Big Ten: Tommy Rees

Big Ten Friday mailblog

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
4:00
PM ET
Thanks for all your questions and answers. Enjoy the games this weekend.

Don't forget: Twitter is the best way to follow us on game days.

Phil from Vancouver, Wash., writes: Lets assume Ohio State runs the table and goes undefeated. If Wisconsin can win out and end up 10-1-0-1 (W-L-T-Screwed), where do you see them ending up for a bowl? With the BIG No. 5 in AQ leagues, I don't see them in the BCS.

Adam Rittenberg: It depends on so many factors, Phil. If Ohio State doesn't make the national title game and goes to the Rose Bowl, the chances of the Big Ten receiving an at-large BCS berth go down. If the Rose Bowl loses a Big Ten team to the national title game, it likely would look for a Big Ten replacement, as long as one is eligible. Would the Rose want Wisconsin for a fourth consecutive year? Tough to tell. There are also other conferences in play, and right now you'd have to expect the SEC and Pac-12 to each send two teams to BCS bowls. And as long as Clemson and Florida State don't both fall apart, both teams are likely BCS bowl bound as well. The advantage Wisconsin would have is a long win streak to end the season, as opposed to a possible loss in the league title game, which often is the kiss of death when it comes to at-large berths.


Ian from Tacoma, Wash., writes: Adam, I know there has been some talk from you and Brian recently in regard to conference perception and how it shapes top-25 rankings and the national championship picture, but I think this is becoming more of an issue than most folks realize. Why does Georgia scraping by a pretty lousy Tennessee team (that got slaughtered by Oregon) constitute a "tough road win" by the so-called experts, yet Ohio State's road win against top-15 Northwestern gets ignored? Even further, why does Ohio State get lambasted every week for their schedule, while Oregon gets constant media praise, despite having played a MISERABLE slate of games so far? Oregon is getting credit for games they haven't played yet, while Ohio State gets punished for games it hasn't played yet. I'm getting pretty frustrated with the inconsistency and hypocrisy in how teams are portrayed, simply because of the conference in which they compete.

Adam Rittenberg: Ian, I hear ya, and Ohio State should be getting more credit for finding ways to win against good teams despite making some mistakes along the way. Georgia's win at Tennessee was vastly overvalued because the Bulldogs had so many injuries. Tennessee is mediocre at best. The Oregon example is interesting, because while Virginia and Tennessee aren't any good, it looks like the Ducks at least tried to schedule major-conference teams. Those quick to criticize Ohio State for living in cupcake city probably don't realize Vanderbilt canceled this year's game in Columbus. Vandy is no Alabama, but the Commodores are comparable to Virginia and Tennessee right now. And it's not Ohio State's fault that Cal is going through transition. Could Ohio State have done a little more with scheduling? Perhaps. But the bigger problem for the Buckeyes is the Big Ten's lousy perception, something Georgia and Oregon don't have to worry about.


Dan from Watercooler writes: True or false: Bo [Pelini's] long-term outlook with the Huskers should be more based on what he does this and maybe next season, vs. what happened last season. Reasoning: Bo's defense last season had all sorts of seniors, effectively meaning he had a cap on what he could draw from them talent-wise. We've seen glimpses of what the defense is capable of (see: first half UCLA, parts of Illinois) and can see the talent there, but it needs time to build. Counterpoint: Last year's defense consisted largely of talent he developed; he should have been able to recognize gaps in the defense and find ways to correct them.I'd give him the benefit of a doubt and say, with the seemingly more athletic players he has coming up, he should be judged more on what happens from here.

Adam Rittenberg: A nice breakdown from the water cooler, Dan. Nebraska's defense might be both younger and more talented this season. Pelini has alluded to it throughout the offseason, and I already see signs of more difference-makers with the Huskers D, especially in the front seven. That said, Pelini shouldn't get a pass for the struggles on defense last season because he brought in all of those players. Although Nebraska's move to the Big Ten probably didn't help a defense that had been shaped for the Big 12, the breakdowns in big games were inexcusable. This year's defense has had and will continue to have some growing pains, but if the unit isn't better in November than now, it falls on Pelini and the staff.


Matt from Baltimore writes: I was looking at this map of AAU schools, and I was trying to guess where the next Big Ten expansion could be. Assuming that any schools in the ACC, SEC, or Pac-12 will stay put, it looks like the most appealing school from a state bordering a Big Ten state is Kansas (a distant second is Iowa State). What do you think the odds are of a Big Ten land grab into Big 12 territory in the near future?

Adam Rittenberg: Ah, Matt, we must be overdue for an expansion question. Keep in mind that the Big 12 also has a grant of rights agreement, just like the ACC does, which makes it very difficult for schools to leave the league. The Big 12 also has great leadership now with Bob Bowlsby as commissioner. Although Texas could still send things into flux, I'd be surprised if more Big 12 schools jumped ship. The one league the Big Ten could look to, believe it or not, is the SEC, which amazingly doesn't have a grant of rights agreement. Anyone else think Missouri is a much better fit in the Big Ten than the SEC? Still, Mizzou would be giving up a lot, and I don't think the Big Ten wants to expand West when it has talked so much about being bi-regional and trying to bring in the northeast corridor. Problem is, there aren't any great candidates on the East Coast.


Matt from Iowa writes: Who will be the last to surrender a rushing touchdown, Iowa or Michigan?

Adam Rittenberg: I'm going with Michigan, especially since Iowa is off this week and the Wolverines face a Penn State team that, while lagging in rushing offense, has 11 rushing touchdowns through the first five games. I have Akeel Lynch scoring the game-winning touchdown for Penn State on Saturday, so I think the Wolverines' run of zero rush touchdowns ends.


Mike from Minneapolis writes: Thoughts on the selection committee? As a Nebraska fan, I'm not all that thrilled to see that if they come into the playoff discussion Osborne/Alvarez will have to leave the room and their fate will be decided by a group of southerners.

Adam Rittenberg: I'm glad you asked, Mike, as I didn't get much chance to address this last weekend. While I understand your concern about Nebraska and the ties that both Tom Osborne and Barry Alvarez have to the school, I couldn't be happier with these choices to represent the Big Ten on the committee. They're both home runs: smart football men who have served as administrations and have thick enough skin to handle the job after coaching major programs for a long time. Alvarez was the overwhelming choice among sitting athletic directors to represent the Big Ten when we conducted a poll back in July, and it would have been a close race between Alvarez and Osborne if Osborne still served as Nebraska's AD. Big Ten fans should be really pleased with these two.


Jon from Columbus writes: Adam, Michigan has allowed seven offensive TDs in five games so far, and yet ... and yet ... you're calling for PSU to score 38 on them on Saturday? I just don't see your reasoning based on any sound football analysis. Listen, Penn State might beat Michigan this week. But if it happens, it very likely won't come in a fireworks-filled offensive shootout.

Adam Rittenberg: Jon, maybe the score prediction is a little high, but Michigan has faced only one decent offense (Notre Dame) through the first five games -- the other four are ranked 106th or worse nationally -- and hasn't done much defensively to stand out aside from allowing no rushing touchdowns. Tommy Rees made plays against Michigan's secondary but couldn't avoid the turnover. Christian Hackenberg has more natural ability than Rees and poses a bigger challenge for the Wolverines, who still don't have any standouts on defense (Jake Ryan comes back soon). This is a great chance for Michigan's defense to stand out against a good quarterback in a tough road setting. But I expect to see quite a few points scored at Beaver Stadium.

Big Ten predictions: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
9:00
AM ET
Three weeks in and we're all square in the season standings. Get ready for a tightly contested race most of the way.

The Week 4 slate isn't nearly as appetizing as its predecessor, although there are a few sneaky good games on the docket. Big Ten play officially begins at Camp Randall Stadium and 11 league squads are in action (Illinois is off).

