Big Ten: Will Likely

Mayland's newest addition to its coaching staff should have an easier transition despite starting in the middle of spring practice thanks to his talented starting cornerbacks.

Darrell Perkins jumped into the mix at Maryland this week after head coach Randy Edsall officially announced Perkins was joining the staff on Monday. The former Old Dominion assistant inherits a group that coordinator Keith Dudzinski considers to be the strongest link of his defense. Their reputation has a lot to do with returning starters Will Likely and Sean Davis.

[+] EnlargeWilliam Likely
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesWilliam Likely shared the Big Ten lead in interceptions last season with six.
Likely proved to be a dynamic playmaker on defense and special teams, scoring four touchdowns and making six interceptions during his sophomore season. Davis led all Big Ten defensive backs with 115 tackles. He played most of the year at safety before injuries forced him outside to cornerback. Davis is sticking with cornerback this spring and plans to spend his senior year on the edge of the defense.

“I feel like we get to add some more strength out there at corner,” Davis said after a practice Wednesday morning. “We’ll be able to blitz more and play a hard corner. I’ll be there for the run game and I’m still big and fast enough to run with the wideouts.”

The six-footer said he’s gained a few pounds to get up to 205 despite his move to a position that demands more speed than physicality. Going up against NFL hopefuls like Michigan’s Devin Funchess and Michigan State’s Tony Lippett last November gave Davis confidence that he can run with the league’s top receivers. He said he wants to improve his press coverage skills this spring to learn how to stuff a receiver at the line of scrimmage.

Having a pair of physical cornerbacks also allows the Terps to be more aggressive sending them into the backfield on blitzes. Edsall and former defensive coordinator Brian Stewart started to call blitzes for Davis and Likely more often late in the 2014 season. Davis hopes his new permanent home will create more opportunities to send pressure for himself and his teammates.

“I like coming up on some blitzes,” he said. “I’m a big corner who can play both safety and corner. I can be by myself and take on responsibility and play by myself with no over the top help. I love that.”

His first week at the new spot was spent in close contact with Edsall. Maryland and Stewart, who spent three years as the team’s defensive coordinator, parted ways in late February. Stewart landed on Mike Riley’s new staff in Nebraska. The Terps were left to scramble for a replacement. While he was looking for a new assistant, Edsall worked with the secondary himself.

Edsall coached defensive backs for more than a decade before taking his first head coaching job at UConn in 1999. Last week, he showed his players film of the Jacksonville Jaguars teams he coached for four seasons to give them a better look at the techniques he wanted to teach.

“It’s really cool,” Davis said. “I like Coach Edsall. He knows a lot. He coached in the league for four years. We’re watching film with his guys that he’s coached. It’s great stuff. It’s NFL defense and NFL techniques. I feel like we learned from one of the best.”

Edsall hands the reins to Perkins this week. The duo worked together at UConn the year before Edsall left for Maryland. Perkins stayed with the Huskies until last year when he spent a season at Old Dominion.

“Darrell is a great coach who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the defensive back position,” Edsall said in statement. “He is also an excellent teacher and will maximize the talent that we have in the secondary.”

With Likely and Davis, Perkins has plenty of talent to maximize in his first season with the Terps.
Since spring practice opened at Michigan and Northwestern this week, we’ve been ranking position groups around the Big Ten. For previous entries in the series, click here.

We come now to the end, with special teams. Since it's virtually impossible to predict what kick coverage units will look like several months from now or project how new starters will fare on field goals and such, we're basing these rankings mostly on who's coming back at place-kicker, punter and returner.

Here we go:

Best of the best: Maryland

The Terrapins return the 2014 Lou Groza Award winner in Brad Craddock, who missed only one field goal all of last season. They also bring back an elite return man in Will Likely, who led the Big Ten in kickoff return average and was third on punt return average last year. Punter Nate Renfro is also back, giving Randy Edsall both experience and trust at the key specialist spots.

Next up: Ohio State

It's entirely possible that Cam Johnston is a wizard, as his rugby-style punts somehow both cover a ton of distance yet seem to stop at the right places. He was brilliant in the Sugar Bowl. The Buckeyes also have a boatload of speed they can use in the return game, including Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson. Place-kicker Sean Nuernberger is back after a respectable freshman campaign, but it's not like Urban Meyer really wants to kick field goals, anyway.

Sleepers: Nebraska and Minnesota

"Sleeper" isn't really the right word here, but we wanted to give a shout out to both of these special-teams units.

The Huskers have one of the nation's most electrifying punt return men in De'Mornay Pierson-El, who averaged 17.5 yards per attempt and scored three touchdowns last year. Punter Sam Foltz and kicker Drew Brown also return and could improve with experience.

Minnesota has the reigning Big Ten punter of the year in Peter Mortell, plus highly productive returners Jalen Myrick and Craig James. More accuracy from kicker Ryan Santoso (12-of-18 as a freshman) would solidify the Gophers as one of the best special-teams groups around.

Problem for contenders: Penn State and Michigan

Again, it's nearly impossible to predict how new kickers will fare, as you don't really get to see how they will fare in pressure situations until the games begin. Both the Nittany Lions and Wolverines have some big shoes to fill.

Place-kicker Sam Ficken was far and away the best thing about Penn State's otherwise highly shaky special teams in 2014, and now he's graduated. The team doesn't have a scholarship kicker on the roster and may turn to walk-on Joe Julius. Punt and return teams must make major strides as well.

Michigan lost both its place-kicker (Matt Wile) and punter (Will Hagerup) to graduation, and its return game was no better than average last season. New special-teams coach John Baxter will have his work cut out for him this spring in bringing some new names -- like freshman kicker Andrew Davis -- along.
As spring practice approaches, we’re taking a snapshot of the state of each Big Ten program. We’re looking at recent performance, won-loss trends, coaching, current personnel and future personnel.

