Big Ten: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Big Ten Friday mailbag

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
It's time once again to usher in the weekend with a Friday mailbag. This week's edition is chock full of coaching transition questions and conspiracy theories.

Dave in Ohio writes: OK. Gary Andersen left Wisconsin for OSU (not the one we know). He's a western guy. I was more surprised when he took the UW job than I am that he left. The bigger question, to me, is how much longer can Michigan wait to find its new coach? The clock continues to tick, and the longer it waits, the more it looks like another Brady Hoke-type hire.

Dan Murphy: The longer Michigan waits, the more optimistic its fans should be. Interim athletic director Jim Hackett has been on the job for little more than a month; his patience is prudent. Michigan is (and should be) willing to wait for Jim Harbaugh or Les Miles. The school won’t wait if both men have turned the job down through back channels. So, while there’s a chance they’ve already said “no thanks” and the Wolverines are now desperately seeking a Plan B hire, it's more likely that the Wolverines are biding their time and vetting backup plans in case the top choices don’t work out.

There’s a natural tendency to want to pile on the “Michigan can’t get anything right” rhetoric after the past year in Ann Arbor, but this search hasn’t provided any tinder for that fire. There’s no reason to rush a very important decision.

Tom in Berkeley, California, writes: I'm not surprised that Wisconsin lost the [Big Ten championship] to Ohio State, but this is a team that has lost by more than one score once in the past five years. A 59-0 loss is quite a surprise. Is it possible that the head coach, and perhaps many of the assistants, were focused on where they would be coaching next and were neglecting their game prep?

Dan Murphy: Nebraska hired Mike Riley on Thursday night. Virtually no one knew the Oregon State job would be open before then. Did Gary Andersen’s mind wander toward the possibility of a move on Friday? Maybe. Even if it did, I doubt that was a damning distraction for the routine walkthrough most teams hold the day before a game. There’s no way Andersen wasn’t fully focused on winning a conference championship the following day. It takes an incredibly competitive nature and a strong ability to compartmentalize to become a successful head coach. As for his assistants, many of them didn't know until Andersen took the job earlier this week. There are many reasons why Ohio State beat Wisconsin. A distracted coaching staff is not one of them.

Dan Murphy: Paul Chryst has a 19-19 record in three years at Pittsburgh while trying to shift from one style of offense to another. Those aren't numbers that were going to shoot him to the top of many coaching search lists. At Wisconsin, though, he provides an opportunity for stability. The Madison native played quarterback for the Badgers and was an offensive coordinator there for seven seasons. After losing two coaches in short time, finding someone who will stick around for a while should be a priority for Wisconsin. He understands the job and knows the administration. Some of the players he recruited are still around. Wisconsin doesn't need someone who can build a team from scratch. The program is in great shape, it just needs someone who can keep things headed in the same direction. It's worth noting here that Wisconsin can't officially offer the job to anyone until Dec. 17 because of university hiring policy. Dan Murphy: It's impossible to say definitively, but I wouldn't count on Dave Aranda staying in Madison. He coached with Andersen at Utah and, like Andersen, has spent the majority of his career further West. The California native is probably due for a head coaching job in the near future, but my guess is he's not going to be sticking around at Wisconsin until then. Dan Murphy: Herman is the next Urban Meyer disciple in line for a head job. Travis Haney reported earlier today that he impressed Houston's athletic director in a meeting this week, but Herman could help himself down the road by passing during this year's cycle for a couple reasons. Right now his focus is on getting a third-string quarterback ready to face an SEC champion defense for a shot at a national championship. More importantly, the amount of talent coming back for the Buckeyes will put Herman behind the wheel of a frightening offense in 2015. If he hangs on for another year or two, he'll have bigger opportunities than he does now. Dan Murphy: You've got to go with the guy with experience here, right? Not only does Barry Alvarez have experience as a head coach, but he has experience stepping in to coach a bowl game after a coach leaves. Nebraska's Barney Cotton has been with 'Huskers since 2008 but hasn't been a head coach since he was at Hastings College in 1996. Before the coaching carousel got started, I would've given Wisconsin a better shot at beating Auburn than Nebraska over USC. That doesn't change with the interims in place. Brian in Omaha writes: Conspiracy Theory: Barry "The Godfather" Alvarez told Gary Andersen he had to lay a goose egg in the B1G championship or he would reduce his assistants salary pool by 10 percent so the B1G could have a representative in the CFP. Meanwhile in a dark room Jim Delany stares at a pile of cash while he slowly strokes Faux Pelini's cat.

