Big Ten: Damien Wilson

Minnesota Golden Gophers season review

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
The season rewind series before the Big Ten reporters start focusing on the bowl games rolls along with a look at Minnesota.

Overview: Rarely mentioned as a contender even within its division, Minnesota actually turned out to be one of the more surprising factors in the national-title conversation thanks to its solid defense, powerful rushing attack and coach Jerry Kill's leadership on the sideline. No, the Gophers weren't in contention to qualify for the College Football Playoff, but a nonconference matchup early in the season and the emergence as a top-25 caliber program helped improve the resumes of both TCU and Ohio State as they jockeyed for position down the stretch. Of course, Minnesota had plenty to play for itself in the West Division in November, and while it came up short in a de facto championship game against Wisconsin to close the regular season, victories over Iowa and Nebraska helped put them in that unexpected position all the way down to the final weekend. It also set the stage for a high-profile bowl game and a chance to score a victory over a ranked opponent against No. 16 Missouri in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on New Year's Day.

Offensive MVP: The depth in the backfield across the conference often left David Cobb overlooked, but the Minnesota senior proved he belonged in the conversation with the league's top tailbacks thanks to his physical, relentless rushing style. Cobb was a load for any tackler to bring down, and he only seemed to gain strength as the Gophers continued to feed him carry after carry and defenders started shying away from contact with him in the hole. He finished third in the Big Ten in rushing, piling up 1,545 yards with 13 touchdowns that allowed Minnesota to play an old-school, smash-mouth style that no defense looked forward to facing.

Defensive MVP: If there was anything at all Minnesota needed done defensively, it could feel pretty confident Damien Wilson could handle it. The senior linebacker often took just as much of a pounding as his cousin, Cobb, but he bounced back every week to fly around from sideline to sideline, delivering 111 tackles and supplementing that in just about every conceivable way. Wilson chipped in 10.5 tackles for loss, tacked on 4 sacks, recovered a pair of fumbles while forcing another and also came up with an interception. The Gophers had several deserving candidates on an underrated defense, but nobody did more all-around work than Wilson.
Earlier today, we presented our All-Big Ten team. As you can imagine, there was a lot of debate between the six of us over who should make the team and who should get left off. Let's discuss some of our toughest choices and omissions:

Austin Ward: Thanks in large part to all the dirty work he was doing at the start of the year, Michael Bennett didn’t pile up the type of numbers that build a rock-solid case as an all-conference performer. But when it mattered most over the final month of the season, there probably wasn’t a defensive player in the league having a greater impact than the Ohio State senior as he made life miserable in the trenches in the most important games of the season for the Big Ten champs. Dating back to the road trip to Michigan State on Nov. 8, Bennett closed the season with 5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles down the stretch, looking every bit the All-American he was expected to be in the preseason.

[+] EnlargeKurtis Drummond
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsThree cornerbacks made's All-Big Ten team, which meant a deserving player in Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond didn't make the cut.
Brian Bennett: The toughest single position to choose was at defensive back. You may have noticed our team did not include Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond, who was named the Big Ten defensive back of the year. That's no slight against Drummond, who's an outstanding player, but we felt like we had to go with three cornerbacks, given the play of Maryland's Will Likely, Minnesota's Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Drummond's own teammate, Trae Waynes. In fact, Ohio State's Doran Grant had a strong case for inclusion as well, and we wanted to recognize what Wisconsin's Michael Caputo contributed to the league's best defense, statistically, during the regular season. Defensive back was a loaded position, and there wouldn't be much difference between the first- and second-team selections there.

Adam Rittenberg: I don't have a major beef with our selections this year, although it would have been nice to find a place for Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah on the offense. Melvin Gordon told me Wednesday that if Abdullah hadn't sustained a knee injury in early November, he also would have reached the 2,000-yard plateau. Imagine if the Big Ten had three 2,000-yard rushers in the same season. Safety wasn't the strongest position in the league this year, while cornerback turned out to be surprisingly good.

Dan Murphy: It's too bad we can't field an entire offense out of running backs because the Big Ten had almost enough of them worthy of filling out an all-conference roster. Minnesota teammates and cousins David Cobb (running back) and Damien Wilson (middle linebacker) both were left of the list after great years for a surprising Gophers team. Cobb would have made the team in most other years, and Wilson was a narrow miss. Freshman receiver Mike Dudek also deserves some recognition, but there's a good chance his name will pop up here in the next few years.

Josh Moyer: Cornerback was relatively strong this season, so we decided to go with three corners and one safety on our team. As a result, Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond was the odd man out, and he’s a player who definitely deserves some recognition. He struggled a few times this season -- missing open-field tackles against Purdue and not faring well against Ohio State -- but he was still named the Big Ten defensive back of the year. We thought Wisconsin's Michael Caputo played better, but Drummond was still solid and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection by both the coaches and media. He helped keep Michigan State’s No-Fly Zone together, while leading the team in tackles (65), interceptions (4), pass breakups (11) and pass deflections (15). He just missed the cut.

Mitch Sherman: I'm not sure we picked the right defensive lineman from Iowa. Louis Trinca-Pasat enjoyed an outstanding year, outperforming fellow tackle Carl Davis, who was more highly regarded before the season. But what about Drew Ott, the disruptive end who collected eight sacks, 12 tackles behind the line, scored a touchdown against Nebraska, forced a fumble and picked off a pass? Ott is just as deserving as Michigan State's Calhoun, though I doubt there's room for two linemen from an Iowa defense that ranked firmly in the middle of the Big Ten. So with the variety of defensive looks employed around the league, I'd take three ends and one tackle, like the coaches and media teams, inserting Ott in place of Trinca-Pasat.

