Big Ten: Kenny Guiton

Big Ten lunch links

May, 13, 2014
May 13
12:00
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Big Ten athletic directors' meetings are under way at league headquarters. Check back for updates throughout the week.

Link time ...

Big Ten's lunch links

March, 20, 2014
Mar 20
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Dayton was an incredible appetizer. Time for the buffet.
  • With Braxton Miller on the shelf, Ohio State is getting a close look at his backups as it tries to replace the invaluable services of Kenny Guiton.
  • There may be plenty of ground to make up, but freshman quarterback Wilton Speight is impressing early as he tries to learn Michigan's new playbook.
  • Illinois is battling through injuries to its top tight ends, but that is opening up reps elsewhere for younger guys trying to make an impact.
  • Penn State coach James Franklin is in favor of an early signing period.
  • Sorting through its cornerbacks will be one of the most critical aspects of spring practice at Rutgers.
  • Mark Pelini had a veteran who helped him manage the growing pains when he joined the Nebraska roster as a walk-on center. Now it's his turn to be a leader.
  • Michigan State has to replace three senior starters on the offensive line when spring camp opens. Position coach Mark Staten said to "ask in a couple weeks" who is stepping up to fill the void.

Big Ten lunchtime links

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
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Happy Patriot League tournament final day.
It's Senior Bowl week, so you should be following our draft experts as they track the 15 Big Ten players suiting up for the North squad on Saturday in Mobile, Ala. Before turning the page toward the Senior Bowl, let's review how the Big Ten groups performed this past weekend in the East-West Shrine Game and NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.

East-West Shrine Game

Players who registered statistics:
  • Michigan WR Jeremy Gallon led the East team with four receptions for 55 yards
  • Purdue CB Ricardo Allen ranked second on the East team in tackles with five. He also had three punt returns for 56 yards, including a 30-yarder
  • Purdue DT Bruce Gaston Jr. had two tackles for the East team, both on run plays that went for one yard
  • Penn State LB Glenn Carson had four tackles for the East team
  • Penn State S Stephen Obeng-Agyapong had three tackles and a pass breakup for the West team
  • Indiana TE Ted Bolser had two receptions for eight yards for the West team
  • Michigan State LB Max Bullough had three tackles for the West team
  • Minnesota S/CB Brock Vereen had one tackle for the West team
  • Nebraska WR Quincy Enunwa had one tackle on special teams but no receptions for the West team
NFLPA Collegiate Bowl

Players who registered statistics:
  • Ohio State QB Kenny Guiton completed 1 of 4 pass attempts for nine yards. He also lost a fumble for Team American
  • Wisconsin TE Brian Wozniak had two receptions for 25 yards for Team American
  • Nebraska OT Brent Qvale registered a tackle on the play where Guiton fumbled for Team American
  • Ohio State S C.J. Barnett had a tackle for Team American
Ohio State backup quarterback Kenny Guiton became a cult hero in September, putting up big numbers in place of Braxton Miller and leaving some wondering whether he was the league's second-best signal caller.

Those evaluations might have been a bit overboard, but Guiton is a fun player with a fun story, and possibly an NFL future. The Ohio State quarterback leads a contingent of five Big Ten players who will participate in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, to be played Jan. 18 at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.

Rosters for the game have been finalized. All five Big Ten players will play for the American squad. 'Merica!

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
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Hey, everybody, I'm back in my usual Wednesday slot now that the holidays are over. Answering your emails always feels like a holiday, however. Let's get to it:

Pat from Iowa writes: With the new playoff system in place next year, will it help or hurt the Big Ten?

Brian Bennett: It's a good question, and I suppose it depends on how you look at things. The BCS was actually pretty good to the Big Ten as far as getting teams into the major bowls. The league had two BCS teams this year as it did for most of the BCS era, thanks in large part to the schools' massive fan bases and attractiveness to bowls.

We're about to experience a sea change, no doubt. I believe that every other game outside of the four-team playoff will lose relevance, with the possible exception of the Rose Bowl. But even the Rose won't be quite as special as it has been to the Big Ten. Say the College Football Playoff were in place this year, the Rose wasn't a semifinal and you were a Michigan State fan. Would you have been as excited to go to Pasadena, knowing your team got squeezed out of playing for the national title? I don't think so.

The flip side of that coin is the playoff will help the Big Ten have a better chance to compete for a national championship, something the league has not done since the 2007 season. The Spartans would have had a great shot at making the four-team field this season, and undefeated or highly-ranked Big Ten champions will always be right in the mix. It's really up to the conference to make sure it consistently places teams in the Playoff, and then to perform well once there. Ridicule will await any of the five major conferences that repeatedly miss out on the four-team event.

Alex from Cincinnati writes: Hey, Bennett, thanks for your good work. Orange Bowl: from what I saw the game could have ended either way, but Clemson happened to be up when the clock expired. Now the B1G narrative for the next 9 months will be vastly different than if Ohio State had pulled out the victory. Do you agree that we're often too quick to either anoint or admonish certain teams and conferences, when in reality there is quite a lot of parity at the top?

Brian Bennett: Thanks for the kind words, Alex, and I agree with you that the margin between winning and losing at the very top level is very small. Just ask Auburn. The Big Ten, save for Michigan, was highly competitive in most of its bowls this year and came close to winning six of the seven.

But for the second straight year, the Big Ten finished 2-5 in bowls. A few teams, like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio State, actually entered their games as favorites but failed to deliver. Ultimately, they keep score for a reason, and it has become a trend for the league to end up on the short end of the scoreboard in recent postseasons. I really don't think the gap between the Big Ten and other leagues like the SEC is that large, as shown by the three Jan. 1 bowls in Florida. But it's a tougher argument to make without using victories as evidence.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyQuarterback Braxton Miller, who was banged up with shoulder and rib injuries, and the Buckeyes lost their final two games of the season.
Tom from DC writes: Hey, Brian! Can you explain why Braxton Miller was still in the game? The guy was injured to the point that his play was compromised. During those last few series, I kept yelling at the TV for Kenny Guiton. Miller is great, but he clearly wasn't firing on all cylinders. Despite that, he was still given designed runs and big throws ... WHY? I cringed every time. Despite all the mistakes, the biggest one, I think, was letting a severely injured QB play, while a stellar backup was fresh and ready to roll. Miller is a team player -- he would have understood if he was benched for Guiton due to injuries.

Brian Bennett: That's a fair and understandable question, Tom. I can tell you that offensive coordinator Tom Herman was asked if he ever considered putting Guiton in, and he quickly responded no. Asked if there was ever a conversation about it, Herman said the conversation went like this: If Miller can walk, he can play. So that shows you that Ohio State was firmly tying its sail to Miller just about under any circumstance. It makes sense, as Miller is the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year and a guy who has proven throughout his career that he makes big plays in the clutch.

But I also agree with you that Miller's passing was compromised by his shoulder and rib injuries, and that all those hits might have contributed to the final interception. And I think Ohio State relied too much on Miller in the final two games while forgetting about Carlos Hyde in the fourth quarter.

Josh in an empty office building writes: Hey B-ri, do you think the Spartans will struggle with complacency next year? They no longer have to prove themselves, and may be over-confident going into next year's Big Ten schedule.

Brian Bennett: If Michigan State is complacent, then it will be in for a long day in Week 3 at Oregon. I'd be more worried about the offseason practices and whether the Spartans rest on their laurels a bit. But the good thing is this program has always played with a bit of a chip on its shoulders under Mark Dantonio, and the staff has been around these players so long that it should be able to spot and eliminate any complacency right away. It also helps that several jobs will be open on defense, and competition usually fosters intensity. You always wonder how a team will handle a new level of success, but the fact that several players and coaches have already mentioned competing for a national title next year indicates that they are still striving upward.

