Big Ten: Connor Cook

Big Ten morning links

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
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Good morning, sports fans. You've got one week to finish your Christmas shopping, and if you haven't started picking out Hannukah gifts yet you're already behind. Might we suggest some lovely morning links?

1. Today's the day when Wisconsin can make its reunion with Paul Chryst official. Chryst told his players at Pittsburgh that he planned to meet with the Badger brass. His move might leave room for another domino to fall among Big Ten coaches. The chain reaction that started with Bo Pelini's firing at Nebraska could wind up affecting Michigan State as well. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is one of many potential candidates that make sense for the opening at Pitt. Narduzzi danced around questions about his contact with other schools this week. Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio knows it's a matter of time before he loses the talented coordinator, and this might finally be the year.

2. At least Dantonio knows he won't be losing his quarterback this offseason. Redshirt junior Connor Cook said he would return for his final year of eligibility in 2015. Cook said he has “unfinished business” to attend to at the college level. The 6-foot-4 Cook won't have star receiver Tony Lippett to help him fill out his résumé next fall, but he could be helping his draft stock by sticking around. Heisman winners Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston would likely have been selected before Cook in this year's draft. Next year's class is a little less daunting.

3. The Associated Press released its All-America teams Tuesday and 14 Big Ten players were mentioned on the top three units. Four players -- Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman, Brandon Scherff and Joey Bosa -- made the first team. There are always tough calls and offended feelings when trying to narrow down a pool of thousands of players to the very best at each position, but the Big Ten shouldn't feel slighted by any of the picks this season. It would be a tough sell to say any others were undeservedly left off the list.

Now, on to the links…

East Division
West Division
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Michigan State's Connor Cook says he’s coming back for “unfinished business.”

There is plenty left for the Spartans quarterback to accomplish in his final year of eligibility.

Considered the conference’s top quarterback in September, Cook was largely overshadowed this season by the rise of J.T Barrett at Ohio State despite an impressive first full season as Michigan State’s starter. He’ll have a trio of Buckeyes quarterbacks to contend with again next fall, but likely a bigger chance to shine. That's at least part of the pull that helped him to decide to pass up a spot in the NFL draft for one more year in East Lansing.

Cook’s decision to return, which he confirmed Tuesday afternoon, provides an important anchor of consistency for a Michigan State offense that will lose a large portion of its production when the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic ends. Cook will be without his top target in the passing game and his top two running backs when the team reconvenes.

Two-thirds (43 out of 64) of the team’s touchdowns this season were scored by players who won’t be back next fall. Current sophomores like tight end Josiah Price and running back Delton Williams are able-bodied replacements, but the next edition of Michigan State’s offense will be highly dependent on Cook to make sure his younger teammates get up to speed.

[+] EnlargeConnor Cook
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMichigan State quarterback Connor Cook will have to shoulder an even heavier offensive burden next season.
Cook played an underrated role in one of the Big Ten’s biggest turnarounds during the 2014 season. He orchestrated an offense that increased its scoring average by two touchdowns from a season ago, jumping 56 spots, from No. 63 to No. 7, in the national rankings for points per game (43.1). With a defense that took a step backward from its previous dominant state, the Spartans wouldn’t have had another season with double-digit wins without that offensive improvement.

Cook’s 2,900 passing yards were the most of any quarterback in the conference, which is made more impressive when you consider he plays in an offense that still runs the ball far more frequently than it passes. He finished second to Barrett in the Big Ten in touchdown throws (22) and passer rating (152.4).

If not for Barrett’s sensational rookie season, Cook would have been a shoo-in for the Big Ten’s quarterback of the year and probably mentioned as a finalist for a couple of national awards. If not for Barrett’s sensational day against the Spartans in a 49-37 Buckeyes win, Cook and his team might have had an argument for a spot in the College Football Playoff. That brings us back to the “unfinished business.”

Cook knows he’ll need to be better next season to reach the goals he missed this year. He said he plans to improve his ability to run and use his running backs as safety valves in the passing game more often next season. He said he watches Aaron Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers and tries to emulate the Pro Bowler as much as possible.

“[I’m] not trying to be a dual-threat quarterback by any means, but if I have to get 4 or 5 yards just be more of a threat with my feet,” he said.

Catching Barrett (or whoever wins the Ohio State starting job) won’t be easy. The Buckeyes’ quarterback will be an early favorite for the conference’s individual accolades. Cook will have to make big strides to keep pace. More importantly, he’ll have to have an expanded role as a leader of the offense and Michigan State’s team if it is going to close the gap on Ohio State. That’s the unfinished business that cemented Cook’s return to East Lansing for a final season.

Michigan State Spartans season review

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
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Next up in our week of 2014 season reviews for all Big Ten teams are the Michigan State Spartans.

Overview: Michigan State lost several big stars on defense but was still a top contender to repeat as the Big Ten champ this season. The Spartans evolved on offense and scored enough points (43.1 per game) to finish the regular season with 10 wins. Junior quarterback Connor Cook threw for 2,900 yards and 22 touchdowns and running back Jeremy Langford ran for 100-plus yards in nine straight games to provide a balanced attack. Michigan State’s schedule provided Mark Dantonio and his team with two great chances to gain respect as a national power. They lost them both. The Spartans held a lead over playoff-bound Oregon at halftime and another lead over No. 4 Ohio State late in the second quarter before the defense crumbled and allowed a combined 95 points in the team's only two losses in 2014. Their own playoff hopes were dashed after the loss to the Buckeyes in November, but they hammered their way to a 10-2 record and another shot at a top-five opponent against Baylor in the Cotton Bowl.

