Big Ten: Cincinnati Bearcats

Cincinnati and Purdue entered Saturday's opener with two new coaches who had overseen quarterback competitions in recent weeks.

The similarities between the two teams pretty much end there.

Cincinnati found its quarterback (Munchie Legaux) and its swagger, continuing its winning ways under new boss Tommy Tuberville. Purdue, meanwhile, appears to be in disarray one game into the Darrell Hazell era.

Legaux led an opportunistic offense and Cincinnati pummeled a mistake-ridden Purdue team to win 42-7 at Nippert Stadium. The Bearcats went 9-for-15 on third down and 3-for-4 on fourth down against a Boiler defense that couldn't get off of the field. Purdue surrendered 425 yards and 20 first downs.

The Boilers' problems were much worse on offense. Senior quarterback Rob Henry threw an interception on the game's first series and was pick-sixed by Adrian Witty midway through the third quarter as Cincinnati began to pull away. He threw off of his back foot and couldn't find a rhythm.The Boilers' only points in the first three quarters came after Cincinnati muffed a punt deep in its own territory.

Legaux accounted for 200 yards (145 pass, 55 rush) and two touchdowns as Cincinnati employed a balanced attack. Brendon Kay, who competed with Legaux throughout the preseason, fired a 51-yard touchdown strike on his first attempt. Cincinnati looks like a team that could soon enter the Top 25 and challenge Louisville in the American.

Tuberville has to be encouraged with Cincinnati's debut. It's a different story for Hazell, who stresses discipline but watched his team show little in the opener, as Purdue committed three turnovers and seven penalties.

Offensive coordinator John Shoop and Hazell have a lot to work on before next week's home opener against Indiana State. They kept Henry in the game despite his struggles rather than go to a freshman (Austin Appleby or Danny Etling). Is a change in order?

Purdue plays the Big Ten's toughest schedule, so things could get away from the Boilers in a hurry. Henry is a popular veteran who has been through a lot, but Hazell has to decide if the future (Etling) is now.

PSU's Brown still considering transfer

August, 1, 2012
Senior wide receiver Justin Brown said he was still mulling a transfer Wednesday night and wasn't sure whether he would remain at Penn State.

"I haven't made a decision yet," he said in a brief telephone interview. "I just don't know."

Brown said he doesn't have a timetable for his decision, although preseason practice starts Monday. His high school coach, George Kosanovich of Concord (Del.), said Brown fielded calls from about three or four schools, including Cincinnati, Illinois and Oklahoma.

As the Nittany Lions' top returning wideout, Brown's decision could prove critical to Penn State's offensive success -- especially without starting tailback Silas Redd, who announced his transfer to USC on Tuesday.

If Brown leaves, unproven receivers Shawney Kersey, a redshirt junior, and sophomore Allen Robinson -- who combined for just eight catches last season -- would battle for the top spot.

Brown finished last season with 35 receptions, 517 yards and two touchdowns.

Five Penn State players have already announced their intent to transfer since the sanctions: Redd, linebacker Khairi Fortt, safety Tim Buckley, defensive lineman Jamil Pollard and tight end Kevin Haplea. Quaterback Rob Bolden was released from his scholarship prior to the sanctions, according to a source.

Big Ten Thursday mailbag

April, 5, 2012
Time to take a break from Day 2 of my Hoosier State adventure and answer some of your emails:

Brian from Atlanta writes: Why are you two always so wrong about every issue surrounding a playoff? Every system has problems, and the four team plus is no worse than the others in that regard. A 4 team playoff has lots of problems (EX. If a 1 loss team beats an undefeated team in the semis -- why does that loss count more?), and it hurts the Rose Bowl. You playoff proponents put blind faith in the system to accurately pick the top 4 teams and seed them, but somehow think that same system would fail after the bowls. That makes no sense. Either the system works all the time or none of the time.

Brian Bennett: Well, Brian (great name by the way), I can give you a very simple answer as to why the proposed plan to include the Rose Bowl in a playoff is dumb: It's being called, as you mentioned, a "four-team plus." How ridiculously convoluted does that sound? And that's the very point: We've finally gotten to a place where the powers that be are very open to the excellent idea of a four-team playoff and now there's an option that would muck up the whole thing.

No playoff system is perfect; there are those who would argue that the NCAA basketball tournament doesn't always crown the best team because of its single-elimination format (though the bracket did a pretty darn good coronation job this year). But a four-team, seeded football playoff where the best teams qualify is as good as we're going to get. Let's not ruin it before it begins.

Scott from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Brian, I think the talk about the Pac-12/Big Ten partnership making it harder for either of the conferences to reach the title game is unjustified. I think it would make it more likely that a team from one of those conferences would go. You need to run a stronger schedule to convince people to get into the championship game, and these match-ups would only make it more likely that the most dominant teams in both conferences could make it to the BCS title game. Am I right or are people seeming something I am not? Also, I am so stoked for the MSU/Oregon series!

Brian Bennett: What the Pac-12/Big Ten series does is potentially make it harder to go undefeated. And going undefeated is the surest way to get into a four-team playoff, because there's no way a team from either league that goes 13-0 would be left out. Adding another difficult game only increases the chances for a loss. Though it does add to a team's strength-of-schedule argument, that would really only come into play if a one-loss Big Ten or Pac-12 team was trying to lobby its way in against other one-loss or non-power-league teams.