Let's begin …

SAN JOSE STATE at MINNESOTA

Brian Bennett: Mitch Leidner could start at quarterback for the Gophers as Philip Nelson is questionable with a hamstring injury. That's not good news against a San Jose State team led by a future NFL draft pick in David Fales. The Spartans are the best team Minnesota has played, and I say they pull off the road upset. … San Jose State 24, Minnesota 20


Adam Rittenberg: A tough one here as the Gophers haven't been tested and San Jose State's Fales could stress a secondary already down one starter (Briean Boddy-Calhoun). There's some uncertainty on offense at quarterback, but I like the fact the Gophers have a full stable of running backs. Minnesota racks up 200 rush yards and three touchdowns to survive with a win. … Minnesota 27, San Jose State 24

FLORIDA A&M at OHIO STATE

Adam Rittenberg: The scoreboard operator will be busy as Buckeyes backs Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde combine for six touchdowns. The quarterbacks don't have to do much in this one as Ohio State rolls on to 4-0. … Ohio State 59, Florida A&M 7

Brian Bennett: This is a ludicrous matchup. Buckeyes can name their score. … Ohio State 63, Florida A&M 10


WESTERN MICHIGAN at IOWA

Brian Bennett: Oh boy. We get to watch Western Michigan take on a Big Ten team for the third time in four weeks. The first two times didn't go well for the Broncos, and Mark Weisman will add to their misery with 150 yards rushing. … Iowa 35, Western Michigan 7


Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern ran roughshod on Western Michigan and Iowa will do the same. Coach Kirk Ferentz gives Weisman a bit of a breather and spreads the ball around, as both Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri reach the end zone. Iowa pulls away in the third quarter. … Iowa 31, Western Michigan 10

MAINE at NORTHWESTERN

Adam Rittenberg: Expect another vanilla offensive game plan from Northwestern as the coaches save the goods for Week 6 against Ohio State. Five different Wildcats rush for touchdowns, including true freshman Warren Long, in the team's final tune-up before Big Ten play. … Northwestern 48, Maine 13

Brian Bennett: Please don't feed the Black Bears! Ibraheim Campbell makes it six games in a row with a pick as the Wildcats roll. … Northwestern 45, Maine 17


MICHIGAN STATE at NOTRE DAME

Brian Bennett: The Spartans finally have a bit of confidence and stability at quarterback, but Connor Cook still has a ways to go and this is a tough road spot. The Irish jump out early on a special-teams touchdown and manage to hold on in a defensive struggle. … Notre Dame 17, Michigan State 10


Adam Rittenberg: Michigan State's renewed offense comes in with confidence and scores early. But reality begins to set in on the road, and the Spartans stall midway through the second quarter. The defense keeps it close as always, but Notre Dame rallies late behind Tommy Rees and his receivers. … Notre Dame 19, Michigan State 16

SOUTH DAKOTA STATE at NEBRASKA

Adam Rittenberg: The Huskers rest top quarterback Taylor Martinez (toe), and backups Ron Kellogg III and Tommy Armstrong both play and combine for three pass touchdowns. Imani Cross sparks the rushing attack in the second quarter and Nebraska fans can smile a little after a brutal eight-day stretch. … Nebraska 59, South Dakota State 14

Brian Bennett: The Jackrabbits are just what Nebraska needs right now. The Huskers get off to a sluggish start without a healthy Martinez, but Randy Gregory forces a fumble for a defensive score and the running game is too much for SDSU to handle. … Nebraska 38, South Dakota State 10


KENT STATE at PENN STATE

Brian Bennett: I think the Penn State defense comes out mad after last week's performance, and Kent State has had a tough time scoring so far this season. Zach Zwinak scores twice and the defense comes up with three turnovers. … Penn State 28, Kent State 10


Adam Rittenberg: Unless Blake Bortles secretly suits up for the Golden Flashes, Penn State should be OK in this one and takes control in the second quarter. Chalk up two more touchdown passes from Christian Hackenberg to Allen Robinson, and defensive end Deion Barnes finally shows up for the Lions. … Penn State 31, Kent State 20

PURDUE at WISCONSIN

Adam Rittenberg: No officiating blunders in this one as Wisconsin starts a bit slowly before getting Melvin Gordon and the run game going in the second half. Gordon records his first 20-carry performance and racks up 180 yards and two touchdowns. Purdue jumps out to an early lead but once again struggles in the fourth quarter. … Wisconsin 34, Purdue 21

Brian Bennett: Purdue hasn't been able to stop the Wisconsin running game the past couple of years, and it's no different in this one. Gordon and James White each eclipse 100 yards and the Badgers take out some frustration on the Boilermakers. ... … Wisconsin 42, Purdue 14


MICHIGAN at CONNECTICUT

Brian Bennett: The Wolverines haven't been quite the same team on the road as they have been at home for Brady Hoke, but Rentschler Field ain't exactly the Horseshoe. UConn doesn't have enough offensive talent to do much damage, and Devin Gardner bounces back with four total touchdowns and just one turnover. … Michigan 38, Connecticut 9


Adam Rittenberg: Last week's near disaster against Akron will heighten Michigan's focus. So, too, will a road game under the lights (even if it feels more like a home game). Gardner delivers a turnover-free performance, and Fitz Toussaint has a big game on the ground (130 rush yards, 2 TDs). … Michigan 35, Connecticut 17

MISSOURI at INDIANA

Adam Rittenberg: This should be the most entertaining game of the day, as both offenses will put up points. Maybe I'm buying into Indiana too much after last week's impressive performance, but I like what I saw from the defense, which does just enough against Mizzou and records a game-ending takeaway. Expect another balanced offensive performance as Tevin Coleman rushes for two more touchdowns. … Indiana 41, Missouri 37

Brian Bennett: I expect a wild shootout where the punters can probably chill out on the sidelines. Ultimately, I don't have enough faith in the Hoosiers’ defense and think James Franklin and Henry Josey will be too much to overcome. But take heart, Indiana fans: I've been wrong on your team each of the past two weeks. … Missouri 48, Indiana 42


You've heard from us. Now it's time to see what this week's guest picker has cooked up. As a reminder, throughout the season we'll choose one fan/loyal blog reader each week to try his or her hand at outsmarting us. There's nothing but pride and some extremely limited fame at stake. If you're interested in participating, contact us here and here. Include your full name (real names, please) and hometown and a brief description why you should be that week's guest picker. Please also include "GUEST PICKS" in all caps somewhere in your email so we can find it easily.

We felt a little sorry for this guy after what happened last week in Tempe, Ariz. Garret Olsen from Madison, Wis., the floor is yours:
I am a born-and-raised Wisconsin fan and 2010 University of Wisconsin Grad in complete shock this week. I'm in need of a win. I attended my first Badger football game with my grandparents when I was 5 years old and have attended many more Badger games over the years with them. I never missed a home game during my time as an undergrad and traveled to many of the B1G stadiums and followed the Badgers to Indy and Pasadena. Each week my former Mifflin Street college roommate and I have a friendly pick-off between us and I can proudly report that I have beaten him the last two years. The blog is a daily read for me and I would be honored to pick alongside you and Adam and I promise not to botch any last-second pick situations.

Here are Garret's Week 4 selections:

San Jose State 35, Minnesota 34
Ohio State 45, Florida A&M 7
Iowa 28, Western Michigan 14
Northwestern 55, Maine 10
Notre Dame 17, Michigan State 10
Nebraska 42, South Dakota State 21
Penn State 33, Kent State 24
Wisconsin 49, Purdue 17
Michigan 34, Connecticut 13
Missouri 42, Indiana 38

SEASON RECORDS

Adam Rittenberg: 31-5
Brian Bennett: 31-5
Guest pickers: 27-9

Video: Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees

September, 15, 2013
9/15/13
12:47
AM ET

The Fighting Irish's senior signal-caller talks about his team's 31-24 win at Purdue.

Big Ten picks rewind: Week 2

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
10:00
AM ET
Week 2 in the Big Ten went mostly according to plan, although there were a few surprises (hello, Illini). The season standings don't change as Brian and I picked the same winners and both finished 10-2. Expect some shuffling this week as the matchups get much more interesting.