Offensive MVP: Senior wide receiver Tony Lippett gave Cook a reliable target all season. Lippett, voted the Big Ten’s top receiver this year, made 60 catches for 1,124 yards and 11 touchdowns. No other receiver for the Spartans had half as many catches as Lippett this season. He also ran for a 32-yard touchdown on his only official rushing attempt of the season and started the final game of the regular season at cornerback. He provided the big-play threat Michigan State needed in order to open up many other parts of their offense. Replacing Lippett will be one of the Spartans’ biggest challenges in 2015.

Defensive MVP: With headline-grabbing defensive end Shilique Calhoun off to a slow start, redshirt senior Marcus Rush provided the Spartans defense with the steady pass-rushing force it needed. Rush set a school record by making 51 career starts during the last four seasons. He had 36 tackles this season and a team-high seven sacks. His quiet consistency often goes unnoticed by everyone except his teammates and opposing quarterbacks, but it was enough this year for him to be considered this group's most valuable player.

Early 2015 Big Ten Heisman hopefuls

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
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Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon came up one spot short of snapping the Big Ten’s eight-year streak without a Heisman Trophy winner this weekend. The last Big Ten player to win the award was Ohio State’s Troy Smith in 2006. With all three of this year’s finalists likely shipping off to the NFL, let’s take a look at who could end the Big Ten drought next fall.

[+] EnlargeTevin Coleman
AP Photo/John Sommers IIHeisman pose for 2015? Indiana's Tevin Coleman topped the 2,000-yard mark this season but could leave early for the NFL.
Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: Coleman is expected to make a decision about turning pro this week. If he makes the unlikely choice to return, he will be the Big Ten’s best returning back. The junior ran for 2,036 yards this year while being largely overshadowed by Gordon, who had a better supporting cast.

Ohio State’s starting quarterback: The name might not be filled in until August, but reserve one spot on this list for whoever is leading the Buckeyes’ offense next year. Will it be J.T. Barrett, who might have earned a trip to New York this year if not for a season-ending injury in Ohio State’s final regular-season game? Will it be two-time Big Ten Player of the Year Braxton Miller? Or perhaps current starter Cardale Jones? The winner of that job will get a cache of playmakers and a team that will be favored to repeat as conference champs.

Wisconsin RB Corey Clement: Gordon’s understudy this season ran for 844 yards and nine touchdowns. He has averaged nearly 7 yards per carry in his two seasons with the Badgers. The offensive line that paved the way for Clement and Gordon is losing three starters, which could hurt his chances. Wisconsin, though, has historically had no problem replacing talent in the trenches.

Michigan State QB Connor Cook: He has one more season to lead the Spartans’ evolving offense. Cook loses his top target (Tony Lippett) and top runner (Jeremy Langford) to graduation, but Michigan State is a consistent winner. Leading a team to the playoff with an offense that averages 40-plus points would put Cook in contention for the school’s first Heisman Trophy.
Earlier today, we presented our ESPN.com 2014 All-Big Ten team. We took a stab at a preseason All-Big Ten team back in August, based largely on players' previous track records.

So how'd we do?

Of our 26 preseason selections, only eight made it to our final All-Big Ten team. But we weren't far off with some of those we missed, such as Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Randy Gregory, Michigan State's Connor Cook and Kurtis Drummond and Ohio State's Michael Bennett. All of those guys would be on our second team if we did one, and several had good arguments to be included on the first team.

Our biggest misses were at receiver, where we pegged Indiana's Shane Wynn, Maryland's Stefon Diggs and Michigan's Devin Funchess as our preseason picks (using Funchess as a third receiver/tight end type). All are very talented players but didn't quite live up to expectations for various reasons -- Wynn because of the Hoosiers' quarterback situation, Diggs because of an injury and Funchess because of perhaps the general malaise of the Maize and Blue offense.

We got three of the five offensive linemen right, and a fourth -- Wisconsin right tackle Rob Havenstein -- just missed our postseason team. None of us saw Ohio State's J.T. Barrett earning the quarterback spot with his outstanding play. Of course, neither did anyone else.

Speaking of Barrett, the Braxton Miller injury that elevated him to starting quarterback for the Buckeyes was the single biggest reason that none of us picked Ohio State to win the Big Ten in the preseason. All five of us at the time (Dan Murphy hadn't come aboard yet -- lucky him) went with Michigan State, though Mitch Sherman, Austin Ward and myself did correctly forecast the Buckeyes to go 11-1 in the regular season. We just had them losing in East Lansing. Whoops.

Austin, Mitch and I were also correct in picking Wisconsin to win the West Division, while Josh Moyer went with Nebraska and Adam Rittenberg cast his lot with Iowa. The teams we were most wrong on? Rutgers (7-5), which none of us predicted for more than four wins, and Michigan (5-7), whom we all saw with at least a winning record (and two of us picked to go 9-3).

Our fearless predictions weren't much better. I did say Minnesota would win back either the Little Brown Jug or the Paul Bunyan Axe, and the Gophers did beat Michigan. Adam came close on his call of Tevin Coleman leading the league in rushing. Let's not talk about the others.

