Big Ten: Galen Hall
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Penn State Nittany Lions finally can celebrate.
After enduring an emotionally draining two weeks, No. 21 Penn State held off Ohio State 20-14 to prevail in Ohio Stadium for just the second time as a member of the Big Ten. The defense held the Buckeyes scoreless in the second half, and the offense continued to mix personnel and formations. Credit interim head coach Tom Bradley, offensive coordinator Galen Hall and the rest of the staff for a terrific game plan, and the team for remaining focused following so many distractions.
Penn State won a day after learning former coach Joe Paterno has lung cancer and 10 days after the school dismissed Paterno from his post after 45-plus seasons. The running back play was tremendous for the Lions, and DE Sean Stanley and LB Gerald Hodges led a stout defensive effort.
The win doesn't mean a whole lot in the Leaders Division race, which will be decided next week as Penn State visits Wisconsin. But it means a great deal to this Lions team, which has endured so much since the sex-abuse scandal broke.
Ohio State simply made too many mistakes to win, from penalties to a horrible false start penalty on J.B. Shugarts in the closing minutes. Luke Fickell and his assistants seemed to be a step behind Penn State's staff. While quarterback Braxton Miller made several electrifying plays, the Buckeyes didn't have enough contributions on both sides of the ball to beat an inspired Penn State team. Ohio State's run of six consecutive Big Ten titles is over, and the Buckeyes must beat Michigan next week in Ann Arbor just to secure a winning season.
Not a typical Senior Day at Ohio State, and not a typical season. For Penn State, the Big Ten title is still out there.
Much more to come from the Horsehoe.
Some notes and observations:
- Penn State's offense looks good early in this one. Coordinator Galen Hall is mixing personnel well and giving several ball-carriers chances. Top running back Silas Redd (collarbone) is a bit banged up, so Stephfon Green and Brandon Beachum are getting work. Green looks good for the second straight week and scored on a 39-yard run out of the Wildcat formation. Penn State mounted scoring drives of 80 and 54 yards and finished with 76 rush yards on 10 carries in the quarter.
- Lions quarterback Matthew McGloin made some good early throws but finished the quarter completing just 4 of 9 attempts. He didn't get much help from his receivers, who had several drops.
- Ohio State needs to mix it up more on offense and get its playmaking quarterback, Braxton Miller, in better positions to make plays. Miller's biggest play, a 39-yard completion to DeVier Posey, came while freelancing under pressure. The Buckeyes should consider moving the pocket with Miller in passing situations and letting him create.
- Slow starts have been a problem for Ohio State in recent weeks, and the trend has continued today. Penn State started fast here in last year's contest, surging out to a 14-3 halftime lead before allowing 35 unanswered points. Let's see if the Lions can make their fast start hold up this time around.
1. Penn State with no JoePa: For the first time since 1965, Penn State will play a game without Joe Paterno as its head coach. Paterno's firing Thursday night shook a program that had been rattled to its core throughout the week. Senior Day at Beaver Stadium will take place without the most famous senior of all. How will Penn State players respond? How will the fans respond after an outpouring of emotion Wednesday night? It's a very big game for this team and these seniors, but they'll be truly challenged to keep the focus on the task at hand.
3. A date with destiny: Michigan State and Iowa are the only two Legends Division teams that control their own fate in the Big Ten championship race. Only one squad will walk out of Kinnick Stadium on Saturday with that label still in place. Iowa has won seven consecutive home games in the series, including a 37-6 spanking of the then-undefeated Spartans last season. Michigan State hasn't been the same team away from home and must come out with better energy, particularly on offense, after struggling in a 24-3 loss at Nebraska on Oct. 30. The Hawkeyes haven't lost at home this season, but haven't played a team as complete as Michigan State.
4. Chasing the record: Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, or "Moneyball," as we like to call him, needs two touchdowns to tie the Big Ten single-season record of 26 held by three players (Ohio State's Pete Johnson in 1975, Indiana's Anthony Thompson in 1988 and Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter in 1994). Ball has scored at least two touchdowns in every game this season and leads the nation with 24 scores in 2011. He'll try to make history as Wisconsin puts Paul Bunyan's Axe on the line at Minnesota.
5. Starting blocks in Champaign: Michigan and Illinois are trying to get back in the win column, and both teams are looking for stronger starts. The Wolverines have throttled opponents after the first quarter, but have been outscored in the first 15 minutes. The Illini have failed to score in the first half in each of their past three games, all losses. Ron Zook wants his Illinois team to play loose, while offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said it comes down to the basics. Illinois needs to show up offensively against a Michigan team that typically gets better as games go along.
6. Rex vs. Silas: Still undecided about the Big Ten's best running back? You're not alone. Two of the top candidates square off Saturday in State College as Nebraska's Rex Burkhead goes up against Penn State's Silas Redd. Both men have been their teams' most consistent offensive performers this season. Redd comes off of a bye week after recording a historic performance in October, rushing for more than 100 yards in five consecutive games and leading all FBS players with 703 rush yards during the month. Burkhead, who was a bit banged up in last week's loss to Northwestern, has eclipsed 100 rush yards five times in the past seven games.
