Chicago Colleges: Big Ten Conference

Big Ten viewer’s guide: Week 7

October, 10, 2014
Oct 10
10:00
AM CT
Week 7 is here, and let’s not sugarcoat it: Big Ten football has looked more interesting on other weekends. This first Saturday of the season without nonconference action lacks marquee matchups. Still, the division races will continue to take shape.

Here’s a look at the five games (all times Eastern):

Noon

Illinois (3-3) and Wisconsin (3-2), ESPN2: Will Melvin Gordon run for 300 yards? If the Badgers wanted it to happen, Illinois’ 119th-ranked rushing defense would likely comply. More of the intrigue in Madison involves the quarterbacks. For Wisconsin, Joel Stave, who returned last week against Northwestern, will see time, in addition to Tanner McEvoy, who might also take a shot at receiver. And with Illinois’ Wes Lunt out with a fractured leg, senior Reilly O’Toole and sophomore Aaron Bailey, who was set to redshirt, have competed in practice this week.

Indiana (3-2) and Iowa (4-1), ESPNU: Indiana has shown it can win on the road in tough spots, handing Missouri its lone loss on Sept. 20. The Hoosiers are more explosive on offense than any foe Iowa has faced. But Indiana still can’t defend well, in particular against proficient quarterbacks. The Hawkeyes are going back to Jake Rudock at the start, but C.J. Beathard will play. How well can Greg Davis manage this? If it’s a disaster, Indiana might just find itself in the right place at the right time for an upset bid.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cobb
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesDavid Cobb and Minnesota can take a big step in their quest for a Western Division crown by beating Northwestern on Saturday.
Northwestern (3-2) at Minnesota (4-1), BTN: Who would have guessed a month ago, as the Golden Gophers fell flat at TCU and the Wildcats sat winless, that this game would have legitimate implications for the West Division title race? It does, with NU in quest of a third straight unexpected win to open league play. Its defense led the charge against Penn State and Wisconsin. Minnesota is simply solid, led by David Cobb, statistically the league’s most valuable offensive player. Minnesota has defended the pass especially well in recent games and will test Northwestern’s Trevor Siemian, 13th in the Big Ten in QBR.

3:30 p.m.

No. 8 Michigan State (4-1) at Purdue (3-3), ESPN2: At least it’s not the best team in the Big Ten against the worst. Purdue escaped the low spot last week with a win over Illinois. And sophomore quarterback Austin Appleby looked good in the victory. Very good, in fact. Back at home, he figures to find a much more difficult situation against the Spartans, who might come in a bit angry after nearly blowing a 24-point, fourth-quarter lead against Nebraska.

7 p.m.

Penn State (4-1) at Michigan (2-4), ESPN2: The visitors from Happy Valley, after an off week, get an opportunity to show that their anemic performance against Northwestern was just a fluke. With an upcoming stretch of three challenging games, no better time exists for PSU to get healthy than at Michigan, trying to avoid its first 0-3 start in the Big Ten since 1965. Against a good Penn State front, the Wolverines must protect Devin Gardner and throw the football, neither of which they’ve done well in recent weeks.

Required reading

Happy Halloween in the Big Ten

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
10:00
AM CT
Happy Halloween, Big Ten fans! The conference got off to a ghoulish start this season but has since provided enough tricks and treats to set up an entertaining final month of the regular season. In celebration of the undead, let’s take a look at what Halloween staples we think of when talking about the Big Ten.

Jason Voorhees: Have you ever seen Jason run after one of his soon-to-be victims? Nope, but somehow he always catches them with his slow-and-steady gait. Watching Minnesota hasn’t been much different this season. The Golden Gophers are in no hurry, defiantly marching their way toward wins in the age of turbo-speed offenses. Somehow Jerry Kill (a name made for a horror movie villain) and his team, which is now 6-2, usually end up catching their opponent and slashing them to bits.

Zombies: Unless of course, Minnesota is playing the Fighting Illini. Tim Beckman and his coaching staff might be walking dead as his third season in Champaign rolls toward the finish line, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take a few other teams down with them along the way. Can Illinois infect another team with an undefeated conference record when it faces Ohio State this Saturday? Something tells me J.T. Barrett will be going to this weekend’s party dressed as Michonne, katana and all.

