Big Ten: Ralph Friedgen
1. The revival of Gary Nova under offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen had become a popular narrative, and the Rutgers quarterback did have a decent opening game at Washington State. But Nova's bad tendencies cropped backed up in the 13-10 loss to Penn State, as he had five interceptions and only 15 completions. What I thought was his worst throw of the night -- a ridiculous, on-the-move, throw-across-his-body toss to the crowded middle of the field -- could have easily been picked off for interception No. 6.
Simply put, a senior quarterback with Nova's experience shouldn't still be making those mistakes, and the Scarlet Knights played well enough in just about every other facet to win that crucial game Saturday night. But the same old issues are there with Nova, and Rutgers risks losing the entire team if something doesn't change, Steve Politi writes. That's a harsh assessment, but inconsistent quarterback play has kept the program from reaching its full potential the past few years.
2. I've written it before, but it's beyond past time to eliminate the "ice the kicker" timeout. For one, it's poor sportsmanship, which the Big Ten supposedly treasures. A coach should not be able to call a timeout when no one on the field knows it's happening and just a split-second before the ball is snapped just to make a kicker think more. And the tactic doesn't even work that well, as Kirk Ferentz painfully found out against Iowa State. If the kicker misses the try just before the timeout, he gets another chance, and you're essentially giving him a practice kick.
Ferentz, whose clock management skills have been questioned before, should have used his timeouts more productively. The Hawkeyes let too much time slip off the clock before calling their second timeout during the final Iowa State drive. They could have preserved some time for a possible comeback instead of giving Cole Netten a second life. Netten thanked Iowa for the freeze attempt.
3. Randy Edsall used part of his news conference following Maryland's 40-37 loss to West Virginia to complain about the length of games. The Mountaineers ran 108 plays on the day, and Edsall said it's a safety problem.
“When you continually stop the clock for moving the first downs, I think there’s issues," Edsall said. "All these things that you hear with the health and welfare and safety of the student athlete, I think something has to be looked into and something has to change."
There's probably a decent point in there; for example, I agree that stopping the clock after first downs isn't really necessary, except perhaps at the end of halves. But raising those concerns after a loss isn't the right time. The Terrapins' defense could have cut down the number of plays by stopping West Virginia's offense a few more times and not giving up 694 yards. Bowling Green, by the way, ran a whopping 113 plays in its win over Indiana.
- Christian Hackenberg and Geno Lewis are Penn State's closers.
- Indiana's loss was as bad as it gets
- Grading Michigan's win.
- Ohio State won big, but we didn't learn much about the Buckeyes.
- Michigan State needs more from its O-line.
- Iowa was outcoached and has major issues, Rick Brown writes.
- Minnesota took a Texas-sized step backward, while Nebraska took needed strides forward in Fresno.
- Illinois got blown out but is still a different team than last year.
- Danny Etling's performance was a positive for Purdue.
- Brooks Bollinger can relate to Tanner McEvoy.
And finally, my favorite moment from Saturday ...
1. Familiar issues preventing Wisconsin from next step: The Badgers had a wonderful chance to springboard themselves into the playoff conversation, as they had a young LSU team down 24-7 in the third quarter. But it unraveled in a hurry as several familiar problems -- and some bad luck on the injury front -- doomed Wisconsin in a 28-24 loss. Wisconsin won't become an elite program until it has more dynamic quarterback and receiver play to complement its bread-and-butter run, can avoid blunders in the kicking game and shores up the secondary. Injuries to two starting defensive linemen certainly hurt, and star running back Melvin Gordon wasn't right after a long run in the third quarter. But the same limitations we've seen before with the Badgers surfaced again in a painful season-opening loss. There's still a lot to play for, but a win would have been huge for Wisconsin and the Big Ten.
3. PSU, OSU lines are works in progress: A Penn State offensive line with just one returning starter and two converted defensive tackles starting at the guard spots topped any fan's list of concerns entering the season. Ohio State's offensive line might not have been the biggest red flag following Braxton Miller's injury, but there was some curiosity with four new starters. Both units did some good things Saturday, especially down the stretch in wins against UCF and Navy, respectively. But Penn State struggled to get its power run going and endured two holding penalties and two false starts. Ohio State had just 71 rush yards on 24 attempts through the first three quarters against an undersized Navy defense. The Buckeyes finished strong (122 fourth-quarter rush yards) but need to make strides, beginning this week against Virginia Tech. Michigan also entered its opener with the offensive line in the spotlight. Although Appalachian State isn't a great gauge, Michigan got its ground game going with 350 yards and two 100-yard rushers (Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith).
4. Rutgers could be a surprise team: Few expected much from the Scarlet Knights, including the Big Ten reporter crew, but Kyle Flood's team began the season on an impressive note. It's never easy to travel to the West Coast, and Rutgers opened with a Washington State team poised to expose its shaky pass defense. Although Washington State racked up 532 pass yards, Rutgers controlled the line of scrimmage and much of the game in a 41-38 win. New offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen has made an immediate impact, and Rutgers showcased a powerful run game led by Paul James and a big-play pass attack. The defense still needs work, and the competition level will improve, but Rutgers should be 2-0 before its highly anticipated Big Ten debut Sept. 13 against Penn State at High Points Solutions Stadium.
5. Northwestern is reeling: Few FBS teams had a rockier offseason than Northwestern, which endured the union debate, Venric Mark's stunning departure and several key injuries in the preseason. Pat Fitzgerald always had found ways to get his teams ready for the season and entered Saturday with an 8-0 mark in openers. But Northwestern didn't look ready against Cal and was outplayed in all three phases during the first 42 minutes. The Wildcats made a nice run at the end of the third quarter and had chances to complete a comeback but went conservative at the wrong times and made too many errors in a 31-24 home loss, its fifth consecutive setback at Ryan Field. You wonder if this team has reached a breaking point after all the setbacks since the past October. A Week 2 win against Northern Illinois is critical.
Mitch Sherman: It's complicated, Andrew. In theory, the Spartans should be rewarded for scheduling the Sept. 6 trip to Oregon, win or lose a tight game. But how would the College Football Playoff committee view a defeat? It depends, of course, on Oregon's body of work and the other contenders late in the season for the four coveted spots. A year ago, MSU would have made it in with an early season road loss to Notre Dame, which finished the regular season with eight wins. Michigan State's schedule is not exactly filled with heavyweights after next week. Its top competition (Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State) comes to East Lansing, presenting the Spartans with the best chance to wow the committee with impressive wins. And if a 10-win team emerged from the West to face the Spartans in Indianapolis, that would obviously help. I'm inclined to say, yes, Michigan State would have a good shot to make it at 12-1.
