Big Ten: Kevin Wilson
We'll find out during the next two months, but for now, the Wolverines have fallen out of the bowl projections. Brady Hoke's team sits at 2-3, and the offense has shown no signs of a turnaround. It's hard to envision Michigan winning one Big Ten game right now, much less the four it will need in its final seven to qualify for a bowl berth.
Indiana also falls out of the projections after a 37-15 home loss to Maryland. After seemingly turning a corner the week before at Missouri, the Hoosiers struggled to build on the victory as a normally potent offense did next to nothing against the Terrapins. Kevin Wilson's team has the talent to go bowling but must show it can handle success better going forward.
Penn State tumbles a bit in the projections after being exposed in a 29-6 home loss to Northwestern. We're not quite ready to put Northwestern back in the projections, but another big win would change that.
Nebraska and Maryland are among this week's risers. We still have both Michigan State and Ohio State heading to top bowls. Minnesota is another team to watch as the Gophers try to build on a strong performance at the Big House.
Without further ado ...
Chick-fil-A Peach/Cotton/Fiesta/Orange: Michigan State
Chick-fil-A Peach/Cotton/Fiesta/Orange: Ohio State
Capital One: Nebraska
National University Holiday: Iowa
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Maryland
San Francisco: Penn State
New Era Pinstripe: Rutgers
Quick Lane: Minnesota
Heart of Dallas: Indiana
D'Angelo Roberts' touchdown run with 22 seconds remaining gave Indiana its first win against a ranked opponent in its last 19 tries. It had been a decade since the Hoosiers took down any ranked foe on the road, let alone the reigning SEC East champion.
"It's easy to drop your guard, drop your hands and not come out ready to play the next game. That's human nature," Wilson said. "Now, you have to repeat the walk and you have to do it over and over. You're the same person. Great players are really just very good all the time."
Maryland (3-1) visits Bloomington for its Big Ten debut this weekend with a chance to zap all of Indiana's positive momentum. The Hoosiers wouldn't be the first team this season to suffer a setback immediately following a monumental victory.
Virginia Tech is 2014's most notable cautionary tale after four weeks of the season. The Hokies jumped into the national polls after beating Big Ten title contender Ohio State in Week 2. They followed that with an upset loss to East Carolina and haven't won since. Georgia also had a little bit of a letdown game -- albeit against stiff competition in South Carolina -- after rolling through Clemson to open the season.
"We need to remember the good things, but we can't worry about Missouri now or remember Missouri because Maryland is probably as talented a group (as) we'll face skill-wise," said Indiana defensive coordinator Brian Knorr.
The Terps average 36.8 points per game and flexed some of that individual talent in a recent win over Syracuse on the road. C.J. Brown is in his third season as a starting quarterback and has a full set of big-play threats in the passing game. Wide receivers Stefon Diggs, Marcus Leak and Deon Long are all capable of getting behind a defense on any given play.
Indiana has some game breakers of its own. Junior running back Tevin Coleman leads the nation with 189.7 rushing yards per game. He could have another big day against a Maryland defense that is currently last among Big Ten teams, giving up nearly 200 yards per game on the ground.
The Hoosiers are four-point favorites to win, but no one has to remind Wilson that college football fortune is fickle. A week before beating Missouri, his team was on the wrong end of a last-minute upset. Bowling Green scored with nine seconds remaining to beat Indiana 45-42 and punctuate a reputation-shaking day for the conference.
Wilson told his players last week they had to put the Bowling Green game behind them to compete with Missouri. Now, they have to make sure they do the same against Maryland.
"That's our challenge to these guys," Wilson said. "Let's go back to what we do and how we do it. If you like that feeling, remember all the things it took to get there."
Let's get to those Big Ten questions.
Adam Rittenberg: It's a fascinating question, Jesse, because Indiana hasn't had a win like this in a while. Coach Kevin Wilson has often talked about the challenge of handling success when you achieve it and how that's part of turning a corner as a program. Indiana can compete with just about anyone in the Big Ten, especially if its defense can build off the Missouri game.
@ESPNRittenberg After the Mizzou win, what is IU's ceiling and can we get Tevin Coleman some Heisman/Doak Walker love?— Jesse Pace (@JGPace) September 22, 2014
This week's home game against Maryland is huge. Maryland has the playmakers to test the Hoosiers' defense, but Indiana comes in with confidence and a good chance to start Big Ten play at 1-0. If so, the Hoosiers have a chance to improve to 4-1 against North Texas. Then bowl eligibility, which has been so elusive for IU, is within sight.
Wilson and his staff have upgraded the talent. It's now about maturity and not getting too carried away with a great win. But I've always felt Indiana could win seven or eight games if things go right.
Coleman finally got overdue national attention after his performance at Missouri. It's hard to get hype in a league featuring two elite running backs (Ameer Abdullah and Melvin Gordon), but people are finally noticing what Coleman can do.
Every UMFan from Streamwood, Illinois, writes: On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being Lane Kiffin (USC or Tennessee, take your pick) 10 being Nick Saban at Alabama, what's Brady Hoke's job security? Is Michigan still a destination job?
Adam Rittenberg: It has dropped from about a 7 to begin the season to a 3 or 4 right now. Anyone who objectively watched the end of the Utah game sensed the hopelessness surrounding Hoke's program right now. Hoke needs a strong showing in Big Ten play, at least five wins and possibly more, to keep the hounds at bay. It starts this week against Minnesota, a team Michigan has beaten even when it's really down (see: 2008). If Michigan loses the Jug, the talk about Hoke losing his job will only intensify.
