Chicago Colleges: Big Ten
The Big Ten Conference, the official host of the event, was awarded its first NCAA men's basketball regional after managing earlier rounds on four previous occasions -- 1998, 2002, 2007 and 2011.
"The Big Ten is excited to once again host some of the nation's best college basketball teams for the 2016 regional of the NCAA Tournament," said Brad Traviolia, Big Ten Deputy Commissioner, CFO/COO. "We are pleased to continue our partnership with the Chicago Sports Commission and the United Center and look forward to bringing this great event to the city of Chicago for the fifth time."
The NCAA already committed to hosting two other events in Chicago in upcoming years -- the 2017 Division I men's hockey "Frozen Four" at the United Center and the 2018 National Collegiate men's gymnastics championship at UIC Pavilion.
And yet after Northwestern pulled off another South Bend shocker, this one a 43-40 overtime victory that extended Notre Dame's late-season misery while resuscitating its own campaign, Pat Fitzgerald had a confession to make.
"I think it's much more enjoyable today," the ninth-year Wildcats coach said.
No trophies or bowl games were clinched this time around, but a 4-6 team now finds itself in position to extend its season to a bowl game after pulling off the improbable here once again.
"[I] talked to them on Tuesday about a playoff mentality going back to high school: You get to November, the weather gets nasty, and that's when champions are crowned," Fitzgerald said. "We're not going to win a Big Ten championship, we understand that. We can still achieve our goals, but we have to have our back against the wall, playoff-type mentality and win and advance. We've advanced to another week to keep this team alive for postseason play."
Northwestern football, he said, is in a totally different place now than it was the last time these Cats took the field here. All-Americans like himself -- All-Americans who grew up on Chicago's South Side bleeding blue and gold, yet somehow ended up in Evanston -- undertook a massive culture change, one that led to three Big Ten titles, and one that now sheds the weight of a season that had been cast in a negative light.
Fitzgerald can thank himself for that, too, as the man just a few weeks shy of his 40th birthday can get Northwestern to its sixth bowl game in its past seven seasons with just two more wins, over Purdue and Illinois.
Those might look like child's play compared to what his players pulled off here on the third Saturday of November, sizing up an Irish team just a week removed from the College Football Playoff picture and delivering it another gut punch.
There was a blocked extra-point try on Notre Dame's second touchdown, which Nick VanHoose returned all the way and made what should have been a 14-7 game a 13-9 one.
There was the fallout of those Irish special-teams miscues: Coach Brian Kelly's questionable decision to go for two after the Irish's final touchdown, an incomplete pass that kept it a 40-29 Irish lead instead of putting Northwestern in a position where it would have to score two touchdowns.
Then, of course, there was the fumble -- the fourth, final and most costly Irish turnover, this from sure-handed captain Cam McDaniel, which gave Northwestern the ball back with a three-point deficit and 1 minute, 28 seconds to work with.
"They're giving us a shot, guys," Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian said in the huddle. "Just let it rip."
Jack Mitchell's 45-yard field goal sent the game to overtime. His 41-yard kick -- which came after another Irish special-teams miscue, a missed 42-yard try in overtime -- set off a party nearly two decades in the making for the large contingent dressed in purple.
Said running back Justin Jackson, who could not bear to watch the game-winning kick: "First of all, that fumble was unbelievable, how we got that ball back. And then the drive, the field goal, and then for them to miss the field goal and for us to make a field goal -- it's a storybook ending to a crazy game. So it was really fun."
Fun for cornerback Matthew Harris, who was on the ledge of the stands celebrating with traveling fans long after the team had sung the alma mater. Fun for those traveling fans -- one of whom waved a purple T-shirt bearing a Chicago Sun-Times cover from 1995 that read: NU 17, ND 15. And fun for the man who had 11 tackles in that '95 meeting and sold this group on the belief that lightning could strike twice.
Fitzgerald held Siemian in a long embrace after the game. He made references to iPhones and Instagrams, luxuries and pitfalls of today's youth that will grant his players more attention than he ever received. He mentioned conversations with Ara Parseghian, the legendary former Northwestern and Notre Dame coach with whom he speaks regularly. He said boardrooms across Fortune 500 companies will feature more purple than usual Monday, as proud alumni revel in another victory at Notre Dame.
Nineteen years later, and here Fitzgerald was in a familiar position, at home once again after winning over a few more non-believers.
"I wouldn't want to play for anybody else in the country," Siemian said. "He's awesome. That's it. I just wouldn't want to play for anybody else."
Gary Barnett's Northwestern team was a four-touchdown underdog as it entered Notre Dame Stadium for its 1995 opener. He knew his players could have a better season than most were expecting, but he doubled-down on them before taking the field, ordering them to act like they have been there when they win.
