Big Ten: Patrick Higgins

Best and worst of 2012: Purdue

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
10:00
AM ET
Our series examining the best and worst moments of 2012 for each Big Ten team rolls on with the Purdue Boilermakers ...

Best moment: Bucket bowling

Purdue's season veered off track at the start of Big Ten play, and coach Danny Hope's fate had been sealed long before the Bucket game against Indiana. But the Boilers didn't quit on their coach or on themselves, winning their final three games to secure bowl eligibility for the second consecutive season. Purdue needed to beat Iowa, Illinois and then rival Indiana to finish 6-6. Players and coaches both stepped up, whether it was quarterback Robert Marve playing despite another ACL tear in his knee or wide receivers coach Patrick Higgins taking over the play-calling duties after coordinator Gary Nord suffered a serious back injury. It led up to the Bucket game, which turned into an offensive showcase featuring 91 points and 1,070 yards combined. Marve fired four touchdown passes, and senior running back Akeem Shavers had a huge performance (126 rush yards, 99 receiving yards, 3 total touchdowns). Although 6-6 wasn't what Purdue had in mind entering the fall, the team at least ensured it would go bowling.

Worst moment: Goodbye, Columbus

The Heart of Dallas Bowl wasn't Purdue's finest moment -- not even close -- but the Boilers' worst moment came much earlier in the season. After back-to-back blowout home losses (Michigan, Wisconsin) to open Big Ten play, Purdue went to Columbus as a heavy underdog, primed for another severe beating. Instead, Purdue controlled the game for more than three quarters, gashing Ohio State with big plays on offense and special teams and also scoring on defense with a safety early in the fourth quarter. After Buckeyes star quarterback Braxton Miller left the game with a neck injury, Purdue looked ready to hand Ohio State its first loss under Urban Meyer and breath new life into its own season. Trailing by eight points, Ohio State needed to drive 61 yards with no timeouts and just 47 seconds left in regulation -- behind a backup quarterback in Kenny Guiton. But Purdue's defense couldn't get the stop as Ohio State scored with three seconds left, converted the 2-point try and went on to win in overtime. A win could have saved Hope's job and given Purdue a chance to truly turn around its season. Instead, the Boilers left Columbus wondering what might have been.

Previous best/worst:

Minnesota
Michigan
Nebraska
Northwestern
Penn State
Iowa
Indiana

Well, this is what most expected, no? Your ESPN Bowl Mania confidence points paid off big, I'm guessing. Purdue was the big underdog and Oklahoma State looked the part of big favorite. Let's take a look at some instant analysis for the Big 12's lone bowl game of the day.

It was over when: The bowl matchup was set? The Pokes were 17-point favorites, but I'd point to Daytawion Lowe's 37-yard fumble return on Purdue's opening possession of the second half. You never know what can happen in the second half, but that play, forced by Justin Gilbert, set the tone for the rest of the game, and made it clear Purdue would be making no comeback attempts on this day.

Game ball goes to: Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State. Stewart did a little bit of everything for the Pokes, highlighted by a 64-yard punt return to set up Oklahoma State's first touchdown. He caught five passes for 56 yards, rushed for 21 yards on his only carry of the game and even completed a 15-yard pass. Not a bad day's work for the sophomore.

Unsung hero of the game: Oklahoma State's defense. Forcing turnovers was a struggle all season for this unit, which forced just 17 takeaways after forcing 44 a year ago. Credit Purdue's less-than-stellar offense if you want (it was a factor), but the Pokes' defense put together a strong performance and made life easy for the offense, which will get maybe a little too much credit for the win. The defense forced five turnovers and scored a touchdown. The first turnover helped set up the game's second touchdown, too, and get OSU off on the right foot. Purdue didn't score until the game was well out of hand at 45-0.

Stat of the game: Oklahoma State won the turnover battle 5-0. That's all you need to know. OSU was by far the better team in this one, but Purdue played poorly and played sloppily, which is how you get beat by 44 in a game like this. Ugly from start to finish. For Oklahoma State, it was the first time all season it forced more than three turnovers. Conversely, the Pokes forced more than three turnovers in six of 13 games last season.

Second-guessing: Purdue's early strategy. The Boilermakers faked a punt deep in their own territory on their first drive, which would seem to signify they came to play. However, facing a fourth-and-4 at Oklahoma State's 17-yard line while trailing 14-0 in the first quarter, Boilermakers interim coach Patrick Higgins elected to kick a field goal. Sam McCartney missed the 34-yarder and OSU scored on the following drive to take a commanding 21-0 lead. Is Purdue playing to win or not? With Oklahoma State's high-octane offense, that's sending mixed messages.

What it means: Not a whole lot. Oklahoma State was better than its 7-5 record with a handful of blowout victories against good teams this season, like Texas Tech, West Virginia and Iowa State. The Pokes were within reach of a BCS bowl with just five quarters to play in the season, but landed in the Big 12's No. 8 bowl tie-in against an overmatched Boilermakers squad playing up in a bowl game because Ohio State and Penn State were both ineligible. Purdue barely managed six wins in a down Big Ten.

Pregame: Heart of Dallas Bowl

December, 30, 2012
12/30/12
11:00
AM ET
Oklahoma State (7-5, 5-4 Big 12) vs. Purdue (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten)

WHO TO WATCH: Oklahoma State receiver Josh Stewart may be the most underrated player in the Big 12. He caught 96 passes for 1,154 yards to notch his first 1,000-yard season as a sophomore, despite the Cowboys starting three different quarterbacks throughout the season because of injuries. The 5-foot-10, 178-pound Denton, Texas, native had a huge encore after a strong freshman season as Justin Blackmon's protege, and has at least 147 receiving yards in three of his past four games.

WHAT TO WATCH: To get the answer to two questions: Can Oklahoma State prove it wants to be in this game, and can Purdue overcome one of the biggest Vegas lines of the bowl season, at well over two touchdowns? With an 11-point lead in Bedlam, the 7-3 Cowboys had somewhat of a shot to crash the BCS. The Pokes blew that lead to rival Oklahoma and lost to Baylor a week later, tumbling all the way down to the Big 12's No. 8 bowl tie-in -- muddled at 7-5 with four other Big 12 teams. Meanwhile, Purdue had to win its final three games of the season just to reach a bowl, though all three wins came against non-bowl teams with a combined four Big Ten wins. Purdue's got the edge in the "Want To Be Here" rating, but the Pokes are the better team on paper. Can they prove it on the field?