Brian from Newmarket, United Kingdom, writes: I was curious on your thoughts regarding Don Van Natta Jr's article on Penn State? Do you feel differently about JoePa's firing? Seems like Joe may not have been as guilty as everyone says and there was some other shady things going on.

Brian Bennett: Cheers, Brian (great names in the 'bag today!). The story was a fascinating look at all the political and behind-the-scenes power struggles going on in the context of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. But it doesn't really change my opinion of whether Joe Paterno needed to be let go. I've said all along that virtually no one in this entire saga -- not Paterno, not Penn State administrators and trustees, not the governor, not the original investigators -- comes off looking good in this whole mess. I still believe Paterno should have done more and that he could not have been allowed to coach another game under the circumstances, though the way his dismissal was hired by the trustees was also handled very poorly.

Ben from Connecticut writes: OK, I give. Every article involving Jim Delany always -- always! -- refers to him as some flavor of "powerful." Just what makes him so powerful? Is it simply the title of Big Ten commish or something more? Chutzpah? Dirty pics of Mike Slive? I'd love to know how, if the rest of the world wanted to do something, he'd be able to stop it.

Brian Bennett: He has pictures of Slive eating Chick-fil-A on a Sunday. Actually, Chris, in some respects anyone who is the commissioner of the Big Ten (or the SEC) is going to wield enormous influence simply because of the league he represents. The Big Ten might not be winning national titles in football right now, but it still has a tremendous financial impact on the sport. That said, some milquetoast commissioner wouldn't have the same respect as Delany has. He's been extremely successful and is always going to be one of the brightest guys in any room. The rest of the power brokers need him and the Big Ten to make this playoff system happen.

Grant from Detroit writes: Thanks for your interview piece with Pat Narduzzi. From your experience with the B1G D-Coordinators, is there a better one in the B1G? And I don't mean that I want you to point out DC's whose teams are successful. I am asking if there is another DC in the conference who has done more with such unheralded recruiting classes. I don't think it takes a great coach to maintain the play of great recruits. I think a great coach sees the talent where others don't and grows that talent into true greatness.

Brian Bennett: I've been impressed with his work since I covered Cincinnati over on the Big East blog, and many of the players that he coached played major roles in getting the Bearcats to BCS games under Brian Kelly. Narduzzi is very bright, a great motivator and one of the best in the business. You also can't discount the impact of Mark Dantonio, who's a defensive-minded coach (and a former brilliant defensive coordinator himself). I think it's the combination of those two guys and their working relationship that has made the Spartans' defense so good.

Cam from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Love the blog and all, but in your Week 9 road trip post, you said that Michigan State-Wisconsin has become the most exciting new rivalry in the B1G. With all due respect, I wholeheartedly disagree. I would say Ohio State-Wisconsin has become a MUCH more intriguing rivalry in recent years. Ohio State's only loss of the regular season coming in Camp Randall in 2010, followed up by a last-minute upset of the Badgers in the Shoe in 2011, and some poisonous feelings that definitely are felt in other sports too (see: Ohio State vs. Wisconsin basketball final seconds; timeouts BETWEEN last second freethrows? Cold.). Now that both of these teams are possible "elites" again, what do you think about their budding rivalry and its effects on the B1G as a whole?

Brian Bennett: I love college hoops as much as anybody, but I don't think you can include that in this discussion. Michigan State-Wisconsin gets the nod for me because they played two thrilling, monumental games last year; because the Spartans ruined Wisconsin's shot at a perfect season in 2010; and because the two teams staged very close games in the previous three years. Other than last year's barnburner in Columbus, the Wisconsin-Ohio State series hasn't been nearly as close, as four of the previous five games were decided by double digits. So Spartans-Badgers is more exciting, though this year's Ohio State-Wisconsin game could easily ratchet things way up.

A.J. from Madison, Wis., writes: If the Badgers had their 2012 schedule in 2011, would they have gone undefeated in the regular season? They would have gotten OSU and MSU, their two losses, at home but had to play Nebraska and Penn State on the road.

Brian Bennett: Really interesting question. Wisconsin absolutely pounded Nebraska and Penn State at home, so logically you could assume the Badgers would have won those games on the road, too. And Camp Randall would likely have provided enough of an advantage to change the outcomes against Michigan State and Ohio State. But here's why I say no: Wisconsin is simply so, so much better at home that the odds are the Badgers would have slipped up somewhere on the road, where they undid themselves with special-teams disasters and mental breakdowns in the two regular-season losses last season.

Brian from Warrensburg, Mo., writes: Can you please explain why you guys think Michigan St will finish atop Nebraska this season? Unless their schedule is considerably easier, I feel like they lost too much star power last year to compete head to head with a Nebraska team that only lost a couple good players and beat them very soundly last year.