WEEK 2/SEASON RECORD

Brian Bennett: 10-2, 22-2 (.917)
Adam Rittenberg: 10-2, 21-3 (.875)

Let's look back at the predictions made by us and by guest picker Nick Schmit from West Des Moines, Iowa.

Rewind time …


Eastern Michigan at Penn State
  • Bennett's pick: Penn State 35, Eastern Michigan 9
  • Rittenberg's pick: Penn State 31, Eastern Michigan 10
  • Actual score: Penn State 45, Eastern Michigan 7
  • 20-20 hindsight: A pretty strong start as we both came relatively close on the final score. Penn State exceeded my rush yards prediction of 175, ending up with 251. Christian Hackenberg had only one passing touchdown, not three, as Brian had predicted, while Lions wideout Allen Robinson had the lone touchdown grab, not two.
Indiana State at Purdue
  • Bennett's pick: Purdue 45, Indiana State 17
  • Rittenberg's pick: Purdue 38, Indiana State 14
  • Actual score: Purdue 20, Indiana State 14
  • 20-20 hindsight: We both came close on Indiana State's score but expected much more from Purdue's offense against an FCS foe. Akeem Hunt had one return touchdown, one shy of my total touchdowns prediction for him. Boilers defensive tackle Bruce Gaston had a big game with two sacks, but not the forced fumble I had predicted.
Missouri State at Iowa
  • Bennett's pick: Iowa 31, Missouri State 13
  • Rittenberg's pick: Iowa 38, Missouri State 10
  • Actual score: Iowa 28, Missouri State 14
  • 20-20 hindsight: Not bad on the score predictions, especially Brian's. Iowa eclipsed Brian's forecast of 200 rush yards with 296. Quarterback Jake Rudock had two touchdowns, as I predicted, but they came on the ground, not through the air.
Tennessee Tech at Wisconsin
  • Bennett's pick: Wisconsin 56, Tennessee Tech 7
  • Rittenberg's pick: Wisconsin 63, Tennessee Tech 3
  • Actual score: Wisconsin 48, Tennessee Tech 0
  • 20-20 hindsight: Another predictable result, although neither of us is giving Dave Aranda's defense enough credit, as Wisconsin posted its second consecutive shutout. As I predicted, the Badgers sent running backs James White, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement into the end zone all afternoon. They combined for four rushing touchdowns.
South Florida at Michigan State
  • Bennett's pick: Michigan State 30, South Florida 10
  • Rittenberg's pick: Michigan State 34, South Florida 3
  • Actual score: Michigan State 21, South Florida 6
  • 20-20 hindsight: We clearly overestimated Michigan State's offense, which continues to sputter at an alarming rate. Three quarterbacks played for the Spartans, as Brian predicted, but none threw for touchdowns. Jeremy Langford made me look good with a touchdown run, but Riley Bullough didn't get there. And no, neither of us pegged defensive end Shilique Calhoun for two more scores.
Cincinnati at Illinois
  • Bennett's pick: Cincinnati 42, Illinois 27
  • Rittenberg's pick: Cincinnati 28, Illinois 17
  • Actual score: Illinois 45, Cincinnati 17
  • 20-20 hindsight: A big swing in a miss here as Nathan Scheelhaase and the Illini made us look really dumb (it's not that hard). At least I had Scheelhaase for a first-quarter touchdown pass to Josh Ferguson (48-yarder), and Brian had him eclipsing 300 pass yards (he finished with 312).
San Diego State at Ohio State
  • Bennett's pick: Ohio State 45, San Diego State 20
  • Rittenberg's pick: Ohio State 41, San Diego State 13
  • Actual score: Ohio State 42, San Diego State 7
  • 20-20 hindsight: I'll take a bow for the score prediction, although we both underestimated Ohio State's defense in Week 2 with cornerback Bradley Roby back in the fold. Roby didn't have an interception as Brian thought, as two other cornerbacks (Armani Reeves and Doran Grant) collected picks. Dontre Wilson scored his first touchdown as a Buckeye, making my prediction come true, but Braxton Miller went down early with a knee injury.
Southern Miss at Nebraska
  • Bennett's pick: Nebraska 49, Southern Miss 24
  • Rittenberg's pick: Nebraska 42, Southern Miss 17
  • Actual score: Nebraska 56, Southern Miss 13
  • 20-20 hindsight: A decent set of score predictions, although we both expected Nebraska to have more problems on defense. Taylor Martinez came two touchdowns shy of Brian's prediction (5), while Ameer Abdullah finished 86 yards and one touchdown shy of my forecast for him (200 yards, three touchdowns).
Navy at Indiana
  • Bennett's pick: Indiana 28, Navy 20
  • Rittenberg's pick: Indiana 34, Navy 23
  • Actual score: Navy 41, Indiana 35
  • 20-20 hindsight: Our faith in Indiana's supposedly improved defense cost both of us, as the Hoosiers' offseason prep for Navy's tricky offense didn't translate to the game field. Nate Sudfeld found Kofi Hughes for a touchdown pass, as Brian predicted, but it came in the second quarter, not the fourth. Hoosiers running back Tevin Coleman had only one touchdown run, not two.
Syracuse at Northwestern
  • Bennett's pick: Northwestern 31, Syracuse 23
  • Rittenberg's pick: Northwestern 28, Syracuse 20
  • Actual score: Northwestern 48, Syracuse 27
  • 20-20 hindsight: Our predictions likely would have been different if we knew Kain Colter had been cleared to play. Colter shredded Syracuse early on and Trevor Siemian fired three touchdown passes but only one to Dan Vitale, not two as I predicted. Northwestern had two fourth-quarter takeaways, but the game was already over by then.
Minnesota at New Mexico State
  • Bennett's pick: Minnesota 37, New Mexico State 20
  • Rittenberg's pick: Minnesota 34, New Mexico State 21
  • Actual score: Minnesota 44, New Mexico State 21
  • 20-20 hindsight: Neither of us pegged Aggie Vision to be such a delightful experience (Casa de Autos? Yes, please), as the game's outcome never was really in doubt. Brian correctly predicted Minnesota would score a defensive touchdown, as linebacker Aaron Hill returned a fumble 50 yards in the fourth quarter. I had Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson for two passing touchdowns, but his only score came on the ground.
Notre Dame at Michigan
  • Bennett's pick: Michigan 27, Notre Dame 24
  • Rittenberg's pick: Michigan 24, Notre Dame 21
  • Actual score: Michigan 41, Notre Dame 30
  • 20-20 hindsight: Both of us expected a lower-scoring game, although Brian's prediction of a Blake Countess interception against Tommy Rees in the fourth quarter turned out to be spot on. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner and wide receiver Jeremy Gallon connected for three touchdowns, not the two that both Brian and I forecast.

Finally, let's see how our guest picker performed …

Penn State 28, Eastern Michigan 13
Purdue 28, Indiana State 21
Iowa 34, Missouri State 10
Wisconsin 70, Tennessee Tech 3
Michigan State 35, South Florida 10
Cincinnati 31, Illinois 21
Ohio State 42, San Diego State 6
Nebraska 51, Southern Miss 17
Indiana 41, Navy 31
Northwestern 42, Syracuse 20
Minnesota 33, New Mexico State 21
Notre Dame 27, Michigan 24

Not bad overall, as Nick missed on the same two games we did, in addition to the Notre Dame-Michigan contest. He had strong score predictions like Ohio State-San Diego State, Nebraska-Southern Miss and Minnesota-New Mexico State. Nick underestimated Penn State's offense and, like most of us, overestimated Michigan State's ability to score points.

Who's next?
Ten items to track around Big Ten football in Week 2:

1. House party: If the second night game at Michigan Stadium is anything like the first, we'll all be thrilled (well, except for those Notre Dame folks). Michigan and Notre Dame delivered the drama two years ago under the lights, and the spectacle Saturday night in Ann Arbor should once again be incredible. The teams' past four meetings have all been decided by seven points or fewer (19 points total). The series sadly disappears after the 2014 meeting in South Bend, so enjoy it while it lasts.

