Big Ten: Mike Trumpy

Big Ten weekend rewind: Week 9

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
11:00
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You know the old adage about offense selling tickets and defense winning championships? Forget about it.

If that were true, how could you explain that four of the top five scoring teams in the country are Baylor, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State? And that all four are undefeated, ranked in the top five in the major polls and in the BCS title chase? (No. 4 on that list, by the way, is Texas A&M, which has a reigning Heisman Trophy winner and is 12th in the BCS standings). Even Alabama is averaging 41.2 points per game, 13th best in FBS.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsUrban Meyer and Ohio State were on the offensive against Penn State.
The only team in the Top 25 nationally in points per game that doesn't have a winning record? Indiana, which is tied for eighth at 42.4 PPG -- but also is No. 119 in total defense.

You've got to score a lot to win big in college football these days, and you've got to do the same to stand out in the BCS crowd. So no wonder Urban Meyer and Ohio State put their foot on the gas pedal Saturday against Penn State, scoring 42 points in the first half en route to a 63-14 rout.

The Buckeyes' 686 total yards were their most ever against a Big Ten opponent. Meyer, in classic step-on-your-neck fashion, challenged a spot on a Penn State fourth-down play late in the third quarter. Ohio State led 56-7 at the time -- and got the call reversal to go its way. Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien just stared ahead for several seconds when a a reporter later asked about that challenge, then declined to comment. But O'Brien did say of the game, "We'll remember some things."

Still, it's hard to blame the Buckeyes for doing everything they could to put up an impressive score after they've heard about their lack of style points all year long. The scary thing for the rest of the Big Ten is that Ohio State and Braxton Miller appear to be just now finding their stride on offense. Yes, that's a funny thing to say for a team scoring 47.2 points per contest and that has seven 50-point games since 2012, or one more than the program managed in the entire Jim Tressel era. But it's true.

This is an offense that appears to be steamrolling toward a championship. Wouldn't it be fun if Michigan State's equally dominating defense got a chance to test that old adage in Indianapolis?

Take that and rewind it back:

Team of the week: For the second straight week, it's Minnesota. Of course it is, after the Gophers knocked off Nebraska for the first time since 1960, got their signature Big Ten win and clinched bowl eligibility. What the team has been doing while head coach Jerry Kill is on a leave of absence is incredible.

Worst hangover: There have been some ugly losses in the Bo Pelini era at Nebraska, but maybe none as dispiriting as Saturday's defeat at Minnesota. The 9-7 home loss to Iowa State might be the only one to trump it. Tommie Frazier, who publicly criticized Pelini and his staff after the UCLA debacle, tweeted out "Do I need to say anymore?" right after the game ended. It will be another uncomfortable week in Lincoln.

Best play: Facing third-and-7 from the Northwestern 8-yard line in overtime, Iowa's Jake Rudock dropped back to pass and almost immediately had blitzing safety Ibraheim Campbell in his grille. When Rudock released the ball, it looked in live action as though he was merely throwing it away. Instead, the ball sailed perfectly to tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz for the touchdown that proved to be the game winner.

[+] EnlargeConnor Cook
Pat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsConnor Cook won't soon forget Saturday's win.
Craziest play: Speaking of surprising touchdown passes, Connor Cook must be living right. The Michigan State quarterback scrambled to his right late in the first half on a third-and-25 from the Illinois 29-yard line. He then threw toward the end zone into double coverage, and a pair of Illini defensive backs, Jaylen Dunlap and Eaton Spence, were in front of Bennie Fowler for the underthrown pass, and Dunlap tipped it twice before it fell in the hands of Fowler for a TD. The score was 7-3 before that play, and it was the start of 35 unanswered points for Michigan State. “I was a little afraid," Cook said of his throw. But he finished with just one incompletion in 16 attempts.

Big Man on Campus (Offense): Braxton Miller is getting hot. Scorching hot, in fact. He went 18-of-24 for 252 yards and three touchdowns through the air while rushing for 68 yards and two scores in the 63-14 trouncing of Penn State. If he plays like that, nobody in this league is beating the Buckeyes.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Iowa linebacker Anthony Hitchens had nine tackles, a sack and a key forced fumble in the win over Northwestern.

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): His team lost, but Pat Smith did all he could for Nebraska. Smith went 3-for-3 on field goals, connecting from 37, 42 and 45 yards on a windy day. Say this for the Huskers: They keep churning out excellent kickers.

Got a plane to catch? This might be the craziest number of the week: 2:50. That's how long the Northwestern-Iowa game lasted. Yes, the two teams somehow managed to play an overtime game in less than three hours, or about the time it takes for two David Ortiz at-bats. Of course, it might have taken a bit longer had Pat Fitzgerald elected to use his timeouts at the end of the game.

After a Mike Trumpy fumble, Iowa took over at midfield with 3:14 remaining. The Hawkeyes struck on an 18-yard Fiedorowicz pass reception to get near field goal range and then started going conservative as the clock drained. Fitzgerald, who had two timeouts in his pocket, did not call either of them to save some potential time for the Northwestern offense. He finally called one after Iowa had used its own timeout on fourth-and-11 with 15 seconds left. The Wildcats then intercepted the pass but had no time to do anything but take a knee.

Fitzgerald said later that he thought the wind would make it tough on Iowa to kick a field goal and that "we were playing to win the game." It sure seemed instead that he was playing for overtime, and we saw in the Michigan game that playing not to lose often leads to exactly the thing you're trying to avoid.

Q&A: Northwestern RB Treyvon Green

September, 20, 2013
9/20/13
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Northwestern is averaging 43.3 points and 520 yards per game, all without the services of arguably its top weapon, senior running back Venric Mark. The biggest reason why the Wildcats haven't hiccuped offensively is Mark's replacement, junior Treyvon Green. Entering the season No. 3 on the depth chart, Green finds himself in a featured role after rushing for 353 yards and five touchdowns through the first three contests. He has rebounded from a scary situation in the 2012 preseason that left him briefly questioning if he'd ever play football again. The Mesquite, Texas, native also slimmed down to speed up after recording only 22 carries last fall.

Green's emergence has been so impressive that quarterback Kain Colter wondered after last week's win whether Green should remain the starter when Mark returns from injury.

[+] EnlargeTreyvon Green
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsRunning back Treyvon Green has rushed for 353 yards and five touchdowns for Northwestern this season.
I caught up with Green earlier this week.

How has your approach changed these past few weeks?

Trevyon Green: I'm just progressing each game, trying to pick up the slack for V (Venric Mark) being out right now. Before I knew about Venric's injury, I'm thinking that he's our guy, I'm going to be a special teams guy, just trying to contribute in any way I can. And then when I found out V wasn't able to go, my mindset kind of changed. I had to prepare myself to be ready to play and contribute to our wins.

Are you still approaching things with that mind-set?

TG: Exactly. After the first three games, my mindset has totally changed. I know I'm not as much of a special teams guy now. I'm more of an offensive guy, getting our run game going. I take that with a lot of pride. Me being our workhorse right now, me and [Mike] Trumpy, I know I have to contribute.

Are you performing in a different way when you get those opportunities now than before?

TG: I would say so. Before, I really wasn't certain whether I'd be in our run game or what exactly my role was. Now I know exactlty what I'm getting into in a game. The way I run the ball, it's a little different because I have to do well. I put pressure on myself to make sure that I perform well enough for our run game to be successful.

Physically, how are you different this year?

TG: My body type has changed. Last year, I was a chunky guy. I was 220. At one point, I was 225, and I wasn't as quick and as fast as I am now. Now I'm down to about 208, I'm a lot quicker, I'm a lot faster, I'm leaner, so all those show up on the field.

How did that change come about?

TG: They initially told me [to lose weight] last year during the season. I wasn't doing it so well. I wasn't working with our nutritionist well enough. That's on me. But after our bowl win, I took it upon myself to make sure I get with the nutritionist and do the proper things to lose the right weight and be ready. I met with her and then my diet changed. I have two salads a day. I'm actually eating 3-4 meals a day. Before, I was only eating one, which is not good. Now I'm heating healthy meals. My snacks aren't junk food any more. And the way I work out now, after practice every day in the preseason, I'll go inside and get on the elliptical for 30 minutes. All that contributed to what you see now.

Have your teammates noticed a difference?

TG: Yeah, they used to call me Lil' Chunky. Now they call me quick and slim, so my teammates definitely notice. It took me a while to notice myself, just because I'm not a cocky guy, so I'm not going to see myself all of a sudden be quicker. But as I study my own film, I see my feet move faster and my speed is a lot faster.

You had a scary situation in the preseason last year. What was that like to go through?

TG: It was tough, but the teammates I have, I know they have my back. My family back home, and even my family here, Coach [Pat Fitzgerald] is like the dad I never had. Growing up, it was just me, my brothers and my mom. Having them back home supporting me, it really helped me get through the situation.

