Chicago Colleges: Stanley Jean-Baptiste

Spring preview capsules: West Division

February, 26, 2014
2/26/14
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Let's look at what to expect this spring in the Big Ten's wild, wild West:

ILLINOIS

Spring start: March 5
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Toughening up on 'D': The Fighting Illini had one of the nation's worst defenses, especially against the run. Tim Beckman brought back defensive coordinator Tim Banks and hopes an extra year of maturity can help strengthen the front seven. Juco import Joe Fotu could win a starting job this spring, and Jihad Ward should help when he arrives in the summer.
  • 'Haase cleaning: Nathan Scheelhaase wrapped up his career by leading the Big Ten in passing yards last season. Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt likely takes over the reins, but backups Reilly O'Toole and Aaron Bailey plan on fighting for the job, as well. Bill Cubit's offense should equal big numbers for whoever wins out.
  • Target practice: Whoever wins the quarterback job needs someone to catch the ball, and Illinois' top two receivers from '13 -- Steve Hull and Miles Osei -- both are gone. Junior college arrival Geronimo Allison will be counted on for some immediate help.
IOWA

Spring start: March 27 or 28
Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • A new big three: The Hawkeyes begin the process of trying to replace their three standout senior linebackers from last season: James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey. They were the heart of the defense in 2013, and now guys such as Quinton Alston, Reggie Spearman and Travis Perry need to make major leaps forward in the spring.
  • Develop more playmakers: Iowa was able to win the games it should have won last year, but struggled against those with strong defenses because of its lack of explosiveness. Sophomore Tevaun Smith and junior Damond Powell showed flashes of their potential late in the year at wideout. They need to continue to develop to give quarterback Jake Rudock and the offense ways to stretch the field.
  • Solidify the right tackle spot: The offensive line should once again be the team's strength, but the departure of veteran right tackle Brett Van Sloten means someone has to take on that role. Whether that's senior Andrew Donnal or redshirt freshman Ryan Ward could be determined this spring.
MINNESOTA

Spring start: March 4
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Mitch's pitches: Philip Nelson's transfer means redshirt sophomore Mitch Leidner enters spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback. He's a load to bring down when he runs, but Leidner needs to improve his passing accuracy after completing 55 percent of his passes in the regular season and only half of his 22 attempts in the Texas Bowl game loss to Syracuse. Added experience should help. If not, he's got some talented youngsters such as Chris Streveler and Dimonic Roden-McKinzy aiming to dethrone him.
  • Mitch's catchers: Of course, part of the problem behind the Gophers' Big Ten-worst passing offense was a lack of threats at receiver. Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones showed promise as true freshmen and should only improve with an offseason of work. It's critical that they do, or else Minnesota might have to count on three receiver signees early.
  • Replacing Ra'Shede: The Gophers only lost four senior starters, but defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman might be the most difficult to replace. The first-team All-Big Ten selection created havoc inside defensively, and there aren't many athletes like him floating around. Scott Ekpe could take many of Hageman's reps, but the defensive line overall will have to pick up the slack.
NEBRASKA

Spring start: March 8
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Tommy's turn: Sophomore Tommy Armstrong Jr. entered the offseason as the clear No. 1 quarterback for the first time after taking over for the injured Taylor Martinez (and splitting some snaps with Ron Kellogg III) last season. Armstrong showed maturity beyond his years in 2013 but needs to continue developing as a passer and deepen his understanding of the offense. Redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton could push him in the spring.
  • Get the OL up to speed: Nebraska loses a lot of experience on the offensive line, including both starting tackles (Jeremiah Sirles and Brent Qvale), plus interior mainstays Spencer Long, Andrew Rodriguez and Cole Pensick. The Huskers do return seniors Mark Pelini, Jake Cotton and Mike Moudy, junior Zach Sterup, plus three freshmen and a junior-college transfer who redshirted last year. A strong group of incoming freshmen may also contribute. Big Red usually figures it out on the O-line, but there will be a lot of players in new roles this season.
  • Reload in the secondary: The Blackshirts have plenty of experience in the front seven, but the defensive backfield has a new coach (Charlton Warren) and will be without top playmakers Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans. The safety spot next to Corey Cooper was a problem area last season, and the Huskers are hoping Charles Jackson takes a major step forward. Warren has talent to work with but must find the right combination.
NORTHWESTERN

Spring start: Feb. 26
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Trevor's time?: Trevor Siemian split reps with Kain Colter at quarterback the past two seasons, serving as sort of the designated passer. Siemian threw for 414 yards in the season finale against Illinois and has a clear path toward starting with Colter gone. That could mean more of a pass-first offense than Northwestern ran with Colter. Redshirt freshman and heralded recruit Matt Alviti also looms as an option.
  • Manning the middle: Northwestern brings back a solid corps on defense but lost middle linebacker Damien Proby, who led the team in tackles the past two seasons. Pat Fitzgerald has some options, including making backups Drew Smith or Jaylen Prater a starter or moving Collin Ellis inside. He can experiment and find the best match this spring.
  • Patch it together: The Wildcats' health woes from 2013 aren't over, as 11 players will be held out of practice for medical reasons, including star running back/returner Venric Mark. Add in that the school doesn't have early enrollees, and the team will be trying to practice severely undermanned this spring. The biggest key is to get through spring without any more major problems and to get the injured guys healthy for the fall.
PURDUE

Spring start: March 6
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Moving forward: Purdue players wore T-shirts emblazoned with the word "Forward" during winter workouts, and no wonder. They don't want to look backward to last year's abysmal 1-11 season. It's time to turn the page and get some positive momentum going in Year 2 under Darrell Hazell. Luckily, optimism abounds in spring.
  • Trench focus: The Boilermakers simply couldn't cut it on the lines in Big Ten play, and Hazell went about trying to sign bigger offensive linemen this offseason for his physical style of play. Both starting tackles and three starting defensive linemen all graduated, and no one should feel safe about his job after last season's performance. Kentucky transfer Langston Newton (defense) and early enrollee Kirk Barron (offense) could push for playing time on the lines.
  • Find an identity: What was Purdue good at last season? Not much, as the team ranked near the bottom of the country in just about every major statistical category. The Boilers found some good things late in the passing game with freshmen Danny Etling and DeAngelo Yancey, but Hazell must do a better job instilling the toughness he wants and locating playmakers.
WISCONSIN

