Big Ten: Ralph Bolden

It's your move, Dri Archer. Akeem Hunt is waiting.

Hunt, Purdue's senior running back and return man extraordinaire, watched and admired Archer from a distance last season as the Kent State dynamo earned consensus All-America honors as an all-purpose player in 2012. The 5-foot-8 Archer led the nation in kick return average (36.9 ypr), led Kent State in both rushing and receiving yards, set the single-season team touchdowns record (23) and finshed fifth nationally in all-purpose yards (184.1 ypg).

"He's very explosive," Hunt told "When he gets the ball, he can make one cut and just be out."

The same can be said of Hunt, who averaged eight yards per rush, 15.7 yards per reception and 22.2 yards per kick return, including a 100-yard scoring return against Ohio State, for the Boilers in 2012. Hunt recorded four scoring plays of 50 yards or longer last fall.

When Darrell Hazell, who coached Archer at Kent State last season, took the same post at Purdue, the drumbeat soon began for a showdown between two of the Midwest's fastest college football players.

"[Purdue's coaches] always say they would like to see us race," Hunt said.

As for Hunt?

"I would do it," he said, smiling. "I'd race him."

Perhaps Hunt-Archer I becomes a reality sometime this summer, but until then, Hunt will continue working toward the role Archer had for Kent State in 2012 -- a speed threat, but so much more. Hunt set out this spring to show Hazell and the new staff that he could be an every-down back after playing behind Akeem Shavers last season, and Shavers and Ralph Bolden in 2011.

He undoubtedly strengthened his case during the 15 spring practices, taking the lion's share of the reps with the first-team offense. Purdue had only three running backs in the fold this spring, but Hunt separated himself and capped the session with 134 rush yards and a touchdown on 19 carries in the spring game.

"I have a lot of confidence in him," Hazell said after the scrimmage. "I think he’s a marquee guy in this league because he does have some balance. He has some inline quickness and he has some top-end speed to take it the distance. And he is showing some toughness. ... The key for him is to get stronger in the offseason and continue to learn the game.

"But where he is right now, I think he's going to be pretty special if he keeps working at it."

Hunt is working hard to mold himself into a complete Big Ten running back. He added five pounds during the winter and checks in at 190, not massive by any chance but a bit sturdier than he was as a junior.

"I feel like I can run through tackles now," he said. "[The coaches] get onto me about that every day, that if I'm going to be that No. 1 guy, I can't get broken down by just one person. I have to be broken down by a group of people. ... I feel like I can run between the tackles now instead of just doing sweeps. I feel like I can run power and zone much better."

There’s no doubt Hunt will continue to play a big role for Purdue on special teams, an area Hazell stressed throughout his first spring in West Lafayette. But Hunt has bigger goals for his senior season. Running back David Yancey enrolled early at Purdue and went through spring ball, and three more backs -- Keith Byars II, Keyante Green and Dalyn Dawkins -- arrive this summer. It’s clear, though, that Hunt is the man to beat.

Hunt tried to go full speed on every drill this spring, particularly in pass-blocking, a potential area of concern because of his size. After full days of football, he spent 20 minutes every night studying and reviewing the playbook.

“In his ideal world,” Hazell said, “he’d like to carry it 25 times a game.”

New offensive coordinator John Shoop will have the backs line up in the slot and even out wide in addition to the backfield. The primary goal, Hunt says, is to “get us in open space to make plays."

"Akeem is a super fast guy," Shoop told "He shows electricity."

Few Big Ten players are as dangerous in space as Hunt, who has been clocked at 4.31 seconds in the 40-yard dash and aims to eclipse that time this summer. Hunt comes from a family of runners: his parents, siblings and grandmother all competed in track at the middle school and high school levels. His mother, Sophia Lewis, ran track at Southwestern Christian College in Texas.

Akeem competed in the 100- and 200-meter dash for Newton High School in Covington, Ga., and also did the long jump and triple jump. He grew up playing baseball and only started football after moving to Covington.

Hunt knew he'd have enough speed to succeed at the college level, but developing game speed proved to be a challenge.

"Game speed is very different from just being fast," he said. "You have to know the plays. Instead of thinking, you just have to react and play."

Hunt is soft-spoken and polite -- he begins many answers with "Yes, sir" or "No, sir" -- but he's honest and confident about his speed.

"Can anyone catch me in the open field? No, I don’t think so," he said with a smile.

Hunt, by his own admission, is Purdue's fastest player. Wide receivers Raheem Mostert and B.J. Knauf come close, and cornerbacks Ricardo Allen and Frankie Williams like challenging him.

"He's so competitive, it makes no sense," Hunt said of Allen. "Frankie Williams is competitive, too. Me and Frankie, we raced last year, and it wasn't fair to him."

Hunt needs a challenge. Dri Archer, we're waiting.
We kicked off our 2013 postseason position rankings on Monday with a look at the quarterbacks. Let's keep it rolling by staying in the backfield and ranking the running back position for each Big Ten team.

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

Now let's take the ball and run.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. Illinois (Preseason: 9): The Illini finished next-to-last in rushing yards per game and had the lowest yards-per-carry number in the Big Ten. Donovonn Young had 571 yards and Josh Ferguson added 312, but opponents were rarely, if ever, scared by the Illinois run game.