Freddy Krueger: You don’t want to sleep on Nebraska this season. The Cornhuskers fell off the radar after a loss at Michigan State in early October. With Ameer Abdullah terrorizing defenses this season, they haven’t played their way out of an unexpected playoff bid just yet. The original playoff rankings put Nebraska at 15th. If Bo Pelini's team can win the West Division and a potential rematch with the Spartans in the Big Ten championship game, it can silently sneak up on a lot of folks in the college football world.

Sidney Prescott: The Ohio State-Penn State referee crew. Sidney is the main character in the Scream series, but this one applies to pretty much any pretty slasher-film target. You know, the ones who always seems to make the wrong decision. The front door is open? It’s time to scramble up the stairs. An incomplete pass bounces on the turf? Let’s rule it an interception. Getaway car is running in the driveway? Time to hide behind the chainsaws. The play clock expired? Let them kick the field goal anyway. These decisions always work out for the killer, and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone outside of Columbus who doesn’t see Urban Meyer as the perfect fit for a Big Ten villain role.

The Headless Horseman: Michigan isn’t headless quite yet, but coach Brady Hoke and athletic director Dave Brandon are both moving in the direction of the guillotine. The Wolverines may be riding through the night searching for a couple new leaders a month from now. While football season has left the people of Ann Arbor feeling hollow, the town has been anything but sleepy this autumn. The Big House feels haunted. Maybe that explains all the boos.

All right, I think we’ve filled our quota for (candy)corny Halloween puns this year. Before we go, a few costume suggestions for coaches and players around the Big Ten…

Michigan LB Jake Ryan: He-Man (Before Ryan cut his hair, of course)

Rutgers DE Kemoko Turay: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (No one has rocked the flat top as well as Turay since Will Smith.)

Michigan WR Dennis Norfleet: Carlton Banks (Will needs his partner in crime, and Norfleet’s dance moves fit the bill.)

Northwestern DC Mike Hankwitz: Walter White (No costume required, maybe just a black hat.)

Penn State coach James Franklin: Gus Fring (Close enough, and Hankwitz's defense did blow up the Nittany Lions this year.)

Purdue coach Darrell Hazell: George Whitfield (No wonder Hazell has Austin Appleby playing so well.)

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini: Voldemort (When Bo is screaming, the resemblance is uncanny.)

Michigan State P Mike Sadler: Bo Pelini (Well, technically Faux Pelini, but his impression was spot-on.)

Indiana QB Zander Diamont: Derek Zoolander (There’s more to life than being ridiculously good looking, and for former model Diamont, that includes playing quarterback for the Hoosiers.)

Big Ten morning links

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
7:00
AM CT
Happy Halloween. Let’s get your Friday started with three questions that may have slipped through the cracks -- until now -- about Week 10 in the Big Ten.

Can Austin Appleby keep it going this week against Nebraska? Sure. While the Cornhuskers rank third nationally in limiting opponents to a 48.1-percent completion rate, Appleby can look for high percentage throws to speedy backs Akeem Hunt and the do-it-all Raheem Mostert. They've combined to catch 40 passes this year. Miami burned Nebraska in September with a similar style. It’s a good formula for a talented, young quarterback such as Appleby, whose 83.4 QBR index ranks seventh nationally and leads the Big Ten. Since taking over for Danny Etling, the 6-foot-5 sophomore has completed 66.3 percent of his throws and led the Boilermankers to 35.7 points per game. With what we saw from the Nebraska defense last week against Rutgers, reason exists to believe that Appleby can have another good day.

Have we seen the last of Maryland’s feel-good story for this season? The Terps’ fast start took a dramatic turn for the worse last week at Wisconsin. Maryland’s quarterbacks have been beaten up. Its running game was non-existent in Madison. The turnovers are starting to mount -- with nine in the past three games -- and it faces two of the Big Ten’s top defensive units next in Penn State, a familiar foe to coach Randy Edsall, and, after a bye, Michigan State. Maryland looks like it’s a year or two away from a breakthrough. It has recruited athletes such as William Likely and Stefon Diggs, plenty capable of changing games against Big Ten competition, but the infrastructure is not yet strong enough. It’s conceivable, despite five wins in its first seven games, that Maryland will still be in search of a bowl eligibility-clincher in the regular-season finale on Nov. 29 against Rutgers.

Is Illinois on track to salvage its season? The easy answer is no. The Fighting Illini scored a lot of points behind Wes Lunt, now injured, early in the season, and it hasn’t been the same since Reilly O'Toole took over this month. Before its upset win over Minnesota last week, Illinois had lost four of five games, including a clunker at home to Purdue. But suddenly, the Boilermakers look much better. Illinois was competitive in losing at Wisconsin, and it punched Minnesota in the mouth, capitalizing on three turnovers and four sacks. Don't expect Illinois to win Saturday at Ohio State for the first time in seven years, but if it can continue to build on last week, a bowl appearance is not out of the question with a closing stretch at home against Iowa and Penn State and a visit to Northwestern.