Nathan from San Antonio, Texas, writes: Can you give us one final rundown of the new bowl tie-ins for the Big Ten next year? I know there were talks to add the Music City Bowl and Car Care Bowl, were those made official and are there still some bowls that could be a Big Ten tie-in next year?

Brian Bennett: Sure thing, Nathan. Let's start at the top. The Rose Bowl remains the main tie-in for the Big Ten, but the Rose will be a semifinal game next year. So unless a Big Ten team makes it to the Playoff, the conference may not have a team in the Rose in 2014. The league also shares a spot in the Orange Bowl with the SEC and Notre Dame; if the 2014 Big Ten champ fails to make the four-team playoff, it could wind up in Miami.

The rest of the lineup goes like this:

Capital One
Outback
Holiday
Music City/Gator*
Kraft Fight Hunger
Pinstripe
Detroit
Heart of Dallas/Armed Forces*

*- Rotating.

Remember, too, that the selection process will be based on tiers of teams, with heavy input from the Big Ten office in order to create fresh and attractive matchups.

Indra from San Antonio, writes: Hey, Brian, even though it's in the past now and what's done is done me and the handful of other UM fans down here in S.A. are really curious why Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith didn't get any carries in the Wings Bowl. I still doubt the outcome would have been different but it would have given them some much needed playing time/experience as it did for Shane Morris. Why do you think Coach Hoke opted to not utilize them?

Brian Bennett: I admit I was a bit baffled by that game plan, Indra. I thought Green had established himself as Michigan's best running option late in the season, and yet he received one carry -- one! -- for five yards against Kansas State. Smith saw four carries for seven yards. I get that the Wolverines' offensive line was a mess and that their best chance might have been to throw the ball more. But given that it was Morris' first start and that Justice Hayes came out of virtually nowhere to get four touches, I can't say that I have any idea what was going on with Al Borges' plan. It's safe to say that plan needs a thorough review and reworking this offseason.

Dave from Iowa writes: Does Jake Rudock get the starting nod for Iowa? Or would he get a leg up in a QB competition? Seems like C.J. Beathard has a stronger arm. Will Beathard get a shot?

Brian Bennett: Beathard said after the game that it was his understanding that he'll be given a shot to compete for the starting job in the spring. But Rudock is still the guy who beat out Beathard last offseason and started all 13 games for the Hawkeyes this season. Was Rudock great? No, but I thought he played very well at times. He's got a huge experience edge. Beathard will probably have to really outplay Rudock this offseason to actually unseat him, as Kirk Ferentz is not exactly known for making drastic changes.

Drew from Lincoln writes: Love the Big Ten blog, but I'm kind of confused about something. Can we finally put an end to the infatuation with Ohio State and Michigan? I'm not talking about publicity. A large fan base ensures publicity. I get that. I'm talking about the hype. Ohio State let down a lot of people in their last two games, and Michigan habitually underachieves and is way too inconsistent. Yet, Michigan State just finished the most successful season in the Big Ten since 2002, and it seems Wisconsin and Nebraska are just as competitive every year. Despite that, I'm sure Michigan and Ohio State will clean up recruiting again this offseason, and the hype will begin anew.

Brian Bennett: I get where you're coming from Drew, though I think there was less hype from Adam and me about Michigan and Ohio State's supposed "dominance" than there was from other corners. I didn't pick Michigan to win the Legends Division in 2013, for example. It's also true that Ohio State and Michigan remain the Big Ten's two most recognizable brands, for historic, financial and a whole host of other reasons. Because of that, those two teams are always going to receive a lot of attention, and if you're someone who really gets into recruiting -- in other words, someone very unlike me -- then you'll understand all the accolades those two teams will get around signing day.

The "hype," as you put it, is still very much deserved for Ohio State. Sure, the Buckeyes lost their final two games this year, but they went 24-0 before that and are still the gold standard for this conference for what they've done over the years. Michigan is the program that has vastly disappointed and has in many ways hurt the entire Big Ten by not living up to its own expectations. We're always going to talk and write a lot about these two teams because of their importance to the league. That said, if in 2014 you ever catch me writing that those two schools are going to pull away from the rest of the Big Ten, you have permission to flog me.

Jordan M. from Greenville, S.C., writes: I thought you said Ohio State was gonna win the Orange Bowl? Look how that turned out. Go Tigers!

Brian Bennett: Boy, I got a lot of grief from Clemson fans over my "Ten reasons Ohio State will win the Orange Bowl" post. To clarify, I was assigned to write that post, as every blogger was assigned to write one for BCS bowl teams in his or her conference. I tried to have a little fun with it and jabbed the ACC and Clemson a little. What good is sports without a little trash talk? I also said Woody Hayes would reach down from the afterlife and trip a Tigers player, so that tells you how serious I was. Let me remind Clemson fans that I visited your town in November and wrote nice things about you. Met a lot of friendly folks down there. And my official prediction was Clemson 38, Ohio State 35. I'd say that worked out pretty well for me.

We complete our look, from the opposing-coach perspective, at the Big Ten championship game with second-ranked Ohio State.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz wrapped our report on Michigan State, so let’s give him the floor to open the discussion about the Buckeyes, who beat Iowa 34-24 on Oct. 19 -- Ohio State’s second-closest game of the year before its one-point escape last week at Michigan.

While the Buckeyes’ opponent Saturday night relies on its defense to carry the load, coach Urban Meyer’s team leans on an offense that leads the Big Ten in most statistical categories and tops the nation in yards per rush and red-zone efficiency.

“There's really not a weakness,” Ferentz said. “Their line is veteran, they've got four seniors up front. They're very good, very well coordinated. The whole scheme and concept is well-coordinated.

“The thing that makes them a challenge offensively is they've got a good receiving corps. They've got, if not the best back, one of the best backs in our conference, and they've got a quarterback who can run and throw. It's like a team that has 12 guys."

And with that, here are excerpts from our conversations with Big Ten coordinators and assistant coaches who played -- and lost to -- the Buckeyes this year. As with the Michigan State report, we granted anonymity to the coaches to ensure the most candid responses.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesCan Michigan State contain Braxton Miller?
ESPN.com: Ohio State has scored at least 42 points in its past five games, while Michigan State has allowed fewer than seven points in five of its past six outings. What must the Buckeyes and quarterback Braxton Miller do to maintain their momentum?

Coach:
I think Braxton Miller must have a good game for Ohio State. Quarterback run is something that Michigan State may struggle with, and obviously, Braxton is a good ace to have up your sleeve. One thing that's interesting about Ohio State is that I don't know if they're really the best technique-wise up front. There's things that Michigan State could really exploit. If you go back and watch a lot of Ohio State's big plays, it's not great execution. It's more athleticism. People freak out because of Braxton Miller, and all of a sudden Carlos Hyde has it. I feel like at times, Ohio State gets by because of their physical ability. Those kids up front are phenomenal, big athletes, but this is a team that will make them pay if Ohio State is not on their marks.

ESPN.com: We knew Hyde was good. But he’s rushed 1,164 yards in his past seven games. That’s ridiculous. What kind of an impact might he have on the players around him in this game?