Dan Murphy: Nailed it. Now please pass the tin foil, my hat is falling apart.
After memorable regular seasons, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Indiana's Tevin Coleman all find themselves in Orlando for Thursday night's Home Depot College Football Awards (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). It's the first time in the 25-year history of the Doak Walker Award -- given out to the nation's top running back -- that all three finalists are from the same conference.

On the eve of the awards show, sat down with all three Big Ten stars to discuss what makes this group so special.


Time to vote for the CFB #PlayOfTheYear

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
Play of the YearESPN

Narrowing the choices down from dozens of great candidates to four was not easy, but the finalists for college football play of the year have been made, and now it's your turn to decide which wins.

Jog your memory by watching and reading about the memorable plays below, then cast a vote for your favorite by tweeting the hashtag #PlayOfTheYear with the school's name. (#PlayOfTheYear Arkansas, #PlayOfTheYear Kansas, #PlayOfTheYear LSU or #PlayOfTheYear Nebraska.)

Based on your tweets, the winner will be announced during Thursday's Home Depot College Football Awards Show (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET).

Without further ado, here are the finalists, with descriptions of the plays from the players, coaches and reporters who were there.

Jordan Westerkamp goes behind his back

The play: In Nebraska's Aug. 30 season opener against Florida Atlantic, receiver Jordan Westerkamp caught a ball behind his back. We still don't know quite how he did it.

video In his own words
Westerkamp: "It was all luck."

In his coach's words
Bo Pelini: “That one’s hard to explain. To even have the wherewithal to put your hands back there, it’s amazing. I’ve always said that he catches everything that’s near him.”

In a witness' words
Mitch Sherman, Nebraska led 31-7 in the third quarter of its season opener, so little did the crowd at Memorial Stadium expect to witness the most memorable catch of the game -- and probably the entire season -- when Tommy Armstrong Jr. took a shotgun snap on third-and-6.

His throw sailed toward the east sideline past midfield in front of the Nebraska bench. FAU defensive back Christian Milstead went horizontal and leaped to tip the football, which changed direction and found the moving hands of Westerkamp -- behind his back. He nimbly kept both feet in-bounds.

It left thousands in the stadium wondering if they actually just saw what they thought they saw. Even the officials weren’t sure; they stopped the next play for a review. When the HuskerVision screens displayed a replay of the catch, the crowd roared as loudly as the first time. Yes, that really happened.

Trick play turns into a big-guy touchdown pass

The play: In a game against UAB on Oct. 25, Arkansas attempted a fourth-and-goal play on which it lined up Sebastian Tretola under center. Tretola is a 6-foot-5, 350-pound offensive lineman. And he threw it to a ... wait for it ... long snapper. It was a proud moment for big guys everywhere, including former Kentucky QB Jared Lorenzen.

video In his own words
Tretola: “We ran the play, and he snapped me the ball, and everything went slow motion from there. I have a whole newfound respect for Brandon Allen, you know what, because it gets hectic back there. I mean, D’Appollonio got open, and I made the throw. It was nuts. When I initially threw the ball, I thought I missed it, you know, because of the crowd. You kind of listen to the crowd, so I didn't know if I got it, but they gradually started getting louder, and I was like, 'All right, I got it, I got it,' and it worked out. It was a great feeling.”

In his coach's words
Bret Bielema: “Come to Arkansas ... if you’re [an offensive] lineman, we’ll make you famous.”

In a witness' words
Robbie Neiswanger, Arkansas News Bureau: It’s not unusual for Arkansas to try something different under Bret Bielema. He’s only been in Fayetteville for two years but has reached into his bag of tricks numerous times. But no one imagined one of his offensive linemen would throw a pass. That’s what makes guard Sebastian Tretola’s touchdown toss to long snapper Alan D’Appollonio one of those plays you’ll never forget. I remember watching players shift into a swinging gate formation, which was something Arkansas has done before. Then I remember seeing someone shift into the backfield for a shotgun snap. It was only after the touchdown toss -- and after jumping up from my seat in the press box to get a closer look at the replay on the nearest monitor -- that I truly pieced together what happened. Tretola was the quarterback. And he threw a pass. I guess in the end we should’ve known Bielema, a proud and vocal proponent of offensive linemen, would be the mastermind behind a big-guy touchdown pass.

A circus catch in Lawrence

The play: Tip drill! In a game that looked for a while like it could shake up the college football landscape, Kansas took a stunning 27-17 lead on an equally stunning 78-yard touchdown catch-and-run, on which KU receiver Nigel King not only tipped the ball to himself several times but also somehow stayed in bounds while doing so.

