Chicago Colleges: Ameer Abdullah
QB: J.T. Barrett, Ohio State: Barrett broke the Big Ten single-season record for touchdowns produced with 45. He would have added to that total if not for a broken ankle in the regular-season finale vs. Michigan.
RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: All he did was lead the FBS in rushing, break the Big Ten single-season rushing record and earn the Big Ten’s offensive player of the year honors.
RB: Tevin Coleman, Indiana: Coleman joined Gordon as the only other player in the country to top 2,000 yards; he would have been a serious Heisman contender in another year or on a more successful team.
WR: Tony Lippett, Michigan State: The Big Ten’s receiver of the year led the league with 1,124 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
WR: Leonte Carroo, Rutgers: Carroo joined Lippett at over 1,000 yards and averaged 19.7 yards per catch.
TE: Maxx Williams, Minnesota: A John Mackey Award finalist, Williams was the Golden Gophers’ top receiver and crucial cog in their run game.
OT: Taylor Decker, Ohio State: Anchored a Buckeyes offensive line that developed into one of the league’s best over the course of the season.
OT: Brandon Scherff, Iowa: He was named the Big Ten offensive lineman of the year and is a surefire NFL first-round draft pick.
C: Jack Allen, Michigan State: The Spartans gave up fewer sacks (10) than any Big Ten club and had one of the league’s top offenses with Allen at the point of attack.
G: Kyle Costigan, Wisconsin: An ESPN All-American, Costigan helped pave the way for Gordon’s record-breaking runs.
G: Pat Elflein, Ohio State: He was a sturdy performer all season on the Buckeyes’ line as the offense scored at a rapid pace.
DE: Joey Bosa, Ohio State: The Big Ten defensive player of the year led the league in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (20) and tied for the lead with four forced fumbles.
DE: Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State: After a quiet start, Calhoun got back to his dominating ways and finished with 6.5 sacks.
DT: Anthony Zettel, Penn State: With eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss from the defensive tackle position, Zettel was the most disruptive interior lineman in the conference.
DT: Louis Trinca-Pasat, Iowa: LTP was a pleasant surprise for the Hawkeyes, leading the team with 11 tackles for loss and adding 6.5 sacks.
LB: Mike Hull, Penn State: Hull was the Big Ten linebacker of the year and led the league with 134 tackles.
LB: Jake Ryan, Michigan: Ryan turned in a strong senior season with 112 tackles and 14 tackles for loss.
LB: Derek Landisch, Wisconsin: Any one of the Badgers’ four “Chevy Bad Boys” linebackers could have made the first team, but Landisch led the team with nine sacks and 16 tackles for loss.
DB: William Likely, Maryland: A big-play machine, Likely grabbed six interceptions and scored touchdowns on two of them.
DB: Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Minnesota: Like Likely, he was always in the middle of the action with four picks and a key strip late to seal the Nebraska win.
DB: Trae Waynes, Michigan State: Probably the best pure cover guy in the league, Waynes is asked to do a whole lot as the point man in the Spartans' "No Fly Zone."
DB: Michael Caputo, Wisconsin: Caputo was the leader from his safety spot for a defense that was the best in the league during the regular season; he finished with 99 tackles.
K: Brad Craddock, Maryland: The Big Ten kicker of the year made his first 18 field goals this season, including a 57-yarder and a game-winner at Penn State.
P: Peter Mortell, Minnesota: Mortell was a field-position weapon for the Gophers, leading the league with a 45.5-yard average per attempt
PR: De'Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska: The freshman scored three touchdowns on punt returns and had a preposterous 17.8 yard average for the season.
All-purpose: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: We had to find a spot for Abdullah on the team, and since he returned kicks and was extremely versatile as a running back, this seemed like a good spot.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported Thursday night that the school is prepared to hire Pitt coach Paul Chryst, a former UW quarterback and offensive coordinator.
It’s a delicate situation, of course, for the Badgers, the uprooted assistant coaches and their families -- not to be taken lightly. But perhaps the most interesting byproduct of Andersen’s unexpected departure is the news that Barry Alvarez will coach Wisconsin in its bowl game. Again.