Heart of Dallas Bowl keys: Purdue

December, 30, 2012
Three keys for Purdue in Tuesday's Heart of Dallas Bowl against Oklahoma State:

1. Dominate the trenches: Purdue's strength this season was supposed to be its defensive line, led by All-Big Ten defensive tackle Kawann Short. When Short and others dealt with injuries in the middle of the season, the Boilermakers got steamrolled in league play. Not coincidentally, the team won its final three games after those guys started to get healthy, and a month-long break should have the defensive line in its best shape since early September. The 315-pound Short can change a game when he's blowing up the middle of the line of scrimmage, and fellow tackle Bruce Gaston is an underrated force. Ryan Russell is a promising young pass-rusher who has also healed from some bumps and bruises. Purdue absolutely must disrupt the timing and rhythm of Oklahoma State's high-powered offense while keeping running back Joseph Randle in check. If they can do that, the Boilers will have a chance.

2. Run, run, run the ball: Akeem Shavers was the MVP of last year's Little Caesars Pizza Bowl with 149 rushing yards. While Oklahoma State's defense is much better than Western Michigan's was a year ago, Shavers ended this season with 225 rushing yards in his final two games. Ralph Bolden is also expected back following a late-season hamstring injury, and Akeem Hunt gives the team a home run hitter with his sprinter's speed. Purdue has to get its running game charged up to help out quarterback Robert Marve and, more importantly, keep the Cowboys' offense on the sidelines.

3. Stay clean: One of the reasons Danny Hope didn't make it to this bowl game is that the Boilers often played sloppily under their former head coach. Penalties, turnovers and special teams blunders always seemed to rear their heads at the wrong times. That can't happen in a game like this, in which Purdue is such a huge underdog. Marve gave the team a spark when he was thrust into the starting lineup, but he still has a tendency to force throws into coverage. He and the Boilers can't afford to give Oklahoma State extra possessions, and Purdue has to maximize opportunities in the kicking game to win the field-position battle. This team has enough talent to pull off the upset, especially against an Oklahoma State squad that might be overlooking this game. But the Boilermakers can only put themselves in that position if they first avoid beating themselves.

Big Ten lunch links

December, 11, 2012
It's not gonna work, Mickey. My bladder's as big as your betrayal.

Weekend rewind: Big Ten Week 12

November, 19, 2012
Time to reflect ...

Team of the week: Ohio State became the first team to clinch a division title, winning the Leaders outright despite a postseason ban. The Buckeyes also moved to 11-0 while yet again defying defeat, this time on the road in overtime at a frenzied stadium after Wisconsin had seized all the momentum at the end of regulation. As Johnathan Hankins said after the 21-14 win, "We can't be beat. We're not settling for a loss."

Game of the week: There wasn't a whole lot of scoring at Camp Randall Stadium, but there was plenty of drama. You had Montee Ball getting stuffed at the goal line on his attempt to break the all-time FBS touchdowns record. You had the Badgers scoring to tie the game with eight seconds left. You had Ohio State's quest for perfection hanging over it all. These two teams have become division rivals, and Saturday's game provided more fuel to that fire.

Best call: Northwestern was clinging to a 23-20 lead when it took possession at its 12-yard line with 2:46 left at Michigan State. Wildcats fans must have been thinking: Here we go again. They have lamented how their team has gone conservative late in games with leads, only to end up with a loss. Not so Saturday, as Northwestern came out firing. A pass interference call on Johnny Adams resulted in a first down, and the Cats picked up a second first down with another pass. They eventually punted, but not before flipping field position and making the Spartans burn their timeouts. Perhaps not coincidentally, Northwestern held on for the win.

"I had our FBI guys to give me all those complaints from of our fans, so I changed," head coach Pat Fitzgerald cracked after the game.

Actually, the decision to pass had less to do with a philosophy shift then it did personnel. Kain Colter and Venric Mark were out with injuries, so there wasn't much running game to speak of. Still, many times you see teams do little to try to pick up a first down there, especially from that spot of the field. It was good -- and refreshing -- to see Northwestern stay aggressive.

[+] EnlargeTom Osborne
AP Photo/Dave WeaverRetiring Nebraska AD Tom Osborne joined Bo Pelini in leading the Cornhuskers out of the tunnel and on to the field one last time.
Best moment: Nebraska found the perfect way to honor outgoing athletic director and all-around legend Tom Osborne in his 500th -- yes, 500th -- home game as a Husker at Memorial Stadium. Osborne led the team out of the locker room and through the famous tunnel walk, wearing a red Huskers jacket and hat. (You can watch it here). Bo Pelini, who has been doing just about everything right the past several weeks, came up with the idea. "He was reluctant to do it," Pelini said. "But it's the way it should be. It meant a lot to me and the football team. I think the fans wanted to see him walk out there one more time."