Brian Bennett: Another Brian! This must be some kind of a record. I put very little stock in last year's Nebraska-Michigan State game when trying to forecast this season. While the Huskers deserve all the credit for playing a great game, I firmly believe the Spartans were emotionally spent from playing and beating Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan in three successive weeks before going to Lincoln. And didn't Nebraska lose almost as much star power as Michigan State, with Alfonzo Dennard, Lavonte David and Jared Crick? I know that Michigan State's defense is going to be great; I don't know how good Nebraska's defense is going to be or if the Huskers' offense can become more consistent in league play.

With all that said, it's not even tax day yet, so these early predictions don't mean a whole lot. I will form better opinions after spring practice. Adam has seen Nebraska up close, and I will be checking out the Spartans soon. Can't wait to compare notes.

Nate from Easley, SC, writes: I really like the idea of a spring scrimmage but, other than injuries, I have one major concern. The current system is slanted toward benefiting those with a good pre-season ranking, so, if voters took the results of a glorified scrimmage into account, wouldn't it further skew the pre-season rankings? (Granted, voters' pre-season ranking are already perception-based and not entirely accurate.) Said another way, do you think a scrimmage "Win" would take on more value than player development? Would two highly perceived teams want to to scrimmage if it hurt their stock going into the season?

Brian Bennett: That's an angle I hadn't considered. On one hand, maybe it's not so bad if voters took spring scrimmages into account, because preseason polls are mostly based now on what a team did last year and what it brings back, never having seen one spring or summer workout. If a voter actually paid attention to a spring scrimmage and how a team looked in an exhibition like that, that's probably at least as accurate as the way most voting is done now. I don't think preseason rankings are as big of a deal in a four-team playoff anyway, because the cream should rise to the top in most years.

Illinois' offense showed up Friday at Nippert Stadium. Unfortunately for the Illini, so did some of the problems that have plagued them all season.

If Juice Williams and his wide receivers performed like this all year, Illinois wouldn't be sitting at 3-8. Though Williams had several costly incomplete passes, including a sure touchdown to Chris Duvalt early in the third quarter, he performed well overall against a vulnerable Cincinnati defense.

The missed pass to Duvalt was one of several plays that seemed to sum up Illinois' disappointing season in Friday's 49-36 loss to the fifth-ranked Bearcats. Linebacker Nate Bussey was flagged for an inexcusable unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that gave Cincinnati a fresh set of downs inside the Illinois 10-yard line (the Bearcats converted for a touchdown). Illinois drew eight penalties for 69 yards, as it remained the Big Ten's most penalized team.

Special teams also continued to hurt Illinois. While Derek Dimke went 3-for-3 on field goals, Cincinnati racked up 210 return yards, including a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Mardy Gilyard.

Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther said last month that changes would be coming in Champaign, although head coach Ron Zook was safe. First-year offensive coordinator Mike Schultz might be saving himself with the offense's progress down the stretch, but Zook might need to shuffle his defensive staff. Illinois had no answer for a one-dimensional Cincinnati offense, as Tony Pike shredded the Illini for 399 pass yards and six touchdowns. The back seven couldn't keep pace with tight end Ben Guidugli (149 receiving yards, 2 TDs) and Gilyard (102 receiving yards, 2 TDs).

It's nice to see a class act like Williams play well down the stretch, but the future of the Illinois program seems very shaky right now. The Illini finish up next week against Fresno State as they try to avoid going 3-9.
The Illinois offense finally looks like we thought it would entering the season, but it still might not be nearly enough today.

Juice Williams and his weapons are moving the ball well against Cincinnati, racking up 267 yards and dominating possession time (21:04-8:56). Illinois got the start it wanted, as Williams led a 12-play, 87-yard scoring drive to take a 7-0 lead.

But Cincinnati countered in a hurry, using big plays on both offense and special teams to take a commanding lead. Give Illinois credit for hanging tough -- Williams had an excellent first half, completing 12 of 18 passes for 164 yards and two scores -- but the Illini trail 35-20 at halftime and have shown no ability to stop quarterback Tony Pike, tight end Ben Guidugli and wideouts Mardy Gilyard and Armon Binns. Special teams have been a problem for much of the season, and Gilyard's game-tying, 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown really changed the momentum.

Cincinnati's defense certainly is vulnerable, but Zook and his defensive assistants must find a way to slow down Pike. Illinois needs to generate some pressure or force a turnover or two. Time of possession rarely means much against Cincinnati, which is the king of the big play.

Illinois-Cincinnati pregame notes

November, 27, 2009
Here are a few items to get you ready for today's Illinois-Cincinnati clash (ABC, noon ET), courtesy of ESPN's Stats & Information group.

Tony Pike will get the start at quarterback for the Bearcats, who have received great play from both Pike and backup Zach Collaros this season.

The Illini might not face as strong of a downfield passing attack with Pike taking the snaps.

Illinois has held its own against undefeated teams from Ohio during the Ron Zook era.

The big goals are off the table for Arrelious Benn and Illinois, but all is not lost.

Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIREIllinois wide receiver Arrelious Benn's season has fallen short of expectations.
Illinois won't be going bowling, as virtually everyone predicted before the season. Benn won't be earning All-America honors or contending for national awards, a virtual certainty entering the fall. Most casual fans have forgotten about the Illini and their star wide receiver, who slipped off the radar following a 1-6 start.