Is Michigan a destination job? There's great tradition. The facilities have recently become top-notch. The resources are there. The right coach can make Michigan great again. But I also think the culture needs to change. I'm tired of hearing about what Michigan was. Stop living in the past. Don't be afraid to bring in an outsider if that person can win. If so, embrace that person. Spend less time on legends jerseys and more time on how to appeal to the best recruits from around the country. It's not a turn-key job, but it remains an appealing one.
Adam Rittenberg: At some point, Lefty, we're going to look around and realize, "Hey, Penn State can really win this thing." It seems like people are still grasping that Penn State is, indeed, eligible for everything again. I still worry that the Lions are an injury or two away from being in big trouble, but they've remained relatively healthy so far and seem to be getting better each week. A 6-0 start is certainly possible as PSU plays two struggling teams (Northwestern and Michigan) and has two open weeks between now and the Ohio State game. But it will take a win against Ohio State for Penn State to be viewed as a serious contender in the East. From what I've seen, Michigan State is still a cut above everyone else.
@ESPNRittenberg is Penn state a legitimate contender for the East title? Can't the Lions be 6-0 when they matchup with Ohio State?— LeftyMarlins (@LeftyMarlins) September 22, 2014
Dave from Marietta, Ohio, writes: Yes, 12-1 was an excellent weekend for the Big Ten (BIG ups to Indiana from an OSU grad; no thanks to you, U-M). But, the hatred for the Big Ten will remain. 1-10 is burned into the memories of the media. For anyone from the Big Ten to get in, there has to be an even weaker sister champion from the other Power 5 conferences, and right now, I don't see one.
Adam Rittenberg: First impressions tend to stick, Dave, and the Big Ten made a very poor one during the first three weeks. The media doesn't make the selections and the committee has pledged to take into account the whole season, but the Big Ten didn't show much punch in nonleague play. A Clemson win against Florida State would have really helped because the ACC would have a tougher road to the playoff. The Big Ten would really benefit from Oklahoma losing (and Baylor, too) and the Pac-12 beating up on each other.
If Nebraska or Penn State runs the table, it's in. And I still think a Michigan State team that dominates Big Ten play would have a shot. But it will be tough.
1. The Big Ten can step up in key games: After two weeks of justified bashing, the Big Ten deserves some credit for bouncing back nicely in the last meaningful Saturday of nonconference play. The league went 3-0 against the ACC and recorded a huge road win against a ranked SEC opponent as Indiana stunned No. 18 Missouri in Columbia. Iowa finally found its swagger -- and, potentially, its new quarterback (C.J. Beathard) -- in rallying to beat Pitt. Nebraska didn't lose its composure in a chippy game against Miami and outlasted the Canes behind star back Ameer Abdullah. And all three games against MAC teams -- Michigan State-Eastern Michigan, Wisconsin-Bowling Green and Penn State-Massachusetts -- turned into routs by the Big Ten squads. Michigan remains a black eye for the league, but everyone else took a step forward and the Big Ten bolstered its record against Power 5 opponents. It doesn't erase the damage done the previous two weeks, but the Big Ten can feel a little better as league play cranks up next week.
3. Michigan's offense is just getting worse: Brady Hoke hired Doug Nussmeier to fix Michigan's offense and save his job as head coach. But Michigan's offensive woes clearly run deeper than the playcaller, as the unit has amazingly managed to backtrack this year. The Wolverines have yet to reach the red zone in 23 drives against Power 5 opponents (Notre Dame and Utah). The turnover troubles that plagued them in the past have only intensified, as four more giveaways against Utah leave Michigan with 12 on the season and a minus-10 turnover margin. There was a rock-bottom feeling about the 26-10 Utah loss, which ended at a mostly empty, waterlogged Michigan Stadium following a weather delay. Athletic director Dave Brandon repeatedly gave Hoke a vote of confidence before the season, but if the offense doesn't improve in Big Ten play, Hoke could be in serious trouble.
4. B1G's newcomers are better than expected: The Big Ten might have added Maryland and Rutgers because of their favorable locations, but the league is getting an added bonus so far this season. Both programs could be undefeated and both have won two games away from home in the first three weeks. Maryland responded from a last-second loss to West Virginia and beat Syracuse, 34-20, behind big plays in all three phases. Will Likely continued his excellent season with an 88-yard pick-six, while quarterback C.J. Brown and running back Brandon Ross connected on a 90-yard score on a screen pass. Rutgers beat an always-tricky Navy team, 31-24, in Annapolis, Maryland, despite losing star running back Paul James in the first half. Quarterback Gary Nova responded from his five-interception debacle with a clean performance (12-of-15 passing, no interceptions), and running backs Justin Goodwin and Desmon Peoples picked up the slack with James sidelined.
5. Melvin Gordon is going to be just fine: Until Saturday, things had not gone as expected this season for the Wisconsin star. He barely saw the field in the second half of a Week 1 loss to LSU and was held to 38 rush yards on 17 carries against FCS opponent Western Illinois in Week 2. But after an early fumble against Bowling Green, Gordon could not be stopped. He rushed for a career-high 253 yards, the most by an FBS back this season, and tied the team record with five touchdowns in a 68-17 win. And he did it on only 13 carries, recording the best single-game yards-per-carry average (19.5) in team history by a wide margin (14.5 was next best). Gordon even put himself in the company of the great Glenn Davis, as he's tied with the Army star for the NCAA career yards-per-carry record (8.26). Although Gordon will face better defenses this season, he appears to be just fine for Big Ten play. "The unselfishness of Melvin Gordon ... has been incredible," Badgers coach Gary Andersen said. "I'm so proud of the way that he's handled it. Today was his day."