Mitch Sherman: I'm glad you asked, Collin, and thanks for being such a big fan. If anyone missed it, I wrote this week that Nebraska and Michigan marketed tickets with unusually aggressive tactics this offseason to combat soft sales, in particular from students. And on Wednesday, I tweeted that the Huskers had achieved their 334th straight sellout, extending an NCAA record, for the Saturday opener against Florida Atlantic. (I know, what a terrible thing to publicize.) If your feelings were hurt that we drew attention to ticket sales at Nebraska or Michigan, in spite of the packed houses expected this weekend at both schools, I say this: It's Nebraska and Michigan. We are talking about two schools that are known as much for their history of selling tickets as producing titles. When they are still working at it days before the opening game -- as rivals Ohio State and Penn State watch demand escalate -- it's interesting.
Mitch Sherman: A great start for coach Kyle Flood's team as a member of the Big Ten, beating Washington State 41-38 in non-neutral Seattle. Rutgers accomplished more offensively, even against a suspect defense, than I thought possible. Quarterback Gary Nova's performance, especially in the second half, tells me that he is ready for a bounce-back season under new coordinator Ralph Friedgen. And the Scarlet Knights' defense will have better days; Wazzu is going to put up yardage on most teams. I saw a motivated team in Rutgers that has a chance now to carry big momentum into October. The Penn State game in two weeks, already sold out in Piscataway, is huge for Rutgers. It has a chance to beat the Nittany Lions, but I'm not ready to change my prediction about the second half of this season. That is going to be a little rough. Just look at the schedule. But please, Rutgers, continue to prove us wrong.
@mitchsherman Rutgers and Indiana are the two worst teams in the B1G East. To me, that says the B1G East is a top division in cfb. Agree?— All Things Husker (@HuskerLegacy) August 29, 2014
Mitch Sherman: The Big Ten East is strong, with two contenders for the College Football Playoff, and a pair of giants in Michigan and Penn State that aren't quite at the top of their games. Indiana remains a borderline bowl team, and I'm not ready to anoint Rutgers or Maryland in their first seasons of league play. Historically, few divisions can compare. Today, the SEC West and the Pac-12 North are better, and the ACC Atlantic might be, too.
@mitchsherman Impressed or not impressed with Minnesota's performance last night? Should I be concerned when my Hawks visit later this year?— David Fuller (@dafu2) August 29, 2014
Mitch Sherman: I wasn't overly impressed with the Gophers. Their performance against Eastern Illinois was more dominant than the 42-20 score indicated as the FCS Panthers, who went 12-2 last season, scored two touchdowns in the final 30 seconds. But Minnesota looked out of sync at times, and I still wonder if it has enough high-end talent to contend for an upper-division spot in the West. That said, yes, David, be concerned about Iowa's Nov. 8 visit to TCF Bank Stadium. The Hawkeyes can beat every team on their schedule -- and also lose to about six, including Minnesota..
That generosity is greatly appreciated, and tearing into a pair of games tonight with Minnesota and Rutgers both opening the season two days before the weekend is a gift worth treasuring.
But what about during the season? Once football is finally back and the season is in full swing, suddenly making it through just one week without any action starts to feel like an interminable wait. Would it be so bad to mix in a few Thursday nights once league play starts?
“Our program, a lot of the notoriety we’ve achieved over the last decade has been on Thursday night,” Scarlet Knights coach Kyle Flood said. “We’ve had some really special evenings on Thursday nights here in Piscataway, and we’ve played some great games on the road.
“You know, I try not to get involved in decisions that really are going to be the same for everybody. I think for our program here at Rutgers, Thursday night has been a really good night. But going into the future here in the Big Ten, we’re looking forward to it and playing games on Saturday afternoons. I think there’s a lot of plusses to that as well.”
The broadcast exposure on an evening with less competition can be an invaluable plus, though, and Rutgers might know that better than anybody else given their experiences before moving into the Big Ten this season. Now even in a league with a much higher profile, the program might find that kind of spotlight much harder to come by on Saturday afternoons.
The Scarlet Knights aren’t alone in that regard. Indiana might not be a huge national draw on Saturdays, but its high-scoring offense could draw a few more viewers for a Thursday night matchup with say, Maryland, which may enjoy the chance to showcase its program in front of a broader audience dying to watch a game.
There are hurdles to be sure, starting with the Big Ten’s fondness for tradition and the resistance it would surely meet from powerhouse programs like Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State who have established brands and large stadiums that don’t need unique kickoff times to help draw a crowd. But aside from exceptions early in the year like tonight for the Big Ten, in some ways it seems like the league has simply conceded a potentially marquee marketing opportunity among the power conferences to the Pac-12 (Arizona at Oregon, UCLA at Arizona State), Big 12 (Texas Tech at Oklahoma State) and ACC (Florida State at Louisville).
Maybe the Big Ten simply doesn’t need it. Truthfully, as a league it probably doesn’t since it obviously isn’t hurting financially, there haven’t been any complaints about the television ratings and it’s already adjusted for a busier Saturday schedule that now includes two extra teams by allowing for more flexibility with night kickoffs.
But for individual programs, there’s almost certainly a benefit to scheduling on an off night every once in a while. Sometimes waiting a whole week is just too much time without football, and by Thursday night, fans are ready to watch just about anybody put on the pads.
Odds are, there are a few teams in the league that would be willing to sign up for that spot.
- The battle for field position will be critical for Rutgers when it opens tonight against Washington State. Quarterback Gary Nova will have more responsibilities at the line of scrimmage under offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen.
- Mitch Leidner wants to "win for the state of Minnesota," and the quarterback's first shot at it this season comes tonight against Eastern Illinois. The Gophers are trying to find ways to fill up the student section again.
- After four long years in reserve, linebacker Mylan Hicks finally finds himself in position to contribute for Michigan State and sits atop the depth chart, bracketed with Darien Harris.
- USC transfer Ty Isaac had his medical hardship waiver denied, but that decision will be appealed by Michigan, which is still trying to get him on the field this fall.
- Penn State was greeted with a little Irish weather on the practice field, but James Franklin had no complaints.
- Maryland has depth at nose tackle, and it will play both Keith Bowers and Darius Kilgo against James Madison.
- The Ohio State depth chart has "or" all over it, but Steve Miller will definitely be starting in place of the suspended Noah Spence on Saturday.
- What kind of numbers is Shane Wynn capable of posting this season as he becomes the focal point of the Indiana offense?
- Derek Landisch returned to practice for Wisconsin on Wednesday, and the senior linebacker expects to be ready for the clash with LSU this weekend.
- Iowa has a loaded stable of tailbacks at its disposal, but that still doesn't mean Kirk Ferentz is comfortable with his running game.