7. Cousins' chance at redemption: Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins grew up a big Iowa fan and has a few Hawkeye alums in his immediate family. But he has yet to record a win against Iowa as Michigan State's starting quarterback, losing a 15-13 heartbreaker in 2009 and struggling in last year's game, throwing three interceptions, including a pick-six. Cousins gets one final shot at Iowa on Saturday, and it's a huge game for the senior and his Spartans teammates. Iowa has been vulnerable against the pass at times this season, so Cousins and his receivers will look to stretch the field.
8. Axe to grind: Speaking of final chances, Minnesota senior safety Kim Royston gets one last crack at Wisconsin, his former team, on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. Royston began his career as a Badger before transferring to Minnesota, where he has faced some hurdles, including a broken leg that sidelined him all of last season. The NCAA granted Royston a sixth year of eligibility, and he has made the most of it as one of few bright spots for Minnesota's defense, leading the Big Ten in solo tackles (51). The Gophers have been playing much better ball as of late, and they hope to shock Wisconsin and regain the Axe on Saturday. Said Royston: "I've been having those visions [of hoisting the Axe] ever since I left there."
9. Buckeyes' boiling point: After looking flat at times last week against Indiana, Ohio State knows it can't afford a similar performance this week at Purdue. The Boilers are one of those teams, like Illinois, that seems to give Ohio State trouble. Ohio State stumbled at Purdue in 2009, putting its Big Ten title hopes in jeopardy. Another loss Saturday likely would take Ohio State out of the Leaders Division race. Buckeyes' running backs Dan Herron and Jordan Hall both are dealing with ankle injuries. Herron is expected to play and Hall could return after missing the Indiana game.
10. Bowl push continues: Northwestern (4-5) and Purdue (4-5) both need two more wins to become bowl eligible, and the quest resumes Saturday on their home fields. After a potentially season-turning win at Nebraska, Northwestern returns home to face 3-6 Rice, which has a victory over, yep, Purdue. Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said his team won't be overlooking the Owls, who can put up plenty of points. Purdue, meanwhile, returns home after consecutive blowout losses on the road against Wisconsin and Michigan. The Boilers are 2-0 in Big Ten home contests and need at least one of the next two (Ohio State, Iowa), plus the finale at Indiana to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007.
1. Buckeyes seeing red: Luke Fickell and his team can't catch a break these days. Saturday was supposed to mark the return of four players, including three multiyear offensive starters, from suspension. Turns out, Ohio State will only regain the services of left tackle Mike Adams and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas for the game at Nebraska. The Buckeyes rank 108th nationally in total offense and face a Nebraska defense coming off of an embarrassing performance at Wisconsin. Ohio State is a double-digit underdog in a conference game for the first time in recent memory. Is this the beginning of the end, or the start of a turnaround?
3. Wolverines, Illini finally hit the road: Michigan and Illinois have been the two nicest surprises in the Big Ten so far, as both teams are 5-0 and ranked in the top 20. Both teams also haven't left the comforts of their home stadiums. That changes Saturday as Michigan visits Northwestern and Illinois visits Indiana. Although neither road opponent or road setting seems too daunting, Michigan's improved defense will be challenged against Northwestern senior QB Dan Persa, while Illinois faces an Indiana team that held Penn State to 16 points last week in Bloomington.
4. Mad Martinez anxious to rebound: Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez is fed up with the criticism, which increased after his three-interception game against Wisconsin. Martinez had a terse session with reporters this week in Lincoln, and offensive lineman Yoshi Hardwick said, "It finally hit him. He'd been holding in a lot. He said he couldn't take it anymore. ... He told me he's sick of it. These next seven games, he just wants the world to get off his back, so he had to do something about it." He can start the process against Ohio State, which boasts the nation's No. 13 defense.
5. QBs in spotlight at Ross-Ade: Minnesota coach Jerry Kill and Purdue counterpart Danny Hope both announced likely starters for Saturday's game -- Max Shortell for the Gophers, Caleb TerBush for the Boilers -- but said things could change by kickoff. MarQueis Gray practiced this week and could work his way back onto the field for Minnesota after missing the Michigan debacle. Robert Marve, whose critical tweet after the Notre Dame loss didn't upset Hope, should be in the mix alongside TerBush. "If he could stay within the system, he could be a difference maker for us," Hope said of Marve this week. "Caleb manages the offense very well and Robert doesn't manage it as well." This much is known: one of these four quarterbacks will guide their team to its first Big Ten win Saturday.