East Division
West Division

B1G roundtable: Week 10 bold predictions

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
3:00
PM CT
When simply picking the games doesn't cut it, the Big Ten blog crew takes it to another level. For some bolder, more specific predictions for the opening weekend of what could be an unforgettable November, we hit the roundtable.

Adam Rittenberg: Purdue will pace Nebraska well into the second half.

This isn't a knock on the Huskers, who are quietly putting together a very solid, and refreshingly drama-free, season. But Purdue's offense is hitting its stride behind quarterback Austin Appleby, speed backs Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert and a much-improved offensive line. The Boilers have had two weeks to prepare and face a Nebraska defense that still has too many technical breakdowns for my liking. This will be a track meet for two, maybe three quarters -- thinking 28-24 Nebraska at halftime -- before Ameer Abdullah and Nebraska pull away in the fourth.

Mitch Sherman: Wisconsin will make its biggest statement yet.

The Badgers served notice to the rest of the West last week with a 52-7 win over Maryland that they’ve turned a corner. Still, it was one game. It was at home, and we’ve seen previous flashes from Wisconsin. But with most of the attention focused on the exploits of Melvin Gordon and uncertainty at QB, the Wisconsin defense has built a résumé as the Big Ten’s best. Now, with Joel Stave back in command, the Badgers will streamroll Rutgers, beat up at QB and elsewhere after trips to Ohio State and Nebraska, and enter the final four weeks as the favorite in the West despite that ugly Northwestern loss.

Brian Bennett: Northwestern and Iowa will head to overtime. Again.

Just like last year in Iowa City, the Wildcats and Hawkeyes will play to a draw in regulation. They're similar teams, with good defenses and running games but who struggle to score at times. Justin Jackson and Mark Weisman will each find the end zone twice as the teams go into overtime tied at 20. Northwestern makes one more play in the second extra period to win it.

Austin Ward: Tevin Coleman will be held in check.

The Indiana tailback wasn’t getting all that much support from the passing game even when Nate Sudfeld was healthy and that didn’t slow him down even against stout rush defenses. But with the attack even more one-dimensional now, his string of 100-yard outings is going to come to an end on the road against Michigan and a defense allowing just 3.1 yards per carry. That’s about the only thing the Wolverines do well at this point, and any chance of salvaging something positive out of this season for Brady Hoke’s club will require coming out inspired to take care of Indiana. That’s yet another sign of how bad things are at Michigan, but there is a talented, proud defense waiting for a chance to do something nobody else has done yet this season.

Dan Murphy: Ohio State hits 60 points for the second time this season.

Any chances of the Buckeyes looking ahead to the Michigan State next weekend were knocked out after the close call in Happy Valley. J.T. Barrett will be back in his comfort zone at home and looking to pick a part the Fighting Illini defense. Ohio State hung 66 points on Kent State earlier this year. While Saturday might not be quite as big of a blowout, the Buckeyes will get to 60 for the second year in a row against Illinois.

Josh Moyer: Penn State hits its highest rushing total of the Big Ten season.

OK, maybe this is a bit of a gamble considering that left tackle Donovan Smith -- the only returning starter on the line this season -- suffered an injury Saturday, and his status is unknown against Maryland. But the Nittany Lions fared better than I expected against Ohio State, and the offensive line has a much easier test against the Terrapins. Only 17 teams in the nation are faring worse in run defense than than the Terps, so we should see a healthy dose of Penn State speedsters Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch. James Franklin has vowed to keep running the ball, and I think that strategy finally pays off this weekend.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 9

October, 26, 2014
Oct 26
9:00
AM CT
Honoring the best and brightest from an action-packed Saturday in the Big Ten.

Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: Something of a forgotten man over the past couple weeks, Abdullah turned in a virtuoso performance in the Huskers' 42-24 win over Rutgers that should serve as a reminder that he belongs in the conversation about the nation’s best weapons. Abdullah racked up 225 yards on the ground and 26 more through the air, sparking another conference win with three trips to the end zone.

Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: With just a little bit of help from an improved passing attack, the star running back was able to carve up Maryland on the ground and stake the Badgers to a big early lead with three touchdowns before halftime. He may have given up some statistical ground to his buddy Abdullah, but with Gordon rolling again, Wisconsin -- a 52-7 winner Saturday -- again looks like a threat to the Huskers in the West Division.

Illinois DB V’Angelo Bentley: The junior has had more impressive touchdowns in a career that has included scores in just about every way imaginable for a non-offensive player, but his relatively easy 12-yard fumble return might go down as the most memorable. After Minnesota running back David Cobb coughed up the football in the fourth quarter, Bentley’s heads-up play produced the game-winning points in Illinois' 28-24 victory -- just the second in the Big Ten for coach Tim Beckman.

Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford: The senior doesn’t usually get much publicity with so many high-profile rushers in the Big Ten, but Langford continues to chew up yardage and pile up touchdowns for the Spartans with or without the spotlight. He matched both Gordon and Abdullah with a hat trick of scores, leading Michigan State to yet another win over rival Michigan -- 35-11 --and keeping it in the thick of the race for the College Football Playoff.

Ohio State DE Joey Bosa: Penn State had a handful of worthy candidates for an award, but none of them added a game-winning play to the box score. The sophomore sensation was all over the field helping slow down the Nittany Lions on the ground, he put Christian Hackenberg under a barrage of pressure from start to finish and finished with 2.5 sacks. But it was his last play, a walk-off takedown in double overtime, that clinched a 31-24 win for the Buckeyes and earned him another weekly honor.

What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 9

October, 26, 2014
Oct 26
12:42
AM CT
Observations from an illuminating Saturday in the Big Ten:

Shake up the West: The leader going into the weekend might have been exposed as a pretender. A preseason favorite written off after an early loss turned in perhaps the most impressive overall performance in the league all year. Sandwiched between Minnesota’s stumble at Illinois and Wisconsin’s rebirth against Maryland, Nebraska simply handled its business without incident as the West Division came into somewhat clearer focus, as we head into what could be a crazy November in that half of the conference. As Wisconsin’s ability to right the ship proved, it can be dangerous to discount any program in the West after they lose just once. But the Gophers have a murderous slate ahead of them after their bye next week, and falling to the Illini doesn’t leave much reason to consider them a legitimate contender down the stretch now. On the flip side, with some improvements in the passing game, the Badgers are rounding into form offensively and can be a truly terrifying matchup when a defense can’t just focus on Melvin Gordon. Nebraska might not be thrilled to allow 24 points to Rutgers, but it was never really threatened -- and the stage might be set for a huge clash with the Badgers on Nov. 15.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsJ.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes can learn from their mistakes after squeaking by Penn State on Saturday.
Buckeyes not a finished product just yet: J.T. Barrett is resilient, tough and mature enough as a redshirt freshman to go on the road and win in a hostile environment in overtime. All of those are positives for the Ohio State quarterback, obviously, but maybe it was a bit premature to think he and his young counterparts on offense were all grown up after they rolled over Rutgers and Maryland. Penn State’s tenacious defense gave Urban Meyer’s attack all it could handle, and though Barrett appeared slowed at times by a knee injury, he struggled for the first time since the loss to Virginia Tech with his decision-making and his accuracy, as a 17-point lead vanished and put Ohio State’s chances of climbing back into the College Football Playoff on the ropes. The end result is all that ultimately matters heading into November, and in some ways Ohio State might feel it has two weeks to get ready for Michigan State, given the weakness of the Illinois defense. But the Buckeyes are going to face another tough test on the road against the Spartans, and they’ll need to be sharper with the football.

Michigan State keeps rolling: A sluggish start had to be overcome, and an ejection actually needed to be overturned to ensure the roster stayed in one piece, but the Spartans ultimately stayed right on track for the Nov. 8 showdown with Ohio State. Jeremy Langford relentlessly pounded away at Michigan on the ground, the opportunistic defense chipped in another touchdown and Michigan State appeared to stay relatively healthy heading into a bye week that comes at a good time with the de facto East Division title game looming. The Wolverines aren’t the stoutest competition, at least not for a College Football Playoff contender, but Mark Dantonio and his club kept their focus and emotions in check to keep the train rolling along into the final month of the regular season.