WHY TO WATCH: Hey, you have to watch. It's the Big 12's only New Year's Day Game, even though the Big Ten has five bowl games the same day. You've always got to be careful with big underdogs in bowl games. They love to play fast and loose in the last game of the year with nothing to lose. Purdue might make this entertaining, and teams with interim coaches (Patrick Higgins steps in for the fired Danny Hope at Purdue) have done OK this bowl season. Ask Cincinnati, San Jose State and Utah State about that trend.

PREDICTION: Oklahoma State 37, Purdue 17. Upset potential aside, I'm going with the safe bet for the Pokes here, who will win this game with another solid game from Clint Chelf and open up a really interesting spring quarterback derby in Stillwater. Purdue's Robert Marve finished the season in style, despite playing on a torn ACL, but that ends against Oklahoma State, who finally gets an interception from one of the starting corners, Justin Gilbert or Brodrick Brown.

Bonus predictions from Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett!

Brian Bennett: There's a reason why the Boilers were the biggest underdog on the board in bowl season. They've got an interim coach in Patrick Higgins and have been exposed by some of the better offenses on their schedule, which is a frightening prospect against the high-flying Cowboys. I believe a healthier defensive line will give Purdue a chance in this one, and Oklahoma State is not going to be really pumped up to be in this game a year after playing in a BCS bowl. Robert Marve tosses a couple of scores and Akeem Shavers runs for 135 yards. But in the end, the Pokes -- led by 175 receiving yards from Josh Stewart -- have a little too much for Purdue in a wild one. ...Oklahoma State 31, Purdue 27

Adam Rittenberg: Again, the Big Ten team might be more motivated than the Big 12 squad, but can Purdue keep up on the scoreboard? I don't think so. Although cornerbacks Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen give the Boilers' a chance against the pass-happy Pokes, Purdue isn't consistent enough or dangerous enough on offense to pace Oklahoma State. I agree Marve has a nice performance in his final college game and Antavian Edison scores twice, but Purdue will be playing catch up after a rough first half and falls short. ... Oklahoma State 38, Purdue 28

Big Ten predictions: Bowl picks

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
10:00
AM ET
Big Ten bowl season officially arrives tomorrow night when Minnesota kicks off the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas against Texas Tech.

Heavens knows I need a new season to begin after a horrible showing in the regular season, when I finished a full five games behind Rittenberg. My pride suffered, and so did my bank account when I was forced to pick up his steak at St. Elmo's in Indy.

But bowl season offers a chance at redemption, not just for me but for the Big Ten as a whole after the league took some beatings in the fall. Here are our picks for the seven bowl games involving conference teams:

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

MINNESOTA vs. TEXAS TECH (Dec. 28)

Brian Bennett: The Red Raiders have an interim coach, and Minnesota has had a month to heal the many injuries that ravaged its offense late in the season, both of which are positives for the Gophers. I think Matt Limegrover will find some creative ways to use MarQueis Gray. Still, Minnesota lacks the weapons to go up and down the field against a high-scoring Big 12 team. Michael Carter and the Gophers secondary will make some plays but not enough to stop Texas Tech, which pulls away after a close first two-and-half quarters. ... Texas Tech 31, Minnesota 17.

Adam Rittenberg: The Gophers' defense is much improved in Year 2 under Tracy Claeys, but you need a decent amount of offensive firepower to keep pace with Texas Tech. Like you, my concern is the lack of playmakers surrounding Philip Nelson and Gray. Both men will see time at quarterback and help the Gophers take a first-half lead, but a Minnesota turnover changes the game and Texas Tech strikes for two fourth-quarter passing touchdowns to win. ... Texas Tech 34, Minnesota 21

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

TCU vs. MICHIGAN STATE

Adam Rittenberg: This figures to be a close, low-scoring game that likely comes down to how much progress Michigan State's offense has made in the past month or so. TCU is loaded with young talent and could contend for the Big 12 title next year, but I saw the Frogs' regular-season finale against Oklahoma and wasn't overly impressed. A heavy dose of Le'Veon Bell combined with a fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Andrew Maxwell to Dion Sims gives Michigan State just enough, as the Spartans' defense rises to the occasion once more. ... Michigan State 21, TCU 17


Brian Bennett: I've been wrong about Michigan State most of the year, so what's one more? The extra 15 practices must have helped the Spartans' sluggish passing game at least a little bit, and TCU will have to adapt to a more physical style of play than it saw in the Big 12. Johnny Adams' turf toe injury worries me, but I like Bell to rush for 150 yards in probably his final college game, while Maxwell provides optimism for 2013 with 200 yards passing. Max Bullough makes a defensive stop at the end of the game to seal it. ... Michigan State 20, TCU 16


Heart of Dallas Bowl

PURDUE vs. OKLAHOMA STATE (Jan. 1)

Brian Bennett: There's a reason why the Boilers were the biggest underdog on the board in bowl season. They've got an interim coach in Patrick Higgins and have been exposed by some of the better offenses on their schedule, which is a frightening prospect against the high-flying Cowboys. I believe a healthier defensive line will give Purdue a chance in this one, and Oklahoma State is not going to be really pumped up to be in this game a year after playing in a BCS bowl. Robert Marve tosses a couple of scores and Akeem Shavers runs for 135 yards. But in the end, the Pokes -- led by 175 receiving yards from Josh Stewart -- have a little too much for Purdue in a wild one. ... Oklahoma State 31, Purdue 27


Adam Rittenberg: Again, the Big Ten team might be more motivated than the Big 12 squad, but can Purdue keep up on the scoreboard? I don't think so. Although cornerbacks Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen give the Boilers' a chance against the pass-happy Pokes, Purdue isn't consistent enough or dangerous enough on offense to pace Oklahoma State. I agree Marve has a nice performance in his final college game and Antavian Edison scores twice, but Purdue will be playing catch up after a rough first half and falls short. ... Oklahoma State 38, Purdue 28


TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl

MISSISSIPPI STATE vs. No. 20 NORTHWESTERN (Jan. 1)

Adam Rittenberg: Is this the year Northwestern ends the bowl losing streak? I think it is for several reasons. Northwestern has its most complete team under coach Pat Fitzgerald. The Wildcats can run the ball effectively and perform well for the most part on special teams. Plus, they ended the season playing better than Mississippi State. Northwestern never makes it easy and will have some tense moments in this one, but Venric Mark and Kain Colter will find room, combining for 175 rush yards and two scores. Backup quarterback Trevor Siemian comes in to throw a third-quarter touchdown and linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo seals the win with an interception. ... Northwestern 27, Mississippi State 24