Nigel KingJohn Rieger/USA TODAY Sports
In his own words
King: “My biggest focus on that ball that was tipped was to keep my feet in bounds because I felt like the defenders took the ball out-of-bounds. When I realized that I could catch the ball and possibly score, I was focusing on keeping my feet in bounds and catching the ball at the same time. One thing that I can say that’s helped me a lot is that coach has a saying: ‘To catch with our eyes and not with our hands.’ Looking the ball in is what helps the most."

In his coach's words
Clint Bowen: Yeah, you know, he continues to do that. I think that's going on about four weeks in a row it seems like Nigel and Michael have hooked up on a big play. Nigel continues to compete and make plays for us. He's been a big positive for us."

In a witness' words
Jake Trotter, I never thought Kansas had any chance to beat TCU -- until that incredible play. There had been a series of breaks that had gone the way of the Jayhawks in the first half, but you never really felt TCU was in danger or had lost control until King pulled off that catch. The thing is, Kansas actually recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff return. Had the Jayhawks capitalized there, too -- they didn't -- they probably would have pulled off the upset of the year in college football.

Leonard Fournette, Human Bulldozer

The play: LSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette entered the season as the nation's No. 1 recruit. He showed flashes of brilliance throughout the fall, but no more so than when he bowled over a Texas A&M defender on Thanksgiving at Kyle Field.
video In his own words
Fournette: “It felt great. It felt normal.”

In his coach's words
Les Miles: “I would get out of the way if Leonard were running at me.”

In a witness' words
Sam Khan Jr., The soon-to-be-demolished press box at Kyle Field is pretty high, so I almost always try to have a pair of binoculars on hand so I can get a closer look at the action during Texas A&M home games. On Thanksgiving night, what Fournette did within the scope of my viewfinder on my pair of Bushnells was something I’ve never seen a 19-year-old do before.

When Fournette broke through the large hole on the left side of the line of scrimmage, it was clear a big gain was ahead. But when he lowered his head and ran through senior safety Howard Matthews, all I could say was “Oh, wow!” I try not to make too much noise in a press box, but this was a rare exception. I couldn’t help myself. There were some “Whoas!” and “Wows” and “Ooohs” among the assorted media. Some could have injured their necks with the speed they turned their heads to spot the nearest TV monitor to view the replay. There were also grimaces and audible sympathy for Matthews, a known hard-hitter himself, for being victimized by the seemingly super-human Fournette.

As I searched for proper terms to describe Fournette’s feat for the Twitterverse, I arrived on “grown man,” “beastly” and “truck stick” before quickly searching for the replay clip to share with those who might have missed it and reiterate he is a true freshman. After the game, LSU safety Jamal Adams simply made a face and a sound when I asked for his reaction. That was all that needed to be said.


Season highlights: Nebraska started 5-0 for the first time since 2010. It amassed a Big Ten-record 784 yards in the opener against Florida Atlantic and won in resounding fashion at home against historical nemesis Miami, grinding out 343 rushing yards. The Huskers reached nine wins for the seventh straight season under Bo Pelini. They saw receiver Kenny Bell and I-back Ameer Abdullah shatter records and capped the regular season by matching the largest road comeback in program history in a 37-34 overtime win at Iowa on the day after Thanksgiving.

Season lowlights: Michigan State stole the thunder from Nebraska’s high-powered offense, holding the Huskers to 1.3 yards per rushing attempt in a big-game disappointment nearly erased by a late Nebraska charge. Six weeks later, there was no comeback at Wisconsin as Melvin Gordon gouged the Huskers for a then-FBS record 408 rushing yards in a five-touchdown loss that ultimately cost Pelini his job. A week later, Minnesota won at Memorial Stadium for the first time since 1960, eliminating the Huskers from contention for the West Division title. On Nov. 30, Pelini was fired.

Player to watch: With a month to heal from a Nov. 1 knee sprain, Abdullah should get an opportunity to go out in a flash. His 4,500 career rushing yards rank behind only Mike Rozier, with 4,780, in Nebraska history. A Doak Walker Award finalist, Abdullah topped 200 yards four times and registered a play-of-the-year candidate with his 58-yard catch-and-run in the final seconds to beat McNeese State. Only the knee injury, which knocked him out against Purdue and severely limited him in three other games, kept Abdullah from a run at 2,000 yards.