- Junior college transfer Byerson Cockrell is helping to ease some of the minds that were worried when Nebraska lost nickelback Charles Jackson for the season during training camp.
- Should Northwestern be worried about Cal's offense? These numbers suggest the Wildcats should be fine.
- As the opener ahead of a season that could make or break Tim Beckman's career with Illinois draws near, the coach is exuding confidence his team can "take the next stride."
- Purdue is offering free tickets to students for the opener.
- Can't wait to get to Byrd Stadium and try this bad boy. Who's hungry?
For the early enrollees, some over-the-top praise and projections of early impacts might keep going through April. Around July and media days, the optimism from coaches about their talented, athletic, mature-for-their-age freshmen usually gets a second wind.
But then reality hits when training camp arrives, and with just two weeks until the season starts, by now it's pretty easy to tell if the hype was legitimate and time to start picking out a handful of newcomers truly capable of making a splash right away this fall.
At Ohio State, the indicators were there on the opening day of camp when linebacker Raekwon McMillan and versatile offensive weapon Curtis Samuel were thrown in with the veterans instead of the rookies during split-squad workouts. A stronger suggestion arrived when they were the first two players to have their black stripes removed to be considered bonafide Buckeyes.
Congrats to Curtis Samuel and Raekwon McMillan for being the first 2 freshmen to get their black stripes removed! pic.twitter.com/OZg6314sZ9— Urban Meyer (@OSUCoachMeyer) August 10, 2014
At Michigan State, the confirmation comes straight from the head man. When the midway point of camp arrives and Mark Dantonio is still willing to include players such as defensive tackle Malik McDowell and linebacker Chris Frey in his two-deep, it's safe to assume those two will be on the field.
The same is true elsewhere around the league, with Minnesota praising its new talent at wide receiver or Maryland tinkering with five-star lineman Damian Prince's position presumably to ease his transition to the lineup at guard. Sometimes it's not quite as obvious, with Michigan coach Brady Hoke trying to temper expectations about defensive back Jabrill Peppers -- although the occasional first-team reps that he's received according to coordinator Greg Mattison might have spilled the secret.
Sure, there's still time for the hype machine to dial back up. There are some overmatched opponents to play during the first month of the season, and more than just the surefire impact freshmen will get to see the field and raise expectations for what they are capable of providing.
But by now, coaches have typically seen enough to get a reasonably good idea of who can help their team right away. And if there are names which haven't been mentioned much lately, it's probably safe to hold off on getting to know them until next season.
- Ohio State's planned home-and-home with North Carolina in 2017-18 has been cancelled. No money exchanged hands. Could this be an opening for a neutral-site game Urban Meyer suggested at media days might be in the works?
- What is James Franklin Time? A look at the new work week for Penn State.
- The linebacker unit remains unsettled for Michigan State. Details from Mike Griffith after an open practice for the Spartans.
- A look at the captains for Rutgers this season.
- Even Maryland's defense had to concede that the offense has been looking good in camp.
- Indiana safeties coach Noah Joseph is still looking for more consistency from his unit.
- Ross Douglas is on the move for Michigan again, this time moving to wide receiver.
- There is speed to burn in the Minnesota secondary, where a former state-champion sprinter is adding depth in the defensive backfield.
- Purdue is shaking things up at practice and keeping players on their toes.
- Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst called the football program "stable" under Bo Pelini and talks about his priorities for the coach.
- Wisconsin is looking to fill critical leadership roles on defense, and Gary Andersen still feels like the Badgers have something to prove.
- Iowa safety John Lowdermilk finds himself as one of the most experienced players on the team, now charged with bringing along some younger guys and helping turn them into contributors.
- An interesting look at potential attendance problems for Northwestern and two possible solutions in the future.
- Illinois is keeping things light at camp, and cooling coach Tim Beckman down in the process.
- Check out what Ralph Friedgen had been up to before diving back into coaching. Maybe he made the wrong choice.
"Coach [Brady] Hoke brought me here to be the offensive coordinator and coach the quarterbacks," Nussmeier said.
(Well, if this guy needs a stand-in, we know where to find him.)
Yes, that's literally the job description. But there's more to it. The word savior isn't in Nussmeier's contract, but many Michigan fans hope he saves a unit that veered off track too often last season. It's up to Nussmeier to have Michigan's offense operating with the consistency and toughness that Hoke envisioned when he returned to Ann Arbor in January 2011.
Like any head coach, Hoke will have to answer for Michigan's performance this season. Rutgers' Kyle Flood and Indiana's Kevin Wilson find themselves in the same boat. The three coaches are facing varied degrees of scrutiny after seasons that fell short of expectations.
All three also made key coordinator hires this winter. It's the year of the running back in the Big Ten with the likes of Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah on the field, but it also could be the year of the savior coordinator.
Ralph Friedgen doesn't like the savior label, although many Rutgers fans hope The Fridge will work his magic with quarterback Gary Nova and a Scarlet Knights offense that struggled to move the ball and gave it away far too often last season.
From The Star-Ledger:
"Trust me, that is not me," Friedgen said. "I only can coach what I've got. They've got to play. My job is to put them in a position to make plays, but they've got to make them. Remember, I'm the guy that got fired."
True, he was fired at Maryland despite a rebound 2010 season. But he also has overseen successful offenses and quarterbacks throughout his career at both the college and NFL levels. As columnist Steve Politi writes, "It's hard to look at Friedgen's résumé and not come to this conclusion: He is the most accomplished football coach to ever walk into [Rutgers'] Hale Center."
If Nova and the Rutgers offense rebounds, the team could hold its own despite a potentially brutal schedule. And the heat surrounding Flood could subside a bit.
Offense is undoubtedly the overarching question at Michigan, too. The defense figures to be good and potentially better than good, but the progress Hoke needs in Year 4 won't come if Michigan can't block anyone. The Wolverines can't have games like last year's clunkers against both Michigan State (minus-48 rush yards) and Nebraska (minus-21 rush yards).
Although Hoke's job isn't in jeopardy -- athletic director Dave Brandon recently told me the hot-seat talk is "crap" and "baloney" -- the Michigan faithful want to see an offense that looks like the one they remember, and the one Hoke promised when he took the job. That's where Nussmeier comes in.
His track record might not be as extensive as Friedgen's, but the 43-year-old succeeded as a coordinator at Fresno State, Washington and, most recently, Alabama. While Friedgen becomes the highest-paid assistant in Rutgers history ($500,000), Nussmeier signed a three-year contract with Michigan worth at least $2.57 million.
"We want to be a physical and explosive offense," Nussmeier said. "It's a mind-set. It's not about the plays."