Worst moment: Football just isn't fair sometimes. That's all you could say after watching Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti go down with another apparently serious knee injury early in the team's win over Indiana. Mauti had battled back from two ACL tears and had given everything he had to the program. It's wildly unfair that he won't get to play on Senior Day, and that his pro career could be in jeopardy. "If I could give him one of my knees, I would, man,'' fellow linebacker Gerald Hodges said. "He's the heart and soul of this team. I hate the fact that I had to see that.'' The only good to come of the injury was the outpouring of support for Mauti at the game and around the country on Twitter afterward. But it still seems wildly unfair.

Best attempt: Speaking of unfair, Purdue's Ralph Bolden has gone through three ACL injuries to make it back on the field. He ran for 100 yards in Week 11 and was about to go over 100 on Saturday on what looked like an easy, 78-yard touchdown run at Illinois. But Bolden felt his hamstring give out along the way. He ran as far as he could on one leg, getting 63 yards before hobbling out of bounds. Bolden tore his ACL in the finale last year against Indiana and couldn't play in a bowl. Hopefully, he'll make it back this year if the Boilermakers reach the postseason. Danny Hope awarded him the game ball Saturday.

"We are so proud of him," Hope said. "He had one leg left and he was giving all he had, and I think that exemplifies what being a Boilermaker is and what college football is all about."

Big Men on Campus (Offense): Three players had spectacular offensive performances Saturday. Michigan's Devin Gardner piled up six touchdowns while throwing for 314 yards in a 42-17 scorching of Indiana. At Penn State, quarterback Matt McGloin (395 passing yards, four touchdowns) and wide receiver Allen Robinson (10 catches, 197 yards, three touchdowns) each had career days against Indiana, setting school records in the process.

Big Men on Campus (Defense): Ohio State turned in a vintage Silver Bullets defensive performance for maybe the first time all season in holding Wisconsin to two touchdowns. Linebacker Ryan Shazier (12 tackles, three tackles for loss, forced fumble) and defensive end John Simon (four sacks) stood out the most on that defense. After some early-season mistakes, Shazier has been so good in the second half of the season that he's a legitimate defensive player of the year candidate. Simon now leads the league in sacks (nine), while he and Shazier are tied for the most tackles for loss in the Big Ten (14.5).

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Northwestern scored only one offensive touchdown in its win over Michigan State, but luckily it has Jeff Budzien. He made all three of his field goal attempts and is now 15-of-16 on the year, with his only miss a 53-yard attempt against Nebraska. The Spartans would like to have a kicker with Budzien's accuracy, as they have missed a field goal in four of their narrow losses.

Worst hangover: No one really expected Iowa to win at Michigan. But the Hawkeyes got embarrassed by a 42-17 score, losing for the fifth straight time. For much of the season, their defense played well while the offense struggled to score. Now, nothing is working. Iowa will miss a bowl for the first time since 2007 and will finish with fewer than six wins for the first time since 2000. A 4-8 record is likely with Nebraska coming to Iowa City next week, followed by a long offseason of questions for Kirk Ferentz.

Strangest moment: In terms of strangeness, little can top news breaking on a football Saturday that the Big Ten is about to add Maryland and Rutgers. But as far as on-the-field moments go, Denard Robinson opening the game at tailback for Michigan was a surprise. Even the Wolverines' official Twitter feed was momentarily confused, announcing Robinson as the starting quarterback as he jogged onto the field for his team's first possession. Instead, he lined up behind Gardner, took a pitch and began a new chapter of his Michigan career while saying goodbye to the Big House.
Purdue could have easily curled into the fetal position and given up on this season after losing five straight games in Big Ten play.

But the Boilermakers didn't do that, and they've taken advantage of the weaker part of their league schedule to give themselves a shot at the postseason. Purdue won at Illinois 20-17 in a game that wasn't pretty but was plenty good enough for Danny Hope's team.

It was just 6-3 at halftime, and anyone watching had to feel a little drowsy in the third quarter until Purdue finally broke a big play. Robert Marve hit Akeem Hunt on a throwback screen, and Hunt used his speed and some good blocking for a 63-yard touchdown.

From there, the game turned into a shootout, at least compared to what had occurred in the previous two-and-half quarters, as the two teams traded touchdowns. Illinois, mired in an awful season, showed some fight by turning in a 95-yard drive to cut the lead to 20-17 with 3:29 left. But the onsides kick failed, Purdue got a first down, and that was that.

Akeem Shavers ran for 99 yards, and Ralph Bolden added 93. However, Bolden pulled up lame on a 40-yard run and suffered what the team said was a hamstring injury. After working back from three torn ACLs, Bolden deserves a shot to play in a bowl if Purdue gets there.

Marve wasn't spectacular but was efficient, completing 18-of-26 pass attempts for 173 yards and no turnovers.

So now Purdue has to beat Indiana at home in the finale to qualify for a bowl. That will add some serious spice to the rivalry, as the Hoosiers will look to play spoiler. Will it be enough to save Hope's job? That remains a big question, but at least the Boilers have fought to try and salvage something out of this season.