Motivation factor: It remains to be seen how the Huskers respond in practice to the Pelini firing, met with anger from many players. Can interim coach Barney Cotton rally the team? The answer is likely yes, considering the cohesiveness of this group and the connection formed with the outgoing staff. They figure to play with abandon. For some Huskers, it’s an opportunity to make a first impression on new coach Mike Riley, who won’t be involved with the game but, no doubt, wants to see his team in action.
-- Mitch Sherman


Season highlights: Three wins stand out. The Steve Sarkisian era got off to a great start when the Trojans won at then-No. 13 Stanford on Sept. 6, ending the Cardinal’s 17-game home winning streak -- then the longest active streak in the country. The Trojans’ most significant win of the year came at eventual Pac-12 South Division champion Arizona, which entered the game 6-0 and ranked No. 10. Lastly, the Trojans’ 49-14 win against rival Notre Dame was the one of the most lopsided wins in the 86-game history of the series.

Season lowlights: If not for a Hail Mary to lose against Arizona State, USC would have won the South. It still would have won the division with a win against UCLA but instead lost 38-20. Josh Shaw’s fictitious hero tale was the most prominent of many off-the-field issues that didn’t put USC in a good light. It came just a few weeks before AD Pat Haden was fined $25,000 following a bizarre incident in which he confronted officials in the second half of a game against Stanford.

Player to watch: DL Leonard Williams. Despite being possibly the best pro prospect in the country -- ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has him No. 2 on his latest Big Board -- Williams has managed to fly somewhat under the radar. While other players in the Pac-12 put up massive sack numbers, the shared opinion among coaches and scouts is that Williams is the best defensive lineman. The bowl will likely be his final game in a USC uniform, but Williams, a junior, has not announced whether he will enter the NFL draft.

Motivation factor: Assuming QB Cody Kessler comes back, USC will be among the favorites in the Pac-12 South next year thanks to its returning young talent. If the Trojans end the year with a big win, they may also have some momentum when recruiting heats up ahead of signing day on Feb. 4.
-- Kyle Bonagura

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

December, 3, 2014
Dec 3
We've got a coaching-heavy mailbag this week. Let's jump right in.

Joseph from Kennesaw, Georgia, writes: Regarding the Coach of the Year award, why do people dismiss winning huge at big programs and think it's so easy to do?

Dan Murphy: This was the most popular topic in today's mailbag, and understandably so. Ohio State fans are fired up that Urban Meyer missed out on the conference's coach of the year award despite replacing a Heisman contending quarterback by developing another and getting through his third consecutive Big Ten regular season without a conference loss. He's got a pretty good case.

The problem lies more with the vague criteria for the award than a grand conspiracy to hurt the Buckeyes. We often hear about coaches of the year doing "less with more." Coaching, though, entails so much more than calling the right plays on Saturday. Should the ability to recruit well be considered when judging the coach of the year? Should raising money and running a smooth program and graduating players? Those are all on a coach's job description after all. Part of the reason Ohio State has gone so long without winning the award is that it's hard to win more than once. When you're already established as a great coach, no one is surprised when you win. Perhaps the award should be renamed to the more accurate Big Ten Coach Who Positively Defied Expectations of the Year.

Caleb from Omaha writes: Now that both jobs are open, in your opinion, which job is more appealing right now to potential coaching candidates, Nebraska or Michigan?

Dan Murphy: Michigan has the bigger brand name and the bigger bank account. The athletic department has taken positive steps toward causing fewer problems for itself by getting rid of former athletic director Dave Brandon. Many see having an interim athletic director as a negative, but Michigan can also spin that the other way by telling its next coach he can have a seat at the table when they get around to picking the permanent guy. Who wouldn't want a say in picking their own boss? The one thing Nebraska has going for it is playing in the West Division. Facing Wisconsin every year isn't fun, but not dealing with Mark Dantonio and Urban Meyer on an annual basis is a major plus.

It's interesting that there is very little overlap among the speculative lists of candidates that have come out for the two jobs. It doesn't seem like these two schools will be competing for the same guy.

Dan Murphy: Wisconsin put itself in a position where it needed to make up a lot of ground in the rankings with its early conference loss to Northwestern. The Badgers have been chipping away, but haven't had many quality opponents to help boost the resume to get them out of the log jam of two-loss teams. A win against Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game would obviously be a huge boost. Depending on how things shake out Saturday, Wisconsin could jump up to No. 7 and maybe even No. 6 heading into bowl season.

Dave from Marietta, Ohio, writes: Let's say Cardale picks up right where JT left off and leads OSU to a win in the Big 10 game. TCU, Baylor/KSU, FSU, Alabama, and UO win as well. Is OSU out?

Dan Murphy: That would be Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett for those of us not on a first-name basis with the Ohio State quarterbacks. To answer your question, even if Jones is a clone of Barrett on Saturday I think it will be hard for the Buckeyes to wiggle into a top spot without some upsets.