But on Friday afternoon at Nippert Stadium, Illinois will be on the national stage one final time. And while most will tune in (ABC, noon ET) to watch No. 5 Cincinnati, the Illini recognize what's at stake.

"This is where certain players show their true colors, as far as whether they’re going to finish strong or not," Benn said. "You see the real, true people. I look around, I see my teammates here, and they’re still going strong. The coaches still rally up and we're going to band together and finish out this season."

It has been a rough year for everyone at Illinois, Benn included. Things went downhill from the start, as Benn injured his ankle on Illinois' third play from scrimmage in the opener against Missouri.

Benn didn't return, and Illinois was spanked 37-9.

The junior from Washington D.C. is still looking for his first 100-yard receiving performance. He has only one touchdown reception this year and just two games of five or more receptions. Benn still leads Illinois with 33 receptions, more than twice as many as any other player, but the offense lacks the firepower it showed in his first two seasons.

Despite boasting the Big Ten's most experienced quarterback in Juice Williams and a seemingly stacked wide receiving corps, Illinois ranks last in the league in scoring (20.2 ppg) and 10th in passing (179.3 ypg).

For Benn and Williams, close friends who share an awards promotional Web site, the season never got on track. But they still have time to put it all together.

Williams is expected to start Friday after missing Illinois' last game with an ankle injury.

"It’s pretty tough, the circumstances that we’ve had throughout the season, but that type of game is still looked for," Benn said. "It’s still out there. Everything is out there because we’re in control of executing the plays. If we execute the plays right as far as blocking, running our routes, the passing, all that stuff, we’re going to be OK."

Benn hasn't lost focus despite the struggles. Asked what areas of his game can be improved in Illinois' final two contests, he said, "Everything."

NFL scouts will undoubtedly be tracking Benn down the stretch. While Benn is undecided about whether he'll return to Illinois for his senior season, he still projects well for the NFL draft despite the struggles this fall.

ESPN's Mel Kiper ranks Benn as the nation's No. 2 junior wide receiver (ESPN Insider) behind Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant.

Decision time is coming, but Benn remains focused on the next two weeks and helping Illinois generate momentum for 2010.

"We didn't meet the expectations as a whole," he said. "But there are going to be great players next year, so if we come out and showcase what we can do, next year, the other guys are going to pick it up and have that winning mentality."

After falling well short of expectations, Illinois now heads to Cincinnati as a major underdog. But Benn remembers the last time Illinois faced a top 5 opponent in the state of Ohio, back on Nov. 10, 2007.

"No one thought we could go into Ohio State and beat them," he said, referring to a 28-21 win against the top-ranked Buckeyes that propelled Illinois to the Rose Bowl. "That’s the type of thing that we look at and we can accomplish in this upcoming game."
Only one Big Ten team (Illinois) is in action this week, so I've limited this to four items.

1. Illinois plays spoiler: Ron Zook's finest hour as Illinois head coach took place on Ohio soil in 2007, when the Fighting Illini upset then No. 1 Ohio State in Columbus en route to the Rose Bowl. The Illini won't be going bowling this year, but they can notch another win against a top 5 opponent as they visit undefeated Cincinnati on Friday (ABC, noon ET). An Illinois win would kill Cincinnati's slim hopes of reaching the BCS title game and create some positive momentum heading into the season finale next week against Fresno State.

2. Juice returns to the helm: Jacob Charest might be Illinois' future at quarterback, but senior Juice Williams will get the chance to finish his fascinating college career on a high note. Williams missed Illinois' last game with an ankle injury but should return to the starting lineup Friday at Cincinnati. He played well in a win against Michigan before sustaining the injury at Minnesota. Cincinnati isn't great at defending the run, so Williams could do some damage on the ground alongside backs Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford.

3. BCS implications at Bedlam: Iowa and Penn State fans will be rooting hard for Oklahoma in Saturday's Bedlam game against No. 12 Oklahoma State. The Cowboys remain the Big Ten's biggest obstacle to an at-large BCS berth, but a third loss by Mike Gundy's team would certainly take them out of the discussion. Oklahoma has been both injured and disappointing this season, but the Sooners are awfully tough at home. Don't be alarmed if you hear chants of, "Boomer Sooner!" in Iowa City or State College.

4. Bowl scouting begins: None of the Big Ten's bowl bound teams are in action this week, but those squads can get an early look at their possible postseason opponents. Wisconsin should pay attention to Tennessee and Arkansas on Saturday, Northwestern should be scouting North Carolina and Miami. Michigan State and Minnesota likely will face Big 12 opponents and should watch teams like Missouri, Texas Tech and Texas A&M in games this week. Ohio State will be glued to the Oregon-Oregon State game on Dec. 3.

Big Ten pick: Week 13

November, 24, 2009
Only one game on tap this week, and it's a chance for the Big Ten to notch a major nonconference victory.

Cincinnati 38, Illinois 27: The Illini have quietly run the ball well this year, ranking 24th nationally in rushing, and Cincinnati seems vulnerable against the run right now. Running backs Mikel Leshoure and Jason Ford keep Illinois in this one for a while, but the Bearcats offense eventually proves to be too much. Cincinnati simply has too many weapons for an Illinois defense that struggles in the back seven. Tony Pike and the Bearcats pull away late, and Mardy Gilyard hauls in two touchdowns.

