Big Ten: Marcus McWilson

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 9

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
10:00
AM ET
It's an interesting weekend for the Big Ten. On one hand, we have an intra-state rivalry on tap along with a nationally televised night game at one of the best atmospheres in the country.

On the other, only one of the conference's five games is expected to be close. Four of the underdogs are picked to lose by double digits this week, and the closest game isn't exactly a hot ticket: Minnesota at Illinois.

For the first time all season, we Big Ten writers all picked the same winners. But will there be an upset? Can someone surprise in the Big Ten? Let's take a closer look at the matchups:

Noon

Minnesota (6-1) at Illinois (3-4), ESPNU: The Gophers are still fighting for respect, as they appear at No. 24 in the USA Today poll -- but they're still left out of the Associated Press' top 25. They've quietly put together a solid season, with their only loss coming against TCU, and running back David Cobb could be the most underrated player in the conference. Illinois coach Tim Beckman is fighting for his job, and he and his offensive coordinator can't even seem to agree on whether a two-quarterback system is best for the team. The Illini have a plethora of defensive problems, and they can't afford to have their offense stumble.

Maryland (5-2) at Wisconsin (4-2), BTN: Melvin Gordon is one of the most dynamic backs in all of college football, and the Terrapins are one of the worst rushing defenses in all of college football. That's not exactly a recipe for success for the Terps. That being said, Wisconsin's woes through the air have been well-documented, and it would be no surprise to see the Terps dare Wisconsin to throw. Randy Edsall needs to get his own house in order, too. Maryland has a lot of firepower on offense, but C.J. Brown needs to find more consistency for this team to hang with the Badgers. Backup Caleb Rowe is out for the season, so it's Brown or bust. And Brown has thrown three picks to zero touchdowns in the last two games.

Rutgers (5-2) at Nebraska (6-1), ESPN2: The Scarlet Knights just can't catch a break with their schedule. They were dismantled by Ohio State 56-17 on Saturday and they play Wisconsin next week. Rutgers was the surprise team of the conference in the first half of the season, but it will have to show something in this second half to retain that title. It won't be easy. Like the Buckeyes, Nebraska boasts a balanced offense -- and Ameer Abdullah is the best back the Knights have seen since ... well ... it's been years. With one Big Ten loss already, Nebraska can't afford a slip-up. But it might just have the most talented team, overall, in the West.

3:30 p.m.

Michigan (3-4) at Michigan State (6-1), ABC: Since 2008, this rivalry has basically been owned by the Spartans. Mark Dantonio's team has won five out of the last six, with the Wolverines winning only once in a 12-10 game in 2012. Michigan is coming off a bye week -- and actually won its last Big Ten game, against Penn State -- but the Spartans are on another level. If U-M can pull off this upset, maybe Brady Hoke has an outside chance to save his job and the Wolverines really have sparked a turnaround. If not, expect the same Michigan storyline that you've heard since Week 2.

8 p.m.

Ohio State (5-1) at Penn State (4-2), ABC: The Buckeyes have scored at least 50 points in four straight games, but they haven't faced a defense quite like Penn State's. On the flip side, the Nittany Lions haven't faced any offense resembling Ohio State's, either. The key to an upset here is two-fold: Penn State's weak offensive line must somehow keep one of the nation's best front fours at bay (unlikely), or Penn State's defense has to play out of its mind and force turnovers (more likely). Ohio State pounded Penn State 63-14 last season, and the Lions would like nothing more than to avenge the worst loss in program history since 1899 (a 64-5 loss to Duquesne). This game will act as a good measuring stick for both J.T. Barrett and the PSU defense.

Required reading
National signing day is next Wednesday. To get you ready for the big day, we checked in with a pair of ESPN.com recruiting experts for their take on how the Big Ten is faring.

Senior national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill and Midwest recruiting writer Jared Shanker shared their thoughts on a handful of recruiting topics related to the league. This is Part II of that discussion; you can find Part I here.

Which teams in the Big Ten have surprised you with this year's class?