There's only one way to find out, and here’s the blueprint for following all the action (all times Eastern):
Eastern Michigan (1-2) at No. 11 Michigan State (1-1), BTN: The Spartans had some extra time to regroup after the loss at Oregon, and that doesn’t bode well heading into the last two weeks of nonconference action for their opponents. First up is Eastern Michigan, which will have its hands full with Connor Cook and what so far seems to be a much more dangerous offense for the reigning conference champs.
Western Illinois (2-1) at Northwestern (0-2), ESPNews: The bye week was definitely not a time to rest for the Wildcats or Pat Fitzgerald, who certainly wasn’t expecting to be in this early hole as the nightmare year for the program continued with two early losses. If Northwestern didn’t find some answers ahead of the visit from Western Illinois, there’s not much left to look forward to this fall.
Southern Illinois (3-0) at Purdue (1-2), BTN: There were signs of life from the Boilermakers in the loss against Notre Dame, though in the end they didn’t have the talent to hang around for four quarters. Purdue’s non-Big Ten slate wraps up this weekend, and it could surely use a confidence boost before hosting Iowa next weekend.
Bowling Green (2-1) at No. 19 Wisconsin (1-1), ESPN2: The Badgers are still something of a mystery at this point thanks to an off date last week following a relatively uneventful win over FCS-member Western Illinois. The Falcons already have a win over a Big Ten team and can wear defenses out with their up-tempo attack, which might make this a good time for Melvin Gordon and the Wisconsin running game to get rolling.
Maryland (2-1) at Syracuse (2-0), 12:30 p.m., GamePlan: This matchup might be better suited for the hardwood, but the Terrapins and Orange could put on a pretty good show in pads at the Carrier Dome. Maryland has proved capable of putting up points in bunches while Syracuse relies on its defense, leaving an intriguing contrast of styles before Randy Edsall’s team dives into its first Big Ten action.
Utah (2-0) at Michigan (2-1), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2 mirror: Brady Hoke usually takes care of business at the Big House, but this could be a difficult matchup with Utah scoring at least 56 points in each of its first two games. If this turns into a shootout, the Wolverines and quarterback Devin Gardner will have to protect the football much better than they have so far this season to build some momentum for Minnesota’s visit next week.
Rutgers (2-1) at Navy (2-1), 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network: Even in a losing effort, the Scarlet Knights impressed in their Big Ten debut last week against Penn State. Rutgers can create problems with its stout defense and nearly won last week despite getting almost no offensive help, though Navy could easily pose problems with its tricky triple-option rushing attack.
Massachusetts (0-3) at Penn State (3-0), 4 p.m., BTN: The wins may not be all that overpowering, but the Nittany Lions are undefeated -- and for now, that’s enough to make them contenders in both the Big Ten and nationally until the outcomes change. Christian Hackenberg should have some chances to add to his résumé again this week as he faces a UMass defense allowing 35 points per game.
San Jose State (1-1) at Minnesota (2-1), 4 p.m., BTN: Uncertainty continues to swirl around the quarterback position for the Gophers, but whether or not Mitch Leidner plays again this week, the rushing game figures to be front and center. The two programs met last season, and Minnesota exploded for 353 rushing yards and won easily while completing just five passes.
Texas State (1-1) at Illinois (2-1), 4 p.m., ESPNews: The Illini and their high-powered offense hit a stumbling block last week at Washington, but they’re back home again Saturday afternoon and looking to unleash Wes Lunt again through the air. If Illinois is serious about making a push for bowl eligibility this season, this is a game the Illini can’t afford to overlook with a trip to Nebraska looming.
Indiana (1-1) at No. 18 Missouri (3-0), 4 p.m., SEC Network: Bowl projections for the Hoosiers almost certainly banked on a victory last week at Bowling Green, but that one slipped away and Kevin Wilson’s program now is a bit behind schedule in the win column. A soft defense continues to plague Indiana, and that could be an issue against a Missouri offense that has scored at least 38 points in each of its three wins so far.
Miami (2-1) at No. 24 Nebraska (3-0), 8 p.m., ESPN2: The latest polls might not reflect it, but this is still a prestigious matchup packed with historical significance. Having already lost and coming in unranked, the Hurricanes aren’t as close to competing for college football’s top prize as the Huskers. But if Bo Pelini and his team can knock off Miami to stay unbeaten, that might be a victory that resonates as the season progresses.
- B1G roundtable: Which team needs a win the most today?
- Brother's keeper
- Maryland-Syracuse: Tale of the Tape
- Take Two: Miami, Nebraska return to glory?
- Tracking our Big Ten fantasy teams
- Butt's return provides options for Michigan
- Predictions for Week 4
- Iowa's run game has been grounded
- Big Ten awards race tracker
- Progress coming on the fly for J.T. Barrett
- Inside Access: Can the Big Ten be fixed?
- Penn State's mad scientist a boost to defense
- Ameer Abdullah makes his way
- Week 4 gives B1G chance for baby steps
Some have obviously had it better than others, particularly since Nebraska and Penn State both have spotless records. But the ghastly overall mark for the league in matchups with Power-5 members has left a few teams facing critical must-win games in the middle of September, either for the sake of playoff contention, a push for a bowl bid, or just to show any signs of life at all.
Heading into Week Four, the Big Ten blog crew takes a look at which program needs a victory the most -- and there were plenty of options.
Adam Rittenberg: Iowa
It's still fairly early in the 2014 season, but Iowa has yet to play a good game. The Hawkeyes were fortunate to beat Northern Iowa and extremely fortunate to beat Ball State before falling last week to Iowa State. The run game struggles are utterly baffling, and it's critical Iowa gets Mark Weisman, Jordan Canzeri and Co. going against a Pittsburgh team that ranks ninth nationally against the run. A Hawkeyes defensive line pegged to be the team's strength must step up against James Conner. This game has no bearing on whether Iowa wins the Big Ten West Division, as I predicted before the season. But Iowa has looked nothing like a league title contender, and something needs to shift in a hurry.
