Chicago Colleges: Matt McGloin

Spring previews: Leaders Division

February, 28, 2013
2/28/13
10:00
AM CT
Spring practice is under way in the Big Ten, so let's take a look at what's on tap for the six teams in the Leaders Division.

ILLINOIS

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:

1. Coaching staff makeover: Illinois players are used to coaching changes, and Tim Beckman's staff received a significant overhaul during the winter as five assistants departed the program (four voluntarily). The biggest change comes at offensive coordinator, as former Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit takes over. Cubit has to implement his system and identify more playmakers with a unit that finished last in the Big Ten in both scoring and total offense last season.

2. Lines in limbo: The Illini not only lost significant pieces on both the offensive and defensive lines, but they have new position coaches at both spots as well. Defensive line has been Illinois' strongest spot, but the team must replace two future NFLers in Michael Buchanan and Akeem Spence. Glenn Foster is also gone, so the front four will have a very different look. The offensive line struggled mightily in 2012 and needs young players like Michael Heitz and Ted Karras to take steps this spring.

3. Getting healthy: Illinois lost so many starters to injury in 2012 that it became difficult to get an accurate gauge on what Beckman could do with a healthy roster. Although linebacker Jonathan Brown and receiver Darius Millines will be limited this spring, the rest of the team is ready to go and Illinois added several potential big contributors from the junior-college ranks. If Illinois has any chance of taking a major step in 2013, its best players must stay on the field this spring and allow the coaches a chance to evaluate and scheme for the season.

INDIANA

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Quarterback cluster: While some Big Ten teams (Penn State, Purdue) have hardly any experience at quarterback, Indiana has three signal-callers who have logged significant field time. Tre Roberson, who started the 2012 season before suffering a broken leg in Week 2, returns this spring, and it will be interesting to see how he looks and whether he outperforms Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld. Coffman started the final 10 games last fall and passed for 2,734 yards and 15 touchdowns, while Sudfield added 632 pass yards and seven scoring strikes. Indiana's quarterback depth is a good problem to have, but it would be good to see some separation this spring.

2. Defensive leadership: Fielding a Big Ten-level defense remains Indiana's top priority, and the Hoosiers need leaders to develop this spring. Top linemen Adam Replogle and Larry Black Jr. depart, and Indiana needs to build depth up front after allowing a league-worst 231.3 rush yards per game in 2012. Linebacker is another spot IU must upgrade, and David Cooper should be ready to take the reins after recording 86 tackles in 12 starts a year ago. Like Illinois, Indiana also welcomes several junior-college defenders, including tackle Jordan Heiderman.

3. Secondary surge: All the question marks in Indiana's defensive front seven make it even more important for the secondary to make strides this spring. The Hoosiers have no shortage of experience in the back four with players like Greg Heban, Mark Murphy, Brian Williams (12 starts last season) and Antonio Marshall (started final seven games). There's potential for the secondary to be a strength for IU in 2013, but the group must make more plays after recording a league-low seven interceptions last fall.

OHIO STATE

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 13 (at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati)

What to watch:

1. Taking a pass: The highest-scoring offense in the Big Ten returns every starter but two, and all that experience, talent and familiarity with the spread attack heading into Urban Meyer's second season with the Buckeyes figures to make them even more dangerous. The key will be how much more efficient Braxton Miller can become as a passer.

2. Getting defensive: For all the pieces the offense retains, the defense is a completely different story heading into spring camp. The Buckeyes have to replace the entire defensive line after losing three seniors and junior Johnathan Hankins to the draft, two starting linebackers are gone and the graduation of cornerback Travis Howard leaves an additional hole in the safety. There will be no shortage of competition for first-team reps.

3. Looking for leaders: Meyer and the senior class that has since departed quickly forged a deep bond, and he’s gone out of his way to praise those players' leadership as integral in the unbeaten season that started his tenure with the Buckeyes. Now he needs a new wave of emotional speakers and relentless workers to take the torch from the likes of John Simon and Zach Boren, and Meyer will be making a point to identify his best candidates over the 15 workouts leading into the summer.

-- Austin Ward, BuckeyeNation

PENN STATE

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Quarterback competition: With the departure of fifth-year senior Matt McGloin, quarterback is now the biggest question mark on this team. Sophomore Steven Bench has a head start and will compete against juco early enrollee Tyler Ferguson. Christian Hackenberg won't join the team until summer. Can this no-huddle offense be as effective?

2. Replacing LBs Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges: Mike Hull, who usually played inside, will have to make some adjustments as one of the expected replacements for the All-Big Ten linebacker tandem. The other spot is up for grabs, and fans should expect to see a battle between Ben Kline and Nyeem Wartman.

3. New faces at WR, TE: Redshirt freshman Eugene Lewis, the headliner of PSU's 2012 class, could challenge Brandon Moseby-Felder as the No. 2 WR target. Adam Breneman, the No. 1 tight-end recruit in the country, is also hoping to be recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in time for the Blue-White Game. Both could be stars down the road for PSU.

-- Josh Moyer, NittanyNation

PURDUE

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:

1. Behind these Hazell eyes: Yes, I'll justifiably take the abuse for the Kelly Clarkson reference, but new Purdue coach Darrell Hazell has his first chance to evaluate his team on the field this spring. Hazell brings a completely new coaching staff and a new approach to Purdue, which fell short of expectations in 2012 and has significant questions on both sides of the ball. He seems to be getting good buy-in from the players so far, but it'll be interesting to see how things progress during the 15 workouts this spring.

2. Quarterback race: If you like mysteries, you'll enjoy Purdue's quarterback competition this spring. The combination of a new coaching staff and unproven but talented candidates makes the race virtually impossible to predict. Hazell and new offensive coordinator John Shoop will study redshirt freshman Austin Appleby, who could have a slight edge to win the job, along with redshirt freshman Bilal Marshall and early enrollee Danny Etling, a decorated recruit. Don't forget about Rob Henry, who started in 2010 and would have been the top quarterback in 2011 if not for an ACL injury weeks before the season.

3. Short stopper: Purdue has to find a replacement for standout defensive tackle Kawann Short, the centerpiece of the defensive line the past few seasons. Bruce Gaston Jr. will continue to occupy the other top tackle spot, but there will be plenty of competition to join him in the starting lineup. Purdue's defensive line underachieved in 2012, and while Gaston and ends Ryan Russell and Ryan Isaac all return, the Boilers will really miss Short's production if they don't build more depth up the middle.

WISCONSIN

Spring start: March 9

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. New era dawns: Consistency is the norm at Wisconsin, but players will have to adjust to a dramatically different coaching staff for the second consecutive season. This time, it includes a new leading man in Gary Andersen, who gets his first chance to work with the players on the practice field. Andersen doesn't plan to overhaul the schemes, but he and his coaches will put their spin on things and see what works. He'll also bring a different personality to practice but one that athletic director Barry Alvarez thinks will fit the program's culture.

2. Intrigue at quarterback: Arguably no team in America has a more interesting quarterback race than the Badgers do this spring. They have three players with starting experience -- Joel Stave, Curt Phillips and Danny O'Brien -- plus a talented redshirt freshman (Bart Houston) who arrived as a decorated recruit and a junior-college addition (Tanner McEvoy) brought in by the new coaches. Add in a new system under coordinator Andy Ludwig, and it's anyone's guess who will separate himself this spring. Be sure to tune in.

3. Secondary in the spotlight: The Badgers lose three of four starters in the secondary from the 2012 squad, including top cornerbacks Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie. The new staff is aware of the numbers issue and signed junior-college All-America Donnell Vercher earlier this month. Other players who will compete for starting spots include cornerbacks Darius Hillary and Peniel Jean and safeties Michael Trotter and Michael Caputo. Wisconsin hopes to have some answers in the back four by the end of the spring.

B1G postseason position rankings: QBs

February, 4, 2013
2/04/13
1:30
PM CT
Way back in the heady days of the 2012 preseason, we ranked every Big Ten position group from No. 1 through 12. We had to base our thoughts on previous performance and a lot of projections in August.

We're going back now and issuing a final, postseason ranking for each position group, and these will be far less subjective now because we have an actual full season's worth of data on hand.

Quarterbacks, naturally, are up first. (Those guys hog all the glory). You can take a look back and see how we ranked this group in the preseason here. Depth is an important factor in these position rankings, but having a standout main guy under center (or in the shotgun) is the most overriding concern with this group.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteThanks to consistent play by QB Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes finished the 2012 season unbeaten.
1. Ohio State (Preseason rank: 5): We figured Braxton Miller would improve greatly in his second year of starting and in Urban Meyer's system. We didn't know he'd become the Big Ten offensive player of the year or finish fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. While he didn't always throw the ball with precision, Miller made all the big plays and led his team to a 12-0 record. The biggest preseason worry was what would happen if he got hurt. Kenny Guiton answered that in the Purdue comeback.

2. Penn State (Preseason: 12): The Nittany Lions were dead last in our preseason rankings, and with good reason considering their past performances at the position. But I did write at the time: "Call me an optimist, but I believe Matt McGloin will be more effective at quarterback now that he's got a more modern offensive system and peace of mind that he's the starter." Uh, yeah. McGloin led the Big Ten in passing yards (3,266) and passing touchdowns (24) while throwing only five interceptions. And he stayed healthy, keeping Penn State's youthful backups from getting exposed.