For the Illini, the best news is that the season is almost over.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 12

November, 15, 2012
Ten items to track around the Big Ten entering Week 12:

1. Ballin' for history: Thirteen years after Ron Dayne broke the NCAA career rushing record, another Wisconsin running back is on the doorstep of a major milestone. Badgers senior Montee Ball, who, unlike Dayne, spent a year and a half as a reserve, needs one more touchdown Saturday against Ohio State to tie the NCAA career mark of 78 held by former Miami (Ohio) star Travis Prentice. Ball has scored 13 touchdowns in his past six games and is averaging 179.1 yards and three touchdowns in his past nine November games. A big performance against the unbeaten Buckeyes will once again put Ball on the radar for top national honors. Ball's next rushing touchdown will mark his 72nd, moving him past Dayne for the Big Ten career record.

2. Holding serve in the Legends: Nebraska and Michigan are tied atop the Legends Division at 5-1, and on paper, they should stay that way after Week 12. Both teams are favored to take care of Minnesota and Iowa, respectively, on senior day in Lincoln and Ann Arbor. Nebraska's magic number (wins and Michigan losses) to punch its ticket to Indianapolis is 2. A Huskers loss and a Michigan win puts the Wolverines in control of their own fate in the division. One senior day subplot is whether face-of-the-program stars like Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson will play after missing time with injuries. Burkhead (knee) returned to practice this week and seems closer to a return, while Robinson (elbow) remains day-to-day.

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
Andrew Weber/US PresswireLe'Veon Bell and the Spartans plan to finish strong against Northwestern on Saturday.
3. Finishing school: Northwestern and Michigan State easily could be playing for a Legends Division title Saturday. Instead, both teams' inability to finish against the likes of Nebraska and Michigan has left them looking for a full 60-minute performance. Michigan State's four Big Ten losses have come by a combined 10 points. Northwestern held double-digit second-half leads in all three of its Big Ten losses. Something's gotta give Saturday as the teams meet at Spartan Stadium. "Their problem, just like ours, has been closing out games," Spartans linebacker Chris Norman told this week. "... It's going to come down to who can finish the best. Saturday is going to be interesting."

4. Hope and a prayer: There's growing talk that Purdue will make a head-coaching change after the regular season no matter what happens in the final two games. But can fourth-year boss Danny Hope save himself with a three-game win streak to become bowl-eligible? It's reason enough to tune in for an otherwise off-the-radar game between Purdue and slumping Illinois on Saturday. A loss to the Illini would prevent Purdue from getting bowl-eligible and likely seal Hope's fate, while a Purdue win adds intrigue to next week's Bucket game against Indiana. The Boilers' offense got on track last week behind quarterback Robert Marve and running back Ralph Bolden, while defensive tackle Kawann Short had his best game of the season at Iowa.

5. Rivalry renewed: Saturday's game at Camp Randall Stadium won't decide which Leaders Division team goes to the Big Ten title game, as Wisconsin already punched its ticket last week. But Ohio State can lock up the Leaders Division championship -- the only title it can win this season -- while Wisconsin can legitimize its trip to Indy by handing Urban Meyer's Buckeyes their first loss of the season. Looking ahead, the Ohio State-Wisconsin game likely will be the signature contest in the division for years to come. Illinois is a mess, Purdue has backslid this season, Indiana is still building and Penn State still has three more years of postseason bans. "I hate Wisconsin just as much as Michigan," Ohio State wide receiver Corey Brown said this week. While Meyer and Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema say their post-signing day spat is a thing of a past, it could bubble up Saturday depending on how the game goes.

6. Taking a pass: The Big Ten might not be flush with elite quarterbacks and high-powered offenses this season, but a few of its teams can sling the ball a bit, and two of them meet at Beaver Stadium. Indiana and Penn State are the Big Ten's top two pass offenses, ranking 26th and 40th nationally, respectively. They'll share the field Saturday as they try to rebound from different types of losses. Indiana quarterback Cameron Coffman struggled with his accuracy (25-for-46) in last week's loss to Wisconsin and looks for a sharper afternoon. Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin wasn't a happy guy after the Nebraska loss and will try to take it out on IU. The game features two of the Big Ten's top receivers in Penn State's Allen Robinson and Indiana's Cody Latimer.

7. Hawkeye hex: Iowa has been in a funk for much of the season and particularly in the past month, dropping four consecutive Big Ten contests. Perhaps a date with Michigan can put the Hawkeyes back on track. See, Iowa has won three straight against Michigan for the first time in team history and five of its past eight against the Wolverines. Michigan's seniors are anxious to finally get over the hump against Iowa, one of two Big Ten teams (Penn State the other) they have yet to beat. But maybe it works the other way and Iowa finally shows a spark on offense and stiffens its defense. If not, the Hawkeyes won't be going bowling for the first time since the 2006 season, and it'll be a very long winter for Kirk Ferentz. "It doesn't hurt, obviously," Ferentz said of his team's Michigan win streak, "but it doesn't guarantee us anything."

8. Backs of different sizes: Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell is the biggest featured running back in the Big Ten, checking in at 6-2 and 244 pounds. Northwestern's Venric Mark is the smallest, checking in at 5-8 and 175 pounds. But both have been extremely effective this season with the ball in their hands. Bell leads the Big Ten in rushing yards (1,249), while Mark ranks third in rushing yards (1,181) and first in all-purpose yards (1,917). Each has been the MVP of his respective offense, and it'll be interesting to see them on the same field at Spartan Stadium. Both Michigan State and Northwestern defend the run well, too, both ranking in the top 25 nationally.