Austin Ward: Indiana
The Hoosiers have already fallen behind the projected win schedule that would send them back to the postseason, so even at this early stage they’ll likely need to pull an upset to get back on track. So Indiana has a pressing need, but it probably also has the longest odds of getting a victory as it heads to Missouri. The problem that has plagued Kevin Wilson’s program again popped up in the shootout loss to Bowling Green, and that’s troubling given all the offseason talk about making defensive adjustments and improvements to complement the high-powered offense. The combination of tailback Tevin Coleman and quarterback Nate Sudfeld makes Indiana a dangerous opponent for anybody -- even the reigning SEC East champions. But without a few stops against the Tigers, the Hoosiers could find themselves in a hole before conference play even starts.
Josh Moyer: Rutgers
Believe it or not, a lot is on the line for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are coming off an incredibly emotional loss after they played in front of the biggest crowd in school history in a game in which an RU player said “could change New Jersey and Rutgers football forever” -- if Rutgers won. The Knights can’t afford another letdown, or else they could very well see a Northwestern-like fall with their tough schedule. Not only do they have the East Division to contend with, but they also face Nebraska and Wisconsin. In other words, after Tulane next week, it’s not going to get any easier. Rutgers needs a confidence boost before the schedule gets harder, and a win against Navy could be just what it needs.
Dan Murphy: Nebraska
Not all is lost for the Cornhuskers if they don’t hold off a fast Miami team, but no team can do as much to help themselves and the Big Ten as a whole as Nebraska can Saturday night. Bo Pelini’s group is one of two undefeated teams left in the league. Get past Miami and Nebraska should be in good shape for a 10-win season. A victory against an out-of-conference opponent with some brand-name cache will help the Big Ten save a little bit of face in its last real chance to do so. That could help the Huskers if they make a run toward the College Football Playoff, or it could help the overall resume for whatever Big Ten team knocks them off to win the conference title.
Mitch Sherman: Michigan
The Wolverines are closing in on the one-year anniversary of their 42-13 win over Minnesota. Why is that significant? It’s the last victory about which Michigan could actually feel good about. Since, Michigan is 4-7. Its two wins this season reveal next to nothing about the ability of Brady Hoke’s team to play to always lofty expectations. In its lone chance to build momentum this season, Michigan laid an egg against Notre Dame. The Wolverines need to beat Utah like the human body needs food. Their players need it. Their coaches need it. Their fans need it. A win would surpass in prestige any that a Big Ten team has achieved this season. A loss could send the Wolverines into a spiral -- just in time for the big meeting with Minnesota.
Just when it looked like it was safe to start kicking around some other leagues, the Big Ten tripped all over itself and bumbled away its handful of chances to claim wins over teams from Power 5 conferences.
Minnesota and Illinois were blown out. Purdue fought hard but was ultimately overmatched. A shootout slipped away from Maryland. It’s probably best not to mention what happened to Iowa at all.
The conference obviously has nobody else it can blame for the lack of respect nationally when it keeps coming up short in its biggest opportunities to earn it around the nation. There may still be a College Football Playoff contender or two at the top of the league, but if there’s a logjam for the third and fourth spots in December, the Big Ten’s best may look back at September games it wasn’t even involved in as the reason it gets left out of the playoff field.
There were a few bright spots Saturday scattered among the wreckage. Reflect on those and start turning the page to Week 4.
Team of the week: Struggling mightily to find the end zone for 58 minutes, Penn State didn’t look much like the program about to pick up the most valuable win of the weekend. But Christian Hackenberg again delivered when it mattered most, calmly leading the game-winning drive in the closing minutes and staking the Nittany Lions to an early lead in the East Division with a rivalry win over Rutgers.
Game of the week: The game tape won’t be sent to the Hall of Fame and the outcome didn’t go the Big Ten’s way, but the battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy was still an entertaining affair -- though certainly not because of the offenses. The emotions were high, the score was close from start to finish and the closing minutes leading up to Iowa State’s go-ahead field goal also provided a seemingly endless amount of opportunities to question the clock-management skills of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. There were high-scoring, competitive games elsewhere, but this was pretty solid theater that will still be worth dissecting all week.
Biggest play: After the Nittany Lions beat their heads against the wall for more than three quarters, Hackenberg had one final shot at a breakthrough as he took a snap with three minutes left on the clock. His strike to Geno Lewis on first down went for 53 yards, instantly flipping the field position and setting the stage for Penn State’s breakthrough. Lewis would also grab another 23-yarder on the drive, but it was the initial hookup that generated the momentum that finally carried the Nittany Lions to the end zone.
Big Man on Campus (offense): The opponent clearly didn’t provide much of a challenge, and looking back now, Ohio State surely wishes it could have shuffled around its schedule to get J.T. Barrett a chance to tune up against a team like Kent State instead of throwing him into the fire against Navy and Virginia Tech. Who knows if it would have changed anything, but the redshirt freshman quarterback certainly left Saturday’s blowout with more confidence after tying a school record with six touchdown passes and throwing for more than 300 yards -- two things Braxton Miller has never done with the Buckeyes.
Big Man on Campus (defense): The Nittany Lions might need to split this award up after that impressive second-half shutout and only allowing one touchdown total on the way to their road win. Anthony Zettel was again a fixture in the backfield with three tackles for loss, C.J. Olaniyan forced a fumble and tallied a sack, and four different defenders intercepted Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova. But Trevor Williams doubled down with a pair of picks and finished second on the team with five tackles, giving him the slight nod.