Brian Bennett: No more monkeying around. Northwestern finally has a more manageable bowl matchup, though it's certainly still not an easy assignment. The month off should help refresh the legs of Colter and Mark, who work their option magic against a mediocre Mississippi State run defense. Mark scores twice on the ground and also returns a punt for a touchdown. The Bulldogs' Tyler Russell shreds the Northwestern defense for 300 passing yards, but Jeff Budzien hits a game-winning field goal with no time left. Fitzgerald and his players party like it's 1949. ... Northwestern 28, Mississippi State 27


Outback Bowl

No. 10 SOUTH CAROLINA vs. No. 18 MICHIGAN (Jan. 1)

Brian Bennett: I like this matchup a lot and think Michigan can get some things done on offense with a month to prep the Devin Gardner/Denard Robinson combo. But South Carolina's fearsome defense has shut down better attacks in wins against Clemson and Georgia this season and will soon enough figure out Al Borges' bag of tricks. Michigan jumps ahead early on a long Robinson run and a Gardner touchdown pass. Jadeveon Clowney & Co. lock things down in the second half, and Connor Shaw runs for a pair of scores for the Gamecocks. ... South Carolina 24, Michigan 17


Adam Rittenberg: It'll be a lot of fun to watch Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan match up against Clowney. Two potential first-round draft picks going at it. I agree Borges will get really creative in this one, but Michigan's offensive line won't be able to stop the Gamecocks for four quarters. The Wolverines make a nice rally in the third quarter as Gardner finds Robinson on a touchdown strike, but South Carolina controls the ball and the clock in the fourth. ... South Carolina 21, Michigan 16


Capital One Bowl

No. 7 GEORGIA vs. No. 16 NEBRASKA (Jan. 1)

Adam Rittenberg: It's hard to have much faith in Nebraska after what we witnessed in Indianapolis. Great teams don't let down on defense like the Huskers did. Great teams don't play such a chaotic brand of football with so many turnovers. Maybe the Huskers face a napping Bulldogs team, jump ahead behind their dynamic offense and hold on for the win. But I don't see it. Georgia will be sluggish early, but I get the sense Aaron Murray wants to make a statement after the way the SEC championship game ended. Murray and the Bulldogs light up the Huskers in the second half, while Taylor Martinez commits two costly turnovers. ... Georgia 38, Nebraska 23

Brian Bennett: Does either team want to be here? Can either defense stop the other? Those are the main questions leading into this game. I'm not too worried about the disappointment angle but am concerned about Nebraska's ability to slow down Murray, Todd Gurley and a well-balanced Bulldogs offense. The Huskers and Taylor Martinez absolutely must hang onto the football in this one, but I see Jarvis Jones forcing a couple of costly turnovers. Nebraska will do a good job against the pass but will give up too much in the running game, as Gurley goes for 150 and a pair of scores. Martinez compiles 300 total yards but is pressured more often than he's used to and forces a couple of bad throws. Georgia owns the fourth quarter. ... Georgia 35, Nebraska 24.


Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO

WISCONSIN vs. No. 6 STANFORD (Jan. 1)

Brian Bennett: These two teams share a lot of similar traits, as Stanford is the most Big Ten-like Pac-12 team imaginable. The line of scrimmage will be for grown men only. I'd like Wisconsin's chances a lot better if the team didn't have to deal with the distraction of the coaching turmoil. No matter what the Badgers say, that had to hurt their preparation at least a little bit. Plus, the Cardinal seem a little better equipped to throw the ball if the rushing game gets stuffed, while Wisconsin is a little more one-dimensional and will face one of the best run defenses in America. Never count out Barry Alvarez in Pasadena, but I think Montee Ball will have to work a little too hard for his yards in this one. Stanford beats the Badgers at their own game, running the clock out late with a physical rushing attack as Wisconsin goes 0-for-Pasathreena. ... Stanford 24, Wisconsin 21.


Adam Rittenberg: We can't agree on every pick, can we? Nah. Barry's back and I'm a believer. Stanford's defense is as good as advertised, but the Badgers' offense is confident after the Big Ten title game and once again will empty the playbook. The Badgers score early on some razzle-dazzle, and receive a strong performance from Ball (150 rush yards, 2 TDs) in his final collegiate game. Stanford's pressure forces a turnover in the third quarter that changes momentum, but Wisconsin's underrated defense will be the difference, as Chris Borland forces a Stepfan Taylor fumble in crunch time. Alvarez improves to 4-0 in the Rose. ... Wisconsin 24, Stanford 23


Season records

Adam Rittenberg: 76-21 (.784)
Brian Bennett: 71-26 (.732)

Purdue embraces underdog role

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
9:00
AM ET
If any team can play the "nobody-believed-in-us" card this bowl season, it's Purdue.

The Boilermakers are the biggest underdog in the 35 bowls, according to the oddsmakers, in their matchup against Oklahoma State in the Jan. 1 Heart of Dallas Bowl. It's the kind of thing players say they don't pay attention to, except that they do.

"I don't really look at that stuff," senior defensive tackle Kawann Short told ESPN.com. "But a lot of people around here have told me that the spread is highest in the bowls. So it's on us to go out there and make a statement. We feel like we can play with any team in the nation right now."

People are understandably low on the Boilermakers, who had to win their final three games just to finish 6-6. Even that wasn't enough to save the job of head coach Danny Hope, who was fired one day after the regular-season finale. Receivers coach Patrick Higgins is coaching the bowl game before turning the program over to Darrell Hazell.

Purdue also got blasted in some big games this year, losing 44-13 to Michigan, 38-14 to Wisconsin, 44-28 to Minnesota and 34-9 to Penn State. No wonder, then, that Oklahoma State is a big favorite with an offense that averages 44.7 points per game.

[+] EnlargeKawann Short
AP Photo/Michael ConroyKawann Short's versatility could make him too attractive for NFL teams to pass up in the draft's first round.
But there are a couple of reasons to maybe believe in the Boilers. They only lost by a field goal on the road to Notre Dame, now the nation's No. 1 team, in September. And they had undefeated Ohio State on the ropes in Columbus before the Buckeyes made a miracle comeback in the final minute and won in overtime. So this team has some experience rising to the occasion.