Like Friedgen, Nussmeier downplayed his role, saying he doesn't feel any extra pressure. But he added that he knows about expectations, and Michigan fans still set the bar high despite the team's drought since its last Big Ten title.
Indiana's expectations might not be as high as Michigan's, but the Hoosiers expect a bowl appearance in Wilson's fourth season. To get there, they need Brian Knorr to do what so many others could not: make the defense respectable. That's why Wilson brought in Knorr from Wake Forest after dismissing Doug Mallory, a decision that didn't sit well with Mallory's father, former Indiana coach Bill Mallory. It likely will be the most significant move of Wilson's IU tenure, the one that will show whether he's the right guy or another offensive-minded coach who couldn't fix the other side of the ball.
IU's defense doesn't need to become Michigan State's this fall. Minimal to moderate gains should be enough, given the offense's expected productivity, to get the Hoosiers over the bowl eligibility hump. IU needs to make that extra stop it couldn't against Navy and Minnesota last year, which could have been the difference in bowl or no bowl. But the unit has been very bad for a very long time, and while recruiting has improved and there's more experience, Knorr is fighting history.
The early returns are good with Knorr and his 3-4 scheme, as the defense has claimed the coveted crimson jerseys at most of the first few practices.
"We want to see who is going to be our dynamic playmaker," Knorr said following Saturday's scrimmage. "Who can we count on when things are tough?"
Wilson is counting on Knorr for immediate results, just like Hoke is counting on Nussmeier and Flood is counting on Friedgen. Saviors or not, the three coordinators will play large roles in whether their teams -- and possibly their bosses -- sink or swim in 2014.
Taking a spin around the Big Ten ...
- A look at how tight end Adam Breneman's injury impacts Penn State this season.
- Nebraska will be without reserve running back Adam Taylor (ankle).
- Ohio State LB Kyle Berger suffers another ACL tear.
- The grind begins this week for Michigan State. The wait for DeAnthony Arnett to make an impact with MSU could be over soon. Arnett came out of the spring feeling great about his progress, telling me, "It's given me a chance to, I don't know, re-state myself. I feel more comfortable knowing everything, knowing all the positions, about where to go on the field. Now it's making plays."
- Notes following Maryland's first scrimmage, including the impressive play of running back Brandon Ross.
- This Ohio State practice video is brilliant.
- The latest practice report from Rutgers, which produced no answers about the backup quarterback spot.
- Michigan's offensive line still has a lot of moving parts. The BTN crew weighed in on Michigan's practice on Monday.
- Previewing Indiana.
- Austin Appleby is closing the gap on Danny Etling and keeping Purdue's QB race very much alive.
- Kevin Trahan explains how a dull town in southern Wisconsin is the perfect place for Northwestern to focus on football.
- Illinois' offensive line is coming together these days.
- Marc Morehouse puts Iowa's running back group under the microscope.
- New Illinois defensive lineman Jihad Ward honors his mom every time he puts on No. 17.
- Wisconsin ends practice with a chipping contest, and coach Gary Andersen hits the mark.
- Minnesota RB Berkley Edwards talks about the advice he has received from his big brother, Braylon.
- Veteran Maryland QB C.J. Brown leads the Terrapins into the Big Ten.
- The best of Robin Williams. RIP.
The move was widely expected because Nova is the only experienced quarterback on the roster and clearly outpaced his peers in an open competition this spring. By going ahead and letting everyone know now, Scarlet Knights head coach Kyle Flood can remove all suspense and have the team move forward with its on-field leader before the opener against Washington State in Seattle on Thursday, Aug. 28.
"I think he’s learned from his experiences the past few years," Flood told me at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, last week. "Remember, he's playing for his fourth offensive coordinator in the last four years."
Nova's new playcaller is Ralph Friedgen, a guy known for developing quarterbacks throughout his career. The relationship appears to have clicked so far, and Flood said he liked what he saw from Nova as a team leader this summer. Now he has to cut down on his mistakes.
"He's doing a better job being a decisive decision-maker," Flood said. "Knowing when the time is right to be aggressive and when the time is right to check the ball down.
"He can make every throw on the field and he’s played some spectacular games for us. We just need him to be a little bit better game manager. Ralph and I have told him at times, 'We know you can make that throw, but there's a time and a place for it. Sometimes you don’t have to take that chance. If a receiver didn’t run the route perfectly, don’t try to make it right and fit the ball in there. Check it down.'"
Obviously, this is a critical season for the Scarlet Knights as they enter the Big Ten and face a difficult schedule. Consistent quarterback play has been one area that's held the program back from winning conference titles in the past several seasons. Rutgers could find itself in a shootout in Week 1 against Mike Leach's Air Raid attack on the West Coast, so Nova will need to come out of the gate firing.
Junior Mike Bimonte and redshirt freshman Chris Laviano will be the backups, and neither has taken a snap in an FBS game. Both made some strides this offseason. Will Nova's leash be short, considering all that's at stake for the team? What if he throws a few picks in the first couple of weeks?
Flood says he doesn't want his senior looking over his shoulder.
"I believe that when you commit to a quarterback, you commit to him," he said. "We want him to learn from his mistakes. We don’t expect him to be perfect."
But the Scarlet Knights do expect Nova to be better than he was a year ago.
For Rutgers' fans or anyone new to this preseason blog staple, please know these are not to be viewed as predictions. Do not take them seriously. The scenarios illustrate the potential highs and lows in a season. Still not sure? Read the first installment on Wisconsin. Yes, this is meant to be fun.
Oh, what a night. Gary Nova throws for 240 yards and three touchdowns, and nose tackle Darius Hamilton sacks Christian Hackenberg on fourth down in the final minute as Rutgers defeats Penn State 24-21 at High Points Solutions Stadium in the Scarlet Knights' Big Ten debut.
Rutgers' first win over the Nittany Lions since 1988 -- in the first game between the traditional rivals since 1995 -- highlights a 6-0 start spurred by a resurgent Nova, a mean core of linebackers and a series of fortunate bounces.
Coach Kyle Flood's upstart bunch escapes a late night in Pullman, Washington, with a wild 38-35 victory in the season opener. After the emotional victory over Penn State, Rutgers starts sluggish at Navy, but running back Paul James churns for two touchdowns, and Tyler Kroft catches a late score from Nova to secure a comeback win.
Michigan, in freefall mode after losses to Notre Dame, Utah and Minnesota, manages just 11 rushing yards in a 21-3 Rutgers win on Oct. 4 in Piscataway as linebacker Steve Longa collects 20 tackles.