Did you ever think football was over for you?

TG: When we were in the hospital, I thought I was done. Coach Fitz and [running backs coach Matt MacPherson] came and visited me. The first thing I told Coach Mac was, 'I should have kept a lower pad level.' But honestly, I thought I was done. After that injury, I thought I'd be sidelined and my football career would be over. Fortunately, that didn't happen.

When did you know you'd be OK?

TG: That next morning, when I went to go see the doctor. They released me that night I got hurt. Then the next morning, he told me I had a severe concussion and a neck sprain. After that, he told me I'd be out for a little while, but then I'd be able to get back into it.

Do you follow what has been going on with concussions in football? Is it a concern for you, or have you moved beyond it?

TG: I think I'm beyond it. It's a part of the game, so of course it's going to happen and of course you're going to get injured, but you have to keep going. Concussions, obviously right now it's getting a lot of attention because of the new rules and everything. But it's really just all about playing the game and having fun.

The other day Kain said Venric might not get his starting job when he comes back because you're playing so well. What did you think about that?

TG: I took that as a compliment, really. With the season Venric had last year, it's hard to top that or even get on that level. Right now, I'm just trying to do the best I can, but I took it as a huge compliment when our starting quarterback is having that much faith in me to lead the team like I am in running.

What's your relationship like with Venric?

TG: Real close, real close. Him being out, we still get in the film room and study our opponents. It's so funny because Venric and I have the same eye for things. Our vision together, we see things that most running backs don't. When we see it, we take it.

What does he think about the way you're playing?

TG: Actually, the Cal game, on the sideline, he was getting mad at me because I wasn't hitting the hole hard enough. He was telling me, 'C'mon, you've got to see it, it's going to be there, just trust it.' I was like, 'All right,' and then the first play I get the ball, I score. He's been like my little coach. We call him 'Little General' on the team because he tries to lead his troops. He's been really helpful.


Northwestern lost quarterback Kain Colter minutes into Saturday's game and never had full use of star running back Venric Mark.

One of the nation's most dynamic offensive backfields wouldn't be a factor in a tricky road opener against Cal and its potent "Bear Raid" offense.

So what did Northwestern do? It found another way to win. Linebacker Collin Ellis recorded two interceptions for touchdowns, tight end Dan Vitale sparked the passing game and third-string running back Treyvon Green stepped up for Mark on the ground.

Aaaand ... there might have been a few injury flops involved.

It added up to an exhausting 44-30 Northwestern victory against a plucky Cal team that gave the 22nd-ranked Wildcats all they could handle. Bears true freshman quarterback Jared Goff passed for 445 yards and two touchdowns, but he showed his age with three second-half interceptions, including the game-changer, which Ellis returned 56 yards to the end zone late in the third quarter.

Ellis, who beat out Drew Smith for Northwestern's third starting linebacker spot, was all over the field in an effort that at least will earn him Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. Northwestern also generated a decent pass rush, and safety Ibraheim Campbell picked off Goff in the closing minutes.

Cal made plenty of plays, attacking through the air with talented receivers Chris Harper (11 catches, 151 yards, 2 TDs) and Bryce Treggs (13 receptions, 145 yards). Despite a limited playbook, the Bears showed how dangerous they could be.

Northwestern was limited, too, but not by design. Colter left the game early after taking a shot to his head and his left shoulder. He was re-evaluated at halftime but ruled out, left to stew on the sideline, unable to run the nearly unstoppable zone-read with Mark.

As for Mark, the All-America returner wasn't used on returns and only played for stretches. He wasn't listed on the team's injury report and practiced throughout the preseason. It'll be interesting to see what Coach Pat Fitzgerald says about Mark's status going forward.

Northwestern surged on special teams in 2012, but Cal held a decided edge in the kicking game, scoring its first touchdown on a fake field goal and recovering a Wildcats fumble on a kickoff return. At least All-Big Ten kicker Jeff Budzien came through three field goals.

The little-used Green also stepped up late with a 55-yard burst to take Northwestern out of its own territory. He finished off the drive with a 6-yard plunge. Backup quarterback Trevor Siemian had a big first half in relief of Colter but struggled a bit down the stretch.

Injuries were a big story for Northwestern throughout the game, both real and (possibly) imagined. Wildcats players were down after many plays in the second half. Cal coach Sonny Dykes clearly thought something was up (the Bears, ironically, were the team accused of faking injuries against Oregon). Northwestern also caught a break when Cal standout linebacker Chris McCain was ejected for targeting.

A wild game for the Wildcats, but it usually is just that. They survived and advanced in a Pac-12 stadium, not an easy place for Big Ten teams to win.

It's a good bet Northwestern enters its Oct. 5 home showdown against Ohio State at 4-0. The Wildcats still have never lost an opener under Fitzgerald.
Northwestern's offense has been rooted in the same philosophy -- players, formations, plays -- since coordinator Mick McCall arrived in 2008. McCall shapes his scheme around the players first before choosing formations and plays that maximize their skills.

In the first four seasons under McCall, most of the players ended up being wide receivers and quarterbacks. Most of Northwestern's formations highlighted the wideouts and most of the plays were passes. Northwestern's offense had a clear passing lean, especially in 2009, when the Wildcats ranked 13th nationally in pass offense. The Wildcats didn't neglect the ground game, but when it came time to identify the best players, the running backs didn't make the cut.

[+] EnlargeNorthwestern's Venric Mark
Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY SportsLast season Venric Mark became the first Northwestern running back to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season since Tyrell Sutton in 2006.
"There's been some times in the past at Northwestern in the running back room where there was one guy, and that was it," Matt MacPherson, the team's running backs coach since 2006, told ESPN.com.

MacPherson clearly has his one guy in senior Venric Mark, who earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2012 after rushing for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns. Mark, who earned All-America honors as a return man, was Northwestern's first 1,000-yard rusher since Tyrell Sutton in 2006.

But MacPherson thinks Northwestern's options in the backfield go beyond Mark.

"I feel like we have four or five guys in my room right now that we can go win Big Ten football games with," MacPherson said. "That gives you a lot of flexibility, and it allows you to do a lot of different things. I came out of spring very pleased with the way they performed."

Mark remains the undisputed starter and will get the lion's share of the carries in the fall. He sat out most live-tackling drills this spring as a precaution, which allowed the other backs -- Mike Trumpy, Treyvon Green, Stephen Buckley and Malin Jones -- to get more reps.

Trumpy racked up 349 yards and three touchdowns on 76 carries as Mark's primary backup in 2012. Green endured a tough season with injuries and personal issues but bounced back and "had a great spring," MacPherson said. Both Buckley and Jones redshirted in 2012 but likely worked their way into the carries rotation with good springs.

"Our running back room has gotten deeper," McCall said. "We've got some guys that can play in a lot of different situations there. We've continually gotten better in that room."

Northwestern made a noticeable shift toward the run last fall behind Mark and dual-threat quarterback Kain Colter. After finishing no better than 45th nationally in rushing in McCall's first four seasons as coordinator, Northwestern surged to 19th nationally last year (225.4 ypg).

The rushing focus should continue as long as more running backs meet the first principle of McCall's philosophy. MacPherson thinks they will, and Northwestern might go with a two-back formation, which it used for 10-12 plays per game in 2012, more often this season.

"In my room, those eyes light up when they know we're going to start running the ball a bunch," MacPherson said, "and we're going to have two running backs on the field at the same time. That's something for them to get excited about. That just gives another aspect of competition, knowing that, OK, Venric may be the guy, but when we get into the two-back set, who's going to be the other guy?"

It's a question MacPherson is glad to be asking.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern running back Venric Mark stands just 5-foot-8 and weighs only 171 pounds, but he has a nose tackle-sized chip on his shoulder.

It's why his favorite run play is the inside zone. It's why he often gets in the face of defenders half a foot taller after between-the-tackles runs. It's why he runs to contact rather than away from it, like many backs his size.

"There's no question on Venric's toughness," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "He's a tough, tough guy."

But is he a durable Big Ten running back? Mark suffered some minor injuries during the second half of the 2012 season, in which he rushed for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns and led the Big Ten with 2,171 all-purpose yards.

[+] EnlargeVenric Mark
AP Photo/Matt QuinnanNorthwestern running back Venric Mark led the Big Ten with 2,171 all-purpose yards last season.
Although Mark started all 13 games at running back for the Wildcats, he got banged up against Boston College, Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State and eclipsed 18 carries just once in the final six games. Some question whether Mark -- with his size and style of play -- is built to last, even though he tied for fourth in the Big Ten in carries (226) last fall.

Mark greets the durability doubts much like he does those bigger, seemingly badder defenders -- head on.