Big Man on Campus (special teams): The Huskers might have finally found the solution for the problem that has been plaguing them over the last couple seasons on special teams. De'Mornay Pierson-El provided a jolt of energy to Nebraska’s punt return unit, dazzling with an 86-yard scamper for a touchdown and following that up with a 51-yarder as an encore shortly after to set up another score in the rout of Fresno State.
Biggest face plant: The Hawkeyes are tempting, but Indiana’s loss at Bowling Green figures to be far more damaging to Kevin Wilson’s club and its bid to get back to a bowl game. The defense is still a weakness that no amount of production from running back Tevin Coleman can consistently overcome, and the Hoosiers will probably be kicking themselves over this loss in November.
Numbers and facts to know: Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah moved up to No. 5 on the school’s all-time rushing list, posting his 19th 100-yard rushing performance to move his career total up to 3,373. ... Officially, Barrett’s 300-yard outing through the air was Ohio State’s first since Troy Smith in 2006. Terrelle Pryor threw for 334 yards against Indiana in 2010, but those statistics were vacated. ... Michigan held Miami (Ohio) to 33 rushing yards, its lowest rushing total allowed since 2010.
1. Jerry Kill's old buddy and a guy he hails as a defensive genius is certainly cooking up something special for Minnesota's visit, and TCU coach Gary Patterson isn't going to take it easy on his longtime friend. The road trip is going to be difficult no matter what, but it might be more manageable now that quarterback Mitch Leidner is officially expected to play against the Horned Frogs. There's been uncertainty swirling around the sophomore since he injured his knee late in Saturday's win over Middle Tennessee State, and while Minnesota had been publicly optimistic about his availability throughout the week, Kill made it quite clear on Wednesday that Leidner would be playing. The Gophers haven't exactly lit the world on fire through two games offensively, but taking their field general out of the lineup would have made for a pretty tall order against a coach who isn't afraid to dial up some pressure packages.
2. The offseason quarterback competition at Michigan always seemed contrived and destined to be won by Devin Gardner, more of a challenge to the starter than an indicator of a tight competition. Coming off another turnover-filled loss, it seems more clear than ever that the Wolverines don't have an alternative they feel confident enough to play with Brady Hoke standing firmly behind his senior. "He's our quarterback," Hoke said Wednesday. Those three words can always change if Gardner has any more 3-interception outings, and the loss at Notre Dame was only one game. But if Shane Morris had really been challenging Gardner for playing time, wouldn't now be a perfect opportunity to test him out with Miami (Ohio) coming to the Big House?
3. Which seems stranger at this early juncture: Ohio State ranking No. 10 in the conference in rushing or Indiana sitting last in the league in passing yardage? Those attacks were the best in the Big Ten a year ago in those categories, showing how differently the spread could be used to keep defenses off balance and making it look easy to find the end zone. The Hoosiers have only played once, and they really didn't need to air it out to beat Indiana State, so perhaps Kevin Wilson's play-calling and the postgame stats sheet will be more recognizable after visiting Bowling Green. But the Buckeyes might have a tougher time getting back to what has been so successful for them until their young offensive line comes together and starts opening up the kind of holes four seniors provided Carlos Hyde last year.
- Does being a "Michigan Man" give Hoke more fan support than his predecessor? He answered that question and defended the Big Ten.
- James Franklin still isn't sure exactly how Penn State might be able to get all the way back up to 85 scholarship players by next season, even though it is once again allowed to hit that number.
- The atmosphere for primetime games and the chance to play in matchups like Saturday's against Penn State is part of the reason Darius Hamilton signed with Rutgers.
- Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley is expecting shifting looks and personnel from West Virginia ahead of the showdown on Saturday.
- Ohio State had some problems with drops in its loss to Virginia Tech. It might look to break in a couple new faces at wide receiver against Kent State.
- Instead of hearing from teammates wanting the ball from him, Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld is getting more requests for unique handshakes.
- A closer look at some Michigan State players who are off to slow starts.
- Illinois will have its hands full with a Washington offense coming off a 59-point outburst. Expect a shootout on Saturday.
- Nebraska has had to tweak its travel plans for the long journey over to Fresno State and the late kickoff when the program gets there.
- Another series with Notre Dame is coming to an end, although it's only temporary and there's far less fanfare around the annual meetings with Purdue.
- Pat Fitzgerald isn't just blowing smoke about toughening up Northwestern based on the practice location on Wednesday.
- Friends may not like to play against each other, but TCU coach Gary Patterson said there weren't any other options as the two programs put together a home-and-home.
- What is going on with Iowa's rushing attack?
- Wisconsin has already played more true freshmen this year than it did all of last season.
Any or all of those factors can be pointed to for perhaps the most surprising individual start in the Big Ten with the Indiana defensive lineman bursting out of the blocks with 3 sacks in a season-opening win. But rather than try to explain his early success, Richardson is more focused on trying to duplicate it this week at Bowling Green.
“That felt good,” Richardson said. “We had a week off early and some guys around the Big Ten had a chance to catch up [in sacks]. But I'm going to try my best to stay in front of them and separate myself just so Indiana can be known for the way we work.”
Wilson isn't necessarily expecting that to be an issue, particularly with a veteran like Richardson who has three years of experience in the program to draw on and a healthy groin after offseason surgery which is allowing him to practice at a higher level more consistently. With just 5.5 sacks in his career before the breakout performance against Indiana State, Wilson is also quick to point out there's plenty of circumstances from that game that might have contributed to Richardson's big outing or skewed his numbers -- and it's up to him to show that it wasn't a fluke.