Alvarez, the 67-year-old athletic director and Hall of Fame former coach of 16 years in Madison, led the Badgers in the 2013 Rose Bowl, a six-point loss to Stanford, after Bret Bielema bolted to Arkansas.
Alvarez ought to just coach the Badgers in every bowl game. In fact, other legends should follow suit and rejoin their former programs on the sideline in the postseason. Surely, the NCAA would allow a special 10th coach. If not, just make them interns.
Let’s bring back Bobby Bowden, Lou Holtz, Mack Brown (too soon?), Don Nehlen, Lavell Edwards, Hayden Fry, Barry Switzer and, if Indiana can get to six wins, Bill Mallory.
Yes, I’m joking. Slightly more serious about this, though: Nebraska has an opening on its staff for the Holiday Bowl. How about Tom Osborne? If Alvarez can go from the College Football Playoff selection committee to the sideline, why not Osborne?
Yeah, he’s 77, served three stints in Congress, lost a gubernatorial primary in Nebraska -- did that really happen? -- and spent five years as athletic director since coaching his last game, a resounding win over Peyton Manning and Tennessee in the 1998 Orange Bowl.
But Osborne has perhaps never watched more college football than in this season. He must have some ideas on how the Huskers could surprise USC. One more fumblerooski up his sleeve.
What an experience it would be for Barney Cotton, long loyal to Nebraska, to have the ex-coach at his side. Cotton played under Osborne from 1975-78, then sent his three sons to Nebraska. It could also be a meaningful sendoff for Ron Brown, the Nebraska running backs coach who worked alongside Osborne in the legendary coach’s final 11 seasons.
Might help a bit with ticket sales, too, and inject a little spice into a game that means a great deal to several Huskers who want to honor their former coach, Bo Pelini, but realistically, little to the forward movement of the program.
Alvarez played linebacker for Bob Devaney on Nebraska teams of the 1960s that included Osborne as an offensive assistant. If Barry can do it, so can Tom.
Alas, it’s unrealistic. Osborne would likely never thrust himself into the spotlight in such a way. But just let me dream.
Thursday in Lake Buena Vista, Florida...
Lots of hardware
What a night on the Disney Boardwalk at the College Football Awards Show. The Big Ten had a good showing, as Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff won the Outland Trophy, presented to the nation's top interior lineman; Maryland's Brad Craddock took home the Lou Groza Award as the top place-kicker; and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon beat finalists Tevin Coleman of Indiana and Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska for the Doak Walker Award, given to the best running back.
Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright won the Bednarik Award, given to the best defensive player. Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa was among the finalists.
Also, Nebraska wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp won a vote for college football's play of the year for his behind-the-back catch in the season opener.
Around the league:
- As expected, Gordon plans to leave after this season for the NFL.
- Some confusion exists over Iowa's starting quarterback for the TaxSlayer Bowl.
- A meeting with Missouri in the Citrus Bowl is a "big step" for Minnesota, according to coach Jerry Kill.
- One of Purdue's recent football brings a French flavor, by way of a California junior college.
- Northwestern needs to make changes, writes Teddy Greenstein, but will it happen?
- The competition continues at Illinois during bowl practices.
- Urban Meyer and Nick Saban have already met once in a playoff. They sat side by side Thursday and recalled the 2009 SEC championship game.
- No surprise that Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess did not meet his own expectations this year.
- The explanation of playoff committee chair Jeff Long on Mississippi State's final-week jump over Michigan State does not erase flaws in the process, writes Graham Couch.
- Indiana lands UAB receiver Marqui Hawkins but misses a juco QB target.
- Freshman quarterback Michael O'Connor is leaving Penn State.
- Maryland coach Randy Edsall, in San Francisco on Thursday, to discuss the Terps' matchup with Stanford, says receiver Stefon Diggs will play in the Foster Farms Bowl.
- The salary pool for Rutgers' assistant coaches ranks eighth in the Big Ten.