Big Ten awards race tracker: Week 13

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
The Big Ten individual awards will be revealed next week. But if you've been following us here all season long, you should know exactly who the favorites and top contenders are.

This is our last one of the season, and since we've pretty much exhausted all the competitive bonus categories, we've added a special holiday-themed one to get you ready for tomorrow.

Away we go ...

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (six first-place votes): When Wisconsin absolutely needed Gordon to come through in the fourth quarter at Iowa, he did just that. Not much more left to say about this special player and his historic season.

2. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: The records keep falling for the Buckeyes' redshirt freshman, who'd probably be a runaway winner if Gordon had been born a couple of years earlier or later. Barrett will likely settle for the quarterback of the year trophy -- not a bad consolation prize.

3. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: He's 94 yards away from 2,000 for this season. Unbelievable season, but again, just bad timing for a major award.

4. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: He showed his heart by rushing for 98 yards despite a bad knee and shoulder vs. Minnesota. I think he would have made a run at 2,000, too, if not for those unfortunate late-season injuries.

5. Minnesota RB David Cobb: He injured his hamstring in the second half at Nebraska and is questionable for the finale at Wisconsin. The Gophers need their workhorse back.

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa (six first-place votes): Simply the most destructive defensive player in the Big Ten all season. He'll be back as a true junior for the Buckeyes next season, which is scary.

2. Penn State LB Mike Hull: On pace for a 130-tackle regular season, Hull has been as consistently good as it gets from the linebacker position.

3. Michigan LB Jake Ryan: He was named a finalist for the Butkus Award on Monday. Hull has had a better season overall, but Ryan has still been outstanding as a senior.

4. Wisconsin LB Vince Biegel: One of the Badgers' "Chevy Bad Boys," Biegel leads the Big Ten's top defense with 14.5 tackles for loss.

5. Minnesota CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun: The Big Ten co-defensive player of the week, he has a been a big-play machine all season, including his forced fumble and recovery to seal the win at Nebraska.

Also receiving votes: Penn State DT Anthony Zettel; Minnesota LB Damien Wilson

[+] EnlargeThanksgiving
ThinkstockStuffing or turkey for Big Ten dish of the year?
Pilgrim-Pocahontas Thanksgiving Dish of the Year

1. Stuffing (four first-place votes): That's right. It's almost Thanksgiving, so we're ranking the best dishes on Turkey Day. And in perhaps a slight upset, preseason favorite turkey did not come in first. Stuffing pulled off a J.T. Barrett-like surprise. Because it is awesome. Especially my grandma's.

2. Turkey (two first-place votes): It is the featured back, if you will, of the entire Thanksgiving attack. Says Josh Moyer: "You guys haven't lived until you've tried it deep-fried."

3. Pumpkin pie: Dessert is kind of like the special teams of Thanksgiving meals; you can't win with it alone but it can't be forgotten, either. Pecan pie also received one vote (from Dan Murphy), though I'd argue it's too sweet unless part of a Derby Pie. Austin Ward voted for "any kind of pie." I like where his head's at.

Also receiving votes: Mashed potatoes, grilled potatoes, potatoes au gratin and any kind of potatoes.
There are just four weeks left in the regular season, a month to go for players to build their cases for individual awards.

We've been tracking the races all season and have unanimous picks right now for our offensive and defensive player of the year honors. And this week's bonus category is also unanimous: top placekicker.

Here's how we see it after 10 weeks:

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (six first-place votes): Gordon just keeps chugging along, with six straight 100-yard games. He's got 1,296 yards and 18 touchdowns on the season.

2. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: It's not his fault that he had only 1 yard vs. Purdue, as Abdullah went out with an early knee injury. But in a close race among elite tailbacks, that hurt his case.

3. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: He has 4 more yards on the season than Gordon, and we can only hope that the Hoosiers' struggles elsewhere don't overshadow his outstanding year.

4. Michigan State WR Tony Lippett: The best receiver in the Big Ten will get a showdown with Ohio State's revamped pass defense on Saturday night.

5. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: He has great numbers on the year but wasn't as effective on the road against a good defense at Penn State. Can he get it done in East Lansing?

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa (six first-place votes): Top five nationally in sacks and tackles for loss. Yep, he's a beast.

2. Penn State LB Mike Hull: He leads the Big Ten and is seventh nationally in tackles per game, at 11.5.

3. Iowa DE Drew Ott: He's second in the Big Ten behind Bosa in sacks with eight on the year. With him, Louis-Trinca Pasat and Carl Davis, Iowa has a formidable defensive line.

4. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel: He has been an absolute force at defensive tackle; will he and Hull split votes in this category among Nittany Lions defenders?

5. Nebraska DE Randy Gregory: He's at 5.5 sacks, so he's got some work to do to reach double digits in that category for a second straight year.

Others receiving votes: Michigan LB Jake Ryan, Wisconsin S Michael Caputo, Minnesota LB Damien Wilson.

Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year

1. Maryland's Brad Craddock (six first-place votes): He hit the game-winner last week at Penn State and is a perfect 14-for-14 on the year. Should be an All-American.