9. Illini look for a spark: Illinois ranks last in the Big Ten in scoring, rushing and total offense, and lingers near the bottom of the FBS in all the significant categories. The Illini need some sort of boost on offense or a 2-10 season is a virtual certainty. Head coach Tim Beckman, whose background is defense but who had a high-powered offense at Toledo the past few years, took a more active role with the offense this week in an effort to get things going. Beckman also noted that co-offensive coordinators Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales call plays on different downs. Hmmm. Starting cornerback Terry Hawthorne took more reps with the wide receivers this week and could see an increased role against Purdue. Illinois aims to win on senior day for the first time since 2007.

10. Bowl picture taking shape: We learned a little more about the Big Ten bowl contingent last week as Minnesota became bowl-eligible, Purdue took a big step toward the postseason and both Iowa and Indiana took a step toward a winter at home. There should be some more answers in Week 12. Michigan State aims for its sixth win to go bowling for the sixth consecutive season under coach Mark Dantonio. Purdue must keep its bowl hopes alive at Illinois, while both Iowa and Indiana must win on the road to avoid loss No. 7. It won't be easy for the Hawkeyes or Hoosiers. Indiana never has won at Beaver Stadium in 15 previous meetings with Penn State. Iowa never has won consecutive games at Michigan Stadium.

Big Ten stock report: Week 12

November, 14, 2012
We take a look inside the Big Ten trends, with no insider trading needed.

Stock up

James White: While Montee Ball understandably is getting all the attention right now, don't forget the job Wisconsin's No. 2 back is doing. White rushed for 161 yards on just 14 carries last week at Indiana, including the back-breaking 69-yard touchdown at the end of the first half. White has run for at least 100 yards in three of his last four games.

Baker Steinkuhler: The Nebraska defense has played much better in recent weeks -- particularly in the second halves -- and senior defensive tackle Steinkuhler is a reason why. A one-time highly decorated recruit, Steinkuhler is living up to that reputation by playing the best football of his career the past few weeks, coach Bo Pelini said this week. He had six tackles and a sack against Penn State last week. “Baker’s a stud," Pelini said. "He’s a leader. He’s everything you want.”

Purdue's ACL trio:
Take a knee, gentlemen. The Boilermakers' backfield trio of Robert Marve, Rob Henry and Ralph Bolden -- who have seven torn ACLs between them -- had a big day at Iowa last week. Marve threw for 266 yards and led the final drive for the winning field goal. Henry continued to play his jack-of-all trades role, including a flip to Akeem Shavers on a double option for a touchdown. Maybe most encouragingly, Bolden eclipsed 100 rushing yards for the first time since the beginning of last season. "That was very special for our whole football family," head coach Danny Hope said.

Donnell Kirkwood: The Minnesota running back is somewhat quietly putting together a strong season. The sophomore ran for a career-best 152 yards and two touchdowns last week against Illinois, his third 100-yard game of the season. Kirkwood now has 819 rushing yards on the season and has a great shot at going over 1,000 for the year, especially with the Gophers reaching a bowl game. Minnesota's last 1,000-yard back was Amir Pinnix in 2006 (1,272).

Michigan's passing game: There's no doubt the Wolverines' passing game has improved with Devin Gardner at quarterback, which has seemed to raise the level of play of the receivers. Senior Roy Roundtree had 139 yards receiving last week against Northwestern and 64 yards the week before; Roundtree's previous season high was 33 yards. Jeremy Gallon had seven catches for 94 yards last week and four grabs for 72 yards the week before. Gallon hadn't caught more than three balls in a game since catching four in the season-opening loss to Alabama. As Kyle Meinke points out, Michigan has 520 passing yards the past two weeks under Gardner, compared to 482 in five previous Big Ten games from Denard Robinson.

Stock down

Indiana's rush defense: Well, this one is fairly obvious after the Hoosiers surrendered 564 yards on the ground to Wisconsin. That won't help your stats, and Indiana now ranks 118th nationally -- out of 120 FBS teams -- in allowing 244 rushing yards per game. What's most disappointing about last week's effort is the Hoosiers knew Wisconsin would have a first-time starter at quarterback, so the Badgers were going to try to run the ball as much as possible. Knowing what's coming and stopping it are two different things.

Iowa's running game: Focus on the failures in the passing game if you want, but Iowa's real problems are in its bread and butter: the running game. During the Hawkeyes' current four-game losing streak, they are averaging just 78 rushing yards per game and a mere 2.5 yards per carry. Offensive line injuries and the rotating cast at running back have played a large role.

Illinois' offensive line: The Illini struggles up front on offense aren't exactly new, but they're not getting any better, either. Illinois is last in the Big Ten with 21 sacks allowed through 10 games. That ranks the team 114th nationally. Tim Beckman will not get this program going until he first solves the issues on the O-line. "We've had tremendous problems protecting Nathan [Scheelhaase] or Reilly [O'Toole]," Beckman said. "We've got to continue to improve in those categories and get our young players going. We need to get ourselves in the weight room and get stronger and get much more physical."