"They're always talking about, 'Is he durable? Is he durable?'" Mark told ESPN.com. "That was my first year playing running back. People see that I played my freshman and sophomore year. Yeah, but I wasn't an every-down back. So this year, I know what to expect from myself, being my last year, and everybody's going to say, 'Can he last? Can he last?'

"I'm going to let them do their job and talk. I'm just going to play."

He also won't forget what has been said or written.

"It gets on my nerves," he said.

Mark also isn't na´ve about the wear and tear his body will take this coming season. Just because he has been through a season as a No. 1 back doesn't mean he'll last through another. And he can't do a whole lot about his size. This winter, he has gained seven pounds to check in at 171 after losing some weight because of injury during the season. He hopes to play this season around 175 pounds.

To prepare himself for the pounding, Mark has been running and cutting with a 20-pound weight vest. Mark wants to emulate how Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter uses his vision to scan the field while still keeping his shoulders square when running between the tackles.

"For instance, if Kain and I, we're running 2-Knife, and I'm running inside zone, and a defender sticks his arm to turn me, [the vest] will help me keep my shoulders square," said Mark, a second-team All-Big Ten selection at running back and an All-American at punt returner. "That way, if a linebacker comes to my right or left, I can plant and still cut instead of running like this [shows his shoulders turning] where I can't make that move."

Mark also talks about the need to play smarter.

"Instead of trying to always run over people, at my size, I need to dip and drive, I need to sometimes cut back, juke," Mark said. "That will help me last longer, of course."

Mark averaged 17.4 carries per game in 2012 and had 20 carries or more just four times. He said 16 carries is the "minimum, minimum" amount he'd like to have in 2013 and would "prefer to get close to 20."

Wildcats offensive coordinator Mick McCall puts a greater value on overall touches than carries. This especially applies to a player like Mark, who averaged 18.7 yards on punt returns with two touchdowns, also serves as Northwestern's primary kick returner and had 20 receptions last season. And McCall doesn't just look at total touches, but what types of plays are being run.

"If it's inside zone 16 or 17 times, that might be a little high for Venric," McCall said. "If it's 20-25 touches but half of those are out in space, that's not bad. So we've got to manage him, how many touches he gets but more so, where he touches the ball.

"Some of it's got to be inside, there's no doubt. He does a great job in there. And as much as you want to manage it, he's still going to get dinged up. If he was a 225-pound back, look at the big backs from a year ago in our conference, they still get dinged up. That's part of that position."

McCall fully expects to play multiple running backs and multiple quarterbacks every year. And he has been pleased with the emerging depth this spring at running back with senior Mike Trumpy, junior Treyvon Green, and redshirt freshmen Malin Jones and Stephen Buckley.

But Northwestern's coaches have no doubts about their No. 1 back. And Mark expects to prove he's built to last this fall.

"He took some hits last year that he didn't need to take," Fitzgerald said. "It was similar to a quarterback going through his first year. V learned a lot on how he's got to take care of his body. The next step is just being smarter.

"He doesn't need to prove his toughness to anybody. That's always been his trademark."
We kicked off our 2013 postseason position rankings on Monday with a look at the quarterbacks. Let's keep it rolling by staying in the backfield and ranking the running back position for each Big Ten team.

We're basing this solely on last year's performance. While star power will carry you a long way, depth also matters. You can see how we ranked the running backs in the preseason here.

Now let's take the ball and run.

1. Wisconsin (Preseason rank: 1): The Badgers' running game got off to a slow start, which was mostly a function of an out-of-sync offensive line. But by midseason, Wisconsin was back to doing what it does best. Montee Ball finished with 1,830 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns, leading the Big Ten in both numbers. What puts the Badgers over the top is their depth, as James White added 806 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, while Melvin Gordon had 621 on 10 yards per carry, including his monster Big Ten title game performance.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsNebraska running back Ameer Abdullah soared in a starting role with Rex Burkhead injured for much of 2012.
2. Nebraska (Preseason: 2): Had Rex Burkhead remained healthy, Big Red may have claimed the top spot here. As it was, Ameer Abdullah broke out with 1,137 yards and eight touchdowns, while Superman managed 675 yards and five scores despite dealing with a bum knee most of the year. Braylon Heard, who is rumored to be on his way out, chipped in 348 yards and 6.7 yards per carry, while Imani Cross was a battering ram at the goal line with seven touchdowns. Nebraska led the league in rushing, though quarterback Taylor Martinez (1,019 yards) was a big reason why. Still, the depth in the backfield was mighty impressive.

3. Michigan State (Preseason: 4): The Spartans' running game was basically a one-man show, but when you've got a workhorse like Le'Veon Bell, who needs depth? Bell carried the ball a ridiculous 382 times -- more than any other FBS player and only 17 fewer rushing attempts than Indiana's entire offense -- and gained 1,793 yards to lead the Big Ten in rushing yards per game. He added 12 touchdowns and had four games of at least 188 yards.

4. Ohio State (Preseason: 6): The Buckeyes didn't get as much as they'd planned out of Jordan Hall (40 carries for 218 yards) because of injuries. But Carlos Hyde stepped up in a big way, rumbling for 970 yards and scoring 14 of his 16 touchdowns in conference play. Rod Smith also emerged as a solid contributor, giving Ohio State more depth than expected.

5. Northwestern (Preseason: 10): Venric Mark was a revelation, running for 1,371 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging better than six yards per carry. Mike Trumpy contributed 349 yards on the ground, but it was hard to take Mark out of the game. And quarterback Kain Colter was a glorified tailback at times.

6. Penn State (Preseason: 5): After Silas Redd transferred and Bill Belton got hurt early, it looked like the Nittany Lions might struggle in the running game. Instead, they simply adapted. Zach Zwinak surprised everybody by running for exactly 1,000 yards and becoming a force down the stretch. Michael Zordich added some more power to the ground game, which was able to keep defenses honest for Penn State's passing attack.

7. Purdue (Preseason: 7): The Boilermakers had depth but no true stars. Akeem Shavers led the way with 871 yards and six touchdowns, while Akeem Hunt (335 yards, eight yards per carry) and Ralph Bolden (325 yards in seven games) also aided the cause.

8. Minnesota (Preseason: 12): Donnell Kirkwood (926 yards, six touchdowns) quietly put together a pretty solid season, while Rodrick Williams showed some flashes of potential as a power back, including a 60-yard game versus Texas Tech in the bowl game. Offensive line injuries kept the Gophers' running game from truly taking off.

9. Iowa (Preseason: 11): AIRBHG did everything it could to hurt the Hawkeyes' rushing efforts, but there were still some bright spots. Mark Weisman was on his way to a special season before -- surprise! -- he was slowed by an injury. Still, he finished with 815 yards and eight scores in only 10 games and was one of the Big Ten's best stories. Damon Bullock had 513 rushing yards and some nice efforts when healthy. Unfortunately, the running game came to a halt when the offensive line got hit by the injury bug, and Iowa finished last in the league in rushing yards per game.

10. Indiana (Preseason: 8): Stephen Houston was a scoring machine early on and finished with 12 rushing touchdowns, to go along with a team-best 749 yards. But this was a pass-first offense, and Indiana averaged only 3.9 yards per carry.

11. Michigan (Preseason: 3): If you count Denard Robinson in this group after his late-season switch to something resembling a tailback, then this ranking should be a lot higher. But that feels like cheating. Michigan's actual tailbacks were vastly disappointing. Fitz Toussaint followed up his 1,000-yard season in 2011 with just 514 yards in 10 games before getting hurt. Thomas Rawls, Vincent Smith and Justice Hayes couldn't do much to fill the void. Take away Robinson's stats, and the Wolverines averaged under 3.5 yards per carry.

12. Illinois (Preseason: 9): The Illini finished next-to-last in rushing yards per game and had the lowest yards-per-carry number in the Big Ten. Donovonn Young had 571 yards and Josh Ferguson added 312, but opponents were rarely, if ever, scared by the Illinois run game.
Sure, there are some what-ifs for Northwestern after a season like this.

What if the Wildcats had intercepted Taylor Martinez in the fourth quarter Oct. 20? What if they had tackled Roy Roundtree before the ball arrived Nov. 12? What if they had protected leads a little bit better?

Had one or two plays went differently, Northwestern would be packing its bags for Indianapolis and the Big Ten title game. Those near misses are frustrating, but the 2012 Wildcats team should be appreciated as one of the Big Ten's best. It certainly looks like Pat Fitzgerald's best product in his six seasons as head coach.

And if Northwestern can get the bowl monkey off of its back in the coming weeks, the season will be branded as a major success, period.

Northwestern made easy work of Illinois in a 50-14 romp at Ryan Field to finish 9-3. A Florida bowl invitation -- Outback or Gator the probable choices -- likely awaits the Wildcats (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten), who are searching for their first postseason victory since the 1949 Rose Bowl.

After a shaky start on defense, Northwestern dominated the Illini with a dynamic run game and capitalized on Illinois' many mistakes. The game basically was over as soon as Northwestern announced its star backfield of quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark would be available to play.