The day after an open date on the first weekend of October, Rutgers climbs to No. 15 in The Associated Press poll. Offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen is acclaimed as the best Big Ten hire of the previous offseason, and former OC Ron Prince accepts a demotion to quality control coach with the Detroit Lions following a poor performance by the club's tight ends.
The dream season hits a rough patch in late October. Rutgers loses at Ohio State, the first of three defeats in five games before a post-Thanksgiving road win over new rival Maryland to clinch a third-place finish in the Big Ten East.
Flood is named Big Ten coach of the year. Nova is a second-team pick at quarterback. Longa, Hamilton and Kroft are first-team selections. The Big Ten sends Rutgers across the country to San Diego to face USC as the league rekindles its tie-in with the Holiday Bowl.
Really, though, the season will be remembered for what happened on Sept. 13. The win is viewed as the most important by Rutgers since a 2006 upset of third-ranked Louisville en route to an 11-win season. Three of the Nittany Lions' four ESPN 300 recruiting commitments out of New Jersey attend the PSU game, including quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who flips to the Scarlet Knights after the Michigan victory.
To top it off, Rutgers jumps eight spots to No. 25 on this list.
This is ugly. Very ugly. Mike Leach runs up the score in the Aug. 28 opener, calling a flea-flicker with 40 seconds to play in a 55-21 debacle at Seattle's Century Link Field.
Penn State spoils the Scarlet Knights' Big Ten opener with a three-touchdown win before a revved-up group of fans in Piscataway who begin to head for the exits in the third quarter.
Nova goes down with a knee injury in a loss at Navy. Tulane squeaks past the Scarlet Knights. Michigan extends its unbeaten season with a 42-0 victory on Oct. 4 as Devin Gardner and Devin Funchess toy with the defensive scheme of first-year coordinator Joe Rossi.
A poll of Rutgers fans and students during the off week before the Scarlet Knights visit Ohio State reveals that a majority believe the school should attempt to petition the AAC for re-entry. Athletic Director Julie Hermann is discovered by the Newark Star-Ledger to have inquired about the possibility, reigniting discussion of this unfortunate situation.
Braxton Miller accounts for five touchdowns in the first half on Oct. 18, the start of a three- week stretch in which Rutgers is outscored 134-16 by the Buckeyes, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Rutgers does not lose in Week 11. Actually, it doesn't play. Hermann bungles an attempt to fire Flood as she is overruled publicly by the school's president.
Losses to Indiana, Michigan State and Maryland make it official: Flood is out after a 1-11 finish in his third year, the worst season at school since 2002. Rutgers does not come closer than seven points from winning a Big Ten game. Purdue feels better about itself.
- Michigan believed it had a future star during training camp last August, but then wide receiver Amara Darboh was lost to injury. The Wolverines are counting on him to get back to the level he was at a year ago.
- A detailed look at reasons Penn State can rise to contention in the East Division.
- Not surprisingly, Oregon and a "statement game" aren't far from the minds of Michigan State as it reports for practice.
- Drug charges were dismissed as former Ohio State defensive lineman Tracy Sprinkle pleaded no contest to an amended charge of attempted failure to comply with a police order. His status with the Buckeyes hasn't been reevaluated by Urban Meyer.
- Steered by sports, Nebraska safety Corey Cooper stays on the right path to success.
- Purdue defensive coordinator Greg Hudson is motivated heading into camp and "sick and tired of being 1-11."
- Converted linebacker Alec James provides a perfect example of what Wisconsin is trying to build on the defensive line.
- Gary Nova isn't officially the starting quarterback at Rutgers yet, but he's likely to be the pick and his relationship with offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen could be crucial if the program is going to surprise in the Big Ten.
- Iowa was left out of the preseason top 25 by the coaches. Might that be a good thing for the Hawkeyes?
- There's little doubt Minnesota can run the football. Will the passing attack move up from last in the Big Ten this fall?
To prepare you for the festivities, we're answering three questions facing each team. It's time to look at the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. A popular pick to finish last in the East Division, Rutgers will be represented in their first visit to this event by coach Kyle Flood, senior fullback Michael Burton, junior defensive tackle Darius Hamilton and senior safety Lorenzo Waters.
1. What can Rutgers expect from Gary Nova?
Nova is the veteran quarterback who was benched late last season in favor of Chas Dodd. The move didn't work out especially well for Flood and former offensive coordinator Ron Prince, who parlayed his single season at Rutgers into a position with the Detroit Lions. The Scarlet Knights and their quarterback should fare better with new coordinator Ralph Friedgen, the former Maryland coach lured by Flood and the Big Ten move back into coaching after a three-year absence. Nova, who has started 28 games, is a proven winner. Rutgers returns the bulk of its ground game. He can provide a steady hand through this time of transition and perhaps help Flood's club exceed the low expectations.
2. Who made this schedule, anyway?
After a Thursday night opener on Aug. 28 at Washington State and an otherwise unimpressive non-conference slate, the Scarlet Knights' path gets downright treacherous. Rutgers plays the Penn State Littany Lions and the Michigan Wolverines at home to open the Big Ten, then faces trips to the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Nebraska Cornhuskers, followed by a return home to meet the Wisconsin Badgers. Mix in a finishing stretch against the Indiana Hoosiers and trips to the Michigan State Spartans and fellow newcomer Maryland Terrapins, and you're looking at a recipe for trouble. It's not easy to be the new kid, preparing for an unknown foe every week. Just ask Nebraska in 2011, which faced an equally daunting list of opponents and was twice blown out on the road. Most likely, Rutgers is in for a rude introduction to the Big Ten, maligned often as a league but still a sizable step up from the AAC.
3. What's the most realistic reason for optimism?
No doubt, it's the defense. New 35-year-old coordinator Joe Rossi, elevated from special teams coordinator, inherits a salty bunch, led up front by Hamilton, who figures to improve on his 4 1/2-sack sophomore season. Sophomore Steve Longa, strangely omitted from the Butkus Award watch list, is a tackling machine, and Kevin Snyder is solid in the middle. Waters leads a group of defensive backs that struggled last year, allowing more passing yards than any team in school history. It contributed to the ouster of coordinator Dave Cohen, but the group figures to improve this fall with more stability throughout. The Nittany Lions and quarterback Christian Hackenberg offer a nice test in Week 3.
What's on your mind?
Adam Rittenberg: Wisconsin would gain national respect. Sure, some would point to LSU's personnel losses and potential weaknesses on offense entering the season. But coach Les Miles never has lost an opener in nine years with the Tigers, and his teams have performed especially well in these types of games -- openers at neutral sites against other major-conference teams. Wisconsin has far more question marks than LSU entering this game, and a win would quiet a lot of the skeptics (including yours truly) and put the Badgers in serious contention for a playoff spot, especially with a favorable Big Ten schedule on tap. LSU essentially is the home team in Houston. The Tigers should be very tough on defense. The expectation is that they'll win. A Wisconsin win would and should turn heads.