I'm pretty proud of the fact that I was the only one to correctly predict Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Ohio State's Joey Bosa would win Big Ten offensive and defensive players of the year. But given the state of the rest of our predictions (and the fact that I picked the Badgers to win in Indy last week) I'm not going to crow too loudly. Preseason picks are fun, but there's a reason they play the season.

Big Ten morning links

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
8:00
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It's been three days since the end of the college football regular season. Only 267 days before it gets started again.

1. The Big Ten announced plans for a conference-wide concussion protocol starting in the 2015 season. The league will have an independent trainer in the press box of every game to monitor for players that show concussion symptoms. The plan is similar to what Michigan instituted in October when quarterback Shane Morris returned to a game with a mild concussion. The Big Ten's new protocol will include disciplinary actions for team's that don't properly report concussions. Having independent concussion monitors on-hand helps trainers on hectic sidelines and it wouldn't be a surprise if other conferences around the country soon followed suit.

2. Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman won the Broyles Award Tuesday, given to the nation's top assistant each year. Herman, the architect of the Buckeyes' No. 4-ranked scoring offense, earned the award this season while twice replacing Heisman contenders at quarterback with barely a hiccup in production. Herman is an engaging personality who will likely be a coveted head coaching candidate in the near future. Herman, 39, is young and so is his offense. Ohio State will return almost all of its firepower next season and will likely be considered one of the best, if not the best, offenses in the country to start the year. Herman will have the luxury of being picky, but with the promising future ahead he probably isn't in any rush to get out of Columbus.

3. In other coaching news, the rumor mill continues to churn in Ann Arbor. The top choice for most Wolverines' fans is current San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, but former Michigan great Charles Woodson said he's not very optimistic that Harbaugh will take the job. Meanwhile, erstwhile coach Brady Hoke made his final official Michigan appearance Monday night at the team's awards banquet. Hoke's players thanked him for showing up when he easily could have skipped the event. It served as a fitting end for a coach who always put his love for his players first, even when it put him in a bad spot.

Now, on to the links...

East Division
West Division

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 15

December, 7, 2014
Dec 7
10:00
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Big Ten Monday mailbag

December, 1, 2014
Dec 1
5:00
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Lots of news this week, so let's hit the mailbag ...

Josh Moyer: Associate head coach Barney Cotton -- the run-game coordinator who coaches the tight ends and helps out with the offensive line -- was named the interim guy, so he will coach the bowl game. Now for the $10,000 question: Who will be the next head coach? Well, since there will be no search firm, that decision is almost entirely up to athletic director Shawn Eichorst -- which makes it a bit more difficult to project. So all sorts of names have popped up, even Jim Tressel. (For the record, I'd find that incredibly surprising considering he is still under a show-cause penalty.) But one name that Eichorst will almost certainly consider is Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost, the former Nebraska quarterback. If Eichorst wants an offensive mind with Nebraska connections, Frost is the right fit. (He's also currently the Bovada favorite at 5/2.) If Eichorst wants more experience? Greg Schiano, Memphis' Justin Fuente, Colorado State's Jim McElwain or Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy could all potentially fit the bill. If Eichorst wants a little more experience and those university connections? A darkhorse candidate might just be Wyoming's Craig Bohl, who was born in Lincoln and graduated from Nebraska. There are still interviews to conduct and coaches to contact but, at this point, those are six names outside the Big Ten to keep an eye on.

Josh Moyer: A lot of craziness; unprecedented craziness. It's not going to happen, but I received this question so much I feel obligated to answer. Michigan State is out of it because it's not getting ranked ahead of the Big Ten champion -- and it's literally impossible for two Big Ten teams to make the playoff at this point. As for Wisconsin, even if it beats Ohio State, think about the domino effect you would need here. If Oregon loses to Arizona, how would Arizona not stay ahead of Wisconsin? The Ducks are ranked higher than Ohio State, and Arizona's currently ranked higher than Wisconsin. If Baylor loses to Kansas State, how would Kansas State not stay ahead of Wisconsin? Kansas State's only losses came against No. 15 Auburn and No. 5 TCU, while Wisconsin fell to unranked LSU and nuranked Northwestern. One SEC team should make the playoff, so that leaves just one spot after the Pac-12 and Big 12 teams from above. For Wisconsin to stand any kind of chance then, TCU would have to lose to 32-point underdog Iowa State and Georgia Tech would have to knock off Florida State ... while still somehow not jumping Wisconsin. In other words, Big Ten fans will just have to settle for a spot or two in the New Year's Six.


Jared Amundson writes: As much as it pains me to ask, would Wisconsin be sitting in position to make the playoffs going into this game against OSU if they had beat Northwestern? I still have nightmares about how Wisconsin lost to Northwestern! Josh Moyer: Well, Jared, you might want to close your eyes instead of reading this answer then -- because the Badgers would definitely be in great position if it weren't for that Northwestern game. I could see Wisconsin and Ohio State right next to each other at the 5-6 spots, right behind TCU. And chances are a quality win in the Big Ten title game would have nudged Wisconsin (or Ohio State) over the Big 12 champ. We're talking about a lot of "what ifs," of course, and it's not an exact science. But if that Northwestern game would have gone differently? The Badgers would be set up nicely at this point in the season, and their higher ranking could have helped Ohio State more, too.