Alabama, Florida State and Oregon are in with a win. That leaves Ohio State and the two Big 12 teams to battle for the final spot. Baylor has a chance to pick up a quality win against Kansas State this weekend that should help them, and TCU is already ahead of Ohio State in the committee's mind. It will probably take a loss among those teams, and possibly two losses, for the playoffs to be a real possibility.

Dan Murphy: I'd have two suggestions for Michigan State's Jeremy Langford. 1) Join a team that doesn't have a well-balanced offense and the best receiver in the conference. 2) Play his senior season in just about any other year in the last two decades.

Langford does have the respect of coaches and others around the league. His streak of 100-yard rushing games hasn't gone unnoticed. He missed out on any all-conference awards because he had the unfortunate timing to play his final season during one of the best years for running backs in the history of the conference. He also is on a team that has to lean on him for production far less than schools such as Wisconsin with Melvin Gordon and Minnesota with David Cobb. Having a good quarterback hurt Langford in that respect, but it helped him win 10 games this season. He's probably OK with that trade.

Why do you ask, Mr. Harbaugh? Are you expecting a visit?
The season of high-end buyouts has kicked into gear as Will Muschamp, Bo Pelini and now Brady Hoke have been fired.

Hoke's dismissal on Tuesday includes a $3 million buyout. Pelini walked away with $7.65 million, and Muschamp will be paid $6.3 million.

Here's a fuller picture of each coach's total compensation during his tenure:

In Hoke's four seasons at Michigan, the school invested $17.34 million in him.

Salary: $8.6 million
Total deferred compensation paid: $3 million
Buyout: $3 million (would have been reduced to $2 million if he had been fired after Jan. 1)
Stay bonus (awarded after first 3 years): $1.5 million
Bowl bonuses: $240,000

Hoke was paid $1.05 million in deferred compensation for his first three years, but due to being fired without cause, he will get additional deferred compensation from this season, 2015 and 2016 worth $1.95 million. Michigan also paid a $1 million buyout to San Diego State to hire Hoke in 2011.

So that leaves Michigan with a current total cost of $559,354 for each of his 31 wins. The average could decrease, however, if Hoke takes a job during the 25-month buyout period.

Pelini was more successful than Hoke and had a lower salary than Hoke for some seasons. Nebraska's total investment over seven years was $25.85 million.

Salary: $16.75 million
Bonuses: $1.45 million
Buyout: $7.65 million

Pelini's compensation for each of his 66 wins was $391.667.

The positive for Nebraska is that the buyout, which is paid out over 51 months, will also be reduced if Pelini finds a job, in accordance with his new salary.

The most costly coach is Florida's Will Muschamp, because his contract does not allow Florida to pay less if he finds another job. Counting the $6.3 million nonrefundable bonus, Florida's total investment in Muschamp comes out to $19.3 million.

Salary: $11.36 million
Bonuses: $1.64 million
Buyout: $6.3 million

For his 28 wins, that comes out to a cost of $689,286 per victory.

Nebraska punter achieves butt punt -- or does he?

November, 28, 2014
Nov 28
For one glorious minute, we were certain Nebraska had authored a sequel to the infamous Butt Punt with this special-teams breakdown against Iowa on Friday:


After all, it sure looks like punter Sam Foltz ricocheted the ball off the backside of one of his linemen, leading to Iowa lineman Drew Ott's scoop 'n' score. ESPN color commentator Matt Millen certainly thought so -- "That's a big ol' keister to kick it into, too, let me tell you," Millen remarked on the replay.

But upon further inspection, analysis and dozens of replays, we're not actually sure Foltz's kick was a true butt punt. The ball is a blur, but given the angle, it may have struck the back of a helmet before traveling backward. It's certainly not as pure as the original, accomplished by Youngstown State during the first week of the season.

Either way, the play was as entertaining as it was crucial. It gave the Hawkeyes a three-score lead in the second half and overshadowed Foltz's other big play, a crushing hit to force a fumble following a punt in the first quarter.

Minnesota uses 'Dilly Bar Dan' to celebrate its victory over Nebraska

November, 22, 2014
Nov 22
By now, you know that here in the Big Ten blog, we're big fans of @FauxPelini, who had a wonderful Twitter exchange with the Wisconsin campus police last week, and "Dilly Bar Dan," who charmed us all with his ice-cream-eating habits at last week's snowy Ohio State-Minnesota game.

This week, the two combined forces in the wake of Minnesota's 28-24 win at Nebraska.

It seems Fake Bo Pelini didn't appreciate the Gophers -- by rallying for a victory in front of the Husker faithful -- not complying with the famous "Minnesota Nice" manners of the good people of the North Star State.

So the official Twitter feed of Minnesota athletics playfully fired back.