Coach:
He's a physical, downhill runner that will align hard and run through tackles and make a 3-yard gain into a 6-yard gain or a 3-yard gain into an 18-, 20-yard gain. … We felt if we could deny that and make them earn everything, we'd be in the game. Michigan State is physical up front and they've got a chance to match up and deny some of those Hyde runs, but the key is Braxton Miller -- how much they run him and if he gets loose on a scramble.

ESPN.com: Michigan State is going to sell out to stop Hyde and Miller in the run game, but can Ohio State beat the Spartans through the air?

Coach:
We felt like that was their strength, throwing it over the top. We thought [Kenny Guiton] threw the ball pretty well on the drop-back, intermediate game. Miller hit us on some deeper crossing routes, but we didn't think he was going to beat us dropping back and throwing it play after play after play. We felt like we couldn't give up the home run over our head. We felt like the receivers had good speed.

ESPN.com: Clearly, Ohio State had an off day on defense last week against Michigan. But it’s happened a few other times, too. What’s the key to moving the football against the Buckeyes?

Coach:
You've got to put together a mix. You're going to have to get downhill on them and create some running lanes. Probably the one area that's not as hard to attack is the secondary. They have a really solid corner in [Bradley] Roby, but overall, you have some plays out there a little bit easier than you do against Michigan State.

ESPN.com: Despite some of the defensive issues, OSU remained stout against the run. How do you see Michigan State attacking that front seven?

Coach:
The guys up front are good, solid players. I don't know if there's anyone one that stands out. The one kid inside, [Michael Bennett], he can create some things. He was a big, strong guy, got after it a little bit. [Ryan] Shazier, linebacker-wise, he's a heck of a player. That's going to be the interesting matchup, Michigan State's offense against Ohio State's defense, and how well they can run the football. The one thing that's happened with Michigan State is their quarterback's been playing really well, and they're going to run the football. That's the one strength that Ohio State has. They can defend the run, where in the passing game, they'll have a little bit more trouble. So Michigan State, how well they throw the ball, will be interesting to see.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
5:00
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Excited for my first trip to Minneapolis this weekend. Gophers fans, where should I go on Friday and Saturday? Hit me up with some suggestions.

I suggest you read this mailbag first:

Doug from San Diego, Calif., writes: Can you please explain the math/stats behind Baylor being so close to tOSU in the BCS? Both teams have beaten one currently ranked team, both teams played lame non-conference schedules (with tOSU arguably playing a slightly more respectable one), and both teams are statistically ballpark (except for tOSU's passing stats). Is it the polling that is keeping tOSU close or is it math/stats in the computer stuff? And on the same hand, why is FSU so far ahead of tOSU? FSU's wins against Maryland & Miami do not seem impressive right now, and with those teams current rankings FSU have beaten only one currently ranked team (albeit a Top 10 team).

Brian Bennett: Doug, asking a journalist to do math is always risky business. But I think I can pull it off here. The polls are not to blame for Ohio State's miniscule .0013 lead over Baylor in the latest BCS standings. The Buckeyes are No. 3 in both the USA Today coaches' and Harris polls, while the Bears are No. 4. It's the computers where Baylor makes up some ground, as it is tied for No. 3 in the computer average, with a high of No. 3 and a low of No. 5. Ohio State is fifth in the computers, behind both Baylor and Auburn, with a high of No. 3 and a low of No. 7.

Baylor's computer numbers should rise with a win over Oklahoma State this week, but Ohio State will get a boost if Wisconsin and Michigan State keep winning. As for Florida State, the Seminoles have a healthy lead over the Buckeyes in the polls and are No. 1 in the computer rankings. They haven't been criticized enough for playing a weak schedule, but that win over Clemson still carries weight. At the end of the season, Ohio State could have two better wins -- Wisconsin and Michigan State, should the latter occur -- than Florida State. But the 'Noles' utter dominance all season long gives them the edge.

Rob NitLion from Morristown, N.J., writes: Bennett-o! This is very much a biased comment but I'd still like your rebuttal. How can you guys possibly leave Allen Robinson off of your B1G Offensive Player of the Year list? I understand his TD total is low and he isn't playing on a championship contending team BUT...here is where he deserves consideration. He is by far the best WR in the B1G the past two years. This year in particular he is catching passes from a true freshman QB, on a team that has not proven to have many other consistent receivers (so the focus of defenses is on him). He is CLUTCH!!! ... I'm not saying he is deserving over Miller, Hyde or Abdullah to win the award but he needs to be in the conversation.

Brian Bennett: Robinson has very much been in the conversation all year long, as he has consistently ranked in the top five of my weekly awards race tracker for offensive player of the year. He is a tremendous player and the best of a really good class of receivers in the Big Ten this year. It's just really hard for wide receivers to win these types of individual awards because they're so dependent on their quarterback. While Christian Hackenberg has been outstanding for a freshman, I'd love to see what Robinson's numbers would be this year if he were playing with an experienced quarterback (say, the new starter for the Oakland Raiders, for example).

The lack of touchdowns also hurts Robinson's case, as does Penn State's also-ran status. A big finish in the last two games could move him up in the race, but he'll likely have to settle for his second straight Richter-Howard receiver of the year trophy. Not a bad consolation prize.

David C. from Davis, Calif., writes: Again it seems that Michigan State will be penalized for making it to the B1G Championship game when considering possible at-large BCS bids. Isn't it unfair to consider wins and losses when one team plays more games, and if you compare only the regular season schedules, one team has a better record? Granted, this is not nearly as unfair as 2011, when Michigan State beat UM and made it to the Championship game, and UM got a BCS bid solely on their fan base. But still, comparing an 11-2 team to a 10-2 team that didn't make the Championship game, when it would be comparing an 11-1 team to a 10-2 team otherwise, doesn't seem analytically honest.

Brian Bennett: Let's leave the word "fair" out of the discussion, because it is mostly a foreign concept in the bowl system. Michigan State's first concern is finishing in the Top 14 of the BCS to be eligible for an at-large bid. Remember that the Spartans did not do so in 2011 and therefore could not have been selected for a bid over Michigan. Michigan State is No. 13 right now and should move up a bit in the next two weeks if it wins out, but a loss to Ohio State would knock the team back down and make things close.

Here's the other problem for the Spartans in that scenario: if Wisconsin beats Minnesota this week, Michigan State would not have a single win over a ranked team. Now, I happen to think Mark Dantonio's club is really, really good, but the résumé would be viewed as lacking by some folks. Wisconsin is six spots behind the Spartans in the BCS standings but could jump ahead by winning out and finishing with a seven-game win streak. The body of work for Wisconsin and Michigan State at that point would be pretty similar, with both losing to Ohio State, beating Minnesota and losing their one high-profile nonconference game (thanks to help by officials in both).

Of course, the Spartans can make this all moot by simply winning the rest of their games and not leaving it in the hands of voters, computers and bowl committees to decide.

Nat Parduzzi from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Hey Brian, I'd like to get your take on something: Max Bullough is the unquestionable leader of the nation's top defense at MSU. He's a coach on the field -- you'll see him make adjustments to DL gap assignments and even audible out of blitzes like a QB when he sees something he doesn't like -- I've only seen it constantly done successfully on Alabama's national title teams. While MSU's D has no shortage of praise, Bullough seems to be left out in the cold when it comes to individual accolades -- he's not even a semi-finalist for the Butkus award. What gives? Is it a lack of mind-blowing stats? Stats are for losers. Don't the pundits realize that my... I mean Pat Narduzzi's defense probably doesn't have as high of stats because they're on the field so little?