If you're just watching the Week 12 games from someplace warm, then A) you're smart and B) here's what you need to know about today's lineup (all times ET):
Iowa (6-3, 3-1) at Illinois (4-5, 1-4), Big Ten Network: The maddeningly inconsistent Hawkeyes look to bounce back from that 51-14 thrashing in Minneapolis last week; remember, they can still win the Big Ten West by winning out and having the Gophers lose twice more. The Fighting Illini are just hoping to get closer to bowl eligibility and possibly preserving Tim Beckman's job. Having Wes Lunt back at quarterback this week should help.
Temple (5-4, 3-3 American) at Penn State (5-4, 2-4), ESPN2: The Owls will try to beat the Nittany Lions for the first time since 1941 and for the first time ever in State College. Penn State hopes to clinch bowl eligibility and use that get-out-of-jail card from the NCAA. Don't expect a lot of points from either side in this one.
No. 16 Nebraska (8-1, 4-1) at No. 20 Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1), ABC: This is much more than Ameer Abdullah vs. Melvin Gordon, though that showdown between the two marquee backs could be great if Abdullah is healthy. The winner will remain in great shape in the West Division race, while the loser will need a lot of help. Wisconsin has the home-field advantage, but the Cornhuskers will be by far the best team the Badgers have played since the season-opening loss to LSU.
Northwestern (3-6, 2-4) at No. 18 Notre Dame (7-2), NBC: The Wildcats have been looking forward to this game for a long time, but they'd hoped to be in better shape for it. Northwestern has lost four straight and is averaging just 12.5 points per game in that span. The Fighting Irish aren't scheduled to play another Big Ten team until September 2016, when they'll face Michigan State.
Indiana (3-6, 0-5) at Rutgers (5-4, 1-4), BTN: This is the first-ever meeting between these two teams, and no one is exactly clamoring for it right now. The Hoosiers have lost five straight against Power 5 opponents since beating Missouri and have virtually no offense to speak of. Rutgers has lost three straight and was outscored by 94 points in that span but should clinch bowl eligibility here.
No. 12 Michigan State (7-2, 4-1) at Maryland (6-3, 3-2), BTN: How will the Spartans respond to the Ohio State loss? Will they come out swinging or still be smarting over the loss of their playoff (and most likely Big Ten title) hopes? Maryland has enough big-play ability to make this interesting, even without Stefon Diggs.
Bye: Michigan, Purdue
Week 12 predictions | Bold calls
Nineteen years later, Northwestern looks to shock Irish again
Melvin Gordon's Heisman moment
Ameer Abdullah gets another shot to beat the odds
Gophers dance into November relevancy
Explosive plays expose cracks in Michigan State's defense
Buckeyes trust Jalin Marshall to do it all
Indiana's Tevin Coleman defies the odds
Take Two: Big Ten's best defense
Awards race tracker
Fan talk: Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has a few concerns about the fan reaction around East Lansing to Ohio State’s victory over MSU last week. Dantonio offered a little pep talk for fans of the Spartans Thursday night during his radio show, saying, “We can still have the best team in the Big Ten Conference just by winning out and winning our bowl game and being the highest ranked.” That’s an interesting spin. Michigan State, barring a meltdown this month by the Buckeyes, is not going to win the league. And it’s not going to be remembered as the Big Ten’s best in 2014. But hey, it says something about how far Michigan State has come that anything less than a championship is considered a disappointment. And if anyone at MSU is struggling to move on, they’ve got company Saturday as the Spartans visit Maryland. Seems the Terps are just now moving past the craziness of their victory two weeks ago over Penn State. Should make for an interesting matchup in College Park -- assuming enough players from both teams are in the right frame of mind.