2. Penn State's Sam Ficken: If not for Craddock, Ficken might have been the hero last week in State College. His comeback story continues to impress, and Ficken is 17-of-19 on field goals this season.
The awards race tracker took a break last week, as we named our midseason MVPs on both sides of the ball. We're back to give you a checkup on how the major Big Ten individual award races are going.

Since we didn't include a tight end on our midseason All-Big Ten team, we'll give that position some love as our bonus category of the week.

Here we go ...

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (six first-place votes): The Badgers were off last week, but we named Gordon our midseason offensive MVP.

2. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: He bounced back from a rough game at Michigan State to score four touchdowns at Northwestern. Expect a big finish to his college career.

3. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: Even though Michigan State knew Indiana couldn't pass the ball last week, Coleman still managed 132 rushing yards. What a player.

4 . Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: He's sneaking up on the competition. The Buckeyes' freshman has 20 total touchdowns and just one interception in his past four games, and he leads the league in total offense and pass efficiency.

5. Michigan State WR Tony Lippett: Brady Hoke called him the league's best wideout this week, and we agree wholeheartedly. Lippett's eight receiving touchdowns lead the league, as does his 112.3 receiving yards per game.

Also receiving votes: Minnesota RB David Cobb

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa (six first-place votes): The guy who leads the league in tackles for loss and ranks second in sacks had his best game against Rutgers last week, according to Urban Meyer. Bosa is getting better, which is scary.

2. Minnesota LB Damien Wilson: He leads the league in tackles, with 76. That ranks 15th in the FBS.

3. Maryland CB Will Likely: If you pass the ball on the Terps, he will likely intercept it. And maybe score. Likely had another pick-six vs. Iowa, his second of the year and his Big Ten-best fourth interception overall.

4. Penn State LB Mike Hull: The Nittany Lions' defense remains stout, and Hull is an anchor. He's right behind Wilson for the Big Ten tackles lead.

5. Iowa DE Drew Ott: He started off the Maryland game with an interception, and Ott now leads the league in sacks with seven in as many games.

Also receiving votes: Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun; Nebraska DE Randy Gregory; Michigan LB Jake Ryan

Kwalick–Clark Tight End of the Year

1. Maxx Williams, Minnesota (six first-place votes): In an offense that doesn't pass much, Williams has become the go-to target. He has 15 catches for 247 yards and four touchdowns and has made some spectacular plays.

2. Josiah Price, Michigan State: Price's numbers are very similar to Williams' (15 catches, 244 yards and four touchdowns) as the tight end has become much more of a weapon this season for the Spartans.

B1G Roundtable: Highlights from first half

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
We’ve reached the midpoint of the season, so we decided to reflect on what we’ve seen in the Big Ten so far and pick out the top highlight. Who’s been the biggest surprise so far in the conference? What’s been the most impressive play? What’s been the best moment?

There were plenty of season highlights to pick from, but we could each select only one. So, without further ado, here’s a look at the best the Big Ten’s had to offer so far this season:

[+] EnlargeTevin Coleman
Darron Cummings/Associated PressTevin Coleman leads the nation in rushing and has been almost unstoppable for the Hoosiers.
Brian Bennett: Indiana RB Tevin Coleman

We knew what Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah could do, and we suspected Coleman could join them as an elite running back. Boy, has he ever. Coleman leads the nation in rushing yards (1,060) and has posted at least 122 yards every game while adding three 190-plus yard days. He's averaging an astounding 8.8 yards per carry. Things will get tougher with the Nate Sudfeld injury, but Coleman's emergence as a true superstar has been fun to watch.

Adam Rittenberg: Rutgers

No one expected much from the Scarlet Knights or embattled quarterback Gary Nova in a new league. But Rutgers has displayed talent, explosiveness and execution during a 5-1 start. Nova, who endured heavy criticism from fans last season, leads the nation in yards per completion (17.2) and ranks fifth in pass efficiency. Credit coach Kyle Flood for making some smart staff changes, especially Ralph Friedgen at offensive coordinator. It's time to respect the #Chop.

Josh Moyer: Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon's performance against Bowling Green

In case this doesn't ring a bell, allow me to refresh your memory: Gordon finished with 253 rushing yards and five touchdowns. On 13 -- 13! -- carries. Sure, he was playing a MAC team, but those video-game numbers would make even Tecmo Bowl's 8-bit Bo Jackson blush. Gordon averaged 19.5 yards a carry, which was actually brought down because he had two rushing scores from 2 and 3 yards out. Performances like that don't come around often. No other player reached 250 rushing yards on so few carries since 2000. It might be some time before another running back dominates like that again.

Dan Murphy: Michigan State's offense

Mark Dantonio has clearly expressed he has no interest in running up the score against lesser opponents, but this season he hasn't had much of a choice. A Spartans program usually known for its stingy defense is headed toward a shot at another Big Ten title thanks to its high-powered offense. Michigan State ranks fourth nationally with 45.5 points per game. The offense is responsible for 33 touchdowns through six games. Connor Cook ranks in the top 15 nationally in quarterback efficiency rating. He's steadily improved since taking over early in 2013, and the offense has grown into the best in the conference around him.

Mitch Sherman: Minnesota

Count me among the those watched the Golden Gophers labor to reach eight wins last season and figured it wouldn't get any better in 2014 for coach Jerry Kill. Well, shame on me. Minnesota is better. thanks to the emergence of athletes like linebacker Damien Wilson and the workmanlike efforts of running back David Cobb, and sits atop the West Division. And it will likely enter a rough November lineup of games with a bundle of momentum and four opportunities to equal the 2013 win total. It says here that the Gophers will exceed it.