Brian Bennett: Nat -- I see what you did there -- you make some really fine points. But I'll let you in on a little secret: most of the people voting for these awards (and full disclosure: I am a voter for several of them, but not the Butkus) simply don't have time to watch every team in the country closely. They may see some highlights or catch a game here and there. But for the most part, they follow one particular team or conference or region. In other words, they don't get to see the nuances of a certain player like Bullough and what he means. That's why stats take on a bigger role, and Bullough -- who's averaging 6.1 tackles per game and has just one sack this season -- isn't going to leap off the page.

Excuse me for using a baseball analogy here, but as someone who watched well over 100 St. Louis Cardinals games this year, this situation reminds me a bit about the case for Yadier Molina as MVP. People who watched that team closely saw all the amazing things he did for the pitching staff and defense. But those things can't be found in a box score, which is why he didn't win. Same thing, I think, goes for Bullough.

Victor from Norfolk, Va., writes: Brian, with Ohio State having its Senior Day this Saturday against Indiana, I personally believe that Kenny Guiton should get the start. He is a captain on the team and this is his last time playing in the 'Shoe as a player. I know it probably won't happen but I think it would be a great thing to do for a player who has played exceptionally well when called on and is a great leader on this team.

Brian Bennett: Victor, I like the thought because of what Guiton has done for the Buckeyes. But any time you're in the hunt for national and conference titles, I don't think you mess with things at quarterback. Remember that Indiana only lost by three points to Ohio State last year and kept things close well into the second half two years ago in Columbus. I don't think Urban Meyer wants to risk anything, especially after his defense gave up a lot of points to a spread team last week, and Braxton Miller is still his best option. But Guiton should get a nice ovation when he is honored on the field before the game, and if things go the way they should, he should get some playing time in the second half.

Scott from Barron, Wis., writes: I see that a lot of Gopher fans think they have a chance against Wisconsin. They are delusional. I have watched all of Minnesota's games. The Gophers are overrated. They beat Northwestern without Mark and Colter, Nebraska WITH Martinez (subtraction by addition), an impotent Penn State, and got a gift from IU. Also, they do not match-up well with Wisconsin. Their strength is running the ball, Wisconsin's strength on defense. Their weakness on defense is stopping the run. .... The Badgers will roll The Goophers, and I will be in the stands cheering when they do.

Brian Bennett: I don't necessarily disagree with any of that, Scott. Wisconsin is a heavy favorite, and it should be. But you have to admit that there's something special going on with this Minnesota team. The Gophers have some mojo and are playing with a lot of confidence right now. They also have shown an ability to run the ball and control the clock, two things that will be crucial this Saturday. A much worse Gophers team went to Camp Randall last year and trailed by just 11 points heading into the fourth quarter.

Minnesota also has had an extra week to prepare because of its bye last week and will be at home. I'm not saying the Gophers will win. But it wouldn't shock me if they did.

Mark from Az writes: Seems to me like the real bowl battle in the Big Ten is for the 4th place spot. OSU, MSU, and Wisconsin should all win out. OSU could win the title game and Wiscy is getting closer to an at large berth, which may happen. Or MSU wins the title game and OSU would be mostly certain to get an at large berth. Leaving MSU or Wisconsin for the Capital One bowl. But then who goes to the Outback?

Brian Bennett: There's still a lot to be decided, obviously. Everything hinges on whether the Big Ten can get a second BCS berth this season. Right now, I'm still leaning toward no on that question. If not, you can comfortably slot Michigan State and Wisconsin into the Capital One and Outback bowls in some order.

But if there are two BCS bids, then things open up a bit. The Outback just had Michigan last year, so I think it would be doubtful that the Wolverines end up there again -- especially since Michigan likely will be no better than 8-4. A potential 9-3 Nebraska team would be attractive to the Outback folks. The Huskers have been to Florida in back-to-back years, though, and may prefer Arizona, though it's hard to say no to the Florida recruiting possibilities.

Iowa and Minnesota are potential Outback teams as well. If the Hawkeyes were to win out to finish 8-4, they could leap Nebraska and Michigan -- both of whom they would have beaten -- and have some momentum that bowls like. Minnesota has the great story with Jerry Kill but also has to battle its poor traveling reputation. And the Gophers have two tough games remaining with Wisconsin and Michigan State.

So I'd give the edge to either Iowa or Nebraska for that spot if the Big Ten gets two in the BCS. But that remains a big if.

Anthony from Worcester, Mass., writes: As a Michigan fan, I think I would prefer to play in the Gator Bowl rather than the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The Gator Bowl is in recruit-rich Florida, is on January 1st, and is against the SEC. We'd also be playing the #6 SEC team, so we might be favored. I'd rather play an SEC team on NYD than a Big 12 team in late December. Am I wrong?

Brian Bennett: You're not wrong. The Gator Bowl is still a higher-profile game, and it would likely mean an easier and cheaper trip for most Michigan fans. But have you been to Jacksonville in January? On that front, I'd prefer Arizona.

Roundtable: B1G offensive player of year

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
9:00
AM ET
In two weeks, the Big Ten will announce its all-conference teams and major award winners, including offensive player of the year. No award has had more twists and turns in recent weeks, and unlike in past seasons, there's no clear frontrunner entering the final two weeks of regular-season play. So we're here to debate it.

We're considering three candidates:

  • Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: 1,336 rush yards, 7 TDs, 133.6 rush yards per game, 10 games played
  • Ohio State QB Braxton Miller: 1,466 pass yards, 17 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 68 percent completions; 594 rush yards, 3 TDs, eight games played
  • Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde: 947 rush yards, 11 TDs, 135.3 rush yards per game, seven games played

Where's Melvin Gordon and James White? Both Wisconsin running backs have had terrific seasons, but the fact they play the same position and have such similar numbers suggests that the votes would cancel out one another. We're not slighting them, just being realistic.

Let's get started …

How close is this race right now, or has one candidate separated himself in your mind?

Austin Ward: While all three of those finalists are deserving, there's a clear winner this year -- and he's the same guy who won it last season. Abdullah has been fantastic and has done some seriously heavy lifting to keep the Nebraska offense humming along, but Hyde has actually been more productive since conference play started, which effectively cancels the running backs out for me. Miller is a uniquely talented performer who makes everything go for one of the nation's most prolific offenses, both in the passing game and on the ground, and he has improved dramatically since claiming player of the year honors as a sophomore. While having a sidekick like Hyde helps, Miller is the key to the whole Ohio State operation.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah, Chance Carter
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesAmeer Abdullah has been the picture of consistency and carried a Nebraska offense that has dealt with injuries at the QB position.
Mitch Sherman: Much like Gordon and White, I think Hyde and Miller could actually hurt each other’s candidacies. Both are fantastic players and key cogs in the league’s best offense. Abdullah does everything for Nebraska in the absence of running mate Taylor Martinez at quarterback. With a freshman calling plays, Abdullah has embraced a leadership role. No doubt, the Huskers' three losses hurt his chances, but there's only so much a running back can accomplish. And with all eyes on Ohio State in November, this race ought to come down to the wire.

Brian Bennett: Remarkably close, and I wouldn't have an issue with any of the three players on this list winning it (or James White, or Penn State's Allen Robinson, who have been great in their own right). Hyde and Miller could split votes and have the missed time working against them, while Abdullah not playing for a division winner could hurt his cause. I'm keeping an open mind for the final two weeks.

Adam Rittenberg: It's still extremely close, as all three players have performed well in recent weeks. Abdullah's consistency throughout the season has been remarkable, and if he finishes with two more 100-yard performances, he'll strengthen his case even further. Hyde has been unreal in Big Ten play, rushing for 906 yards and 11 touchdowns in the first six league games. Miller has improved his efficiency since getting healthy and remains one of the nation's most dangerous dual-threat players. I'm excited to watch all three players for two more weeks.