Moving up: Tom Dienhart of the Big Ten Network is buying J.T. Barrett as the MVP of the Big Ten after the freshman quarterback dissected Michigan State last week on the road in the league’s regular-season game of the year. And I agree. I cast the lone first-place vote in our weekly awards tracker for Barrett as offensive player of the year, disagreeing with popular choice Melvin Gordon. It’s not that I think Barrett is better than the senior Gordon -- not yet, at least -- but his impact as a quarterback is more significant. What’s the difference for the Buckeyes between the team that lost to Virginia Tech on Sept. 13 and the group that looks as dangerous today as any outfit nationally? Primarily, it’s the development and maturation of Barrett. His stats are nice, but Barrett’s impact goes beyond the numbers. He’s leading the Buckeyes like only a quarterback can do, and if he keeps it up, I suspect the others will come around to my way of thinking in the player of the year race.
No update: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini continued to play it coy on the status of I-back Ameer Abdullah after the Huskers’ final practice of the week in Lincoln on Thursday. And why not? No reason exists for Pelini, who surely knows more than he's saying about Abdullah's left knee -- injured Nov. 1 in the Huskers' win over Purdue -- to offer any information to Wisconsin. Pelini, asked about Abdullah on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, has responded with a series of polite but brief answers. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck and Abdullah's teammates said little more in interviews this week. And in assessing what any of them did say, it's impossible to know what to believe. Looks like we'll all have to wait until the first quarter on Saturday to see for ourselves.
Around the rest of the league:
- Rutgers will try to take advantage of Indiana’s inexperience at quarterback, but the Scarlet Knights know that Tevin Coleman presents a big test.
- Interesting stuff from the Cleveland.com writers in their outrageous predictions on Ohio State.
- A review of the week that was for Michigan President Mark Schlissel. (Hint: It wasn't too good.)
- Here's a prediction on Penn State-Temple as both teams fight for bowl eligibility.
- The September loss to TCU may have helped Minnesota get ready for Ohio State.
- Iowa receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley is chasing a notable record.
- It’s getting late this season at Illinois.
- Purdue safety Frankie Williams looks set to return next week against Northwestern.
- A look back at Northwestern’s 1995 upset of Notre Dame.
- Has Wisconsin overtaken USC as the top collegiate producer of running backs?
- Nebraska defensive backs vow not to get “lulled to sleep” by the threats of the Wisconsin passing attack.
1.Many football teams like to carry American flags with them on to the field on Saturdays. Few players have been more deserving flag bearers than Tom Hruby. The Northwestern junior is a 32-year-old active Navy SEAL. The father of three, who lives in a dorm room during the week, made his college football debut Saturday on the Wildcats' kickoff team against Michigan. Hruby talked to his teammates about being a veteran Tuesday morning after practice, which Pat Fitzgerald called "one of the most special moments" he's had as a college coach. It's hard to imagine these types of stories ever growing old.
2. Welcome to the Top 25, Minnesota. The Gophers (7-2) are the fifth Big Ten team to join the College Football Playoff rankings this week. At No. 25, they find themselves almost as tangled up in playoff implications as any team in the nation this week. On Saturday, Minnesota hosts No. 8 Ohio State, the Big Ten's best remaining hope to land a spot in the playoff this season. A Gophers' win would severely damage the league's chance for a playoff bid.
One team that certainly will be cheering for Jerry Kill this weekend is TCU. The fourth-ranked Horned Frogs are ranked higher than Baylor (despite losing to the Bears, 61-58) because of a better nonconference schedule. A Minnesota win this weekend would make TCU's defeat of the Gophers in September an even stronger bargaining chip at the playoff table.
3. It's been a truly rotten year for quarterbacks at Indiana. Along with losing starter Nate Sudfeld and back-up Chris Covington to injuries, the Hoosiers also lost two others to transfers earlier in the year. One of them, Tre Roberson, has scored 22 touchdowns and totaled more than 2,100 yards of offense at Illinois State. Meanwhile, true freshman Zander Diamont has struggled to pilot the offense in a recent 0-3 stretch in which the Hoosiers have scored only three offensive touchdowns. Penn State didn't allow the Hoosiers' offense any points on Saturday, then kicked them in the teeth once more on the way out door -- a few days after the game Indiana's top quarterback recruit, three-star Tommy Stevens, switched his commitment to the Nittany Lions. That makes quarterback loss No. 5 this season.