Colter and Mark knifed through Illinois' defensive front, which hasn't been the biggest weakness for the Illini this season but certainly was Saturday. The tandem combined for 215 rush yards and two touchdowns, and Colter added three touchdown passes on only 11 attempts, including a well-designed pass across the field to Tyris Jones in the third quarter. Six different Wildcats players reached the end zone, including Paul Jorgensen, a converted tackle who Illinois didn't bother to acknowledge on a 24-yard scoring reception midway through the third.

Northwestern diversified its run game, using Tim Riley as a power back and getting Jones and Mike Trumpy involved as well. The Wildcats racked up 338 rush yards and even put punt protector Bo Cisek in at tailback in the fourth quarter (he fumbled).

Had wideout Christian Jones tiptoed into the end zone, Northwestern would have had three different Joneses -- Tyris, Tony and Christian -- score touchdowns.

Illinois' much-maligned offense actually showed some fire early, as running back Donovonn Young ripped through some shoddy Northwestern tackles. The Illini (2-10, 0-8) scored two touchdowns in the first 20 minutes, but then they started making mistakes. Eight first-half penalties combined with four turnovers doomed the Illini, who went winless in Big Ten play for the fourth time since 1997.

Coach Tim Beckman's first season was an utter disaster, but it still would be surprising if he isn't back in 2013. There likely will be staff changes -- I've heard at least two assistants are done -- but Illinois can't dump Beckman after one year and expect to hire anyone decent.

Illinois had won the teams' past two meetings and rubbed it in last year, playing "Sweet Home Chicago" when it was over. But Northwestern has been the better program for the past decade and showed why Saturday.

It's been a disappointing season around most of the Big Ten, but Northwestern can feel good about itself with a solid 9-3 record that easily could have been better. The Wildcats entered the year with a young team not projected to do much. Now they're likely headed for a Jan. 1 Florida bowl against an SEC team. And almost everyone returns for 2013.

The future is bright in Evanston.

Did you know? Big Ten Week 5

September, 28, 2012
9/28/12
10:00
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The games are almost here. But first, it's time to play a little game we like to call Did You Know? (Thanks to ESPN Stats & Information and league sports information directors for the nuggets).
  • Michigan State tight end Dion Sims leads all FBS tight ends in first-down receptions (17) and ranks second in receiving yards (277) this season. Sims is tied with Arizona State’s Chris Coyle for the most catches of any tight end in the FBS. Eighteen of Sims’ 22 receptions this season (82 percent) have gone for either a first down or a touchdown.
  • Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller has rushed for 401 yards on designed running plays this season. Miller had 576 yards on such plays in 12 games last season. The only game in his career in which he did not gain positive yards on designed running plays was in the loss to Michigan State last season
  • Nebraska is 10-0 when quarterback Taylor Martinez completes at least half of his passes thrown 15 yards or more downfield. He was 3-for-11 on such passes in the loss at Wisconsin last season.
  • Wisconsin has 17 "three-and-outs" this season, which is tied for the second most in FBS. The Badgers have had at least three three-and-outs in all four games this season. They only had two such games all of last season. The Badgers have averaged fewer than four yards per play in two games this season. Prior to this season, the last time they averaged less than four yards per play in a game was in a loss to Iowa on Oct. 17, 2009.
  • Indiana is playing fast under new offensive coordinator Seth Littrell. The Hoosiers have six touchdown drives covering at least 70 yards in less than 1:30 and in six-or-fewer plays. IU also has a one-play, 50-yard touchdown run that took 10 seconds. Indiana is running one play every 21.4 seconds.
  • Venric Mark (123 rushing yards vs. Vanderbilt, 117 vs. South Dakota) and Mike Trumpy (106 vs. Boston College) have teamed up to give Northwestern a 100-yard rusher in three consecutive outings, a first for the Wildcats since it happened in the final game of the 2006 season and first two contests of 2007. Mark’s three rushing scores vs. South Dakota were the most by a Wildcat since Kain Colter against Eastern Illinois in 2011, while the five ground TDs were the most since Sept. 5, 2009 vs. Towson.
  • Illinois has controlled time of possession in all four games this season, owning a margin of more than eight minutes per game over its opponents. The Illini are ranked ninth nationally and second in the Big Ten in time of possession (34:17).
  • Penn State has had a different rushing leader in all four games, with injuries leading to five different running backs carrying the ball. Sophomore Bill Belton led the Nittany Lions with 53 yards on 13 carries in the opener vs. Ohio before spraining his ankle. Senior Derek Day earned his first career start at Virginia and gained 47 yards on 18 attempts before injuring his shoulder. Senior Michael Zordich gained a team-high 50 yards on 11 carries in the win over Navy but hurt his leg against Temple. In the Temple game, sophomore Zach Zwinak set career-highs with 18 carries for 94 yards.
  • Three of Iowa's first four games have been decided by three points or less. It's the first time that has ever happened in the first four games for the Hawkeyes. Don't expect that to change this week. The last two Iowa-Minnesota games have been decided by a total of four points. The Gophers won 22-21 last season and 27-24 in 2010. This is the first time the two rivals have ever met in September.
  • Twice this year, Minnesota has allowed only one touchdown (beat New Hampshire 44-7 and Syracuse 17-10). The last time the Gophers had at least two games during the same year where they allowed only one touchdown or less was 2009 (Air Force, South Dakota State, Iowa). This is the first year since 2006 that Minnesota has held two of its first four opponents to 10 points or fewer.
  • Purdue is a perfect 13-for-13 in the red zone (12 touchdowns, one field goal), is converting third downs on 60 percent of its tries and is 4-for-4 on fourth-down conversions. The Boilermakers are one of 11 FBS teams who are perfect inside the red zone. They rank fourth nationally on third downs and are one of only 10 teams to remain perfect on fourth down.

Big Ten picks rewind: Week 4

September, 26, 2012
9/26/12
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The picks rewind comes to you a few days later than normal. (You didn't think we'd just sweep the final nonconference Saturday under the rug, did you?)

The Big Ten had another mostly forgettable Saturday, as did Bennett, who went 6-4 in the Week 4 predictions. I fared a bit better at 8-2 to open up a commanding three-game lead in the season standings.

WEEK 4/SEASON RECORDS

Adam Rittenberg: 8-2, 36-10 (.783)

Brian Bennett: 6-4, 33-13 (.717)

It's rewind time ...