6. Denard vs. Dan: No two Big Ten players meant more to their teams in 2010 than Michigan QB Denard Robinson and Northwestern QB Dan Persa. The two signal callers meet Saturday night in Evanston in what could be an offensive shootout. Robinson still leads the Big Ten in rushing (120.6 ypg) and rebounded nicely as a passer last week against Minnesota, completing 15 of 19 attempts for 169 yards and two scores. Persa sizzled in his season debut at Illinois, firing a career-high four touchdown passes on only 14 pass attempts. Although Persa left the Illinois game with a right foot injury, he practiced this week and is expected to take the bulk of the snaps against Michigan.
7. Potent Hawkeyes pass attack put to test: Ferentz was joking last week when he said Iowa will "go 100 percent no-huddle" on offense the rest of the season, but the Hawkeyes have found something with their up-tempo passing attack. QB James Vandenberg has racked up 432 pass yards and six touchdowns in his past five quarters of play, and Iowa's receiving corps has been a pleasant surprise as Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley are emerging alongside No. 1 wideout Marvin McNutt. How good is the Hawkeyes' pass attack? Find out Saturday afternoon at Penn State, which ranks sixth nationally in pass defense with only three passing touchdowns allowed this season.
8. Illini livin' on the edge: Illinois is racking up the wins, but not without plenty of drama. The Illini have recorded three consecutive victories by three points, rallying in the fourth quarter for two of those wins (Arizona State and Northwestern). Ron Zook would like to leave the Maalox at home this week and enjoy a complete performance from his 19th-ranked squad at Indiana. Illinois has to cut down on turnovers, limit penalties after committing eight last week and improve its red-zone touchdowns efficiency against an Indiana defense that forced two Penn State turnovers in the red zone last week.
9. JoePa's sideline swagger: Penn State coach Joe Paterno has disposed of his cane and hopes to spend an entire game on the sideline for the first time this season. The 84-year-old has coached the first half on the sideline in each of the last two contests before heading to the coaches' booth after halftime. "I'm going to be swaggering all over the place." Paterno told reporters Tuesday. "Don't get in my way." Although Paterno's prolonged sideline presence should help his team, he remains removed from much of the key decision-making, including offensive play calls, which are handled by assistants Galen Hall and Jay Paterno. "I don't do a lot of play-calling anymore," he said. "I'm a cheerleader."
10. The league's middle class: Monday, I wrote that the Big Ten needs its middle class to rise to improve its national perception and enhance its chances for the bowl season. Top dog Wisconsin is off this week, so Saturday provides a chance to evaluate the rest of the league (aside from Michigan State, which also has a bye). Nebraska, Michigan and Illinois all have opportunities to take steps forward on the field and likely in the polls. The Iowa-Penn State winner will be in good shape to make a push in their division. Northwestern and Ohio State try to avoid 0-2 conference starts and change the mood around their programs.
Here's the full chat wrap.
Michael (detroit): Coach Dantonio said that Tyler Hoover is up to 290 lbs. Do you see MSU trying some 3-4 defensive sets this season? They tried some last season, but abandoned it pretty quick
Adam Rittenberg (12:20 PM): That's interesting, Michael. Hoover's increased size gives him some flexibility to play inside or as a big defensive end. You could use Worthy as the nose and have Hoover alongside him, creating some size, along with a rush end like William Gholston or Marcus Rush. I would point out that Anthony Rashad White has a really nice spring, and I'd expect to see him alongside Worthy as the other DT quite a bit this season. I think you'll see Worthy and White as the DTs, and Hoover and Gholston as the DEs in the base 4-3.
Tommy (NJ): Adam, do you think that PSU will be going to more of a run-first offense? I know that it would be a waste of some very good talent at WR, but I'm not sure of how much trust Galen/Jay have in their qb, whoever that ends up being.
Adam Rittenberg (12:42 PM): Tommy, I think Galen and Jay have more trust in their quarterbacks now than they did a year ago, when they tried to spark Evan Royster and the run game and failed to do so. A lot depends on the offensive line, but I'd be surprised if Penn State didn't feature its passing game and arguably the Big Ten's best receiver in Derek Moye, not to mention some exciting players like Brown, Smith, etc.
Teddyrukk (Blue Springs Mo): Adam, do you think the Huskers could make the BSC title game with one loss due to the strength of their schedule??
Adam Rittenberg (12:44 PM): It would be tough, Teddy. One spot is pretty much reserved for the SEC champion, even with one loss. So Nebraska would need losses from Oregon, Stanford, Oklahoma, Florida State and maybe Boise State to get into the game with one loss. I have a tough time seeing a 1-loss Big Ten team making it to New Orleans.
Nick (WI): Would you prefer to see a rematch in the BIG Championship Game, or two teams that didn't meet in the regular season?
Adam Rittenberg (12:47 PM): Nick, I have less of a problem with rematches than a lot of college football fans/media members. If Nebraska and Wisconsin play in the title game after meeting on Oct. 1, that's fine by me. Circumstances for both teams will have changed. It's always nice to see unique matchups, but even if Michigan and Ohio State met in back-to-back weeks, it wouldn't be the end of the world. The championship game is its own entity, and it generates its own type of excitement.