And Purdue has something going for it now that was absent during its five-game losing streak in the middle of the season: health on the defensive line. That unit was expected to be one of the best in the Big Ten but didn't play like it when several key members of the group were banged up in midseason.

"Kawann and Bruce Gaston are two of the best defensive tackles in the Big Ten; I'd still argue that," said defensive end Ryan Russell, who was a member of the walking wounded. "As a whole, the D-line prided ourselves on having lot of depth this year, and when those injuries happened, there wasn't as much depth. So I'm glad we finally got an opportunity to rest, heal up and show what we're really about."

Short, an all-Big Ten performer and potential first-round pick next April, dealt with a high ankle sprain in the middle of the year. By the Minnesota game, he said, he was "not even 80 percent." He battled through it though and said quarterback Robert Marve -- who played on a torn anterior cruciate ligament without undergoing surgery -- jokingly gave him a hard time whenever Short tried to complain about his ankle.

Short regained his effectiveness toward the end of the season, and with a month off to heal expects to be fully healthy for the bowl game. He was dominant against Notre Dame and is a difference-making force inside when right.

"I'm very excited that a lot of people are back and healthy," Short said. "We're going out there with a chip on our shoulder. Things didn't go our way this season, but right now I feel like we can bring a lot of stuff to the table."

Purdue's best chance of slowing down the Cowboys' spread offense -- which gained nearly 550 yards per game this season, fifth-best in the country -- is probably to disrupt its timing right at the line of scrimmage.

"You have to get lined up and know your assignments quick and fast," Russell said. "They definitely have a lot of weapons. It's about matching their pace and enforcing your will, instead of going with the flow and letting them do what they love to do."

And while Oklahoma State has a prolific offense, the Cowboys went just 7-5 and lost their last two games of the regular season. Purdue players don't quite see why they're being painted as giant underdogs to an opponent whose best victories came against Texas Tech and Iowa State.

"People are not respecting us very much," offensive lineman Trevor Foy said. "I'm looking forward to taking advantage of that, because I know they're going to look over us and we're going to come after them."

And if the Boilermakers do pull off the upset, they can correctly make the "nobody-believed-in-us" claim.
Our snapshots of each bowl game featuring a Big Ten team continues.

HEART OF DALLAS BOWL

Purdue (6-6) vs. Oklahoma State (7-5)

Where: Cotton Bowl, Dallas

When: Noon ET, 11 a.m. CT

TV: ESPNU

About Purdue: The Boilers returned more starters (18) than any other Big Ten team, and fourth-year coach Danny Hope told anyone who listened that he'd have his best squad in West Lafayette. Purdue looked decent through the first four games, but things felt apart once Big Ten play kicked off. Blowout home losses against Michigan (44-13) and Wisconsin (38-13) led to a five-game losing streak to begin Big Ten play. Purdue lost an overtime heartbreaker to Ohio State in a game it controlled most of the way. To the Boilers' credit, they didn't quit and won their final three games to become bowl eligible. Hard-luck quarterback Robert Marve played despite a torn ACL and revived the offense down the stretch. A 6-6 record wasn't enough to save Hope, however, and Purdue dismissed the coach on Nov. 25. Wide receivers coach Patrick Higgins will led Purdue in the bowl game.

About Oklahoma State: It's a surprise to see Oklahoma State in this game as the Pokes figured to end up a little higher on the Big 12's bowl pecking order. Still, Mike Gundy's team dropped its final two games and three of its final five to finish 7-5. Despite losing quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon from the 2011 team, Oklahoma State displayed its typical offensive prowess, finishing fourth nationally in scoring (44.7 ppg), fifth in total offense (548.9 ypg) and seventh in passing (333.4 ypg). The Cowboys scored fewer than 30 points in just one game and eclipsed 50 points four times. Quarterback J.W. Walsh and receiver Josh Stewart spark the passing game, but Oklahoma State also can run the ball with Joseph Randle. The Cowboys struggle against the pass (112th nationally) and generated only 17 takeaways this season.

Key players, Purdue: Marve has been fairly effective even with the ACL injury, firing 13 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. He has several weapons to attack Oklahoma State's secondary in veteran receivers Antavian Edison, O.J. Ross and Gary Bush. Akeem Shavers is the Boilers' featured back, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Purdue's best player is senior defensive tackle Kawann Short, a potential first-round draft pick who recorded 14.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and four blocked kicks this season. The Boilers also boast playmakers at cornerback in Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen.

Key players, Oklahoma State: The Pokes have no shortage of playmakers on offense, and it all starts with Walsh, who ranks fifth nationally in pass efficiency (165.7 rating). Stewart ranks seventh nationally in receptions (8 rpg) and 17th in receiving yards average (96.2 ypg). Randle led the Big 12 in rush yards (1,351) and ranks 18th nationally in rushing average (112.6 ypg). Senior linebacker Alex Elkins leads the team in tackles. Oklahoma State boasts an All-America kicker/punter in Quinn Sharp.

Did you know: The teams have met just once before in the 1997 Alamo Bowl, a 33-20 Purdue victory under first-year coach Joe Tiller. Purdue quarterback Billy Dicken passed for 325 yards as Purdue overcame a 13-10 deficit by scoring three touchdowns in the third quarter to secure the win. ... Purdue will play in back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 2006 and 2007. ... Oklahoma State appears in a record seventh consecutive bowl game under Gundy, who has a 4-2 record in the postseason.

Big Ten lunch links

December, 18, 2012
12/18/12
12:00
PM ET
This is gonna be a long jinx. Like Yom Kippur-services long. The only difference is Yom Kippur's a fast and this one's gonna be a slow.

Best case/worst case: Big Ten bowls

December, 13, 2012
12/13/12
9:00
AM ET
If you recall, we presented our best-case/worst-case scenario for each Big Ten team's 2012 campaign during the preseason.

We'll leave it to you to decide which teams came closest to the best- or worst-case outlook this season. We're turning our attention to bowl season and offering a best-case/worst-case scenario for each league team in the postseason.

True, the best case for any team includes a bowl victory, while the worst case includes a loss. But there are different ways to win and lose, some better -- or worse -- than others.

So here's the potential zenith and nadir for each Big Ten bowl team:

Minnesota

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas vs. Texas Tech, Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best Case: The month off works wonders for the Gophers' injury-plagued offense, as true freshman quarterback Philip Nelson gets fans daydreaming about the future by throwing for 350 yards and three touchdowns, two of them to newlywed MarQueis Gray. Minnesota's highly rated pass defense shines against a Texas Tech team thrown into turmoil by coaching changes, and Jerry Kill leads one of the big upsets of bowl season.