“He was sporting that hernia, groin injury, and he had played well but was a little bit nagged,” Wilson said. “He wasn't able to maybe train or practice as consistently as high as he has this summer and this preseason camp. But he had that procedure in the offseason, he's very, very healthy, and he had by far his best camp. Short term, he's gotten off to a good start.
“We'll see if that will continue or if he can maintain that. He's put it up for a one-week deal, we'll see how he moves against Bowling Green and the challenge they bring.”
That message isn't just aimed at Richardson, and it also surely applies to more than just his defensive teammates.
Thanks to an early bye week ahead of the trip to Bowling Green, the Hoosiers only have a win over an FCS program to their credit so far as they try to climb back into a bowl game for the first time since 2007. So whether it's Tevin Coleman's eye-popping rushing statistics or Richardson jumping out to an early lead in the sack race, at this point Indiana still has to go out and show that those kinds of performances are repeatable against stiffer competition.
“That's a great way to build confidence though,” Richardson said. “I missed spring ball and I had to put back in my extra work just to get back out there and stay healthy. I came out with a great start and I feel my confidence is way higher than it was.
“I already had a lot of it, but I think it can carry over and help my teammates, too. We all just have to keep working.”
For starters, the offseason work appeared to pay off in the opener. Now Richardson and the Hoosiers just have to go out and do it again.
What can the Big Ten do to turn back the tide after falling flat in Week 2? There may not be much left that can truly change the perception of the league, but the conference better get geared up for Saturday to stop the bleeding with a handful of games that could be pretty revealing for some teams.
A quick look ahead:
1. Rutgers makes its real debut: The Scarlet Knights have been a pleasant surprise for the Big Ten through two weeks, though beating Howard didn't do much to prove they have what it takes to compete in the East Division right away this fall. A significant barometer is coming this weekend at what should be a rocking High Point Solutions Stadium against a regional rival and fellow unbeaten in Penn State. With one more win, Kyle Flood's team would serve notice that nobody should be taking Rutgers lightly moving forward -- and doing it against Penn State might be invaluable in recruiting.
2. Bounce-back chances: Michigan State has the weekend off to regroup and lick its wounds, but Michigan and Ohio State might actually prefer the opportunity to get back on the turf and erase the sting of painful losses to Notre Dame and Virginia Tech, respectively. The Wolverines were flat-out embarrassed by the Irish and were shut out for the first time since 1984, and they should be motivated to prove that's an aberration for the offense against Miami (Ohio). And the Buckeyes clearly could use a little lighter opposition after opening with Navy and the Hokies, a pair of opponents who didn't provide much chance for them to ease into things with so many new faces on offense.
3. Power 5 showdowns: None of the nonconference matchups on the docket have the national prestige or the perceived playoff implications of last week's games, but the Big Ten still has several chances to bolster its reputation against fellow Power 5 opponents. Iowa has struggled in both of its wins to start the season, but it is still undefeated ahead of its rivalry clash with Iowa State. Minnesota has a pair of victories as well, and its trip to TCU is not going to be a walk in the park. Illinois has survived without a loss through two weeks, but it also hits the road and faces a tall order at Washington. The Big Ten also has another shot at Irish, but Purdue is already reeling and Michigan obviously just came up woefully short with its crack at them last week.
4. Is Indiana a bowl team? After taking on FCS member Indiana State and then sitting out this past weekend with an early bye, it might as well still be preseason for Indiana. If the Hoosiers are going to take a step forward and get back into the postseason, winning outside the league against a team like Bowling Green is imperative in climbing toward bowl eligibility. While they were resting, the Falcons lost their starting quarterback to a hip injury, which certainly figures to be helpful for Indiana's revamped defense. Can they generate as much pressure from the defensive front and continue to run the ball as well as Tevin Coleman did in the opener? It's time to start answering questions again for Kevin Wilson.
5. What's up with the Huskers? The Nebraska offense wasn't going to keep setting records every week, but it looked like a completely different team on the field against McNeese State compared to the powerful outfit that steamrolled Florida Atlantic in the season opener. Ameer Abdullah's game-winning touchdown was an incredible effort and a memorable play, but if the Huskers can't find more consistency finding the end zone on the road against Fresno State, they might find themselves on upset alert yet again.
Yes, that Big Ten, often criticized for its conservative nature -- the league slow to stage night games late in the season or play on Thursday nights, the same Big Ten that’s reluctant to pit foes early in the fall when mismatches abound and the fans crave meaningful football.
That Big Ten is leading the way this year in playing neutral-site games. Starting with Rutgers-Washington State on Thursday in Seattle -- if that doesn’t scream Big Ten, nothing does -- league schools will play in five of eight neutral-site games nationally early this season.
On Saturday, you’ve got Penn State-Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland, Ohio State-Navy in Baltimore and Wisconsin-LSU in Houston. Notre Dame and Purdue play in Indianapolis on Sept. 13.
The Big Ten has officially embraced a college football trend popularized by the Southeastern Conference. Dare we say, the Big Ten is doing it better than any other league this year?
And even if not, Big Ten teams are trying hard to reach new audiences and tap fertile recruiting grounds. It counts for something.
Forget, for a moment, the financial ramifications. Yes, the neutral-site games can be profitable. Some offer payouts in excess of $5 million, which can equal the revenue lost from a home game, considering that the neutral-site pairings don’t require a road game in return.
But it’s about more than money.
Indirectly, everything about scheduling involves money. By playing games outside of their comfort zones, though, Big Ten programs illustrate that they want to grow their brands. They show that they’re not content with bundles of TV-generated cash and underachieving reputations.