Flying Illini: The writing appeared to be on the wall a few weeks ago, but Tim Beckman applied a fresh coat of paint to his tenure with an upset win at home over Minnesota. The Illini coach might not be completely in the clear, given that was just the second Big Ten victory of his career, but he deserves credit for the gutty defensive effort his team turned in and the way the offense has responded without Wes Lunt available at quarterback. Even the loss to Purdue doesn’t look quite so bad as it once did, thanks to improvement from that team as well. And now, with a .500 record through eight weeks, earning a bowl bid isn’t out of the question for Illinois. One win doesn’t magically fix everything, but it might help Beckman buy more time with the program.

Gophers grounded: Minnesota isn’t suddenly going to become a pushover down the stretch, not with its stout defense and a powerful rushing attack led by David Cobb at its disposal. With every team in the West Division having lost a game, it can’t be ruled out quite yet as a contender, either. But if it’s going to navigate a closing stretch that includes home games with Iowa and Ohio State followed by consecutive road trips to Nebraska and Wisconsin, Jerry Kill’s team is going to need to find some consistency through the air. Mitch Leidner has proven his toughness while battling injuries this season, and on occasion Saturday, the quarterback looked more than capable of making difficult throws against the Illini. But he didn’t do it often enough, and completing 12 of 30 passes isn’t going to be good enough for the Gophers late in the year. Finding some answers will no doubt be an emphasis during the upcoming bye week.

Big Ten morning links

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
7:00
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Trophy games and rivalries will be a regular occurrence from now until the end of the Big Ten season. This week features one of the nastiest in-state showdowns, but the build-up to this year’s version has been comparatively tame.

1. Michigan and Michigan State have never been shy about their mutual distaste for one another. This year’s pregame volley of words has been far more civil than in the past decade. Maybe it’s because Michigan State no longer has to ferociously refute the “little brother” tag. Maybe it’s because Michigan limps into Saturday’s game with a 3-4 record and doesn’t have much of a trash-talking leg on which to stand. The sentiment behind closed doors is probably a little more hostile. The boring “it’s a big game because it’s the next game” lines are probably the proper do-your-talking-with-your-pads rhetoric. Nonetheless, it makes rivalry week a little too PR-scrubbed and professional for my liking.

2. Is J.T. Barrett at the top of your Big Ten quarterbacks list yet? If not, he should be. The Buckeyes rookie has the best quarterback rating in the nation since the third week of the season. He has Ohio State’s spread offense running as smoothly as former two-time conference MVP Braxton Miller ever did. If Barrett continues to roll and leads Ohio State to a league title, Urban Meyer is going to have a difficult decision to make between two healthy preseason Heisman contenders next August.

3. Death, taxes and Minnesota games being decided by halftime. Those used to be the safe bets during Jerry Kill’s first three-plus seasons with the Gophers. On Saturday, Kill’s team won for the first time when trailing at half. They have still never lost when leading after two quarters. Coming from behind against Purdue was a significant step forward for Kill’s rebuilt program, which is built to play with a lead. Long completions on play-action passes beat the Boilermakers and added to the Gophers’ case as a legitimate West Division contender.

East Division
  • Amid all the niceties dished out Tuesday, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook reminded reporters that Saturday’s game will be “a bloodbath.”
  • Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has tapped into the recruiting power of Ohio’s prodigal son, LeBron James.
  • Maryland hopes its relationship with Under Armour will make the Terps the Oregon of the East.
  • Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann, a Nebraska native, gives the Scarlet Knights an emphatic vote of approval as they prepare for the Cornhuskers.
  • Penn State’s defense likes the pressure that comes from low-scoring games.
  • Devin Gardner has dealt with some unnecessary abuse on and off the field in his time as Michigan’s starting quarterback.
  • Zander Diamont – teen model, son of a man once voted as the No. 1 sexiest soap opera star and the unexpected freshman starter at Indiana – says he had a normal upbringing in southern California.
West Division

 

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
10:00
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As we get further into the season, more programs are starting to look at filling up their 2015 classes and looking ahead to offering 2016 prospects.

The Big Ten had plenty happen over the weekend, so here is the recap within the conference.

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
2:00
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Best of the visits: Big Ten

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
9:47
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Minnesota and Purdue ended up stealing the show over the weekend within the Big Ten. The two programs went back and forth with touchdowns, interceptions and exciting plays.

The Gophers were the home team and pulled out the victory in front of a few important visitors on Saturday.

Athlete Alex Barnes is still on the board and made his way to campus for the game. He chose a good game to visit for as the atmosphere and weather were both great.
Barnes could either be a running back or end up on defense, so his versatility would be useful at Minnesota. The Gophers also had a big defensive lineman in attendance with 2015 defensive end Anree Saint-Amour. Northwestern had a big game at home as well, hosting Nebraska. While the Wildcats got off to a good start, the second half was a different story in the loss to the Huskers.