Spring start: March 7
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Catching on: The biggest concern heading into the spring is at receiver after the team's only dependable wideout the past two seasons, Jared Abbrederis, graduated. Tight end Jacob Pedersen, who was second on the team in receiving yards last season, is also gone. The Badgers have struggled to develop new weapons in the passing game but now have no choice. Gary Andersen signed five receivers in the 2014 class but none enrolled early, so guys such as Jeff Duckworth, Kenzel Doe and Robert Wheelwright need to take charge this spring.
  • Stave-ing off the competition?: Joel Stave started all 13 games at quarterback last year, while no one else on the roster has any real experience under center. Yet the redshirt junior should face some competition this spring after the Badgers' passing game struggled down the stretch. Andersen likes more mobile quarterbacks and has three guys in Bart Houston, Tanner McEvoy and freshman early enrollee D.J. Gillins, who can offer that skill. Stave must hold them off to keep his job.
  • New leaders on defense: Wisconsin lost a large group of seniors, including nine major contributors on the defensive side. That includes inside linebacker and team leader Chris Borland, plus defensive linemen Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer, outside linebacker Brendan Kelly and safety Dezmen Southward. That's a whole lot of leadership and production to replace, and the process begins in earnest this spring.

How B1G players fared at the Senior Bowl

January, 27, 2014
1/27/14
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The North team lost 20-10 to the South in the Senior Bowl on Saturday, but it was still a good day for many Big Ten draft hopefuls.

[+] EnlargeJames White
Dan Sanger/Icon SMIJames White was one of a few Wisconsin players who stood out at the Senior Bowl.
Wisconsin seniors in particular grabbed the spotlight in Mobile, Ala. Former Badgers tailback James White led all rushers with 11 carries for 62 yards and had the game's only rushing score, a 1-yard, fourth-quarter plunge that also was his team's lone touchdown. White added five catches for 15 yards, showing the versatility that made him a standout for four years in Madison. After he was long overlooked in college, it's good to see White getting a chance to shine on his way toward the NFL.

White's teammate, former Badgers tight end Jacob Pedersen, led the North squad with 46 receiving yards on four catches. Meanwhile, ex-Wisconsin star Chris Borland wrapped up a terrific week of practice with a team-best eight tackles, including a tackle for a loss and his signature play: the forced fumble.

Borland was named the most outstanding linebacker at the Senior Bowl on Friday. He appeared to answer any lingering concerns about his height and should be drafted within the first two or three rounds in April.

One Wisconsin star didn't play in the game, as receiver Jared Abbrederis tweaked a hamstring late in the week and flew home to recover. That opened a spot for Michigan State's Bennie Fowler, who contributed two catches for 19 yards on Saturday.

Iowa's Christian Kirksey finished second on the North team with six tackles, including 1.5 for loss. He received positive reviews for his play all week. His former Hawkeyes teammate, tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, did not record a catch but was credited with two tackles. Fiedorowicz was named the most outstanding tight end at the Senior Bowl on Friday, and his impressive physical attributes should make him attractive to teams on draft day.

Other Big Ten players who collected stats included:

  • Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste finished with four tackles and a pass breakup.
  • Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown had four tackles.
  • Wisconsin defensive back Dez Southward made two tackles.
  • Penn State's DaQuan Jones and Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman each collected just one stop but drew praise for their work in stuffing the run.
  • Michigan State safety Isaiah Lewis, another late addition to the team, registered one pass breakup.

The North team also featured Big Ten offensive line products Jack Mewhort (Ohio State) and Michael Schofield (Michigan).

ESPN.com's 2013 All-Big Ten team

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
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The Big Ten released its all-conference teams as selected by coaches and the media earlier this month. We didn't have a vote for the media teams, and we don't pretend to know as much about football as the league's coaches.

But we can also say with confidence that we watched more Big Ten football here at the blog than anyone else. So here are our picks for the 2013 ESPN.com All-Big Ten team:

Offense

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller is one of six Buckeyes on ESPN.com's All-Big Ten team.
QB: Braxton Miller, Ohio State
RB: Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
RB: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
WR: Allen Robinson, Penn State
WR: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
TE: Devin Funchess, Michigan
OL: Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
OL: Brandon Scherff, Iowa
OL: Taylor Lewan, Michigan
OL: Corey Linsley, Ohio State
OL: Ryan Groy, Wisconsin

Defense

DE: Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
DT: Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
DE: Randy Gregory, Nebraska
LB: Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
LB: Chris Borland, Wisconsin
LB: Max Bullough, Michigan State
LB: James Morris, Iowa
DB: Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
DB: Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State
DB: Bradley Roby, Ohio State
DB: Brock Vereen, Minnesota

Specialists

K: Jeff Budzien, Northwestern
P: Mike Sadler, Michigan State
KR: Kenny Bell, Nebraska
PR: Kevonte Martin-Manley, Iowa

OK, so we cheated just a bit on positions, going with three tackles on our offensive line and a 3-4 defense. But considering the coaches had six defensive backs and two punters on their first team, we don't feel too bad about it. ... We wanted to include Scherff, Lewan and Mewhort on the first team, because we thought they were the three best linemen in the league. If we had to field an actual team with these guys, we're sure we could figure it out. It was a tough call between Groy and Penn State's John Urschel, whom we love for his on- and off-the-field accomplishments. We just felt Wisconsin had the better overall season as an offensive line, so we went with Groy. ... We went with the 3-4 because linebacker was such a deep position in this league -- so deep that we had to leave off some deserving players, like Michigan State's Denicos Allen -- while defensive line wasn't nearly as strong. ... The defensive backfield was a tough call (no wonder the coaches had an, ahem, pick six there). Dennard was a lock, and we felt that Drummond was the league's best safety in a year when that position was a bit weak conference-wide. We like what Vereen did in providing versatility and leadership for the Gophers, and Roby overcame a slow start to do his usual fine work. We had to leave off very good cornerbacks like Michigan's Blake Countess, Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Iowa's B.J. Lowery -- but that's what a second team is for. Stay tuned. ... Ohio State leads the way with six selections, followed by Michigan State with five. It's almost as if those were the two best teams in the league or something.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 11