Penn State's finishing kicks: No Big Ten team has been better at jumping out to an early lead than the Nittany Lions. But Penn State's second halves leave something to be desired. The team has either led or has been tied at halftime in all four of its losses, including last week when it lost 32-23 at Nebraska after taking a 20-6 lead into the break. "That's probably more of a discussion for after the season," coach Bill O'Brien said. "So in the offseason, we're going to dive into this thing and scout ourselves and see if we can improve. But over the next two weeks we need to make sure we do a better job of coming out after halftime."

Video: Big Ten's One Good Thing

November, 12, 2012

Several talented Big Ten players who saw production drops midway through their careers made an impact in Week 11.
A knockdown here, a replay reversal there and the power rankings would have a dramatically different look. Northwestern would be higher and perhaps so would Penn State, but losses by the Wildcats and the Nittany Lions put them in the middle of the pack. The top two remain the same, while Michigan moves up to the No. 3 line after its dramatic victory. As we've seen in recent weeks, there's very, very little separating Nos. 2-6 in the rundown.

Wisconsin left nothing to chance against Indiana and jumps up a few spots, and Purdue finally made a move in the right direction. The I's -- Illinois, Iowa and Indiana -- linger at the bottom of the league because of a lack of W's.

Let's get started ...

1. Ohio State (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten; last week: 1): After their first 10-0 start since 2007, the Buckeyes earned some rest during the open week. They hope to get senior linebacker Etienne Sabino (leg) back for this week's game against Wisconsin, which rushed for a team-record 564 yards against Indiana and will test Ohio State's defensive front seven. Ohio State can lock up the Leaders Division championship with a win at Wisconsin, where it fell in 2010. Braxton Miller led last year's comeback against the Badgers and looks to remain in the Heisman race with another big road effort.

2. Nebraska (8-2, 5-1; last week: 2): The Huskers play a wild brand of football, filled with dramatic swings during games, but sometimes crazy clicks, and it has for Bo Pelini's squad this season. Nebraska faced yet another sizable deficit and turned in yet another huge second-half performance. Once again, there was some controversy mixed in, thanks to the men in stripes. Nebraska isn't a perfect team, but the Huskers are making plays when it counts. Ameer Abdullah has provided a big lift at running back, and safety Daimion Stafford had a hand in two takeaways Saturday. Nebraska completes its home schedule this week against Minnesota.

3. Michigan (7-3, 5-1; last week: 4): It looked bleak for a while in the fourth quarter, but Michigan never quits on its home field and received another huge play from receiver Roy Roundtree, who somehow hauled in a 53-yard pass to set up the game-tying field goal against Northwestern. The Wolverines won in overtime to remain tied with Nebraska in the Legends Division race. Northwestern gave Michigan's defense a hard time, but the Wolverines once again got a lift from quarterback Devin Gardner and the passing game. Michigan must keep pace with Nebraska next week as it hosts slumping Iowa.

4. Wisconsin (7-3, 4-2; last week: 6): Nothing has come easy for Wisconsin this season, but the Badgers are heading back to Indianapolis, just like we all thought they would, for the league title game. The last leg of a tough journey proved to be much easier than expected, as Wisconsin steamrolled Indiana 62-14, piling up a team-record 564 rushing yards along the way. Despite three starting quarterbacks and other turmoil, Wisconsin's offense still can be dominant. The challenges get much tougher the next two weeks, though, as Wisconsin hosts unbeaten Ohio State and then visits Penn State.

5. Penn State (6-4, 4-2; last week: 3): As stated above, there's very little separating Penn State from Nebraska, and maybe the Lions leave Lincoln as winners if Matt Lehman's reach was ruled a touchdown, not a fumble. But the Lions also hurt themselves in the second half and couldn't slow down Taylor Martinez, Abdullah and the Huskers' offense. Penn State once again looked like the more prepared team early on, jumping ahead to a 20-6 halftime lead. It was a very tough loss for the Lions, but they still can finish 8-4 with home wins the next two weeks against Indiana and Wisconsin.

6. Northwestern (7-3, 3-3; last week: 5): How many times will the Wildcats watch the same movie? You know, the one with the terrible ending? Northwestern blew a double-digit second-half lead for the third time in Big Ten play, and thanks to Roundtree's wild catch in crunch time, the Wildcats walked off the field as losers. The Michigan loss might have been the most painful because Northwestern outplayed the Wolverines much of the way and had a good game plan but made errors in crunch time. Northwestern and Michigan State can reminisce about the near misses when they meet this week in East Lansing.

7. Michigan State (5-5, 1-4; last week: 7): It's safe to say the open week arrived at a good time for the Spartans after another close, controversy-filled loss. At 5-5, the Spartans must beat Northwestern (home) or Minnesota (road) to become bowl eligible. Mark Dantonio has talked a lot about resiliency, and his team must show it in the final two games to get back to the postseason. Michigan State's defense struggled late against Nebraska and must rebound against a Northwestern team that moved the ball well Saturday at Michigan but suffered a Spartans-like fate in the end.