No carrying the coach off the field. No Gatorade shower. When they win, not if.
Did they ever. Nostalgia has been in the air this week as the Wildcats resume their rivalry Saturday with the Irish, the schools' first meeting on the gridiron since that fateful Sept. 2 matchup 19 years ago. The 17-15 stunner that propelled Northwestern to a Big Ten title that season is arguably the greatest Wildcats victory of them all, and one of its engineers will take center stage this weekend on that same visiting sideline in South Bend, Indiana.
"Contrary maybe to popular belief, I think we think that about every game," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, a linebacker on that 1995 team, said of Barnett's expectation to win. "Otherwise I don't know why you compete."
Fitzgerald recorded 11 tackles in that win, en route to the first of consecutive consensus All-America honors. An Orland Park, Illinois, native, Fitzgerald, naturally, grew up a fan of the Irish.
"I'm Catholic from the South Side -- you didn't have a choice," he cracked. "Absolutely. And then we had a great player from my high school, Jeff Alm, play. Unfortunately he's passed away, but Jeff was a great player at Notre Dame. He was an All-American. So he'd come back and work out, things of that nature, at Sandburg [High]."
How and why Fitzgerald did not end up in South Bend remains somewhat of a mystery, with the ninth-year Northwestern coach saying this week that he had attended a camp, but that he never took an official visit.
Notre Dame's loss ended up being Northwestern's gain, with Barnett just happy to land the prized linebacker regardless of how he fell into his lap.
"I think all along he wanted to go to Notre Dame and he was putting off committing to us, waiting to hear from Notre Dame, if they were going to offer him," Barnett said. "He was one of our last commitments, actually. So I'm not sure, he'll have to tell you how that all went down. And I didn't really care. We were recruiting him, we didn't care if Notre Dame turned him down or whatever. We wanted him on our football team, so we were fortunate that whatever happened, happened."
Barnett gets a kick out of how everything will have come full-circle for Fitzgerald this weekend. He recalled telling his assistants during training camp of Fitzgerald's sophomore year in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that they would be jockeying to hire Fitzgerald as an assistant if any of them ever took head coaching jobs down the line.
Ninth-ranked Notre Dame proved to be the first of several heavyweights Northwestern would take down in 1995, as the Wildcats won at No. 7 Michigan and beat No. 12 Penn State before falling to No. 17 USC in the Rose Bowl. Barnett looks at that campaign -- and, by extension, that Notre Dame game -- as the launching point for the past two decades of Northwestern football, as the program has gone from a conference bottom-feeder to one that went on to share two more Big Ten titles, and one that has reached five bowl games under Fitzgerald.
A loss at 7-2 Notre Dame on Saturday would make it consecutive seasons without a bowl for Northwestern. Still, bigger upsets have happened, as everyone from these teams' last meeting knows.
That 1995 tilt ended up being decided, in large part, on Irish quarterback Ron Powlus tripping during a two-point conversion. Two months before the game, sophomore defensive back Marcel Price was fatally shot while home in Nashville. His memory stuck with the Wildcats throughout their historic run.
"I remembered watching Powlus go back and slip, and somebody on the sideline said, 'Marcel made that tackle,'" Barnett said. "I think after we look back, it certainly is a big play. But at the time I don't recall thinking other than we just maintained our lead. That's what you're thinking at the time, and what do you do next."
2. ... The Wild West still remains wild: Just when you think you’ve started to figure out the West Division, with Minnesota coming off a puzzling loss to Illinois and Iowa blowing out Northwestern, Jerry Kill’s squad steps up and absolutely dominates the Hawkeyes in a 51-14 thrashing that was over by halftime. Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin all boast just one Big Ten loss now -- so anything can happen in these last three weeks, especially when you consider these three teams will all play one another, with Nebraska taking on Wisconsin next Saturday. (Even Iowa, which still plays Wisconsin and Nebraska, isn’t technically out of the equation.) It’s looking more and more as if we’ll have to wait until the final week of the regular season to get a clear picture of who will move forward. Lessons learned: It was way too premature to write off Minnesota (and Kill’s dancing skills), and it’s still too early to pick a clear favorite.
3. Wisconsin passing game has some potential: Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy appeared doomed early this season, but they might end up just fine if Stave can build off part of Saturday’s performance. The Badgers set a season high with 30 pass attempts, and Stave finished 19-of-29 for 216 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His QBR of 77.2 was the highest of any Wisconsin starter in the Big Ten season, and he was especially hot in the second quarter of the 34-16 win. This was about as balanced as Wisconsin’s offense has been all season, and if defenses are forced to take some of the focus away from the running game, the Badgers’ offense could become even more dangerous. One game doesn’t make a trend, but it does show Stave is capable of more this season.