Up next: Maryland

2014 record: 7-6 (4-4 Big Ten)

Three-year record: 18-20

Coaching situation: Maryland fans may not have been exactly sold on Randy Edsall when he went 6-18 in his first two seasons after replacing the popular Ralph Friedgen. But Edsall, who dealt with a rash of injuries early in his tenure, has righted the ship and has taken the Terrapins to back-to-back bowl games. He still has much work to do but appears to have the program headed in the right direction.

Roster situation: Maryland loses quite a bit of frontline talent off its 2014 squad, including receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, defensive end Andre Monroe and most of its front seven on defense and three starting offensive linemen. In addition, quarterback C.J. Brown, who had seemingly been in College Park forever, is gone now, with Caleb Rowe expected to take over the reins of the offense. It will be time for young players whom Edsall has recruited to start taking over in 2015, and the Terps still have a couple of All-Big Ten selections in cornerback Will Likely and kicker Brad Craddock.

Recruiting situation: The Terrapins swam in some deep waters this past recruiting season, knocking heads with SEC and Big Ten powers for prospects and winning some of those battles for guys like defensive lineman Adam McLean and offensive lineman Quarvez Boulware. Edsall is trying to convince players from the DMV (D.C./Maryland/Virginia) area to stay home with the program's Maryland Pride motto, and it's a smart idea given the amount of talent in the region. It's also a very competitive area to recruit, made more so by the Big Ten's eastern expansion. At least the Terps have a homefield advantage.

Trajectory: Up -- slightly. Maryland had an odd 2014 where it could easily have won eight games if not for a complete collapse at home in the season finale against Rutgers. The Terps had nice wins on the road against Penn State and Michigan and at home versus Iowa but were wildly unpredictable from week to week and even half to half. The program has yet to really get over the hump under Edsall, and the Big Ten East Division could be one of the toughest divisions in college football if Michigan and Penn State make expected improvements to push Ohio State and Michigan State. On the other hand, the Terps have shown that they're no pushover in their new league. The financial backing from Under Armour and planned renovations of the team's football facilities bode well for the future. Maryland needs to prove it can rise above mediocrity and that it has the fan support to do so. But it does have some natural advantages going for it if Edsall can capitalize.

Season report card: Maryland

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
Grades for the 2014 season are now past due, so we're handing them out as quickly as possible. The Maryland Terrapins are up next following their first season as a member of the Big Ten.

How did Maryland fare?

[+] EnlargeStefon Diggs
AP Photo/Nick WassReceiver Stefon Diggs helped Maryland achieve a winning season in its first season in the Big Ten.
Offense: C+

Some offenses are good. Some are bad. Maryland's was just strange in 2014. The Terps ranked 109th nationally in yards per game, 108th in rushing and tied for 116th in third-down conversions. But they put points on the board, finishing fifth in the Big Ten in scoring (28.5 ppg). Wide receiver Stefon Diggs brought explosive ability, but quarterback C.J. Brown and the offensive line struggled at times, and the overall unit didn't show much consistency in any area.

Defense: C

Like the offense, Maryland's defense could be a strength or a weakness, depending on the game (or sometimes the quarter). The Terrapins were terrific against Indiana, Penn State and Michigan, but hemorrhaged points against the Big Ten's better teams -- Ohio State (52), Wisconsin (52) and Michigan State (37). Cornerback Will Likely (six interceptions, two touchdown returns), defensive end Andre Monroe (10.5 sacks) and linebacker Yannick Ngakoue (13.5 tackles for loss, six sacks) stood out, but the overall unit was unpredictable.

Special teams: A-

The kicking game undoubtedly proved to be Maryland's strength in 2014. Kicker Brad Craddock won the Lou Groza Award after connecting on 18 of 19 field-goal attempts, including all 16 from inside 50 yards. Punter Nathan Renfro had a solid season, and Likely had both a punt return touchdown and a kick return touchdown, leading the Big Ten in kick return average (31). Maryland's coverage teams were the only drawback (105th in kickoff coverage, 101st in punt coverage).

Coaching: B-

Expectations outside College Park were fairly low for Maryland entering its first Big Ten go-round. Randy Edsall guided the Terrapins to a 7-4 start before a blown lead against Rutgers and a bowl no-show against Stanford left Maryland at 7-6. Andre Powell did a tremendous job with the special teams units, a reason why new Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi quickly added him to his staff.

Overall: B-

Despite no obvious strength other than special teams, Maryland was on the cusp of an 8-4 regular season before squandering a 35-10 lead against Rutgers. The Terrapins struggled against the Big Ten's elite but secured wins at both Beaver Stadium and Michigan Stadium. The injuries weren't quite as overwhelming but still significant, as four starters were lost for the season. It's a decent first step, but Maryland must improve on both sides of the ball to stay afloat in a challenging Big Ten East Division.

Offseason to-do list: Maryland

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
Our January journey through the Big Ten continues with a look at three items each team must address in the offseason. The Maryland Terrapins are up next.

1. Stabilize quarterback situation: This is a concern for most Big Ten teams outside of Michigan State and Penn State. At Maryland, the job looks set to go to rising senior Caleb Rowe, who pushed C.J. Brown in the first half of last season. But Rowe suffered a torn left ACL -- for the second time -- in an October practice. He’ll likely remain limited in the spring, an unfortunate development for the Terps. Junior Perry Hills and sophomore Shane Cockerille continue to develop and Maryland appears in the market for a graduate transfer QB, but Rowe is the best bet to take the reins in August. He completed 63 percent of his throws in 2014 and saw significant playing time as a sophomore in 2013. Consistency for Rowe is a concern. And despite his injury, this spring rates as an important time for him to grow in Mike Locksley’s offensive system.