Austin Ward: J.T. Barrett's emergence

So much for the doomsday predictions that followed Braxton Miller's season-ending shoulder injury during training camp. Ohio State did fall behind in the College Football Playoff race thanks to some growing pains for the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year’s replacement, but after losing in his second career start, Barrett has rapidly developed into perhaps the best quarterback in the league well ahead of schedule. Nobody in the league has thrown more touchdowns than Barrett’s 17, and he’s averaging nearly 100 yards more per game through the air than his predecessor. In doing that, Barrett has also put the Buckeyes back on track to compete for a conference title down the stretch.

ESPN's midseason All-Big Ten team

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
The regular season is at its halfway point, so we're presenting our selections for the midseason All-Big Ten team.


QB: Connor Cook, Michigan State
RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
RB: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
RB: Tevin Coleman, Indiana
WR: Tony Lippett, Michigan State
WR: DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State
OT: Brandon Scherff, Iowa
OT: Jack Conklin, Michigan State
C: Jack Allen, Michigan State
G: Zac Epping, Minnesota
G: Pat Elflein, Ohio State


DE: Joey Bosa, Ohio State
DE: Marcus Rush, Michigan State
DT: Anthony Zettel, Penn State
DT: Carl Davis, Iowa
LB: Mike Hull, Penn State
LB: Damien Wilson, Minnesota
LB: Derek Landisch, Wisconsin
CB: Desmond King, Iowa
CB: Eric Murray, Minnesota
S: Frankie Williams, Purdue
S: Michael Caputo, Wisconsin

Special teams
PK: Brad Craddock, Maryland
P: Justin DuVernois, Illinois
KR: Stefon Diggs, Maryland
PR: De'Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska

Thoughts: The first thing you probably notice is an unconventional offense featuring three running backs and no tight ends. Sure, it's a little bit of a cheat, but how do you leave any of those three tailbacks off? Coleman, Gordon and Abdullah rank 1, 2 and 4 nationally in rushing yards. Though there are some excellent tight ends in the league -- Minnesota's Maxx Williams and Penn State's Jesse James come to mind -- we would rather reward the outstanding tailbacks. Heck, we probably could have gone four or five deep at that position, given how loaded it is right now. ... The toughest call came at cornerback, where you might be surprised by our choices. We love King's shutdown ability for the Hawkeyes, and Murray gets the slight nod over teammate Briean Boddy-Calhoun for the Gophers' excellent secondary. Michigan State's Trae Waynes might be the best player at the position in the league, but he has given up some big plays this season. Same goes for Maryland's Will Likely, who has been explosive at times and torched (see: West Virginia and Ohio State) at others. It's only midseason, remember; these choices could change by the end of the season. ... Speaking of surprised, the steady Rush makes the team over more heralded position mate Shilique Calhoun. It's a close call, but Rush has been consistently terrific so far this season. ... Some pretty fresh names at linebacker, especially after so many stars at the position departed after last season. Michigan's Jake Ryan just missed there. ... Two freshmen made the team in Hamilton and Pierson-El. Ohio State's J.T. Barrett is also pushing Cook for No. 1 status at quarterback.

The breakdown by team:

Michigan State: 5
Iowa: 3
Minnesota: 3
Penn State: 3
Wisconsin: 3
Maryland: 2
Nebraska: 2
Ohio State: 2
Illinois: 1
Indiana: 1
Purdue: 1
Michigan: 0
Northwestern: 0
Rutgers: 0
David Cobb’s apartment resembles a hospital ward on Sunday mornings in the fall.

Cobb is Minnesota’s load-bearing running back, one of the toughest players to tackle in the Big Ten. His roommate and cousin, Damien Wilson, is the Gophers’ middle linebacker and one of the toughest tacklers in the Big Ten. Together, their home leads the Twin Cities area in per capita bumps and bruises.

“We barely get out of bed,” Wilson said of their routine the day after a game. “We have to motivate each other just to walk around. Normally we get a couple Advils, a few Aleves and go to get treatment on Sunday.”

[+] EnlargeDavid Cobb
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesMinnesota running back David Cobb's eating habits have changed for the better, and it shows on the field.
 Staying healthy is a full-time occupation for Cobb. The senior accounted for 47 percent of Minnesota’s total yards through the first five games of the season. None of the other Big Ten backs garnering national acclaim this season reach even 40 percent. Only two players in the country -- Buffalo’s Anthone Taylor and Pitt’s James Conner -- average more carries per game than Cobb. He is the engine of a 4-1 Gophers team, which can take control of the Big Ten West Division with a win over Northwestern this weekend.

All that work should take a toll on Cobb’s 5-foot-11, 220-pound body, but nearing the midway point of the season, he shows no signs of slowing down. He credits his durability to a relentless offseason work ethic and his recent discovery of healthy eating habits.

“That and I didn’t play that much the first two years,” he said. “So I’m kind of fresh.”

Cobb stepped into a starting role midway through his junior season at Minnesota. He ran the ball 237 times for 1,202 yards last fall. When he returned to campus in January, Cobb’s strength coaches sat him down and told him he was lucky he survived. If he planned on maintaining the same workload for a full season, he was going to have to start taking care of his body.

The weight room and the film room have never been a problem for the ultra-competitive Cobb. He is a tireless worker, according to Chad Pearson, an assistant strength coach who also oversaw the team’s nutrition program before Minnesota hired a full-time team dietitian in July. The dining room has been a different story.