4. Several B1G offenses are regressing: If you watched -- and stayed awake through -- Penn State's 13-7 win over Indiana and Michigan's 10-9 win over Northwestern, feel free to pat yourself on the back. Those four teams combined for three offensive touchdowns, 39 points, 33 punts and 10 turnovers. It wasn’t pretty. For Indiana, it’s more understandable because Nate Sudfeld's injury forced this team to become even more one-dimensional. But for the other three, every week seems to lead to fewer answers and more questions. Turnovers continue to be an issue for Devin Gardner and the Wolverines, Trevor Siemian remains incredibly inconsistent … and Penn State? Well, nothing seems to be going well there. Penn State, Michigan and Northwestern are ranked outside the top 100 in scoring offense, and the Hoosiers have averaged 11.3 points per game with Zander Diamont as the starting quarterback. These offenses aren’t showing much progress.
5. Penn State bowl hopes pinned to the defense: As bad as the Nittany Lions’ offense has been, the defense has performed nearly perfectly. Indiana never reached the red zone Saturday, Tevin Coleman didn’t reach 100 rushing yards for the first time all season, and the Lions’ defense didn’t allow a single point. (IU’s only touchdown came on an interception return for a TD.) PSU needs just one more win for bowl eligibility, but even with Illinois and Temple left on the slate, that’s no guarantee. The offense hasn’t once reached 20 points in regulation in a Big Ten game, but on the flip side, the defense has allowed just nine touchdowns in regulation in six B1G games. This is arguably the best defense in the Big Ten, but it’s also arguably the worst offense.
By the way, if you’re not following us on Twitter, what are you waiting for? Follow along at @ESPNRittenberg, @BennettESPN, @ESPNJoshMoyer, @DanMurphyESPN, @MitchSherman
Pelini says Abdullah injury not as severe as MCL sprain that caused Rex Burkhead to miss several games in 2012.— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) Nov. 4, 2014
Pelini anticipates Abdullah being 100 percent for Wisconsin but adds, "That's just my guess. It always can change."— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) Nov. 4, 2014
Urban Meyer on B1G title game last year: "That was two sledgehammers ... I don't expect any different this week."— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) Nov. 4, 2014
Rutgers' Kyle Flood asked about his thoughts on first year in Big Ten. Paraphrasing here, but essentialy: they are who we thought they were.— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) Nov. 4, 2014
Jerry Kill on RB David Cobb: "In my opinion, he's better than even I thought he would be."— Josh Moyer (@ESPNJoshMoyer) Nov. 4, 2014
Tim Beckman says he expects QB Wes Lunt to return to practice tomorrow.— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) Nov. 4, 2014
Franklin on Hackenberg: When you have success as true freshman and have to learn new system, can be tough to adjust to ups and downs.— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) Nov. 4, 2014
Fitzgerald on 48-7 loss: "I greatly appreciate you saying the game didn't go so well. That's very nice of you. We got our fannies whipped."— Josh Moyer (@ESPNJoshMoyer) Nov. 4, 2014
1. Iowa transfer?: It appears as if freshman wideout Derrick Willies might have played his last game for the Hawkeyes. He posted a cryptic message on his Instagram Monday night that read, "It's been real Iowa, things are just moving on to a different chapter in the story..." A Hawkeyes spokesman told the Des Moines Register that any roster updates would be addressed by coach Kirk Ferentz on Tuesday. Willies was not listed on the team's Monday depth chart.
2. Hoke domino effect: Brady Hoke says no one's talked to him about his job status, and that kind of uncertainty is not what you want to hear when it comes to recruiting. As a result, ESPN 300 DB Garrett Taylor decommitted from the Wolverines on Monday. And U-M will be lucky if he's the last recruit to decommit. Oft-given advice is for a player to commit to a school, not a coach, but it rarely seems to work out that way. Michigan is down to nine commitments right now.
3. No Nova?: Rutgers senior QB Gary Nova is listed as "questionable" for Saturday's game against Wisconsin, which means redshirt freshman Chris Laviano could be in line for his first career start. Laviano could push Nova for time, regardless, as he outplayed Nova in the Nebraska game and even led his team with 54 rushing yards. But I'm more in line with the thinking of NJ.com's Dan Duggan: If Nova is medically cleared, he should play. A one-game sample size isn't enough to vault Laviano over Nova, who's been pretty good this year. Nova still gives the Scarlet Knights their best chance to win.
- Michigan State's quest for respect is about to go national.
- Urban Meyer is focusing on the positives after a close win.