8. Minnesota (6-4, 2-4; last week: 8): Few pegged Minnesota as a bowl team after back-to-back 3-9 seasons, and the Gophers' struggles in the first five Big Ten games left some doubt. The road was never going to be easy, and Saturday's game at Illinois hardly looked like a masterpiece. But Minnesota got it done behind a stout defense and running back Donnell Kirkwood, who gashed the Illini for 152 yards and two touchdowns. The Gophers' sixth win ensures they'll be going bowling -- and most likely somewhere warm -- for the first time since 2009. They now aim for a signature win this week at Nebraska.

9. Purdue (4-6, 1-5; last week: 11): There hasn't been much to smile about in Boiler Country this season, but Robert Marve and his teammates eased the pain a bit with a win at Iowa. Purdue dominated the box score and shouldn't have needed a last-second field goal to win. The Boilers racked up 26 first downs and 490 yards, receiving big performances from Marve and RB Ralph Bolden. Kawann Short looked every bit like an NFL-caliber defensive tackle with four tackles for loss, while safety Landon Feichter turned in another nice performance. With remaining games against Illinois (road) and Indiana (home), Purdue's postseason prospects suddenly look a lot brighter.

10. Indiana (4-6, 2-4; last week: 8): Reality arrived for the Hoosiers in the form of Wisconsin's running backs -- pick one, any one -- streaking downfield for long touchdown runs. Indiana never truly challenged the Badgers in its most-anticipated home game in recent memory. A potent offense surprisingly stumbled out of the gate, and after a decent defensive effort in the second quarter, Indiana inexplicably let James White score on third-and-16 right before halftime. It was all downhill from there for Kevin Wilson's team, which won't be going to the league championship and must win two road games (Penn State, Purdue) to go bowling.

11. Iowa (4-6, 2-4; last week: 10): Remember when Iowa rallied to beat Michigan State in overtime at Spartan Stadium? Feels like decades ago, doesn't it? Things went from really bad to even worse Saturday as Iowa fell to Purdue in a game the Boilers dominated most of the way. Things ended in all-too-familiar fashion, with an Iowa pass short of the first-down marker, followed by defensive breakdowns. Iowa is plus-11 in turnover margin for the season but has a losing record -- not easy to do. A 4-8 season seems likely with remaining games against Michigan (road) and Nebraska (home).

12. Illinois (2-8, 0-6; last week: 12): It'll be over soon for Tim Beckman's crew, which had its chances to beat Minnesota but once again generated next to nothing on offense. The defense competed hard and held Minnesota to three points through the first 42 minutes, but the lack of playmakers around quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, combined with an ineffective scheme, led to Illinois' second touchdown-less performance in its past four games. Scheelhaase's struggles continued with two fumbles and Illinois dropped its 12th consecutive Big Ten game. The Illini wrap up the home schedule this week against Purdue.

Big Ten lunch links

November, 9, 2012
Happy Friday.

Wisconsin-Purdue pregame ponderables

October, 13, 2012
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Greetings from Ross-Ade Stadium, where it's about 50 degrees and a little overcast. But the rain appears to be holding off.

How big is today's game between Wisconsin and Purdue? Boilermakers receiver O.J. Ross said on the Purdue pregame show that his team is approaching this as if it's "a championship game." And it basically is, in the Leaders Division. With Penn State and Ohio State ineligible for the Big Ten title game and Indiana and Illinois struggling, whoever wins this one will have a huge leg up on getting to Indianapolis in the first week of December.

So it's really a matter of which team shows up, for both teams. Will Wisconsin continue its slow but steady offensive progress and look like the team that has dominated the Boilers the past few years? (The Badgers have won six straight in this series). Or will Bret Bielema's offensive line struggle against a good Purdue defensive front, forcing redshirt freshman Joel Stave to make plays down the field? If that's the case and Montee Ball is not running wild, Purdue will like its chances. Jared Abbrederis is one of the best receivers in the Big Ten, but the Boilers' cornerback tandem of Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson is as good as it gets in this league. That should be a fun matchup to watch.

And which Purdue will we see? The one that took Notre Dame to the wire in South Bend, or the one that looked like an FCS team against Michigan last week in a 44-13 loss here? Players and coaches all said this week that their spirits were still high despite the disappointing showing last week, and the word around the team is that this week's practices were crisp. But this remains an outfit under Danny Hope that has struggled with consistency and discipline in big spots.

The Boilermakers will have to unleash their varied offense, utilizing running backs Akeem Hunt and Akeem Shavers -- and Ralph Bolden. The senior is expected to make his season debut today after recovering from another torn ACL that he suffered in last year's season finale. How effective he will be remains to be seen. Maybe we'll see Bolden and quarterback Robert Marve in the same backfield, which we could call the ACL festival. Caleb TerBush should start again at quarterback, but Hope won't hesitate to pull the trigger on fan favorite Marve early if TerBush has trouble.

Wisconsin's defense is an underrated crew that's playing pretty well, though Nebraska's spread and speed gave it major problems in Lincoln. Purdue could follow a similar blueprint.

This is also a huge game for Hope, whose support among the Purdue fan base would dwindle if his team falls flat in this one. With a trip to Ohio State looming next week, the Boilers can't afford another Big Ten loss. This is a must-win situation, and Purdue needs to come out firing as if it is indeed a championship game. Because, in all reality, it is.