2. Rebuild front seven: Have you seen what’s happening in the Big Ten East? Maryland fared well in its first season as a part of the league, posting a 5-1 road record before it ran out of gas late in the season. But more difficult challenges are coming as programs in every direction sink huge investments into football. Chief among the Terps’ concerns is a need to build a defensive system to compete against the innovative offenses of their division rivals. Coordinator Brian Stewart fielded a unit that ranked 12th in the Big Ten in yardage allowed, and the front seven needs a total replacement. Andre Monroe was a star pass rusher. Cole Farrand, L.A. Goree and Darius Kilgo were active near the line of scrimmage. Maryland features a solid secondary, headlined by star cornerback Will Likely, but the defensive backs can’t do their jobs well without support up front.

3. Continue to upgrade talent: Coach Randy Edsall has done well in recruiting. He beat traditional powers for receiver Stefon Diggs, Likely, offensive tackle Damian Prince and defensive end Jesse Aniebonam. More, please. Maryland sits among a hotbed of talent in comparison to the home ground of most Big Ten programs. It can recruit head to head against Penn State, evidenced by the pledge in this class of defensive tackle Adam McLean. Facility improvements are on the way. Yes, Edsall has created momentum in recruiting, and his teams have improved every season since his arrival in 2011. All signs point toward continued success in collecting talent. We’ll know more, though, in two weeks when the 2015 class is complete.
This may shock you, so make sure you're sitting down: We actually put some time and thought into the Big Ten postseason player rankings.

Yes, I know it's stunning that we don't just throw 25 names out there. There was ample discussion about several candidates, particularly at the bottom of the list.

So who just missed the cut? Here are five players we considered but ultimately left out of the Top 25.

Maryland CB/KR/PR Will Likely: The Terrapins' playmaking extraordinaire appeared in several versions of the Top 25 before missing the final cut. He had four scoring returns this season: two interceptions, one punt and one kickoff. Likely tied for the league lead in interceptions (6) and also led the league in kick return average (31 ypr), while finishing third in punt return average (11.1 ypr). This was a tough one and we understand criticism for leaving out such a productive player.

Michigan State C Jack Allen: Allen was another player who made our initial Top 25 postseason countdown. He was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection and a finalist for the Rimington Award, given to the nation's top center. Allen anchored an MSU line that has become one of the team's stronger groups the past few seasons. Ultimately, we didn't find room for him but he'll enter the 2015 season as one of the nation's top linemen.

Ohio State QB Cardale Jones: He merely led Ohio State to its first national championship since 2002 and the first in the College Football Playoff era. Jones was brilliant in three postseason appearances, especially in the Big Ten championship game, his first career start, and the Playoff semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Ultimately, we put more weight on a player's performance throughout the season and had a hard time including someone who was a non-factor until the final three games, as big as they were.

Ohio State CB Doran Grant: The development of Ohio State's secondary under new co-coordinator Chris Ash played a major role in the Buckeyes' championship run. We wanted to include at least one Buckeyes defensive back in the rundown. We ended up going with safety Vonn Bell at No. 25, but Grant also was considered after a strong senior season. Grant tied for third in the Big Ten with five interceptions and led Ohio State with 14 total passes defended.

Maryland WR Stefon Diggs: Terrapins fans probably think we're out to get them -- does it help that I'm wearing Under Armour gear as I type this? -- but we left two Maryland players just out of the rankings. Diggs showcased his immense talent at times this season, leading Maryland with 62 receptions for 792 yards and five touchdowns, despite appearing in only 10 games. Diggs might have made the list if not for an injury late in the regular season. He has a bright future in the NFL.
Earlier today, we presented our All-Big Ten team. As you can imagine, there was a lot of debate between the six of us over who should make the team and who should get left off. Let's discuss some of our toughest choices and omissions:

Austin Ward: Thanks in large part to all the dirty work he was doing at the start of the year, Michael Bennett didn’t pile up the type of numbers that build a rock-solid case as an all-conference performer. But when it mattered most over the final month of the season, there probably wasn’t a defensive player in the league having a greater impact than the Ohio State senior as he made life miserable in the trenches in the most important games of the season for the Big Ten champs. Dating back to the road trip to Michigan State on Nov. 8, Bennett closed the season with 5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles down the stretch, looking every bit the All-American he was expected to be in the preseason.

[+] EnlargeKurtis Drummond
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsThree cornerbacks made's All-Big Ten team, which meant a deserving player in Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond didn't make the cut.
Brian Bennett: The toughest single position to choose was at defensive back. You may have noticed our team did not include Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond, who was named the Big Ten defensive back of the year. That's no slight against Drummond, who's an outstanding player, but we felt like we had to go with three cornerbacks, given the play of Maryland's Will Likely, Minnesota's Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Drummond's own teammate, Trae Waynes. In fact, Ohio State's Doran Grant had a strong case for inclusion as well, and we wanted to recognize what Wisconsin's Michael Caputo contributed to the league's best defense, statistically, during the regular season. Defensive back was a loaded position, and there wouldn't be much difference between the first- and second-team selections there.

Adam Rittenberg: I don't have a major beef with our selections this year, although it would have been nice to find a place for Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah on the offense. Melvin Gordon told me Wednesday that if Abdullah hadn't sustained a knee injury in early November, he also would have reached the 2,000-yard plateau. Imagine if the Big Ten had three 2,000-yard rushers in the same season. Safety wasn't the strongest position in the league this year, while cornerback turned out to be surprisingly good.

Dan Murphy: It's too bad we can't field an entire offense out of running backs because the Big Ten had almost enough of them worthy of filling out an all-conference roster. Minnesota teammates and cousins David Cobb (running back) and Damien Wilson (middle linebacker) both were left of the list after great years for a surprising Gophers team. Cobb would have made the team in most other years, and Wilson was a narrow miss. Freshman receiver Mike Dudek also deserves some recognition, but there's a good chance his name will pop up here in the next few years.