Josh Moyer: I hope you like New York because It's probably going to be the Pinstripe Bowl. We've projected that for quite a few weeks now. (Yes, even last week.) It's just a matter of whom Penn State's going to play. It looks as if Pitt is out of the equation because the ACC defines the Pinstripe as a Tier 1 bowl, and Pitt is in Tier II since it has six wins. Penn State's opponent in the Pinstripe could be any one of the following then: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Louisville, N.C. State or Notre Dame. And the Irish just played in the Pinstripe last season, so it's not the likeliest opponent either.


Isaac from Steven's Point, Wis., writes: Let's say, hypothetically, that Michigan State was a member of the West Division. Who would be playing Ohio State for the championship? Josh Moyer: Basically, what you're asking is, "Who's better: Wisconsin or Michigan State?" It's close, very close, but I'm still going with Michigan State. It's not just me, either. We Big Ten bloggers collectively ranked MSU ahead of Wisconsin in the conference power rankings, and ESPN did the same in the national power rankings. The Badgers boast the better defense, but Michigan State has the better overall offense and averages nearly six points more a game. Melvin Gordon might just be the best player in the nation, but Michigan State's trio of Connor Cook, Jeremy Langford and Tony Lippett also means you can't focus on just one guy. It's nearly a toss-up, but give me the Spartans..
Let's get this Queen song queued up -- and, for Adam Rittenberg's team, we'll have another ready -- because it's down to just Austin Ward and me in the final week.

Ward needs to beat me by 57 points to win our championship, so the odds are against him. But it's not over just yet; I've been outscored by that much twice this season.

It's been a see-saw year but, ultimately, it's no coincidence the top two teams just happen to have the top two fantasy players. Melvin Gordon has earned me an average of 34.8 fantasy points per week, while J.T. Barrett has gotten Ward 33.4 points a game. Rittenberg was in the driver's seat early on with Ameer Abdullah (24.9 ppg), but the MCL injury hurt The Trombone Shorties as much as it did the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

We'll know our champion for sure by Saturday night. In the meantime, here's a look at the scoring, waiver-wire moves and final rosters.

Your results this week:

Coal Crackers (Josh Moyer): 137
Massive Attack (Austin Ward): 124
The Trombone Shorties (Adam Rittenberg): 89
Legendary Leaders (Brian Bennett): 75
Sherman Tanks (Mitch Sherman): 57

And the overall standings:

Coal Crackers: 1,597
Massive Attack: 1,541
The Trombone Shorties: 1,416
Legendary Leaders: 1,239
Sherman Tanks: 1,105

Waiver wire: Only seven moves were made in our final week, and none were all that significant. Rittenberg was forced to find a replacement for Trevor Siemian, but most of us just picked up players based on their matchups this weekend. Sherman didn't even make a move.

Bennett adds Northwestern WR Kyle Prater and drops Michigan WR Devin Funchess

Rittenberg adds Indiana WR Shane Wynn and drops Nebraska WR Kenny Bell

Ward adds Michigan kickers and drops Penn State kickers

Moyer adds Maryland defense and drops Penn State defense

Rittenberg adds Illinois QB Reilly O'Toole and drops Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian

Moyer adds Maryland WR Deon Long and drops Maryland QB C.J. Brown

Rittenberg adds Northwestern defense and drops Michigan defense

Coal Crackers (Moyer)

Purdue QB Austin Appleby
Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
Indiana RB Tevin Coleman
Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo
Maryland WR Deon Long
Wisconsin kickers
Maryland defense
Bench: Michigan WR Amara Darboh (at Ohio State)

Massive Attack (Ward)

Iowa QB Jake Rudock
Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott
Illinois RB Josh Ferguson
Ohio State WR Michael Thomas
Penn State WR DaeSean Hamilton
Michigan kickers
Michigan State defense
Bench: Minnesota RB David Cobb (at Wisconsin)

The Trombone Shorties (Rittenberg)

Illinois QB Reilly O'Toole
Michigan State QB Connor Cook
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Northwestern RB Justin Jackson
Ohio State WR Devin Smith
Indiana WR Shane Wynn
Maryland kickers
Northwestern defense
Bench: Ohio State RB Dontre Wilson (vs. Michigan)

Legendary Leaders (Bennett)

Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong
Wisconsin QB Joel Stave
Iowa RB Mark Weisman
Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford
Northwestern WR Kyle Prater
Illinois WR Mike Dudek
Ohio State kickers
Wisconsin defense
Bench: Illinois QB Wes Lunt (at Northwestern)

Sherman Tanks (Sherman)

Rutgers QB Gary Nova
Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg
Michigan RB De'Veon Smith
Purdue RB Akeem Hunt
Michigan State WR Tony Lippett
Iowa WR Kevonte Martin-Manley
Michigan State kickers
Ohio State defense
Bench: Wisconsin RB Corey Clement (vs. Minnesota)
Just like the West Division, our league's race is starting to clear up.

Thanks to huge days by Melvin Gordon (64 fantasy points) and J.T. Barrett (44 fantasy points), it now appears as if it's just a two-team race between the Coal Crackers and Massive Attack. Who will come out on top these last two weeks?

Stay tuned ...