How should the missed time by both Miller (injury) and Hyde (suspension) be factored into the equation?

Rittenberg: Only in the context that Abdullah has been consistent for a longer stretch of games than either Miller or Hyde. But who has made more of their opportunities than Hyde, who has destroyed teams since returning from his suspension. Some likely will hold the suspension against him -- they're probably the same idealistic folks who voted Manti Te'o for Heisman -- but I won't. This award goes to the best offensive player in the league, and Hyde certainly is in the mix for me.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsOhio State's Braxton Miller might have missed a few games, but it's impossible to overlook what he has done when he has played.
Bennett: It should matter. A football season is only 12 games long, so missing three games, as Hyde did, means you were out for a quarter of the season. And the fact that Kenny Guiton put up Heisman-level numbers while Miller was out could take away from his argument. Ultimately, however, I'm most interested in how a player performs in the heat of conference action when things are really on the line. A lot of guys can rack up stats against weak nonconference competition.

Sherman: It’s difficult to count Miller’s injury against him. Hyde’s suspension is, perhaps, a different matter. Still, the sample size for both is large enough to get an accurate gauge on their level of play. But dependability and durability count for something, and the Ohio State stars this year can’t match Abdullah, who has gained 100 yards against every Big Ten foe, including Michigan State, which had not allowed an entire team to reach triple figures before it faced Nebraska. With two more 100-yard efforts this month, he’ll join Iowa’s Shon Greene as the lone runners of the past decade to top 100 in every conference game.

Ward: An absence that lasted nearly three weeks for Miller ended his shot at the Heisman Trophy, but it shouldn't impact his chances in the Big Ten at all. Miller could have conceivably returned to play a half against Florida A&M if it had been absolutely necessary and he might have been able to steal back some of the stats he lost to Kenny Guiton while recovering from his knee sprain. But even without those numbers, even while still fighting off rust against Wisconsin and Northwestern it was evident how badly the Buckeyes need him on the field. And once he got totally healthy, no defense in the Big Ten has been able to even really slow him down.

What does each candidate still have to do to win this award?

Bennett: First of all, help his team win. In just about any sport, the spoils go to the victors. Ohio State should win its final two games and finish unbeaten for a second straight year. There's a reason why the 2012 offensive and defensive player of the year trophies wound up in Columbus, and it could happen again. Abdullah needs to continue his excellent work, and wins over Penn State and Iowa to get Nebraska to 9-3 would be a big help.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah, Chance Carter
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesAmeer Abdullah has been the picture of consistency and carried a Nebraska offense that has dealt with injuries at the QB position.
Ward: With Miller and Hyde working side by side, it would be difficult for the pecking order to change between those two down the stretch. But a loss for Ohio State could potentially open the door for Abdullah to make up some ground, particularly if he closes out the year with a couple more prolific outings that drive up his yardage total or he makes a handful of visits to the end zone to close the gap with a touchdown machine like Hyde. That still may not be enough to overtake either Miller or Hyde, but he would at least remain squarely in the mix even if the Buckeyes stay unbeaten heading into the Big Ten title game.

Rittenberg: If Abdullah finishes with two more 100-yard performances in Nebraska wins, it's hard not to give him the hardware. There's a case to be made that the recipient should be on a better team, but Nebraska would have at least one more loss (Northwestern), if not more, without Abdullah's contributions. Hyde and Miller both have an opportunity to put up major numbers this week against the woeful Indiana defense. But they're sort of competing against one another, so one will really have to separate himself against Indiana and Michigan.

Sherman: For Miller, it’s pretty simple -- just win and keep leading the Buckeyes to those gaudy yardage and scoring figures. Do that, and, much like common Heisman scenario, he may win this award by default as the best player on the best team. Hyde will likely lose votes to Miller, so he needs to do more to get noticed. A 200-yard day against Michigan would help. With Nebraska sliding out of the spotlight, if Abdullah stays healthy and keeps his current pace, he’s already made his best case.

Who would get your vote if the season ended today? Make a case for your candidate.

Sherman: Abdullah, because of his consistency and importance to the Nebraska offense. His fourth-and-15 catch and run to keep the game-winning drive intact against Northwestern serves as a signature moment, but Abdullah has meant just as much to the Huskers every week. One measure of his value: Abdullah ranks second nationally in rushing on first-down plays with 822 yards. His per-carry average on first down is 7.4 yards -- more than a yard better than Boston College’s Andre Williams and Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona, who rank first and third, respectfully, in first-down yardage. If Adbullah keeps his per-game pace, he’ll finish with the third-highest single-season rushing total in Nebraska history, behind Mike Rozier’s Heisman season of 1983 and Ahman Green on the Huskers’ 1997 national-title-winning squad.

Ward: Miller. Playing quarterback at Ohio State already comes with ridiculous expectations, and Miller's sophomore season only seemed to raise that bar higher after finishing fifth in the Heisman race. The early injury skewed his numbers and seemingly left him as a forgotten man in September, and Kenny Guiton's fantastic work off the bench didn't help as it generated a mini-controversy about who should start for the Buckeyes. In reality, there has never been any doubt about who Ohio State's best quarterback is, or who the most valuable player in the league is overall. Miller hasn't needed to rush as often, but he's still a blur on the ground and averaging 74 yards per game. His passing ability can hardly even be compared to where it was a year ago, and no quarterback in the Big Ten can match his efficiency. And if that's not enough, he still hasn't lost a start in the last two seasons at the most important position on the field.

Rittenberg: It's Abdullah. He has put up All-America type numbers, even if his touchdowns total is a little low. Hyde would be my second choice as he has been virtually unstoppable in Big Ten play, but if another back gets it done for 12 games vs. nine, it's hard to go against him. I also look at Abdullah's leadership on a Nebraska team lacking it at times. Kenny Guiton showed that Ohio State can win without Miller. Jordan Hall and other backs filled in for Hyde. Abdullah's value for Nebraska goes a bit further.

Bennett: Abdullah. His lowest output of the season was 98 yards, and that came in the UCLA game where Nebraska had to abandon its normal running game after falling behind big in the second half. He has been the most consistent offensive star in the league and his leadership has been impressive to watch. Ohio State has both Hyde and Miller, while Wisconsin has both Gordon and White. For most of the season, Abdullah has carried the majority of the offensive load for the Huskers.

Big Ten Week 11 primer

November, 9, 2013
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Setting the table for an afternoon of Big Ten football. Feel free to fill up then, because it will all be gone by dinner time.

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Penn State (5-3, 2-2) at Minnesota (7-2, 3-2), ESPN2: There’s more than a Victory Bell on the line for the Gophers, as arguably the most surprising team in the league remains alive for a division title despite all the adversity that has come its way this season. Jerry Kill, the entire coaching staff and a resilient roster deserve every bit of praise that has accompanied an unexpected push into contention. And should Minnesota come up with another victory at home, it can expect many more compliments by remaining a factor in the Legends Division.

Iowa (4-5, 2-3) at Purdue (1-7, 0-4), Big Ten Network: A short, miserable October gave way to a November that didn’t start any better for the Boilermakers, who haven’t scored a touchdown since September. Granted, Purdue has only played three games in that span, but that’s still an embarrassingly long drought, and Iowa is certainly capable of extending it with a hard-nosed, aggressive defense. The Hawkeyes also need a victory to clinch a bowl bid, so they won’t be lacking for motivation.