“He was always one of our top guys as far as training goes,” Pearson said. “He’s been a guy [who] brings an edge. He’s a very good athlete, very hard worker, but he thought that’s where it stopped.”

Cobb is a picky eater. His diet before this offseason consisted mostly of cereal and fast food. He recoiled at the sight of vegetables, even if they were wedged between a pair of grease-soaked buns at McDonald’s. His go-to at the golden arches was a cheeseburger, hold everything but the meat and cheese.

Dietitian Brittany Francis has talked him into eating three square meals a day this season and reminds him daily to grab a piece of fruit on his way to class. Cobb didn’t really buy into eating healthy everyday until this summer, telling Wilson he was done pouring cheap gas into a Ferrari. He admits it’s an uphill battle, but he’s making progress.

“She makes me eat breakfast, makes me eat lunch and dinner,” Cobb said. “I’m still trying to learn. She probably yells at me four times a week, ‘Hey, put that cookie down. Stop going to McDonald’s.’”

The Gophers staff monitors Cobb’s energy output in games and practices closely. They use the Catapult GPS-tracking system to see how much he’s running and if he’s slowing down. He weighs in three times a week to make sure he is keeping his strength. If his numbers dip, Francis adjusts the calories he needs to eat or ounces of water he needs to drink on a daily basis.

During Minnesota’s first bye this past week, Cobb focused on his weight and recovering in the cold tub. He went eight full days without practicing. Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said he would like to give his emerging star more time to rest, but he’s hard to take off the field, especially when he continues to get stronger later in games.

Cobb’s ability to power through would-be tacklers and take on pass rushers on the rare occasions when the ball isn’t in his hands has made him an enticing prospect at the next level. That, as much as anything, has convinced him to rethink what he puts in his body.

He developed relationships with Darrell Thompson, Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney -- all former Gophers who have gone on to successful NFL careers. All three told Cobb that the most important lesson they learned in college was how to take care of themselves.

Cobb, if he heeds their advice and stays healthy, is on pace to pass all three in the Gophers' record books. At the rate he’s running, he’ll finish the regular season with 1,732 yards, eclipsing Maroney’s single-year record by nearly 300 yards.

It’s a mark Cobb says he definitely wants to leave, but he’s more concerned with carrying his team to its third consecutive bowl appearance. A win this weekend against the resurgent Wildcats would give Minnesota a 2-0 conference record and place them atop the Big Ten’s wide open wild West Divison. Staying on top will likely depend heavily on how much punishment Cobb’s body can handle in the second half of the season.

“I have noticed that he’s been eating healthy,” Wilson said. “I haven’t seen any McDonald’s in a long, long time. … He saw that last year was really good. This year he’s on a mission to get better. You can definitely see the hunger. He’s hungry for it.”

Cobb’s appetite is clear. The only question is how he will feed it.
We're six weeks into the season, so the Big Ten individual awards are starting to come into a little bit of focus now.

We've been tracking them all season, even when it was ridiculously early to be doing so. Joining our weekly look at the offensive and defensive player of the year races this week is a check on who would be voted coach of the year in the Big Ten if balloting happened today.

Away we go ...

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (six first-place votes): Abdullah had 18 straight games with at least 100 yards from scrimmage until he ran into Michigan State's defense. He was held to just 45 yards on 24 carries, though he did score twice. His body of work, though, keeps him in the top spot for now.

2. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: The Badgers star added another 259 rushing yards in the loss at Northwestern and now leads the FBS in rushing yards per game. Despite his curious absence in the second-half against LSU and the virtual no-show versus Western Illinois, he's still on pace for more than 2,200 yards.

3. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: He just kept buzzing along, running for 150 yards and a score against North Texas. Coleman is averaging 8 yards per carry.

T-4: Michigan State WR Tony Lippett: The Spartans' big-play wideout makes his first appearance in the top 5 after another great game against Nebraska. Lippett has scored eight touchdowns (seven receiving, one rushing) and is averaging 21 yards per catch

T-4: Michigan State QB Connor Cook: He completed only 11-of-29 passes vs. the Huskers but still is the engine for the Spartans' offense. He's also 10-0 as a starter in Big Ten games, which is nice.

Also receiving votes: Minnesota RB David Cobb; Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa (six first-place votes): The pass-rushing fiend is tied for second in the league with seven tackles for loss and tied for first with three forced fumbles.

2. Nebraska DE Randy Gregory: He had an interception early against Michigan State and is second in the Big Ten with 4.5 sacks despite missing most of two games.

3. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel: He and the Nittany Lions were off last week; he'll try to build on a strong first month this weekend at Michigan and its shaky offensive line.

4. Michigan State DE Marcus Rush: Always known as the "other" Spartans defensive end, Rush is asserting himself as a senior. His numbers are very similar to Bosa's and he was terrific against Nebraska.

5. Minnesota LB Damien Wilson: He's fourth in the league at 10.2 tackles per game while providing an anchor for the Gophers' strong defense

Also receiving votes: Rutgers DE Kemoko Turay; Northwestern DE Ifeadi Odenigbo

Dave McClain / Hayes–Schembechler Coach of the Year

1. Kyle Flood, Rutgers (four first-place votes): Most preseason predictions called for a losing season for Rutgers this year. The Scarlet Knights are 5-1.