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
9:15
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Storylines to watch this week in the Big Ten:

1. Legends eliminator: Michigan State has the lead and its feet up on the couch during its bye week. It can simply relax and watch as Michigan and Nebraska fight to stay alive in the division race, with the loser effectively out of the picture after just two weeks in November. The Wolverines, in particular, are barely hanging on and would need a lot of help after dropping the head-to-head tiebreaker to the Spartans. Meanwhile, after nearly having their chances extinguished a week ago, but surviving with a Hail Mary, the Huskers have a chance to make the most of their good fortune. Consecutive games against Michigan and Michigan State -- with a couple of wins -- could surprisingly put them in first place.

[+] EnlargeJoel Stave
Mike McGinnis/Getty ImagesJoel Stave and the Badgers look to keep their BCS at-large hopes alive on Saturday.
2. Resume building: The Badgers can’t get the help they need in the Leaders Division with Ohio State on a bye week, and they can’t make a move within the conference anyway as they step outside the Big Ten for a late-season date with BYU. Gary Andersen just can’t seem to escape the Cougars after four encounters with them at Utah State and 11 more as an assistant at Utah, and he could use a win over his old foe as the Wisconsin coach tries to keep his program in the running for a potential BCS at-large bid. A win over the Cougars won’t do anything to change their fate in the league, but it could provide a boost nationally for the perception of the Badgers.

3. Digging into the mix: The Gophers need some help if they’re going to win the division, but the way they’ve handled their own business to even stay in the picture in the middle of November is impressive enough no matter what happens. Given all the potential distractions that could have come with coach Jerry Kill’s health or playing multiple quarterbacks, the work Minnesota has done to get to 3-2 in the league and within striking distance if things break its way is one of the better stories of the season. It also won’t be over if it can take care of Penn State at home.

4. B.B. firing: There is no uncertainty in the Penn State backfield now, and it’s safe to assume that any chance of a road win over the Gophers will involve a heavy dosage of Bill Belton. The Nittany Lions junior is coming off a career-best 201-yard performance in a win over Illinois that made it quite clear that he’s the best option for Bill O’Brien’s rushing attack. And while Minnesota hasn’t been a slouch on defense during its surprising run, it has allowed more than 142 yards per game on the ground, which Belton would be more than willing to exploit.

5. Postseason plans: With Penn State again ineligible for a bowl bid due to its NCAA sanctions, only Iowa can clinch a postseason appearance with a win this weekend. And if the Hawkeyes can’t get it done against Purdue, they probably don’t deserve to go anywhere but home for the holidays. The Boilermakers have been shut out for two straight games, and Iowa has appeared more than capable of extending that scoring drought with its solid defense against Ohio State and Wisconsin in recent weeks, even in losing efforts. Struggling Purdue could put an end to that losing skid and ensure the Hawkeyes get an extra game this season.

6. Worst nightmare for a scoreboard operator: The two worst defenses in the Big Ten are set to do battle on Saturday, and the first unit to get a stop as Illinois visits Indiana might just get a win. The Hoosiers have been far and away the least productive defensive team in the league this season in allowing more than 500 yards per game, almost 50 more than the Illini. Indiana does balance that out with an offense that is putting up 40 points per game, which ranks second only to Ohio State’s ruthless scoring machine in the Big Ten. But points figure to be easy to come by this weekend, so forcing a turnover or two could decide the outcome.

7. Purdue is searching for the red zone: Forget about scoring points. The first thing the Boilermakers need to do is just move the football inside the 20-yard line. The Boilermakers have made a total of only 16 trips into the red zone all season, an average of just two visits per game and obviously a major factor for an offense putting up just 11.5 points every week. That’s still just half the battle, though, and three missed field goals and three interceptions have ended scoring threats for the Boilermakers even when they do put together a deep drive into opposing territory.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
AP Photo/Nati HarnikAmeer Abdullah is locked in a duel with Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon for the B1G rushing crown.
8. Rushing title up for grabs: There’s enough distance now to officially call it a two-man race for the season rushing title, and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon are once again going to see plenty of the football with lots at stake for both teams this weekend. Abdullah holds the lead by just 34 yards, though Gordon has a decisive edge in yards per carry thanks to his 33 fewer attempts. Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde is in the discussion with those two tailbacks for All-Big Ten honors, but his three-game suspension early in the season leaves him lagging behind the leaders for the rushing crown.

9. Dueling defensive backs: The co-leaders atop the Big Ten in interceptions obviously won’t be on the field at the same time, but if either Michigan’s Blake Countess or Nebraska’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste are able to pull ahead with a pick on Saturday, it could be critical in determining which team keeps its division hopes alive for another week. There’s obviously a chance they could both add to their total of four interceptions since the Wolverines and Huskers have combined to throw 21 of them already this season, but turnovers figure to be decisive and those guys have proven they can force them.

10. Ohio State looks for help: Even without a game, the Buckeyes could still be a big winner on the off date as they cheer for a few upsets to boost their national title case. In order, Ohio State will be tuned in looking for Oklahoma to knock off Baylor, Stanford to beat Oregon or Alabama to lose to LSU as it continues to wait for some assistance to climb higher than No. 4 in the BCS standings. Within the Big Ten, and with Michigan State off, the Buckeyes figure to be most interested in Wisconsin extending its winning streak to continue making their win in September look better.