UAB at Ohio State
  • Bennett's pick: Ohio State 45, UAB 14
  • Rittenberg's pick: Ohio State 41, UAB 10
  • Actual score: Ohio State 29, UAB 15
  • 20-20 hindsight: We both were close on UAB's score, but Ohio State had much more trouble with the Blazers than either of us envisioned. Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller accounted for two scores, not three as Bennett had predicted, and didn't really "go nuts," as I thought he would. My prediction of a mini breakout game for Ohio State running back Jordan Hall (105 rush yards, 17 carries) came true.
UTEP at Wisconsin
  • Bennett's pick: Wisconsin 24, UTEP 10
  • Rittenberg's pick: Wisconsin 31, UTEP 17
  • Actual score: Wisconsin 37, UTEP 26
  • 20-20 hindsight: Both of us underestimated UTEP's offense a bit, although most of my predictions came true, as Badgers quarterback Joel Stave indeed found wide receiver Jared Abbrederis for a long touchdown pass (47 yards) and the running game, led by James White and Melvin Gordon, took over late against the Miners. Only Stave called signals for the Badgers, rather than the quarterback rotation Bennett had predicted.
Central Michigan at Iowa
  • Bennett's pick: Iowa 31, Central Michigan 14
  • Rittenberg's pick: Iowa 31, Central Michigan 17
  • Actual score: Central Michigan 32, Iowa 31
  • 20-20 hindsight: A big swing and a miss for both bloggers. We expected Iowa to make easy work of the Chips, and while Hawkeyes running back Mark Weisman came through for both of us with another huge performance (217 rush yards, 3 TDs), it wasn't enough as Iowa made mistake after mistake down the stretch. Iowa's James Vandenberg and Kevonte Martin-Manley connected for one score, not two as Bennett had predicted. The Hawkeyes recorded no takeaways, not the two that I had predicted.
South Dakota at Northwestern
  • Bennett's pick: Northwestern 35, South Dakota 16
  • Rittenberg's pick: Northwestern 38, South Dakota 13
  • Actual score: Northwestern 38, South Dakota 7
  • 20-20 hindsight: We both know Northwestern rarely embarrasses an opponent, and I nailed the Wildcats' score, while Bennett came very close. Venric Mark and Mike Trumpy combined for only 127 rush yards, far less than what I had predicted (250), but Northwestern had 277 rush yards and five scores in the win. Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter played decently but didn't torch the Coyotes, as Bennett thought he would.
Eastern Michigan at Michigan State
  • Bennett's pick: Michigan State 49, Eastern Michigan 3
  • Rittenberg's pick: Michigan State 37, Eastern Michigan 6
  • Actual score: Michigan State 23, Eastern Michigan 7
  • 20-20 hindsight: Next question? We both nearly pegged Eastern Michigan's score but were way off in thinking Michigan State's offense would explode against the Eagles. Spartans running back Le'Veon Bell eclipsed both of our yards predictions (Bennett had him for 150, I had him for 200) with 253 yards, but he scored only one touchdown, below both of our predictions. Wideout DeAnthony Arnett wasn't a factor in the Spartans passing game, as I thought he would be.
Idaho State at Nebraska
  • Bennett's pick: Nebraska 56, Idaho State 10
  • Rittenberg's pick: Nebraska 49, Idaho State 7
  • Actual score: Nebraska 73, Idaho State 7
  • 20-20 hindsight: Bennett came closer, but both of us underestimated Nebraska's offensive prowess against a grossly overmatched FCS opponent. Huskers running back Rex Burkhead made me look smart with 61-yard touchdown game early on, while Imani Cross and Ameer Abdullah didn't quite reach my prediction of 300 rush yards and four scores. Bennett had quarterback Taylor Martinez for 13 of 15 passing and two touchdowns, and T-Magic came pretty close (9 of 13 passing, 2 TDs).
Temple at Penn State
  • Bennett's pick: Penn State 21, Temple 19
  • Rittenberg's pick: Penn State 24, Temple 16
  • Actual score: Penn State 24, Temple 13
  • 20-20 hindsight: This was one of my best score predictions of the week, although Lions quarterback Matt McGloin not only stepped up in the fourth quarter but the entire game en route to a career-high 318 pass yards and three scores (2 rush, 1 pass). Lions linebacker Michael Mauti had a forced fumble, as I predicted, but not the tackles for loss. Bennett had Mauti for an interception, which he didn't get.
Michigan at Notre Dame
  • Bennett's pick: Michigan 28, Notre Dame 24
  • Rittenberg's pick: Notre Dame 27, Michigan 20
  • Actual score: Notre Dame 13, Michigan 6
  • 20-20 hindsight: I pegged the winner and the margin of victory, but both of us expected a lot more from Denard Robinson and the Michigan offense. Robinson's turnovers likely cost the Wolverines the game, as Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te'o not only bottled him up in the fourth quarter, as I thought, but for the entire game. Running back Fitz Toussaint and tight end Devin Funchess provided some help, as Bennett thought, but not nearly enough.
Syracuse at Minnesota
  • Bennett's pick: Syracuse 31, Minnesota 28
  • Rittenberg's pick: Syracuse 28, Minnesota 27
  • Actual score: Minnesota 17, Syracuse 10
  • 20-20 hindsight: We both owe Goldy an apology. We should have trusted you, and especially your defense, which stifled Ryan Nassib and the Syracuse offense all night long at TCF Bank Stadium. Nassib passed for 228 yards, 72 below Bennett's prediction, and couldn't rally the Orange in the fourth quarter, as I thought he would. Gophers quarterback Max Shortell did an adequate job (228 pass yards), as Bennett predicted, in his first start of the season.
Louisiana Tech at Illinois
  • Bennett's pick: Illinois 28, Louisiana Tech 25
  • Rittenberg's pick: Louisiana Tech 31, Illinois 28
  • Actual score: Louisiana Tech 52, Illinois 24
  • 20-20 hindsight: I had the Bulldogs getting the win, but neither of us saw this beat-down coming. Illinois' defense once again had no answer for an up-tempo spread offense team, and the Illini committed six turnovers in the loss. Running back Josh Ferguson didn't do much, and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase had two first-quarter turnovers before being benched in his return from an ankle injury. Not a good end to the night for the Illini -- or our predictions.
It's time for a quick look at the four Big Ten games kicking off at 3:30 p.m. ET ...

Temple (1-1) at Penn State (1-2): This should be by far the most interesting and competitive game of the afternoon four-pack. Temple has held second-half leads in each of the teams' past two meetings, and the Owls aim for their first-ever win at Beaver Stadium and their first against Penn State since 1941. Penn State looked impressive on both sides of the ball in last week's thrashing of Navy, and the Matt McGloin-Allen Robinson connection is heating up. Robinson leads the Big Ten in receptions (24) and is tied for the league lead in touchdown catches (4). Penn State is still looking for its first rushing touchdown and is dealing with some injuries at the position (Derek Day, Bill Belton).

Idaho State (1-1) at No. 25 Nebraska (2-1): The only intrigue at Memorial Stadium, besides how much Nebraska wins this game, is the return of Superman -- Huskers senior running back Rex Burkhead. After missing the past two games with a sprained knee, Burkhead gets back on the field for a tuneup before Big Ten play. It's unknown how many carries Burkhead will receive, although it doesn't make sense to overdo it in a game like this, especially with talented backs Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross waiting in the wings. Idaho State has dropped 33 consecutive road games and 45 of its past 51. Nebraska's second- and third-stringers figure to get plenty of work against the Bengals.

South Dakota (1-1) at Northwestern (3-0): After beating three teams from three major conferences, Northwestern takes a step down in class and hosts the FCS Coyotes, who knocked off Minnesota two years ago in Minneapolis. Pat Fitzgerald isn't taking any opponent lightly and this week brought up a 2007 loss to FCS New Hampshire -- "We didn’t lose. We got pounded by them," he said -- but the coach is keeping the focus on his team and getting better. Northwestern has played well up front on both sides of the ball but needs to do a better job of finishing drives and consistently throwing the ball. South Dakota ranks last in the Missouri Valley Conference in rush defense, creating big-game opportunities for Kain Colter, Venric Mark and Mike Trumpy. After two solid performances, Northwestern faces a different test with the Coyotes' option attack.

Eastern Michigan (0-3) at No. 21 Michigan State (2-1): The Spartans offense is reeling after failing to score a touchdown on their home field for the first time since the 1991 opener. Fortunately, Andrew Maxwell, Le'Veon Bell & Co. should get well against Eastern Michigan, which hasn't stopped anyone through the first three games, surrendering more than 500 yards and more than 40 points per game. Purdue's bevy of ball-carriers ran wild on the Eagles and Bell, who had surprisingly few opportunities in the second half of last week's loss against Notre Dame, is geared up for a big afternoon. It will be interesting to see if any of the "tough decisions" Spartans coach Mark Dantonio referenced after the Notre Dame loss translate into personnel shuffling against Eastern Michigan, particularly at the wide receiver position. Eastern Michigan running backs coach Mike Hart, the former Michigan star, returns to Spartan Stadium for the first time since uttering his infamous "little brother" quote in 2007.

Big Ten picks rewind: Week 3

September, 18, 2012
9/18/12
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The Big Ten saw slightly better results in Week 3, going 10-2 overall. Both of us also recorded 10-2 marks to rebound a bit from the Week 2 debacle.

Brian Bennett and I differed in just two picks -- Boston College-Northwestern and Northern Iowa-Iowa -- and we both went 1-1. We both also whiffed badly on Michigan State as the Spartans sputtered against Notre Dame.

Here's a look at our Week 3 predictions.

WEEK 3/SEASON RECORDS

Adam Rittenberg: 10-2, 28-8 (.778)

Brian Bennett: 10-2, 27-9 (.750)

It's rewind time ...