Week 12 record: 4-1

Season record: 61-24 (.718)

Big Ten rooting interest: Nov. 7

November, 4, 2009
Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Who should Iowa root for Saturday in Happy Valley? It depends on your confidence level in the Hawkeyes. As you get ready for another big college football Saturday, here's who needs your support, depending on your primary allegiance.

Iowa should root for ...
  • Ohio State to beat Penn State. Any true competitor wants to play the best, and if Iowa wants to get the credit it deserves for completing a brutal Big Ten road schedule, it should want Ohio State to be ranked as highly as possible for next week's clash at Ohio Stadium. The anti-Iowa crowd is looking for any ammunition to shoot down Iowa's case for national title consideration, and a three-loss Ohio State team would certainly help. If Ohio State wins, it will be ranked in the top 15 nationally, giving Iowa yet another chance at a signature win and another boost for an already strong schedule. On the other hand, if you believe Iowa has no chance of reaching the title game and can only get to the Rose Bowl, root for Penn State to beat Ohio State.
  • Alabama to lose to LSU. If Texas wins out as expected, Iowa's best chance to reach the title game would be to leapfrog a one-loss SEC team. Iowa would benefit from Alabama losing to LSU and then either the Tide or the Tigers beating Florida in the SEC championship game. The Hawkeyes still might have a rough time winning the argument, but they'd have a better chance.
  • Florida to struggle against Vanderbilt. I can't see the Gators losing this one, but they could pay a price if they don't obliterate the 'Dores. Close wins in the SEC seem to hold a lot more weight than close wins in the Big Ten this season, but struggling to beat Vanderbilt should carry a penalty.
  • Cincinnati to lose or struggle to beat UConn. The Hawkeyes would like to get the Bearcats off their backs, especially given the national love affair with Brian Kelly's crew and the lack of respect given to Iowa. Cincinnati must be impressive every week to maintain its ranking, and a Saturday night showcase game provides the opportunity to strengthen or weaken its case.
  • TCU to struggle with San Diego State. First-year coach Brady Hoke has done a nice job with the Aztecs, who host the undefeated Horned Frogs on Saturday. Maybe TCU looks ahead to its matchup against Utah and comes out flat against San Diego State. Much like Cincinnati and Boise State, TCU can't afford a lackluster win to maintain its ranking.
  • Boise State to struggle with Louisiana Tech. Same argument as above. The Broncos need to crush their opponents every week because the WAC doesn't get much respect.
  • Arizona and Wisconsin to beat Washington State and Indiana. Iowa beat the Wildcats and the Badgers, so it wants both teams to keep on winning.
Penn State should root for ...
  • Northwestern to beat Iowa. The Lions need two Hawkeyes losses to head back to the Rose Bowl. If Penn State runs the table and the Hawkeyes stumble twice, the Lions win the Big Ten outright at 7-1.
  • Navy to beat Notre Dame or keep things close. Notre Dame is the main obstacle to Penn State earning an at-large BCS berth. Now no bowl with bills to pay will select Boise State or TCU over an 11-1 Penn State team, but the Fighting Irish get the nod over just about anyone when they're BCS-eligible. Penn State needs Notre Dame to stumble two more times or fail to finish in the top 14 of the BCS standings. The Irish would pay the price if they struggle against Navy.
  • San Diego State and Louisiana Tech to beat or stay close with TCU and Boise State. Like I said earlier, Penn State shouldn't have to worry about getting beat out for an at-large berth by a non-BCS team. But it wouldn't hurt to get either TCU or Boise State out of the picture.
  • Arizona State to beat USC. The Trojans' Rose Bowl hopes took a huge blow last week against Oregon, but they could still be alive for an at-large berth. A third loss in Pac-10 play would virtually eliminate USC from BCS contention. Though Penn State travels a lot better than USC, the Trojans are still appealing to bowl reps.
  • Texas to beat Central Florida. Penn State isn't in the national title hunt, so it would just as soon see only one Big 12 team reach a BCS bowl. The Lions should root for Texas to win out, which would prevent the Longhorns from entering the mix for an at-large berth.
Ohio State should root for ...
  • Itself. The Buckeyes won't receive a BCS at-large berth with three losses, so they must win out and earn the Big Ten's automatic bid to the Rose Bowl.
Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The Iowa Hawkeyes held steady at No. 4 in the latest BCS standings, though they have a new team on their heels.

Iowa maintained a decent edge over Cincinnati for the fourth spot, but the Bearcats are ranked two spots higher in the Harris Poll and improved to fifth in the computer rankings. The Hawkeyes are now No. 2 in the computer average, not far behind Florida. Cincinnati's innovative offense and lopsided wins certainly impress the human voters, but Iowa's ability to dominate the fourth quarter and find ways to win shouldn't be discounted.

Both the Hawkeyes and the Bearcats need some help to reach the BCS title game even it they go undefeated, but it will be interesting to see if Iowa can hold off Cincinnati in the standings.