2. Jerry Kill, Minnesota (one first-place vote): The Gophers' lone loss -- to TCU -- looks better in hindsight, and Kill has this team positioned to make a run at the West Division title.

3. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State (one first-place vote): Last year's winner of this award once again has the Spartans looking like the best team in the league. They've won 11 straight Big Ten games, dating to the end of 2012.

Also receiving votes: Penn State's James Franklin; Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald
October has arrived, which means Big Ten conference play is in full swing. And that's when the best players step up.

Expect the races for individual awards to be fully shaped in the next few weeks. But we're keeping track of where they stand on a week-to-week basis. We've been looking at the offensive and defensive player of the year races since the start of the season, and with more data in the books, we'll be adding a bonus category from here on out.

Away we go ...

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesNebraska running back Ameer Abdullah has been the best offensive player in the Big Ten so far this season.
1. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (six first-place votes): Abdullah had another 200-yard day against Illinois as his fantastic season continues. He has run for more than 100 yards in each of the last two years against this week's opponent, Michigan State.

2. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: The Hoosiers are incredibly inconsistent, but Coleman is not. He leads the FBS in rushing at 172.8 yards per game.

3. Michigan State QB Connor Cook: He was able to hit the showers early again against Wyoming, but Cook leads the Big Ten and is No. 3 nationally in pass efficiency while completing better than 69 percent of his throws.

4. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: After a slow first half against South Florida, Gordon came out firing in the second half for another big performance. He's on pace for more than 1,900 yards this season.

5. Minnesota RB David Cobb: Our panel all agreed on the top five offensive candidates right now, though in different orders. Cobb has a strong argument for player of the year consideration because he's basically carrying the Gophers' offense. His 124 carries are the most in the FBS, and he's making the most of them.

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa (five first-place votes): Bosa takes over first place this week thanks to his playmaking ways. He has forced three fumbles this season, all of which have led to Buckeyes touchdowns.

2. Maryland CB William Likely (one first-place vote): Likely may not be very tall, but he makes big plays. He leads the Big Ten in interceptions with three, including a pick-six.

3. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel: The Nittany Lions interior disruptor drops a couple spots after his team lost to Northwestern. But he's still having a heck of a season, with seven tackles for loss.

4. Nebraska DE Randy Gregory: Welcome back, Mr. Gregory. He was all over the field against Illinois, and after missing some time with injury he now leads the league in sacks per game.

5. Wisconsin LB Derek Landisch: He leads the Big Ten in tackles for loss per game, and Badgers coach Gary Andersen said Tuesday that Landisch has been the best player on what is the best statistical defense in the conference right now.

Also receiving votes: Minnesota LB Damien Wilson; Minnesota CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun; Penn State LB Mike Hull; Iowa DE Drew Ott

Thompson–Randle El Freshman of the Year

1. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett (three first-place votes): Braxton who? OK, let's not go that far. But guess who leads the Big Ten in total offense? It's the Buckeyes redshirt freshman, who just keeps getting better.

2. Penn State WR DaeSean Hamilton (three first-place votes): There were questions about who would catch the ball for the Nittany Lions this season, and Hamilton has provided a nice answer. The redshirt freshman leads the conference in total receiving yards (502) and receptions (36) and is well on pace for a 1,000-yard season.

3. Rutgers DE Kemoko Turay: He's basically a pass-rushing specialist, but his specialty sure is, uh, special. Turay has five sacks already this season, tops in the Big Ten and more than all but seven players in the FBS.

Big Ten morning links

September, 26, 2014
Sep 26
Week 5 in the Big Ten is nearly upon us, with five conference matchups to digest. As the preparation comes to a close, here’s a peek inside my mind in advance of Saturday.

If it looks like a quarterback controversy, and it sounds like a quarterback controversy . . . Look, coaches would often rather talk about injuries -- and they hate to talk about injuries -- than an uncertain situation at quarterback. But that’s just what Brady Hoke and Kirk Ferentz face this week. Based on recent play of the Michigan offense, neither Shane Morris nor Devin Gardner appear likely to resurrect the Wolverines. But Hoke and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, as a visit nears from Minnesota, continue to keep their strategy under wraps. At Iowa, Jake Rudock has a leg injury. C.J. Beathard has a live arm, showcased in the second half last week as he led the Hawkeyes back on the road to beat Pittsburgh. So what you do? My suggestion: Give the backups a shot. Morris might provide a spark at the Big House. As for Iowa, it should win at Purdue with either guy. The Hawkeyes know what they’ve got in Rudock. Beathard has never started a game. Let's see what he can do.

What Big Ten team most needs a win on Saturday? This made for a fun discussion last week as Iowa, Northwestern, Maryland and Rutgers faced important bounce-back opportunities. They all won, as did Indiana, which didn’t even receive much consideration in this discussion before its trip to Missouri. I chose Michigan last week as the team most in need of a win. And you know what happened against Utah. Well, this week, I’m eliminating U-M as a candidate here, because I think a victory over Minnesota simply delays the inevitable crash and burn. Wisconsin, Michigan State, Nebraska and Ohio State also don’t get a chance in this category; as favorites of more than two touchdowns, their situations are clear. Same goes for Rutgers, which ought to roll against Tulane. I’m going with Indiana, amazingly. The Hoosiers face a tough test at home against Maryland in what looks like an entertaining matchup. After the win at Mizzou, IU needs to validate its legitimacy as a bowl contender and continue to distance itself from the loss to Bowling Green.