3:30 ET

Illinois (3-5, 0-4) at Indiana (3-5, 1-3), BTN: Both programs had designs on getting back to a bowl game before the season and encouraging starts in nonconference play, but the odds are starting to look long for each of them now. The loser this afternoon will have no margin for error from here on out, and the Hoosiers and Illini both have a date with No. 4 Ohio State coming up in the next two weeks. The winner will still have work to do, so it’s not exactly a play-in game. But there probably won’t be any need to worry about the postseason without a victory at Memorial Stadium.

Nebraska (6-2, 3-1) at Michigan (6-2, 2-2), ABC: The matchup between two of the most decorated programs in the history of college football was always tabbed as a crucial one in the Legends Division, but the stakes are certainly a bit smaller than might have been anticipated. The Wolverines are on the ropes after losing a potential head-to-head tiebreaker with first-place Michigan State with their loss in East Lansing last week, and while the Huskers survived on a Hail Mary against Northwestern, they can’t afford another loss, either, if they hope to stay in the race. Can Michigan’s offense rebound against a still suspect group of Blackshirts, or will Nebraska finally right the ship against an attack that has been prone to turnovers and has problems with their running game? The answer will determine who gets to keep entertaining the idea of a division title.

BYU (6-2) at No. 24 Wisconsin (6-2, 4-1), ESPN: Gary Andersen just can’t seem to escape his old foe from previous stops at Utah and Utah State, but at least the Wisconsin coach is plenty familiar with this November nonconference opponent. The Badgers are still being haunted by what happened outside the league in September thanks to the officiating blunder that led to their loss at Arizona State, but they’ve got one more chance to notch a non-Big Ten win that could provide a boost for their BCS at-large hopes.

Weather

For early November in Big Ten country, the weather could hardly be any better for football. Both games in Indiana should have temperatures around 60 in the afternoon, which is tough to beat this time of year. The temperature will be a bit chillier in Minneapolis and Madison, but anticipated highs in the mid-40s leave little room to complain as well.

The Huskers and Wolverines should have pretty decent weather by kickoff as well, though there's a chance of showers in the morning before the projected high of 56 later in the day.

Top Week 11 stories

What to watch in the Big Ten | Predictions | Did you know?

No ban for Taylor Lewan

Q&A with Indiana's Cody Latimer

Philip Nelson taking Gophers to another level

Old foe in Gary Andersen's way

Attitude fuels Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah

Urban Meyer shoots down rumors of Luke Fickell interviewing at Florida Atlantic

Big Ten race update

Improved Iowa still needs finishing school

Mark Dantonio shapes Spartans in his image

Michigan offensive line not living up to expectations

Michigan and Nebraska are seeking a defining moment

Combination of Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton worthy of Heisman

Miller-Guiton combo worthy of Heisman

November, 5, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Heisman Trophy campaign was effectively over before it could even really start.

With the starter and a preseason awards favorite on the sideline, the backup made his own push for some hardware and was seemingly well on his way to making a case as the next-best quarterback in the Big Ten when given the stage.

Like Braxton Miller’s bid for the biggest prize in college football, Kenny Guiton’s run for individual glory was short-lived as well when the centerpiece of Ohio State’s spread offense returned from a nearly three-week absence due to a knee sprain. But imagine voting committees having the option to put them together, and there might not be a bronze statue safe from the one-two punch the Buckeyes have unleashed this season.

Certainly the contributions of both have been integral in the 21-game unbeaten streak Ohio State has put together, and the two friends have gone out of their way to praise each other and stress that team goals come first. And while Guiton’s recent cameos in the same formation as Miller and increased playing time in blowouts may have improved his chances of sneaking onto an All-Big Ten team in some capacity, if it were possible to put the production of the two together, a combined resume with nearly 2,800 yards of offense and 36 touchdowns would stack up with just about any quarterback in the country.

“We’ve not seen all the teams yet,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. “But I’ve got the two that I like.

“I have a lot of respect for the other quarterbacks in the league, but if we’re drafting, I’ve got the two that I like.”

Meyer would almost certainly need two pretty high picks if he was going to keep his tandem together in a hypothetical Big Ten draft, with Guiton again receiving some chances to show how valuable he is to the Buckeyes and how useful he might have been to a large handful of teams around the league as a full-time option.

After more than a year of kicking around the idea, Ohio State has also finally found a way to put Guiton and Miller on the field at the same time, with the former taking the snap and the latter lining up as a receiver. That package has already produced a pair of touchdowns in the last two games, with Guiton scoring on a designed rush against Penn State and then throwing a jump pass for a score in the blowout last weekend of Purdue.

But with Miller sitting out the entire second half of the laugher against the Boilermakers, Guiton also had a chance to pad his stats outside of the red zone, rushing for 98 yards, throwing for 59 more and picking up right where he left off during his unforgettable September. Both the absence due to injury and the recent lopsided scores have impacted Miller’s personal numbers, leaving him on the outside of the Heisman conversation despite clearly playing the best football of his career.

But assuming Miller would have been able to match the statistics Guiton has put up when he was on the sideline, imagine an awards contender who has completed more than 71 percent of his passes for 2,065 yards with 29 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions, rushed for 717 yards and 7 more scores and also guided a team to a perfect record and a No. 4 ranking.

Those stats would match up quite well with current Heisman front-runners Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston, even if they don’t really mean much and there’s no such thing as splitting an individual honor like the Heisman among two players at the same position. But they can at least offer another reminder of just how prolific the Buckeyes have been at quarterback, regardless of which one is actually on the field.

“I haven’t watched enough of the other [Big Ten] guys, so it would be too hard for me to say,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “I like our No. 1 guy, and I’d put our No. 2 guy up against anybody.

“Now, whether he’s better than them or not, I’m sure there are other guys that may do certain things better than him, but when it comes to managing the game and being a leader and all that, you’d have to do a lot of convincing, a lot of lobbying for me to say there’s a better one out there in this conference.”

Put the two together, though, and that lobbying might have to go to the national level.

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 10

November, 4, 2013
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We have true separation in the Big Ten, and not just with Ohio State at the No. 1 spot. Although the Buckeyes remain the league's kingpin, both Wisconsin and Michigan State also belong in the Big Ten's upper crust.

The big debate in these rankings concerns the No. 2 spot, which Wisconsin has occupied for several weeks. The Badgers handled Iowa on the road and delivered a salty defensive performance even without superstar linebacker Chris Borland. Michigan State smothered Michigan, complementing a dominant defense with timely passes from Connor Cook. Both teams have won at Iowa and at Illinois. Michigan State has the best win between the bunch but has played the easier schedule.

For now, we're keeping Wisconsin at No. 2. We realize we're in the minority there, but Wisconsin hasn't done much to move down since the Northwestern game. It's too bad the Badgers and Spartans can't play this season to decide the second spot.

Elsewhere, Nebraska avoids another drop thanks to its Hail Mary against sad-sack Northwestern. We debated whether to move Minnesota higher, and we will if the Gophers keep winning. Iowa falls down a few spots, and the bottom of the rankings remains unchanged.

Here's one last look at the Week 9 rankings.

Now, the new rundown ...

1. Ohio State (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten; last week: 1): Ross-Ade Stadium is no longer a graveyard for the Buckeyes, who buried Purdue in a matter of minutes Saturday. Ohio State scored 28 first-quarter points and 42 in the first half, as the tight ends got involved, quarterbacks Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton both had jump-pass touchdowns and the defense blanked Purdue. Whether style points matter, Ohio State is finally getting them. The Buckeyes are off this week before visiting Illinois on Nov. 16.