3. Nebraska (Preseason: 3): Taylor Martinez led the Big Ten in total offense and completed a career-best 62 percent of his passes. When he was good, he was as good as there was in the league. But he still struggled with turnovers in key games, including 12 interceptions and numerous fumbles. If he can eliminate the mistakes, the sky's the limit.

4. Michigan (Preseason: 2): The Wolverines are a hard to team to peg in these rankings. Do we rank them based on Denard Robinson's poor showings in big games against Alabama and Notre Dame? Do we rank them based on Devin Gardner's strong finish to the season, when he was as productive as any Big Ten QB? How much do we factor in the team's lack of a solid backup plan in the Nebraska loss when Robinson got hurt early? You have to weigh the good with the bad, which makes this spot feel about right.

5. Northwestern (Preseason: 9): Starting quarterback Kain Colter threw for 872 yards, which was nearly 450 yards less than nominal backup Trevor Siemian. But Colter also rushed for 894 yards and kept defenses off balance with his versatility. Meanwhile, the Wildcats could use Siemian when they needed to stretch the field. The next step for Northwestern is developing a more consistent downfield passing attack.

6. Indiana (Preseason: 11): Who would have guessed in the preseason that the Hoosiers would actually exhibit the best depth at quarterback? After starter Tre Roberson went down in Week 2, Indiana was able to plug in juco transfer Cameron Coffman and true freshman Nate Sudfeld to sustain the league's top passing offense. The three combined to throw for more than 3,700 yards. Coffman got the bulk of the work but needed a better touchdown-to-interception ration than his 15-to-11 mark.

7. Purdue (Preseason: 1): We overrated the Boilermakers' depth in the preseason. It turned out that only one of the trio of former starters performed at a high level, and Robert Marve didn't play enough because of a torn ACL and Danny Hope's misguided insistence on sticking with Caleb TerBush. Purdue actually led the Big Ten in passing touchdowns (30) and finished third in passing yards, but much of that was because the team often had to throw the ball a lot after falling way behind. This ranking could have been higher with a full season of Marve.

8. Wisconsin (Preseason: 8): Danny O'Brien quickly showed that he was not the next Russell Wilson, but luckily the Badgers had some depth. Redshirt freshman Joel Stave showed major promise before his season was derailed by a broken collarbone, and Curt Phillips turned in a nice comeback story by managing the team well down the stretch. Still, Wisconsin ranked last in the Big Ten in passing yards.

9. Michigan State (Preseason: 10): It was not exactly a season to remember for first-year starter Andrew Maxwell, who was benched late in the Spartans' bowl game. But for all his struggles, Maxwell still finished No. 4 in the league in passing and had some nice games in the middle of the year.

10. Minnesota (Preseason: 6): What could MarQueis Gray have done if he hadn't hurt his ankle, prompting an eventual move to receiver? True freshman Philip Nelson took over the reins midseason and broke out with a huge first half against Purdue. However, he failed to throw for more than 80 yards in the team's final three regular season games. Nelson led the team with just 873 passing yards on the season, and the Gophers threw 15 interceptions.

11. Iowa (Preseason: 4): Nobody took a bigger tumble than the Hawkeyes, as James Vandenberg went from a 3,000-yard passer as a junior to often looking lost as a senior. He completed only 57.3 percent of his passes and tossed only seven touchdowns, with eight interceptions, and Iowa showed almost no ability to go vertical. And no other Hawkeye attempted a pass all season.

12. Illinois (Preseason: 7): The Illini had experience at the position with Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole, but they were both part of a wildly dysfunctional offense. Illinois was next-to-last in passing yards in the Big Ten and also had just 11 touchdown passes versus 14 interceptions. In fairness, both QBs were often running for their lives and had very little help.

B1G's top individual performances of '12

January, 29, 2013
1/29/13
2:30
PM CT
It's awards season in Hollywood, as the film industry lines up to congratulate itself again and again until we're all sick of it before the Oscars.

But, hey, some performances do need recognition. With that in mind, we're listing the Top 10 individual performances by Big Ten players from the 2012 season today. Degree of difficulty is a factor here, so we'll reward those players who shined against tough opponents over those who piled up stats vs. cupcakes. And, ideally, the performance came in a victory for the player's team.

Enough with the intro. A drum roll, please, for our Top 10:

10. Penn State's Michael Mauti vs. Illinois: Mauti was very vocal with his displeasure at Illinois' attempt to poach Nittany Lions players last summer. The senior linebacker backed up his words with six tackles and a pair of interceptions, including a 99-yard return to end the first half. He came up inches short of a touchdown on that pick but definitely proved his point.

9. Ohio State's John Simon vs. Wisconsin: In what would turn out to be his final college game, the Buckeyes defensive end went out with a bang against the Badgers in Madison. He had four sacks, which set a school record and were the most by a Big Ten player since Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan registered four vs. Michigan in 2010.

8. Ohio State's Braxton Miller vs. Michigan State: Miller had better statistical days than the one he turned in against the Spartans, but none were grittier. Hit over and over again, he somehow kept answering the bell and finished with 136 hard-earned rushing yards and 179 passing yards in Ohio State's 17-16 road win. Teammates said after the game that their quarterback was in a tremendous amount of pain, but he earned he even more respect from them.

7. Northwestern's Kain Colter vs. Indiana: Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald sprung a surprise on the Hoosiers by repeatedly lining Colter up at receiver. Colter caught nine passes for 131 yards and also ran for 161 yards and four touchdowns on just 14 carries.

6. Penn State's Matt McGloin and Allen Robinson vs. Indiana: We're cheating a bit here by including both players, but it's hard to separate the two from this record-setting performance. McGloin shredded the Hoosiers' defense for 395 passing yards and four touchdowns, while Robinson was as usual the main recipient of his throws. The sophomore grabbed 10 catches for 197 yards and three scores in the best day for a Big Ten receiver in 2012.

5. Michigan's Denard Robinson vs. Air Force: How's this for an individual feat: Robinson accounted for more than 100 percent of his team's offense vs. the Falcons, a statistical oddity we may not see again any time soon. He totaled 426 yards -- 218 rushing, 208 passing -- while a couple of late kneel downs left Michigan's team total for the day at 422. Robinson also scored four touchdowns in the 31-25 win.

4. Michigan's Devin Gardner vs. Iowa: In just his second start at quarterback, Gardner wrote his name in the Michigan record books. He accounted for six touchdowns -- three passing, three rushing -- in becoming the first Wolverines quarterback to do that since Steve Smith in 1983. He also threw for 314 yards and let everyone know Robinson wasn't getting his old job back.

3. Wisconsin's Montee Ball vs. Purdue: Ball finished his career with all sorts of NCAA and school records, but he never had as many rushing yards as he did in West Lafayette this fall. He ran for 247 yards on 29 carries and and scored three times to establish himself as the Big Ten's all-time leader in touchdowns.

2. Nebraska's Taylor Martinez vs. Northwestern: Martinez's best statistical showing came in the opener against Southern Miss (354 passing yards, five TDs), but that was against a team that finished 0-12. His signature performance was in the comeback win at Northwestern. He threw for 342 yards and three scores and ran for another touchdown while leading two 75-plus yard scoring drives in the final six minutes. Of course, he also threw two passes in the fourth quarter that should have been intercepted, but that's just part of the ride with Martinez.

1. Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell vs. Boise State: In just the second game of the season featuring a Big Ten team, Bell set a bar that could not be cleared. He was Superman against the Broncos, rushing for 210 yards and two touchdowns on 44 carries and catching six passes for 55 yards. The unbelievable 50 touches in the opener was both a testament to Bell's strength and a flashing red warning sign of Michigan State's dearth of playmakers.

Honorable mention: Bell vs. Minnesota and TCU; Miller vs. California; Ball and James White vs. Nebraska in the Big Ten title game; Robinson vs. Purdue; Ohio State's Ryan Shazier vs. Penn State; Ohio State's Carlos Hyde vs. Nebraska; Indiana's Cody Latimer vs. Iowa; Penn State's Jordan Hill vs. Wisconsin; Northwestern's Venric Mark vs. Minnesota; Michigan's Jeremy Gallon vs. South Carolina; Iowa's Mark Weisman vs. Central Michigan; Minnesota's Michael Carter vs. Purdue and Texas Tech; Purdue's Kawann Short vs. Notre Dame.

ESPN.com's All-Big Ten second team

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
9:51
PM CT
We unveiled our All-Big Ten team earlier today, but there are many others who deserve recognition. That's why we have a second-team all-conference squad. A handful of these players easily could have easily appeared on the first team, as several of the decisions were extremely close.

Here's the second-team squad:

Offense

QB: Taylor Martinez, Nebraska
RB: Venric Mark, Northwestern
RB: Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
WR: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
WR: Cody Latimer, Indiana
TE: Dion Sims, Michigan State
C: Travis Frederick, Wisconsin
G: John Urschel, Penn State
G: Andrew Norwell, Ohio State
T: Rick Wagner, Wisconsin
T: Jeremiah Sirles, Nebraska

Defense

DL: Kawann Short, Purdue
DL: Eric Martin, Nebraska
DL: D.L. Wilhite, Minnesota
DL: Adam Replogle, Indiana
LB: Max Bullough, Michigan State
LB: Mike Taylor, Wisconsin
LB: Gerald Hodges, Penn State
DB: Josh Johnson, Purdue
DB: Michael Carter, Minnesota
DB: Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern
DB: Micah Hyde, Iowa

Special teams

K: Brendan Gibbons, Michigan
P: Cody Webster, Purdue
All-purpose: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska

Unlike the first team, we used a traditional 4-3 defense. We had three very good linebackers in Bullough, Hodges and Taylor who could have made the first team, and there's a clear drop-off after that point. ... Nebraska's Martinez struggled in the Big Ten title game, and we had a tough decision between him and Penn State's Matt McGloin, but Martinez's overall production gave him the edge. ... Northwestern's Mark made the first team as an all-purpose player, but he was our obvious first choice for second-team running back, too. It came down to Hyde and Abdullah for the other spot, but Hyde had better per-game production than Abdullah. The good news is Abdullah, who did a terrific job filling in for Rex Burkhead, still makes the team as an all-purpose player ... There were some tough choices at defensive back, and players like Michigan State safety Isaiah Lewis and Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs nearly made the list. Michigan State had the ultimate team defense this season, a great unit not loaded with superstars. ... Nebraska's Brett Maher received more recognition on the official All-Big Ten teams, but liked Gibbons' steadiness throughout the season and his ability to make big kicks against both Michigan State and Northwestern.