@ESPN_BigTen ? 4 next mailbag. After reading 5 biggest non-l games, if W beats LSU, would they get respect or would LSU get pass?— Matt Pacholski (@Mpachol) July 16, 2014
Eric from Troy, Mich., writes: Everyone seems to be harping on Michigan's offense for the coming season, but I think their real issue is on defense, a topic that doesn't get seem to get a lot of coverage. MSU (my alma mater) and OSU both basically scored at will last year. The Wolverines had 8 games where an opponent scored more than 21 points, and three games where they gave up 40+. But forget all that and just focus on the fact that Akron, a middle-of-the-road MAC team, put up 24 on them! Is there anything to suggest that UofM's defense will be better this year? And if not, how can anyone seriously believe they are going to contend for anything important?
Adam Rittenberg: I agree not enough criticism/analysis is focused on Michigan's defense. The unit looked awful at the end of the season, surrendering 73 points and 946 yards in the final two games (losses to Ohio State and Kansas State). I thought young quarterback Shane Morris played decently in a tough situation in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, but the defense didn't give Michigan a chance against K-State. What can we expect this fall? Michigan shuffled its defensive staff responsibilities, which includes coordinator Greg Mattison directly overseeing the linebackers and the secondary being split between Curt Mallory and Roy Manning. I think Michigan will be better in the back seven. There's good experience at linebacker with Jake Ryan, James Ross III, Desmond Morgan and Joe Bolden. The depth in the secondary might not be quite as strong but I expect big things from cornerback Blake Countess. The key is finding difference-makers up front. Will Frank Clark become a bona fide star? What about Mario Ojemudia, Brennen Beyer and Taco Charlton? Who steps up at defensive tackle? I don't expect Michigan to be a bad defense in 2014, but the line will determine whether it's average, better than average or very good.
Adam Rittenberg: A lot would depend on how the Big Ten performs in nonleague play and whether a Big Ten team runs the table at 13-0. I've written repeatedly that an undefeated team from a major conference won't be left out. The question is whether a one-loss Big Ten team could get in with two SEC teams. I think if Michigan State plays Oregon close and then goes on to sweep the Big Ten for the second straight year, it could get in at 12-1. Could Ohio State or Iowa or Wisconsin or Nebraska? Depends on what happens elsewhere. In terms of other conferences being left out with two SEC playoff teams, the Big 12 would top my list. Oklahoma might be the only realistic playoff contender entering the season. Maybe Baylor, too, but the Bears must visit the Sooners. I don't think a Big 12 team can afford a regular-season loss and still make the top four. I also think the ACC would be in major trouble if Florida State stumbles. There aren't many other genuine candidates. I like the SEC and Pac-12 to get at least one playoff team this year.
@ESPN_BigTen if 2 Sec teams make the playoff would the Big Ten be shut out? If not then which conference?— Paul Mosher (@Moshers07604) July 16, 2014
Daniel from Robbinsville, N.J., writes: Why hasn't more attention been paid to the addition of Ralph Friedgen in evaluating Rutgers for the upcoming season? His resume as an Offensive Coordinator is overwhelming and he has plenty of returning talent to work with.
Adam Rittenberg: I really like the hire, Daniel. Friedgen's priority will be getting quarterback Gary Nova on track for his final season. Nova had a really nice start to the 2012 campaign but struggled down the stretch and for most of 2013. Friedgen's success is not only with the scheme but in managing quarterbacks like Boomer Esiason, Frank Reich, Shawn Jones and Joe Hamilton. Rutgers' offense returns almost entirely intact and features some exciting pieces like running back Paul James, wide receiver Leonte Carroo and tight end Tyler Kroft. The key is generating consistent production and more explosive plays. It will be tough with this schedule, but Friedgen is proven.
@ESPN_BigTen Does Desmond King have what it takes to be 1 of the best shutdown corners in B1G this year? How much will he impact the IA D?— Caleb Simon (@HeyImSimonSays) July 16, 2014
Adam Rittenberg: I really like King's skill set and potential, and he'll have every opportunity to become a shutdown corner. Iowa has had a really nice run of them with Amari Spievey, Shaun Prater, Micah Hyde and B.J. Lowery. King, the first true freshman corner to start for Iowa since 2002, could be among the best as he continues to develop. He'll be matched up against top opposing wideouts this fall. His first test comes Sept. 20 when he'll likely go against Pitt wideout Tyler Boyd, who had 1,174 receiving yards as a freshman last season. I'm also interested to see how he fares against Maryland's threats -- possibly Stefon Diggs -- when the Hawkeyes visit the Terrapins on Oct. 18.
You won't find them in comic books or out in the Big Ten footprint fighting crime. But even opposing fans won't find it all that difficult to root for this cast of characters. Some overcame injuries or other obstacles, some have been wronged, and others just seem like genuinely good people.
There are certainly plenty of other athletes and coaches whom this could apply to, so it wasn't easy just picking a handful. But true heroes don't expect media attention for their good deeds … plus, we had to cut this list off somewhere.
So, in alphabetical order, here are the unmasked Big Ten heroes:
Adam Breneman, tight end, Penn State: Forget the fact he remained loyal and committed to the university throughout the sanctions, when he could've bolted to the likes of Florida State or Notre Dame. He's also used his football celebrity to champion a few charitable causes, something more common for coaches than players. In high school he started “Catch the Cure,” which helped raise more than $200,000 to fight Lou Gehrig's Disease. During his Under Armour jersey presentation two years ago, he even helped man a booth outside the auditorium to seek donations. Currently, he's the secretary of Penn State's nonprofit chapter of “Uplifting Athletes,” which raises money for the Kidney Cancer Association. You don't have to like the Nittany Lions, but you have to like what Breneman's doing.
Ralph Friedgen, offensive coordinator, Rutgers: Underappreciated. Underestimated. Underdog. That's why Friedgen is under two other heroes on this list. It's easy to root for someone who appeared to be unfairly punished – and is now seeking out justice on the gridiron. Friedgen is just about the only head coach to win conference coach of the year and then be fired that same season. It happened with Maryland in 2010; now, he's helping oversee a Rutgers offense that people aren't expecting a lot from. He's in the same division as the Terps -- heck, they're on the schedule this year -- and Friedgen has a chance to show Maryland it made a mistake. He certainly could've handled the dismissal better, but it's hard to blame him and easy to wish him well. As long as you're not a Terps fan, that is.