2. Wisconsin (6-2, 4-1; last week: 2): The offense struggled and top defender Borland watched from the sideline with a hamstring injury, but Wisconsin found a way to beat Iowa. Marcus Trotter was fabulous filling in for Borland, as the Badgers' defense repeatedly turned Iowa away in plus territory. Running back James White came alive late as Wisconsin pulled away. The Badgers will need a stronger performance this week as they step out of league play against a good BYU squad.

3. Michigan State (8-1, 5-0; last week: 3): Not only did the Spartans reclaim their superiority against in-state rival Michigan, but they looked like a worthy competitor for Ohio State in a potential Big Ten championship game matchup. If Nebraska falls this week at Michigan, MSU would have a two-game lead on the rest of the division with three weeks to go. An elite defense had its best performance under Pat Narduzzi, as end Shilique Calhoun and linebackers Denicos Allen and Ed Davis combined for seven sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Cook made some impressive throws as the Spartans pounded Michigan. They'll have some extra time to celebrate during an open week before visiting Nebraska on Nov. 16.

4. Nebraska (6-2, 3-1; last week: 7): One play makes all the difference between another Power Rankings drop for Big Red and a three-spot gain. Nebraska had defensive problems early and turnover problems late against Northwestern, but the Huskers never gave up and won a game on a Hail Mary to Jordan Westerkamp for the first time in team history. Credit running back Ameer Abdullah for keeping a potentially splintering team together. The young defense also shut down Northwestern's offense in the second half. Nebraska must beat Michigan on the road this week to stay in the Legends Division race.

5. Michigan (6-2, 2-2; last week: 4): That Notre Dame win feels like years ago as Michigan's warts were exposed in Saturday's loss at Michigan State. The Wolverines are either too young or simply not tough enough, as they were pushed around the field at Spartan Stadium. Michigan had a program-low rushing total (minus-48 yards) and couldn't protect quarterback Devin Gardner. The program's Big Ten championship drought almost certainly will reach nine years, and it's fair to question where things are really headed under third-year coach Brady Hoke. At least Michigan returns home, where it has never lost under Hoke, to face Nebraska this week.

6. Minnesota (7-2, 3-2; last week: 6): The Minnesota mojo continues, thanks in large part to an inexcusable crunch-time blunder by Indiana. Minnesota blew a 22-point third-quarter lead but rallied behind Philip Nelson, who established himself as the team's offensive leader with 298 pass yards and four touchdowns. It was a rough second half for the defense, but linebacker Aaron Hill came up with the decisive play late as the Gophers got out of Bloomington with their third consecutive league win. Minnesota is a factor in the Legends Division race but must keep winning this week against Penn State.

7. Iowa (5-4, 2-3; last week: 5): Sure, the Hawkeyes are improved this season, but some of the same maddening offensive traits remain, like being unable to finish drives. Iowa should have been up at halftime rather than down 7-6 to Wisconsin, and although quarterback Jake Rudock's injury impacted the game, the Hawkeyes' second-half struggles on offense are nothing new. The defense is good enough to get Iowa a few more wins, but can the offense start scoring? Iowa visits Purdue this week.

8. Penn State (5-3, 2-2; last week: 8): It isn't always pretty with Penn State, but the Lions don't quit, especially on their home field. Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg once again rallied his team from a late deficit and stepped up in overtime as Penn State avoided what would have been a bad loss to Illinois. Bill Belton established himself as the team's top running back with 201 yards and a touchdown. The defense remains far too vulnerable to big passing plays. Penn State will need to be better on both sides of the ball this week as it visits surging Minnesota.

9. Indiana (3-5, 1-3; last week: 9): Coach Kevin Wilson's crew doesn't quit, but the Hoosiers still don't know how to win. They were 9 yards away from completing a huge second-half comeback against Minnesota and moving a step closer to bowl eligibility. At worst, they were in position to send the game to overtime. Instead, everything fell apart on a dropped backward pass to Tevin Coleman, who had a big game (108 rush yards, TD). The quarterback race took another turn with Nate Sudfeld outplaying Tre Roberson, and the defense had a wildly inconsistent performance. Indiana hosts Illinois this week but will need a road win at Ohio State or Wisconsin to become bowl eligible.

10. Northwestern (4-5, 0-5; last week: 10): The former Cardiac Cats are only giving their fans heartache at this point as they've forgotten how to perform in the clutch. Northwestern had another golden opportunity for a road win, but let it slip away when it couldn't finish off Nebraska on either side of the ball, leading to the Hail Mary touchdown to Jordan Westerkamp. Injuries continue to mount in a snakebitten season for the Wildcats, who likely won't make a bowl. Northwestern has an off week to regroup before hosting Michigan on Nov. 16.

11. Illinois (3-5, 0-4; last week: 11): The Big Ten losing streak has reached 18 games, and arguably no defeat stung more than Saturday's at Penn State. Illinois wasted opportunities early, took the lead late and still couldn't hold on for a victory. Tim Beckman's team performed better than expected and can take some positives from its performance in Happy Valley, but there's still too much inconsistency on both sides of the ball, as the defense allowed 250 rush yards. Illinois visits Indiana this week.

12. Purdue (1-7, 0-4; last week: 12): The misery continues for Darrell Hazell's crew, which is on its way to its worst season since 1993 (1-10) and might be one of the worst squads in recent Big Ten memory. Young quarterback Danny Etling had another rough outing as Purdue never challenged Ohio State and had no answers for the Buckeyes' offense. Purdue has been shut out in consecutive games and has scored just 17 points in four Big Ten contests. The remaining schedule is a little more favorable, but Purdue has to show something positive by season's end.


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- For all the accomplishments, there was a hole on Braxton Miller’s résumé that he had to address.

A Big Ten player of the year trophy sits on the shelf at his parents’ house. The Ohio State quarterback was productive enough last season to finish fifth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. And he is the starter for a team that hasn’t dropped a game in its last 21 tries.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Hyde
AP Photo/Michael ConroyCarlos Hyde racked up another 100-yard rushing performance in Ohio State's win over Purdue.
But he came up short in a wild overtime loss the last time the Buckeyes hit the road to take on Purdue. Miller was injured in the second half of last season’s game as Ohio State ultimately needed another extra session to win while he was being examined at the hospital.

So for all those accolades, Miller still really didn’t have a win of his own to point to against Purdue, an omission he quickly addressed in a 56-0 rout for No. 4 Ohio State on Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium.

“Absolutely, this was self-comfort,” Miller said. “Two years ago was a hard-fought game with a crazy ending. Last year, just crazy how I got knocked out with my collarbone and things like that.

“After the last two years with this team ... you just have to come back the next year stronger with a chip on your shoulder.”

Collectively, the Buckeyes played as if there was a boulder on their shoulders as they once again made quick work of a Big Ten opponent while doing everything they can to stay in the national title conversation by stacking up style points.

Ohio State still can’t do it all on its own at this point, but Miller & Co. are certainly building a more compelling argument for themselves.