Western Michigan at Minnesota
  • Bennett's pick: Minnesota 27, Western Michigan 24
  • Rittenberg's pick: Minnesota 30, Western Michigan 24
  • Actual score: Minnesota 28, Western Michigan 23
  • 20-20 hindsight: A pretty good start here for both of us, although neither of us saw Max Shortell relieving an injured MarQueis Gray and firing three touchdown passes for Minnesota. The Gophers overcame two turnovers rather than the three Bennett had predicted.
Arkansas State at Nebraska
  • Bennett's pick: Nebraska 45, Arkansas State 24
  • Rittenberg's pick: Nebraska 41, Arkansas State 21
  • Actual score: Nebraska 42, Arkansas State 13
  • 20-20 hindsight: Another set of good score predictions here, although our individual forecasts fell a little short. Huskers QB Taylor Martinez had three touchdowns, one shy of the four Bennett predicted, although he did correctly forecast two scoring connections with WR Kenny Bell. RB Ameer Abdullah had another big day on the ground (167 yards), but Martinez didn't also eclipse 100 yards, as I thought.
Cal at Ohio State
  • Bennett's pick: Ohio State 35, Cal 21
  • Rittenberg's pick: Ohio State 31, Cal 17
  • Actual score: Ohio State 35, Cal 28
  • 20-20 hindsight: Both of us expected a big day for Braxton Miller and the Ohio State QB delivered with five touchdowns, two more than I predicted. Bennett correctly pegged Cal to hang around for a while, but the Buckeyes recorded only one interception, not two, and it came from S Christian Bryant, not CB Bradley Roby, as I had forecast.
Charleston Southern at Illinois
  • Bennett's pick: Illinois 49, Charleston Southern 0
  • Rittenberg's pick: Illinois 45, Charleston Southern 3
  • Actual score: Illinois 44, Charleston Southern 0
  • 20-20 hindsight: This one turned into a laugher early on, as we both predicted. A concussion kept RB Josh Ferguson from taking aim at the 200-yard rushing mark, as I predicted, while Bennett correctly pegged Illinois' defense for the shutout.
Eastern Michigan at Purdue
  • Bennett's pick: Purdue 42, Eastern Michigan 17
  • Rittenberg's pick: Purdue 38, Eastern Michigan 14
  • Actual score: Purdue 54, Eastern Michigan 16
  • 20-20 hindsight: We both came close on Eastern Michigan's score, but Purdue showed more offensive firepower than we thought it would. Both of us had Akeem Shavers for more than 100 rush yards (he had 56), as Purdue spread the wealth against a weak EMU rush defense. I correctly pegged Purdue QB Caleb TerBush for two touchdown passes.
Boston College at Northwestern
  • Bennett's pick: Boston College 31, Northwestern 28
  • Rittenberg's pick: Northwestern 28, Boston College 27
  • Actual score: Northwestern 22, Boston College 13
  • 20-20 hindsight: Neither of us had Northwestern running 100 plays, racking up 560 yards and only scoring one touchdown in the closing minutes. I correctly pegged a big day for Northwestern's run game, although Mike Trumpy was the star in place of the injured Venric Mark. The Wildcats defense did a nice job against Chase Rettig, preventing him from leading a fourth-quarter comeback, as Bennett had forecast.
Massachusetts at Michigan
  • Bennett's pick: Michigan 55, UMass 3
  • Rittenberg's pick: Michigan 65, UMass 0
  • Actual score: Michigan 63, UMass 13
  • 20-20 hindsight: The Minutemen had more offensive clout than we anticipated, although six of their points came courtesy of a Denard Robinson interception. Robinson still eclipsed Bennett's prediction of three touchdowns by recording four (3 pass, 1 rush), while Wolverines RB Fitz Toussaint finished with only one touchdown, two shy of my prediction for him.
Navy at Penn State
  • Bennett's pick: Penn State 24, Navy 14
  • Rittenberg's pick: Penn State 17, Navy 13
  • Actual score: Penn State 34, Navy 7
  • 20-20 hindsight: We both expected Penn State to get over the hump, but we underestimated the Nittany Lions offense against an atypically poor Navy team. QB Matt McGloin exceeded both of our predictions with four touchdown passes, three to WR Allen Robinson. K Sam Ficken had no 50-yarder, as I thought, and missed a PAT try.
Northern Iowa at Iowa
  • Bennett's pick: Iowa 12, Northern Iowa 9
  • Rittenberg's pick: Northern Iowa 17, Iowa 16
  • Actual score: Iowa 27, Northern Iowa 16
  • 20-20 hindsight: I was wrong on the result, and Bennett was wrong on the Hawkeyes reaching the end zone. Not only did Iowa score three touchdowns, but it reached paydirt three times thanks to the unlikeliest of sources, walk-on FB Mark Weisman, who filled in for the injured Damon Bullock and Greg Garmon. K Mike Meyer had two field goals rather than the four Bennett predicted.
Ball State at Indiana
  • Bennett's pick: Ball State 35, Indiana 28
  • Rittenberg's pick: Ball State 31, Indiana 30
  • Actual score: Ball State 41, Indiana 39
  • 20-20 hindsight: We both had the visitors winning, and I correctly pegged QB Cameron Coffman for two touchdown passes and Ball State for a late rally. Coffman had no interceptions (I predicted two) in his first start before leaving with a hip injury. As Bennett thought, Indiana couldn't slow down Ball State's run game (206 yards, 1 TD).
Notre Dame at Michigan State
  • Bennett's pick: Michigan State 21, Notre Dame 17
  • Rittenberg's pick: Michigan State 17, Notre Dame 10
  • Actual score: Notre Dame 20, Michigan State 3
  • 20-20 hindsight: Two swings as misses here as neither RB Le'Veon Bell nor any of his Michigan State teammates reached the end zone against Notre Dame (we both predicted two Bell touchdowns). Bennett correctly forecast a big night for Notre Dame's defensive line, but Michigan State's defense never got the takeaway it needed.
Utah State at Wisconsin
  • Bennett's pick: Wisconsin 23, Utah State 14
  • Rittenberg's pick: Wisconsin 31, Utah State 17
  • Actual score: Wisconsin 16, Utah State 14
  • 20-20 hindsight: We both got the winner correct, but that was about it. Wisconsin's offensive line didn't redeem itself, as the team finished with 156 rush yards on 46 attempts, well below my prediction (250 rush yards). RB Montee Ball exceeded Bennett's prediction of 125 rush yards with 139, although he finished with just one touchdown, not two.
Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.

1. Void at the top: Throughout the offseason and up until 8 p.m. Saturday, we insisted that Michigan State was the Big Ten's top team. That title is totally up for grabs after the Spartans were pushed around by Notre Dame in a 20-3 loss. Who's No. 1 now? Is it Ohio State, which is 3-0 but looked awfully shaky against Cal in a game it probably should have lost? Is it Michigan, which shouldn't be punished too heavily for losing to a potentially great Alabama team? How about Purdue, which played Notre Dame much tougher on the road than Michigan State did at home, or Nebraska, which bounced back from the UCLA loss to thump Arkansas State? Or maybe Michigan State just doesn't match up well with the Irish, since it got beat soundly in South Bend a year ago but still won the Legends Division. We can't discount Northwestern, which is 3-0 with wins over three BCS AQ teams, and, yes, Minnesota is also undefeated. Ohio State likely will be the league's top team in the Associated Press poll this week. But the truth is, there's a major power void at the top of the conference.

[+] EnlargePurdue's Caleb TerBush
Andrew Weber/US PresswireAre Caleb TerBush and the Boilermakers the class of the Leaders Division?
2. What now for Wisconsin? No Badgers assistants are likely to lose their jobs this week, but no one in the coaches' offices can feel too comfortable right now, either. Bret Bielema fired offensive line coach Mike Markuson after only two games in an attempt to fix a stalled running attack, but the Wisconsin ground game was still pedestrian against Utah State. Montee Ball ran for 139 yards but needed 37 handoffs to do so as the team averaged only 3.5 yards per carry. Bielema even benched quarterback Danny O'Brien, who completed just 5 of 10 passes for 63 yards. Wisconsin was extremely fortunate to escape with the 16-14 victory as the Aggies missed a 37-yard field goal in the closing seconds. A loss would have sent Badger Nation into full panic mode. But if the offense doesn't perform better than it has the first three weeks, Bielema's team will have a hard time winning many Big Ten games.

3. Purdue could be the best team in the Leaders Division: Danny Hope's Boilermakers are no longer just a sleeper team in a division that Wisconsin had been pegged to dominate. Purdue might be the best of the bunch in the Leaders, which isn't a huge compliment but an encouraging sign in West Lafayette. Ohio State barely escaped against Cal, Wisconsin is a shell of its former self, and Illinois, Penn State and Indiana all have some flaws. The Boilers are very strong defensively and might have the league's top defensive line, led by star tackle Kawann Short. They have some depth in the run game and a standout receiver in Antavian Edison. Although Caleb TerBush has his ups and downs at quarterback, Purdue could go a long way this season. Right now, the Boilers might be the team to beat in the quest to reach Indianapolis.

4. Not the same old Northwestern: The Wildcats played a truly odd game against Boston College. They piled up 560 yards, 34 first downs and 100 total offensive snaps, yet they didn't score their first touchdown until Mike Trumpy broke off a 27-yard run with 1:37 left. Still, the 22-13 win over the Eagles was in some way like last week's 23-13 triumph against Vanderbilt. Northwestern showed that its defense could hold down a respectable offense (BC came in averaging 33 points per game) and that it could grind out a game once it grabbed the lead. Those things haven't been common of late for Pat Fitzgerald's team, but this one seems to have good chemistry and grit, not to mention a bevy of offensive weapons. The Wildcats are off to a excellent start, and with South Dakota and Indiana at home in the next two games, they could easily finish September at 5-0.