Josh Moyer: Cornerback was relatively strong this season, so we decided to go with three corners and one safety on our team. As a result, Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond was the odd man out, and he’s a player who definitely deserves some recognition. He struggled a few times this season -- missing open-field tackles against Purdue and not faring well against Ohio State -- but he was still named the Big Ten defensive back of the year. We thought Wisconsin's Michael Caputo played better, but Drummond was still solid and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection by both the coaches and media. He helped keep Michigan State’s No-Fly Zone together, while leading the team in tackles (65), interceptions (4), pass breakups (11) and pass deflections (15). He just missed the cut.

Mitch Sherman: I'm not sure we picked the right defensive lineman from Iowa. Louis Trinca-Pasat enjoyed an outstanding year, outperforming fellow tackle Carl Davis, who was more highly regarded before the season. But what about Drew Ott, the disruptive end who collected eight sacks, 12 tackles behind the line, scored a touchdown against Nebraska, forced a fumble and picked off a pass? Ott is just as deserving as Michigan State's Calhoun, though I doubt there's room for two linemen from an Iowa defense that ranked firmly in the middle of the Big Ten. So with the variety of defensive looks employed around the league, I'd take three ends and one tackle, like the coaches and media teams, inserting Ott in place of Trinca-Pasat.

Reaction to All-B1G teams, awards

December, 1, 2014
A little bit ago, we gave you the full list of 2014 All-Big Ten teams and the individual award winners (outside of the four major individual trophies, which will be announced on Tuesday night).

For the most part, these selections seemed very dead on. It helped that there was not a lot of controversy over the top picks for many awards. But that's not to suggest that there weren't some interesting/debatable choices.


Individual awards

It's tough, quite frankly, to argue with many of these. J.T. Barrett is the obvious choice for quarterback of the year after his record-breaking season, and he will no doubt be the Big Ten freshman of the year on Tuesday night (He'd trade it all to be able to play Saturday, for sure). Similarly, Melvin Gordon deserved the running back of the year award and will be the league's offensive player of the year. There's also no doubt about Joey Bosa, Tony Lippett, Maxx Williams, Mike Hull or Brad Craddock for their honors.

I do wonder a bit about Iowa's Brandon Scherff as the offensive lineman of the year. He's a terrific player and a future first-round draft pick. But I didn't think he was dominant all year long and, at times, he got visibly beat (most notably in the Maryland game). Yet his reputation is very strong among coaches and he was an Outland Trophy finalist. I'm not so sure that others, like Michigan State's Jack Conklin and Ohio State's Taylor Decker, didn't have a better year.

Michigan State's Kurtis Drummond is a fine choice for defensive back of the year, though you could have just as easily gone with Maryland's Will Likely or Minnesota's Briean Boddy-Calhoun. As we've seen, though, coaches tend to favor seniors (remember Chris Borland over Ryan Shazier last year?). Ultimately, though, there's not a lot in these awards to get upset about.

All-Big Ten

These are, again, mostly strong and very defensible choices. But I do think there are a couple of highly debatable selections by the coaches (and no one here at voted on the media selections, so we're not patting ourselves on the back).
  • Kenny Bell on the coaches' first team at wide receiver? I love Bell's game and think he's an even better person. But he finished eighth in the Big Ten in receiving yards and wasn't even in the Top 10 in receiving yards. Yes, he's a great blocker, but that's not enough to warrant his selection over Rutgers' Leonte Carroo, who had 1,043 receiving yards. The fact that he's only honorable mention by the coaches is an absolute joke, and I wouldn't blame Rutgers fans for being furious.
  • And Illinois' Mike Dudek was arguably the best wide receiver in the league down the stretch, but he didn't make either first or second team by the coaches? Instead, the coaches went with Stefon Diggs and Devin Funchess on the second team, both of whom disappeared at key times. It's like the coaches based their picks more on pure talent and preseason reputation than actual production, which should be the gauge.
  • Similarly -- and I swear I'm not picking on Nebraska here -- Randy Gregory is as special a player as it gets from a talent standpoint. But he had all kinds of trouble staying healthy, and the Huskers' defense was simply not good at all in the team's biggest games. I don't see him as a first-team performer based on his 2014 production. I'd rather go with a second tackle like Louis Trinca-Pasat or Carl Davis from Iowa or Maryland's Andre Monroe as a third defensive end. Those guys were consistent performers all season long.
  • I would have voted Boddy-Calhoun over Doran Grant at cornerback, as the media did instead of the coaches, and I would have found a way to get Wisconsin safety Michael Caputo on the first team. He was such an anchor for the league's best defense.
  • Michigan State finished 10-2 yet didn't have a player win a Big Ten player of the week award until this week when R.J. Shelton was co-special teams player of the week (an obvious bone thrown toward the Spartans' way, since Nebraska's De'Mornay Pierson-El was so special on punt returns). Michigan State did get several first- and second-teamers here, but running back Jeremy Langford couldn't make the first or second team despite his streak of 15 straight 100-yard games in Big Ten play. That tells you how deep this running back group was in the conference, as Langford is the most notable snub from both coaches and media. But Ameer Abdullah and David Cobb couldn't even make the first team, though they would in pretty much any other league in America.
  • I'm struggling to come up with much else to criticize, which is unusual for these selections. So that tells me the league's coaches and media did a pretty good job. Stay tuned for tomorrow's major award announcement, where coach of the year is the only one really in doubt.

Big Ten morning links

November, 7, 2014
Your attention span is short on the Friday before a huge football weekend, so let’s get in and get out quickly with a final take on the three Big Ten games most likely to impact the league title race.

In East Lansing, Ohio State’s defense is likely the unit most overlooked in the marquee matchup of the Big Ten regular season. Most of the talk in advance of Saturday focuses on the offenses led by Connor Cook and J.T. Barrett. And no one can really look past the Pat Narduzzi-directed Michigan State group. But what about the Buckeyes on defense? It might hold the key to victory for Ohio State, and it’s a revamped bunch under first-year co-coordinator Chris Ash. Cornerback Doran Grant says that the Buckeyes’ defensive showing last year against MSU in a 34-24 loss won’t factor on Saturday. But it should. Ohio State ought to draw energy from it. The best defense is often fueled by emotion. OSU can use recent history to its advantage. Just don't ask Brady Hoke who's got the edge.