Penn State moved up one spot to No. 11 in the standings, while Ohio State also jumped a spot to No. 16. Wisconsin reentered the BCS standings following its impressive 37-0 shutout against Purdue. The Badgers check in at No. 19.

Both Iowa and Penn State are projected to reach BCS bowl games.
Posted by's Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett

Eight FBS teams call Ohio home, but only one program has been nationally relevant for decades. Ohio State is the state's premier program, having won 13 national championships and 33 Big Ten championships. It's produced seven Heisman Trophy winners.

But for the first time in recent memory, the Buckeyes face a legit challenger for the title of best in state. Cincinnati has surged under third-year coach Brian Kelly, winning the Big East last season and rising to No. 8 in the BCS standings, nine spots ahead of the Buckeyes, who already have two losses. While the teams don't meet again until 2012, the two programs have been compared a lot during the past few weeks.

Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg and Big East blogger Brian Bennett break down the debate in the Buckeye State.

Adam Rittenberg: We've already looked at Iowa-Cincinnati and Penn State-Pitt. Now let's get to a topic that has been debated for a while this season. A Cincinnati radio station even got into the act to mock Ohio State after the Buckeyes' loss to Purdue. What's your take on these two teams?

Brian Bennett: Adam, Cincinnati fans are getting a bit chesty after decades of playing the role of little brother in Ohio. Well, maybe more like little second cousin than little brother. Look, there's no question that the Buckeyes have a William Taft-sized edge on the Bearcats in history, tradition, resources and facilities. But college football is becoming a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sport, and it's hard to argue against the fact that Cincinnati is having the better season this year.
 AP Photo/Jay LaPrete
 The Buckeyes have yet to figure out how to best utilize Terrelle Pryor’s skills.

Which team is better? That's debatable. But let me ask you this: If given the choice, would you rather have Terrelle Pryor, who looks ill-suited for Ohio State's system, or Tony Pike expertly running the spread? Or, for that matter, Bearcats backup Zach Collaros, who's a dual-threat guy himself?

Rittenberg: Cincinnati knows exactly who it is on offense, and the results show every time the Bearcats take the field. The system is bigger than any player, as Kelly can plug in just about anyone at quarterback and get tremendous results. Ohio State, meanwhile, hasn't established an offensive identity since Pryor became the starter. The Buckeyes keep experimenting with the spread, the pistol formation, a pro-style set, etc., as they try to mold the offense around Pryor. I wish they'd just pick something and stick with it, even if it's an option-based offense. I do think Pryor will get better over time. He's just so talented.

Ohio State's defense knows exactly who it is, and it's an extremely talented group. I know UC's offense is tremendous, but do the Bearcats face any defenses like Ohio State's in the Big East?

Bennett: Well, a couple of weeks ago, I might have said South Florida, but the Bulls have since been exposed. So it's true that at least so far, the Bearcats haven't faced any shutdown, stout defenses. The last time they did, in fact, was against Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl, and that didn't work out so well.
 Joel Auerbach/US Presswire
 Brian Kelly’s offense has proven successful no matter who is at quarterback.

But I do think this is a better, more well-rounded offense than even last year. And if you can fairly ask if Cincinnati has seen a defense like Ohio State's, I can fairly counter by asking if the Buckeyes have faced anything as good as Kelly's offense. USC wasn't exactly airing it out. Purdue runs some spread and managed to beat Ohio State, and I think we'd both agree that the Boilermakers aren't quite in the Bearcats' class. And on the flip side, don't count out that Cincinnati defense, which statistically has been better than the one in Columbus.

Rittenberg: I can't believe you, Bennett. You're totally neglecting the mighty Toledo Rockets, the nation's 14th-ranked offense that managed to put up exactly zero points against Ohio State back on Sept. 19. I see how it is. Now that Cincinnati is highly ranked and competing for state bragging rights, you totally neglect the little guy. Jim Tressel wouldn't approve.

In all seriousness, no, Ohio State hasn't faced an offense that resembles Cincinnati's, though the Buckeyes really did a nice job against USC until the final drive. It's too bad Illinois never showed up this season, as the Illini could have given Ohio State a nice challenge. But Kelly's scheme would really test Ohio State, especially in the secondary. Kurt Coleman is one of the best safeties in the country, but corners Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence would have their hands full. Ohio State's pass rush would need to be on point, but I have full faith in the Buckeyes' defensive line.

OK, Brian, you're on the spot. Who wins this game? And perhaps, more importantly, could Cincinnati win in Columbus? I don't think the Bearcats enter many environments nearly as hostile as The Shoe.

Bennett: Does this mean we have to debate Toledo vs. Akron next?

You know, if they played every year or even if they played 100 times this year, Ohio State would probably win the majority of them. But in a one-shot deal, this year, no matter where the game was played, I'd cast my lot with the Bearcats. Not only is this a really good team, but it's a team full of guys who grew up in Ohio but weren't considered good enough to play for the Buckeyes. Combine their talent with motivation, and I think that would be enough to change the state's power structure for one day, at least.

Who would you take?