Big Ten lunchtime links

October, 23, 2013
10/23/13
11:00
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World Series. Game 1. Wainwright. Fenway. So excited. Full sentences ... difficult. Links:

Fitzgerald's targeting plan worth exploring

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
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The Big Ten was largely immune to the new NCAA targeting rules until two weeks ago. Then Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste was ejected for a hit on Purdue's Dalyn Dawkins in Week 7. Last Saturday, Ohio State's Bradley Roby was tossed for a first-quarter tackle attempt on Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz.

Predictably, neither Nebraska nor Ohio State enjoyed seeing one of its star defenders forcibly removed from the game. Both Bo Pelini and Urban Meyer publicly questioned the calls made against their players, with Meyer saying the targeting rule needs a second look.

The new rule is designed to protect players' safety, which everyone can get behind. But the implementation of the rule has proven controversial and unpopular. That's why it's time to give Pat Fitzgerald's proposed solution some serious consideration.

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsNorthwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has a solid idea on the NCAA targeting rule that borrows from soccer.
The Northwestern coach said it in the summer and reiterated his idea on the Big Ten coaches' teleconference Tuesday when asked about targeting. He thinks the NCAA should borrow a page from soccer and hand out yellow and red cards. A yellow card would be issued for a first offense and serve as a warning, while a red card would mean an ejection.

Fitzgerald says that he hasn't seen any intent to harm in the plays called for targeting fouls and that most of them are "momentary mistakes," often made in open-field tackling situations where a player -- often a defensive back -- is just fighting to make a stop.

Now go back and review the Jean-Baptiste and Roby hits. I thought the call on Jean-Baptiste was more questionable under the rules as written than Roby's, but you could make a case both ways on each hit after watching slow-motion replays from every angle. However, in neither case does there appear to be malicious intent to hurt the ball carrier. In Roby's case, he's a 5-foot-11 cornerback going after a 6-7 tight end.

Wouldn't a yellow card/warning have been sufficient for both Jean-Baptiste and Roby? That would make them think twice about hitting opponents high and reinforce the need for better form tackling. Red cards, meanwhile, could be issued for truly violent and dangerous plays like this one. You'd still be putting the judgment in the officials' hands, but at least they'd have more than one punishment to work with instead of treating every hard collision like a crime. Right now, it seems, officials are erring on the side of player safety whenever a hit is in doubt.

A player who was issued a yellow card would likely become more tentative in the rest of the game, worrying about being thrown out for another foul. But that's a smaller price to pay than having to sit out an entire game (or two halves). The nightmare scenario is for a star player to get ejected on a questionable call in an important game down the stretch this season. Imagine if, for example, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard was kicked out of the Big Ten title game for a borderline hit against Ohio State with a Rose Bowl bid on the line. Can you picture the uproar from Mark Dantonio and the entire Spartans fan base?

Normally my eyes glaze over and I look for excuses to leave the room whenever I hear anyone talk about soccer. But this is one idea from that sport that football should think seriously about adopting. It's not a perfect system, but it's better than the one we have now.

Big Ten weekend rewind: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
11:00
AM CT
Old-school and new-school Big Ten football were on display in Week 8.

The two early Saturday games epitomized traditional Big Ten-style football, as Michigan State slogged through a 14-0 win over Purdue while Minnesota and Northwestern played a 7-7 first half before the Gophers eventually won 20-17. But just when the "Big Ten is boring" rants threatened to take over Twitter, Michigan 63, Indiana 47 happened.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Gallon
AP Photo/Lon HorwedelJeremy Gallon will be one of the keys to Michigan finding the end zone against Michigan State on Nov. 2.
Some of the crazier numbers from that game:

  • Michigan receiver Jeremy Gallon's record-setting 369 yards receiving were more than the leading receivers for Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Purdue currently have for the entire season.
  • Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner put up a school-record 584 yards, the highest total by an FBS player this year (yes, including Johnny Football). Gardner came up 1 yard short of the Big Ten single-game record for total offense, set by Illinois' Dave Wilson in 1980. Gardner has had his problems this year, but he leads the Big Ten in total offense by a mile, and at his current pace (including a bowl game), he would finish with 4,271 total yards. Former teammate Denard Robinson set the Big Ten single-season record in 2010 with 4,272.
  • The Wolverines' 751 total yards were the second-most in Big Ten history, trailing only the 763 Purdue put up against Indiana in 2004. The 751 yards were also the sixth-highest total by an FBS team this year, with the top five spots all belonging to Baylor and Oregon. Michigan and Indiana combined for the third-highest point total (110) ever for a Big Ten conference game. Michigan's 67-65 win over Illinois in 2010 still ranks No. 1.

Is this the wave of the future in the league? On Saturday night, Wisconsin and Illinois combined for 88 points. Scoring remains up in the conference this season, as eight of the 12 teams are averaging at least 30 points, compared to just four teams that did so in 2012. Even teams that we don't think of as offensive juggernauts like Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan State are all scoring at least 28 points per game. The Big Ten -- yes, the Big Ten -- has five teams ranked in the top 18 of the FBS in scoring this year, led by Ohio State at 45 points per game.

Those numbers will surely go down as we get into the heart of conference play and the weather turns colder in November. But don't be surprised if new-school Big Ten football soon becomes the norm.

Take that and rewind it back ...

Team of the week: Minnesota. The Gophers were the lone team to score an upset in Week 8, beating Northwestern on the road. They did it with coach Jerry Kill making a surprise appearance. "That gave us the little edge we needed,” quarterback Philip Nelson said. Minnesota has been through a lot already this season and has some major flaws. But the team is 5-2, and a second straight bowl appearance is just one win away.

Worst hangover: Northwestern enjoyed all kinds of glowing coverage in the lead-up to the Ohio State game and showed the country what kind of team it was that night in a close loss. Or so we thought. Injuries to Kain Colter and Venric Mark have been a killer, and losing at home to Minnesota after getting blown out at Wisconsin left the Wildcats at 0-3 in the league. A bowl is no sure thing, which would have been a crazy thing to say a little more than two weeks ago. "I see a team that’s not executing very well right now," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "We have to look at that." And fast.