Setting the table. Don’t look now, but if things go according to form in Lincoln and East Lansing on Saturday, there's a big one on tap next week at Spartan Stadium. A visit from the undefeated Cornhuskers would rank Nebraska-Michigan State as the marquee early-season conference game in the league and likely the best intra-division matchup of the season -- if not the game of the year in the Big Ten. Nationally, next week isn’t exactly the best day in college football history, but it’s pretty good, with Alabama-Ole Miss, Arizona State-USC, Texas A&M-Mississippi State, Stanford-Notre Dame and LSU-Auburn. The Huskers and Spartans can give the Big Ten a seat at the table.

Around the league:

East Division
West Division

Big Ten awards race tracker: Week 4

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
A few teams have already played a third of the season. The nonconference action is winding down. Big Ten play is about to really kick off in earnest this weekend -- and the battles for individual awards are starting to come into better focus.

There is still plenty of football to be played and more than enough opportunities to shake up the ballots. But our Big Ten reporters are voting weekly on the races to take the pulse of the races, with players receiving five points for a first-place vote, four for a second-place nod, etc. Also, we try hard to base these standings on 2014 season results only, not any preconceived notions or a player's previous track record.

Here's where it stands after Week 4:

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (six first-place votes): Another prolific performance in a win for the unbeaten Huskers and another unanimous selection as the top offensive player in the league. Abdullah has set the bar high in the early going and could be tough to chase down if Nebraska keeps rolling.

2. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: Still something of an unknown nationally, Coleman helped get his name out last weekend in the upset at Missouri. He's actually averaging more rushing yards per game than Abdullah.

3. Michigan State QB Connor Cook: Fresh off a bye, Cook was able to take even more time off after carving up Eastern Michigan early and and then calling it a day after six attempts last weekend. He's completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and is clearly building on his strong finish to last season.

4. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: One of the preseason favorites has finally arrived in the rankings after a slow start. Gordon made up for some lost time with a ridiculous outing against Bowling Green, steamrolling to 5 touchdowns and 253 yards on just 13 carries.

5. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: Massachusetts didn't pose much of a threat to the Nittany Lions, and the sophomore didn't need to do much to secure another victory. He still leads the Big Ten in passing yardage, but he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns at this point.

Also receiving votes: Minnesota RB David Cobb and Michigan State WR Tony Lippett.

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel (six first-place votes): The clear-cut leader for the second week in a row, the defensive tackle continues to lead the league in tackles for loss. His emergence has been invaluable during the perfect start for the Nittany Lions.

2. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa: The Buckeyes were off this week, but that didn't hurt the pass-rushing dynamo any in the rankings. Bosa isn't likely to get his sidekick Noah Spence back any time soon, so his production will be even more critical moving forward for Ohio State.

T-3. Maryland CB Will Likely: The talented defensive back is breaking up at least one pass per game, and he's already nabbed a pair of interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. Even better for the Terrapins, he's a willing tackler averaging nearly 7 takedowns from his spot in the secondary.

T-3. Minnesota LB Damien Wilson: The senior sits on top of the tackling leader board after four games having already piled up 44 of them. The Gophers could use another solid outing as they head to Michigan with a chance to claim the Little Brown Jug.

5. Rutgers DE Kemoko Turay: The defensive race has been relatively wide open and full of surprising names, perhaps none as head-turning as Turay. Through four games, the freshman's four sacks are tied for the league lead.

Also receiving votes: Michigan LB Jake Ryan, Iowa DE Drew Ott and Wisconsin LB Joe Schobert.

Big Ten awards race tracker: Week 3

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
Three weeks' worth of games are in the book. That's not enough to decide the individual award races in the Big Ten, but it won't stop us from figuring out where those races stand.

Our Big Ten reporters are voting weekly on the races, with players receiving five points for a first-place vote, four for a second-place nod, etc. Also, we try hard to base these standings on 2014 season results only, not any preconceived notions or a player's previous track records.

Here's how things shake out:

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (Five first-place votes): Abdullah gets the unanimous nod on offense as he continues to power up the Huskers attack.

2. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: He has become the master of the two-minute drive, and he leads the Big Ten in passing.

3. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: He leads the Big Ten in rushing yards (437) and rushing touchdowns (five) despite having played just two games. He's averaging 9.3 yards per carry.

4. Michigan State QB Connor Cook: His completion rate is over 68 percent, and Cook can build on his stats against Eastern Michigan and Wyoming the next two weeks.

5. Illinois QB Wes Lunt: He wasn't able to summon late-game magic at Washington in Week 3 but still is among the league's top passers.

Also receiving votes: Michigan RB Derrick Green; Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon; Minnesota RB David Cobb; Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong Jr.

Nagurski Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel (5): Another unanimous pick, Zettel has been a monster in the early going for the Lions. He leads the Big Ten in tackles for loss, with seven, to go along with three sacks.

2. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa: He's tied for the league lead with two forced fumbles, in addition to 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

3. Iowa DT Louis Trinca-Pasat: His strong start to the season continues, as he has four tackles for loss along Iowa's strong defensive front.

4. Wisconsin S Michael Caputo: He and the Badgers were off last week but should get a test from Bowling Green's fast-paced offense.