It was still an exciting atmosphere and a good game for prospects to see the program up close.

The coaches made an offer before the game with 2016 defensive end Khalid Kareem, who traveled from Michigan for the visit. The biggest game of the weekend, though, was probably Ohio State and Rutgers. The Buckeyes were the home team and as usual, they had a ton of big recruiting targets on campus.

The coaches secured a commitment from 2016 tight end Kierre Hawkins and had the opportunity to impress a few other potential commits as well.

One of the bigger 2015 prospects on hand was offensive lineman Josh Wariboko, a former Oklahoma commit, who took an official visit to Ohio State on Saturday. Wariboko put an X in place of the letter M in his tweet, following suit with the Ohio State coaches as a shot at rival Michigan.

The Buckeyes got a double-dip visit with brothers Daniel and Josh Imatorbhebhe on Saturday as well. Daniel is a 2015 tight end while Josh is an ESPN Jr. 300 wide receiver, ranked No. 162 overall in the 2016 class. Getting both prospects on campus at once was a bonus for the Buckeyes and Josh will be a big target for the next class.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
8:00
AM CT
Reviewing the best and brightest performances from Week 8 in the Big Ten.

Minnesota RB David Cobb: The Gophers’ senior had 14 carries for 76 yards before the end of the first quarter. Minnesota’s human perpetual motion machined finished Saturday’s back-and-forth battle with 194 yards and a touchdown on 35 touches. His early pounding also helped set up several big play-action completions for the Gopher offense.

Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: Four touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter to pull away from Northwestern in a 38-17 win, gets Abdullah another sticker to add to his well-decorated helmet. He had 146 rushing yards, which makes him the first player in Cornhusker history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in three seasons. He’s the third Big Ten back to get past four digits in the rushing column this season.

Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: The rookie is now the full-fledged leader of an impressive Ohio State offense. He accounted for five touchdowns (three passing and two rushing) while hanging 56 points on Rutgers. He threw for 261 yards and ran for 107 more without making any costly mistakes.

Minnesota DB Cedric Thompson: Thompson bookended Saturday’s 39-38 victory with a pair of momentum-swinging interceptions. He picked off Purdue’s Austin Appleby on the first play of the game and brought it back to the 2-yard line. He clinched the game with a very athletic catch at midfield with 2:31 left on the clock.

Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford: The Spartans put together a definitive 56-17 win over Indiana with a team effort on offense. Tony Lippett had 123 yards receiving and a couple highlight catches. Nick Hill led the team with 178 rushing yards -- 76 of which came on a garbage time touchdown. But Langford stood above them with his three rushing scores. The first two came when the game was still in doubt and the third was a fourth quarter knockout punch that helped the Spartans kick their recent trend of not slamming the door after they build a lead.

What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
12:00
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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 morning links

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
7:00
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I went to college with Brook Berringer. I did not know him well.

Berringer was 17 months older than me. The few times I interviewed him for the school newspaper, I thought he seemed much older than that, probably because he somehow stayed above the fray -- especially late in his career as a quarterback that happened to coincide with the most controversial and successful period in Nebraska football history.

Because of my own youth and lack of awareness, I failed at the time to recognize the impact of Berringer on people in Nebraska.

I saw him as just another guy with a good story. That is, until April 20, 1996, two days after Berringer died when the small plane he piloted crashed in a field north of Lincoln.

At Nebraska’s spring game, instead of celebrating consecutive national championships or another batch of Cornhuskers drafted into the NFL -- Berringer likely would have been among them -- the school and state mourned its fallen hero by playing a video tribute on the big screens.

Sports are often emotional. But not like that. That was not about sports. The stadium went completely silent. It remains the only time I’ve shed tears while sitting in a press box. I was far from alone.

The Big Ten Network documentary, “Unbeaten,” a 54-minute production on the life and death of Berringer, set to premier after the Nebraska-Northwestern game on Saturday, will similarly stir emotions for those who remember Berringer, and it will educate a generation of fans too young to have watched him play.

This fall marks the 20-year anniversary of his greatest football achievement, leading Nebraska to eight wins in place of injured star Tommie Frazier.

The documentary, directed by Matthew Engel and Kevin Shaw with Bill Friedman, BTN coordinating producer for original programming, hits all the right notes on Berringer.

