOTA
  • My pick: Minnesota 42, Florida Atlantic 39
  • Game result: Minnesota 37, Florida Atlantic 3
  • 20-20 hindsight: I thought I'd have some fun and pick Minnesota to win by the same score in which it lost last year's meeting against FAU. Guess the Gophers didn't see the humor. They absolutely destroyed the defending Sun Belt champs, as a much-improved defense forced turnovers and quarterback Adam Weber continued to surge. After committing seven giveaways last year, Minnesota won the turnover margin, 4-1. My apologies to Gopher Nation for underestimating your team.

TROY-OHIO STATE

  • My pick: Ohio State 42, Troy 10
  • Game result: Ohio State 28, Troy 10
  • 20-20 hindsight: This ended up being one of the closer score predictions, though Ohio State's ability to underwhelm still seems stunning. Credit freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor for a very impressive debut, but Ohio State entered the fourth quarter leading by just four points. I'm sure most will predict a lopsided result when Ohio State opens Big Ten play against Minnesota, but I've learned my lesson.
TEMPLE-PENN STATE
  • My pick: Penn State 41, Temple 17
  • Game result: Penn State 45, Temple 3
  • 20-20 hindsight: I keep waiting for Penn State's defense to falter, but it keeps coming up big. Linebacker Navorro Bowman (5 TFLs, 3 sacks) led the charge in his first career start as the Lions defense picked up an offense that started a bit slow. It was Stephfon Green, not Derrick Williams, who had the big offensive day for Penn State, and Temple QB Adam DiMichele ended up being knocked out of the game in the first quarter.
IOWA-PITT
  • My pick: Iowa 24, Pitt 20
  • Game result: Pitt 21, Iowa 20
  • 20-20 hindsight: The closest pick of the week turned out to be my only misdiagnosis, as Pitt outlasted Iowa at Heinz Field. Panthers running back LeSean McCoy got the best of Iowa's defense when it mattered most with a 27-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. But the Hawkeyes still aren't getting enough production from their quarterback position, and it might be time to scrap the rotation and settle on a leader.

CENTRAL MICHIGAN-PURDUE

  • My pick: Purdue 45, Central Michigan 41
  • Game result: Purdue 32, Central Michigan 25
  • 20-20 hindsight: It wasn't the offensive surge I predicted, but the game still provided plenty of entertainment value. Purdue's secondary is better than many forecasted, and the Boilers finally came through in the clutch after Central Michigan appeared poised to steal a road win. Curtis Painter had a solid performance, but the Chippewas' seemingly vulnerable defense limited Purdue to just 16 first downs and 344 yards of offense.

NOTRE DAME-MICHIGAN STATE

  • My pick: Michigan State 31, Notre Dame 28
  • Game result: Michigan State 23, Notre Dame 7
  • 20-20 hindsight: It was wishful thinking to call this "the best game of the day," as Michigan State grinded out a win behind a physical defense and superstar running back Javon Ringer. The Spartans' defense held Jimmy Clausen and Notre Dame's long-range passing attack in check for most of the game, keeping the Fighting Irish off the scoreboard for three quarters. Once again, Ringer was fabulous, becoming the first Spartans player to record back-to-back 200-yard rushing performances.

BALL STATE-INDIANA

  • My pick: Ball State 45, Indiana 42 (OT)
  • Game result: Ball State 42, Indiana 20
  • 20-20 hindsight: Indiana came into the game untested, and it showed. The Ball State offense tore through Indiana's defense despite losing star wideout Dante Love to a tragic and terrifying injury in the first quarter. The Hoosiers didn't hold up their end of the bargain, as quarterback Kellen Lewis threw two inte
    rceptions and the offense shut down in the fourth quarter.

Byes: Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois

Season record: 35-4

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