Big Man on Campus (offense): Michigan's Gallon and Gardner share the honor. But should we put an asterisk next to any records set against Indiana's defense?

Big Man on Campus (defense): Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman knocked down three Northwestern passes and intercepted a fourth in the Gophers' big road upset.

Big Man on Campus (special teams): After missing one in the first half, Minnesota's Chris Hawthorne drilled two field goals in the fourth quarter, and the last one from 38 yards out ended up as the game winner.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Hyde
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsCarlos Hyde's fourth-quarter TD run against Iowa displayed what makes Hyde such a talented running back.
Best play: Carlos Hyde's fourth-quarter, 19-yard touchdown against Iowa was just ridiculous. He looked to be stopped just inside the 10-yard line, went backward after breaking a tackle and then dived into the end zone. It was incredibly nimble for a guy his size, and it also gave the Buckeyes the lead for good. "I've never had a run like that," Hyde said. We haven't seen too many like it, either.

Stay on target: Ohio State's Bradley Roby became the second Big Ten player this season to be ejected under the new targeting rules after his first-quarter hit on Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz. The Buckeyes didn't like the call, but it looked like a textbook example of the kind of hit the rule is designed to prevent since Roby made helmet-to-helmet contact. Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste was ejected two weeks ago against Purdue. The Huskers didn't agree with that one, either. For what it's worth, the 6-foot-3 Jean-Baptiste had to duck down to tackle 5-9 Purdue running back Dalyn Dawkins. Roby, at 5-11, is eight inches shorter than Fiedorowicz.

Fun with numbers (via ESPN Stats & Info):

  • A reminder that the Big Ten needs better quarterback play: The league does not have a player in the top 25 of ESPN's opponent-adjusted QBR rating. Ohio State's Braxton Miller leads the conference and is 29th nationally with a rating of 74.6. The SEC has five QBs in the top 20, while the Pac-12 has four.
  • One thing the Big Ten can do is stop the run. Four league teams rank in the top 10 nationally in rushing yards allowed per game, topped by Michigan State at No. 1 with 58.6 yards per game. Wisconsin is No. 4, Ohio State is No. 7 and Michigan is No. 10. In addition, Iowa is No. 16.
  • Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon became one of two players to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards for the season in Week 8. He is one spot behind FBS rushing leader Antonio Andrews from Western Kentucky, but Andrews has only 24 more yards on 45 more carries than Gordon. The Badgers star is also tied for third nationally in rushing touchdowns (11) and trails only Oregon's Marcus Mariota in yards per carry (9.46) among qualified ball carriers. Gordon has yet to fumble this year, either.
  • Ohio State's Hyde and Minnesota's Rodrick Williams Jr. are hard to bring down behind the line of scrimmage. Each has only four rushes for zero or negative yards this season, tied for sixth-lowest in the FBS among qualified rushers.
  • Nebraska has allowed just three sacks all season, tied with Fresno State for the fewest in the FBS. Northwestern has given up 22 sacks, most in the Big Ten and more than all but six teams in the country.
  • Ohio State has gone three-and-out only 11 times all season; only Baylor has fewer, with nine. By contrast, Purdue has gone three-and-out 32 times this year.

ESPN.com's midseason All-Big Ten team

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
1:30
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We've reflected on the first half of the Big Ten season, evaluated each team and looked ahead to what promises to be a more exciting second half.

As we put a bow on the first half, we're selecting a midseason All-Big Ten team. This list certainly isn't as significant as the postseason squad, but these players merit recognition for their performances during the first seven weeks of the season.

The envelope, please ...

OFFENSE

QB: Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois
RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
RB: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
WR: Allen Robinson, Penn State
WR: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
TE: Ted Bolser, Indiana
C: Corey Linsley, Ohio State
OL: Spencer Long, Nebraska
OL: Brandon Scherff, Iowa
OL:
Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin
OL:
Jack Mewhort, Ohio State

DEFENSE

DE: Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
DT: DaQuan Jones, Penn State
DE: Tyler Scott, Northwestern
LB: Chris Borland, Wisconsin
LB: Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
LB: Max Bullough, Michigan State
LB: James Morris, Iowa
DB: Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
DB: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
DB: Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern
DB: Blake Countess, Michigan


SPECIALISTS

K: Jeff Budzien, Northwestern
P: Mike Sadler, Michigan State
KR: Marcus Jones, Minnesota
PR: Kevonte Martin-Manley

We'll start with the quarterback spot, which has been underwhelming around most of the league, partly because of injury. It was a close call between Scheelhaase and Penn State true freshman Christian Hackenberg, but Scheelhaase gets a slight edge with more touchdown passes and fewer interceptions. We had another tough decision at the No. 2 running back spot between Abdullah and Iowa's Mark Weisman, who has been very productive so far. Ultimately, Abdullah has made more out of his carries and got the nod.

The Big Ten's depth at linebacker prompted us to go with a 3-4 defensive alignment for the midseason team. We had some debate for the lone defensive tackle spot between Jones, Ohio State's Michael Bennett and Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman, but went with Jones, the league's leader in tackles for loss (8.5). Linebacker is so deep that it was tough limiting the list to only four. We ultimately went with Morris over Illinois' Jonathan Brown because Morris has made more game-changing plays. Cornerback has been a deeper position than safety through the first half, so we went with three corners and only one safety.

Kick returner was another close call between Minnesota's Jones and Illinois' V'Angelo Bentley.

Big Ten awards race tracker: Week 7

October, 9, 2013
10/09/13
1:00
PM CT
Conference play is in full swing, so it's time once again to gauge where players stand in the individual Big Ten awards races. Remember, there's still plenty of time left, and these will fluctuate quite a bit until we get deep into the season:

Graham–George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (LW: 2): Gordon was off last week but moves back into the top spot after Mark Weisman was shut down by Michigan State. Gordon still leads the Big Ten in rushing but will have to prove he's healthy against Northwestern this week.

2. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (LW: Not ranked): Abdullah makes a big jump after his huge game against Illinois. He's second in the league in rushing behind Gordon and leads the Big Ten in all-purpose yards.

[+] EnlargeAllen Robinson
AP Photo/Doug McSchoolerPenn State receiver Allen Robinson caught a career-best 12 passes against Indiana.
3. Penn State WR Allen Robinson (LW: NR): The Nittany Lions lost to Indiana last week, but Robinson was spectacular in grabbing a career-best 12 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns. He's on pace to gain close to 1,500 yards receiving.

4. Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis (LW: 5): Abbrederis was also off last week but is right there with Robinson in the race for the league's Richter–Howard Receiver of the Year award.

5. Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld (LW: NR): Sudfeld helms the league's best passing attack and tops the Big Ten with 1,467 passing yards, to go along with 13 touchdowns. That puts him on pace for a 3,500-yard season.

Dropped out: Iowa RB Mark Weisman, Ohio State QB Braxton Miller, Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase

Waiting room: Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde

Nagurski–Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Wisconsin LB Chris Borland (LW: 1): He was off last week, but Borland still holds the belt for how he played the first five weeks. He's got a big challenge this week with Northwestern's versatile offense.

2. Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier (LW: 2): Although the Buckeyes were shaky defensively at Northwestern last week, Shazier came up with another 10 tackles and was right there on the punt block that Bradley Roby grabbed for a touchdown. He leads the Big Ten with eight tackles for loss.

3. Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard (LW: NR): Dennard showed what he could do when he's not being called for ticky-tack pass interference penalties, grabbing two interceptions against Iowa. He's our representative this week from the the ridiculous Spartan Dawgs, who lead the nation in total defense, rushing defense and pass efficiency defense.

4. Nebraska CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste (LW: NR): It's hard to imagine any Cornhuskers player winning defensive player of the year honors because of the perception/performance of that overall unit. But Jean-Baptiste is having quite the year. He -- along with Michigan's Blake Countess -- is tied for the national lead in interceptions (four). He's also second in the Big Ten in passes defended (10).

5. Northwestern DE Tyler Scott (LW: NR): Though Northwestern lost the game, it didn't surrender an offensive touchdown in the first half to Ohio State. Scott forced and recovered a fumble, and he leads the Big Ten in sacks with four.

Dropped out: Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun, Penn State DT DaQuan Jones, Iowa LB James Morris

Bakken–Andersen Kicker of the Year

1. Northwestern's Jeff Budzien: Last year's co-winner of this award, Budzien is 9-for-11 on field goals this year and nailed all three of his attempts versus Ohio State. He's perfect inside 40 yards in 2013.

2, Penn State's Sam Ficken: He continues to author a tremendous comeback story. Ficken is 8-of-10 this year, which includes a 54-yarder. One of his two misses was a Hail Mary attempt from 57 yards. He has become a reliable weapon for Bill O'Brien.

Waiting room: Iowa's Mike Meyer, Michigan's Brendan Gibbons, Michigan State's Michael Geiger

Big Ten weekend rewind: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
11:00
AM CT
There's a trick to calling trick plays.

It's not just the design of the foolery or how it's executed. It's when you call them. And of course, they're brilliant when they work and head-scratchers when they blow up.

Take a pair of fake punts on Saturday as an example. In Iowa City, Michigan State called for one from its own 37-yard line in the fourth quarter while leading Iowa 20-14. Mark Dantonio named the play "Hey Diddle Diddle" because punter Mike Sadler would run up the middle. Sadler actually veered right, but he gained 25 yards and set up a key field goal.

“We just sort of felt, if the moment was right, we’d do it,” Dantonio told reporters after the game. “I just wanted to make sure our players know, they’re at risk on the football field."

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastUrban Meyer's call for a fake punt didn't work this time.
Urban Meyer has always been a risk-taker, and most of his decisions in the past year and a half have paid off for Ohio State. But one backfired at Northwestern on Saturday and could have proved costly.

Meyer put the fake punt on from his own 32 in the second quarter, but punter Cameron Johnston came up well short of the sticks. Northwestern used the field position to kick a field goal and go up 20-13. The Buckeyes coach later said calling for the fake at that time was an error, but that won't change his mindset.

“That's who we are," he said. "We're going to run a fake punt again. I tell our players all the time: We're an aggressive team, we do what we've got to do to win games."

Sometimes you live by the trick play, sometimes you die by it. Dantonio has a history of using comically named gadget plays, but his halfback pass idea at Notre Dame earlier this year proved disastrous as it was picked off, costing the Spartans momentum in a close game. Nebraska botched a fake punt against UCLA when it tried to have a 300-pound defensive lineman rumble for a first down. Wisconsin executed a brilliant fake punt at Arizona State in Week 3 when linebacker Chris Borland passed for a first down.

When pulled off, trick plays can give a team a huge boost. When they fail, they can leave a coach with egg on his face. The trick is knowing when and where to call them.

Take that and rewind it back ...

Team of the week: With nods to Michigan State (which pulled out a big road win at Iowa) and Indiana (which snapped a 16-game losing streak versus Penn State) this honor belongs to Ohio State for a second consecutive week. Going to Northwestern was the Buckeyes' biggest challenge of the season, and they found themselves trailing for the first time since the second quarter of last year's season finale versus Michigan. They used their powerful offensive line to battle back and got a few key stops on defense in the fourth quarter for their 18th consecutive victory. Ohio State is halfway to an undefeated regular season with a highly advantageous schedule remaining.