Your results this week:

Coal Crackers (Josh Moyer): 186
Massive Attack (Austin Ward): 156
Legendary Leaders (Brian Bennett): 107
The Trombone Shorties (Adam Rittenberg): 76
Sherman Tanks (Mitch Sherman): 63

And the overall standings:

Coal Crackers: 1,460
Massive Attack: 1,417
The Trombone Shorties: 1,327
Legendary Leaders: 1,164
Sherman Tanks: 1,048

Waiver wire: Rittenberg trails by 133 points after a down week and, as a result, he is trying to make up for some lost ground. He accounted for exactly half of our league's six moves this week. But, overall, last week's starting rosters are mostly intact.

Sherman adds Michigan RB De'Veon Smith and drops Nebraska RB Imani Cross

Bennett adds Michigan WR Devin Funchess and drops Penn State TE Jesse James

Rittenberg adds Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian and drops Wisconsin QB Tanner McEvoy

Moyer adds Michigan WR Amara Darboh and drops Illinois WR Geronimo Allison

Rittenberg adds the Michigan defense and drops the Rutgers defense

Rittenberg adds the Maryland kickers and drops the Minnesota kickers

Coal Crackers (Moyer)

Purdue QB Austin Appleby
Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
Indiana RB Tevin Coleman
Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo
Michigan WR Amara Darboh
Wisconsin kickers
Penn State defense
Bench: Maryland QB C.J. Brown (at Michigan)

Massive Attack (Ward)

Iowa QB Jake Rudock
Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott
Minnesota RB David Cobb
Ohio State WR Michael Thomas
Penn State WR DaeSean Hamilton
Penn State kickers
Michigan State defense
Bench: Illinois RB Josh Ferguson (vs. Penn State)

The Trombone Shorties (Rittenberg)

Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian
Michigan State QB Connor Cook
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Northwestern RB Justin Jackson
Ohio State WR Devin Smith
Nebraska WR Kenny Bell
Maryland kickers
Michigan defense
Bench: Ohio State RB Dontre Wilson (vs. Indiana)

Legendary Leaders (Bennett)

Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong
Illinois QB Wes Lunt
Iowa RB Mark Weisman
Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford
Michigan WR Devin Funchess
Illinois WR Mike Dudek
Ohio State kickers
Wisconsin defense
Bench: Wisconsin QB Joel Stave (at Iowa)

Sherman Tanks (Sherman)

Rutgers QB Gary Nova
Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg
Michigan RB De'Veon Smith
Purdue RB Akeem Hunt
Michigan State WR Tony Lippett
Iowa Kevonte Martin-Manley
Michigan State kickers
Ohio State defense
Bench: Wisconsin RB Corey Clement (at Iowa)

Big Ten morning links

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
8:00
AM ET
Since Ohio State stormed Spartan Stadium on Nov. 8 in the Big Ten’s regular season game of the year, the Buckeyes have dominated headlines in the league -- well, aside from the Melvin Gordon Heisman push.

Urban Meyer’s team deserves the attention.

Yes, it has more talent on the bench than most Big Ten teams feature in their starting lineups. But OSU rise behind freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett rates as a truly unexpected story of national significance.

Take a moment, though, as Michigan State honors 18 seniors on Saturday, to appreciate the legacy of Spartans like Jeremy Langford, Tony Lippett and Taiwan Jones.

It’s shame that their careers are closing on something of an anticlimactic note.

They’ve anchored the most consistent and most winning program in the conference over the past four years and traveled various paths, as Matt Charboneau of the Detroit News writes, to earn a shot to equal the 2013 senior class as the best in school history.

If they beat Rutgers on Saturday, Penn State next week and notch a win in a bowl game -- perhaps among the New Year’s Six -- the MSU seniors would finish 42-12.

These seniors have already won two Big Ten crowns and three bowl games, including the Rose Bowl last season. The News article shows that Michigan State's senior classes since 2010 have posted the five highest win totals in program history. It’s an incredible accomplishment. And all but Jones, who did not redshirt, have been there in East Lansing with each class.

They deserve a share of the spotlight this month.

Decisions ahead

Staying with the Spartans, coach Mark Dantonio made an interesting comment Thursday on his radio show about quarterback Connor Cook as a future team captain. That would, of course, only happen if Cook returns next season for his senior year.

Cook is considered a potential early-round selection if he declares for the NFL draft. No Big Ten quarterback has been selected in the first round since Kerry Collins in 1995.

Cook could end the drought.

MSU junior defensive end Shilique Calhoun also faces a decision. Calhoun, ranked on Mel Kiper's 25-player Big Board, said this week that he had not reached a decision.

"My primary focus is this season," Calhoun told MLive.com, "and this season isn't over yet. I'm just trying to do great things to help my team win."

These decisions figure to factor heavily in the bid of the Spartans' senior class of 2015 to match the accomplishments of the five that came before it.

Seeing double

As Gordon has nearly pulled even with leader Marcus Mariota in the Heisman Watch and Barrett continues to surface in conversation for out the award, what could it mean for the Big Ten to send two finalists to New York for the ceremony?

It wouldn't exactly change the suffering national perception of the league, but it couldn't hurt, what with the Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC unlikely to produce more than one finalist apiece.

Only the SEC, with Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, can match the Big Ten with two potential finalists.

Just as important, when Gordon and Barrett play during this stretch run of the season, it's a must-see TV event.

Wisconsin and Gordon, after his 408-yard explosion against Nebraska, visit Iowa (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) on Saturday. And the Hawkeyes are taking notice.