Meanwhile, in the rest of the Big Ten...
- Urban Meyer says "egoless" quarterbacks can split time at the position. He wasn't talking about the Buckeyes... yet.
- Mark Dantonio is confident that Michigan State's players are ready to move forward after a loss.
- In regards to Penn State, the NCAA "doesn't know what it's supposed to be doing," writes Sally Jenkins.
- Michigan's annual season finale with Ohio State will keep its traditional noon kickoff time later this month.
- Maryland receiver Jacquille Veii steps into a bigger role in the absence of star Stefon Diggs.
- Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova has received death threats after football games, according to his teammate.
- A deeper look at the numbers from Indiana's 13-7 loss to Penn State last weekend.
- It isn't yet clear if Nebraska star Ameer Abdullah will be ready to play against the Badgers this weekend.
- Melvin Gordon's weekly texts with Abdullah have shifted to a business tone prior to the game in Wisconsin on Saturday.
- Minnesota added stickers to its helmet this week to help raise awareness of epilepsy.
- Iowa football has been as mercurial as the weather this season, which is unusual territory for the Hawkeyes.
- Darrell Hazell praised Purdue safety Landon Feichter during his weekly chat on the Big Ten coaches' teleconference.
- Multiple concussion forced Northwestern senior captain Collin Ellis to end his football career this week.
- Tim Beckman is nearly .500 at home in his Illinois career, but that number dips considerably against conference competition.
1. The West Division chase could be special: Four teams in the West -- Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota -- are in a virtual first-place tie with just one loss. What makes that really fun is they will all play each other in the season's final four weeks, beginning with Iowa-Minnesota in Week 11. We weren't sure the Hawkeyes were a serious contender until Saturday, when Kirk Ferentz's team turned in by far its best performance of the season in a 48-7 blowout of Northwestern. Iowa controlled both lines of scrimmage, Jake Rudock made all the right plays at quarterback and Mark Weisman bowled his way to three touchdowns. With Nebraska and Wisconsin still having to go to Iowa City, the Hawkeyes remain a major threat to win the division if they can repeat their level of play in Week 10. But it's still a wide-open race that should be a lot of fun to watch.
2. Wisconsin's defense gives it a chance: Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is a hot coaching commodity and showed why again on Saturday. Wisconsin beat Rutgers 37-0 and registered its first conference road shutout since 1998. That came one week after the defense nearly shut out Maryland. Aranda has put together a dominant unit, despite losing nine defensive starters from the past year's team. The return of nose tackle Warren Herring, who was injured in the opener against LSU, has helped take the defense to another level. The Badgers still struggle to throw the ball, but with Melvin Gordon running wild and Aranda's side of the ball shutting things down, Wisconsin has a chance to finish strong.
4. Hackenberg hanging on by a thread: Penn State sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg is a special talent and the reigning Big Ten freshman of the year, but he's having a nightmare sophomore season. He has taken a ton of hits this season and endured five more sacks in Saturday's 20-19 loss to Maryland. His frustration appears to be boiling over, as Hackenberg was seen yelling and waving his arms at his offensive coordinator, John Donovan, on the sideline. The Nittany Lions' offensive line just can't protect him, and that only got worse with left tackle Donovan Smith out with an injury. Hackenberg isn't making great in-game decisions, either, which is likely a byproduct of all the pressure he's been under. James Franklin and his staff don't have a lot of options, but they've got to find a way to make sure they don't lose Hackenberg -- either to injury or mentally.