2. Rees vs. Gardner: Notre Dame-Michigan features another appetizing quarterback matchup. While Tommy Rees remains a polarizing figure for some Notre Dame fans, it's hard to argue with what he has done against Michigan. Before last Saturday's opener against Temple, Rees' only 300-yard passing performance came against Michigan two years ago, and he led Notre Dame to victory last fall. Rees can stretch the field, as he had more passes of 20 yards or longer against Temple (7) than Everett Golson had in any game last season. Devin Gardner was Michigan's leading receiver last year against Notre Dame, but he's firmly entrenched as a quarterback. Gardner has been deadly in the red zone for the Wolverines, converting 19 touchdowns in 22 red zone trips as the starter.

3. Spartans looking for a spark: Michigan State basically has two more weeks to get its offense right before facing one of the nation's top defenses on the road at Notre Dame. The unit's opening act was highly disappointing, as Michigan State averaged just 3.8 yards per play against a Western Michigan defense that ranked 61st nationally in 2012. Head coach Mark Dantonio has kept mostly quiet about his quarterback situation this week as four players continue to get reps in practice. The Spartans need a solution there and at other offensive spots against South Florida, which allowed 56 points to McNeese State in its opening loss.

4. Illini aim to continue big-play ways: One of the nation's most feeble offenses in 2012 broke out last week against Southern Illinois, as Illinois recorded six plays of 30 yards or longer -- matching its total from all of last season! Senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase recorded a career-high 416 pass yards and featured weapons like Josh Ferguson and Ryan Lankford. The question is whether the Illini can come close to that type of production against a much, much tougher opponent in Cincinnati, which held Purdue to one short scoring drive and only 226 yards last week. We'll get a much better gauge about Illinois' offensive progress against Tommy Tuberville's defense.

5. Northwestern's health: After a mostly injury-free season in 2012, Northwestern already has been bitten by that pesky bug early this fall. The Wildcats will be without starting cornerback Daniel Jones (knee) for the rest of the season, putting redshirt freshman Dwight White in the spotlight against Syracuse. Top quarterback Kain Colter (head) and running back Venric Mark (leg) both are questionable for the game. If Northwestern can survive again like it did last week against Cal, it has a chance to get healthy in the next two weeks against weaker opponents before a two-week prep for Ohio State.

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesQuarterback Devin Gardner was 10-of-15 passing for 162 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in Michigan's season-opening rout of Central Michigan.
6. Roby watch in Columbus: After playing nine new defensive starters in last week's opener against Buffalo, Ohio State regains a very big piece in All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby, who returns from suspension. Coach Urban Meyer wanted Roby to re-prove himself as a starter this week in practice, but it's only a matter of time before the junior distinguishes himself. Ohio State is looking for a cleaner performance in all three phases against struggling San Diego State, and it will be interesting to see how Roby performs.

7. Indiana's offensive efficiency: Kevin Wilson's Hoosiers scored touchdowns on five of their first six offensive possessions in last week's opener against Indiana State, en route to a Memorial Stadium-record 73 points. If Indiana can come close to that type of efficiency Saturday against Navy, it will improve to 2-0. Possessions likely will be limited against the Midshipmen, as Indiana found out last year when it had only 10 offensive drives in a 31-30 loss. The Hoosiers had to settle for three field goals of 30 yards or less and need to be better about punching it in against Navy. "You don't get as many at-bats," Wilson said.

8. Second chances: Purdue and Iowa didn't get off to the starts they wanted in Week 1, and neither did Nebraska's defense, which surrendered 35 first downs and 602 yards to Wyoming in the opener. Fortunately, all three teams should redeem themselves against weaker competition on Saturday. The Boilermakers need to boost quarterback Rob Henry's confidence and fix their communication problems on offense against Indiana State. Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock must rebound from his late interception against Missouri State. The Huskers defense, meanwhile, aims to clean things up against a Southern Miss team that has lost 13 straight and scored just 15 points against Texas State last week.

9. Wolverines' youth put to test: Don't be surprised if Michigan-Notre Dame comes down to how well the Wolverines' young interior offensive line performs against an elite Fighting Irish defensive front led by nose guard Louis Nix III and end Stephon Tuitt, two potential first-round picks in next April's NFL draft. Michigan will start redshirt freshman Kyle Kalis at right guard, true sophomore Jack Miller at center and redshirt sophomore Graham Glasgow at left guard. They'll be challenged all night long (especially Miller) as they try to create running room for Fitzgerald Toussaint and protect Gardner.

10. Hack's home debut: Penn State fans have been waiting more than a year and a half to watch quarterback Christian Hackenberg take snaps at Beaver Stadium. They'll finally get their chance Saturday as the Lions face Eastern Michigan in their home opener. Hackenberg had a few expected hiccups in his collegiate debut against Syracuse but also showed why he can be such a special player for Penn State's offense. Head coach Bill O'Brien vows to put Hackenberg in better positions to succeed this week. Hackenberg also will have top weapon Allen Robinson at his disposal from the start, which should make a big difference.

Big Ten predictions: Week 2

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
8:00
AM ET
We went a combined 23-1 in our first week of predictions, so let's see if we can keep that robust pace going. And how will our Week 2 guest picker fare?

Let's get to it:

Eastern Michigan at Penn State

Brian Bennett: Not much to see here, as Eastern Michigan has long been a Big Ten sacrificial lamb. This is a good opportunity for Christian Hackenberg to work out some kinks, and the kid throws three TD passes. ... Penn State 35, Eastern Michigan 9.

Adam Rittenberg: The Hackenberg-Allen Robinson connection will link up for two touchdowns, and Penn State coach Bill O'Brien will keep to his word and call better plays, sparking the run game to 175 yards and two scores. Lions roll. ... Penn State 31, Eastern Michigan 10

Indiana State at Purdue

Adam Rittenberg: Rob Henry gets the confidence boost he needs and Purdue fixes its communication issues on offense as running back Akeem Hunt goes for 135 yards and two touchdowns. The Boilers come out fast and get a first-quarter forced fumble from big Bruce Gaston. ... Purdue 38, Indiana State 14

Brian Bennett: The FCS just had a great weekend, so maybe we should take the three Big Ten games against FCS opponents seriously on Saturday. Nah. A team that just got done giving up 73 points to Indiana is just what the sputtering Purdue offense needs. ... Purdue 45, Indiana State 17.

Missouri State at Iowa

Brian Bennett: Iowa finally snaps its seven-game losing streak, using its superior beef to run for 200 yards, and getting a special-teams score. ... Iowa 31, Missouri State 13.

Adam Rittenberg: Yeah, this game has Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock written all over it. The tandem combines for three rushing touchdowns and Jake Rudock adds two more through the air to C.J. Fiedorowicz and Kevonte Martin-Manley. ... Iowa 38, Missouri State 10

Tennessee Tech at Wisconsin

Adam Rittenberg: James White rushing touchdown, Melvin Gordon rushing touchdown, Corey Clement rushing touchdown. Rinse and repeat. ... Wisconsin 63, Tennessee Tech 3

Brian Bennett: Yawn. Are we done with the FCS games yet? ... Wisconsin 56, Tennessee Tech 7.

South Florida at Michigan State

Brian Bennett: If the Spartans can't move the ball against a Bulls team that gave up 53 points to McNeese State last week, they've got even bigger problems than we realized. Three different QBs play for MSU, and two of them throw for TDs. ... Michigan State 30, South Florida 10.

Adam Rittenberg: I agree that Michigan State can't be much worse on offense than it was in the opener and will move the ball better, especially on the ground. Jeremy Langford and Riley Bullough both reach the end zone, and Tyler O'Connor makes the quarterback race a little more interesting. ... Michigan State 34, South Florida 3

Cincinnati at Illinois

Adam Rittenberg: The Illini start quickly and jump ahead on a Nathan Scheelhaase touchdown pass to Josh Ferguson. But reality begins to set in as a superior Cincinnati team takes charge behind its athletic defense. ... Cincinnati 28, Illinois 17

Brian Bennett: Illinois will put up a more respectable showing against the Bearcats than Purdue did. Scheelhaase throws for 300 yards and the game is close until midway through the third quarter. But there's just too much Munchie Legaux (I can't help myself). ... Cincinnati 42, Illinois 27.