Jerry Kill, head coach, Minnesota: Stop me if you've heard this before. “I'm rooting against them when they play us, but I'm wishing all the best to ________ the rest of the season.” Chances are Kill's filled in quite a few of those sentences the past few years. He has refused to let epilepsy get the best of him, and his longevity's been a testament to his toughness. He's been a coach since 1985, and he just led the Gophers to back-to-back bowls. Plus, he recently started a new epilepsy foundation for young patients, and he put $100,000 of his own money toward that. How can you not root for this guy?
Jake Ryan, linebacker, Michigan: Torn anterior cruciate ligaments are usually big setbacks, something that means missed seasons or at least gradual returns. Not for Ryan. The Michigan linebacker, a team captain last season, was on crutches last spring and returned in time for the Oct. 12 game against Penn State. Said defensive coordinator Greg Mattison: “If he ever truly logged the hours of extra treatment and extra rehab that he has done since the day that happened, I think it would floor you.” Nothing has really been handed to Ryan, as he wasn't a highly sought-after recruit. But he's worked hard and now finds himself on the preseason watch lists for the Bednarik and Nagurski awards. It's his final season at Michigan, and big things are expected from him.
Heroes on deck: Tracy Claeys, Stefon Diggs, Herb Hand, Jeremy Langford, Venric Mark
John from Omaha writes: Regarding Nebraska vs. Expansion, you missed an important point in your assessment of Husker aversion to the new additions and the resulting new divisions. First, the West Division reminds Husker fans of the Big XII North. This is a problem because there are real disadvantages of being part of a division that is weak in terms of its national brand (star power). Husker fans want to be associated with Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan because it will help our program be successful. Playing Michigan, OSU and PSU brings national exposure. Exposure brings more success; exposure builds the Husker national brand, exposure helps recruiting. Exposure is everything. You missed the point entirely by saying the Huskers think they are too good for the West; it's not about Nebraska being too good for the West. IT'S ABOUT NATIONAL EXPOSURE!
As for the Big Ten West resembling the Big 12 North, I think that might be a bit unfair. Wisconsin, after all, has been to three Rose Bowls in the past four years and is a nationally recognized brand. Iowa has had a lot of success this century and appears to be on another upswing. Northwestern and Illinois have had their tastes of major bowls. If anything, the West should feature a lot of parity, if not a many superpowers. It will be up to those teams to make sure the balance of power between the two divisions doesn't get out of whack.
Sky F. from Norfolk, Neb., writes: I'd like to quote Herm Edwards here: "YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!" We here in Nebraska don't really care who we play, so long as we are playing. I'd also like to quote you another saying: "Not the victory but the action, not the goal but the game: in the deed the glory." If that doesn't sum up to you what Nebraska football means to us I don't know what else can. I couldn't care less who we are playing, I regret NOT AT ALL leaving the Big 12; I care only for those fall Saturday afternoons and watching my team play. Sure it'd be nice to play OSU or Michigan, but I'm not going to be too fussed about it one way or another.
Brian Bennett: An interesting take there, Sky, and I would say the record 333-game sellout streak at Memorial Stadium indicates that Big Red will show up no matter who is on the opposing sideline. Parity scheduling should also mean that the Huskers get at least one big-name opponent from the East Division most years, and upgraded nonconference scheduling including the likes of Oklahoma also helps. If Nebraska wins at a healthy rate and plays often in the Big Ten championship game, I don't think there will be too many complaints in Lincoln. Playing in the West can be an advantage, after all.
Brian Bennett: Bob, that prediction of 0-4 wasn't a knock on Rutgers as much as it was an acknowledgment of how incredibly difficult that stretch would be for anyone, let alone a team adjusting to a brand new league. As I wrote, Michigan looks like the most beatable team of that group, especially if the Wolverines continue their up-and-down pattern of a year ago. Rutgers might have beaten a Bret Bielema-coached team last year, but he doesn't have Arkansas quite up to his old Wisconsin standards yet. It will be fascinating to see how the Scarlet Knights' undersized but athletic defensive front handles what has long been one of the Big Ten's toughest units to handle in the Badgers' massive O-line. I am with you on your last point: if Rutgers is going to jump up and make some noise, it will have to make huge improvements on offense and at quarterback in general. Ralph Friedgen might be the man to make that happen.
Brian Bennett: The difficulty of the Gophers' 2014 league schedule -- crossover games against Michigan and Ohio State, road matchups at Nebraska and Wisconsin -- make it hard to forecast a better record than last year's 8-4 regular-season mark. But every time I talk to Gophers players and coaches, they sound confident that this could be the best team in the Jerry Kill era. The obvious area for major improvement is in the passing game, which really couldn't be more ineffective than it was last year. The offensive line and running game should remain strong, and the defense should be good if the Gophers make up for the absence of Ra'Shede Hageman. Whether Minnesota can take another step forward likely will come down to if it can pull of some upsets, like breaking those losing streaks against the Wolverines and Badgers.
Brian Bennett: I think many programs would suffer in comparison to the player-development abilities of Michigan State (with the exception of maybe Iowa and Wisconsin). The Spartans do that as well as anybody, and though not all of their recruits are highly rated, they do an outstanding job of locating athletes who fit their profile and system without worrying about star rankings. Still, I don't think there's any lack of development at Ohio State. We saw how the offensive line went from an underachieving group to becoming the best in the Big Ten for two years under Ed Warriner. Guys like Ryan Shazier, Bradley Roby, Carlos Hyde and Philly Brown more than lived up to their potential. The safety position and linebackers outside of Shazier haven't had as much success, but I think we'll see that start to change this year. I'm more concerned about Michigan's player-development system, given how few true superstars have emerged yet out of some highly ranked classes in Ann Arbor. But there is still time.
But what could quickly change the reaction is a new rivalry being created by the two expansion members. On that front, there is some promising potential.
good look earlier today at the Maryland-Penn State rivalry, such as it is. The on-field history says, "nothing to see here, move along," as Penn State has gone 35-1-1 all time versus the Terrapins. But first-year Nittany Lions coach James Franklin seems to have a way of getting under opponents' skin, which opens up a realm of possibilities for this feud going forward.
Franklin spoke openly about "dominating the region" in recruiting upon taking the Penn State job. During a speech last month to boosters in Baltimore -- right in the Terps' backyard, Franklin said he viewed Maryland and New Jersey an in-state recruiting territory for his team. As far as other schools in the area? "They might as well shut them down, because they don't have a chance," he told the boosters.
Franklin would later say his words were taken out of context, but the implication was pretty clear nonetheless.
Well, Maryland coach Randy Edsall was in Pennsylvania for a golf outing earlier this week and fired back at Franklin's comments.