5. Battle for bowls heating up: Three Big Ten teams -- Iowa, Maryland and Wisconsin -- clinched postseason eligibility Saturday. That makes seven overall for the league. But where it gets interesting is beyond that group. Technically, the other seven teams are all still alive for a bowl bid, though it's hard to envision Indiana getting off the mat to win three more games or Purdue winning out. Rutgers has been stuck on five wins for a few weeks and finally gets a schedule break in hosting Indiana next time out. Illinois and Penn State both have four wins. Can Michigan, which finally showed a little life Saturday (albeit against those same struggling Hoosiers) find two more wins? Can 3-5 Northwestern rebound after a horrific showing at Iowa? There could be a lot of teams fighting for their bowl lives in the final couple weeks.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
@AWardESPN was it more on Saturday that Iowa's O ate up IU's D or that Indiana lost all hope without Sudfield?— Michael Toolen III (@emptyqbd) October 13, 2014
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.
@AWardESPN As long as Dak Prescott continues on a role, I have no doubt he'll win the Heisman, but do you think Melvin should be invited?— johnsg20 (@Johnsg22015) October 13, 2014
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.
@AWardESPN Could Kurtis Drummond go from All-BT to benched? He gets beat in coverage consistently and whiffs too often in run support.— Trevor Stratton (@trevorstratton) October 13, 2014
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.
@AWardESPN There's some speculation about potential Heisman runs from Abdullah or Coleman. What can JT Barrett do to join the conversation?— Mark Walker (@MarkovWalker) October 13, 2014
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.
@AWardESPN What's ur vision for B1G teams starting to finally free up money for coaching/asst coach hires? It's obviously limiting league.— Robbie Hendricks (@roberthendricks) October 13, 2014
1. Michigan State and Ohio State are sharpening their teeth. So much for Nebraska as the Big Ten’s lone unbeaten. The Spartans, despite turning the ball over three times in their own territory in the first half, built a 27-3 lead through three quarters and held off a furious late Nebraska rally for a 27-22 victory. The MSU defense looked salty as ever through 45 minutes and neutralized Nebraska I-back Ameer Abdullah. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes continued their offensive resurgence. Since their Sept. 6 loss to Virginia Tech, freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett has led OSU to three straight showings of 50-plus points and more than 500 yards. On Saturday, it was 52-24 at Maryland as Barrett accumulated 338 yards of total offense. Considering the chaos that unfolded elsewhere in college football on Saturday, the Spartans and Buckeyes are moving back toward contention for the College Football Playoff. Their meeting on Nov. 8 in East Lansing is a de facto elimination game.
3. It’s time to take Northwestern seriously. Be honest: Who had given up on the Wildcats after opening losses to Cal and Northern Illinois? Coach Pat Fitzgerald got tough with his team, and it worked. Maybe all NU needed was a taste of Big Ten football. It drilled Penn State last week and capitalized on four interceptions Saturday to beat Wisconsin 20-14. Freshman safety Godwin Igwebuike collected three picks, including two in the end zone. These guys play defense, despite surrendering a career-high 259 yards to Melvin Gordon. At 2-0, Northwestern is alone atop the West Division with opportunities to take control of the division in the next two weeks at Minnesota and against Nebraska in Evanston. After Saturday, it’s as realistic as any other scenario.
4. Wisconsin has a situation at quarterback. It’s not a great one, either. Junior Joel Stave made his return at Northwestern. In difficult circumstances as the Badgers trailed 10-0, Stave competed admirably after overcoming a mental hurdle just to get back on the field. He finished 8-of-19 for 114 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. He was picked off twice late in the fourth quarter. Senior Tanner McEvoy, who did not play in the second half, finished 4-of-10 for 24 yards. So what now? Presumably, if Stave lost the job only because he was incapable of operating -- and now he’s fine -- then perhaps it’s his position. Likely, the decision is more difficult. McEvoy and Stave possess different strengths, so maybe they’ll both fit into the offense. Regardless, the Badgers need better play at QB than they received against Northwestern.
5. Austin Appleby’s time has come. The Purdue sophomore completed 15 of 20 throws for 202 yards and a score in his first career start as the Boilermakers won a Big Ten game for the first time under coach Darrell Hazell, 38-27 at Illinois. Appleby rushed seven times for 76 yards and two scores to lead a big-play attack. Where has this been for the past year and a half? It came against Illinois, yes, but any league win is cause for celebration for Purdue.