Good stuff this week, even a dig at my poor wardrobe choices. I'll be chatting again next Wednesday at noon ET, so be sure and join in.
You have the right to sound off on anything, but just a friendly reminder: I'll never address questions about ESPN programming, and while it's flattering that you think I have the power to shape those decisions, they take place at much higher levels. Thanks for reading!
John from West Chester, Pa., writes: Given the struggles of the Penn State offense do you think it might be time to see what we have in Kevin Newsome? Seems like his running ability could really help spark an offense looking for plays? At this point any Jan 1st bowl seems like a long shot so it can't hurt.
Adam Rittenberg: John, I think offensive coordinator Galen Hall and his staff have to be open to all possibilities at this point, including using Newsome in more meaningful situations. A lot of fans and some media have talked about Newsome playing more in the red zone. His size and athleticism certainly could help near the goal line. But ultimately, Penn State coaches need to evaluate the gap between Newsome and Robert Bolden. Is it still wide, or is it narrowing? You can't blame Bolden for Penn State's offensive woes, as there have been struggles elsewhere (spotty line play, dropped passes). I still think Bolden will be a very good Big Ten quarterback some day. If there's still a sizable gap between Bolden and Newsome in practice, I don't think it's worth hurting Bolden's confidence just to shake things up. But if the coaches think Newsome has shown them enough to make a difference, it's time to pull the trigger.
Michael from Charlotte, N.C., writes: With as many yards as Oregon's defense has given up in it's two PAC-10 games(1100), how can people seriously be considering them as the #2 team ahead of tOSU? I know they're offense is lighting it up, but defense still wins championships, and OSU only struggled Saturday because Tressel limted Pryor's touches due to his quad injury. Help me understand why anyone would say this...
Adam Rittenberg: Sure, I can help. Oregon's defense certainly hasn't been lights out, but the Ducks looked like a very dangerous team on offense against a very good Stanford squad on Saturday. Given what the Ducks have done offensively so far, they certainly deserve to be in the discussion for No. 2. The bigger issue is I'm not sure Ohio State "only struggled" because of Terrelle Pryor's injury. Illinois' defense did a nice job against the Buckeyes and deserves a little bit of credit, too. And Ohio State's running backs still leave something to be desired. You can make strong cases for both Ohio State and Oregon to be No. 2, but I don't believe there's a sizable gap one way or the other when it comes to both teams' body of work this season.
James from East Lansing, Mich., writes: When my Spartans were winning 27-24 I must admit I was nervous you're 31-30 last minute Wisco victory would be true. Anyways, when does Treadwell's phone start ringing with head coach offers for next year? The way he's been coaching I feel like we should be worried about losing a great coordinator.
Adam Rittenberg: Ha! James, I was thinking the exact same thing when Wisconsin stopped Michigan State on third-and-goal. I thought the Spartans would take the three points and set up my predicted score. But Don Treadwell played it bold and Kirk Cousins executed the play perfectly. Good question about Treadwell, who is definitely helping his cause to be a future head coach by handling things so well these past two weeks. He really distinguished himself as a play-caller on MSU's final touchdown drive, outmaneuvering Wisconsin's staff on three third-down conversions and then the fourth-and-goal. Treadwell definitely should get some attention after the season, and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him running the show somewhere else in 2011.
Mark from Washington writes: Adam,Typically your writing about the Big 10 and its players is thoughtful, nuanced and accurate, but I was disappointed to see you take up the theme of your colleagues in referring to Denard Robinson as a "one-man show" in your blog this week. What Robinson is doing so far this season is special and awe-inspiring, but to say that he's doing this by himself is disingenuous. Michigan's experienced and deep offensive line and blocking tailbacks have opened up gaping holes for Robinson, and allowed him plenty of time to find open receivers. And speaking of receivers, Darryl Stonum, Roy Roundtree and -- especially against Indiana -- Junior Hemingway have had a lot to do with Robinson's big numbers through the air. I think Denard has been outstanding, but when I keep reading that he's a "one-man show," I feel for all the guys on the field that are making that show possible (not to mention Rich Rodriguez's offensive scheme and play calling).
Adam Rittenberg: Mark, these are fair criticisms delivered in a respectful manner. Michigan's offensive line deserves a lot of credit for Robinson's success, although as guard Stephen Schilling told me Monday, the linemen don't need to hold their blocks too long for No. 16 to zip through and into the second level. I think I've given enough props to Stonum, Roundtree and now Junior Hemingway, but to restate: those guys have done a nice job. Still, there are a lot of teams with solid offensive lines and groups of receivers, but the number of huge plays Michigan has executed this season are mainly because Robinson is on the field.