- The chance for pride in Michigan's season vanished on Saturday, writes the Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder.
- A 10-hour time-lapse of Penn State's entire "White Out."
- Indiana coach Kevin Wilson wants third-string QB-turned-starter Zander Diamont to do his talking on the field.
- Rutgers backup QB Chris Laviano is ready if Gary Nova can't go Saturday.
- The good and bad from Maryland's loss to Wisconsin.
- November will be Iowa's true measuring stick, according to the Des Moines Register's Rick Brown.
- Nebraska is feeling "fresh" at this point in the season, and it's hoping that pays off in November.
- Purdue freshman Ja'Whaun Bentley has found a home at middle linebacker.
- Wisconsin is clawing its way out of a Big Ten hole.
- Jerry Kill is trying to heal the Gophers' psyche for the home stretch.
- Is slow progress enough for Tim Beckman to return to Illinois next season?
- Northwestern LB Collin Ellis remains sidelined by a concussion.
1. Larry Johnson deserves cheers, not jeers from Penn State fans. The longtime Nittany Lions assistant, now an Ohio State coach, is returning to Happy Valley for a Saturday night game. One fan tweeted at me, referring to LJ as “Larry Judas.” He’s not the only PSU fan that still harnesses some bitterness toward Johnson. But that really misses the mark. Johnson knew James Franklin was big on defensive line coach Sean Spencer -- he admitted as much Monday -- so Johnson simply stepped aside. This is the same man who declined a defensive coordinator position with Illinois in 2008 which would’ve reportedly doubled his salary. And who, in 2011, declined to put his name in for Maryland’s next coordinator job because he already promised Penn State’s recruiting class he’d coach them the next season. Just because a coach leaves somewhere doesn’t mean he’s “disloyal.” I’m not 100 percent certain what kind of reception he’ll receive Saturday night, but a standing ovation seems much more appropriate than any boos.
2. Purdue fans have a reason to be excited -- finally. Danny Etling was heralded as Purdue's savior before he ever took a snap last season. And when he did finally step under center for the first time, against Northern Illinois, the crowd offered him a standing ovation. Well, it turns out the quarterback to turn this Boilermakers team around might just be the lesser-known Austin Appleby. At least, he was lesser-known until a few weeks ago. In his last three starts, the Boilermakers are averaging 35.7 points a game. Before Appleby, that number was 23.8. He has some weapons on offense and, if this defense can step up, Purdue could really be a good team. Seriously. Appleby stuck with it after Etling twice beat him out for the starting job, and Appleby still has no shortage of confidence. He said last week that Purdue "could've hung 40" on Michigan State.
3. Illinois’ “Gray Ghost” uniforms deserve a thumbs-up. Maybe it’s just because I’m a sucker for history, but I really dig the uniforms the Fighting Illini plan to wear this weekend for Homecoming. It’s not necessarily how they look -- and they look fine -- but it’s the story behind them that really gets me. Ninety years ago, during Illinois’ Homecoming against Michigan, Red Grange scored four touchdowns in the first 12 minutes of the game. He ended up with six TDs as the Illini became the first team to beat Michigan in two years. After that game, famous sportswriter Grantland Rice referred to Grange as a “gray ghost.” So, that’s the idea behind Illinois’ uniforms. Wish more teams would honor history like that. Seems like fans are embracing the new design, too. The jerseys have already sold out online.
Now, on to the links ...
- Last year's beatdown against Michigan State still lingers for Michigan.
- The Spartans are setting their sights on the College Football Playoff.
- Urban Meyer expects more from Ohio State's offense.
- The Hoosiers must stay aggressive despite some mistakes.
- Tackling woes doomed Rutgers in its loss to Ohio State.
- Notes about Maryland, including how the Terrapins plan to stick with their punter.
- Minnesota's latest top-25 ranking is a big victory for a team off to its best start since 1990.
- Bo Pelini is glad to have Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. on his side.
- Wisconsin must "keep its eye on the ball" against Maryland.
- Purdue's defense is giving up too many big plays.
- Tim Beckman will utilize a two-quarterback system against Minnesota.
- Reviewing four factors in Iowa's loss to Maryland.
- Three takeaways from Northwestern's loss over the weekend.
1. Michigan quotables: The Wolverines looked beside themselves Saturday night -- right after Rutgers pulled off the 26-24 win -- and players didn’t seem to have many answers for the media. One loss after another clearly took its toll, and a lot of the player quotes spoke to that. Here’s one of the more memorable ones, from wideout Devin Funchess: “Wins and losses, that’s just a statistic.” And then when asked if U-M needs a win against Penn State: “We’re just going to go out there and do our best. It’s not that we need something; we’re blessed to play.” Michigan is searching for answers right now ... but does that really sound like a player who expects to win on Saturday? It sure sounds as if this team is bracing itself in case another loss is in store.