"Talk is cheap,” Edsall told the York (Pa.) Dispatch. "We're not gonna boast and brag. We're more about substance at Maryland. We're gonna find guys that fit the profile we're looking for. We're gonna worry about ourselves and not worry about anything else.”
I love it. Sure, coaches often spout off in the summertime, especially when rabble-rousing for their own boosters. Remember Brady Hoke's comments about Notre Dame "chickening out" of the Michigan series last year around this time? It's not so much a war of words as it is something to talk about.
But there's no doubt that these types of things add to the rivalry. Michigan did, after all, play the "Chicken Dance" song after beating the Irish at home last September. Wolverines fans ate it up.
The Maryland-Penn State series already has a little bit of juice, thanks both to the geography and the fact that Franklin used to be the Terrapins' head-coach-in-waiting. There is little doubt the two schools will butt heads on the recruiting trail, as Penn State already has four players from Maryland and the Washington D.C. area committed for the 2015 class.
"Maryland has not had a lot of success against Penn State," Edsall told the Dispatch. "I think it's something that can be a good rivalry. We have to do something about that on our end."
Then there's Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have been just as futile over the years against the Nittany Lions as Maryland, going 2-22 all time. Still, the two schools aren't that far apart and share some commonality as northeastern state flagship institutions. Penn State has had lots of success recruiting New Jersey over the years, and Franklin's former boss -- ex-Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen -- is now the offensive coordinator at Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights will host the Nittany Lions on Sept. 13 in their first conference game as a Big Ten member; the game was scheduled before the league invited the Rutgers to join.
Rutgers fans have been looking forward to that game for many months and would love nothing more than to score the upset.
"There is a buzz from the fans,” coach Kyle Flood told reporters last month. “College football is at its best when its regional. They are our neighbor to the west, and they are the Big Ten school in Pennsylvania. Our fans are excited about it. I think they should be excited about it. We’ve got a lot of work to do for the season before that. We’ve got some really challenging games before that, but it’s probably fitting that that’s the Big Ten opener.”
Franklin likely won't be a popular figure in either Piscataway or College Park in the foreseeable future. And that's a good thing, because what the league needs with these two new East Coast additions are some buzz-worthy rivalries.
Quarterbacks who throw for 3,000 yards in the Big Ten aren't quite as rare as, say, a snow leopard, but they don't come around all that frequently, either. After all, this is a league associated with three yards and a cloud of dust, not 3,000 yards and a chem trail.
But the passing game continues to take on more and more importance throughout college football, and the conference is not immune despite producing just one 3,000-yard passer in each of the past two seasons (Penn State's Matt McGloin in 2012, Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase in 2013). Who might reach that prestigious mark in 2014? Let's take our best guesses, in order of most likely:
- Christian Hackenberg, Penn State (2,955 passing yards in 2013): Hackenberg very nearly got to the 3k level as a true freshman, which is all the more remarkable considering the Nittany Lions didn't have the benefit of a bowl game. He probably won't get a 13th game again this season barring an NCAA surprise but should continue to improve as a sophomore and is the most gifted young quarterback in the Big Ten. The big question mark is whether his young receiving corps and a thin offensive line can help him out.
- Devin Gardner, Michigan (2,960): For all the faults people found in Gardner's game in 2013, he still almost reached 3,000 yards and would have certainly done so had he been healthy for the bowl game. He won't have favorite target Jeremy Gallon around and just about everybody else on offense is young. But he has shown he can put up big numbers when he's healthy and protecting the ball.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Charlie NeibergallDespite some struggles, Michigan's Devin Gardner almost hit the 3,000-yard passing mark in 2013.
- Connor Cook, Michigan State (2,755): Cook never had a 300-yard passing day before the Big Ten championship game; then he turned in two straight in winning MVP honors in Indianapolis and again in the Rose Bowl. A 14-game schedule helped get him close to 3,000 yards, but don't forget that he didn't begin the season as the starter or gain the coaches' confidence until late September. He'll have a lot more on his plate this season, and the junior could gobble up some major yardage.
- C.J. Brown, Maryland (2,242): Brown arguably has the best two wide receivers in the Big Ten if -- and this is a big, blaring, neon if -- Stefon Diggs and Deon Long stay healthy. Avoiding injury is also a big key for Brown, who missed a pair of games last season. But the senior could be poised for a massive season if everything breaks right.
- Wes Lunt, Illinois (1,108 yards for Oklahoma State): Lunt has yet to throw a pass for the Fighting Illini and hasn't played a down in two years. Yet he showed his immense potential as a true freshman for the Cowboys in 2012, and Bill Cubit's offense provides tremendous opportunities for quarterbacks to put up numbers (see Scheelhaase last season). Lunt still has to officially win the job, and the team must find playmakers at receiver. But who in the world thought Scheelhaase would lead the Big Ten in passing in 2013 this time last year?
- Nate Sudfeld (2,523) or Tre Roberson (1,128), Indiana: If we believed either of these guys would hold the job full-time all season, a 3,000-yard season would be a no-brainer. The Hoosiers have juggled quarterbacks the past two years, with their signal-callers combining to go over 3,000 yards both seasons behind a prolific passing attack. Alas, you never quite know who will take the snaps or when Kevin Wilson will decide to make a change. Sudfeld is a better bet as a 3,000-yard passer since Roberson brings more of a running element to the table, but either could post sky-high stats if given the reins every Saturday.
- Trevor Siemian, Northwestern (2,149): Siemian surpassed 2,000 yards last season despite splitting time at quarterback with Kain Colter. Now that the job is his alone, the Wildcats should become much more of a passing team to suit his skills. That could equal a big-time bump in Siemian's numbers.
- Gary Nova, Rutgers (2,159): The first thing Nova has to do is stop throwing the ball to the other team, as he did 14 times in just 10 games last season. And he has to, you know, secure the job in the Scarlet Knights' quarterback derby. But he threw for nearly 2,700 yards in 2012, and now gets renowned quarterback guru Ralph Friedgen to guide him. So it's possible he could finally put it all together.
- Braxton Miller, Ohio State (2,094): Miller would need to improve his numbers by almost 1,000 yards, and that's after a 14-game season by the Buckeyes. But he did miss basically three full games last season, and Ohio State wants to become a more dangerous downfield passing team. The senior missed spring practice with a shoulder injury but has worked hard on his mechanics. Don't put anything past the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Penn State 14 Illinois 16 Final Indiana 27 6 Ohio State 42 Final 25 Minnesota 28 23 Nebraska 24 Final Northwestern 38 Purdue 14 Final Rutgers 3 11 Michigan State 45 Final 16 Wisconsin 26 Iowa 24 Final Maryland 23 Michigan 16