Bucky from Secret Hideout writes: Our football coach is 1-8 against ranked opponents on the road. We have the 8th largest football budget in the country. As a tax paying Wisconsin badger and fan, do you think I'm getting my moneys worth from the program? Regards,Bucky
Adam Rittenberg: Bucky, you have a point here. Wisconsin never hesitates to tout its impressive home record under Bret Bielema, but the road has been a very different story. I wouldn't blame the Badgers for never setting foot in the state of Michigan again. Oh, wait, they have to go back there Nov. 20 to face Michigan. Beating Ohio State at home on Oct. 16 is huge, but it's almost as big for Bielema to notch a road win against a ranked team this year. He'll get his chance Oct. 23 against Iowa, which will be ranked even if it stumbles against Michigan. Winning big road games is an important step on the path from very good to great, and Wisconsin has yet to take the step.
David from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam,Just saw your poll where you voted Oregon #2 and Ohio State #3. I just wanted to remind you that we beat them decisively at the end of last year in the Rose Bowl and we both brought back the exact same people - except our defense might actually be better this year!I don't discount we didn't look great this weekend, but you have to remember it was our first road game and the weather didn't set up for a 70-point day like it did against other teams. Please remember the Pac-10 does not believe in defense and when everyone talks about LaMichael James and how many 100+ rushing yards he has - they don't mention we were the last team to keep him under the century mark.Finally, when we won it all in 2002 against one the best teams around back then we won many games this exact same way. The vest will not put us in harm's way and if we have the lead we'll be happy to punt and play defense!
Adam Rittenberg: David, first of all, the Rose Bowl argument doesn't hold water. New season. It doesn't matter that the Buckeyes beat Oregon nine months ago. You're right that a team's first road game typically brings some ups and downs, but this is a veteran Ohio State team, as you point out, that has actually had more success on the road in Big Ten play than at home. Oregon started slowly in its first road game, too, before blitzing Tennessee 48-13. And while the Vols are down right now, they should have knocked off Lucky Les and No. 12 LSU on Saturday. The weather argument is a fair one, but Ohio State still wanted to get its run game going and, aside from Pryor's long run, didn't do so until late. I'm sure Buckeyes fans would love to have James or Kenjon Barner this year. As for your point about 2002, I never questioned the way Tressel's teams won games. The formula is proven over time. All I'm saying is that Ohio State might need some lopsided wins along the way to distinguish itself this year.
Scott from Lansing, Mich., writes: Seriously Adam, what this week separated Michigan and Michigan State in the power rankings? What?
Adam Rittenberg: Michigan is more dynamic on offense and has a quarterback that pretty much won a game single-handedly (Denard Robinson at Notre Dame). While I love Michigan State's offense as well, especially the run game, Michigan has more firepower right now. I also want to see Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins win a big game in the clutch. I'm a huge Cousins fans, but he needs to make plays under pressure. It could happen Saturday against Wisconsin. Listen, there isn't much separating Michigan and Michigan State, or Michigan/Michigan State and Penn State. But I vowed to eliminate the ties in the power rankings, so you have a little separation.
Bill from Plowville, Pa., writes: Eliades' injury seems like a pretty important event, given the run game the past few weeks. Any reason why he didn't make it to the news roundup?
Adam Rittenberg: I already addressed Lou Eliades' season-ending injury in lunch links, in case you missed it. This is certainly a blow for Penn State, which is still building chemistry along its offensive line and certainly could use Eliades' experience and leadership. The timing also is unfortunate, as Penn State faces arguably the nation's best defensive line Saturday night in Iowa City. Galen Hall and Jay Paterno need to get creative in finding ways to protect freshman quarterback Rob Bolden from the Hawkeyes' D-linemen. Penn State also must the ball effectively to keep the pressure off of Bolden in a tough road environment. Not a good situation.
Scott from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Love the blog but Best BigTen stadium: Ohio Stadium? And then you mention Camp Randall basicly as a number 2 choice. What about THE BIG HOUSE...are you kidding me? Your explanation was of the environment...but that was already a topic of "Game Day Atmosphere". I bet you all 113,090 fans on September 4th would be appalled by this choice!
Adam Rittenberg: Trust me, Scott, doing this blog for two plus years, I'm used to having tens of thousands of people mad at me. It was unquestionably a great atmosphere in the Bigger House on Sept. 4, but Michigan Stadium has a ways to go before matching Ohio Stadium in terms of the intimidation factor. In building my program, I want the most intimidating home venue possible. Right now, it's The Shoe, followed by Beaver Stadium and Camp Randall Stadium. Michigan is getting there, and the introduction of night football in 2011 will help the process.
Tim from Austin writes: Northwestern: Still not ranked?? Are you kidding me?