Debating the 2012 All-Big Ten teams

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
1:40
PM CT
The 2012 All-Big Ten teams and individual award winners will be revealed at 7 p.m. ET tonight on the Big Ten Network. We'll post the full lists shortly thereafter as well as reaction.

The four major awards -- Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Freshman of the Year -- will be revealed Tuesday night. We will have our official blog endorsements for each of these throughout Tuesday, so be sure to check in.

To clarify, we don't have official votes for All-Big Ten (not like we cover the league closer than anyone year-round or anything, but we're not bitter), but we will reveal our own all-conference team at a later date.

For now, we're going to give our opinions on some of the key debates surrounding this year's all-conference team.

1. The Big Ten has three elite running backs -- Wisconsin's Montee Ball, Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell and Northwestern's Venric Mark -- and only two spots on the first-team All-Big Ten team. Who makes it and who doesn't?

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell, Etienne Sabino
Mike Carter/US PRESSWIRELe'Veon Bell was the workhorse for the Michigan State offense this season.
Brian Bennett: This is an extremely difficult decision. I was prepared to go with Ball and Mark before Bell put up his huge, 266-yard performance against Minnesota last week. Someone very deserving is going to get left off this list, and in my book that is Mark. It's hard to ignore Bell, who's leading the Big Ten and is No. 3 nationally in rushing while carrying it a ridiculous 29 times per game. The Spartans might have only won a couple of games without him. And Ball turned it up big time in conference play, leading his team to the Big Ten title game. So I'll take those two guys, with sincere apologies to Mark, who had a wonderful season in his own right.

Adam Rittenberg: All three of these players were so valuable to their respective offenses. Ball struggled early but came on strong during Big Ten play and set the NCAA's all-time touchdowns mark. Bell is arguably the nation's top workhorse back, racking up an insane 350 carries. And yet neither impacted games quite as much as Mark, who broke off more long runs and also was brilliant on returns. He transformed a Northwestern offense that had been reliant on the pass for years and had no dynamic run threat. It's really a shame the All-Big Ten team doesn't have a return specialist, as that would be a way to get all three men on the first team. I have no issue with Ball and Bell, but it's a little hard to ignore the running back for the best team of the three. While it's tough not to have Bell on the first team, I'm going to go with Ball and Mark here.

2. Arguably no Big Ten position has more elite players than linebacker. The first-team All-Big Ten squad includes only three selections. Who makes the cut?

Adam Rittenberg: While I'd love to officially vote for All-Big Ten, this position group would drive me nuts because there are so many good choices. Penn State's Michael Mauti and Ohio State's Ryan Shazier have to be there. They're the two leading candidates for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Mauti triggered Penn State's effort on defense, while Shazier put up insane numbers in Big Ten games (15 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 1 interception, 8 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles). The big decision is the third linebacker -- we'll likely have four LBs on our All-Big Ten squad. It's between Michigan's Jake Ryan and Wisconsin's Mike Taylor for me, and I'm going to go with Ryan, who made a few more impact plays during the Big Ten season (5 forced fumbles, 13 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks). Taylor, Michigan State's Max Bullough and Penn State's Gerald Hodges also were terrific, but I'm happy with these three.

Brian Bennett: I'm in agreement here. No two defensive players were more valuable to their teams than Mauti and Shazier. In addition to their great performances, Shazier held a thin linebacking corps together, while Mauti helped an entire program stay together. And Ryan simply made more impact plays at crucial times than the other outstanding linebackers who are All-Big Ten candidates. It seemed like every time you looked up during a Michigan game, the guy with the flowing blond locks was creating havoc. Linebacker was a major strength in the league, and even picking a second team here between Taylor, Bullough, Hodges and Chris Borland is no easy task.

3. Ohio State's Braxton Miller is a likely Heisman Trophy finalist and the leading candidate for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. It would be a surprise if he isn't the first-team All-Big Ten quarterback. Who should be the second-team QB, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez or Penn State's Matt McGloin?

Brian Bennett: Take nothing away from McGloin, who led the Big Ten with 3,271 passing yards and 24 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Just an amazing year for the fifth-year senior, who would win the most improved player award if the league had such a thing. The choice here, though, is Martinez. Yes, he still gets a little careless with the ball sometimes. But he was in complete command of the Big Ten's best offense, carrying it after star running back Rex Burkhead went down. He improved greatly as a passer, completing 63.3 percent of his throws while compiling nearly 2,500 passing yards and 21 touchdowns. He also averaged 5.4 yards per carry in conference play and finished No. 1 in the league in total offense. His ability to lead Nebraska on wild comebacks and get the Cornhuskers into the Big Ten title game can't be overlooked.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesTaylor Martinez led Nebraska to the Big Ten title game.
Adam Rittenberg: Yep, agree with you on this one. Both players are vastly improved from 2011 -- McGloin more so than Martinez -- but Martinez's running ability really sets him apart in my mind. He had 833 rush yards and eight touchdowns, spurring a ground attack that didn't have Burkhead for most of the season. Like his Nebraska team, Martinez got sloppy at times and played really poorly in the loss to Ohio State. But you can't discount what he did in all of those comebacks, which turned out to be Nebraska's hallmark in reaching the Big Ten championship game. I absolutely love what McGloin did this season in Bill O'Brien's NFL-style offense, leading the league in pass yards and pass touchdowns and setting team records in the process. There'd be no major outcry here if he appears on the second-team All-Big Ten squad ahead of Martinez. But if I had to choose, I'd go with Martinez.

4. Cornerback has been a bit of a pleasant surprise this year in the Big Ten. The All-Big Ten team only designates four "defensive backs," so conceivably four corners could make it. Which Big Ten corners deserve to be on the first team this season?

Brian Bennett: Ohio State's Bradley Roby is the no-brainer here. The redshirt sophomore developed into arguably the best cover corner in the league this year and is a lock for one of the first-team All-Big Ten spots. My second choice would be Nebraska's Ciante Evans. Though Evans plays nickel, the Huskers ask a lot out of nickelbacks in their scheme, and Evans was their best coverage guy for the nation's No. 2-ranked pass defense. I'd prefer to have two corners and two safeties on the team, but if we went with three cornerbacks, I'd probably turn next to Purdue's Josh Johnson, who eclipsed Ricardo Allen as his team's best defensive back this year.

Adam Rittenberg: There's no doubt cornerback is a stronger group than safety this season. I'm going to go with three first-team All-Big Ten corners, starting with Ohio State's Roby. The sophomore has been the best defensive back in the league this season, tying for second nationally in passes defended with 19, recording two interceptions and scoring three touchdowns. The play he made at Wisconsin covering two different players in the end zone was one of the best I've seen in recent years. I also like Evans as a first-team selection, as he made a bunch of plays for the league's top pass defense. My third choice comes down to Johnson and Minnesota's Michael Carter. I love what Johnson did, but Carter was more noticeable during Big Ten play and seemed to blossom at the end of his career. I'd go with Johnson and Northwestern's Nick VanHoose on the second team.

5. All of the position awards will be passed out tonight. Let's dissect two of them: the Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year and the Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year. Who wins?

Adam Rittenberg: Ah, two goodies. The tight end award comes down to two players who missed portions of the season with injuries: Penn State's Kyle Carter and Michigan State's Dion Sims. Both produced at a high rate, with Carter recording 36 receptions for 453 yards and two touchdowns, while Sims, Michigan's only reliable pass-catching threat, recorded 33 receptions for 451 yards and two scores. Man, that's close, but Carter gets the nod from me. He gave Penn State such a boost on offense. The defensive lineman award comes down to Ohio State defensive end John Simon and Penn State defensive tackle Jordan Hill. Both are sure-fire first-team All-Big Ten selections, but I'm going with Simon, who led the Big Ten in sacks (9) and ranked third in tackles for loss (14.5). He would have had a big final game, like Hill did, had he been healthy.

Brian Bennett: Can I combine all the Penn State tight ends into one? Call them Kyle James Lehman, and then you'd really have something. It is another razor-thin call, but I'll take Michigan State's Sims. He played two fewer games than Carter, but remember that Sims played through injuries at times this year and wasn't always 100 percent. When he was healthy, he was the best big-play threat at tight end in the league and the Spartans' only real go-to guy in the passing game. He's a physical specimen unlike any other Big Ten tight end. As for defensive linemen, you named the probable two leading contenders. I'd also throw Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins in there, as he was a dominant run-stuffer. But I'm with you on Simon. He not only put up some great stats, but he played through a lot of pain this year and was unquestionably the emotional leader for the 12-0 Buckeyes.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 13

November, 19, 2012
11/19/12
11:07
AM CT
It took a while, but the Big Ten finally has some separation. You've got the top six teams clearly defined. Then you have the next three and finally the three I's -- Indiana, Iowa and Illinois -- at the bottom.