Rittenberg: I agree the Bearcats would have no trouble getting up for this game. Cincinnati clearly has the better offense, but I don't think UC has seen a defense like Ohio State's. Keep in mind the Buckeyes play a similar style to Virginia Tech, which beat Cincinnati pretty handily in the Orange Bowl. Location also would make a difference. Cincinnati wins at Nippert, but I don't see the Buckeyes losing this game in Columbus.

Blogger debate: Iowa vs. Cincinnati

October, 27, 2009
Posted by's Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg

Several teams remain alive in the BCS title game hunt. But outside of the Big Three (Florida, Texas, Alabama), only two BCS conference teams are still unbeaten -- Iowa and Cincinnati. And both are the subject of considerable debate.

So let's break it down now with Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg and Big East blogger Brian Bennett.

 AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
 Mardy Gilyard has scored 10 touchdowns so far this season.
Brian Bennett: First of all, Adam, do you think either the Hawkeyes or the Bearcats are worthy of playing for the national title this season?

Adam Rittenberg: Brian, I think both teams are worthy, and before getting to each case, let's look at the sport as a whole. Who is really good this year? Florida has flaws, Alabama has flaws, Texas has flaws, USC certainly has flaws. The most dominant teams to me have been TCU, Boise State and yes, your Cincinnati Bearcats, but those teams will always face questions about overall strength of schedule.

When it comes to Iowa, I know the Hawkeyes don't win many style points with the voters outside the Big Ten region. I know they should have beaten Arkansas State and Northern Iowa by a lot more. But trust me, it can't be understated how hard it is for a team to go into State College, Madison and East Lansing and come out with victories. If Iowa completes its road circuit with a win at Ohio State, I don't know how you leave that team out of the title chase.

So let's hear it. Make your case for Cincinnati. Are they worthy? I feel like Wayne and Garth right now.

BB: Party time, it's excellent. (We're dating ourselves here, Adam.)

Well, Cincinnati has been simply dominant, winning its three Big East games by an average of 27 points. Two of those were on the road. In fact, the Bearcats are 4-0 on the road, including a 10-point victory at Oregon State. Mighty USC just beat those same Beavers by 7 at home.

Look at the national statistics, and Cincinnati is everywhere: second in scoring offense, 11th in scoring defense, first in sacks, third in turnover margin, ninth in kickoff returns. This is a complete, well-rounded football team with a couple of real stars on offense (Tony Pike, Mardy Gilyard) and one of the best coaches in the business right now, Brian Kelly.

Iowa has had a great year, but I just can't shake those close shaves to Northern Iowa and Arkansas State out of my mind. Can a team that has as much trouble scoring as the Hawkeyes do really be taken seriously as a national championship contender?

AR: I'll admit to having a man-crush on Brian Kelly. He's an amazingly innovative coach, and I love the way he never lets a setback like losing a quarterback affect his plan.

 Stephen Mally/Icon SMI
 Tyler Sash leads the Big Ten in interceptions with five.
As for Iowa, does a team have to be an offensive juggernaut to win the national title? I know it's a quarterback's game, but we seem to build up those players so much and then get disappointed (like with Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford this year). Iowa's defense has more dynamic playmakers than most offenses in the FBS. The defensive line is a joy to watch, as all four guys, especially ends Adrian Clayborn and Broderick Binns, totally wreak havoc. Safety Tyler Sash leads the Big Ten in interceptions for the second straight year and makes a ton of exciting plays. Same goes for cornerback Amari Spievey, safety Brett Greenwood and linebacker Pat Angerer. Really, how can you not love a middle linebacker named Pat Angerer?

The offense has some bright spots as well (tight end Tony Moeaki, running back Adam Robinson, wideout Derrell Johnson-Koulianos) and while quarterback Ricky Stanzi has had his ups and downs, he's incredibly resilient and just knows how to win games. He's 16-3 as the starter.

I just keep pointing to the road wins, plus a nice home victory against surging Arizona. Corvallis is a tough place to play, but it isn't State College, Madison or Columbus. The Big Ten still has the intimidation factor going for it. Does Cincinnati run the table with Iowa's road slate?

BB: I think Cincinnati would win at Wisconsin and possibly at Penn State, given that Syracuse stuck around there in Week 2 without any offense at all. As for Ohio State, well, that's a subject of great interest for many Bearcats fans that we'll have to take up later this week.

I do seem to remember, however, Iowa losing at Pitt last year. Different year, I know, but a lot of the same players on both sides. And it proves that the Big Ten and Big East aren't too far apart.

I wonder if we should be watching the Arkansas State-Louisville score this weekend, since Cincinnati beat Louisville 41-10 and of course Arkansas State nearly knocked off the Hawkeyes. Unfortunately, given the system, comparative scoring is about all we have.

Well, that and opinion. So in your opinion, who's better between Cincinnati and Iowa?

AR: You're right in that there isn't much to compare these two leagues, but this Iowa team is totally different than the one that lost at Pitt last September. The quarterback situation was messy back then, and Stanzi's presence has completely changed things and provided the offense a new degree of confidence.

As for who's better, it's a tough call. Cincinnati is certainly the sexier team. Heck, Iowa even admits that it isn't the prettiest car in the lot. It's almost a point of pride. I would certainly pay to see Clayborn, Binns and the Iowa defense go up against the Bearcats' offense. Stanzi and the Iowa offense would need to limit mistakes and try to control the clock to keep Pike or Zach Collaros or Brian Bennett or whomever is playing quarterback for UC off of the field.