And the quarterback wasn’t the only player or position group erasing a few résumé gaps in the blowout.
  • Tight ends: The Buckeyes always intend to involve their tight ends in the offense, but it usually amounts to little more than lip service. They certainly mean it this season. Purdue had no answer for Jeff Heuerman on Saturday as he was consistently left alone in the secondary and racked up 116 yards on five catches with a touchdown. The junior was the first Ohio State tight end to post 100 receiving yards since 1996. Backup Nick Vannett tacked on 21 yards and a score in the rout.
  • Defensive backs: The secondary rarely lived up to its billing as the strength of the defense during the first half of the season, but since being publicly challenged by coach Urban Meyer, it has bounced back and, despite the loss of senior safety Christian Bryant to a season-ending injury, asserted itself as perhaps the best unit in the Big Ten. Doran Grant jumped a throw on the second snap of the game for an interception he returned for a touchdown to set an early tone, and the Buckeyes never let up in coverage as they combined with a tenacious pass rush up front to hold Purdue to 89 passing yards.
  • Kenny Guiton: Purdue’s old nemesis continued to add to his credentials as one of the nation’s best backup quarterbacks. Guiton was given almost a full half of work, and even lined up in the same formation with Miller for the second consecutive week, and again the offense never missed a beat. The senior captain completed 8 of his 11 throws for 59 yards and a touchdown, and he was explosive as a rusher in accounting for 98 yards and two more scores.

The Buckeyes could point to more feats if they wanted to, like how Meyer’s 21-game winning streak to start his tenure is the longest in college football since Larry Coker debuted with 24 straight wins at Miami in 2001-02. Or for another historical perspective, the Buckeyes have scored 50 points or more in consecutive games three times under Meyer -- and had done so only four times in 122 seasons before he arrived.

All that really mattered, though, was beating the next opponent and staying unbeaten, since that will ultimately be the only thing that determines their fate. But the Buckeyes had plenty of icing on the cake along the way.
Astronomers have made some fascinating discoveries recently while studying dying stars. In the Big Ten, we've merely been captive observers as some of the league's biggest stars have seen their brightness dim this season.

It has been a trying, and in some cases troubling, first half of the season for several players we thought would make the biggest impact in the conference. In fact, I seem to recall someone writing in the preseason that a trio of quarterbacks -- Ohio State's Braxton Miller, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Michigan's Devin Gardner -- would be the marquee names in the league. (Who was that dummy, anyway?)

If the season ended today, none of the three would get my vote for even first-team All-Big Ten honors. And I'd have to think hard about including Miller on the second team. None of them, in fact, rank in the top four in the Big Ten in passing yards or the top six in passer efficiency rating.

The reasons for this are varied and well-known, but let's review anyway:

• Martinez did not look like himself in the UCLA loss in Week 3 as he appeared hesitant to run. We later found out why: he'd been battling a case of turf toe. The Huskers senior hasn't played since that loss to the Bruins, giving way to freshman Tommy Armstrong. Martinez is "doing better," according to coach Bo Pelini, but whether he'll play next week against Minnesota remains a question mark.

"He can run straight ahead," Pelini said Tuesday. "It's when he feels he can push off."

Remember, this is a guy who'd made 42 career starts before the turf toe hit. It's got to be killing him to be missing so many games in the middle of his senior season.

"He is frustrated like anybody would be," Pelini said. "He's a competitor who wants to be out there, but he's also smart and knows his body. He knows what he can do and what he can't do at this point. He's spending a lot of time in the training room, and hopefully he will turn a corner here soon."

• Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner had far less experience than the other two members of the trio, but he showed off some exciting skills at the end of last season. And when accounted for five touchdowns in a primetime win over Notre Dame in Week 2, he even started getting some Heisman buzz.

Since then, though, it has been a rough go of things for New No. 98. His 10 interceptions -- including two more in a loss at Penn State last week -- are tied for third-worst among all FBS quarterbacks. His best attribute appears to be his running ability, but the Wolverines are hesitant to run him too much for fear of injury. Still, his coach is backing Gardner.

"If I had no confidence in our quarterback, with the interceptions that we’ve had, he wouldn’t be our quarterback," Brady Hoke said Monday. "I have all the confidence in the world in Devin Gardner."

• Finally, there's Miller. He has faced less adversity than the other two, but it's still been a bumpy road for the reigning Big Ten offensive player of the year.

Miller was hurt early in the San Diego State game in Week 2. In his absence, backup Kenny Guiton played like a Heisman Trophy candidate for three games, creating an actual debate on whether Guiton should keep the job when Miller's knee healed. Miller quieted that talk with a big performance against Wisconsin, but a week later at Northwestern, Urban Meyer admitted he almost pulled Miller for Guiton after some first-half struggles. The sample size is small, but Miller has not thrown for more than 203 yards in a game this season or run for more than 83 yards in one.

Fans at all three schools have at some point questioned whether their star quarterback should be benched. That's something we certainly didn't see coming in the summer.

And the quarterbacks are not alone. Northwestern running back Venric Mark was an All-America punt returner last year who also ran for 1,366 yards. But a leg injury kept him out of almost all of the Wildcats' first four games. He returned against Ohio State and ran for 60 yards on 17 carries, but he hurt his ankle last week at Wisconsin and had to sit out most of the game.

So Mark, who seemed poised for a big senior year, has played in one full game this year and has a total of 97 rushing yards. His status for this week's game vs. Minnesota is uncertain.

"I don't want to speak for him on how hard it's been," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "From my perspective and the conversations he and I have had, it's been very difficult. But from the standpoint of what he's brought to the team, he's been phenomenal. His attitude has been outstanding. He wants to play so bad, and it's got to be eating at him. But it hasn't shown in his attitude."

The good news for all four players is that there is still half a season left. If they can get healthy and in some cases iron out some issues, they have plenty of time to remind us of their brilliance, especially since their teams all remain in contention. And maybe we'll just remember the first half of 2013 as an interesting way of looking at the stars.

Midseason report: Ohio State

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
7:00
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Perhaps the journey hasn’t been quite as smooth as Ohio State might have planned, but the Buckeyes still are right on schedule to get where they want to go.

The Buckeyes still haven’t lost since Urban Meyer took over the program last year, and with another perfect half of a season under their belts and no postseason sanctions hanging over their heads, they’ve done everything they can to get in position for a potential spot in the national championship game despite some occasionally difficult circumstances.

Most notably, Meyer had to survive for nearly three games without star quarterback Braxton Miller, though backup Kenny Guiton rewrote the record books to bridge the gap until the reigning Big Ten player of the year returned in time for conference play. The Buckeyes, though, are looking at a longer absence for safety Christian Bryant, with a broken ankle ending his season and shuffling up a secondary that has had some ups and downs even with the senior on the field.

But through it all, the Buckeyes just seem to keep on rolling, and with tough tests against Wisconsin and Northwestern having already been passed, the road looks pretty clear ahead in the buildup to The Game against Michigan at the end of November. With Miller back on the field, Carlos Hyde back in the fold after a three-game suspension and the defensive line potentially getting a boost from the return of tackle Tommy Schutt as early as this week, the Buckeyes might have only scratched the surface through six games.

Offensive MVP: WR Philly Brown. Both quarterbacks have put up gaudy individual numbers while effectively splitting responsibility for the first-half wins, and both Miller and Guiton deserve credit for their respective improvements throwing the football. But the strides the receivers have made since last season have been every bit as critical in the development of the passing attack, and Brown has been the most consistent of them all and been an invaluable asset for either guy taking the snaps. The senior leads the team with 381 yards on 30 catches, and this year he’s also turning those receptions into scores with five touchdowns already to his credit.

Defensive MVP: LB Ryan Shazier. Few players in the country do more defensively to stuff the stat sheet, and the junior continues to produce at an elite level even while taking on more responsibility to become a vocal leader in the absence of Bryant. Shazier might not have many of the kind of highlight-reel plays he made a year ago on film yet this season, but Ohio State isn’t complaining about his 47 tackles (eight for loss), two forced fumbles and a sack.

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