Worst Case: Playing a high-scoring Big 12 opponent in Texas is not a good matchup for a Minnesota team that struggled to put up points late in the season. Tommy Tuberville may be gone, but the Red Raiders have a system that works and it's much too powerful for the Gophers in a three-touchdown rout.

Purdue

Heart of Dallas Bowl vs. Oklahoma State, Jan. 1, Noon, ESPNU

Best Case: The Boilers have some positive mojo after winning their final three games. With nothing to lose, they turn in a big bowl performance. Interim coach Patrick Higgins empties the playbook, making Oklahoma State attack look old-fashioned by comparison. Kawann Short and the rest of Purdue's healthy defensive line dominate the line of scrimmage and push around the Cowboys, which are disappointed to be here a year after going to a BCS game.

Worst Case: There's a reason Purdue fired Danny Hope, which included the team's inability to win big games this season. Oklahoma State manhandles the Boilers much as Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State did in Big Ten play. Mike Gundy yells, "I'm a man. I win by 40," and his team follows suit.

Michigan State

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl vs. TCU, Dec. 29, 10:15 p.m., ESPN

Best Case: Being away from home does wonders for the Spartans, as does an extra month of practice for Andrew Maxwell and the team's young receivers. Michigan State comes out looking like a new team in the desert, flinging the ball around with ease while Le'Veon Bell runs for 175 yards. The defense locks down TCU, and after the big victory, Bell, tight end Dion Sims and the other draft-eligible underclassmen all say they're coming back in 2013.

Worst Case: Michigan State fans suffer through yet another abysmal offensive showing by their team, as the Spartans struggle to generate anything in the passing game and continually punt. The defense is unable to close the game out in a repeat of many of this season's losses. The Spartans lose a low-scoring game on the final play of regulation. Worse, the stadium runs out of wings in the first quarter.

Northwestern

TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl vs. Mississippi State, Jan. 1, Noon, ESPN2

Best Case: Shock the monkey. Northwestern finally gets a favorable postseason matchup and knocks off the Bulldogs for its first bowl win since 1949. Venric Mark and Kain Colter, healed from bumps and bruises, lead a powerful rushing attack that wears down the SEC defense. Cornerback Nick VanHoose records two interceptions as the Wildcats finish 10-3 and set themselves up as a top-20 team for 2013.

Worst Case: More monkey business. Mississippi State's SEC athletes are too much for Northwestern and overwhelm the smallish duo of Mark and Colter. The Wildcats' suspect passing game becomes a liability, and their secondary is exposed time and again. The Bulldogs win the game on a last-second long touchdown pass, giving Pat Fitzgerald's team another heartbreak.

Michigan

Outback Bowl vs. South Carolina, Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ESPN

Best Case: The Devin and Denard Show takes over Tampa, Fla., as a month of practice allows Michigan the time to figure out how to best use the talents of Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson. With both guys running and throwing out of the backfield, South Carolina's defense is hopelessly lost, especially after Taylor Lewan holds Jadeveon Clowney in check. The Wolverines began the year with a blowout loss to the SEC (Alabama). They end it with a blowout win against the SEC.

Worst Case: Clowney's 2013 Heisman Trophy bid begins in earnest here. He wrecks Lewan's draft status and blows up every cute Al Borges play call, as the Gamecocks -- much like Ohio State in the second half -- figure out pretty easily what Michigan is doing with Robinson and Gardner. The season ends much as it was characterized throughout: with a disappointing loss in a big game.

Nebraska

Capital One Bowl vs. Georgia, Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ABC

Best Case: Just as it did in the regular season, Nebraska shows its resiliency by bouncing back from a bad performance in the Big Ten title game. The defense buckles up against a Georgia team disappointed not to be in the national title game, while Taylor Martinez holds onto the ball and befuddles the Dawgs defense. Rex Burkhead rushes for three touchdowns in his final college game as the Huskers finish a highly respectable 11-3 and in the top 15.

Worst Case: The Bulldogs study that Big Ten title game film closely and unleash their own hell on the Blackshirts. Aaron Murray & Co. pile up another 70 points on a Nebraska team not wanting to be in Orlando, Fla., for the second straight year. Martinez turns it over three times, and the game isn't close. The grumbling about Bo Pelini builds into an offseason roar, making 2013 a critical year for the Cornhuskers.

Wisconsin

Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio vs. Stanford, Jan. 1, 5 p.m., ESPN

Best Case: Barry's back, and all he does is win Rose Bowls. Inspired by their coaching legend's return, the Badgers build off their monstrous Big Ten title game performance and break their two-year losing streak in Pasadena, Calif. Montee Ball caps a spectacular career with 200 yards rushing and three touchdowns, while the underrated Wisconsin defense holds down Stanford. Alvarez is so energized by the victory that he names himself permanent coach.

Worst Case: Barry's back, but the game has changed. The turmoil of Bret Bielema's departure and assistants' uncertain futures creates too many distractions. Stanford's terrific run defense takes care of the rest, shutting down Ball and the running game and making the Badgers reluctantly turn to a shaky passing attack. The Cardinal are simply too physical for Wisconsin, and "Pasathreena" becomes a third-straight loss for Wisconsin, which faces an uncertain future after an 8-6 season.

Purdue deals with transition game

December, 12, 2012
12/12/12
3:30
PM ET
Purdue interim coach Patrick Higgins has given his players some unusual assignments before they start their bowl practices.

Higgins has asked every member of the team to answer a few questions such as: What is the most important thing in your life? What things do you want to do before you die? What do you want on your tombstone? What's your favorite animal? Players had to answer in front of the whole team, as well as make some drawings.

"At first it seemed kind of kiddie," offensive lineman Trevor Foy told ESPN.com. "But when everyone is going up there, all the players and even the coaches, it's really cool."

[+] EnlargeTrevor Foy
AP Photo/David DurochikTrevor Foy (78) and the Boilermakers will play for Patrick Higgins before new head coach Darrell Hazell takes over.
This may seem like an odd time of year for such get-to-know-you tactics. But it might be just what the Boilermakers need after a tumultuous few weeks.

Head coach Danny Hope was fired on Nov. 25, one day after Purdue finished a 6-6 regular season. Higgins was named the interim coach for the team's Heart of Dallas Bowl game matchup against Oklahoma State. Higgins had been the Boilers' wide receivers coach, but he took over play-calling duties for the final three games when offensive coordinator Gary Nord was sidelined by a back injury. The school tabbed Darrell Hazell as its next head coach last week, but because Hazell will coach Kent State in its bowl game, he has only briefly met with his future players.