But if the game is close, and you'd figure this game would be, you simply can't bet against Iowa. The Hawkeyes are fail-safe in the clutch, while Cincinnati hasn't been in many down-to-the-wire games. You need a special quality to dig deep and pull out the close ones, and Iowa has that quality this season. If the Hawkeyes could keep things close until the fourth quarter, I would like their chances.

OK, you get the last word on this. Who's better?

BB: I've got to stick with Cincinnati (assuming that Bennett kid is far away from the huddle). I just think the Bearcats would definitely score some points on offense and that they have a much more modern attack than Iowa sees most weeks in the Big Ten. I have no confidence that the Hawkeyes could score enough against a very underrated Cincinnati defense. Stanzi is clutch but is nowhere near Pike's league. And I have learned to never bet against Kelly.

Let's just hope that neither team gets shut out of the BCS title game if indeed it can go undefeated. Or that would make a lot of fans Angerer.

Big Ten mailblog

October, 6, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Great questions the last few weeks, and thanks for all the kind words. Big Ten fans are in midseason form.

Steve from Indiana writes: Hey Adam, why do you think Purdue is unable to finish games every week? They have the talent to compete with most teams, but always seem to make a dumb mistake or turnover in the end. Would this be caused by inexperieced, poor coaching, or something else?

Adam Rittenberg: It's a good question, Steve, and one that I'm sure Danny Hope is trying to figure out. Obviously, you can't turn the ball over for points, which is what Purdue did against both Northwestern and Oregon. But you also need to have the belief that you're going to win, and that belief only comes with evidence. In the last few years, Purdue seems to lack the killer instinct at the end of games. I covered last year's loss to Oregon, a game the Boilers had no business losing. I'm not sure if it's a mental toughness issue or what, but I wouldn't chalk it up to talent. The talent is there, as you say. As far as the experience factor, Purdue has plenty of veteran players, but not enough who have experienced what it takes to win big games and make plays in the clutch.

Jared from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Why hasn't everyone been ripping Michigan's offensive line play in that embarrassing loss to state? A couple muffed snaps was only the beginning of it - O-linemen were losing one-on-one blocking battles all day. Were it not for Tate Forcier's speed and elusiveness, we wouldn't have had anything, and honestly the fact that they didn't come to play killed our ground game. Was the weather a big problem or something or is Michigan in a lot of trouble going into Iowa next week?

Adam Rittenberg: I talked Monday with Wolverines left tackle Mark Ortmann, who took full responsibility for the loss. So even if fans don't see the obvious, the players do, and that's all that matters. Not having center David Molk hurts, but I was surprised how Michigan State's defensive front dominated the line of scrimmage. Michigan can't keep relying on Tate Forcier to bail out the offense. The run game needs to get going and the blocking must be a whole lot better Saturday against an even better Iowa defensive front.

(Read full post)

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

This week's AP Poll threw a little more fuel on a burning debate in the state of Ohio.

Cincinnati leapfrogged Ohio State into the No. 8 spot, while the Buckeyes held steady at No. 9 despite their third consecutive blowout victory. It marked the first time since 1951 that Cincinnati has been ranked ahead of Ohio State in the poll.

Let me say that no head coach in the country has impressed me more than Cincinnati's Brian Kelly, an offensive genius who actually gets the most out of his teams (Jeff Tedford and Charlie Weis should take notice). And few teams have impressed me as much as Cincinnati, which stands at 5-0 despite losing 10 defensive starters from a Big East title-winning team.

Still, I'm wondering how a Bearcats team that beats up on winless Miami (Ohio) leapfrogs an Ohio State team that pounded 3-1 Indiana. The Hoosiers don't qualify as a great win, but they've been a lot more impressive than Miami, which didn't score a touchdown until Week 3. Let's just say the national bias against the Buckeyes is starting to become less and less subtle. What do they have to do, exactly, to move up the rankings?

But back to the point. The fact that we're even debating whether the Buckeyes are the state's top team is a good thing. It's nice to see a state so rich in football tradition have two programs to brag about. There's a ton of college football played within the state, but outside of Columbus, it has been mostly bad football.

Ohio State is still Ohio State, but Cincinnati has become a legitimate program. It's good for Ohio and good for football in the North/Midwest, which has taken a beating in recent years.

Who would win between the Bearcats and the Buckeyes? We won't know this year, but I like Kelly's take on the matter.

"From my standpoint, you settle that on the field, just as Ohio State has settled it on the field," he said Monday. "These are all just hypotheticals now, so who knows?"

Ohio State and Cincinnati don't meet again until 2012. The Buckeyes are 13-2 all-time against the Bearcats, who haven't beaten the Scarlet and Gray since 1897.

"By [2012], hopefully we've continued to accelerate our program so Ohio State has something to gain by playing us," Kelly said. "In years past, it's been such that Ohio State has everything to lose, because they're supposed to beat Cincinnati. If we continue to win and play at a high level, I think that makes it an exciting matchup. Before, this wasn't much of a matchup."