Adam Rittenberg: The Wildcats don't deserve to be ranked just yet. If they take of business against struggling Minnesota and Purdue the next two weeks, they'll be ranked when they host Michigan State on Oct. 23. I was a bit surprised to see Northwestern receive only four votes in this week's AP Poll (the coaches give the Wildcats a little more love). Northwestern could have helped itself with a more convincing win against Central Michigan, a team it led 30-13 in the fourth quarter before allowing two late touchdowns. Then again, the Wildcats will take any win they can get, especially one that preserves a spotless nonconference record for just the second time since 1963.
Kelly from Manassas, Va., writes: I think you took it too far when you said Iowa enters Saturday's game with most of the advantages. Penn State holds many key advantages. Penn State enters the game with the better defense and for the first time in several years, an edge on special teams, which cost them last year's game against a lesser Iowa squad. Penn State also has a big advantage in team speed which they haven't used the last two years against lesser Iowa teams due to field conditions and the weather is looking ideal for Saturday. They also have a big edge in terms of talent, especially at the offensive skill positions and in the secondary. If Penn State wins on Saturday, it will not be an upset.
Adam Rittenberg: Here you go again, Kelly. Penn State doesn't have the better defense at this point. Iowa has a more dynamic defensive line and better safeties, led by Tyler Sash. I give Penn State the edge at cornerback and maybe linebacker, although I need to see more from both groups. Penn State certainly has a better situation at kicker entering the game, as Collin Wagner has been excellent. But Iowa has the better punter (Ryan Donahue). The return teams are about even. As for the "big advantage in team speed," I don't agree. Both teams have speed, and I'd like to see a lot more of Devon Smith with the ball. Penn State doesn't have a big advantage. While I really like Penn State's receiving corps, Iowa has Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt, plus a better tight end in Allen Reisner, who already has 14 receptions. Can Penn State win at Kinnick? Absolutely. But Kelly, you're just wrong on this one, and most of your fellow Penn State fans would agree that a win Saturday constitutes an upset.
Mark from Minneapolis writes: Adam--Who lasts longer? The Twins in the playoffs or Tim Brewster at Minnesota?
Adam Rittenberg: Wow, Mark, that's harsh. Despite my White Sox ties, I'd like to see the Twins finally make a good run into the playoffs. The Twins have owned the Sox, but their playoff performance has been pretty pathetic. As for Brewster, there's still a lot of time to get this thing turned around, but he has to beat Northwestern on Saturday or archrival Wisconsin next week in Madison. If not, I just can't see this Gophers team turning things around. I'm not a proponent of in-season coaching changes, and Minnesota's situation with the president and AD seems a bit up in the air. I don't think we'll see any decisions until November.
- Ohio State is a legit national title contender, so deal with it, America, Matt Hinton writes at Yahoo! Sports.
- A memorial garden is being created for former Ohio State star Chic Harley, Bob Hunter writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- The flu forces Joe Paterno to cancel another appearance, Bob Flounders writes in The (Harrisburg) Patriot-news. Offensive coordinator Galen Hall doesn't sound too concerned about the team's QB situation, Joe Juliano writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
- Notre Dame and Missouri are the best bets for Big Ten expansion, Terry Hutchens writes in The Indianapolis Star. The Daily Gopher makes the case for Nebraska as a Big Ten addition.
- Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez reflects on being a Hall of Famer, Tom Mulhern writes in the Wisconsin State Journal. The Badgers pick up a tight end/defensive end for 2011, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Seven wins might be a more realistic expectation for Michigan and head coach Rich Rodriguez this season, mgoblog's Brian Cook writes.
- A breakdown of Iowa's situation at safety from Black Heart Gold Pants.
- Former Illinois star Moe Gardner didn't get the Hall call this year, but it'll come eventually, Bob Asmussen writes in The (Champaign) News-Gazette.
- Minnesota barely made The Sporting News' countdown of the top 100 teams, and here's why, Matt Hayes writes.
Paterno, Tressel and Minnesota men's basketball coach Tubby Smith are all absent. Paterno has been battling the flu and canceled a recent appearance. The 83-year-old has been one of the Big Ten's most vocal advocates of expansion, the hot-button topic this week.
All three coaches will send assistants in their place. Penn State offensive coordinator Galen Hall and Ohio State assistant head coach/wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell are expected to attend.
It's not unusual for a head coach to miss the spring meetings. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz was absent last year and sent defensive coordinator Norm Parker in his place.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
A quick check of the vital signs shows that Penn State's running game has a pulse again.
Illinois, meanwhile, could be flat-lining.
After getting manhandled by Iowa's defensive front last week, Penn State's offensive line turned in the type of performance it needed in a 35-17 win against Illinois. The Lions' front five wore down Illinois as the game went along and created running room for quarterback Daryll Clark and running backs Stephfon Green and Evan Royster. Head coach Joe Paterno insists that Clark didn't play poorly last week, but the senior signal-caller needed a rebound performance like this one. Also, credit Galen Hall and Jay Paterno for some nice adjustments at halftime.