With all of that transition, a little team bonding seems like a good idea.

"Everyone handle stress differently, so it's great to come together on common ground and get to know each other a little better," defensive end Ryan Russell told ESPN.com. "We can't control what happened to the coaches, but this is about us and about the seniors. So it's great to put the focus back on the players a little bit when the media and everybody else has been taking it out of our hands."

Purdue has already shown the ability to rally together and block out the turmoil. The Boilers were 3-6 after losing to Penn State 34-9 at home on Nov. 3, their fifth straight loss. Rumors of Hope's firing were swirling, and except for a crushing overtime defeat at Ohio State, every loss had come by at least 16 points.

This hardly looked like a bowl team at that time. Yet it won its final three games, at Iowa, at Illinois and in the finale at home against rival Indiana, to clinch a postseason bid for the second straight year.

"It was all about us, the coaches and the players," Foy said. "You can't listen to the media and fans. We had to tune all that out and realize we're here for each other. That was basically the attitude we took, from the [Penn State] game on."

Russell said the players were hopeful that winning those final three games would save Hope's job. Those who had been recruited by Hope, like Russell and Foy, were hurt when it did not.

Now they'll gear up to play for Higgins, who hadn't interacted closely with many members of the team as receivers coach. But he earned respect by serving as offensive coordinator for those final three victories.

"That really made it easy for guys to accept him," Foy said. "Coach Higgins is real positive guy. He does a good job of keeping everybody together and focused."

In a few weeks, Hazell will take over the program. He introduced himself to the players before last week's introductory news conference but has been splitting his time between coaching Kent State and recruiting for Purdue. Russell said he researched what Hazell did at Kent State and watched that news conference and came away impressed.

"He's saying all the right things and you can definitely see the determination in his eyes," Russell said. "I'm ready to start a new era, and I'm going to help battle with him. With no head coach, you kind of feel like you failed. So to have someone step in and believe in you and say he wants to be captain of the ship, that's definitely a great feeling."

Having three head coaches and two offensive coordinators in a short amount of time has taken Purdue on an emotional ride. Maybe coming together and getting to know each other a little better can make that journey more enjoyable.

Ranking the Big Ten's bowl games

December, 12, 2012
12/12/12
1:00
PM ET
The Big Ten bowl season kicks off Dec. 28 in Texas, continues the following day in Arizona and wraps up with five games on New Year's Day. Seven Big Ten teams appear in the postseason, and the number would have been larger had Ohio State and Penn State been eligible. Although most would describe the Big Ten's bowl lineup as more daunting than exciting, it's always fun to rank the games based on intrigue. Which games will be the most entertaining, and which will put you to sleep?

Here's my take:

1. Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Stanford (Jan. 1, ESPN, 5 p.m. ET, Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, Calif.) -- The first Rose Bowl featuring a 5-loss team doesn't sound too appetizing, but Wisconsin finished the season with a 70-point performance in the Big Ten title game and has a lot of stylistic similarities to Stanford. But who are we kidding. The real reason to watch is Barry Alvarez, the former Wisconsin coach who won three Rose Bowls and has taken over the head-coaching duties for the game following the sudden departure of Bret Bielema. Barry's back, and he's going for a 4-0 mark in Pasadena.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesDenard Robinson will play his final college game in the Outback Bowl.
2. Outback Bowl, No. 18 Michigan vs. No. 10 South Carolina (Jan. 1, ESPN, 1 p.m. ET, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa) -- Record-setting Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson plays his final game in Maize and Blue, and likely will spend most of it at running back as the Wolverines face a fearsome South Carolina defense led by star end Jadeveon Clowney. Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan matches up against Clowney in a battle of likely future first-round picks. Michigan has plenty of "good" losses on its résumé, but this is the last chance for the Wolverines to record a signature win.

3. TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, No. 20 Northwestern vs. Mississippi State (Jan. 1, ESPN2, noon ET, EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.) -- Everyone knows about Northwestern's bowl drought -- the team hasn't won a bowl since the 1949 Rose -- but bad matchups certainly have played a role. Northwestern finally gets a more evenly matched opponent in Mississippi State, which started strong but faded late. The Wildcats return almost all of their key players in 2013, including star running back/returner Venric Mark and quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, so this game could be a springboard for bigger things ahead if Northwestern comes out on top. Cowbell, anyone?

4. Capital One Bowl, No. 16 Nebraska vs. No. 7 Georgia (Jan. 1, ABC, 1 p.m. ET, Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando) -- This game usually ranks higher on the intrigue-o-meter, but it's tough to get too excited about a matchup featuring two teams that would much rather be elsewhere. Nebraska comes off of its worst performance in years, a complete clunker at the Big Ten title game. Georgia performed much better at the SEC championship, but once again couldn't get over the hump. There are some exciting individual players like Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead, and Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and linebacker Jarvis Jones. Nebraska needs to significantly upgrade its performance to have a chance against the Dawgs.

5. Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Michigan State vs. TCU (Dec. 29, ESPN, 10:15 p.m. ET, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.) -- If your entertainment gauge is based entirely on number of points scored, this probably isn't the game for you. But if you enjoy fast, physical defenses, be sure and tune in as the Spartans and Horned Frogs square off. Michigan State ranks fourth nationally in total defense, and TCU ranks 18th. It's likely the last chance to catch Spartans star running back Le'Veon Bell in Green and White, and Michigan State could shake some things up on offense with some extra time to prepare.

6. Heart of Dallas Bowl, Purdue vs. Oklahoma State (Jan. 1, ESPNU, noon ET, Cotton Bowl Stadium, Dallas) -- It's a coin flip for the last spot in the Big Ten bowl rankings, but at least this contest should feature some points. Oklahoma State ranks fourth nationally in scoring and fifth in total offense. While Purdue's offense had its ups and downs, the Boilers finished on a good note behind quarterback Robert Marve and play-caller Patrick Higgins, averaging 482 yards in the final three games. Oklahoma State is a heavy favorite, but Purdue, playing with an interim coach (Higgins) and a large senior class, has nothing to lose and should have some surprises.

7. Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, Minnesota vs. Texas Tech (Dec. 28, ESPN, 9 p.m. ET, Reliant Stadium, Houston) -- Again, there's not much separating this game from the one above it, but Texas Tech has an interim head coach after Tommy Tuberville's surprising exit, and Minnesota really struggled offensively late in the season as injuries piled up. It will be interesting to see how cornerback Michael Carter and Minnesota's improved secondary handles a Texas Tech offense ranked second nationally in passing. But unless Minnesota's offense makes major strides in bowl practices, it's tough to see this one being close.

Big Ten's best assistants in 2012

December, 12, 2012
12/12/12
9:00
AM ET
Head coaches are like quarterbacks. They get too much credit and too much blame.

Assistant coaches are like nose tackles. They don't get nearly enough credit despite playing vital roles.

Today, we'll change it up and give some recognition to Big Ten assistant coaches who did exemplary jobs with their position groups or, in some cases, units in 2012. Each of these coaches fostered improvement this season. Some took units in bad shape and made them better. Others took units in decent shape and made them very good. Some entered the season with skeptics and quieted them.

We came up with 13 assistants who deserve recognition. Yes, we realize we're leaving out some quality folks, but we had to cap it somewhere and wanted to spread the love around to the different teams.

Here's the rundown in alphabetical order:

Chris Ash, Wisconsin, defensive coordinator/secondary: All the attention on the offense's turbulent season took the spotlight away from the good things happening on the defensive side. Wisconsin finished in the top 25 nationally in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and pass efficiency defense. The Badgers held nine opponents to 21 points or fewer and gave an inconsistent offense chances to win every time out. Ash will be missed as he joins ex-Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema at Arkansas.

[+] EnlargeTim Beck, Bo Pelini
AP Photo/Nati Harnik, FileTim Beck, right, coordinated Nebraska's Big Ten-leading offense for head coach Bo Pelini.
Tim Beck, Nebraska, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks: The second-year play caller oversaw the Big Ten's top offense, which averaged 462.2 yards per game (24th nationally) and 35.1 points per game (28th nationally). Junior quarterback Taylor Martinez made significant strides under Beck's watch, and Nebraska survived the loss of star running back Rex Burkhead for most of the season thanks to contributions from Ameer Abdullah and others.

Tracy Claeys, Minnesota, defensive coordinator: An improved defense sparked Minnesota to a 4-0 start and eventually to bowl eligibility for the first time since the 2009 season. The Gophers pass rush showed life for the first time in years as senior end D.L. Wilhite and others put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Minnesota was especially good against the pass, ranking 11th nationally and 20th in pass defense efficiency. Although the offense remains a work in progress, Minnesota should be pleased with the direction on defense under Claeys.

Adam Cushing, Northwestern, offensive line: Cushing's recruiting ability always has stood out, but his coaching skills had been questioned as Northwestern struggled to convert promising line prospects into powerful blockers. The Wildcats went from a finesse offense to a power offense this season, blasting off of the line to the tune of 230.9 rush yards per game. Red zone offense went from a weakness to a strength as Northwestern tied for 17th nationally. Cushing's line paved the way for star running back Venric Mark.

Rich Fisher, Nebraska, wide receivers: Nebraska isn't known for its wide receiver play, but things are changing under Fisher's watch. Led by standout sophomore Kenny Bell, the Huskers' top three receivers combined for 1,657 yards and 11 touchdowns on 115 receptions. Just as important, the receiving corps helped Nebraska's bread-and-butter run game with effective blocking throughout the season. Fisher's hiring after the 2010 season raised some eyebrows, as he had taken a break from college coaching, returned to the high school ranks and also served as a golf instructor in Massachusetts. But he definitely looks like a great addition to Bo Pelini's staff.

Patrick Higgins, Purdue, wide receivers: Higgins played a significant role in Purdue's late-season surge, as he took over the offensive play-calling duties after coordinator Gary Nord suffered a severe back injury. Purdue won its final three games with Higgins and head coach Danny Hope handling the play calls. Higgins also did a nice job with Purdue's wide receiving corps, despite the fluctuating quarterback situation. Three veteran Boilers receivers eclipsed 40 catches and 300 receiving yards, and redshirt freshman Dolapo Macarthy showed promise.

Seth Littrell, Indiana, offensive coordinator/tight ends/fullbacks: Head coach Kevin Wilson brought in Littrell to boost Indiana's passing attack, and Littrell delivered despite losing starting quarterback Tre Roberson in Week 2. Indiana went from 80th nationally in pass offense to 19th, leading the Big Ten with 311.2 yards per game. With help from assistant offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kevin Johns, Littrell managed the quarterback situation pretty well as both Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld had success. Littrell will go largely unnoticed because of Indiana's low profile and 4-8 record, but he was one of the Big Ten's best coaching additions for 2012.

Curt Mallory, Michigan, secondary: Michigan's defensive line dominates the spotlight because that's where coordinator Greg Mattison and head coach Brady Hoke put their primary focus, but Mallory has done a really nice job with a secondary that struggled mightily under the previous regime. Despite losing promising cornerback Blake Countess to a torn ACL in the season opener, Michigan still finished second nationally (behind Nebraska) in pass defense (155.2 ypg allowed). Safety Jordan Kovacs has blossomed under Mallory's watch, and while the depth in the secondary isn't where it will be eventually, Mallory has managed things well.

[+] EnlargeBart MIller
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsBart Miller went from grad assistant to coach of a Wisconsin O-line that pummeled its way to Pasadena.
Bart Miller, Wisconsin, offensive line: Miller began the season as a graduate assistant and moved into one of the team's top assistant roles in Week 3 after the surprising dismissal of veteran line coach Mike Markuson. Although Wisconsin's line didn't have its typical dominant performances every time out, Miller fostered obvious improvement and cohesion during the course of the season. The finished product showed up in the Big Ten championship game against Nebraska, as Wisconsin bullied the Huskers to the tune of 70 points, 539 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns.

Reese Morgan, Iowa, defensive line: Iowa didn't have much to cheer about in 2012, and some of the staff changes Kirk Ferentz made led to some growing pains. Morgan faced a significant challenge in moving from offensive line to defensive line, which returned only a handful of players who had logged field time in 2011. Given the youth and inexperience along the Hawkeyes' defensive front, Morgan did a nice job in Year 1. Joe Gaglione had a nice senior season (9 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles) and young players like Louis Trinca-Pasat showed promise. The line held its own in the first half of the season before struggling late.

Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State, defensive coordinator: Many of these assistants took questionable units and improved them. Narduzzi led an elite defense that entered the season with high expectations and met them. Make no mistake: Michigan State's defense is the only reason the team found itself in every game this season. The Spartans had a few standouts, namely linebacker Max Bullough, but their overall team defense and stinginess stood out. Narduzzi is one of the nation's premier coordinators and should land a head-coaching job in the near future.

John Strollo, Penn State, tight ends: Although O'Brien's offense is a tight end's dream, Strollo did a terrific job of developing young and unproven players this season. Redshirt freshman Kyle Carter emerged into one of the Nittany Lions' top passing threats, and junior Matt Lehman and true freshman Jesse James also stepped up at times. Of Penn State's top five receiving-yards leaders this season, three players are tight ends (Carter, Lehman and James).

Ed Warinner, Ohio State, offensive line/co-offensive coordinator: Warinner took an underachieving Buckeyes offensive line with serious depth questions and turned it into quite possibly the best line in the league. The Buckeyes' front five turned a corner in Big Ten play and created lanes for Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde and the Big Ten's top scoring offense. Warinner was the Big Ten's best assistant hire of the last offseason and earns our vote as the league's top assistant in 2012.
Purdue has accepted an invitation to the Heart of Dallas Bowl and will face a Big 12 opponent.

The Boilers will take the field Jan. 1 in the Cotton Bowl (noon ET, ESPNU). Their opponent is expected to be announced after the BCS selections tonight.

Assistant Patrick Higgins will serve as Purdue's interim coach for the bowl game after the school fired Danny Hope on Nov. 25. The Boilers won the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl last year and head to back-to-back bowls for the first time since 2006-07. Purdue won its final three games to finish 6-6 and qualify for the postseason.

Big Ten teams are 0-2 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl (formerly TicketCity).

Purdue AD wants offensive-minded coach

November, 25, 2012
11/25/12
9:35
PM ET
Anyone interested in applying to become the next Purdue football head coach had better have one thing on his résumé: a proven record of knowing how to score points.

In his news conference following the firing of Danny Hope, Boilermakers athletic director Morgan Burke made it clear that he'll be targeting offensive-minded coaches for the opening. Purdue has become known over the years as a program that develops quarterbacks and adds up yardage.

"I can assure you the quarterback position, the cradle, will be at the heart of our thinking," Burke said. "We'll continue to be aggressive offensively, because I think that's part of our tradition and our experience here at Purdue."

In fact, Burke said that he expected the next coach to have an offensive system that is similar to the one the Boilers have employed in recent years.

"We're not going to move into a coach that has a dramatically different scheme because we've built this team to play a certain kind of football," he said. "We've seen other institutions who made a coaching change, then they changed their style of play. It took two or three years to adjust.

"We're not going to do that. We've got talent in this program, we know we have talent in this program. We want it to be nurtured."

Some other notes from Burke's news conference:

-- Burke refuted the claim that the Boilers' haven't made a big enough commitment to football. Hope's $950,000 salary was the lowest in the Big Ten and ranked behind some Conference USA and Mountain West coaches. But Burke said that salary was commensurate with Hope's level of experience and success.

"Look at what we've done in facilities in the last four years," he said. "New practice facilities, upgraded the indoor and outdoor facilities, offices, locker rooms. I think there's been a lot done.

"I think where people are somewhat confused is they're looking at the current compensation package and saying it was an unwillingness to invest more in football. And that's not true. We based the compensation package on other people who were similarly situated: moving into a Big Ten job for the first time. Bret Bielema, when he went up, that was a comparable compensation package. As the coach continues to have success, you would continue to move that forward.

"The problem is we didn't have that sustained level of success we wanted to have. I don't think there's any resource commitment question."

Burke said the school was "prepared to compete" in terms of salary for what it takes to win in the Big Ten and nationally.

-- The attendance problem definitely played a key role in Hope's dismissal, as empty seats became a big problem at Ross-Ade Stadium.

"We've lost a third of the fan base," Burke said. "We've gone from about 54,000 paid attendance in 2007-08 to 37,000 this past year in paid attendance. .. We can't do what we need to do resource-wise with losing a third of the fan base, OK?"

-- Burke said Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson, Houston Texans GM Rick Smith and former Colts executive Bill Polian are assisting him with his search. Grigson and Smith are Purdue graduates. Burke said candidates don't have to be current head coaches, but he considers that a major plus.

-- Offensive coordinator Gary Nord will serve as a senior adviser to interim head coach Patrick Higgins during bowl preparations. Nord might have been the choice as interim coach, but a back injury has limited his ability to work with the team the past few weeks.

-- Burke praised Hope's commitment to the job and his achievements with players in the classroom. Ultimately, though, Hope didn't win enough games.

"We said we wanted to reduce the variability of our play so we were more consistent against all teams in the league, and we wanted to move up a rung on the ladder," Burke said. "We clearly did not do that."
Football coaches always talk about "next man in." They typically refer to players stepping up for an injured teammate.

But Purdue head coach Danny Hope needed one of his assistants to answer the bell last week. Offensive coordinator Gary Nord suffered a back injury Wednesday and needed to be hospitalized. The Boilers needed a primary offensive play-caller and turned to wide receivers coach Patrick Higgins.

The result: a 27-24 Purdue win at Iowa that snapped a five-game losing streak. The Boilers racked up 27 first downs and 490 yards, 109 more yards than they had recorded in any of their previous Big Ten contests.

Hope and other staff members helped with the play-calling, but Higgins took the lead. He's hardly a novice, having called plays as UTEP's offensive coordinator from 2000-03 when Nord served as the Miners' head coach.

"Coach Higgins is an experienced play-caller," Hope said. "... There wasn't a whole lot of change. Patrick obviously has some of his own play-calling style, but the game plan didn't change, and the staff has worked together before, so it was an easy transition and Patrick did a fine job."

Higgins will lead the offensive staff meetings this week with Nord still recovering from his injury and unable to be in the office. Hope expects Higgins to again call plays Saturday when Purdue visits Illinois. The overall structure of the offense didn't change at Iowa and won't despite Nord's absence.

"He's very good at it and outstanding with clock management and very bright," Hope said of Higgins. "We've got a good play-caller, and he's got a good handle on it, and we're going about our business in the normal fashion."

Nord, 55, has what Hope called "a severe back injury."

"Just like the players, he's doubtful for the game," Hope said. "That's his status."

Big Ten lunch links

November, 13, 2012
11/13/12
12:00
PM ET
You were this close to ripping off his mis-buttoned shirt and pulling down his inside-out underpants.

SPONSORED HEADLINES