The top three teams remain intact from Week 12, while Penn State and Northwestern move up a spot and Wisconsin moves down despite a good effort against Ohio State. Overall, there's not much movement. Expect a little more shuffling after the final Saturday of the regular season, but at this point, teams have defined themselves as good, average or disappointing.

To the rundown ...

1. Ohio State (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten; last week: 1): Quarterback Braxton Miller and the offense carried Ohio State through the first half of the season. But defense wins championships, and the silver bullets stepped up Saturday at Wisconsin, as linebacker Ryan Shazier and defensive end John Simon triggered an impressive bend-but-don't-break effort. Urban Meyer's team claimed the Leaders Division title and now sits on the doorstep of history, needing a win against archrival Michigan to record the sixth unbeaten, untied season in team history.

2. Nebraska (9-2, 6-1; last week: 2): There was no second-half drama Saturday against Minnesota, as Nebraska surged to 38-0 lead in less than three quarters. Quarterback Taylor Martinez continued his push for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors, becoming Nebraska's career passing leader with 308 yards. Wide receiver Kenny Bell (9 catches, 136 yards, 2 TDs) had another big day, and an improving defense held Minnesota to 11 first downs and 177 yards. Nebraska is one win away from punching its ticket to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game.

3. Michigan (8-3, 6-1; last week: 3): Devin Gardner, your table is ready. Gardner showed Saturday that Michigan's future on offense is very bright, racking up 314 pass yards on 18 of 23 attempts with six touchdowns (three passing, three rushing) in a rout of Iowa. He is the first Wolverines player to account for six touchdowns since Steve Smith scored three rushing and three passing touchdowns at Minnesota in 1983. Denard Robinson is back in the fold, but Gardner provides the balance Michigan has lacked on offense. Gardner led Michigan to touchdowns on its first six possessions. The Wolverines' chances in The Game against Ohio State look a lot better than they did a few weeks ago.

4. Penn State (7-4, 5-2; last week: 5): It was a bittersweet day for Penn State, which got back on track with a win against Indiana but lost star linebacker Michael Mauti to another apparent knee injury. Senior quarterback Matt McGloin picked apart the Hoosiers for 395 passing yards and four touchdowns, becoming the school's single-season passing leader, while star wideout Allen Robinson had 10 receptions for 197 yards and three touchdowns. Penn State finishes its season this week against Wisconsin at Beaver Stadium.

5. Northwestern (8-3, 4-3; last week: 6): Pat Fitzgerald's crew took another fourth-quarter lead and this time held on, despite losing star running back Venric Mark to injury and going with Trevor Siemian at quarterback instead of Kain Colter. Although Northwestern benefited from four Michigan State turnovers, it took a more aggressive approach in crunch time and recorded a key road win to likely secure a Gator Bowl berth. Siemian, tight end Dan Vitale and others stepped up for the Wildcats, who finish up this week against Illinois in Evanston.

6. Wisconsin (7-4, 4-3; last week: 4): It's a little harsh to drop Wisconsin two spots after an overtime loss to Ohio State, but the move has more to do with both Penn State and Northwestern winning. The Badgers received a terrific defensive performance in regulation and outplayed Ohio State for long stretches, but they couldn't convert yards into points and repeatedly wasted opportunities in Ohio State territory. Montee Ball rushed for 191 yards and a score, and quarterback Curt Phillips made some key throws, but Wisconsin fell short on its home field for the second consecutive game. The Badgers visit Penn State this week before heading to Indy for the title game.

7. Michigan State (5-6, 2-5; last week: 7): Um, yeah, we didn't see this coming, either. Michigan State, picked by both of us and many others to win the Big Ten, needs to beat Minnesota just to get bowl eligible. The Spartans failed to win a Big Ten home game for the first time since 2006 after sweeping their entire home slate in each of the past two seasons. Mistakes once again doomed MSU, which had the edge in total yards, first downs, third-down conversions and many other categories against Northwestern. Andrew Maxwell passed for 297 yards and two scores, but it wasn't enough.

8. Minnesota (6-5, 2-5, last week: 8): Minnesota might be good enough to get to a bowl game, but the Gophers still can't compete with the Big Ten's elite. Jerry Kill's team was overmatched from the onset against Nebraska and never challenged the Huskers in a 38-14 loss. Freshman quarterback Philip Nelson had a rough afternoon, and one of the nation's best pass defenses couldn't stop Martinez, Bell and the Huskers. Minnesota has been a resilient team and must regroup for its finale at home, which would secure a winning season before the bowl game.

9. Purdue (5-6, 2-5; last week: 9): Credit the Boilers for not giving up after an 0-5 start to Big Ten play. Although the season didn't go as expected, Purdue is just one win away from heading to a bowl for the second straight season. The Boilers held off Illinois to record consecutive Big Ten road wins for the first time since 2009. Purdue had a balanced offensive attack triggered by the Akeems (Shavers and Hunt), and unlike last week, it didn't hurt itself with turnovers. Danny Hope's crew now returns home for the Bucket game and can close the season on a three-game win streak.

10. Indiana (4-7, 2-5; last week: 10): Credit the Hoosiers for fighting a lot harder than they did last week against Wisconsin. Cameron Coffman passed for 454 yards and Kevin Wilson got creative with onside kicks. But it's the same story for Indiana's defense, which simply isn't strong enough to stop good Big Ten offenses. McGloin and Penn State had their way with IU, which won't be going bowling and must make significant strides on the defensive side to get to the postseason in 2013.

11. Iowa (4-7, 2-5; last week: 11): Is it over yet? That's all Hawkeyes fans can ask themselves after the team's latest debacle against Michigan at the Big House. Iowa's once-solid defense has completely fallen apart in recent weeks, allowing touchdown drives on Michigan's first six possessions and 513 yards to the Wolverines. The offense continues to stop and start, and Kirk Ferentz's team is assured of its first losing regular season since 2000. Iowa also is mired in its first five-game losing streak since 2000.

12. Illinois (2-9, 0-7; last week: 12): At least the Illini didn't get blown out. Illinois lost a Big Ten game by fewer than two touchdowns for the first time this season, although that's little consolation for a team that has dropped eight straight and five straight on Senior Day. The Illini continued to beat themselves with three fumbles, including two by wide receiver Ryan Lankford. A talented Illinois defense has played better the past two weeks, but Purdue still racked up 207 rush yards. Coach Tim Beckman has emphasized the Northwestern game since his arrival, and an upset of the Wildcats this week in Evanston would be the only bright spot in an otherwise miserable season.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 12

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
10:15
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Ten items to track around the Big Ten entering Week 12:

1. Ballin' for history: Thirteen years after Ron Dayne broke the NCAA career rushing record, another Wisconsin running back is on the doorstep of a major milestone. Badgers senior Montee Ball, who, unlike Dayne, spent a year and a half as a reserve, needs one more touchdown Saturday against Ohio State to tie the NCAA career mark of 78 held by former Miami (Ohio) star Travis Prentice. Ball has scored 13 touchdowns in his past six games and is averaging 179.1 yards and three touchdowns in his past nine November games. A big performance against the unbeaten Buckeyes will once again put Ball on the radar for top national honors. Ball's next rushing touchdown will mark his 72nd, moving him past Dayne for the Big Ten career record.

2. Holding serve in the Legends: Nebraska and Michigan are tied atop the Legends Division at 5-1, and on paper, they should stay that way after Week 12. Both teams are favored to take care of Minnesota and Iowa, respectively, on senior day in Lincoln and Ann Arbor. Nebraska's magic number (wins and Michigan losses) to punch its ticket to Indianapolis is 2. A Huskers loss and a Michigan win puts the Wolverines in control of their own fate in the division. One senior day subplot is whether face-of-the-program stars like Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson will play after missing time with injuries. Burkhead (knee) returned to practice this week and seems closer to a return, while Robinson (elbow) remains day-to-day.

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
Andrew Weber/US PresswireLe'Veon Bell and the Spartans plan to finish strong against Northwestern on Saturday.
3. Finishing school: Northwestern and Michigan State easily could be playing for a Legends Division title Saturday. Instead, both teams' inability to finish against the likes of Nebraska and Michigan has left them looking for a full 60-minute performance. Michigan State's four Big Ten losses have come by a combined 10 points. Northwestern held double-digit second-half leads in all three of its Big Ten losses. Something's gotta give Saturday as the teams meet at Spartan Stadium. "Their problem, just like ours, has been closing out games," Spartans linebacker Chris Norman told ESPN.com this week. "... It's going to come down to who can finish the best. Saturday is going to be interesting."

4. Hope and a prayer: There's growing talk that Purdue will make a head-coaching change after the regular season no matter what happens in the final two games. But can fourth-year boss Danny Hope save himself with a three-game win streak to become bowl-eligible? It's reason enough to tune in for an otherwise off-the-radar game between Purdue and slumping Illinois on Saturday. A loss to the Illini would prevent Purdue from getting bowl-eligible and likely seal Hope's fate, while a Purdue win adds intrigue to next week's Bucket game against Indiana. The Boilers' offense got on track last week behind quarterback Robert Marve and running back Ralph Bolden, while defensive tackle Kawann Short had his best game of the season at Iowa.