It features no narration, only sound from a diverse lineup of former Berringer teammates and testimony from others, including Nebraska assistant Ron Brown, who recruited Berringer to Lincoln, and Kyle Orton, who has worn No. 18 since high school as a tribute to the QB.

An archived Berringer interview away from the field is particularly haunting. Forgotten audio from Keith Jackson lends important historical perspective.

“We wanted Brook to have a voice,” Engel said.

For Nebraska fans, the first half of the film largely serves as review of the 1994 and ’95 seasons, with impressive insight into the complicated dynamic of the Frazier-Berringer relationship. The final 25 minutes includes powerful reporting on the plane crash and its aftermath, poignant footage and a final sequence certain to move viewers like that April Saturday 18 years ago in Lincoln.

“He’s a guy who represents all that’s good about a college football player,” Friedman said. “He was a symbol of how Nebraskans want their football to be portrayed.”

Berringer’s impact is lasting, memorialized with a statue of the quarterback in uniform with his coach, Tom Osborne, that stands outside the entrance Nebraska’s athletic offices on the north side of Memorial Stadium.

Shaw said he visited Lincoln prior to documenting Berringer and saw the statue without knowing its significance. In learning about Berringer and remembering the statue, Shaw said, it was a “wow moment.”

“It was like, that’s that guy,” he said.

With “Unbeaten,” BTN succeeded in creating a film that will touch Nebraskans and teach others across the Big Ten about a quarterback who’s worth remembering for another 20 years and beyond.

Let’s go around the league:

East Division
West Division

Big Ten: What to watch in the second half

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15
9:00
AM CT
We're winding down our midseason overview with a look at five storylines to watch in the second half of the Big Ten season:

The nation's best group of running backs. The Big Ten has taken its share of lumps this season, and often rightfully so, but no league can claim a better trio of running backs than Indiana junior Tevin Coleman, Wisconsin junior Melvin Gordon and Nebraska senior Ameer Abdullah. Gordon and Coleman may join Abdullah in the NFL draft next spring. Each is a sight to savor, and for different reasons, but they share an ability to handle a heavy load of carries. Even among a deep group of backs in the league that includes David Cobb of Minnesota, Michigan State's Jeremy Langford and Ezekiel Elliott of Ohio State, the top three stand out, staying on pace to give the league its first threesome to average more than 140 rushing yards since 2000.

The Michigan mess. The first half of the season could not have gone much worse in Ann Arbor, featuring three September losses and the troubling ordeal that surrounded Shane Morris' head injury in a Sept. 27 loss to Minnesota. What will the second half bring? The Wolverines, after a bye week, play their final game of October with a bit of momentum gained from a 18-13 win against Penn State. But Michigan State awaits. Another loss would only turn up the heat on coach Brady Hoke, already facing intense scrutiny. Short of a miraculous turnaround, Hoke may not be able to save his job. Regardless, the final five games merit attention.

Ohio State's resurgence. The Buckeyes didn't go away, of course, but they slipped under the radar a bit in September after the two-touchdown loss to Virginia Tech. In the three games since, Urban Meyer's team has scored 168 points as freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett made major leaps. Ohio State, as it enters the second half, looks like a new kind of challenge altogether for its upcoming opponents. The biggest game, Nov. 8 at Michigan State, likely offers the Big Ten its only realistic shot land a team in the College Football Playoff. And while OSU didn't look worthy in early September, the selection committee may soon receive a new set of trends to ponder on Ohio State.

The West Division scramble. To enter Week 8, it's a jumbled mess, with Minnesota atop the heap. The Gophers look poised to stay in control into November, with upcoming games against Purdue and at Illinois. Things get dicey for Minnesota, though, next month with a finishing stretch against Iowa and Ohio State, followed by trips to Nebraska and Wisconsin. Northwestern, with one loss in the league, remains in a decent spot, as do the preseason division favorites, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska. As projected in August, the race may still come down to schedules. And the schedule, despite Minnesota's strong play and stumbles elsewhere, still favors the Badgers and Hawkeyes.

The path of Rutgers and Maryland. The Scarlet Knights, in particular, have made the transition to the Big Ten look easy this fall. For a group picked by many to finish last in the league, it's been a stunning start, fueled by a stingy defense and the strong play of quarterback Gary Nova. Rutgers is a failed defensive stand in the final minute from a perfect record. Maryland, too, has looked strong at times, particularly on offense. But the road is about to get much more difficult for the league's new members, starting on Saturday as the Scarlet Knights visit Ohio State and Maryland hosts Iowa. Rutgers' schedule is downright brutal over the next month, and it doesn't look much more inviting for the Terrapins. But they've already proved us wrong, so why not again?