“The kids should walk out of there with a big-time experience,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said of the Badgers’ showdown on Saturday night.
His program receives $2 million for the game.
Kickoff is set for 9 p.m. ET on ESPN, competing for viewers with Florida State-Oklahoma State at 8 p.m. ET on ABC from Arlington, Texas.
These are big-time draws, especially a week before the NFL regular season hogs attention.
Next year, the Badgers face Alabama in the Cowboys Classic. In two years, LSU visits Lambeau Field in Green Bay for the Wisconsin rematch.
Here’s to more neutral-site games in the Big Ten region. Illinois and Northwestern have tested pro stadiums in Chicago and figure to go back, but how about Nebraska or Michigan, Iowa or Michigan State at other venues easily accessible to their fans?
Keep thinking big, Big Ten.
One day before kickoff, let’s go around the league…
- Linebacker Jake Ryan, a Michigan captain in 2013, supports the decision of coach Brady Hoke to postpone an announcement this year until the end of the season. Derrick Green is the Wolverines’ top running back.
- Keep an eye on Rutgers tight end Tyler Croft. Washington State will be watching him.
- Michigan State’s first opponent, Jacksonville State, might provide a preview for the Spartans’ second foe.
- Braxton Miller had surgery. And it went well.
- Maryland features depth at running back.
- Expectations soar for Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld.
- Keys for Penn State in Ireland.
- How to measure progress at Purdue this fall.
- The long offseason is almost over for Northwestern.
- One night last season changed everything for David Cobb.
- Iowa running back Damon Bullock, bypassed last year, has worked his way back in line for carries.
- A key for Illinois? Develop a few dominant defensive linemen.
- Nebraska expects a big year from punter Sam Foltz.
- Wisconsin’s Derek Watt, younger brother of J.J., is set to help the Badgers at multiple spots.
"The farther from the ball you are, the better chance you have to get on the field early," Franklin said Tuesday. "That's where it really comes down to skill, speed and quickness."
Franklin is one of several Big Ten coaches who are banking on that adage being true right now. Because as Week 1 rapidly approaches, many league teams are hoping that some true freshmen and other very inexperienced players can make a major impact on their offenses.
That's a byproduct of the Big Ten losing its top seven and nine of its top 10 receivers from 2013. The youth movement is on at that position, and it's happening in earnest at some places.
Penn State is replacing record-breaking receiver Allen Robinson, who left for the NFL after his junior year. Franklin said true freshmen Saeed Blacknall and Chris Godwin will play this weekend against UCF in Ireland.
"They've done well," Franklin said. "We need those guys to have roles for us, and hopefully that grows as the season goes on. Both of them are big, physical guys, they're mature and they've handled it extremely well. And with our lack of depth at that position, we needed that."
The Nittany Lions are also hoping for contributions down the road from first-year players Daesean Hamilton and De'Andre Thompkins.
Few teams are as green at wideout as Illinois, which will break in several new receivers this weekend against Youngstown State. They include true freshmen Mike Dudek and Malik Turner and junior-college transfers Geronimo Allison and Tyrin Stone-Davis.
"I'm really happy with the guys we have now," head coach Tim Beckman said. "The game experience isn't there for them yet, but I'm really happy with the athleticism, and I'm happy with the way they have learned the game and the offensive system."
Beckman said Martize Barr, who was a junior-college transfer last season, and junior Justin Hardee have done "an outstanding job teaching [the newcomers] how to practice and play. Now, we'll see how that works on Saturday."
Wisconsin's receivers could get the biggest baptism by fire, as they take on LSU on Saturday. True freshman George Rushing will be in the mix, and head coach Gary Andersen said he "has picked up the scheme and consistently made big plays." Freshmen Krenwick Sanders and Natrell Jamerson are vying for playing time as well.
"We're going to be receiver-by-committee," Andersen said. "We're not going to be receiver-by-Jared-Abbrederis."
Hopes are high for the talent on the perimeter at Ohio State. Still, three guys who are expected to play a lot -- Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith and Michael Thomas -- have yet to see a down in the FBS. True freshman Freddy Canteen will play early and often for Michigan. Redshirt freshman Derrick Willies turned heads this spring at Iowa.
Indiana has one proven commodity in senior Shane Wynn. True freshmen Dominique Booth, J-Shun Harris and Simmie Cobbs have all worked their way into the rotation for Kevin Wilson, who's always been willing to play newbies. Ricky Jones, who barely played as a redshirt freshman last year, and former walk-on Damon Graham should also be in the Hoosiers' two deep vs. Indiana State.
"Oh, there's going to be some [mistakes]," Wilson said. "You're always concerned about it."
The time to find out if all these young receivers in the league are ready is almost here.
Be sure to follow my new Twitter handle (@ESPNRittenberg).
Let's begin ...
I'm your bagman today. Season's less than a week away. Horses like hay, OK? Be sure to follow my new Twitter handle (@ESPNRittenberg). Let's begin ...
Adam Rittenberg: Great question, Michael. The immediate response is to say Michigan State beating Oregon on the road. Oregon is a popular pick to make the playoff. It has a Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback in Marcus Mariota and plays in one of the loudest, craziest, most hostile environments -- at least for the road team -- in college football. A MSU win would be huge both for the Spartans and the Big Ten. But you can't discount the Wisconsin-LSU game for this simple reason: It's against the SEC. The Big Ten's reputation issues stem in large part because of the SEC's success and the Big Ten's inability to beat the SEC in big games. The two leagues are richer and more popular (by far) than the others. So a win against the SEC, in essentially a road game in Houston, would be big for Wisconsin and the Big Ten. I'll ultimately go with Michigan State beating Oregon, but not by much. Both games are huge for the league.