5. Rivalry renewed: Saturday's game at Camp Randall Stadium won't decide which Leaders Division team goes to the Big Ten title game, as Wisconsin already punched its ticket last week. But Ohio State can lock up the Leaders Division championship -- the only title it can win this season -- while Wisconsin can legitimize its trip to Indy by handing Urban Meyer's Buckeyes their first loss of the season. Looking ahead, the Ohio State-Wisconsin game likely will be the signature contest in the division for years to come. Illinois is a mess, Purdue has backslid this season, Indiana is still building and Penn State still has three more years of postseason bans. "I hate Wisconsin just as much as Michigan," Ohio State wide receiver Corey Brown said this week. While Meyer and Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema say their post-signing day spat is a thing of a past, it could bubble up Saturday depending on how the game goes.

6. Taking a pass: The Big Ten might not be flush with elite quarterbacks and high-powered offenses this season, but a few of its teams can sling the ball a bit, and two of them meet at Beaver Stadium. Indiana and Penn State are the Big Ten's top two pass offenses, ranking 26th and 40th nationally, respectively. They'll share the field Saturday as they try to rebound from different types of losses. Indiana quarterback Cameron Coffman struggled with his accuracy (25-for-46) in last week's loss to Wisconsin and looks for a sharper afternoon. Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin wasn't a happy guy after the Nebraska loss and will try to take it out on IU. The game features two of the Big Ten's top receivers in Penn State's Allen Robinson and Indiana's Cody Latimer.

7. Hawkeye hex: Iowa has been in a funk for much of the season and particularly in the past month, dropping four consecutive Big Ten contests. Perhaps a date with Michigan can put the Hawkeyes back on track. See, Iowa has won three straight against Michigan for the first time in team history and five of its past eight against the Wolverines. Michigan's seniors are anxious to finally get over the hump against Iowa, one of two Big Ten teams (Penn State the other) they have yet to beat. But maybe it works the other way and Iowa finally shows a spark on offense and stiffens its defense. If not, the Hawkeyes won't be going bowling for the first time since the 2006 season, and it'll be a very long winter for Kirk Ferentz. "It doesn't hurt, obviously," Ferentz said of his team's Michigan win streak, "but it doesn't guarantee us anything."

8. Backs of different sizes: Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell is the biggest featured running back in the Big Ten, checking in at 6-2 and 244 pounds. Northwestern's Venric Mark is the smallest, checking in at 5-8 and 175 pounds. But both have been extremely effective this season with the ball in their hands. Bell leads the Big Ten in rushing yards (1,249), while Mark ranks third in rushing yards (1,181) and first in all-purpose yards (1,917). Each has been the MVP of his respective offense, and it'll be interesting to see them on the same field at Spartan Stadium. Both Michigan State and Northwestern defend the run well, too, both ranking in the top 25 nationally.

9. Illini look for a spark: Illinois ranks last in the Big Ten in scoring, rushing and total offense, and lingers near the bottom of the FBS in all the significant categories. The Illini need some sort of boost on offense or a 2-10 season is a virtual certainty. Head coach Tim Beckman, whose background is defense but who had a high-powered offense at Toledo the past few years, took a more active role with the offense this week in an effort to get things going. Beckman also noted that co-offensive coordinators Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales call plays on different downs. Hmmm. Starting cornerback Terry Hawthorne took more reps with the wide receivers this week and could see an increased role against Purdue. Illinois aims to win on senior day for the first time since 2007.

10. Bowl picture taking shape: We learned a little more about the Big Ten bowl contingent last week as Minnesota became bowl-eligible, Purdue took a big step toward the postseason and both Iowa and Indiana took a step toward a winter at home. There should be some more answers in Week 12. Michigan State aims for its sixth win to go bowling for the sixth consecutive season under coach Mark Dantonio. Purdue must keep its bowl hopes alive at Illinois, while both Iowa and Indiana must win on the road to avoid loss No. 7. It won't be easy for the Hawkeyes or Hoosiers. Indiana never has won at Beaver Stadium in 15 previous meetings with Penn State. Iowa never has won consecutive games at Michigan Stadium.

What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 11

November, 11, 2012
11/11/12
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Lessons learned from Week 11 in the Big Ten:

1. A Wisconsin-Nebraska title game looks very likely: Wisconsin and Nebraska opened the Big Ten season under the lights in Lincoln on Sept. 29. The Badgers and Huskers likely will close out the conference season Dec. 1 in Indianapolis. Wisconsin punched its ticket for the Big Ten title game Saturday by crushing Indiana 62-14. Montee Ball and the Badgers rushed for a team-record 564 yards -- the highest total in Big Ten play since 1975 -- and completed a rough road back to Indy with a very easy final leg. Nebraska and Michigan remain tied atop the Legends division, but the Huskers' hold the head-to-head tiebreaker and took a big step toward Lucas Oil Stadium with another come-from-behind victory Saturday against Penn State. Nebraska once again overcame mistakes and turned in a big second half to remain perfect at home this season. If the Huskers take care of Minnesota at home and Iowa on the road, they'll head to Indianapolis, regardless of what Michigan does in its final two games. These two teams provided plenty of excitement in their first meeting, and it looks like they'll be reuniting in three weeks.

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
AP Photo/Tony DingPat Fitzgerald has seen his Northwestern squad blow double-digit leads in each of its three losses.
2. Northwestern's late-game problems are an epidemic: Northwestern still calls itself the "Cardiac Cats" and touts its long-term record in close games (32-13 in games decided by seven points or fewer since 2004), but blown leads have been a problem throughout Pat Fitzgerald's tenure, and they've been magnified this season. The Wildcats have squandered double-digit second-half leads in each of their three losses (Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan). The most painful collapse arrived Saturday as Northwestern outplayed Michigan for most of the way but couldn't knock down a desperation pass to Roy Roundtree (or interfere with Roundtree, which might have been just as good) that set up the game-tying field goal. There have been different explanations for each blown lead -- not having top cornerback Nick VanHoose might have cost Northwestern two games -- but Fitzgerald's late-game strategy should be called into question. There have been too many games like this under his watch, and until something shifts, Northwestern won't get over the hump. This is a young Wildcats team that has overachieved to a degree, but the season will be one filled with missed opportunities.

3. Iowa is staring at a lost season: It has been a season of low points for Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes. The first arrived in Week 4, when they blew a late lead and fell to a woeful Central Michigan team at Kinnick Stadium. The next came a month later, as Penn State turned a much-anticipated night game at Kinnick into an offensive and defensive clinic. More misery arrived the next two weeks, but Iowa managed to find a new low Saturday against a Purdue team that had dropped five straight and had been blown out four times in the Big Ten. Purdue gave Iowa opportunities with three turnovers, but the Hawkeyes couldn't cash in nearly enough, continuing a season-long theme, and lost 27-24. Iowa is plus-11 in turnover margin this season, among the national leaders, and sits at 4-6. That's very hard to do, and underscores Iowa's problems on offense. With upcoming games against Michigan (road) and Nebraska (home), Iowa is staring at a 4-8 season, which would be its worst under Ferentz since a 3-9 campaign in 2001. Tough times right now in Hawkeye Country.

4. The Big Ten's bowl contingent now could be growing: The Week 10 lessons noted that the Big Ten could have as few as five teams in the postseason this season, its lowest number since 1998. That still could be the case, but things changed a bit after Purdue scored an upset victory at Iowa and Minnesota ensured it will be bowling for the first times since 2009 after a victory at Illinois. As poorly as Purdue has played in the Big Ten, the Boilers still have a very realistic chance to get to 6-6, which is all you need this season in the Big Ten. Danny Hope's crew must beat Illinois on the road and Indiana at home, which doesn't seem overly daunting after the way the Hoosiers performed against Wisconsin. To their credit, the Boilers dominated Iowa at Kinnick Stadium and wouldn't have needed a last-second field goal to win if not for three turnovers. Perhaps Purdue can finish strong. Minnesota rode defense and Donnell Kirkwood to the six-win plateau, notching a crucial win before a tough closing stretch (at Nebraska, Michigan State). If Michigan State beats Northwestern on Saturday, five of the six Legends division teams will be bowling.

5. The Big Ten has an officiating problem: Crisis is probably too strong a word, but at the very least, the Big Ten has an image issue with its officiating after the past several weeks. Michigan State coaches and players were livid with some of the late-game calls in the loss against Nebraska, particularly a pass-interference penalty near the end zone at the end of the game. Michigan and Minnesota also griped about pass-interference interpretations, while Penn State has felt like it has gotten the short end of the stick a lot this year, especially with a lack of holding calls versus Ohio State. Frustrations boiled over for the Nittany Lions on a controversial fumble ruling late in Saturday's loss to Nebraska, which led quarterback Matt McGloin to suggest an officiating conspiracy against Penn State. That's taking things a little too far, but Big Ten officiating has some credibility issues right now. It would be nice if the league would issue some sort of statements about the most controversial calls, but the Big Ten prefers to handle such things in-house. The conference needs to make sure its officiating house is in order going forward.