2. Good in theory, not in practice?: Last March, Penn State coach James Franklin told reporters that recruiting and committing was a lot like an engagement. Here are his exact words: “I would rather a kid not to commit to us if he’s still looking around and waiting to go through the process. I think there is nothing wrong with that. If you’re not sure that’s what you want to do, keep looking around until you figure it out. But once you stand up and shake my hand and look me in the eye and say this is where you want to go, we’re engaged. There is no more dating and there is no more flirting.” Why bring that quote up now? Well, Penn State commit and ESPN 300 QB Brandon Wimbush visited Notre Dame over the weekend -- after flirting with Stanford a few months earlier. And now PSU commit and ESPN 300 DT Adam McLean said he plans to take all five of his official visits. Seems like a rocky start to the engagement ...
3. Calling out the students: It’s not every day an athletic director and head coach point to shared “disappointment and embarrassment” for a waning student section, and it’s certainly not every day those statements come from a team still alive in the national title hunt. But that’s exactly what happened at Michigan State over the weekend. Said Mark Dantonio: “We needed it to be loud there, and it’s a big football game, and it got a little empty there at the end. ... I appreciate the fans that did stay. The fans that left, that’s just not right.” Sure, it was cold and the weather was unpleasant. But this is Michigan State, not Eastern Michigan. And the opponent was Nebraska, not Jacksonville State. Tough it out, students. Personally, I was surprised. Maybe I shouldn’t have been.
Now on to the links ...
- Ohio State's offense is progressing as quickly as quarterback J.T. Barrett -- and that's no coincidence.
- Michigan players understand their fans' anger, but they're asking ask for support.
- After a large contingent of fans left Saturday night's game early, Michigan State is considering assigned seating and decreased size for its student section.
- Indiana coach Kevin Wilson believes his team can still improve.
- The bye week comes at a good time for Maryland.
- It's time to let Illinois coach Tim Beckman go, writes CBS' Dave Wischnowsky.
- Despite the loss, Wisconsin players aren't lacking for confidence.
- Austin Appleby received high marks for his performance Saturday, and right now he's now Purdue's starting quarterback.
- A closer look at Iowa's depth chart and the situation at quarterback.
- Seven things to keep in mind as Minnesota comes off its bye.
1. Michigan should look to backup QB: Shane Morris doesn’t deserve to start, per se, but Devin Gardner has shown he’s not the answer to Michigan’s woes. Actually, he’s a big contributing cause. Against two Power-5 opponents, Gardner has led the Wolverines offense to exactly zero touchdown drives. Can Morris possibly fare any worse? Hoke should announce the starter later Tuesday. If he picks Gardner, this has to be the dual-threat’s last chance. But if U-M wants to turn things around now, maybe it should stop starting the same guy over and over again and expecting different results. You know what they call that ...
2. Ameer Abdullah still the best back in the Big Ten: Apologies to Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, who made enough highlight-worthy plays just on Saturday to fill up a season-long reel. But Abdullah has still had the more impressive season by far. Gordon put up video game numbers against Bowling Green, but Abdullah grinded it out against a good Miami run defense for 229 yards. Abdullah’s “worst” game came against McNeese State when he turned in this play. Don’t worry; you really don’t have to click that link because you’ve probably seen that crazy play -- where he breaks at least five tackles en route to a 58-yard TD -- at least a dozen times already. Gordon is great but, so far this season, Abdullah is better.
3. NCAA president Mark Emmert can’t admit when he’s wrong: Can we make something clear here? Whether or not you agreed with the NCAA’s initial move of sanctioning Penn State, it seems as if we can all agree that the NCAA handled the situation in a manner that was far from ideal. But, of course, the NCAA’s tone-deaf president was asked Monday about his handling of it all -- and, of course, disagreed. Emmert’s response: “I think that has gone really well.” It looks as if we need to talk, Mark. If you dole out a punishment and reduce said punishment twice in two years, then you probably missed the mark initially. Heck, you’re basically admitting you missed the mark with actions instead of words. ESPN.com’s own Ivan Maisel wrote something to that effect as well -- nearly a full year ago. The more Emmert talks, the more it becomes harder to believe him.
Now on to the links ...
- The Michigan job is too big for Brady Hoke, writes The Detroit News' Terry Foster.
- Despite improvements, Ohio State is still "not sure of" of its best offensive line rotation.
- Michigan State QB Connor Cook said he hasn't made a decision on the NFL and he's focused on this season.
- Penn State is starting to receive votes in the top 25 -- but who's not voting for the Nittany Lions?