Barrett stays home to face Indiana. That could get out of hand.

Around the rest of the league:

East Division
West Division
It's been a crazy season so far.

As the weeks have progressed, our championship picture has only become more muddled. Just 23 points now separate the top three teams, and only three weekends remain. Can The Trombone Shorties bounce back? Will J.T. Barrett lead Massive Attack to victory? Can the Coal Crackers hang on?

Stay tuned ...

Your results this week:

Massive Attack (Austin Ward): 130
Coal Crackers (Josh Moyer): 114
The Trombone Shorties (Adam Rittenberg): 98
Legendary Leaders (Brian Bennett): 78
Sherman Tanks (Mitch Sherman): 27

And the overall standings:

Coal Crackers: 1,274
Massive Attack: 1,261
The Trombone Shorties: 1,251
Legendary Leaders: 1,057
Sherman Tanks: 985

Waiver wire: Thankfully, the bye weeks are just about over -- so there wasn't as much movement. Half of the pickups simply involved Nebraska and Illinois players, who had the last week off. The most interesting addition was probably Sherman's Imani Cross; that could be a boom-or-bust pick.

Sherman adds Rutgers QB Gary Nova and drops Michigan QB Devin Gardner

Bennett adds Illinois WR Mike Dudek and drops Indiana WR Shane Wynn

Rittenberg adds Nebraska WR Kenny Bell and drops Michigan WR Devin Funchess

Ward adds Michigan State defense and drops Minnesota defense

Moyer adds Illinois WR Geronimo Allison and drops Iowa WR Tevaun Smith

Sherman adds Nebraska RB Imani Cross and drops Michigan RB Drake Johnson

Rittenberg adds Rutgers defense and drops Michigan defense

Moyer adds C.J. Brown and drops Michigan WR Amara Darboh

Coal Crackers (Moyer)

Maryland QB C.J. Brown
Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
Indiana RB Tevin Coleman
Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo
Illinois WR Geronimo Allison
Wisconsin kickers
Penn State defense
Bench: Purdue QB Austin Appleby (on bye)

Massive Attack (Ward)

Iowa QB Jake Rudock
Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott
Minnesota RB David Cobb
Ohio State WR Michael Thomas
Penn State WR DaeSean Hamilton
Penn State kickers
Michigan State defense
Bench: Illinois RB Josh Ferguson (vs. Iowa)

The Trombone Shorties (Rittenberg)

Wisconsin QB Tanner McEvoy
Michigan State QB Connor Cook
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Northwestern RB Justin Jackson
Ohio State WR Devin Smith
Nebraska WR Kenny Bell
Minnesota kickers
Rutgers defense
Bench: Ohio State RB Dontre Wilson (at Minnesota)

Legendary Leaders (Bennett)

Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong
Illinois QB Wes Lunt
Iowa RB Mark Weisman
Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford
Penn State TE Jesse James
Illinois WR Mike Dudek
Ohio State kickers
Wisconsin defense
Bench: Wisconsin QB Joel Stave (vs. Nebraska)

Sherman Tanks (Sherman)

Rutgers QB Gary Nova
Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg
Wisconsin RB Corey Clement
Nebraska RB Imani Cross
Michigan State WR Tony Lippett
Iowa Kevonte Martin-Manley
Michigan State kickers
Ohio State defense
Bench: Purdue RB Akeem Hunt (on bye)

Weekend rewind: Big Ten

November, 10, 2014
Nov 10
10:00
AM ET
Our latest afternoon and evening of football was billed nationally as Separation Saturday, with six games between ranked teams set to reshape the College Football Playoff picture, including, of course, Ohio State-Michigan State in the Big Ten.

After the Buckeyes' 49-37 victory -- their league-record 21st straight in regular-season conference play -- the Saturday moniker appears to apply more so in the Big Ten than any place elsewhere on the Power 5 landscape.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesJ.T. Barrett accounted for five touchdowns in Ohio State's win over Michigan State.
Boosted by freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, Ohio State has separated itself atop the Big Ten, according to the many pundits who watched OSU punish the Spartans en route to 568 yards of total offense.

But three weeks of play remain. An opponent from the West, presumably to face Ohio State, must be determined for the Big Ten championship game.

It's not over in the Big Ten. Really, it's not.

Also on Saturday, Wisconsin pushed forward with a 34-16 win at Purdue. Iowa provided its fans with reason to give up on this year, losing 51-14 at Minnesota. Great rebound, by the way, for the Gophers.

The other two games were not worth revisiting. But read on, and we'll get there:

Team of the week: Ohio State. The Buckeyes, if you stopped watching after Week 2, have outscored their past seven opponents 214-59 in the first half. They've also won 12 straight games on the road, the longest streak among FBS teams, and last lost at Spartan Stadium in 1999. Ohio State simply bullied its way to victory over the Spartans. Defensively, the Buckeyes blitzed Connor Cook effectively, holding the junior quarterback without a completion on six first-half attempts against five or more pass rushers. On offense, Ohio State gained 284 yards on designed rushes and became the first team to run for four touchdowns against Michigan State since Alabama in 2011 Capital One Bowl.