5. Receivers are catching on: We've wondered for a while where the standout receivers were in this league outside of Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis. With Abbrederis out of commission this week because of an injury, several wideouts made statements on Saturday. Ohio State's Devin Smith continued his flair for the dramatic with a 72-yard, game-winning catch against Cal, part of a 145-yard, two-touchdown day. Penn State's Allen Robinson caught three touchdown passes and had 136 yards. Nebraska's Kenny Bell also caught a pair of scores, including a 42-yarder. Minnesota's A.J. Barker torched Western Michigan for 101 yards and three touchdowns. Illinois' Ryan Lankford broke out with seven catches for 97 yards and two touchdowns, albeit against Charleston Southern. Purdue's Edison is quietly putting together a strong season. Indiana's Cody Latimer had 115 yards and a pair of scores, including a 70-yarder late. Even Iowa, which struggled to throw the ball downfield in the first two weeks, got a 100-yard day from Kevonte Martin-Manley. Perhaps the new crop of Big Ten star receivers is starting to blossom.

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Here’s a quick look at the Northwestern Wildcats' 22-13 win over the Boston College Eagles at Ryan Field on Saturday.

Boston CollegeNorthwesternHow it happened: Northwestern kicker Jeff Budzien tied a single-game school record with five field goals Saturday to lift the Wildcats to their third consecutive win. Budzien made field goals of 42, 20, 29 and 41 yards in the first half and hit one from 19 yards in the second half. Northwestern running back Mike Trumpy put the game out of reach with a 27-yard touchdown run with 1:37 left. The Wildcats totaled 560 offensive yards and were 12 of 19 on third down. Boston College accounted for the game’s first touchdown when Chase Rettig connected with Johnathan Coleman for a 31-yard score in the second quarter. Boston College kicker Nate Freese made field goals of 21 and 34 yards.

What it means: The Wildcats improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2010. Last season, Northwestern lost in Week 3 and went on to have a five-game losing streak.

Outside the box: Northwestern running back Venric Mark was on his way to his second consecutive 100-yard rushing game, putting up 77 yards before leaving the game with a lower-body injury in the second half. The last Northwestern running back to rush for back-to-back 100-yard games was Tyrell Sutton.

Up next: Northwestern will host South Dakota (1-1) next week. Boston College has next week off before playing Clemson on Sept. 29.
It's Depth Chart Monday around the Big Ten as most teams revealed new or updated depth charts for their upcoming season openers. Indiana and Iowa released depth charts last week, while Nebraska's won't come out until later this week. A few more teams unveil new or updated depth charts Tuesday, and we'll break down those as they file in.

While we won't break down the depth charts each week of the season, the first installments always carry a bit more weight as players have jockeyed for position during camp.

Here are some notes and thoughts from what we learned today:

MICHIGAN

Depth chart (page 13)
  • Suspended players Fitz Toussaint and Frank Clark both are listed -- Toussaint is the starting running back, Clark as a backup weakside defensive end -- but their status for the opener against Alabama is yet to be determined. Coach Brady Hoke will make a decision soon. While it seems highly unlikely Clark will play, Toussaint's status will be a big story this week.
  • Roy Roundtree is listed as a starter at receiver despite missing a chunk of camp following knee surgery. Although Michigan has some decent other options at wideout, it really needs "Tree" on the field at JerryWorld. Speaking of receivers, backup quarterback Devin Gardner is listed as a third-string receiver and should see a bit of work there against the Crimson Tide.
  • Depth is a bit of a concern for Michigan entering the season, and it's the main reason why the Wolverines list 12 true freshman on the depth chart, four in backup roles. Expect freshmen like linebacker Joe Bolden and safety Jarrod Wilson to see plenty of field time.
  • As for position battles, Quinton Washington claimed a starting defensive tackle spot, moving Jibreel Black back to the end position. Will Hagerup and Matt Wile are listed as co-starters at punter, but Hagerup will get the starting nod against Alabama.
OHIO STATE

Depth chart
  • Regarding position battles, Reid Fragel, a converted tight end, claimed the starting right tackle spot ahead of freshman Taylor Decker. Travis Howard maintained his starting cornerback spot ahead of Doran Grant. The team's starting wide receivers entering the fall are Corey Brown, Devin Smith and Jake Stoneburner, a converted tight end. Ohio State's only unsettled position is tight end, where freshman Nick Vannett and sophomore Jeff Heuerman are listed as co-starters.
  • Like Michigan, Ohio State will have plenty of youth on the field this fall. Coach Urban Meyer lists 13 freshmen on the depth chart, including highly touted defensive linemen Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, spring game star Michael Thomas at backup receiver and backup middle linebacker Camren Williams. The Buckeyes have three freshmen listed as backup offensive linemen, underscoring the depth issues there.
  • With projected starting running back Jordan Hall (foot) out at least a week, Ohio State will start Carlos Hyde at running back. Freshman Bri'onte Dunn will back up Hyde.
WISCONSIN

Depth chart (page 13)
  • The Badgers put out a depth chart last week but made a few changes, including junior Zac Matthias and sophomore Kyle Costigan being listed as co-starters at right guard. Costigan had been listed as the starter, but Matthias made a push late in camp.
  • Backup cornerback Peniel Jean will miss four to six weeks after fracturing his foot last week in practice and undergoing surgery. Redshirt freshman Darius Hillary moves into the No. 2 role behind Devin Smith and likely will be the team's primary nickel back.
  • Sophomore Kyle French is listed as the starter for both field goals and kickoffs (he only occupied the kickoffs role last week). Coach Bret Bielema said freshman Jack Russell (great name) also will see time as a kicker in Saturday's opener against Northern Iowa.
PENN STATE

Depth chart
ILLINOIS

Depth chart
  • Safeties Steve Hull and Supo Sanni, the projected starters, aren't listed on the two-deep. Earnest Thomas and Pat Nixon-Youman are listed in their places. Both Hull and Sanni are week-to-week with injuries. Coach Tim Beckman said both would practice this week and likely will be game-time decisions.
  • Illinois shuffled its offensive linemen between positions throughout camp, and there could be more changes before game day. But ... Graham Pocic is listed as the starting center after playing mostly guard in camp. Pocic has started the past 26 games at center. Redshirt freshman Ted Karras, who has recovered from a foot injury, is listed as the starting right guard.
  • Tim Kynard will start at defensive end in place of Justin Staples, who will serve a one-game suspension against Western Michigan. Offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic also won't play Saturday for undisclosed reasons.
  • Illinois lists co-starters at both running back (Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson) and tight end (Jon Davis and Eddie Viliunas). Both Young and Ferguson should get plenty of carries against Western Michigan.
NORTHWESTERN

Depth chart (Page 7)
  • After a strong camp, Venric Mark will start at running back for Northwestern. The 5-foot-8, 175-pound Mark, who came to Northwestern as a return specialist, moved from wide receiver after the season. Mike Trumpy, who comes off of ACL surgery, is the backup, and Northwestern likely will spread the carries around. Treyvon Green has recovered from a scary neck injury midway through camp and will play at Syracuse.
  • USC transfer Kyle Prater is listed as a backup receiver. Northwestern will start Demetrius Fields, Christian Jones, Rashad Lawrence and Tony Jones at receiver against the Orange. Prater saw some time with the first-team offense in camp and will be part of the rotation, but he still seems to be lacking a step as he gets back into game shape.
  • The Wildcats have no unsettled starting spots, and while there are a number of young players on the depth chart, only two true freshmen, defensive end Dean Lowry and superback Dan Vitale, made the two-deep. Heralded incoming freshman defender Ifeadi Odenigbo likely will redshirt and isn't listed on the depth chart.
PURDUE

Depth chart (Page 6)
  • The Boilers have four unsettled starting spots, three on the offensive side. Juniors Kevin Pamphile and Justin Kitchens are battling at the left tackle spot, while juniors Devin Smith and Cody Davis are co-starters at right guard. Junior Gabe Holmes and fifth-year senior Crosby Wright are still competing for the top tight end spot. The lone unsettled spot on defense is at end opposite Ryan Russell, as Ryan Isaac and Jalani Phillips continue to compete.
  • No surprises in the starting backfield as Caleb TerBush, Robert Marve and Rob Henry are listed at quarterback in that order. It'll be interesting to see how Purdue uses Henry this year. It doesn't make much sense to waste his talents on the bench. No Ralph Bolden on the depth chart as the senior running back is still working his way back from the knee injury. The Akeems (Shavers and Hunt) will carry the rock against Eastern Kentucky.
  • The placekicking spot is also up in the air with three players -- Sam McCartney, Paul Griggs and Thomas Meadows -- in the mix to replace standout Carson Wiggs.

More depth chart fun comes your way Tuesday, so be sure and check in.

Big Ten mailblog

August, 21, 2012
8/21/12
5:00
PM ET
Great to be back. Let's get to your questions.

Next mailblog comes your way Friday, so be sure and send questions here. The season is rapidly approaching.

Rex from Oconomowoc, Wis., writes: The past three years, Wisconsin has constantly been in the conversation as a serious BCS contender yet they have been to back-to-back Rose Bowls and nothing to show for it. Do you think that this is finally the year that they win the Rose Bowl or even compete for a national title due to a much improved defense and star-power returning on offense?