Big Ten Monday mailbag

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13
4:00
PM CT
So, the streak of Monday mailbags from me leading to chaotic Saturdays ended last week at one, but I still think we should give it another test. If nothing else, it's a great way to keep the time moving until football returns in the Big Ten again.

Austin Ward: There's no question that Nate Sudfeld's injury was a significant blow to the Hoosiers after they had climbed back into the game last weekend at Iowa, but I don't think it can realistically be pointed to as the reason Kevin Wilson's club dropped another decision in the league. The defense, quite frankly, is still too big of an issue for Indiana to be a consistent winner, and it's pretty likely going to keep it out of a bowl game now that Sudfeld is out for the rest of the year. The passing game already hadn't been quite as effective as in years past for the Hoosiers even with Sudfeld healthy, although Tevin Coleman's incredible production has done a pretty good job of offsetting those troubles. But as long as the Hoosiers keep forcing themselves into shootouts, even against offenses that had previously struggled like Iowa had early in the year, they just can't be taken seriously as a threat in the Big Ten. And especially now after going from a surplus of quarterbacks down to essentially none with the experience needed to operate the spread at a high level, the second half could be pretty rough for the program.
Austin Ward: If the matter is solely based on what a player does on the field and not a popularity contest or a tribute to the starting quarterback of the nation's No. 1 team, there's really no case against Melvin Gordon being at the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Maybe the Wisconsin star is unlikely to win it because his team has struggled to a couple losses even while he's piled up eye-popping numbers, but if anything, what he's done in rolling up more than 1,000 yards with 13 touchdowns through six games is even more impressive because of the limitations of the offense he's playing in this season. Illinois was loading up the box with seemingly every defender on the roster last weekend because the Badgers posed virtually no threat to pass at all, and Gordon still sliced it up for 175 yards and four scores. The things Gordon is capable of blow the mind, and the Badgers would be a truly frightening team if they were even average at quarterback this season. But perhaps if voters look close enough at that weakness for Wisconsin, Gordon's candidacy could get a boost and ensure that he does win up in New York City at the end of the year.
Austin Ward: The Michigan State safety certainly wasn't at his best on Saturday against Purdue, but he wasn't alone in blowing some assignments in a game that may have prompted some second thoughts about a team that is presumed to be the class of the Big Ten again after winning it all last season. Giving up a bunch of points to Oregon is one thing. Getting burned for 31 points against Purdue is quite another, and the most troubling thing for coach Mark Dantonio should be the plays that were giving the Spartans fits last weekend are the same ones Ohio State will run with much better athletes during the East Division showdown on Nov. 8. As for Drummond, he has let a couple interceptions slip through his hands and he may be pressing to do too much at times, but he has the experience and knowledge of the system to snap out of a recent funk. And after the near meltdown against Nebraska and the breakdowns at Purdue, the sooner the better for the Spartans.
Austin Ward: On the pace the redshirt freshman is currently on, all Barrett needs right now is to keep doing what he's been doing over the past few weeks. The Buckeyes are gaining confidence every week at the same time Barrett is becoming more comfortable in the offense, and the progress is clear to see as he delivers accurate passes, manages the run game like a veteran and wins over teammates with his leadership in the huddle. The path to the kind of recognition Braxton Miller earned over the past two years is a bit more complicated now that Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman and Ameer Abdullah are posting huge individual numbers. But if the Buckeyes run the table and win the Big Ten with Barrett continuing to account for multiple touchdowns every week, he's going to be tough for people to ignore when the ballots are cast for the league Offensive Player of the Year, even if a national trophy might be out of reach thanks to memories of the Virginia Tech loss.
Austin Ward: There could be two interesting test cases for that theory coming up soon at Michigan and Illinois. I agree that schools have to invest in the product if Big Ten teams are going to compete for national championships, and the SEC has proven that paying top dollar for coaches, facilities and anything else remotely tied to football usually leads to results. If Michigan, for example, wants to ensure that it remains on even footing with the game's elite, it shouldn't let anything financially stand in its way when it goes shopping for the next coach to lead the program. And that's not just at the top -- the best coordinators in the country or the top position coaches should all be compensated that way also, or else they'll go work for a program that will pay them accordingly. The Big Ten schools can certainly afford to pony up.

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