Big Ten Week 11 preview

November, 5, 2012
11/05/12
12:00
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Only three weeks left in the Big Ten regular season, and it's put up or shut up time for several teams. Here's an early look at the Week 11 story lines:

Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten) at Indiana (4-5, 2-3), Noon, ESPN2: It's true. We have an actual large and meaningful Big Ten game in Bloomington. In football. The surprising Hoosiers can pull even with Wisconsin and would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker for the Leaders Division spot in the Big Ten title game if they can win their third straight conference game. Let's put that in perspective: Indiana won a total of three Big Ten games from 2008-11. So, yeah, this is all a bit new. The Badgers have had two weeks off to try and figure out their new situation at quarterback (our money is on Curt Phillips). Their defense will be under pressure to stop an IU passing game that has caused everybody fits this year. Wisconsin has won seven straight in this series by an average of 34 points.

Penn State (6-3, 4-1) at No. 18 Nebraska (7-2, 4-1), 3:30 p.m., ABC: The Huskers can't clinch the Legends title yet, but they can take one more giant step toward Indianapolis with a win this week in their toughest remaining game. Penn State can't go to the postseason but will have a huge say in both division races, with this game and remaining ones against both Indiana and Wisconsin. This game features the top two passers in the league in Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and the Nittany Lions' Matt McGloin. If you just woke up from a four-month coma and read that sentence, we forgive you for feeling very disoriented.

Northwestern (7-2, 3-2) at Michigan (6-3, 4-1), Noon, ESPN: Devin or Denard? That will be the big question this week for Michigan, which did just fine with Devin Gardner replacing Denard Robinson at quarterback last week. Northwestern had its own quarterback drama before seemingly settling on Kain Colter as the full-time option. The loser of this game can pretty much kiss its Legends hopes goodbye.

Minnesota (5-4, 1-4) at Illinois (2-7, 0-5), 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network: The Gophers built a little offseason momentum by upsetting Illinois in last year's season finale. Now they need to beat the Illini to gain postseason eligibility for the first time since 2009. Minnesota has won its last three trips to Champaign, while Illinois has lost 11 straight Big Ten games dating back to last season.

Purdue (3-6, 0-5) at Iowa (4-5, 2-3), Noon, BTN: You'd be hard-pressed to find another game this weekend featuring two fan bases less enthusiastic about their teams. The Boilers have been in a five-week tailspin that might well cost Danny Hope his job, while Iowa has lost three straight in disheartening fashion after a promising 2-0 start in league play. The Hawkeyes still have a chance to get to a bowl but must win here and then upset either Michigan on the road or Nebraska at home on Black Friday. The Boilers have Illinois and Indiana left, so a win here would keep their faint postseason hopes flickering.

Byes: Ohio State, Michigan State

Big Ten power rankings: Week 11

November, 5, 2012
11/05/12
12:00
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Week 10 brought few surprises around the Big Ten. As a result, the power rankings see little shuffling before the second Saturday of November.

Ohio State cruised to a perfect 10-0, while Michigan and Penn State both recorded road wins in impressive fashion. In the two true toss-up games, Indiana outlasted Iowa and Nebraska rallied for a dramatic win against hard-luck Michigan State. Our top five teams from Week 9 remain the same. The toughest call comes at No. 3, as there's very little separating Penn State and Michigan, who unfortunately don't play this season. But both teams recorded decisive road wins, so we're keeping the Lions ahead for now. Both teams face bigger challenges in Week 11 with Nebraska and Northwestern, respectively.

Indiana makes a small move after its win, while the bottom of the league stays intact.

To the rundown:

1. Ohio State (10-0, 5-0, last week: 1): Ten straight weeks of games, 10 straight wins for Urban Meyer's Buckeyes, who get a well-deserved break after thumping Illinois at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State is 10-0 for the first time since 2007 as it chases its first perfect season since 2002, when it captured a national title. Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde form the Big Ten's most dangerous backfield and the defense continues to make big plays, getting another interception from CB Travis Howard. Ohio State has scored 52 points or more in three Big Ten games. It resumes play Nov. 17 at Wisconsin.

2. Nebraska (7-2, 4-1, last week: 2): For the second time in three weeks, Nebraska faced a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter of a Legends Division road game. And once again, the Huskers found a way to win behind QB Taylor Martinez, who overcame three turnovers (nearly four) to fire the game-winning touchdown strike and eclipse 200 rush yards. Nebraska wouldn't announce itself in the Big Ten until it recorded signature road wins, and the Huskers finally have gotten over the hump after the Ohio State debacle Oct. 6. Bo Pelini's team is in control of the Legends Division and might lock it up with a win this week against Penn State.

3. Penn State (6-3, 4-1, last week: 3): Resiliency has been Penn State's calling card under Bill O'Brien, so it wasn't surprising to see the Nittany Lions bounce back well from their first Big Ten loss. The Lions re-established the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, shutting down Purdue's offense and generating a nice power run game behind RB Zach Zwinak. Penn State racked up a season-high 506 yards of offense as QB Matt McGloin had another 300-yard passing performance. Gerald Hodges led the way on defense with three tackles for loss. Penn State has been dominant on the road in Big Ten play but faces its biggest test this week in Lincoln.

4. Michigan (6-3, 4-1, last week: 4): No Denard Robinson? No problem for Michigan despite a potentially tricky game at Minnesota. Devin Gardner moved from wide receiver to quarterback and stepped up in a big way in place of Robinson, while Gardner's fellow wideouts Drew Dileo and Jeremy Gallon picked him up with key catches as Michigan revived its passing attack against one of the nation's top pass defenses. The Wolverines' defense stepped up repeatedly in the red zone as Michigan retained the Little Brown Jug. Michigan must keep pace with Nebraska to stay alive in the division race and needs to beat Northwestern this week.

5. Northwestern (7-2, 3-2, last week: 5): Pat Fitzgerald gave his team a "C" for October, as the Wildcats went 2-2 in a month in which they've historically struggled. Northwestern now enters a month in which it typically thrives under Fitzgerald, and the Wildcats remain alive in the Legends Division chase, although they need Nebraska to start losing. They'll look for some of their road magic the next two weeks against the Michigan schools, and they also hope to regain the services of injured defensive backs Nick VanHoose and Quinn Evans. It'll be interesting to see if QB Kain Colter truly has control of the offense this week at the Big House.

6. Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2, last week: 7): The open week came at a perfect time for the Badgers, who must regroup after losing starting quarterback Joel Stave to a season-ending broken clavicle. Danny O'Brien and Curt Phillips competed for the top job throughout the practice week, as the staff decides who will lead the offense in a now crucial game at Indiana before a tough closing stretch (Ohio State, at Penn State). The Badgers will need a big game from their defense in Bloomington and arguably a bigger game from Montee Ball and the rushing attack against an Indiana team that struggles against the run.

7. Michigan State (5-5, 2-4, last week: 6): Close losses have defined Michigan State's season, and the Spartans suffered another devastating setback Saturday after having Nebraska on the hopes. Controversial calls once again played into the outcome, but the Spartans' defense couldn't get the stops it needed and surrendered 313 rush yards to the Huskers. RB Le'Veon Bell came to play, but QB Andrew Maxwell had another rough day. Michigan State must regroup during an off week before fighting for bowl eligibility the final two weeks. It needs one more win and faces Northwestern (home) and Minnesota (road).

8. Indiana (4-5, 2-3, last week: 9): This isn't a great Indiana team, but it also isn't a typical Indiana team. Typical Hoosiers teams would have folded after falling behind 14-0 on their home field against Iowa. But the 2012 Hoosiers didn't back down, steadied themselves and outlasted Iowa to record back-to-back Big Ten wins for the first time since 2007 and their first Big Ten home win since 2009. Cameron Coffman re-emerged at QB, while WR Cody Latimer had a huge day (7 catches, 113 yards, 3 TDs). The defense allowed only 14 points as IU set up a huge Leaders Division showdown this week against Wisconsin.

9. Minnesota (5-4, 1-4, last week: 8): Missed opportunity was the catchphrase for Minnesota on Saturday after failing to capitalize against a Robinson-less Michigan team. The Gophers couldn't build on a 7-0 lead and repeatedly stubbed their toe in the red zone, despite some decent play from QB Philip Nelson. Jerry Kill has cleansed the program of a lot of problems from the Tim Brewster era, but terrible penalties have remained. The Gophers have scored 13 points in all four of their Big Ten losses. Minnesota's typically stout pass defense also struggled against a backup quarterback. The Gophers try to get bowl-eligible this week when they travel to slumping Illinois.

10. Iowa (4-5, 2-3, last week: 10): The Hawkeyes slipped below .500 for the first time since 2007, and barring a surprising turnaround, they won't get back on the right side of the mark this season. Despite a very strong start at Indiana, the same problems surfaced on both sides of the ball as Iowa couldn't translate yards into points and surrendered way too many yards to their opponent. Senior QB James Vandenberg will get more criticism, and his end zone interception didn't help, but the problems go beyond him on a team that just isn't very good in any area. Iowa could get well against Purdue this week but will be an underdog in its final two games (Michigan, Nebraska).

11. Purdue (3-6, 0-5, last week: 11): We wish we could drop Purdue lower after its fourth Big Ten blowout loss in five games. Alas, there's Illinois. One of those teams amazingly will get a Big Ten win when they meet Nov. 17 in Champaign. Purdue still can get bowl-eligible, but it will need a rapid turnaround in its final three games and show a lot more fight on the defensive side of the ball. The offense once again looked good on the opening drive and then disappeared, as QB Robert Marve couldn't stretch the field. Another poor performance at home before a mostly empty Ross-Ade Stadium turns up the heat even more on embattled coach Danny Hope.