Adam Rittenberg: Rex, while I think Wisconsin gets back to the Big Ten title game, I expect the league champion to come out of the Legends division this season. The Badgers likely won't be quite as potent offensively as they've been the past two seasons. While there's room for improvement on defense and some strides there could make a huge difference, the 2012 Badgers don't seem to be as strong as the 2011 version. I'm still baffled how last season's team managed to lose three times. The key really is the defense, as I expect the offense to be good and, at times, very good but not nationally elite. If Wisconsin can develop an elite pass-rusher or two and some playmakers in the secondary to complement a strong linebacking corps, the ceiling for this team will be raised.




1IllHusker from Illinois writes: Despite the criticism Taylor Martinez gets for his mechanics, isn't more important for him to get back to running the ball the way he was early on in 2010? The Huskers are undefeated when Taylor rushes over 100 yards and also undefeated when the team rushes over 185. It's a given that their passing games needs to improve to balance the offense but I think it's more important for him to regain his explosiveness on the ground. What are your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Some good points, Husker. Martinez says he's finally back to 100 percent after the ankle slowed him down for the second half of 2010 and all of 2011. While his rushing numbers dropped last fall, the bigger effect might have been on his passing. Taylor says the ankle problem forced him into some bad habits with his throwing mechanics that he has tried to correct during the offseason. There's no doubt that having Martinez at top speed helps the Huskers, as he can take it to the house on every snap. But Big Ten defenses can contain mobile quarterbacks better than those in the Big 12, in my view. Martinez will need to pose a bigger threat as a passer for Nebraska's offense to surge this fall. His explosive running will help, but only if defenses can't load up at the line of scrimmage to stop him and Rex Burkhead.




Eric from TriBeCa writes: Hi Adam, love the blog. I've found the best/worst case fairly entertaining. I was taking a look at UofM's, and was wondering if you would be willing to say what scenario you believe to be more likely? An 11-1 national championship season, or the 6-6 disappointing season. While I think they have the talent to put in an 11-1 season, I could also see them dropping games to Bama, Air Force, @Notre Dame, @Purdue, Michigan State, @Nebraska, @Ohio State.

Adam Rittenberg: Can I tell you after the Alabama game? The opener should tell us a lot about this Michigan team and its ceiling for the 2012 season. Right now, I have a tough time seeing the Wolverines win, because of their question marks on both lines and Alabama's strength up front. But if Denard Robinson plays a big game, Michigan forces some turnovers, plays a clean 60 minutes and prevails in Texas, it really changes the complexion of the season. The Wolverines then would be on the national championship radar. A loss doesn't kill Michigan, but I think it increases the chances for an 9-3 or 8-4 type of season. My sense is Michigan will be a better team than 2011 with a worse record than 2011. Will the Wolverines tumble to 6-6? Highly doubtful. But I also don't see the Maize and Blue going 11-1. Not with this schedule. But I might feel differently after Sept. 1.




@vedderkj (via Twitter) writes: What's the word on the Northwestern backfield? Trumpy fully healed? Venric Mark durable enough? RB by Committee (again)?

Adam Rittenberg: Mike Trumpy is back in the fold and will be a part of the mix this season. But Mark seems to be transitioning well to running back, and could play a bigger role than I thought he would, even outside of the option game. His size certainly is a concern, but with him and Colter on the field together, Northwestern has a ton of speed. The younger backs -- Jordan Perkins, Malin Jones, Stephen Buckley -- also should be part of the mix. So yes, a committee system seems likely, although Northwestern would benefit more from a featured back emerging. That was the case when the Wildcats ran the ball very well between 2000-08.




Dave from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam -I read that a quarterback at Wisconsin has recently left the team. Do you think Bielema's call to start his newest, experienced quarterback from NC instead of another QB who has been on the team longer makes his "sell" more difficult to a high school junion/senior quarterback who now has to weigh whether Bielema will just continually take a quarterback from another college? Thanks! Dave

Adam Rittenberg: Dave, I think Joe Brennan's decision to leave had more to do with his drop on the depth chart than Wisconsin bringing in Danny O'Brien. While O'Brien moved ahead of Brennan, so did Curt Phillips and Joel Stave. As to your larger question, Wisconsin landed a highly touted quarterback recruit in February in Bart Houston. They might not sign a quarterback for the 2013 class, but their overall depth shouldn't be too bad with O'Brien back for another year, and both Houston and Jon Budmayr returning from injuries. I don't think Wisconsin will have to keep taking transfer quarterbacks, and depth certainly played a role in the Badgers adding both O'Brien and Russell Wilson. So while it might be a tough sell for a 2013 quarterback recruit, it shouldn't be an issue beyond that date.




Alex from Cincinnati writes: Isn't it a bit to soon to deem Michigan State an "established power". Sure, 2010 and 2011 were consecutive seasons with 11 wins. Good for them, but let's not jump to conclusions here. People seem to easily forget a stretch of mediocrity in the years preceding. In the 2006-2009 they went a combined 26-27 (season records of 4-8, 7-6, 9-4, 6-7). During the last 6 years they have a 1-4 record in bowl games and have yet to appear in, let alone win, a BCS bowl game. I'm sorry, but a quick flash of success doesn't immediately make you an "established power". Give it a couple seasons, and at the end of the day MSU is closer to the likes of Iowa, Illinois, or Wisconsin than it is to Michigan or OSU. So let's cool the jets on this Big Ten powerhouse talk.

Adam Rittenberg: I agree that "established power" is the wrong term (and not one I think I've used). But emerging power is a fair description for Michigan State, which has finally found some stability under Mark Dantonio. Take away the 2009 season, which featured a lot of problems both on and off the field, and the Spartans have been very solid since 2008. Dantonio has kept his staff together and elevated the recruiting, particularly on the defensive side. Michigan State also has made important financial investments into the program, the coaches, etc. I agree that right now, Michigan State is closer to Wisconsin and Iowa than Ohio State. Actually, Wisconsin is that "next team" to challenge the elite, despite the Spartans' success against the Badgers. But to dismiss Michigan State as temporary or the same old Spartans is shortsighted in my view. Dantonio has built a foundation for long-term success, and while Michigan State might not challenge for a league title every year, I don't expect to see the dramatic swings we saw with the program too often from 1991-2006.




Brady from Newell, Iowa, writes: Mr. Rittenberg, Now that the Hawkeyes seem to have lost another running back...could you offer your input on a possible depth chart with whoever else knows how to run the ball?

Adam Rittenberg: While Greg Garmon might not start Iowa's opener in Chicago, I expect him to emerge as the featured back soon enough. The Hawkeyes simply don't have many other options, especially after Barkley Hill's ACL tear. While Garmon is a young freshman, the team has to go with its most talented player. Garmon showed off his power in the most recent scrimmage and should help Iowa grind out some tough yards. It wouldn't surprise me if Damon Bullock ends up starting the opener, but unless Bullock takes some significant strides, I expect Garmon to get a shot fairly early on.




AC from Pittsburgh writes: Am I the only one that is sick of being told that Penn State fans "still don't get it"? What exactly is it that we don't get? I'm a recent graduate and I can assure you that the horrible crimes that took place are not being forgotten or brushed aside in State College. I'd argue that it's everyone else that simply "doesn't get" the hypocrisy of the entire situation. Look at other big time football schools. Do you really think if what happened at Penn State happened anywhere else that the reaction would be any different? If it were LSU's former coach who got arrested for abuse, do you really think that LSU fans would be clamoring for their own death penalty? Of course not, they'd be defending their favorite program. The issue isn't Penn State and football, it's the entire country and football. If the NCAA, and by that I mean Mark Emmert feels the need to make Penn State the example so be it. I just don't see how a man who said "...success in LSU football is essential for the success of Louisiana State University" can change his tune so quickly and hope to change the "...mindset in which football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing, and protecting young people..." Can't have it both ways Mr. Emmert. Criticize me all you want but I sincerely hope people actually understand what I said before they rush to judgement.

Adam Rittenberg: AC, I think there's a lot of truth to what you write. I don't think the reaction would be vastly different in other places where football is king. One difference between Penn State and LSU is the way Joe Paterno is/was viewed compared with most coaches. LSU fans don't have the same loyalty toward Les Miles as Penn State fans have/had toward Paterno. Not saying Tiger Nation wouldn't support Miles, but Paterno's longevity and impact on the program and the community was truly unique. Has it clouded the judgment of some folks, who seem unable or unwilling to acknowledge the possibility that Paterno made major mistakes? I believe it has. But that's not all Penn State fans. Defending the program against the sanctions makes more sense than defending Paterno or the other school leaders, but people also need to realize that massive leadership failures have consequences that can go beyond the removal of those individuals. The nature of NCAA punishments always has been geared more toward the present and the future than the past. That certainly hits home for Penn State.

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