Also receiving votes: Penn State LB Mike Hull; Rutgers DE Kemoko Turay; Minnesota LB Damien Wilson; Michigan State DE Marcus Rush; Ohio State LB Joshua Perry.
The countdown to Big Ten media days, July 28-29 in Chicago, is certainly under way. We're excited, you're excited, the players and coaches are excited. To get you ready, we're running through three questions facing each Big Ten team and the potential answers we could hear at the Hilton Chicago.

Minnesota is up next. The Gophers improved their win total from six to eight in 2013 and bring back some good pieces on both sides of the ball. Coach Jerry Kill will be in Chicago along with quarterback Mitch Leidner, running back David Cobb and safety Cedric Thompson.

1. How can the passing game improve?

Minnesota has returned to its power-run roots under Kill, finishing second in the Big Ten in rushing attempts (586) and fourth in rushing yards (2,538) last season. The Gophers bring back a good group of backs, led by 1,200-yard rusher Cobb, as well as four starting offensive linemen from 2013. But there needs to be more balance in the passing game after Minnesota finished last in the Big Ten and 115th nationally last fall. It's Leidner's show at quarterback, but he must improve his accuracy and his production. The Gophers are expecting jumps from young wideouts Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones, as well as continued development from tight end Maxx Williams, who led the team with 417 receiving yards in 2013.

2. What are realistic expectations for the defense?

After producing no NFL draft picks in 2011, 2012 or 2013, Minnesota's defense had two players drafted in the first four rounds in May -- defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman and safety Brock Vereen. Both were unique players -- Hageman with his size, Vereen with his versatility -- who leave big shoes to fill. But coordinator Tracy Claeys thinks the unit can be better with improved overall depth. So, who provides the star power? Defensive end Theiren Cockran, who quietly led the Big Ten in forced fumbles (four) and finished third in sacks (7.5), will anchor the line. Claeys pegs Damien Wilson to lead from the linebacker spot, and the secondary has good depth at cornerback. Thompson had a great spring at safety. If Minnesota plans to match or exceed last year's success, the defense must keep progressing.

3. How is Kill's health, and what will his role be this fall?

It's not the topic Kill and his players want to focus on in Chicago, but it remains relevant until Kill gets through an entire season without any major health scares. He has worked extremely hard with his doctors to get his epilepsy under control, and he said this spring that he plans to coach from the sideline, where he spent the second half of the Texas Bowl before working mostly from the press box in 2013. We know Kill's coaching staff, led by Claeys, is more than capable of filling in if he has to step away. But Minnesota obviously doesn't want any distractions as it aims to challenge for the West Division despite a challenging schedule.
Minnesota had a grand total of one defensive player drafted between 2009 and 2013. Earlier this month, the Gophers had two defenders, tackle Ra'Shede Hageman and safety Brock Vereen, selected in the first four rounds.

[+] EnlargeTracy Claeys
AP Photo/Al GoldisMinnesota defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said he'll be disappointed if the Gophers don't improve on defense in 2014.
Those departures would would suggest some type of a drop off for Minnesota's defense, but coordinator Tracy Claeys thinks it will be just the opposite in 2014. In Claeys' mind, the Gophers are just getting started.

"We should be better than we were a year ago," Claeys told on Thursday. "We've improved every year we've been there, and I'll be disappointed if we don't improve more. We have the talent and the kids that want to put in the work.

"I'm excited about this coming fall."

Minnesota won't have a player with Hageman's freakish frame and ability, or Vereen's versatility to play both secondary positions at an All-Big Ten level. But the unit's overall depth should improve. Perhaps more important, Claeys and his staff are no longer newcomers.

The foundation is in place. The defense improved from 93rd in scoring defense in 2011 to 45th in 2012 and 25th last season. It was extremely salty in the red zone, allowing just 26 touchdowns on 52 opponent trips inside the 20-yard line.

These days, Claeys and his staff are enhancing their system rather than teaching it.

"It's not what you know as a coach; it's what those kids know," he said. "It's nice to be going into our fourth year and have a system in place to where a lot of the kids, they know those adjustments already. With knowledge comes confidence, and to be good on defense nowadays with all the spread stuff and the hurry-ups, you have to be confident."

Although Vereen started games at both safety and cornerback last season, Claeys expects the secondary to be Minnesota's strongest group in 2014. Cornerback Eric Murray has All-Big Ten potential, and Derrick Wells and Briean Boddy-Calhoun both are playmakers who will be healthy by the start of fall camp. Boddy-Calhoun started the first two games at cornerback last fall before tearing his ACL, and Wells, who had 10 pass breakups and two interceptions in 2012, battled injuries all season.

Safety Cedric Thompson has emerged as the leader of the defense after learning alongside Vereen. Antonio Johnson, who had 69 tackles in 2013, also returns at safety.

Claeys also has high hopes for the linebackers. Although only one starter is back in Damien Wilson, De'Vondre Campbell logged significant time last season and Jack Lynn should have a greater role following a strong spring. Wilson, a junior-college transfer who led Minnesota with 79 tackles in 2013, is taking charge of the group.

"We need Damien to step up into more of a leadership role," Claeys said. "That's one thing that's hard on junior-college kids, the leadership in their first year. I think he'll be better at that."

Minnesota has reached consecutive bowl games and held its own in Big Ten play last season. To continue the trajectory, the Gophers must navigate a challenging schedule, establish more balance on offense through the passing game and keep the pedal down on defense.

Claeys doesn't expect his unit to let up despite the two big pieces it loses.

"I'll be disappointed," he said, "if we don't play better than we did a year ago."



Friday, 12/26
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Thursday, 1/1
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