Worst hangover: No matter how its season was going, Penn State could always count on one thing: beating Indiana. The Nittany Lions had never lost to the Hoosiers in 16 tries. So when the Hoosiers not only ended the streak but put an exclamation point on it by taking a 42-17 fourth-quarter lead and winning by 20, that raised a giant red flag over Penn State's season. This week's sold-out, white-out home game against Michigan looked like a great way for Lions fans to celebrate the reduction of their NCAA sanctions. Now, it could be a deflating reminder of the cost of those sanctions.

Big Man on Campus (offense): Heading into the Northwestern game, Meyer said of Carlos Hyde, "We're going to ride that horse." And boy did the Buckeyes ever climb aboard their workhorse tailback. Hyde ran for 168 yards and three touchdowns, the last one coming when he had the presence of mind to reach the ball across the plane on third down while falling backwards to save Ohio State's winning streak. Hyde ran like a guy who knew football was almost taken away from him after his poor decision this summer, and he became emotional when talking about it afterward.

Big Man on Campus (defense): In our Friday Q&A, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard expressed his frustration with not having an interception through the first five weeks while saying he was very close. Dennard then went out and picked off two passes at Iowa, one in the first quarter and one in the fourth. The Hawkeyes were forced to try to beat Dennard through the air because they couldn't run the ball (see below).

Big Man on Campus (special teams): Michigan State freshman kicker Michael Geiger missed his first field goal attempt against Iowa from 36 yards. That had to bring back bad memories for Spartans fans, because key missed field goals were an overlooked factor in last year's 6-6 regular season. But Geiger then made his next four tries, from 27, 35, 49 and 40 yards. Given the state of Michigan State's offense, it probably needs a reliable kicker more than most teams. That's why Geiger was an important recruit, and why Spartans fans should be happy that the Geiger counter is dialed in right now.

Best play: Kenny Bell's one-handed catch on his way to a 37-yard touchdown put Illinois away for good and gave Bell a secure spot on Nebraska's season highlight film. Teammate Ameer Abdullah's 43-yard touchdown run off an option pitch might have been the day's second-best play.

A spot of bother: Did Kain Colter and Northwestern get victimized by a bad spot on the quarterback's fourth-and-1 rushing attempt late in the game? Possibly. But when you mess up the center exchange and then fall into a pile of bodies, it's hard to get the benefit of the doubt, and replays were not conclusive.

The bigger question might be whether the Wildcats got a little too conservative on that drive as they trailed 34-30. Just about all night, they had torn through Ohio State's pass defense, including a 67-yard completion to Rashad Lawrence on the previous possession that set up a touchdown. Pat Fitzgerald likely wanted to burn some clock and put his team in position to win the game with a touchdown and not have his defense go back on the field. Still, after opening the drive with a 9-yard completion, the Wildcats ran the ball on their next five plays. The final four runs gained only 8 yards, and Colter came up an inch short of the first down at the Buckeyes' 34.

Fun with numbers (via ESPN Stats & Info)

  • Michigan State now leads the country in rushing defense, allowing just 50.4 yards per game. The Spartans held Iowa, which came to Saturday's game averaging 244 yards per game on the ground, to just 23 rushing yards. Since the start of 2011, Michigan State has held 20 opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing, including all five games in 2013.
  • One reason for Ohio State's success has been its field position advantage, thanks to a strong punting game. The Buckeyes' opponents have started their possessions after a punt, on average, at the 18-yard line. That's second-best in the nation behind Houston.
  • Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Michigan's Blake Countess are tied for the national lead with four interceptions each. Countess' 149 interception return yards are most in the FBS, and Jean-Baptiste's 134 ranks third.
  • Indiana's strong passing attack isn't just a dink-and-dunk routine. The Hoosiers are averaging 14.66 yards per pass completion, best in the Big Ten and No. 14 in the FBS. Of those completions, 61.9 percent of them have gone for at least 10 yards.
  • Bill O'Brien has hardly kept the reins on true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. He is attempting 36.4 passes a game, most in the Big Ten and No. 17 nationally. Hackenberg attempted 55 passes Saturday against Indiana.
  • Who has played the toughest schedule so far? According to one stat, it's Indiana. The Hoosiers' FBS opponents' winning percentage is 85.4 percent, second highest in the nation behind Washington. The weakest schedule, using that measurement, is Michigan State, whose FBS opponents' winning percentage is just 41.3 percent.
  • Michigan has scored either a touchdown or a field goal on 81.3 percent of its drives inside the opponent's 40-yard line, tops in the league and No. 7 nationally. The Wolverines are also No. 3 in the FBS in red zone touchdown efficiency, reaching the end zone 81.8 percent of the time they break the opponent's 20-yard line.

Big Ten predictions: Week 6

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
9:00
AM CT
Adam has a one-game lead in the standings, and we've got five interesting league contests to forecast this week.

Without further ado, the crystal ball says …

PENN STATE at INDIANA

Brian Bennett: Indiana is 0-16 against Penn State, so you'd have to ignore all historic precedent to pick the Hoosiers. I see IU doing some damage on Penn State's pass defense just as UCF and Blake Bortles did. But the Hoosiers' defense won't have any answers for Christian Hackenberg and Zach Zwinak, the latter of whom scores three times. … Penn State 42, Indiana 34

Adam Rittenberg: The Lions defense isn't as bad as it performed against UCF and not as good as it performed against Kent State. But an average Penn State defense, combined with Hackenberg and a stable of running backs, will be too much for Indiana to overcome. Hackenberg twice connects with Allen Robinson for touchdowns, and Indiana's quarterback situation becomes cloudier. … Penn State 38, Indiana 27

ILLINOIS at NEBRASKA

Adam Rittenberg: Illinois' big-play offense isn't a welcome sight for Nebraska's beleaguered defense, which has been gashed by pretty much everyone so far this season. But Bo Pelini's teams typically perform well after open weeks, and at some point, the defense will start to tighten up. Illinois' Josh Ferguson gives his team an early lead, but Nebraska rallies in the second half behind running backs Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross, as well as wideout Kenny Bell, who hauls in two touchdown passes. … Nebraska 38, Illinois 31