- Rutgers coach Kyle Flood doesn't believe in "trap games."
- Injuries have forced quite a few changes on Maryland's depth chart.
- Indiana coach Kevin Wilson knows his team has to back up the win against Missouri.
- Nebraska's back seven needs to do some cleaning up.
- Jake Rudock was listed as the starter on Iowa's depth chart Monday morning, but Kirk Ferentz will undoubtedly be asked about the brewing QB controversy Tuesday.
- Despite Illinois 3-1 record, the Fighting Illini are still searching for consistency.
- Minnesota needs a sharper passing game in its Big Ten opener.
- An early preview package on Purdue's matchup against Iowa.
Josh Moyer: Let's see here. Heisman-worthy candidate? Check. Two solid wideouts? Check. Best defensive player in the conference when healthy? Check. But there are a few things Nebraska needs to tweak, or sustain, to really put together a solid run. Let me give you my three key points. For one, the Huskers need to find ways to gain more turnovers. They have just one so far -- and it was an interception against McNeese State on a Hail Mary to end the game. Nebraska is dead-last in the nation in creating turnovers. So it needs to continue to take care of the ball but find ways to get that ball back, especially when it's on the road. Two, Tommy Armstrong needs to continue to make smart decisions -- but he has to understand he can't rely on the big play as much as before. This team is really living and dying on those big plays, instead of constructing sustained drives, so it'll have to adapt against better defenses. And three, if there's a part of the defense that hast to step up, it's the linebackers. They need to be more active and create more plays. If Nebraska does those things, I think you'll be seeing the Huskers in the B1G title game.
Andy from Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, writes: My biggest concern is that Jake Rudock is one of the leading rushers for Iowa. That's not a good thing! My impression is that he is taking off running on passing plays way too often. Is this a problem of the receivers not getting open or is it Rudock not giving the play enough time to develop?
Josh Moyer: There are all sorts of problems on Iowa's offense, but I don't think quarterback Jake Rudock is even close to being near the top of those concerns. He's completing 68 percent of his passes and has thrown one pick in 117 attempts. The offensive line bears some of the blame, but these issues also have to do with the play-calling. Opponents are loading the box against Iowa and, rather than airing it out or making opponents pay for that, offensive coordinator Greg Davis has opted to stick with a horizontal passing attack. Iowa's offensive gameplan is predictable and conservative, and that seems to be a big reason this offense is so out of whack. Rudock is simply taking off when he sees an opening, and he's done a relatively good job of that. You could argue he's taking off too much, but his unscripted running plays are more effective than the scripted runs: Rudock is averaging 4 yards a carry, more than a yard better than Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock. So you're right, it is concerning that Rudock is one of the leading rushers. But that's more a product of the concerning offense, rather than a concerning Rudock.
@ESPNJoshMoyer what is the penn state's realistic ceiling for this season?- Not Famous Jason (@JasonAAV) September 17, 2014
Josh Moyer: Realistically, I feel as if the most likely Penn State outcome is still an eight-win regular season, give or take a victory. But you specifically asked about the ceiling -- about the best-case scenario -- so I'll put that at 10. Yes, the Big Ten is down as a whole. And, yes, outside of Michigan State, there are really no "unwinnable" games. But as James Franklin said Saturday, winning tends to minimize issues while losing magnifies them. And Penn State still has quite a few issues -- namely the young offensive line. If you could substitute Wisconsin's offensive line here, I think PSU could realistically go 11-1 or better. But left tackle Donovan Smith appears to be the only above-average lineman, since center Angelo Mangiro really struggled Saturday against Rutgers. Christian Hackenberg has no time in the pocket, and there's virtually no run game of which to speak. I said this before and I'll say it again: Penn State's ceiling is capped by its offensive line. Ohio State should give PSU plenty of problems, and Michigan's defense is much more aggressive compared to last season. PSU fans should approach this conference season with cautious optimism.
Leland Buss rom Burlington, Wisconsin, writes: Why is Wisconsin trending downward? I thought the loss to LSU was a good loss. Am I wrong? The win against Western Illinois was solid if not spectacular, so why are they now being dismissed as contenders in the West?
Josh Moyer: Leland is referring to our Big Ten power rankings, where we dropped Wisconsin to No. 5 this past week. And it's a good question. But the Badgers' move had less to do with Wisconsin and more to do with how the teams above them performed. Nebraska dominated Fresno State, and Penn State turned in another solid defensive effort. Both teams are undefeated, and they deserve credit for that. Michigan State is the easy No. 1 and the Buckeyes ... well, their loss to Virginia Tech looks worse now than before. But Ohio State's passing game gives me a lot less pause than Wisconsin's. No one's discounting Wisconsin as a division contender. Iowa has looked pretty bad so far, and it sure seems as if the race in the West is between Nebraska and Wisconsin. If the Badgers can shore up their passing game, they'll be back near the top in no time.