12. Illinois (2-7, 0-5, last week: 12): We knew there would be no bowl for the Illini this year, but Ohio State made it official Saturday, handing Tim Beckman's team its seventh loss. After a decent first quarter, Illinois reverted to form and imploded before halftime. The offense once again couldn't stretch the field, and slumping junior QB Nathan Scheelhaase threw an interception and completed 19 passes for only 96 yards. Illinois is right there with Colorado and Kentucky in the group of the worst major-conference teams in the country. The Illini need to generate something positive down the stretch before the 2013 campaign.

Big Ten Week 8 preview

October, 15, 2012
10/15/12
12:00
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The regular season is halfway over. Where did the time go? It's getting late early in the Big Ten race for some teams, which makes this a big week. Here's a quick preview of the Week 8 storylines:

Michigan State (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten) at No. 23 Michigan (4-2, 2-0), 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network: Where's the threat? Or maybe we should say, are the Spartans still a legitimate threat to Michigan's Big Ten ambitions? This game has lost a lot of luster thanks to Michigan State's stumbles, but there's still plenty on the line. The Wolverines need to break a four-game losing streak in this rivalry, while MSU would be in danger of a losing season with a defeat here and Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern up next. All eyes will be on Denard Robinson and a Spartans defense that has shut him down the last two years.

Penn State (4-2, 2-0) at Iowa (4-2, 2-0), 8 p.m., BTN: Raise your hand if you had these two teams atop their respective divisions midway through October. They're both doing it with defense, as Penn State is No. 2 and Iowa No. 3 in the Big Ten in points allowed, and some surprising contributors on offense (Mark Weisman for the Hawkeyes, a surging Matt McGloin and Allen Robinson for the Nittany Lions). Expect a slugfest, but hopefully one with more points than last year's 13-3 Penn State win.

Nebraska (4-2, 1-1) at Northwestern (6-1, 2-1), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2: The Cornhuskers will have had two weeks to try and figure out their defensive problems against spread teams and on the road. They will need to have answers versus a Wildcats team that beat them in Lincoln last season. Kain Colter had a great game at Nebraska last year and is the kind of mobile quarterback that has given Bo Pelini's defense fits. The loser of this one could find themselves two games back in the Legends standings.

Minnesota (4-2, 0-2) at Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1), Noon, ESPNU: It's Axe season. But can the Gophers accrue better dividends in this ancient rivalry? Wisconsin has won eight straight in the series, including the last two by a combined 47 points. The Badgers' offense also looked rejuvenated on Saturday against Purdue, which could mean this is bad timing for Minnesota. Questions about the status of head coach Jerry Kill and quarterback MarQueis Gray could linger this week for the Gophers.

Purdue (3-3, 0-2) at No. 8 Ohio State (7-0, 3-0), Noon, ABC/ESPN2: At what point do we really start to worry about the Buckeyes' defense? Probably not this week against a Purdue team that is a mess on both sides of the ball right now. The Boilermakers did beat Ohio State last year in West Lafayette, but their own defense has major issues after surrendering an average of 41 points and 385 rushing yards in their first two Big Ten contests. And now comes Braxton Miller and Co., who have scored 115 points the past two weeks. The Boilers are staring down the barrel of an 0-3 conference start, while the Buckeyes look to get to 8-0 before a showdown at Penn State.

Indiana (2-4, 0-3) at Navy (3-3), 3:30 p.m., CBS College Sports: The Hoosiers are doing a lot of things well -- especially on offense -- and have been right in every game. Yet all they have to show for it is a four-game losing streak. Maybe stepping out of conference will help, especially against a not-so-classic Midshipmen squad. Defending the option on the road presents its challenges, but Navy was shut out at home by San Jose State a few weeks ago.

Bye: Illinois

2012 Big Ten midseason report

October, 15, 2012
10/15/12
10:00
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After a historic offseason of transition, the Big Ten endured a historic first half of ineptitude.

The league entered the fall with unique circumstances, as two of its premier programs (Ohio State and Penn State) couldn't compete in the postseason because of NCAA sanctions. But between a surging Michigan State program, a Michigan team coming off of a Sugar Bowl championships, a Wisconsin team that had made consecutive Rose Bowl appearances and a veteran-laden Nebraska squad, the Big Ten had ample reasons for optimism. They soon vanished.

Things got off to a rocky start at JerryWorld, as Michigan was stomped 41-14 by defending national champ Alabama. They only got worse in Week 2, the Big Ten's worst regular-season Saturday in recent memory. Big Ten teams went 6-6, including three losses at Pac-12 venues, including two by ranked teams (Wisconsin and Nebraska) against unranked foes (Oregon State and UCLA). The Big Ten went 6-9 against teams from BCS automatic-qualifying conferences and Notre Dame, with three wins coming from one team (Northwestern). Although Ohio State hasn't lost a game under new coach Urban Meyer, the Big Ten removed itself from the national title talk earlier than anyone expected.

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State coach Bill O'Brien and quarterback Matt McGloin have earned accolades through the midpoint of the season.
The league endured several weeks without a top-10 team. Last week, the Big Ten failed to have a team ranked in the coaches' poll for the first time ever (the coaches aren't ranking Ohio State and Penn State). The Big Ten also was shut out of the initial BCS standings.

It hasn't been all gloom and doom, though. The Buckeyes are 7-0 and quarterback Braxton Miller is a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate. Penn State has rebounded from an 0-2 start to rattle off four consecutive wins, as new coach Bill O'Brien has transformed the offense and particularly senior quarterback Matt McGloin. Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa also have bounced back from shaky performances in the non-league portion, while a young Northwestern team sits at 6-1. Minnesota started 4-0, eclipsing its wins total from the past two years, while Indiana has completed well in each game. Surprise stars have emerged such as Iowa running back Mark Weisman, Northwestern running back Venric Mark, Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson and Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan.

Perhaps the Big Ten will be a second-half league, complete with a better-than-expected showing in the bowls. Michigan is eying its first outright league title since 2003 and has the defense to win it. Wisconsin has stabilized nicely after a rocky three weeks that saw a shocking drop in offensive production and the firing of assistant Mike Markuson after just two games.

But there's no masking the disappointment of the first seven weeks. Michigan State already has lost three games at Spartan Stadium, where it was perfect in both 2011 and 2012, and faces significant issues at offensive line, receiver and quarterback. Purdue entered its defining stretch of the season with Big Ten play but flopped in consecutive weeks on its home field. An Illinois program that has won back-to-back bowl games is in complete disarray under new coach Tim Beckman, getting outscored 163-45 in the past four games.

Many longtime league observers say they've never seen the Big Ten so weak. The good news: it can only get better.

Offensive MVP: Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller. Although many pegged him to be a natural fit in Meyer's spread offense, he has exceeded all expectations in the first half. Miller ranks third in the Big Ten and seventh nationally in rushing average (130.3 ypg), ranks 34th nationally in passer rating (145.3) and has accounted for 20 touchdowns (11 pass, 9 rush). Miller has had four runs of 55 or more yards and five 100-yard rushing performances in the first seven games. Ohio State certainly wouldn't be undefeated without Miller, who is very much on the Heisman Trophy radar.

Defensive MVP: Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti. The most vocal Nittany Lion in the wake of the NCAA sanctions is making the most of his final season in Happy Valley. Mauti has been a beast, winning two Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week awards and a National Defensive Player of the Week honor for his efforts against Illinois. The numbers are impressive -- 57 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovered, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 2 pass deflections -- but they don't fully show the impact Mauti has had on a surging Penn State team. The senior is showing how good he can be when finally healthy.

Biggest surprise: Penn State. After the midsummer roster reduction and an 0-2 start, Penn State was largely written off. But the Lions have rebounded for four consecutive wins and remain one of just four teams still unbeaten in league play. An offense that returned almost no proven players has held its own, ranking in the middle of the league, while Mauti and others have energized a defense that has surrendered just 16 points per game. A young Northwestern team merits a mention at 6-1, and Iowa's strong start to Big Ten play has been a bit surprising after its September struggles.

Biggest disappointment: Michigan State. There are two other possibilities here -- Purdue and Illinois -- but no team has performed worse, relative to expectations, than the Spartans. After back-to-back 11-win seasons and a Legends Division title in 2011, Michigan State entered the season pegged by some, including both of us, to win the league and reach its first Rose Bowl since 1987. But the personnel losses on offense -- not just at quarterback and receiver, but also offensive line -- have been extremely hard to overcome. Michigan State already has dropped three home games and now enters a difficult stretch -- Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Northwestern.

Best game: Nebraska 30, Wisconsin 27. After being blown out in its Big Ten debut last year in Madison, Nebraska faced a similar fate after Wisconsin stormed out to a 27-10 lead early in the third quarter at Memorial Stadium. But Huskers quarterback Taylor Martinez, who had thrown three interceptions against Wisconsin the year before, led a furious comeback in the final 25 minutes. Nebraska scored the game's final 20 points to tie for the second-largest comeback in team history. Martinez racked up 181 pass yards, 107 rush yards and three touchdowns (2 pass, 1 rush) in the win.

Best coach: Penn State's O'Brien. The first-year boss has kept his team focused despite the rocky offseason and the 0-2 start. He has modernized the offense and helped McGloin transform his game. He has worked around depth issues and identified new standouts like Robinson. This season easily could have gotten away after all Penn State had been through during the offseason, but O'Brien has things stabilized as the Lions chase the Leaders Division title. Ohio State's Meyer and Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald also merit mentions.