1. Michigan Meltdown: Now the Wolverines are right back where they started, restoring Devin Gardner as the starter at quarterback and hoping for different results. Based on his disappearance from the depth chart, it's a safe bet that the injuries Shane Morris sustained Saturday forced the swap, but Brady Hoke went right back to highlighting the continued lack of communication both inside and outside Schembechler Hall right now in the press conference announcing the change. Hoke clearly hasn't learned anything from the last few days, falling right back to his policy of not discussion the health of his players at a time when transparency would almost certainly work in his benefit. Pointing out the problems Michigan has had getting players at 100 percent might actually be a useful excuse for some of the on-field issues the program has had during its 2-3 start. Maybe it's too late for that now anyway, but pulling back the curtain and trying to be a bit more open and honest could at least be a start in trying to fight back in the public-relations battle he is badly losing at the moment.
2. Undercard Bout of the Week: All the attention is focused on the prize fight under the lights between Nebraska and Michigan State, and deservedly so given the standing of those marquee teams and how important the matchup will be for the College Football Playoff selection committee. But there's a battle in the afternoon that could be just as entertaining, and what it might lack in implications for the national title, it makes up for it with intrigue in the East Division. Maryland has the athletes at wide receiver to test the Buckeyes and their suspect secondary. Ohio State is rolling offensively with J.T. Barrett at quarterback, and the Terps were gashed in their biggest test of the season against West Virginia. There could be plenty of fireworks, and the winner will establish itself as a contender in the East -- and potentially the favorite depending on what happens with the Spartans.
3. Trophy talk: The votes have been unanimous for a couple weeks now, but Ameer Abdullah's standing as the unquestioned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year at this early stage could be threatened as early as this week given the head-to-head matchup with one of his closest competitors. Obviously the Nebraska tailback isn't directly squaring off with Connor Cook on the field, but if the Michigan State quarterback puts up another impressive statistical outing, knocks off the Huskers and keeps his team in line for a potential playoff berth, Abdullah might find himself lower than the No. 1 spot next week despite his gaudy numbers. On the flip side, a road win that keeps the Huskers unbeaten with Abdullah gouging one of the most feared defenses in the nation would only solidify his push for the Heisman Trophy. Of course, there is plenty on the line for both teams, but individual honors are up for grabs on Saturday evening as well.
- Defensive tackle Damon Knox could be returning just in time for Michigan State.
- Brady Hoke has a "great relationship" with embattled athletic director Dave Brandon.
- Some key players are taking it easy during Penn State's bye week.
- Rutgers wide receiver Leonte Carroo is earning just as much praise for his blocking as he does for his catches.
- Maryland is breaking out some special helmets for its first Big Ten home game.
- Ohio State is looking forward to welcoming the Terps to the conference.
- Griffin Oakes has been a threat from long range since high school, and he's already forced Indiana to update its record book.
- Nebraska linebacker Zaire Anderson beat the clock for a memorable play.
- The hit that has caused so much scrutiny at Michigan has been a teachable moment for Minnesota.
- If Northwestern is going to pull off another upset this week, it will need to generate some turnovers.
- There are still tickets available for Iowa's last four home games.
- Purdue didn't win last week, but it showed signs of finding some consistency on defense.
- Lessons learned about Illinois coming out of its loss at Nebraska include some ugly defensive numbers.
- Wisconsin quarterback Tanner McEvoy is looking for faster starts offensively.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
Final Cincinnati 17 Virginia Tech 33 Final 15 Arizona State 36 Duke 31 Final Miami (FL) 21 South Carolina 24 Final/OT Boston College 30 Penn State 31 Final Nebraska 42 24 USC 45
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
Final Marshall 52 Northern Illinois 23 Final Navy 17 San Diego State 16
Final Central Michigan 48 Western Kentucky 49 Final Fresno State 6 Rice 30
Final Illinois 18 Louisiana Tech 35 Final Rutgers 40 North Carolina 21 Final North Carolina State 34 UCF 27
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State