The Scarlet Knights have said they’re approaching this as another game -- but they acknowledged it’s not just another game. The Nittany Lions have also said they’re approaching this as another game -- but because it is just another game.
“We are just as motivated in this game as were for Akron,” James Franklin said. “And we are just as motivated for this game as we were for Central Florida.”
Said Kyle Flood, regarding his players: “I want them to be excited about this game. They should be excited about this game. Games like this are the reason you play college football at a place like Rutgers.”
Flood was inundated with questions about the Nittany Lions; Franklin begged for questions about the Scarlet Knights. The only thing fans want to talk about in Piscataway, New Jersey, is Saturday’s game; the only thing fans want to talk about in Happy Valley is reduced sanctions.
Said Franklin: “I know you guys are going to ask me 55 questions that don’t have to do with Rutgers, but I would like to talk about Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers -- and then maybe a little bit more about Rutgers.”
The first question of Franklin’s weekly news conference: Can you describe the atmosphere and emotions after the NCAA’s announcement?
“Were you on the phone when we said we were going to talk about Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers and more Rutgers?” Franklin asked with a laugh.
It's worth noting that Franklin mentioned “Rutgers” so much, because Flood hasn’t said “Penn State” once. He’s decided to refer to PSU as “the team from Pennsylvania” since ... well ... at least this fall.
Even among players, the contrast has been stark.
“Everyone knows it’s a big game. In the back of our minds, it’s a big game -- but we’re going to treat it like it’s any other game on the schedule,” Rutgers wideout Leonte Carroo said. “It would be a great win for the program, a huge win for the program and for recruits and for everything.”
Penn State linebacker Brandon Bell was also asked if, as a New Jersey native, he put any added emphasis on this game -- or if he thought his team at least watched its words this week, so as not to add any bulletin-board material.
“They’re obviously going to be looking for anything to fuel them up, as they’ve been hyping up the game a lot,” Bell said. “It’s their first Big Ten game; they should be excited. But, pretty much, we’re just looking at it as another game this week.”
So, there you have it. Two seemingly different mind-sets going into this game. We’ll see which one wins out Saturday ...
Now on to the links:
- Michigan's Brady Hoke on fan angst: "We're not really happy, either."
- Penn State amps up the noise at practice to prepare for Rutgers.
- Kyle Flood deserves the breathing room from his two-year extension, NJ.com's Steve Politi writes.
- Despite a loss, Mark Dantonio says Michigan State's goals remain within reach.
- Previewing the Indiana-Bowling Green game.
- Special teams mistakes are standing out to Ohio State and Urban Meyer.
- Looking back on past meetings in the Maryland-WVU rivalry.
- Nebraska is focusing on better tackling.
- A look at Iowa's two defensive linemen and why the Hawkeyes are 2-0.
- Darrell Hazell remains mum on Purdue's starting quarterback.
- Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald calls his team's lack of toughness "an embarrassment."
- Illinois is looking for a statement win against Washington.
- Minnesota's players are trying to prevent muscle cramps with the help of pickle juice.
8:30 a.m. ET
Penn State vs. Central Florida (Dublin, Ireland), ESPN2: This overseas contest isn't the same without the O'Brien vs. O'Leary headline or the Hackenberg vs. Bortles undercard. But it could still be one of the more interesting games on tap, as it's James Franklin's debut as Penn State's head coach. The Nittany Lions are looking to once again shock the conference, and that will have to start with success from an inexperienced offensive line. The Nittany Lions have talent on offense -- Christian Hackenberg, Jesse James, Donovan Smith, Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak -- but a win won't come easy against a loaded Central Florida defense.
Indiana State at Indiana, ESPNews: If you haven't fallen asleep from waking up early for the Nittany Lions game, this one might cause you to fluff up that pillow. The Hoosiers upended the Sycamores 73-35 the past season and should once again put on an offensive clinic. Will Indiana's new defense be better? We probably won't find out based on this game.
Northern Iowa at Iowa, BTN: Kirk Ferentz's crew hasn't made quick work of its FCS opponents the past two seasons. Last year, Iowa edged out Missouri State 28-14 and the year before beat Northern Iowa 27-16. Northern Iowa is a middle-of-the-road FCS team this season, but those past two FCS games featured teams that finished below .500. It shouldn't be close, but then again, it shouldn't have been in 2012 or 2013 either.