Take Two: B1G's non-quarterback MVP

October, 9, 2012
10/09/12
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Mark-RobinsonGetty ImagesNorthwestern's Venric Mark and Penn State's Allen Robinson have been nice surprises this season.
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

Today's Take Two Topic is inspired by Maxwell from Madison, Wis., who asked during Monday's chat: To this point, who is [the Big Ten's] non-quarterback offensive MVP?

Take 1: Brian Bennett

Maxwell posed an interesting question, because it's pretty obvious through six weeks that Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Penn State's Matt McGloin are two of the top MVP candidates in the league, while Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Michigan's Denard Robinson are crucial to their team's fortunes. Some of the running backs we expected to be MVP candidates, like Wisconsin's Montee Ball and Nebraska's Rex Burkhead, haven't had the kind of years anyone projected. My answer to this question is a guy hardly anybody was talking about this summer: Penn State receiver Allen Robinson. When Derek Moye graduated and Justin Brown transferred to Oklahoma State, the Nittany Lions receiving corps was badly in need of a leader this fall. Robinson, a sophomore, has taken that on his shoulders. He leads all Big Ten receivers in catches (41), yards (524) and touchdowns (7). McGloin has had a standout season, but more than a third of his passing yards have gone to Robinson. Penn State's offense wouldn't be nearly the same. And there's almost no way the team would be 4-2 without him.

Take 2: Adam Rittenberg

Robinson is a very good choice, BB. He has become a star at a position that entered the season with major question marks after Brown's departure. The same could be said for Northwestern's running back spot, which hasn't had a true standout since Tyrell Sutton left following the 2008 season. Things have changed this season because of Venric Mark, and he's my pick for non-QB offensive MVP. Despite standing barely 5-foot-8, Mark is the biggest reason why Northwestern started 5-0, and why the Wildcats were in position to be 6-0 before a fourth-quarter collapse at Penn State. He has three 100-yard rushing performances and averages 5.4 yards per carry with six rushing touchdowns. And unlike Robinson, Iowa's Mark Weisman, Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell or most other candidates (save for Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah), Mark has made a huge impact in more than one way. He has two punt returns for touchdowns, averages 32.9 yards per runback and ranks second in the Big Ten and seventh nationally in all-purpose yards (180.5 ypg). Only one other Northwestern player ever had recorded multiple punt return touchdowns in a season (Tom Worthington in 1949). Mark also has been surprisingly good in the red zone despite his size and complements quarterback Kain Colter in the option.

Big Ten weekend rewind: Week 6

October, 8, 2012
10/08/12
10:00
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Bring that beat back.

Team(s) of the week: Ohio State and Michigan share top billing this week. The Buckeyes turned in an attention-grabbing 63-38 blowout of Nebraska on national TV and have climbed up to No. 8 in The Associated Press poll. An undefeated season remains a strong possibility. Michigan was also very impressive, going on the road to clobber Purdue 44-13 in a must-have win. Anybody else already looking forward to The Game this year?

Best game: Even though Northwestern led Penn State 28-17 in the fourth quarter, you just knew it wasn't over. In fact, the Nittany Lions were just getting started. They reeled off 22 fourth-quarter points in a game that featured several wild momentum swings and fourth-down plays.

[+] EnlargeAaron Burbridge
Darron Cummings/AP PhotoMichigan State wide receiver Aaron Burbridge makes a reception while being defended by Indiana linebacker Forisse Hardin.
Biggest play: Michigan State probably didn't think it would need a big play in the fourth quarter against Indiana, but it sure did. The Spartans were down 27-17 and faced third-and-10 from their own 29 when Andrew Maxwell hit receiver Aaron Burbridge through double coverage for a 16-yard gain. A punt deep in its own territory would have made it difficult for Michigan State's slow-moving offense to complete the comeback. But that third-down conversion kept alive a drive that resulted in a touchdown en route to a 31-27 victory. Burbridge, a true freshman, gave the Spartans a much-needed shot in the arm with eight catches for 134 yards in his first start.

Best call: No one can accuse Bill O'Brien of playing it safe. Even though Penn State's kicking game is very shaky, most coaches would have settled for the field goal on fourth-and-4 from the other team's 5-yard line when trailing by three points in the fourth quarter. O'Brien is not most coaches. He rolled the dice and went for it, and Matt McGloin scrambled into the end zone for what turned out to be the winning score. Penn State was 5-of-6 on fourth-down conversion attempts against Northwestern.

Second guessing: Indiana was humming along in the first half against Michigan State but got strangely conservative right before halftime. Kevin Wilson gambled and pulled off an onsides kick after going up 24-14 late in the half. But after driving to the Michigan State 6-yard line, the Hoosiers ran three straight running plays and gained only 4 yards. Wilson elected to kick the field goal instead of going for it on fourth down, even though Michigan State was on the ropes and a touchdown might have provided a knockout blow. That's not the reason Indiana lost, because the Spartans pitched a shutout in the second half. But I bet Wilson would at least throw a pass into the end zone if he had to do that over again. Maybe he and O'Brien should compare notes.

Big men on campus (offense): It's all about the quarterbacks. Michigan's Denard Robinson ran for 235 yards (more than Purdue's entire offense generated) and threw for 105 more in the win over the Boilermakers. Ohio State's Braxton Miller ran for 186 yards and threw for 127 more in the pasting of Nebraska. And McGloin threw for 282 yards and accounted for three touchdowns while leading the Nittany Lions' fourth-quarter comeback.

Big man on campus (defense): Ohio State's Bradley Roby had a pair of interceptions against Nebraska and returned the first one 49 yards for a touchdown to open the Buckeyes' scoring onslaught. Props also to Roby's teammate John Simon, who had five tackles for loss versus the Huskers.

Big men on campus (special teams): Northwestern's Venric Mark and Ohio State's Corey Brown each scored on punt returns. Mark went for 75 yards against Penn State, while Brown took his 76 yards to the house.

Worst hangover: Purdue. Yes, Nebraska isn't going to enjoy the next two weeks after getting steamrolled by Ohio State. But the Cornhuskers always knew that was going to be a tough road game they could lose and still win the Big Ten. The Boilermakers were fired up after a solid start to the season, and many around the team believed a breakthrough was coming for Danny Hope's program. Instead, Michigan waltzed into Ross-Ade Stadium, rolled out to a 28-3 first-half lead and put Purdue back in its place. Now there are questions again about whether the Boilers will ever turn the corner under Hope. A win over Wisconsin this week now becomes paramount.

Strangest moment(s): It was a painful day for some of the officials in the Big Ten on Saturday.

In the Northwestern-Penn State game, line judge Michael Mahouski suffered a ruptured quad tendon while avoiding a hit on the sideline and had to be carted off. Another line judge was carted off in the Illinois-Wisconsin game. Forget replacement refs. Big Ten officials might need some replacement hips at this rate.

But those weren't even the weirdest circumstances involving an official on Saturday. In that Illinois-Wisconsin game, Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase tried to high-five back judge Mike Brown after scoring on a short touchdown run. Brown was not having any of it.

"Our deal is to hand the ball to the official," Scheelhaase explained. "But somehow the ball got loose -- I probably, like, threw it a little bit -- and in apology, I tried to give him a high-five. I almost knocked him over. He almost tripped.

“I don’t think they can [high-five players]. One of the refs told me they weren't able to do that.”

At least Mahouski got a handshake from Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald as he left the field on the cart.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 7, 2012
10/07/12
9:00
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It's time to recognize the best and the brightest around the Big Ten in Week 6.


  • Penn State QB Matt McGloin: McGloin misfired on some of his throws early in the game against Northwestern, but he was on point when it mattered. He led a comeback from a 28-17 fourth-quarter deficit and ran for the go-ahead score in a 39-28 Nittany Lions victory. McGloin finished 35-of-51 for 282 yards and two touchdowns, plus that running score. Props also to Allen Robinson, who caught both of McGloin's touchdown throws, and running back Zach Zwinak, who had 121 yards rushing and 52 receiving yards.
  • Michigan State WR Aaron Burbridge: The true freshman got his first career start against Indiana, and it came at just the right time for the Spartans. With star tight end Dion Sims injured, Michigan State needed someone to step forward in the passing game, and Burbridge finished with eight catches for 134 yards. The Spartans' 31-27 victory wouldn't have been possible without him.
  • Michigan QB Denard Robinson: Shoelace doesn't owe anybody any apologies for this one. Coming off maybe his worst game ever against Notre Dame two weeks ago, Robinson looked more like his old self in a 44-13 victory at Purdue. That old self included an emphasis on running, and he finished with 235 rushing yards on 24 carries. He also completed 8 of 16 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown -- and no interceptions! -- as the Wolverines dominated in a must-have win. Robinson became the Big Ten's all-time leader in rushing yards by a quarterback, surpassing Indiana's Antwaan Randle El.
  • Wisconsin's defensive line: The Badgers' front four got several key players back on the field and delivered its best collective performance of the season. Pat Muldoon returned to the lineup after missing three games with a broken thumb and recorded 2.5 tackles for loss, including a sack. Four different defensive linemen recorded sacks, and the group combined for six tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a quarterback hurry in holding Illinois to 14 points and 284 total yards in the 31-14 win.
  • Ohio State QB Braxton Miller: We're afraid Miller is running out of room on his helmet for all these stickers. But slap another one on there after he ran for 186 yards on just 16 carries -- that's 11.6 yards per carry -- and threw for 127 yards in the 63-38 romp over Nebraska. He simply looks unstoppable through six games. Give at least half a sticker to backfield mate Carlos Hyde, who ran for 140 yards and four scores so Miller didn't have to do it all.

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