Green and Royster both eclipsed 100 rushing yards and Clark added 83 yards and two touchdowns as Penn State piled up 338 rush yards and five touchdowns in the victory. If the Lions' new-look line can build off of this performance, Penn State should be in good shape when the schedule gets tougher later this month. The defense did a great job today and will only get better when linebacker Sean Lee returns.
As for Illinois, things are getting very desperate for head coach Ron Zook and his senior quarterback, Juice Williams. The Illini (1-3) have been outscored 102-26 in three games against FBS opponents, and the offense didn't reach the end zone until just 8:46 remained. Whether it's new offensive coordinator Mike Schultz, a more conservative game plan or Williams' continued inconsistency, there's something very wrong with the Illini offense.
Will Zook stick with Williams? He's extremely loyal to the senior, his first major recruit at Illinois, but his job seems to be in jeopardy, and it might be time for Eddie McGee.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images|
|Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany remains optimistic about next season. |
His league has taken a beating on and off the field in recent weeks, and many are questioning the Big Ten's relevancy in college football. But league commissioner Jim Delany remains resilient, albeit realistic, about the recent struggles. The Big Ten went 1-6 in bowls this year, arguably the league's worst postseason performance ever. It extended the Big Ten's losing streak in BCS games to six.
Nine years have passed since the Big Ten won a Rose Bowl, and the league hasn't posted a winning postseason since 2002. I caught up with Delany on Friday to discuss the league's bowl performance and the future.
Obviously the Big Ten's record wasn't good, but how did you feel coming out of this postseason?
Jim Delany: I would rather have gone 6-1, but that's not what the predictors said we would be. I was optimistic going in. I thought we'd win more than we'd lost, but we did not, so it was disappointing. The margins in some cases were not good. In other cases, the games were more competitive. I've given it a lot of thought. I'm not sure I've arrived at any particular conclusions, other than we're playing elite teams. Certainly Southern Cal was playing at another level. That was clear to me. While Penn State got their way back into the game, [USC] really had their way by the half. I'd seen them play earlier against Ohio State and I saw them play last year [in the Rose Bowl] against Illinois. They're very good. They've got great athletes, they're well coached and they play at a level. We don't have a team that's playing at that level at this juncture. We just don't.
How do you think Big Ten teams competed in all the games?
JD: I saw the Michigan State-Georgia game and I saw the Missouri game, I saw the Ohio State game and I saw the Iowa game. Those games were more competitive. One we won and the other ones, we were definitely in the games. Obviously, our goal is to compete at the highest level. When you don't, you have to look internally. That's a football coach's role, to see exactly what needs to be done. We've got great coaches. I would say we have, probably more than people realize, five or six programs that are in the building stages. I don't think you can say anything other than that about Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Illinois and now probably Purdue and Indiana. So to be fair, a program that has got a coach in Year 1, 2 or 3, is different than a program that is in Year 5, 6, 7 or 8. So that has an effect, but that doesn't speak really to the issue. The last four or five years, we've played USC four or five times. We've gotten blown out a couple of times, we were competitive a couple of times, but we haven't been able to beat them. So clearly a better program. And while LSU and Florida got us on championship day, we've gotten them in other bowl games. Michigan got Florida last year and Iowa got LSU. So I'm not despondent about our ability to compete. But I think at the very highest level the last three or four years, we have not had a team. When Florida, LSU and Southern Cal have had championship teams, to me they have been the crème de la crème in terms of coaches, athletes, et cetera.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The defining game of the Big Ten bowl season pits traditional powers No. 8 Penn State (11-1) against No. 5 USC (11-1) in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi (ABC 5 p.m. ET). The Big Ten hasn't won a Rose Bowl since 2000 and enters with a four-game losing streak in BCS games. Penn State hasn't followed the league's downward trend, winning its last three bowl games, including the 2006 Orange.
Here's a look at this mega matchup.
WHO TO WATCH: Quarterback Daryll Clark and running back Evan Royster have sparkled as first-year starters in Penn State's offensive backfield. They face their toughest test to date in USC, which leads the nation in scoring and could be the best defense in recent college football history. Clark regained his confidence in the regular-season finale against Michigan State but must make smart, yet assertive decisions. If Penn State's veteran offensive line gives Royster running room, he could do some damage.
WHAT TO WATCH: Penn State's offensive scheme and strategy this season has been, well, very un-Penn State. The Spread HD attacked defenses with small, fast wide receivers and opened up running lanes for Clark, Royster, Derrick Williams and Stephfon Green. USC's back seven on defense is its strength, so it will be interesting to see how aggressive play-callers Jay Paterno and Galen Hall will be in the game. A bold approach has its risks and rewards, while a conservative style likely won't work against USC.