@ESPNRittenberg With the reputation of the Big Ten being what it is, which non-con game is the most critical for the conference to win?— Michael Blum (@MichaelBlum3) August 22, 2014
Adam Rittenberg: To be clear, Justin is referring to Nebraska, not Northwestern. I think the rankings aren't based mainly on a perceived talent differential. Wisconsin and Nebraska have similar talent, and you can make a case the 2014 Huskers will be the more talented team as Wisconsin says goodbye to an exceptional senior class. But Wisconsin has had a slightly better track record than Nebraska in the past 15 years. The Badgers have won league championships and always seem to be in the title mix. Nebraska has been close under Bo Pelini, but can't get past the four-loss thing. The big difference between the teams, regardless of preseason ranking, is the schedule. Nebraska plays a division crossover at Michigan State. Wisconsin misses Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. The Badgers also host Nebraska, which also must visit Iowa and a Northwestern team it has struggled to beat the last two years.
@ESPNRittenberg I see a lot of preseason rankings having Wisconsin ahead of NU do u think it has more to do with NU's past season or talent?— Justin (@SsGSmittyJ) August 22, 2014
Adam Rittenberg: There's virtually no chance he'll be back, Jeff. Melvin Gordon returned this year with the understanding that it would be his last as a Badger. He knows it and the coaches know it. Perhaps a major injury would cause him to return, but even then -- and perhaps because of an injury -- he likely would want to begin his pro career, given the short shelf-life for running backs in the NFL. Gordon wants to lead Wisconsin to the next level and hopes to do it this season. He'll obviously be disappointed if the Badgers don't win the Big Ten and/or make the playoff. But he also has to think about his future, which should begin in the NFL in 2015.
@ESPNRittenberg if UW has a good year, maybe 10-2, but Gordon doesn't win the heisman, any chance he comes back? Bama would be on '15 sched— Heff Jurda (@JeffHurdaCow) August 22, 2014
Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld found himself in a time-share situation at quarterback the past two seasons. No matter how well he performed -- and he finished fourth in the Big Ten in passing yards per game in 2013 -- Sudfeld never knew exactly when he might start or even play.
Throughout it all, he never complained. He saw a much bigger picture.
“It would be really hard for me, if I had a bad game or something, to get too upset,” Sudfeld said. “I understand that there are people in the world who actually have problems.”
Sudfeld’s upbringing ensured that he would never get too wrapped up in himself. He comes from a family of missionaries who actually dare to try and alleviate some of the world’s problems.
His grandfather, Bob Pagett, is a former pastor who along with his wife, Charlene, decided to create a relief organization after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990. He never dreamed it would take flight the way it has.
Assist International focuses on needs such as providing fresh water, delivering medical supplies and serving orphans in Third World nations. Pagett said the organization has completed projects in more than 60 countries around the world. It has built orphanages and schools in Romania, Uganda and other war-torn or impoverished areas.
Along the way, it also became the family business. Sudfeld’s father, Ralph, will take over as president of the organization next year, while his mother, Michelle, serves as fundraising director. Nate’s older brother, Matt, is the director of strategic development.
Pagett told each of his nine grandchildren that they could go with him on a relief mission when they turned 14. Shortly after he reached that age, Nate Sudfeld went to Uganda and Kenya, meeting renowned missionary Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe along the way. Sudfeld recalled playing soccer with orphans during the trip.
“It’s been a life-changing experience for our grandkids,” Pagett said. “When you grow up in Modesto and all of a sudden you go to Vietnam or Romania, your eyes are wide open and you’re a world person. They’re really into helping the poor and needy around the world, because they’ve been exposed to the world.”
Sudfeld has been itching to go on another mission ever since his first one. He had planned to join his twin brothers Matt and Zach, the latter of whom is a tight end for the New York Jets, on a trip to Uganda this spring. But the itinerary got postponed, and by the time it happened this summer, he was too wrapped up in football preparations.
Sudfeld hopes there will be time after this season to go somewhere on a mission.
“It seems like almost every time I’m on the phone with him he’s saying, ‘When can I go out? When’s the next trip?” Matt Sudfeld said.
For now, though, the Hoosiers take priority, and Sudfeld is the team’s undisputed No. 1 quarterback for the first time. Tre Roberson’s surprising transfer this summer cleared the way for the 6-foot-5 junior who threw 21 touchdown passes in eight starts a year ago.
It’s also the first time that fourth-year head coach Kevin Wilson won’t have to juggle quarterbacks. He says Sudfeld has the talent to be "one of the premier players in our league" and that he has definite NFL potential.
That’s what Sudfeld has dreamed of since he was a high school freshman, when he would practice his throwing motion in front of a mirror to make sure he maintained a quick and compact release despite his height. Sudfeld said not having to look over his shoulder this season gives him more confidence, but he’s not settling for just owning the starting job.
“I’m not trying to just be the No. 1 quarterback at Indiana,” he said. “I’m trying to be one of the better players around. If I do that, it will make our whole team better.”
As he was raised to do, Sudfeld sees the bigger picture at play. And football is never all that’s on his mind.
“I’m really glad I was able to get out of my little California bubble at a young age,” he said. “[Relief work] is something I definitely want to be involved in as I get older. There’s nothing like it.”
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
12:00 PM ET Purdue Illinois 12:00 PM ET 20 Ohio State Maryland 2:30 PM ET North Texas Indiana 3:30 PM ET 17 Wisconsin Northwestern 7:00 PM ET Michigan Rutgers 8:00 PM ET 19 Nebraska 10 Michigan State