Nebraska fan wins best haircut of the day

November, 22, 2014
Nov 22
Nebraska lost again Saturday, but don't blame this guy. He let his devotion to the Huskers literally go to his head.

And the result was glorious.

Fake Bo Pelini vs. the UW-Madison Police

November, 15, 2014
Nov 15
Melvin Gordon shredding the Huskers defense in historic fashion was the story of the Nebraska-Wisconsin game Saturday.

But in our book, nothing tops the in-game Twitter exchange between the parody account of Bo Pelini and the Wisconsin campus police department.

B1G early look: Setting up Week 11

November, 3, 2014
Nov 3
The week we have had circled on the Big Ten calendar for the past month, if not far earlier, has finally arrived. Michigan State and Ohio State is the league’s marquee regular-season game this year, and the rest of Saturday’s slate should provide some insight into what to expect as we approach the postseason. Here is an early look at this week’s storylines worth following:

And the playoff nomination goes to: The Big Ten’s best chance to land in the initial College Football Playoff will be the winner of Saturday’s Michigan State-Ohio State matchup in East Lansing. The College Gameday crew will be in town for a week that will include plenty of buzz about both programs, who have become offensive juggernauts in the past couple years. Both teams enter the game with one of the country’s top five scoring offenses. Can this game in the national spotlight help change the perception of the Big Ten as a boring, cloud-of-dust league? Can it help cement a budding rivalry between the conference’s new Big Two? Can it live up to the hype it’s been receiving for the past month?

A round-robin begins in the West: Iowa travels to Minnesota this week for the first head-to-head meeting between the four teams still in contention for the West Division’s seat in the Big Ten championship game. Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin all have one conference loss so far. All four will play each other in the final four weeks of the season, setting up a de facto round-robin tournament to see who wins the division. Each Saturday will have at least one game with postseason implications from here on out. Minnesota might have the toughest road remaining. In addition to playing those three opponents, they also host Ohio State on Nov. 15.

A bowl-eliminator weekend for the bottom half: A handful of Big Ten teams will be competing to keep alive their chances of extra practice time this December. Indiana (3-5) needs to find a way to score points against Penn State to have a realistic shot at making the postseason for the first time since 2007. Purdue (3-6) needs to find a way slow down Wisconsin’s offense this weekend to keep its bowl hopes alive. Northwestern and Michigan, a pair of five-loss teams, face each other in Chicago. The winner of that game is in good shape, the loser will need an upset to get to six wins. The Nittany Lions (4-4) still have Temple and Illinois left on the schedule and could pretty much punch their ticket to the postseason with a win against Indiana.

Can anyone slow down the Badgers? Wisconsin welcomed the two Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers by beating them by a combined score of 89-7 during the past two weeks. After a clunker of a loss to Northwestern, the Badgers and Heisman hopeful Melvin Gordon have been running over their competition. What makes this team an emerging Big Ten title contender, though, is its stellar defense. No team in the country gives up fewer yards than Wisconsin’s 253.8 per game. Another big win against Purdue on Saturday will set up a game with potential playoff implications against Nebraska the following week. The Badgers, with two losses, aren’t really in contention for the playoff at this point, but they can spoil the Cornhuskers’ chances or give their resume a healthy bump.

Michigan begins its search for a new athletic director: The Wolverines revived a little momentum Saturday with a win against Indiana, but the attention in Ann Arbor this fall will likely remain away from the field. Former Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon resigned last Friday. If the football team plans to make a coaching change after this season, there isn’t much time to find a replacement. Michigan won’t be filling that seat permanently this week, but there will be plenty of debate about potential candidates and what each might mean for a possible coaching search in the near future.

Big Ten morning links

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
Welcome to a new age of college football. The year is now 1 CFPE. The College Football Playoff Era began last night with the first release of the selection committee’s Top 25 rankings.

1. The Big Ten landed three teams in the initial poll, which is about as good as the league could have expected. The No. 8 Spartans lead the way. Nebraska coming in at No. 15, one spot ahead of Ohio State, was the biggest surprise for Big Ten teams. As entertaining as it was to see the first rankings unveiled, next week’s will be far more interesting. Then we’ll find out if the committee will let its previous rankings affect the new version -- one of the biggest faults of the AP and Coaches’ polls -- or if it will more liberally move teams up and down based on how they look at the moment. Either way it’s safe to assume there will be just as much consternation and complaining about snubs as in the BCFPE.