San Diego State at Ohio State

Brian Bennett: I was interested in this game until San Diego State gagged against Eastern Illinois. The Buckeyes turn in a better overall effort than in Week 1, and Bradley Roby has a pick in his first game back. ... Ohio State 45, San Diego State 20.

Adam Rittenberg: My concern is Ohio State might be less interested than you are, BB. The Buckeyes overcome a sluggish start as Braxton Miller fires two second-quarter touchdown passes. Freshman Dontre Wilson scores his first touchdown for the Scarlet and Gray. ... Ohio State 41, San Diego State 13

Southern Miss at Nebraska

Adam Rittenberg: After a passionate postgame speech last week, emerging leader Ameer Abdullah takes matters into his own hands. The Huskers running back piles up 200 yards and three touchdowns. The defense has its typical hiccups early before settling down. ... Nebraska 42, Southern Miss 17

Brian Bennett: I expect -- and would hope -- that the Nebraska offense comes out mad after not finishing key drives last week. The Huskers go for the jugular this week behind Taylor Martinez's five total TDs, and the defense makes slight improvements. ... Nebraska 49, Southern Miss 24.

Navy at Indiana

Brian Bennett: It's never easy or fun to play Navy, but the Hoosiers got some experience against the option last year. The Midshipmen will shorten the game and frustrate the IU offense some, but Nate Sudfeld throws a fourth-quarter TD pass to Kofi Hughes to seal it. ... Indiana 28, Navy 20.


Adam Rittenberg: Sudfeld and the Hoosiers will finish drives better than they did last year against Navy, as Tevin Coleman twice reaches the end zone. IU forces a key third-quarter fumble and pulls away midway through the fourth quarter. Tre Roberson sees more field time in this one. ... Indiana 34, Navy 23

Syracuse at Northwestern

Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern's injury issues are worth monitoring, but the Wildcats have enough weapons on offense to outscore a Syracuse team that didn't impress me much last week against Penn State. Trevor Siemian connects with Dan Vitale on two touchdowns, and the defense comes up big again with a fourth-quarter takeaway. ... Northwestern 28, Syracuse 20

Brian Bennett: Hard to know what to expect from Northwestern because of the iffy status of both Venric Mark and Kain Colter. But Syracuse looked limited offensively last week, and I think Siemian rescues the 'Cats once again. ... Northwestern 31, Syracuse 24.

Minnesota at New Mexico State

Brian Bennett: It was a tough call between Ann Arbor and Las Cruces for the "GameDay" crew this week -- seriously, what is Minnesota doing here? Are the Gophers just big "Breaking Bad" fans who are planning a side trip to Albuquerque? Anyway, it's close for a half but the defense comes up with another score to send the Aggies to Belize. ... Minnesota 37, New Mexico State 20.

Adam Rittenberg: Maybe the Gophers can take a side trip to Roswell and check out the UFOs. Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson will provide a few identified flying objects in this one, firing two touchdown passes in the second half. It's not a pretty game, but it's a win as Minnesota improves to 2-0. ... Minnesota 34, New Mexico State 21

Notre Dame at Michigan

Adam Rittenberg: Can't wait to witness this one under the lights at the Grande Casa. Although Michigan struggles early with Notre Dame's fearsome defensive front, the offense settles down late as Devin Gardner and Jeremy Gallon connect for two second-half touchdowns, including the game-winner in the final minutes. Tommy Rees' mastery of Michigan ends with two second-half interceptions. ... Michigan 24, Notre Dame 21

Brian Bennett: I just keep remembering how Michigan mostly outplayed Notre Dame last year except for all those picks, and I don't think Gardner will make the same mistakes. Gardner finds Gallon for a pair of scores, and Blake Countess intercepts Tommy Rees on Notre Dame's final series to turn the lights out on the Irish. ...Michigan 27, Notre Dame 24.

Now it's time to hear from our guest picker. As we announced last week, we'll be choosing one fan/loyal blog reader each week to try his or her hand at outsmarting us. There's nothing but pride and some extremely limited fame at stake. If you're interested in participating, contact us here and here. Include your full name (real names, please) and hometown and a brief description why you should be that week's guest picker. Please also include "GUEST PICKS" in all caps somewhere in your email so we can find them easily.

The response so far has been overwhelming. This week's guest picker is Nick Schmit from West Des Moines, Iowa. The floor is yours, Nick:
"As a graduate of the University of Iowa, I have been following the conference and teams for as long as I can remember. I have plenty of insight and knowledge to offer. Besides, my wife is due with our first daughter on 10/19 (Iowa vs. OSU). Other than her birth, I need something to be excited about in what looks to be another long, depressing, mediocre (or worse) season for the Hawks."

Nick's picks:


Penn State 28, Eastern Michigan 13
Purdue 28, Indiana State 21
Iowa 34, Missouri State 10
Wisconsin 70, Tennessee Tech 3
Michigan State 35, South Florida 10
Cincinnati 31, Illinois 21
Ohio State 42, San Diego State 6
Nebraska 51, Southern Miss 17
Indiana 41, Navy 31
Northwestern 42, Syracuse 20
Minnesota 33, New Mexico State 21
Notre Dame 27, Michigan 24


SEASON RECORDS

Brian Bennett: 12-0
Adam Rittenberg: 11-1
Guest picker: 9-3

Nonconference primer: Purdue

July, 1, 2013
7/01/13
10:00
AM ET
It has been a long wait, but the 2013 season is less than two months away. To get you geared up, we're taking a closer look at the list of nonconference opponents on each Big Ten team's slate this fall.

Purdue is next.

Cincinnati, Aug. 31 (road)

Coach: Tommy Tuberville (0-0, first year; 130–77 overall in FBS)
2012 record: 10-3, 5-2 Big East
Offensive headliner: Quarterback Brendon Kay still has to secure the starting job after replacing Munchie Legaux down the stretch in 2012, but he passed for 1,298 yards with 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions, completing 63 percent of his attempts. Kay also sparkled in the spring game with three touchdown passes.
Defensive headliner:
Senior linebacker Greg Blair earned All-Big East honors in 2012 after leading Cincinnati in both total tackles (138) and tackles for loss (9). Blair added two interceptions, two forced fumbles, six pass breakups, 2.5 sacks and four quarterback hurries.
The skinny: Cincinnati is in a historic stretch of 10 or more wins in five of the past six seasons, including each of the past two. But like Purdue, the Bearcats are going through coaching transition as Tuberville takes command. The quarterback competition is an intriguing story to watch, but Cincinnati brings back enough firepower on both sides of the ball to have another good year.

Indiana State, Sept. 7 (home)

Coach: Mike Sanford (0-0, first year; 16-43 overall in FBS)
2012 record: 7-4, 5-3 Missouri Valley
Offensive headliner: Running back Shakir Bell earned third-team AP All-America honors after rushing for 1,475 yards and 11 touchdowns last fall. He finished sixth in the FCS in rushing and recorded seven 100-yard rushing performances.
Defensive headliner: Cornerback Calvin Burnett is a back-to-back all-conference selection who recorded four interceptions, eight pass breakups and 60 tackles, including two for loss and a sack. He also averaged 15.6 yards on five punt return attempts.
The skinny: Indiana State has transformed its program in recent years, although the loss of head coach Trent Miles to Georgia State stings. Sanford struggled mightily as UNLV's head coach and then as Louisville's offensive coordinator before rebounding as an assistant at Utah State under current Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen. Bell is a huge weapon for the Sycamores' offense, but Indiana State must replace six starters on defense from the 2012 team.