Biggest play: Ohio State trailed 21-14 when Barrett found Michael Thomas on a slant. Thomas slipped past cornerback Darian Hicks and outraced safety Kurtis Drummond to the end zone for a 79-yard reception. The Buckeyes never trailed from there. Adding to the impact of Thomas' big catch, it followed a 39-yard missed field goal by Michael Geiger after a holding penalty wiped out Jeremy Langford's touchdown run. And that came on the heels of a fumble by Ohio State receiver Dontre Wilson on a kickoff return. So to assess, a dramatic reversal of momentum that propelled Ohio State to a halftime lead.

Big Man on Campus (offense): Who do you think? Barrett finished with 300 yards on 16-of-26 passing with three touchdowns. He also rushed for 86 yards and two scores. That's five touchdowns, giving him 34 for the season -- two from tying Braxton Miller's school record set last year. And despite another 205 rushing yards from Melvin Gordon, it's hard now not to consider Barrett as the frontrunner for Big Ten offensive player of the year.

Big Man on Campus (defense): Michigan defensive end Frank Clark teamed with linebacker Jake Ryan to smother Northwestern in the Wolverines' 10-9 win. Clark gets the nod for his impact on the defining play of the game. After the Wildcats scored on a Tony Jones reception with three seconds to play, Clark chased Trevor Siemian on the two-point conversion as the Northwestern QB slipped to the ground. Credit Pat Fitzgerald with a gutsy call to go for the win. But credit Clark more for his readiness to make a crucial stop.

Big Man on Campus (special teams): Purdue kicker Paul Griggs connected on three field goals. His conversions from 53 and 52 yards with the wind at his back made him the first ever at Purdue to hit two field goals in the same game of 50 yards or longer.

Biggest faceplant: Take your pick among the offensive units in Michigan-Northwestern and Penn State's 13-7 win at Indiana. Only Penn State, among the foursome, made it to 300 yards. In Evanston, it was scoreless until De'Veon Smith's 3-yard touchdown run with 6:49 to play in the third quarter. On a particularly ugly sequence in the third quarter for Michigan, a snap from center Jack Miller hit Devin Funchess as the receiver ran in motion, leading to a turnover; when Michigan regained possession, QB Devin Gardner tripped and fell for a 7-yard loss.

Fun with numbers: Minnesota's 37-point margin of victory was its largest in a Big Ten game under coach fourth-year coach Jerry Kill. Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams caught three touchdown pass and set a season position record at the school with seven. ... The Gophers are 6-0 at home for the first time since 1977. ... Barrett has thrown 22 touchdowns with three interceptions in Ohio State's past seven games. ... The Buckeyes are 20-0 when Devin Smith catches a touchdown. ... Urban Meyer is 36-3 in November since 2003. ... Eight Wisconsin receivers caught at least one pass against Purdue. ... The Boilermakers rushed for 26 yards on 26 carries, the third straight and sixth of nine Wisconsin foes to rush for fewer than 100 yards. ... Gordon accumulated 249 yards of total offense. He has scored multiple touchdowns in six of the Badgers' past seven games. ... Wisconsin QB Joel Stave threw for a season-high 219 yards.
Lessons learned after Week 11 in the Big Ten:

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsA clutch performance by J.T. Barrett on Saturday night helped keep Ohio State's playoff hopes alive.
1. Ohio State is king of the East and one of the B1G's two best bets for the playoff: Michigan State linebacker Taiwan Jones said he felt as if the College Football Playoff started Saturday. He was kind of right, but the Spartans are out, and the Buckeyes are in ... the playoff picture. Few people saw the Buckeyes' dominating 49-37 win over Michigan State coming, and that's exactly what they needed to make a statement in this playoff race. J.T. Barrett outplayed Connor Cook, Ohio State scored touchdowns on six straight drives, and there was no sad pizza eating for Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer. Margin of victory can only help the Buckeyes, and they'll need to keep playing like this to show they deserve one of the playoff's four spots. Only two Big Ten teams, one-loss Ohio State and Nebraska, are in contention for the playoff now, and they could face each other in the Big Ten title game. Of course ...

2. ... The Wild West still remains wild: Just when you think you’ve started to figure out the West Division, with Minnesota coming off a puzzling loss to Illinois and Iowa blowing out Northwestern, Jerry Kill’s squad steps up and absolutely dominates the Hawkeyes in a 51-14 thrashing that was over by halftime. Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin all boast just one Big Ten loss now -- so anything can happen in these last three weeks, especially when you consider these three teams will all play one another, with Nebraska taking on Wisconsin next Saturday. (Even Iowa, which still plays Wisconsin and Nebraska, isn’t technically out of the equation.) It’s looking more and more as if we’ll have to wait until the final week of the regular season to get a clear picture of who will move forward. Lessons learned: It was way too premature to write off Minnesota (and Kill’s dancing skills), and it’s still too early to pick a clear favorite.

3. Wisconsin passing game has some potential: Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy appeared doomed early this season, but they might end up just fine if Stave can build off part of Saturday’s performance. The Badgers set a season high with 30 pass attempts, and Stave finished 19-of-29 for 216 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His QBR of 77.2 was the highest of any Wisconsin starter in the Big Ten season, and he was especially hot in the second quarter of the 34-16 win. This was about as balanced as Wisconsin’s offense has been all season, and if defenses are forced to take some of the focus away from the running game, the Badgers’ offense could become even more dangerous. One game doesn’t make a trend, but it does show Stave is capable of more this season.