2. Speaking of snubs, somehow Penn State’s Mike Hull was somehow left off of the list of 15 semifinalists for this year’s Butkus Award for the country’s top linebacker. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who has a vote for the final winner, said he will make Hull a write-in candidate. Fitzgerald said the semifinalist lists, which he was on as a player in the mid-90s, are just a popularity contest. Hull did get noticed by the Bednarik Award folks this week. They added him to the watch list for their top defender award.

3. No snubs this week, however, were more headshaking than the ones Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon dished out to Wolverines fans via e-mail during the past year. A report on Tuesday revealed a collection of snarky and condescending e-mails that the beleaguered athletic director has sent to fans. It’s baffling that a man described as a master of public relations when he took the job at Michigan in 2010 could be so tone deaf when talking to his customers. Brandon called the blog report "nonsense" when asked about it leaving an award ceremony Tuesday night, but the messages can’t sit well with the university president currently mulling over Brandon’s future at Michigan.

East Division
West Division

Big Ten Friday mailbag

October, 10, 2014
Oct 10

It's Friday. You made it! Let's celebrate by dipping into the mailbag one more time before game day.

David from Chicago writes: The other day I wrote in and asked if it was too early to put J.T. Barrett in the Heisman talk, but then I looked at his comparison stats and it shows he should be ... If he wins or gets invited to NYC for the Heisman can Meyer bench him next year for Miller?

Dan Murphy: Thanks for your persistence, David. With Todd Gurley seemingly out of the picture, I think your new frontrunner is Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, who has thrown for 1,232 yards and 13 touchdowns with only two interceptions. Barrett's numbers at Ohio State (1,354 yards, 17 TDs and five interceptions) stack up well with Prescott's. The one thing he's missing at this point is his "Heisman moment," which would probably have to come in a win over Michigan State for him to get serious consideration.

Meyer already said he's going back to Braxton Miller when he's healthy next season. That will be a tricky situation if the Buckeyes keep winning with Barrett, although it's a problem any coach would love to have. Miller has only one more year before he turns pro, so transferring wouldn't get Barrett on the field any faster than waiting behind Miller for a season.

Brian from Chicago writes: I love that the Big 10 is guaranteeing scholarships over 4 years. Why is this not gaining bigger press around the landscape of the NCAA and do you think the other power conferences will soon follow suit?

Dan Murphy: The multi-year scholarship story has been a slow burn. The NCAA started giving schools the option to offer more than a year at a time in 2012 when its hand was forced by antitrust laws. It's not totally clear how many schools jumped on board immediately. This week's announcement from commissioner Jim Delany guaranteed every Big Ten player's scholarship for as long as they are eligible to play, a significant step. It also guaranteed players who leave school for a professional career or other legitimate reasons can finish their degree on scholarship at a later time. It's a smart move for a conference that is searching for ways to keep up with its southern brethren in recruiting. I don't think it will be long before other leagues around the country follow suit.

Dan Murphy: Any team that can go unbeaten in the second half of the year will be in line to help themselves greatly. Brady Hoke and Tim Beckman could save their jobs. Ohio State and Michigan State could get invites to the playoffs. Northwestern could knock off some impressive opponents and show things are headed in the right direction again. But of every school in the Big Ten, I think Minnesota could take the best perception leap if they continue to roll this season. The Gophers' only loss this year is to an undefeated TCU team that just upset Oklahoma. A strong second half of the year could elevate that program to a new level. Other than the Buckeyes and Spartans, the odds that any Big Ten team finishes the rest of its schedule unblemished are slim.

Dan Murphy: The current problem starts at quarterback. C.J. Beathard and Jake Rudock will split time for the Hawkeyes this weekend because neither has proven to be a reliable option at this point. If you want to take a bigger picture approach, though, it's hard to attract top-level talent on offense when your playbook looks like it was borrowed from the 1980s. Blue-chip prospects want to play in fast offenses that can post gaudy numbers. If Iowa wants to improve its talent on that side of the ball, philosophical changes are in order.

Dan Murphy: I'm going to guess this was a question about Nebraska meeting Michigan State in Indianapolis based on your Twitter profile, Jake. In which case, yes, that's still the most likely scenario for the Big Ten title game -- but by no means is it a guarantee. The Spartans still have to get past Ohio State. The West is wide open right now. If it is in fact a rematch of last week's meeting in East Lansing, the edge has to go to Michigan State. The Spartans dominated that game for 47 minutes before clicking into cruise control and allowing a fourth quarter comeback. 

Big Ten morning links

October, 8, 2014
Oct 8
It's hump day. Here's a handful of Big Ten thoughts to push you downhill toward the weekend.