Notre Dame, Sept. 14 (home)

Coach: Brian Kelly (28-11, fourth year)
2012 record: 12-1 (lost in BCS National Championship Game)
Offensive headliner: Notre Dame loses most of its offensive firepower to the NFL or to suspension (QB Everett Golson), but top wide receiver TJ Jones returns after tying for the team lead in receptions (50) and touchdown receptions (4). Jones averaged 13 yards per reception in 2012.
Defensive headliner: With Manti Te'o gone, junior defensive end Stephon Tuitt likely becomes the star of the defense. Last year, he had 12 sacks and three forced fumbles.
The skinny: It has been a rough offseason for Notre Dame since getting dominated by Alabama in the BCS title game. The Irish once again will turn to Tommy Rees at quarterback after Golson was suspended for academic reasons. Notre Dame's defense includes several future pros and should be among the nation's best. The Irish have won five straight against Purdue and seven of the teams' past eight meetings.

Northern Illinois, Sept. 28 (home)

Coach: Rod Carey (0-1, first full year as head coach)
2012 record: 12-2, 8-0 in MAC (lost to Florida State in Orange Bowl)
Offensive headliner: Quarterback Jordan Lynch finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting after setting four NCAA, two MAC and 14 team records in his first season as a starter. Lynch finished fourth nationally in rushing (1,815) and second in total offense (4,953), setting NCAA records for quarterback rushing and 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback (12). He earned second-team AP All-America honors as an all-purpose player.
Defensive headliner: Safety Jimmie Ward is a back-to-back All-MAC selection, earning first-team honors in 2012. He led NIU in tackles (104) and interceptions (3) as a junior, finishing second on the team in pass breakups (11) and adding a forced fumble.
The skinny: NIU has established itself as one of the nation's top programs from a nonautomatic-qualifying conference. The Huskies boast 34 victories in the past three seasons, although three of their losses came against Big Ten opponents (Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa). Although Lynch struggled in the Orange Bowl against Florida State's superb defense, he enters the season as a national awards candidate and will play behind a veteran offensive line. NIU loses several key pieces on defense, including All-MAC ends Sean Progar and Alan Baxter.

Thoughts:

In a word, yikes. New Purdue coach Darrell Hazell likes challenges and gets plenty in his first nonleague slate, which is the toughest in the Big Ten. The Boilers face two teams that appeared in BCS bowl games last season and a third in Cincinnati that reached back-to-back BCS games in 2009 and 2010 and won 10 games plus a bowl in each of the past two years. Purdue likely will be favored in only one of the four contests (Indiana State). One plus for Purdue is that three of its four nonconference opponents have new head coaches (NIU's Carey served as the team's offensive coordinator for most of 2012 before taking over for the Orange Bowl), while the fourth, Notre Dame, endured a very tough offseason and enters the fall with big question marks. The season opener is pivotal as a road win against a good Cincinnati team would give the Boilers a confidence boost. A 2-2 mark would be respectable for Purdue, while 3-1 or 4-0 would send expectations soaring for Hazell's first season.

More nonconference primers

Rees comes through again for Irish

September, 23, 2012
9/23/12
1:43
AM ET


SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- All those turnovers, all those jeers, they were nothing but a thing of the past now. Here was Tommy Rees, out of the shotgun, third-and-4, Notre Dame's fate against Michigan the only thing riding now on his right arm.

The snap came in, the ball went high down the home sideline, and up went Tyler Eifert, the All-American grabbing his first catch of the night for 38 yards, breaking the dam and setting off a party unlike any seen in recent history inside Notre Dame Stadium.

This building has been known more for its quaintness, more for its hospitality, and suddenly that was all coming apart at the seams. Manti Te'o was finding his basketball friends in the crowd again, happy Louis Nix was dancing the way happy Louis Nix usually does, and no one inside the student section dared ditch the scene a moment too soon.

The Irish had finally knocked off Michigan, 13-6, after three years of torture, and out from the scrum amid chants of his name came Rees -- first for the television interview, then for a bountiful jog up the tunnel, a far cry from the reception he received the last time he took this field, two weeks earlier.

"It feels good, I'm not going to lie," Rees said. "It feels good to go out there and help the team win and have all your teammates count on you, and you being able to deliver.

"It's still early in the year. We've just got to keep moving forward and taking it one day at a time."

Notre Dame goes into its bye week at 4-0, winning three consecutive games the hard way, two of them behind the poise of the best backup quarterback in the nation, if he can even be called that at this point. Coach Brian Kelly shot his quarterback situation down definitively -- "Everett is our starter," he said -- but the eyes and ears suggest that Rees isn't going anywhere, not in a season ripe with potential like this one.

[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Chris Williams/Icon SMITommy Rees completeed 8 of 11 passes for 115 yards -- and, unlike starter Everett Golson, no picks.
Everett Golson completed just one more pass to his teammates (three) than he did to defenders (two), and so Rees was summoned midway through the second quarter, making his presence felt on his first drive by plunging into the end zone from 2 yards.

"He's a tough competitor," Theo Riddick said of Rees. "He knows the game, and there's not one day that he doesn't want to go out there and perform. So when his number's called, we expect that."

Riddick carried much of the load in the second half, rushing it 12 times for 40 yards during the Irish's final two drives to help them escape the Wolverines. On a night when Notre Dame's defense was nothing short of dominant, Rees and the offense did everything that was asked of it.

The junior completed 8 of 11 passes for 115 yards, and for the second time this season dispelled the "Turnover Tommy" moniker that dogged him throughout last fall.

Rees' 20 giveaways in 2011 overshadowed his 12-4 career record as a starter, or the fact that he was the only Irish quarterback to enter this season with experience as the No. 1 guy. Those yips were why his off-field arrest this past spring was met by many with a simple headshake rather than a full-out freakout, and why, yes, many of his own classmates let their unhappy feelings show from the stands when he stepped in two weeks ago to relieve Golson before lifting the Irish past Purdue.

Rees will never have the arm that Golson does, never bring the fans or teammates to their feet with a big run like the redshirt freshman. And yet he is beginning to win over his locker room in a way few other reserves could, by tossing distractions aside and by taking care of the football.

"No. 1, it just shows that you can't be selfish," Riddick said of Rees' showings. "It's a team sport, and you've got to do whatever you've got to do to make this team better, and he understands that. And like I said, when he comes in, we all expect him to know everything and play as if he is the starter."

Kelly called last week's win at Michigan State a signature victory. After beating Michigan to end a perfect month, he said this group knows it has a chance to do something big.

Yes, Golson is the man of the future and will start in two weeks because of his promise. But the guy who was nothing more than a glorified graduate assistant a short month ago will be ready if his number is called, as big a reason as any that these Irish just may be on their way to something special.
Denard Robinson was the difference in the Michigan-Notre Dame classics in 2010 and 2011.

Robinson was again the key figure in the 2012 meeting, though not in a good way for the Wolverines. And the game was anything but a classic -- but Irish fans will gladly take the ugly 13-6 victory.

It was a bizarre game in South Bend that featured eight turnovers, including six of them by the losing team. Here's a quick look at how it went down.

It was over when: Tommy Rees found Tyler Eifert for a 38-yard gain on third-and-4 from the Notre Dame 31 with less than two-and-a-half minutes remaining. That play, coming against one-on-one coverage, allowed the Irish to run out the clock and keep Robinson from pulling off another miracle. It was Eifert's only catch of the game.


Game ball goes to: The Notre Dame defense. For the past two years, they were absolutely terrorized and traumatized by Robinson. This time, the Irish not only held Michigan out of the end zone, they forced Robinson to turn it over five times (four interceptions, one fumble). He had 228 total yards, and his longest run was only 20 yards. It was like a photo negative of Robinson's previous two performances in this series. The front seven got great pressure and stayed in its lanes, while Manti Te'o played an enormous game with two interceptions and two hurries that led to turnovers. That's why the Irish erased their nightmares from years past.

Stat of the game: Michigan had 299 total yards to only 239 for Notre Dame. But the minus-four in turnovers was too much to overcome.

How the game was won: Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly made the best move of the game when he lifted Everett Golson for Rees in the first half. Golson looked too skittish for this stage and had two bad interceptions. Rees settled down the offense and while he threw for only 115 yards, he was the only quarterback in the game who took care of the ball.