4. Several B1G offenses are regressing: If you watched -- and stayed awake through -- Penn State's 13-7 win over Indiana and Michigan's 10-9 win over Northwestern, feel free to pat yourself on the back. Those four teams combined for three offensive touchdowns, 39 points, 33 punts and 10 turnovers. It wasn’t pretty. For Indiana, it’s more understandable because Nate Sudfeld's injury forced this team to become even more one-dimensional. But for the other three, every week seems to lead to fewer answers and more questions. Turnovers continue to be an issue for Devin Gardner and the Wolverines, Trevor Siemian remains incredibly inconsistent … and Penn State? Well, nothing seems to be going well there. Penn State, Michigan and Northwestern are ranked outside the top 100 in scoring offense, and the Hoosiers have averaged 11.3 points per game with Zander Diamont as the starting quarterback. These offenses aren’t showing much progress.

5. Penn State bowl hopes pinned to the defense: As bad as the Nittany Lions’ offense has been, the defense has performed nearly perfectly. Indiana never reached the red zone Saturday, Tevin Coleman didn’t reach 100 rushing yards for the first time all season, and the Lions’ defense didn’t allow a single point. (IU’s only touchdown came on an interception return for a TD.) PSU needs just one more win for bowl eligibility, but even with Illinois and Temple left on the slate, that’s no guarantee. The offense hasn’t once reached 20 points in regulation in a Big Ten game, but on the flip side, the defense has allowed just nine touchdowns in regulation in six B1G games. This is arguably the best defense in the Big Ten, but it’s also arguably the worst offense.
It has been a seesaw battle for that top spot and, once again, we have a new leader.

It's my first time all season at No. 1 -- but that might be short-lived. Only 29 points separate first place from the second runner-up, so today's top team can just as easily be tomorrow's No. 3. It should be an interesting next few weeks.

Also, on a side note, you'll notice a few tweaks to the overall scores this week due to unreflected roster changes. They didn't impact the standings and basically just gave Mitch Sherman a nice boost.

Your results this week:

Coal Crackers (Josh Moyer): 106
Legendary Leaders (Brian Bennett): 93
Sherman Tanks (Mitch Sherman): 84
Massive Attack (Austin Ward): 77
The Trombone Shorties (Adam Rittenberg): 50

And the overall standings:

Coal Crackers: 1,160
The Trombone Shorties: 1,153
Massive Attack: 1,131
Legendary Leaders: 979
Sherman Tanks: 958

Waiver wire: Some of the B1G's top players were reshuffled this week. With a combination of byes and some players -- such as Illinois QB Wes Lunt -- returning from injury, that made for some interesting changes to the league. Ezekiel Elliott, Leonte Carroo and Lunt all found new homes.

Sherman adds Michigan RB Drake Johnson and drops Illinois WR Geronimo Allison

Bennett adds Penn State TE Jesse James and drops Nebraska WR Kenny Bell

Ward adds Minnesota defense and drops Nebraska defense

Rittenberg adds Ohio State WR Devin Smith and drops Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo

Moyer adds Michigan WR Amara Darboh and drops Maryland WR Stefon Diggs

Sherman adds Michigan State kickers and drops Nebraska kickers

Bennett adds Illinois QB Wes Lunt and drops Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott

Ward adds Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott and drops Ohio State RB Dontre Wilson

Rittenberg adds Ohio State RB Dontre Wilson and drops Illinois QB Reilly O'Toole

Moyer adds Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo and drops Michigan QB Devin Gardner

Sherman adds Michigan QB Devin Gardner and drops Maryland QB C.J. Brown

Ward adds Penn State kickers and drops Rutgers kickers

Moyer adds Iowa WR Tevaun Smith and drops Nebraska WR Jordan Westerkamp

Rittenberg adds Wisconsin QB Tanner McEvoy and drops Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian

Rittenberg adds Minnesota kickers and drops Maryland kickers

Coal Crackers (Moyer)

Purdue QB Austin Appleby
Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
Indiana RB Tevin Coleman
Michigan WR Amara Darboh
Iowa WR Tevaun Smith
Wisconsin kickers
Penn State defense
Bench: Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo (on bye)

The Trombone Shorties (Rittenberg)

Wisconsin QB Tanner McEvoy
Michigan State QB Connor Cook
Ohio State RB Dontre Wilson
Northwestern RB Justin Jackson
Ohio State WR Devin Smith
Michigan WR Devin Funchess
Minnesota kickers
Michigan defense
Bench: Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (on bye)

Massive Attack (Ward)

Iowa QB Jake Rudock
Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott
Minnesota RB David Cobb
Ohio State WR Michael Thomas
Penn State WR DaeSean Hamilton
Penn State kickers
Minnesota defense
Bench: Illinois RB Josh Ferguson (on bye)

Legendary Leaders (Bennett)

Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong
Wisconsin QB Joel Stave
Iowa RB Mark Weisman
Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford
Penn State TE Jesse James
Indiana WR Shane Wynn
Ohio State kickers
Wisconsin defense
Bench: Illinois QB Wes Lunt (on bye)

Sherman Tanks (Sherman)

Michigan QB Devin Gardner
Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg
Wisconsin RB Corey Clement
Michigan RB Drake Johnson
Michigan State WR Tony Lippett
Iowa Kevonte Martin-Manley
Michigan State kickers
Ohio State defense
Bench: Purdue RB Akeem Hunt (vs. Wisconsin)

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BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12