Video: Friday Four Downs

October, 5, 2012

Nebraska's hiring of new athletic director Shawn Eichorst and Ohio State's home-and-home series with TCU are among the top four story lines in the Big Ten this week.
Purdue fans are closely monitoring the Robert Marve Watch, as they hope to see the senior quarterback return from his latest ACL injury.

As for the Ralph Bolden Watch, is anyone paying attention?

Bolden, a second-team All-Big Ten running back in 2009, has been somewhat of a forgotten man this year as he recovers from his latest knee injury, sustained in Purdue's 2011 regular-season finale at Indiana. Akeem Shavers has been Purdue's featured back through the first five games (58 carries, 240 rush yards, 3 TDs), while Akeem Hunt has been the secondary ball carrier (18 carries, 169 yards). The Boilers also have mixed in some others (Brandon Cottom, Raheem Mostert).

What about Bolden? Could he return soon, like for Saturday's Big Ten opener against Michigan?

"I'm not exactly sure," Purdue coach Danny Hope said Tuesday, "even though I think he's getting much closer to being ready to play, and I think in his mind he thinks he is. Again, it's his call as far as when he allows us to have the liberty of putting him in the game at our discretion. Just because he says he's ready doesn't mean we're going to put him in. But we're not going to put him in until he says he's ready, and he feels like he's ready now.

"So there's a chance he could play this Saturday, but again, situations will determine that and also the performance of some of the other running backs, that's going to determine some of it."

Anyone else confused?

Bolden made his position clear, telling The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier's Mike Carmin, "I guess they're waiting [for] me to say that I’m ready. I've been telling them I'm ready."

Hope's dilemma could be whether Bolden would merit playing time ahead of the other backs, especially if he's not 100 percent. Asked Tuesday if he'd support Bolden trying to get a sixth year of eligibility if he can't play this fall, Hope said, "I'd get on my knees and beg him, OK?"

But getting sixth years can be tricky, especially when players are quoted as saying they're ready to go. Purdue has had mixed results and doesn't want another Keith Smith situation on its hands.

Although the Boilers have some nice options in the backfield, using Bolden couldn't hurt. Although he might never be the back he was in 2009, when he racked up 935 rush yards and 11 touchdowns, he's an experienced option for a Purdue team looking to make a title run.

Big Ten Tuesday personnel roundup

September, 25, 2012
Some news and notes about player comings and goings in the Big Ten:


Quarterback Cameron Coffman, who suffered a hip pointer and left the Ball State game two weeks ago, will be ready to go this week against Northwestern, head coach Kevin Wilson said. True freshman Nate Sudfeld, who finished the game against Ball State and led a fourth-quarter rally, will be at the ready if needed.


Running back Damon Bullock (concussion) is making progress and hopefully could be back this week versus Minnesota, head coach Kirk Ferentz said. Bullock started the first three games before the injury. Mark Weisman ran for more than 200 yards in his first career start last week vs. Central Michigan. Ferentz also expects freshman tailback Greg Garmon (elbow) to return this week.

Michigan State

Could cornerback Johnny Adams help the struggling receiving corps? Adams played receiver during the Spartans' spring game and had a big play. Head coach Mark Dantonio said Tuesday "there has been a little thought of" moving Adams to offense for some snaps, though he didn't commit to it. Dantonio also said that defensive end William Gholston, who sat out last week's first half against Eastern Michigan, will be ready to start against Ohio State.


Receiver Andre McDonald, who was hospitalized last week for a reportedly minor heart problem, should be cleared to resume practicing either tomorrow or Thursday, head coach Jerry Kill said. Kill also said offensive lineman Tommy Olson (ankle) is "a big question mark" for Saturday's game at Iowa.

Ohio State

Head coach Urban Meyer said that all signs point to running back Carlos Hyde (knee sprain) playing at Michigan State. If so, this would be the first time all season that Hyde and Jordan Hall have been available in the backfield at the same time.

Penn State

Running back Bill Belton, who's been out since the opener against Ohio with an injured ankle, is listed as probable on the Nittany Lions' depth chart. Head coach Bill O'Brien said Belton practiced Monday and looked pretty good and should be able to play at Illinois. Belton was the starting running back to open the season, and fellow tailbacks Derek Day (shoulder) and Michael Zordich (leg) have battled injuries as well. Both are listed as probable for this weekend.


Quarterback Robert Marve has looked good in practice and "doesn't look handcuffed at all" by his ACL injury, head coach Danny Hope said. While Marve still hasn't done much in the way of team drills, Hope is as optimistic as ever that Marve will play again this season, though he likely will sit out this week's game against Marshall. Defensive end Ryan Russell, who was lifted from the Eastern Michigan game with an injured knee, rested during the team's bye week and should be fully ready Saturday, Hope said. Hope also said running back Ralph Bolden, who tore his ACL in last year's regular-season finale, is getting closer to returning but probably won't be ready this week.


Running back Montee Ball (concussion) had his status upgraded and will run and condition with the team on Tuesday, head coach Bret Bielema said. Ball will not return to contact drills until he passes more concussion tests. Bielema is hopeful that Ball will be cleared for full participation by Thursday and that he will play at Nebraska.