Second guessing: Michigan was driving the ball well in the first quarter and had the ball on the Notre Dame 10-yard line when offensive coordinator Al Borges got a little too tricky. He called for a halfback pass from the diminutive Vincent Smith, who jumped in the air with Te'o barreling down on him and lobbed an easy interception in the end zone. The Wolverines could have used the momentum early and ended up really needing the points.

What Notre Dame learned: While this one wasn't pretty, the Irish could hardly have asked for a better start to this season. Its defense is playing at a championship level -- to hold Michigan and Robinson to six points is an outstanding achievement. There are still questions for this team, and Kelly will have to answer even more quarterback controversy questions this week, but this is the toughest Irish team we've seen in a while.

What Michigan learned: The Wolverines still aren't ready for prime time. They got blown out in the opener against Alabama and then were ridiculously sloppy with the ball in this one. While Michigan had by far its best defensive performance to date and can build on that, Robinson is still making too many mistakes in the passing game. There's really no reason for the Wolverines to be ranked in the top 25 right now, but Michigan still will be a factor in the weakened Big Ten, which went 0-3 against Notre Dame.

It's game day at Spartan Stadium

September, 15, 2012
9/15/12
7:00
PM ET
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Welcome to Sparta.

The Big Ten's featured matchup of the day takes place tonight as No. 10 Michigan State hosts No. 20 Notre Dame. The Spartans aim for their third consecutive home win against the Fighting Irish, and their 16th consecutive victory at Spartan Stadium. Great tailgating scene around the stadium today, and I'm very impressed with the new scoreboards Michigan State has installed. They really enhance the setting.

Michigan State is clearly the class of the Big Ten, and the Spartans get most of their marquee games -- Boise State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Nebraska -- on their home field. This benefits first-year starter Andrew Maxwell, who overcame some struggles in the opener against Boise State, and has the help of an elite defense that hasn't reached its peak yet, as well as a standout running back in Le'Veon Bell.

The quarterback situations for both teams should be fascinating as Notre Dame sends redshirt freshman Everett Golson back on the field after replacing him with Tommy Rees in last week's win against Purdue. Coach Brian Kelly is sticking with Golson as his starter, but he never has been shy about making changes, and Michigan State has prepared to see both quarterbacks. The Irish regain the services of running back Cierre Wood, and could find success attacking the middle of the field as Michigan State is so-so at defensive tackle and could struggle against tight end Tyler Eifert. Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te'o is playing with a heavy heart after losing his grandmother and a friend this past week. Expect an inspired performance from Te'o.

Michigan State has yet to allow an offensive touchdown this season, but coordinator Pat Narduzzi really challenged his unit this week. It'll be interesting to see how they respond against a young Irish quarterback.

This game has provided plenty of thrills, especially two years ago at Spartan Stadium. So sit back, relax and enjoy. We'll be chatting throughout.

Previewing the Big Ten night games

September, 15, 2012
9/15/12
6:50
PM ET
Let's take a quick look at the three-pack of Big Ten games kicking off under the lights tonight:

No. 20 Notre Dame (2-0) at No. 10 Michigan State (2-0): The Spartans search for another signature home win and their third consecutive home victory against rival Notre Dame. The game features two first-year starting quarterbacks in Michigan State's Andrew Maxwell, who rebounded nicely last week after a three-interception performance in the opener, and Everett Golson, a dynamic redshirt freshman who was relieved by Tommy Rees in last week's win against Purdue. Notre Dame has lost nine consecutive games to teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 10, by an average of more than 15 points a game.

Ball State (1-1) at Indiana (2-0): Junior college transfer Cameron Coffman makes his first career start at quarterback for Indiana, which lost top signal caller Tre Roberson to a season-ending broken leg last week. Coffman takes aim at a Ball State defense that has struggled against the pass early this season (102nd nationally in efficiency). Ball State has won its past two meetings with Indiana, including last year when it spoiled Kevin Wilson's Hoosiers coaching debut. Indiana comes off of its first 600-yard offensive performance since 2001, as it racked up 606 yards in last week's romp against UMass.

Utah State (2-0) at Wisconsin (1-1): This game is a lot more intriguing than it looked eight days ago. Utah State heads to Madison following a milestone overtime win against rival Utah last Friday. Wisconsin, meanwhile, tries to re-establish its identity after a woeful performance last Saturday at Oregon State, in which it finished with 35 net rush yards and went more than 58 minutes without scoring. Head coach Bret Bielema dumped offensive line coach Mike Markuson following the debacle and elevated Bart Miller, a 27-year-old offensive quality control assistant. All eyes will be on the offensive line, Miller and Bielema as Wisconsin tries to get on track two weeks before beginning its Big Ten title defense.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 3

September, 13, 2012
9/13/12
10:15
AM ET
Ten items to track as you ingest a 12-pack of games involving Big Ten teams Saturday.

1. The green flag: After the Big Ten's Week 2 disaster, Michigan State is the league's only legitimate hope for a national title run. Coach Mark Dantonio wisely isn't thinking about carrying the Big Ten banner, and his Spartans face their second home test in the first three weeks as No. 20 Notre Dame visits East Lansing. It's another big game for new starting quarterback Andrew Maxwell, who rebounded nicely last week after tossing three interceptions in the opener against Boise State. If Maxwell performs well against Manti Te'o and a solid Irish defense, more folks might start taking Michigan State seriously as a dark-horse championship contender.

2. The thin red line: Dominant offensive line play has defined Wisconsin for the better part of two decades, but the program's hallmark position (along with running back) is suddenly under the microscope. A horrific performance against Oregon State, a game in which the Badgers finished with just 35 net rush yards, led to the dismissal of new line coach Mike Markuson after just two games. Head coach Bret Bielema has tabbed the unproven Bart Miller, a Bob Bostad disciple, to lead the group. "We're going to take some baby steps," Bielema said. "And my guess is we're going to have a great amount of change in a short amount of time." Wisconsin could use a bounce-back performance Saturday night against Utah State, which comes off of an upset of Utah.

[+] EnlargeMichigan State's Andrew Maxwell
Andrew Weber/US PresswireAndrew Maxwell and Michigan State should be tested by Notre Dame on Saturday night.
3. Casting call for Robinson, Miller: Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller did it all for their respective offenses in hard-fought Week 2 wins. Although both men can do special things with the ball in their hands, their coaches need other weapons to emerge, if only to protect the signal-callers from injury. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer wants to be "a little smarter" about Miller's carries after the sophomore logged 27 against UCF. The problem is that top running backs Jordan Hall (foot) and Carlos Hyde (knee) are banged up, and freshman Bri'onte Dunn should get the start Saturday against Cal. Robinson recorded his fourth career 200-yard rushing performance last week against Air Force, but running back Fitz Toussaint had just 7 yards on eight carries in his season debut. Michigan's offensive line wants to get Toussaint going and should get the chance Saturday against a woeful Massachusetts team.

4. Receiving orders for Wildcats: Northwestern's quarterback rotation seems to be functioning well so far, and while Trevor Siemian has led comebacks the first two weeks, Kain Colter will continue to start. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald seems more concerned with the guys catching passes than throwing them. The wide receivers, undoubtedly Northwestern's strongest position group entering the year, struggled with drops in last week's win against Vanderbilt. Fitzgerald challenged all his players this week but especially the receivers, saying, "I reminded them that it's a $60,000 scholarship. Catch the ball." As good as running back Venric Mark has been, the offense is driven by high-percentage passes. The receivers look to get back on track against Boston College, which ranks 11th nationally in pass-efficiency defense.

5. TerBush's time: Purdue coach Danny Hope loves his quarterback rotation, but another knee injury to Robert Marve has put Caleb TerBush in the spotlight. TerBush returned to the starting lineup last week and had mixed results, struggling early before relieving Marve and guiding the game-tying touchdown drive in the closing minutes. While most Purdue fans preferred Marve over TerBush, the Boilers will move forward with TerBush and Rob Henry calling signals. TerBush could really use a big performance against Eastern Michigan before an open week, a game against Marshall, and then a defining stretch to open Big Ten play (Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State).