Speaking of defense, the group at Wisconsin is better than the sum of its parts. Safety Michael Caputo and linebacker Derek Landisch figure to contend for Big Ten postseason honors, though neither looks like a top candidate for Big Ten defensive player of the year. How, then, to explain the Badgers’ ranking as the No. 1 defense nationally in points and yards allowed? It’s about a selfless approach, epitomized best perhaps by safety Peniel Jean. The Badgers haven’t played a great schedule, but they dismantled decent foes in Maryland and Rutgers the past two weeks. We’ll see this week at Purdue if the Badgers open their critical three-game final stretch with more momentum -- thanks to that defense -- than any other contender in the West.

You want answers? You’ll get answers about Iowa. The Hawkeyes looked downright dangerous last week against Northwestern. And really, it’s been a three-game surge for Iowa on offense, interrupted by an off week and hidden somewhat behind an ugly defensive showing at Maryland on Oct. 18. But last week, wow, it all came together, even the big plays in the passing game. The Hawkeyes have had this in them all season, with receivers Tevaun Smith, Kevonte Martin-Manley and Damond Powell all capable of stretching a defense. But Minnesota leads the Big Ten and ranks fifth nationally in allowing 5.6 yards per pass attempt. If Jake Rudock can throw over the top of the Golden Gophers in the cold, Iowa will roll.

Around the rest of the league:

East Division
West Division

Big Ten awards race tracker: Week 8

October, 22, 2014
The awards race tracker took a break last week, as we named our midseason MVPs on both sides of the ball. We're back to give you a checkup on how the major Big Ten individual award races are going.

Since we didn't include a tight end on our midseason All-Big Ten team, we'll give that position some love as our bonus category of the week.

Here we go ...

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (six first-place votes): The Badgers were off last week, but we named Gordon our midseason offensive MVP.

2. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: He bounced back from a rough game at Michigan State to score four touchdowns at Northwestern. Expect a big finish to his college career.

3. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: Even though Michigan State knew Indiana couldn't pass the ball last week, Coleman still managed 132 rushing yards. What a player.

4 . Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: He's sneaking up on the competition. The Buckeyes' freshman has 20 total touchdowns and just one interception in his past four games, and he leads the league in total offense and pass efficiency.

5. Michigan State WR Tony Lippett: Brady Hoke called him the league's best wideout this week, and we agree wholeheartedly. Lippett's eight receiving touchdowns lead the league, as does his 112.3 receiving yards per game.

Also receiving votes: Minnesota RB David Cobb

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa (six first-place votes): The guy who leads the league in tackles for loss and ranks second in sacks had his best game against Rutgers last week, according to Urban Meyer. Bosa is getting better, which is scary.

2. Minnesota LB Damien Wilson: He leads the league in tackles, with 76. That ranks 15th in the FBS.

3. Maryland CB Will Likely: If you pass the ball on the Terps, he will likely intercept it. And maybe score. Likely had another pick-six vs. Iowa, his second of the year and his Big Ten-best fourth interception overall.

4. Penn State LB Mike Hull: The Nittany Lions' defense remains stout, and Hull is an anchor. He's right behind Wilson for the Big Ten tackles lead.

5. Iowa DE Drew Ott: He started off the Maryland game with an interception, and Ott now leads the league in sacks with seven in as many games.

Also receiving votes: Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun; Nebraska DE Randy Gregory; Michigan LB Jake Ryan

Kwalick–Clark Tight End of the Year

1. Maxx Williams, Minnesota (six first-place votes): In an offense that doesn't pass much, Williams has become the go-to target. He has 15 catches for 247 yards and four touchdowns and has made some spectacular plays.

2. Josiah Price, Michigan State: Price's numbers are very similar to Williams' (15 catches, 244 yards and four touchdowns) as the tight end has become much more of a weapon this season for the Spartans.

What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Five observations from Saturday in the Big Ten:

1. Ohio State and Michigan State are widening the gap over the rest of the league. The Spartans and Buckeyes continued their march toward Nov. 8 in East Lansing with resounding wins by identical scores of 56-17 over Indiana and Rutgers, respectively. The Buckeyes topped 50 points in four consecutive games for the first time in school history and dealt the Scarlet Knights their worst loss in 12 years with an introduction to the big-time side of Big Ten football. MSU was slow at the start, as Indiana’s Shane Wynn and Tevin Coleman scored on long runs, but Michigan State blanked the Hoosiers in the second half. Just as importantly, both Big Ten powers climbed closer to consideration for the College Football Playoff as two top-10 unbeatens went down.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsJ.T. Barrett is playing at a high level as Ohio State's offense continues to roll.
2. J.T. Barrett is a Heisman Trophy darkhorse. No, we’re not kidding. The same redshirt freshman who struggled mightily in the Buckeyes’ loss to Virginia Tech the past month has played better than any quarterback in the country as of late. He ran for 107 yards and two scores and threw for 261 and three touchdowns against Rutgers. Under his guidance, Ohio State has averaged 614 yards over its past four games, albeit against suspect defensive competition, though Rutgers appeared set to pose a challenge. Barrett won’t be considered a serious candidate unless he can play like this, without a blip, for the rest of the season.

3. Minnesota might never win pretty, but it almost always wins. The Golden Gophers beat Purdue 39-38 behind two interceptions of Austin Appleby by safety Cedric Thompson, including the game-clincher with 2:28 to play. Minnesota is 3-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1990. It was a typical Gopher effort, with 194 rushing yards from David Cobb and just nine completions from quarterback Mitch Leidner, who threw two touchdowns. Give credit to fast-improving Purdue, for sure, but this game deviated from Minnesota form only in that the Gophers trailed at halftime -- they earned the first win in 23 such occasions under Jerry Kill -- and needed a 52-yard field goal by Ryan Santoso for the decisive points with 4:59 left.