1. The seedlings of a rivalry are sprouting between Nebraska and Michigan State. Bo Pelini got the ball rolling after last year's game by claiming his Cornhuskers wouldn't have issues running the ball against Michigan State in the future. The Spartan defense was happy to prove him wrong Saturday night. Pelini upped his level of needling Tuesday when he complained that MSU defenders simulated Nebraska's snap count Saturday by clapping, which caused the Cornhuskers center to start the play before quarterback Tommy Armstrong was ready on a few occasions. Michigan State's coaches and defenders laughed off any implications that it was intentional Tuesday evening. This particular story isn't worth any hand-wringing (or hand-clapping), but the not-so-subtle jabs between the two programs could enhance a fun mutual distaste between two of the Big Ten's best teams.

2. Two of the Big Ten's worst teams -- Michigan and Illinois -- added injury to insult this week. The Wolverines announced leading rusher Derrick Green was out for the year with a broken clavicle. The Illini lost starting quarterback Wes Lunt to a broken left leg for 4-6 weeks. Green accounted for 43 percent of Michigan's running game during the first half of the season. Lunt accounted for 61 percent of his team's total offense. With head coaches on the ropes both programs were looking for a break this week, but these weren't they kind they needed.

3. Is the alternative uniform trend losing its luster? One-off outfits have become so commonplace in college football that the buzz they once generated has slowed to a dull drone for most programs. Three teams from the tradition laden Big Ten are switching up their uniforms this weekend with decreasing levels of hullabaloo. Michigan will wear all blue with stunner-shade style numbering against Penn State. Northwestern is going with gothic font for its game at Minnesota. And Purdue is coloring its helmets with highlighter yellow to draw attention to its worthwhile "hammer down cancer" message. Alternative game day apparel isn't going away, we just might hear less about it in the future.

Your morning links, on the other hand, will never go out of fashion:

East Division
West Division

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- A thrilling day of college football had to end with a bit of a flair for the dramatic.

After lying down for Michigan State through three quarters, Nebraska came within 37 yards of ending a wild Saturday in the most wild way possible. Cornerback Trae Waynes ended the Huskers' comeback bid with an interception in the final minute and gave Michigan State a 27-22 win at Spartan Stadium.

Michigan State's streak of 10 straight conference wins by double-digit margins fell, but the Spartans still haven't lost a league game since November 2012. Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah scored twice in the fourth quarter, and De'Mornay Pierson-El returned a punt for a touchdown to come one more big play from erasing a 27-3 deficit in 13 minutes.

In the first 47 minutes, a trademark, physical performance from Mark Dantonio's defense suffocated Abdullah and the Huskers. Nebraska entered the fourth quarter with only 24 rushing yards. Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook didn't put up the same kind of prolific numbers -- he finished 11-of-29 for 234 yards and a touchdown -- as he has in recent blowout wins, but he did just enough to render the late push from Nebraska inconsequential. In a season looking like a survive-and-advance march toward the College Football Playoff, Michigan State is still standing.

How the game was won: Michigan State’s defense did not fear Ameer. The Spartans held Nebraska and star running back Abdullah to 47 rushing yards, half of which came in the fourth quarter. The Huskers were too late in finding their stride on offense, while big plays from Tony Lippett (a 55-yard touchdown reception and 32-yard touchdown run) provided enough offense for Sparty.

Game ball goes to: Michigan State’s entire front seven deserves a nod for Saturday’s performance. Not only did that group lock down a Heisman candidate until the fourth quarter, but they also forced two momentum-swinging fumbles and shared five sacks. Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s stay in East Lansing was not a comfortable one.

What it means: Michigan State and Ohio State appear to be in a class of their own at the top of the Big Ten. The West Division is wide open. Current leader: Northwestern. The Huskers still have a good chance of a trip to Indianapolis, but that side of the conference is anybody’s at the moment.

Playoff implications: A win for the Spartans put them back in control of their own destiny. On a Saturday when four unbeaten teams fell, it’s clear one loss won’t be prohibitive for any conference champion this season. If the Spartans run the table and win a Big Ten title, they should expect an invite to the College Football Playoff.

Best play: With Nebraska inside the Michigan State 10 and trailing 14-0 in the second quarter, there was a strong likelihood Abdullah was going to get the ball. On second-and-6, Abdullah charged up the middle, but Ed Davis punched the ball out of Abdullah's hands. Shilique Calhoun recovered and returned it to near midfield, as Nebraska's offense failed to find the end zone in the first half.


What's next: Michigan State can add some style points against Purdue, Indiana and Michigan the next three weeks. The Spartans’ next big test comes after their bye, when they host Ohio State on Nov. 8. Nebraska takes a week off before heading to Evanston, Illinois, to face a suddenly dangerous Northwestern team.



Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12