Jared Shanker: Indiana definitely surprised me. If you looked at their class last summer [in 2011], when they had Gunner Kiel, you said, "Wow, that's a pretty good class." But then it really fell apart. This one's kind of the opposite. It wasn't looking too strong, and then things really started rolling during the season. They were able to get an ESPN 150 guy from Georgia [Rashard Fant]. They were able to flip Darius Latham from Wisconsin, they flipped David Kenney from Iowa, Antonio Allen was originally committed to Ole Miss. They've done a good job recruiting each state, as well as keeping some of the top talent in Indianapolis. Indiana is a basketball state, but there are some pretty good football players there, and Latham, Kenney and Allen are all four-star players from Indianapolis. So I like what Kevin Wilson has been able to do. This class really turned around, starting in October or so.

Minnesota is doing OK. Penn State is probably a surprise. You see five four-star guys. You see the No. 1 quarterback in the country in Christian Hackenberg. Adam Breneman is the No. 1 tight end. They have some other three-star guys that can contribute and even have some walk-ons who had scholarship offers elsewhere. They just dropped out of the Top 25, but they were hanging on in the Top 25 for a while.

Iowa has traditionally filled its class down the line and kept getting commitments until signing day. For the most part, Iowa was close to done by mid-summer with their class, which was pretty unique for Iowa. It's a stark contrast compared to their 2012 class, which is probably why you haven't heard about Iowa much lately. They've been out of the news. But I think they're generally happy for the most part how things turned out. They did lose David Kenney to Indiana. But if they can flip Reggie Spearman from Illinois and also add one more receiver, I think they'd probably be pretty happy.

Tom Luginbill: Since we mentioned Indiana, I would say that Northwestern continues to impress. Texas continues to be fruitful for the Wildcats. QB Matt Alviti couldn't be a better fit for their offense. If Alviti were taller, I think he would have been a national recruit and has been undervalued. Athlete Godwin Igwebuike is versatile and continues their presence in Ohio. Pat Fitzgerald and his staff may be as good as anyone in college football. They evaluate for them and don't worry about what others think. They identify who is the right fit and attack it.

How do you think Nebraska has done with this class, especially in trying to beef up its defensive front?

TL: The week of January 21st was a rough patch for Nebraska with the loss of two committed prospects in athlete Marcus McWilson and receiver Dominic Walker, who is out of Florida and now committed to Auburn. They did retain Tre'vell Dixon who was originally committed to Nebraska, broke away for a bit and came back. It has been a whirlwind for Bo Pelini and his staff. There are a lot of additions in the defensive front seven both from the high school and juco ranks including defensive end Randy Gregory, who, had he not been injured, may have ended up as our No. 1 ranked juco player overall.

JS: Nebraska might have been able to do a little better. That's not to say their class still isn't good. They have one of the best jucos in the country. Johnny Stanton was one of the better quarterbacks at the Elite 11. He's coming off an ACL tear. They've got a host of four-star guys. I still think it could have been a little bit stronger, all things considered.

They've got Randy Gregory at defensive end. They're pretty strong at linebacker, so they're looking pretty good along the defensive front but maybe not in defensive line depth. The huge numbers aren't there. You have to at least like Gregory and the linebackers, but you can just see the eye test -- they're not there yet with upper teams in the Big Ten. I think they still have some work to do to get there.

Finally, give us a handful of players who might make an immediate impact next season.

JS: I like Derrick Green [from Michigan]. Jalin Marshall at Ohio State, I think he's a guy you put the ball in his hands on a jet sweep, a screen or what have you, and there's a chance he takes it to the house. So those two guys really stick out.

I know the Illinois staff is really high on [quarterback] Aaron Bailey and is looking at him as the future. Maybe something happens with Nathan Scheelhaase and he can step in and get some early playing time. Then there's Corey Clement at Wisconsin. He's kind of a bigger back, at 5-foot-11, 200 pounds. With Montee Ball gone, maybe at least he breaks into the rotation and sees some touches as a freshman.

TL: Receiver Jalin Marshall, Ohio State; running back Derrick Green Michigan; linebacker Trey Johnson, Ohio State; tight end Adam Breneman, Penn State (if healthy); defensive tackle Darius Latham, Indiana; athlete Rashard Fant, Indiana.