4. In spite of Minnesota’s start, Nebraska still looks like the best in the West. The Huskers beat Northwestern 38-17 at Ryan Field and outscored the Wildcats 24-0 in the second half to move to 6-1. Barring an upset win in Lincoln by Rutgers or Purdue over the next two weeks, Nebraska will be 8-1 on Nov. 15 when Bo Pelini’s team travels to Wisconsin for a final stretch that includes Minnesota and Iowa. In bouncing back from a loss to Michigan State, Nebraska displayed new depth at the line of scrimmage against Northwestern and found new ways to feature spark-plug freshman De'Mornay Pierson-El, who threw a touchdown pass to QB Tommy Armstrong Jr.

5. It might be November (if even then) before we understand Maryland and Iowa. The Terrapins overcame a slow start to beat the Hawkeyes 38-31. Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown returned from a back injury, suffered in the second half, and receiver Stefon Diggs and cornerback Will Likely contributed their usual big plays. But is Maryland really a threat to get to nine wins and a New Year’s Day bowl? Maybe, in the watered-down Big Ten. What about Iowa, still a player in the West Division with its favorable schedule but unable to break through in a winnable game Saturday? Just as the Hawkeyes’ offense appears to have gained speed, the defense took a step back in College Park.

Big Ten awards race tracker: Week 4

September, 24, 2014
A few teams have already played a third of the season. The nonconference action is winding down. Big Ten play is about to really kick off in earnest this weekend -- and the battles for individual awards are starting to come into better focus.

There is still plenty of football to be played and more than enough opportunities to shake up the ballots. But our Big Ten reporters are voting weekly on the races to take the pulse of the races, with players receiving five points for a first-place vote, four for a second-place nod, etc. Also, we try hard to base these standings on 2014 season results only, not any preconceived notions or a player's previous track record.

Here's where it stands after Week 4:

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (six first-place votes): Another prolific performance in a win for the unbeaten Huskers and another unanimous selection as the top offensive player in the league. Abdullah has set the bar high in the early going and could be tough to chase down if Nebraska keeps rolling.

2. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: Still something of an unknown nationally, Coleman helped get his name out last weekend in the upset at Missouri. He's actually averaging more rushing yards per game than Abdullah.

3. Michigan State QB Connor Cook: Fresh off a bye, Cook was able to take even more time off after carving up Eastern Michigan early and and then calling it a day after six attempts last weekend. He's completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and is clearly building on his strong finish to last season.

4. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: One of the preseason favorites has finally arrived in the rankings after a slow start. Gordon made up for some lost time with a ridiculous outing against Bowling Green, steamrolling to 5 touchdowns and 253 yards on just 13 carries.

5. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: Massachusetts didn't pose much of a threat to the Nittany Lions, and the sophomore didn't need to do much to secure another victory. He still leads the Big Ten in passing yardage, but he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns at this point.

Also receiving votes: Minnesota RB David Cobb and Michigan State WR Tony Lippett.

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel (six first-place votes): The clear-cut leader for the second week in a row, the defensive tackle continues to lead the league in tackles for loss. His emergence has been invaluable during the perfect start for the Nittany Lions.

2. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa: The Buckeyes were off this week, but that didn't hurt the pass-rushing dynamo any in the rankings. Bosa isn't likely to get his sidekick Noah Spence back any time soon, so his production will be even more critical moving forward for Ohio State.

T-3. Maryland CB Will Likely: The talented defensive back is breaking up at least one pass per game, and he's already nabbed a pair of interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. Even better for the Terrapins, he's a willing tackler averaging nearly 7 takedowns from his spot in the secondary.

T-3. Minnesota LB Damien Wilson: The senior sits on top of the tackling leader board after four games having already piled up 44 of them. The Gophers could use another solid outing as they head to Michigan with a chance to claim the Little Brown Jug.

5. Rutgers DE Kemoko Turay: The defensive race has been relatively wide open and full of surprising names, perhaps none as head-turning as Turay. Through four games, the freshman's four sacks are tied for the league lead.

Also receiving votes: Michigan LB Jake Ryan, Iowa DE Drew Ott and Wisconsin LB Joe Schobert.

What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.

1. The Big Ten can step up in key games: After two weeks of justified bashing, the Big Ten deserves some credit for bouncing back nicely in the last meaningful Saturday of nonconference play. The league went 3-0 against the ACC and recorded a huge road win against a ranked SEC opponent as Indiana stunned No. 18 Missouri in Columbia. Iowa finally found its swagger -- and, potentially, its new quarterback (C.J. Beathard) -- in rallying to beat Pitt. Nebraska didn't lose its composure in a chippy game against Miami and outlasted the Canes behind star back Ameer Abdullah. And all three games against MAC teams -- Michigan State-Eastern Michigan, Wisconsin-Bowling Green and Penn State-Massachusetts -- turned into routs by the Big Ten squads. Michigan remains a black eye for the league, but everyone else took a step forward and the Big Ten bolstered its record against Power 5 opponents. It doesn't erase the damage done the previous two weeks, but the Big Ten can feel a little better as league play cranks up next week.

[+] EnlargeRalston Evans
Ed Zurga/Getty ImagesIndiana had plenty of reason to celebrate on Saturday after notching a signature win over No. 18 Missouri.
2. Indiana is back on track: Same old Hoosiers. That's what everyone said in Week 2 when an Indiana defense that hasn't stopped anyone for two decades let Bowling Green march downfield for the game-winning score. The loss made bowl eligibility seem unlikely and raised questions about the program's direction under fourth-year coach Kevin Wilson. And then Indiana did the most un-Indiana-like thing imaginable: beat Missouri on the road, 31-27, thanks in large part to its defense. The Hoosiers limited Missouri to one second-half touchdown, and Tevin Coleman (132 yards rushing, one touchdown) showed why he's one of the nation's best big-play backs. It added up to the biggest win of the Wilson era and the biggest in recent memory for IU. The coaches and players deserve a ton of credit for rebounding from the Bowling Green setback. IU has teased us before, but a win like this suggests the program is truly turning a corner under Wilson.