WHY TO WATCH: Because it's the Rose Bowl, silly. Not fully convinced? You've got two iconic coaches from different generations (Joe Paterno and Pete Carroll), two top five defenses (including the so-called greatest defense ever in USC), a ton of future NFL players and the arguably the greatest setting in college sports. USC can strengthen its argument as potentially the nation's best team, while Penn State can finally gain national respect for its team and, just maybe, its league. You have no excuse not to watch this game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The final 2008 edition of What to Watch examines the four remaining Big Ten bowl games: Outback, Capital One, Rose and Fiesta. The Big Ten is winless so far in the bowl season and is favored in only one bowl (Iowa, Outback).
Here are some subplots to watch as you watch the games (in order of kickoff time).
1. Iowa running back Shonn Greene -- Big Ten fans should be somewhat familiar with Greene, but most of the country will get its first glimpse of the Hawkeyes' superstar on Thursday against South Carolina. The Doak Walker Award winner has eclipsed 100 rushing yards in all 12 regular-season games but faces a stout South Carolina defense. This likely will be Greene's final collegiate game, so get a good look while you can.
2. The Hawkeyes' back seven vs. Stephen Garcia -- Garcia gets the start at quarterback for South Carolina and hopes to provide some stability under center. The redshirt freshman has six touchdown passes and five interceptions on the season, and he'll need to limit mistakes against an Iowa defense that forces plenty of them. Iowa led the Big Ten with 20 interceptions, with five players collecting multiple picks.
3. Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer -- His last bowl appearance was a disaster, as he committed five turnovers (4 INTs, fumble) in a loss to Boston College. Georgia undoubtedly will load up to stop Javon Ringer and make Hoyer win the game for Michigan State. Though Hoyer's numbers this season won't blow anyone away, he has made clutch throws and found ways to win games. If he can stretch the field with Blair White, rushing lanes should open for Ringer.
4. Michigan State's defensive line vs. Georgia's offensive line -- If the Spartans manage to slow down Georgia, it has to start up front. Michigan State's defensive line has more experience and must find ways to exploit Georgia's front five. Rush end Trevor Anderson finished the year with eight sacks and Brandon Long and Justin Kershaw combined for seven more. If Matthew Stafford has time in the pocket, Michigan State will be in big trouble.
5. Joe Paterno's whereabouts -- It doesn't really matter where Paterno watches the Rose Bowl, but his potential return to the sideline after seven consecutive games in the press box might give Penn State an emotional lift. Paterno admits he sees the field better from up top, but the 82-year-old is itching to get back to where he belongs. His location likely will be a game-time decision, and the officiating crew better be on its toes if JoePa returns to the sideline.
6. Quarterback Daryll Clark and Penn State's offensive strategy -- Clark got his swagger back in the regular-season finale against Michigan State and enters the Rose Bowl stocked with confidence. But he goes up against quite possibly the best defense in recent college history. Though Clark has been smart and efficient all season (four interceptions in 285 pass attempts), Penn State likely needs to challenge USC down the field. A passive approach simply won't work in this game, and play-callers Galen Hall and Jay Paterno need to go right at USC's strength.
7. Penn State's special teams -- These two defenses could easily cancel one another out -- Penn State can play some 'D', too -- and the Rose Bowl might come down to special teams. Penn State senior return man Derrick Williams has been outstanding this season and needs another huge performance against USC. If Williams can give Penn State short fields and Kevin Kelly converts his field goal attempts, the Lions could outlast the Trojans. Punter Jeremy Boone also could play a big role in this one, and Penn State must contain the Johnsons (Ronald and Stafon) on USC's returns.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Mike Locksley's departure to become head coach at New Mexico leaves Illinois without its offensive architect and top recruiter. Arguably no assistant coach in the Big Ten brought in a better recruiting haul than Locksley, who landed wide receiver Arrelious Benn, cornerback Vontae Davis and defensive end Will Davis, among others.
But Illini head coach Ron Zook won't have trouble finding a replacement at offensive coordinator. Zook's phone has been flooded with calls the last 48 hours, including recommendations from Georgia head coach Mark Richt, former Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer and Penn State offensive coordinator Galen Hall.
Hmmm, I wonder who Hall is pushing for the job (Jay Paterno?). Nothing against Fulmer, but Zook should be a little leery of hiring anyone associated with Tennessee's offense this season.
"What makes you busy is that it's a job that a lot of people want," Zook said. "It makes you feel good because people have taken notice, they've seen the progress we've made and they realize we've got some talent here. Now, we've just got to coach it up and get them ready to where they're supposed to be."
Locksley doesn't expect to bring "major guys" from the Illinois staff with him to New Mexico. If Zook chooses to stay in house, wide receivers coaches Jim Pry and Kurt Beathard, both of whom have offensive coordinator experience, would be top candidates.
Though Locksley served as a mentor for quarterback Juice Williams and others, Zook assured his players Tuesday that "nothing's going to change."
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
11:00 AM ET Nevada Louisiana-Lafayette 2:20 PM ET Utah State UTEP 3:30 PM ET 22 Utah Colorado State 5:45 PM ET Western Michigan Air Force 9:15 PM ET South Alabama Bowling Green
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State