The penultimate weekend before signing day is in the books, and not surprisingly, there was plenty of news on the Big Ten recruiting trail. As a reminder, you should bookmark ESPN Recruiting and particularly the Midwest blog Insider for all your Big Ten recruiting news leading up to the big day.

Michigan made the biggest splash of the weekend -- although not a surprising one -- as it secured a commitment from running back Derrick Green of Richmond, Va., who picked Michigan ahead of Tennessee and Auburn. Rated as the nation's No. 5 running back and No. 38 overall player by ESPN Recruiting, Green immediately becomes Michigan's highest-rated commit in an already solid 2013 class. Although Michigan had 14 commits in the ESPN 300 -- second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State -- Green is ranked 50 spots higher than the next Michigan pledge (cornerback Jourdan Lewis).

But Green isn't merely a decorated prospect. He fills a significant need for Michigan, which has significant question marks at running back. The Wolverines couldn't generate a run game outside of quarterback Denard Robinson in 2012, as Fitz Toussaint struggled to build off of a solid 2011 season before suffering a major leg injury Nov. 17 and undergoing surgery. How Toussaint responds from the setback remains to be seen, and Michigan's other backs -- Thomas Rawls, Justice Hayes -- are unproven.

The 6-foot, 215-pound Green is the type of back who could contribute right away, Insider and he'll at least give Michigan another option in the backfield. Michigan now has three running backs in its 2013 class.

Other recent Big Ten recruiting notes (2013 class):
  • Purdue is making a push as signing day nears, picking up four commitments during the weekend. The Boilers added linemen on both sides of the ball in Johnny Daniels (defense) and Jason Tretter (offense), as well as wide receiver Deangelo Yancey, an Atlanta native who originally had committed to Kentucky. Insider Yancey chose Purdue ahead of Missouri. The recent coaching staff hires already have paid off in recruiting. Tight end Garrett Hudson, the son of new Boilers defensive coordinator Greg Hudson, committed to the Boilers after visiting the school this weekend.
  • Indiana's recruiting upgrade on defense has become a major story line as signing day nears, and the Hoosiers added another piece Friday in cornerback Nigel Tribune, who switched his pledge from Iowa State after visiting IU's campus. The Hoosiers are quietly putting together one of the league's top classes, and their highest-rated prospects -- Rashard Fant, Darius Latham, David Kenney III, Antonio Allen -- are set to contribute on defense. There was a bit of bad news as one-time commit Jacobi Hunter, a defensive tackle, tweeted that Indiana pulled his scholarship offer. Hunter is looking at Cal.
  • Nebraska didn't add any recruits during the weekend and will learn today whether offensive lineman Dwayne Johnson becomes a Husker, but the program was in the news. Wide receiver recruit Dominic Walker, who recently switched his pledge from Nebraska to Auburn, told the Orlando Sentinel that the Nebraska coaches were "very mad" when he told them of his decision. According to Walker, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini told him, "Best of luck. You're going to need it." It's important to note that this is all coming from Walker's side, as college coaches can't publicly discuss specific recruits. Nebraska lost another recruit during the weekend as safety Marcus McWilson tweeted that he's no longer committed to the school. McWilson could be headed to Kentucky.
  • Iowa bolstered its defensive backfield Insider with a commitment from cornerback Desmond King, who had originally pledged to Ball State. King, a Detroit native, already knows several Hawkeye players from the area such as receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley.
  • There are several loyal blog readers -- one in particular -- who send me frequent notes asking why the University of Toronto isn't a Big Ten expansion candidate. My answer hasn't changed -- don't see it happening -- but there was a connection between the school and the Big Ten during the weekend. Defensive tackle James Bodanis reportedly is transferring from Toronto to Michigan State, where he'll have two years of eligibility left. Bodanis recorded four sacks in eight games for Toronto last season.
  • New Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen has done a good job retaining the recruits who committed to the previous staff. He's also adding to the mix, Insider securing a pledge Saturday from linebacker Leon Jacobs from Santa Clarita, Calif. Jacobs originally committed to Fresno State before opening up his recruitment. Wisconsin currently has only two California natives on its roster, so it'll be interesting to see if Andersen's West Coast ties and those of his assistants bring in more recruits from the Golden State.

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