3. Michigan's offense is just getting worse: Brady Hoke hired Doug Nussmeier to fix Michigan's offense and save his job as head coach. But Michigan's offensive woes clearly run deeper than the playcaller, as the unit has amazingly managed to backtrack this year. The Wolverines have yet to reach the red zone in 23 drives against Power 5 opponents (Notre Dame and Utah). The turnover troubles that plagued them in the past have only intensified, as four more giveaways against Utah leave Michigan with 12 on the season and a minus-10 turnover margin. There was a rock-bottom feeling about the 26-10 Utah loss, which ended at a mostly empty, waterlogged Michigan Stadium following a weather delay. Athletic director Dave Brandon repeatedly gave Hoke a vote of confidence before the season, but if the offense doesn't improve in Big Ten play, Hoke could be in serious trouble.

4. B1G's newcomers are better than expected: The Big Ten might have added Maryland and Rutgers because of their favorable locations, but the league is getting an added bonus so far this season. Both programs could be undefeated and both have won two games away from home in the first three weeks. Maryland responded from a last-second loss to West Virginia and beat Syracuse, 34-20, behind big plays in all three phases. Will Likely continued his excellent season with an 88-yard pick-six, while quarterback C.J. Brown and running back Brandon Ross connected on a 90-yard score on a screen pass. Rutgers beat an always-tricky Navy team, 31-24, in Annapolis, Maryland, despite losing star running back Paul James in the first half. Quarterback Gary Nova responded from his five-interception debacle with a clean performance (12-of-15 passing, no interceptions), and running backs Justin Goodwin and Desmon Peoples picked up the slack with James sidelined.

5. Melvin Gordon is going to be just fine: Until Saturday, things had not gone as expected this season for the Wisconsin star. He barely saw the field in the second half of a Week 1 loss to LSU and was held to 38 rush yards on 17 carries against FCS opponent Western Illinois in Week 2. But after an early fumble against Bowling Green, Gordon could not be stopped. He rushed for a career-high 253 yards, the most by an FBS back this season, and tied the team record with five touchdowns in a 68-17 win. And he did it on only 13 carries, recording the best single-game yards-per-carry average (19.5) in team history by a wide margin (14.5 was next best). Gordon even put himself in the company of the great Glenn Davis, as he's tied with the Army star for the NCAA career yards-per-carry record (8.26). Although Gordon will face better defenses this season, he appears to be just fine for Big Ten play. "The unselfishness of Melvin Gordon ... has been incredible," Badgers coach Gary Andersen said. "I'm so proud of the way that he's handled it. Today was his day."

Best case/Worst case: Maryland

August, 18, 2014
Our best- and worst-case series continues to snake its way through the Big Ten.

As always, don't view these as straight-up predictions. We're taking a broad look at the potential highs and lows for each team's season, while having a little bit (sometimes a large amount) of fun along the way.

Next in the spotlight: The Maryland Terrapins.

Best case

After proving definitively it belonged in the Big Ten, a smiling Randy Edsall walked to one final postgame news conference and finally revealed his secret.

It was no mystery that vastly improved health was the biggest factor as the Terps went toe-to-toe with the best in their new conference and beat everybody else the league tossed their way. But the Maryland coach finally was letting the world know what had been up his sleeve all year -- or, rather, in his pocket.

Edsall pulled out a small piece of wood with the program's familiar "M" logo etched on one side and Testudo on the other. Throughout the season, any time he addressed a player by name, he'd privately knock on his good-luck charm behind the podium, leaving nothing to chance after injuries had decimated his roster over the last couple of seasons.

A fantastic outing by quarterback C.J. Brown on the road in the Big Ten opener at Indiana? Knock on wood.

What about Stefon Diggs exploding for 235 yards and three touchdowns in a home win over Iowa? Knock, knock.

Another critical road victory to stamp itself as a legitimate threat to Penn State's recruiting thanks to pick-sixes from Will Likely and Alvin Hill? Another tap on the pocket.

The wood wasn't a miracle worker in terms of results. Maryland wasn't quite deep enough to knock off Ohio State or Michigan State in the rough-and-tumble East Division. But it was the Terps who helped make that side of the conference look even more fearsome moving into the future as it finished third in the standings. Maryland added a third victory in the league away from College Park when it knocked off Michigan to set up a nine-win campaign that was clinched with a rout over fellow newcomer Rutgers to cap the regular season.

It was after that victory that Edsall winked and pulled the curtain back on his secret, giving Maryland and Under Armour a whole month to start making and selling copies to fans ahead of the trip to the Outback Bowl. And with a new tradition established, the Terps knocked down the door to a double-digit win season and made it clear they weren't backing down in the Big Ten.

Worst case

The feeling of déjà vu was unmistakable.

Maryland had such high hopes, and all it needed to do was stay healthy to prove it belonged in a new league. But now down to their eighth starting quarterback of the season and with only 28 scholarship players still available, all the Terps could do was hope to survive one final week before starting the offseason rehabilitation process all over again.

If Edsall had thought his luck had been bad over the previous couple of seasons, he couldn't have imagined how low it would sink as the program acclimated to the Big Ten. Before the Terps have even played a conference game, Edsall is scouting the intramural flag football playoffs and offering walk-on spots to a handful of members of the undefeated "Testudinal Fortitude" squad.

By the time the battered roster limped home to take on Ohio State on the first Saturday in October, the University of Maryland Medical Center had started holding multiple rooms open every Saturday to accommodate the latest wave of injuries. Rather than full-contact hitting in practice, the Terps instead bring out yoga mats and go through multiple periods of relaxation and triple the amount of mental reps for every player.

Edsall did everything he could to keep the ship afloat, again converting a freshmen defender into a quarterback and riding a healthy backfield led by Brandon Ross to a win over Indiana and trotting out his flag-football receivers in an upset over Iowa that qualified as nothing short of brilliant given the limitations of the roster.