6. Bo vs. Gus: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini called his team's performance against UCLA "embarrassing," and the criticism justifiably centered on a defense that surrendered 36 points, 26 first downs and a whopping 653 yards to the Bruins at the Rose Bowl. Pelini pointed to the need for better tackling and also indicated the defense has been geared more toward stopping pro-style teams than spread teams. Nebraska faces Arkansas State on Saturday. While Gus Malzahn doesn't like his offense to be labeled a spread system, he'll use the entire field, numerous formations, accelerated tempo, and plenty of trickery to keep defenses off balance. Malzahn, the first-year Arkansas State coach, brings his offense, rated seventh nationally in total yards this season (574.5 ypg), into Memorial Stadium on Saturday. "We will be tested," Pelini said. "...We need to get better against that offense. It comes kind of at the right time for us." It should be fun to watch Pelini and Malzahn match wits Saturday.

7. Iowa's search for the end zone: Iowa is one of just two FBS teams with just one touchdown in two games this season. The Hawkeyes failed to reach paydirt on their home field in last week's loss to rival Iowa State. Needless to say, this isn't the start Iowa had hoped for under new coordinator Greg Davis, and the struggles of senior quarterback James Vandenberg have been particularly baffling. Iowa looks for the end zone Saturday in a critical game against Northern Iowa, an FCS program that gave Wisconsin all it could handle in Week 1. Iowa considers itself the state's flagship program. It's a very tough claim to make if the Hawkeyes lose to Iowa State and Northern Iowa in consecutive weeks.

8. Hoosiers, Gophers face first real challenges: Indiana and Minnesota are two of the Big Ten's five undefeated teams through the first two weeks, and both squads looked impressive last week after shaky openers. Both squads also haven't played anyone, making it tough to accurately gauge their progress. Although Ball State and Western Michigan aren't powerhouses, both are legitimate FBS programs that can pull off victories Saturday. Indiana has dropped consecutive games to Ball State and turns to Cameron Coffman, who makes his first start at quarterback in place of Tre Roberson. Minnesota's defense has impressed to date, but Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder provides a nice test.

9. Opportunity knocks for Lions: Penn State has had ample opportunities in its first two games under coach Bill O'Brien, but the Nittany Lions repeatedly haven't cashed in and sit at 0-2. Questions about confidence resurfaced after a heartbreaking loss to Virginia, a game in which Penn State was plus-4 in turnover margin but missed four of five field goal attempts. It'll be interesting to see how sophomore kicker Sam Ficken performs in front of the home crowd Saturday against Navy. But Ficken, who still has the top place-kicking job, is just a piece of the puzzle, and Penn State has to start finishing drives and getting key second-half stops. The Lions have done some good things the first two weeks. They now need to finish the job and get a win, or the season will really begin to slip away.

10. Spartans' D prepares for two QBs: Michigan State's defense has been as advertised so far, ranking eighth nationally in yards allowed and 12th in points allowed. The Spartans' challenge changes this week as they must prepare for two Notre Dame quarterbacks after Tommy Rees led the game-winning drive last week against Purdue. Freshman Everett Golson will get the start for the Irish and coach Brian Kelly would like him to finish the game, too, but Kelly showed last week he isn't afraid to go with Rees, who has had been both the hero and the goat at times during his career.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Here's a quick recap of a strange one at Notre Dame Stadium, where Tommy Rees led the Irish on their game-winning drive for a 20-17 victory over Purdue on Saturday. We'll have much more on the blog soon.

It was over when: Kyle Brindza kicked a 27-yard field goal with seven seconds left, putting the finishing touches on a Purdue team Notre Dame just couldn't seem to break away from throughout the day.

Game ball goes to: It was only one drive, but Rees deserves plenty of credit for coming back from his suspension, losing his job, and stepping right in and leading the Irish on a game-winning drive. He finished 3-of-8 (two were spikes) for 35 yards, working the two-minute drill with no timeouts.

Stat of the game: Notre Dame rushed for 293 yards last week against Navy. The Irish notched 52 against Purdue and have a very tough test to come next week against Michigan State.

Offense clicks for Irish in rout

October, 2, 2011
10/02/11
1:47
AM ET

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- In a makeshift media room a football's throw away from the same Ross-Ade Stadium field he just watched his team demolish Purdue on, Brian Kelly was finishing off his opening statement when screams, roars and general excitement began emanating from the nearby Notre Dame locker room.

"You can see they're pretty happy about the way they played," the Fighting Irish coach explained.

What's not to love for Notre Dame fans about a 38-10 thrashing that, for at least one night, validated the early preseason expectations of Year 2 of the Kelly era?

His spread offense looked every bit as high powered as many initially expected, totaling 551 yards. The quarterback he has stood behind through a rocky three-and-a-half games impressed, completing 24 of 40 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireTommy Rees threw three touchdown passes in the rout of Purdue.
The wide receiver he insisted would not be kept under wraps after a rough showing at Pitt amassed 137 yards on 12 catches, none more important than his 35-yard grab on a beautiful play-action fake by Tommy Rees on Notre Dame's second play from scrimmage, making it 7-0 24 seconds into action.

"On the road it's really important," Kelly said of Michael Floyd's early touchdown. "You wanna take the crowd out of it, you wanna be able to put the first one on the board and kind of dictate the tempo of the game, and we did that at Michigan as well, we just didn't finish. It was very similar in the way we really started well [and we] built on that.

"The difference between the two games is we finished this one in the third quarter, is really where we finished it. We deferred, got the ball in the third quarter, had a great opening drive. I think dominating the third quarter really put us in a great position."

Rees completed 9 of 11 passes in the third quarter, ending both of the Irish's drives with touchdown passes. Notre Dame punted on just one of Rees' nine drives at quarterback (excluding his knee to end the first half).

And, more importantly, Rees, and the Irish, did not turn the ball over a single time; this after entering the night with an FBS-worst 15 giveaways.

"I don't know that that is a sigh of relief as much as we have a way that we need to play the game if we're gonna be successful, and we've said that from Day 1," Kelly said. "We're making good decisions, we ran hard. I thought physically our backs, both Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood, really exerted their will on Purdue today, and playing that way physically gives them a confidence that there's no reason why the ball should be on the ground."

No kidding. Notre Dame averaged a ridiculous 7.2 yards per rush, bursting through holes on the left side all night that Kelly, three weeks shy of his 50th birthday, could have probably run through himself.

Wood finished with 191 yards and a touchdown. Gray rushed for 94 yards and a score.

Asked if the backs or linemen were more excited breaking out of each huddle, Gray said: "Offensive line, definitely. You got five against two, they wanted to run it every play."

Tough to blame the group. Hit hard, hit early, leave no doubt. The Irish, above .500 for the first time this season, finally put on the performance they expected all along.

Final: Notre Dame 38, Purdue 10

October, 1, 2011
10/01/11
11:31
PM ET

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A Notre Dame team that had trouble putting everything together did just that Saturday night, routing Purdue by a final of 38-10 before an announced crowd of 61,555 at Ross-Ade Stadium.

Gary Gray set the tone early, picking off Caleb TerBush on the first play from scrimmage. Two plays later, Tommy Rees hit Michael Floyd for a 35-yard touchdown, and the rout was on.

Floyd returned to his normal self after an off week at Pitt. The senior eclipsed the 10-catch, 100-yard mark once again, re-inserting himself into the conversation as one of the nation's top receivers.

More importantly, the Fighting Irish imposed their will on the ground, running over and around the Boilermakers throughout the evening and controlling the tempo in the second half.

The Irish defense, meanwhile, continued a stellar effort, allowing Purdue to cross midfield just twice in the first half and allowing just a field goal during that span.

Be sure to keep it right here for Brian Kelly and player reaction from the Irish's convincing win.

SPONSORED HEADLINES