Appalachian State at Michigan, ESPN2: Can history possibly repeat itself here? The 2007 game -- Mountaineers 34, Wolverines 32 -- was one of the greatest upsets in college football history. If you're a Big Ten fan, you should probably remember where you were when Julian Rauch nailed the field goal heard 'round the world to give App State a two-point lead with 26 seconds left in the game. No doubt the Wolverines will be more prepared this time around, but you can bet Appalachian State's confidence is pretty high, too.
Western Michigan at Purdue, ESPNU: Thankfully, it's not our job to tell you why you should watch these games. We're coming up relatively empty on this one. Purdue is just a nine-point favorite, which means this game should technically be closer than most of the others here. But the ratings for this game won't skyrocket based off that fact. Purdue's offense should be better, so if quarterback Danny Etling struggles in this game, it might already be time for Boilermakers fans to worry.
Ohio State at Navy, CBS Sports Network: Can Ohio State move on without Braxton Miller? Will Navy's triple-option fool this defensive line? How will J.T. Barrett fare in his first career start? The Midshipmen aren't a bad team, and plenty of questions are swirling around the Buckeyes' quarterback situation with the season-ending injury to Miller. All eyes will be on Barrett -- and how long a leash Urban Meyer gives him here.
Youngstown State at Illinois, BTN: Tim Beckman could be on the hot seat this season, and if he loses to a team with a Penguin mascot, that seat will start heating up in no time. Wes Lunt could be in for a big season, but it'll be interesting to see who in the receiving corps can step up. Beckman is also counting on some juco players to plug roster holes, so we'll start to see how that's working out in this opener.
James Madison at Maryland, BTN: First, Rutgers comes away with a win in its first game as a Big Ten member. Next, the Terrapins should follow suit. We should see offensive fireworks here, especially though the air, now that quarterback C.J. Brown is healthy, along with wideouts Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. James Madison is an average FCS team, though it nearly knocked off Akron the past season in a 35-33 loss.
Cal at Northwestern, ABC/ESPN2: No Venric Mark, no Christian Jones ... no problem? The Golden Bears are lousy, and the reins are now in the hands of Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian. The Wildcats are hoping to rebound from the past season with a bowl berth, and it'll have to get off on the right foot -- with a win over Cal -- to make that happen. Northwestern should start off 3-0 after a disappointing 5-7 finish in 2013.
Florida Atlantic at No. 22 Nebraska, BTN: It won't be the “Battle of the Pelinis” this season, as FAU coach Carl Pelini was fired the past season in the wake of drug allegations against his staff. The move wasn't without its controversy. We'll see if Bo Pelini is out to avenge his brother based on how ugly this game gets. If Ameer Abdullah wants to be a Heisman contender, he has to post crazy numbers in games like this.
No. 14 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 LSU (Houston), ESPN: Admit it. You're waiting all day for this Big Ten game. This could give the B1G respect on a national scale -- or, if it turns ugly, could give the rest of the Power 5 more ammunition to point a finger and label the conference weak. Melvin Gordon might be the best running back in the country, and he'll be facing a slightly above-average run defense. Is that enough to give the Badgers the win? LSU might have the advantage everywhere except at tailback and offensive line. This is the game to watch.
It looks as if the weather is pretty split this week -- nice and sunny in some places with chances of thunderstorms in others. First off, the good news: It'll be nice and clear for Penn State, Indiana, Ohio State, Illinois and Nebraska. Outside of Ireland, where it should be in the 60s, the temperature should vary between the 70s and 80s.
Elsewhere? Teams might not be so lucky. For Maryland and Wisconsin, thunderstorms could strike later in the games. For the other four teams -- Northwestern, Michigan, Purdue, Iowa -- thunderstorms could strike early but could clear up later.
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TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
3:30 PM ET Stanford 8 UCLA 3:30 PM ET 13 Arizona State 11 Arizona 2:30 PM ET Arkansas 17 Missouri 12:00 PM ET Western Kentucky 24 Marshall
7:45 PM ET 15 Auburn 1 Alabama 8:00 PM ET 2 Oregon Oregon State 3:30 PM ET Florida 3 Florida State 3:30 PM ET 4 Mississippi State 19 Ole Miss 12:00 PM ET Michigan 6 Ohio State 3:30 PM ET 7 Baylor Texas Tech 12:00 PM ET 16 Georgia Tech 9 Georgia 3:30 PM ET 10 Michigan State Penn State 4:00 PM ET Kansas 12 Kansas State 3:30 PM ET 18 Minnesota 14 Wisconsin 12:00 PM ET South Carolina 21 Clemson 12:00 PM ET Kentucky 22 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Utah State 23 Boise State 1:00 PM ET 25 Utah Colorado