But with morale in the state at an all-time low after crab cakes were deemed by the FDA to be a public health risk, Rutgers put an end to the suffering and a 5-7 season for the Terps. The final loss might have kept them from earning a stunning bowl bid, but on the bright side, nobody else was injured -- until Edsall broke his arm adjusting a microphone at his end-of-season press conference.

Maryland Terrapins season preview

August, 7, 2014

» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Maryland Terrapins:

2013 overall record: 7-6 (3-5 ACC)

Key losses: De'Onte Arnett, OL; Dave Stinebaugh, TE; Dexter McDougle, DB; Marcus Whitfield, LB

[+] EnlargeC.J. Brown
G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty ImagesC.J. Brown returns to lead Maryland's prolific passing attack.
Key returnees: C.J. Brown, QB; Stefon Diggs, WR; Deon Long, WR; Sal Conaboy, OC; Andre Monroe, DE; Cole Farrand, LB; Sean Davis, S

Instant impact newcomer: OL Damian Prince. It's not often that a freshman offensive lineman enrolls over the summer and is expected to make an immediate impact. But, then again, rookies like Prince -- a 6-foot-3, 300-pound four-star prospect -- don't come around often, either. He will see time this season, and he could start as early as the opener. Newcomer OL Derwin Gray could win out the right tackle job, too.

Projected starters

Offense: QB: C.J. Brown, Sr., 6-3, 218; RB: Brandon Ross, Jr., 5-10, 210; FB: Kenneth Goins Jr., So., 5-9, 230; OT: Michael Dunn, So., 6-5, 300; OG Silvano Altamirano, Sr., 6-2, 290; OC: Sal Conaboy, Sr., 6-3, 295; OG: Andrew Zeller, Jr., 6-4, 310; OT: Ryan Doyle, Jr., 6-4, 300; TE: Andrew Isaacs, So., 6-2, 245; WR: Stefon Diggs, Jr., 6-0, 190; WR: Deon Long, Sr., 6-0, 185; WR: Marcus Leak, Jr., 6-0, 210.

Defense: DE: Quinton Jefferson, Jr., 6-3, 285; NT: Darius Kilgo, Sr., 6-3, 319; DE: Andre Monroe, Sr., 5-11, 282; OLB: Matt Robinson, Sr., 6-3, 245; ILB: Cole Farrand, Sr., 6-3, 245; ILB: L.A. Goree, Sr., 6-2, 245; OLB: Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, Sr., 6-2, 250; CB: Will Likely, So., 5-7, 175; CB: Alvin Hill, Jr., 5-11, 195; S: Sean Davis, Jr., 6-1, 200; S: Anthony Nixon, Jr., 6-1, 200.

Specialists: K: Brad Craddock, Jr., 6-0, 185; P: Nathan Renfro, Jr., 6-1, 205.

Biggest question mark: Can the running attack take off with this offensive line? The strength of this offense is obviously the passing attack, but the running game also needs to pick up some slack so the offense isn't so one-dimensional. In 2013, Maryland's line allowed an average of 7.08 tackles for loss a game -- only 14 FBS teams fared worse -- and the rushing offense ranked just 83rd nationally. The good news is Maryland boasts several options at running back and most of the line returns. The bad news? Those returnees weren't all that effective last season. If that part of the offense can even come close to matching the ability of that pass attack, the Terps could surprise a lot of people.

Most important game: Nov. 1 at Penn State. Maryland wants to earn respect in the Big Ten, and there would be no better way than upending a regional rival that's 35-1-1 all time versus the Terps. Maryland last beat PSU in 1961, and the Lions have won or tied the past 29 meetings. This is a statement game, and Maryland could show it belongs in the B1G with this.

Upset special: Nov. 1 at Penn State. That's right. It's the most important game -- and it's the upset special. The Nittany Lions still have a lot of question marks, and if Maryland's going to pounce on PSU this would be the year to do it, before the sanctions wane and the Lions return to full strength. Defensive end Andre Monroe could be in for a memorable performance, and if Penn State's secondary doesn't improve dramatically from last season, it could have its hands full against Diggs and Long. If pass-happy Indiana could take advantage last season, there's a chance Maryland could take advantage this season.

Key stat: Over the past two seasons, Diggs has averaged 156 all-purpose yards per game. Among returning players in the FBS, only one player has averaged more.

What they're wearing: With the backing of Under Armour, Maryland's a bit like the Oregon of the East when it comes to uniforms. Terrapins coach Randy Edsall said during Big Ten media days that his team would be debuting one new uniform this season -- but no date has been announced for when that might be unveiled.

In the meantime, here's a look at Maryland's jerseys with the new Big Ten patch:

Team's top Twitter follows: Head coach Randy Edsall (@RandyEdsall) is a good follow, as long as you don't mind a lot of motivational quotes. Quarterback C.J. Brown (@C_Brown16) is an active Tweeter, and wideout Stefon Diggs (@stefon_diggs) is a must-follow who says what he feels. The Maryland Athletics account (@umterps) and official football account (@MarylandPride) are also worth looking into. As far as covering the team, the Baltimore Sun's Jeff Barker (@sunjeffbarker) is on top of the news and SB Nation's Testudo Times (@testudotimes) is worth a follow for their commentary.

They said it: “We want to make noise. We want to go out there and win and compete and make Maryland even more relevant than it already is -- and show that we do belong.” -- quarterback C.J. Brown

Stats & Info projections: 6.42 wins

Wise guys over/under: 6.5 wins

Big Ten blog projection: Six wins. Maryland is a better team than last season, but its Big Ten schedule is absolutely brutal. It faces four of the five best teams in the B1G -- Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa -- so it doesn't exactly have an easy path to a bowl game. Seven or eight wins certainly isn't out of the question, but we'll first see if the Terps can make it through September unscathed.