Brian Bennett: The Illini have a chance here, especially if Taylor Martinez doesn't play or is severely limited. Nathan Scheelhaase will burn the Huskers for three touchdown passes. But Nebraska's running game, led by a 150-yard day from Abdullah, will prove the difference, and Stanley Jean-Baptiste picks off Scheelhaase late to thwart a potential rally. … Nebraska 38, Illinois 28

MICHIGAN STATE at IOWA

Brian Bennett: I've picked against the Hawkeyes three times already and have been wrong twice. (It's nothing personal, Iowa fans, I swear). I really should learn from my mistakes. But I think Michigan State's defense can slow down Mark Weisman and generally make life miserable for Jake Rudock on Saturday. I have little confidence in the Spartans' offense, but a bye week should have given Dave Warner and Jim Bollman a chance to come up with a couple of plays that work. That may be all it takes in a game like this, which is decided on field goals. … Michigan State 13, Iowa 10.

Adam Rittenberg: Tsk, tsk, Brian. Haven't you learned never to doubt Herky in an under-the-radar year? Iowa has the momentum right now, and the Hawkeyes will wear down the Spartans in the second half with Weisman (2 TDs) and Damon Bullock. Michigan State's defense keeps it close as always, but the offensive issues continue as Iowa linebacker James Morris seals the win with his third interception of the season. … Iowa 20, Michigan State 17

MINNESOTA at MICHIGAN

Adam Rittenberg: The open week came at a perfect time for Michigan to clean up its act. Quarterback Devin Gardner limits his risks and makes smarter decisions in this one, firing two second-half touchdown passes to Jeremy Gallon. Michigan rides running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (130 rush yards, 2 TDs) and contains a Minnesota offense that simply doesn't look ready for Big Ten play. Michigan once again teaches Minnesota how to juggy. … Michigan 31, Minnesota 13

Brian Bennett: The Wolverines have issues, but I don't think they are as big as the problems Minnesota has, which include an MIA passing game. Surely two weeks of studying film have made Gardner more cautious with the ball. Michigan just has more weapons, especially at home where they never lose under Brady Hoke. It's not always pretty, but Gardner accounts for four touchdowns behind a revamped offensive line. … Michigan 28, Minnesota 14

OHIO STATE at NORTHWESTERN

Brian Bennett: Northwestern should be able to make some plays on Ohio State's defense, especially with Venric Mark back and some questions in the Buckeyes' secondary. But I think the Wildcats will need turnovers to have a strong chance to win. They'll get two, but it won't be enough as Braxton Miller has his best game of the year, running for 120 yards and passing for 250. Ohio State starts fast again and holds on. … Ohio State 36, Northwestern 27

Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern hasn't handled spotlight games well in the past, although the team seemed to turn a corner last year in ridding itself of its bowl bugaboo. Is Northwestern's Buckeye bugaboo next? I expect the Wildcats' offense to perform well and open up the playbook, especially with Mark back in the fold. Mark twice reaches the end zone and Trevor Siemian attacks a vulnerable Ohio State secondary playing without Christian Bryant. But Ohio State's big-play ability will be a little too much to overcome, as Miller leads a memorable game-winning drive in the final minutes. … Ohio State 34, Northwestern 31

Now it's time for our guest picker. As a reminder, throughout the season we'll choose one fan/loyal blog reader each week to try his or her hand at outsmarting us. There's nothing but pride and some extremely limited fame at stake. If you're interested in participating, contact us here and here. Include your full name (real names, please) and hometown and a brief description why you should be that week's guest picker. Please also include "GUEST PICKS" in all caps somewhere in your email so we can find it easily.

This week's guest prognosticator is Brandon Poturica, who's stationed at Morón Air Base in Spain. Take it away, Brandon:
"Adam & Brian: Why you should choose me is simple. I met Urban Meyer in Kuwait during a USO tour in the summer of 2011, only months away from when he took the OSU job. I'm from his hometown of Ashtabula, Ohio, and have been stationed overseas since he took the job (Japan and Spain). The Buckeyes have been undefeated since the last time I stepped on American soil, and I'm a superstitious man, so if that means I don't return home and they keep winning, then I'll just have to cheer from afar. Go Bucks and God Bless the USA."

How could we say no to that? Thanks for your service, Brandon, and save us some sangria and tapas. Here are Brandon's picks:
Penn State 38, Indiana 17
Illinois 28, Nebraska 21
Iowa 17, Michigan State 14
Michigan 38, Minnesota 10
Ohio State 56, Northwestern 35

SEASON RECORDS

Adam Rittenberg: 44-6
Brian Bennett: 43-7
Guest pickers: 40-10

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 2

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
2:36
PM CT
The top half of the Power Rankings remains exactly the same, but some interesting story lines are starting to develop.

Is Ohio State or Michigan the Big Ten's best team? Michigan made its case Saturday night against Notre Dame, while Ohio State's bigger tests await in Weeks 5 and 6 (Wisconsin and Northwestern). For now, we're keeping the Buckeyes at No. 1, but we'll need to see a strong performance this week on the road against Cal's high-powered offense.

Northwestern and Wisconsin held steady, and both Nebraska and Penn State looked better in Week 2. Illinois is the big mover after Saturday's dominant win against Cincinnati, while Indiana, Michigan State and Iowa fall. There's some separation after the top six, and Nos. 7-9 really could appear in any order.

These are consistent with our rankings in the ESPN.com power poll.

Here's one last look at the previous Big Ten rankings.

To the rundown …

1. Ohio State (2-0, last week: 1): Braxton Miller's knee injury created some tense moments in Columbus, but Ohio State fans settled down and settled in to the smooth sounds of Kenny G (Guiton, that is). One of the nation's best backup quarterbacks torched San Diego State for three touchdowns as a Buckeyes team that sleepwalked through the second half in Week 1 took charge from the get-go. Ohio State's young defense will be tested much more this week by the "Bear Raid" offense at Cal.

2. Michigan (2-0, last week: 2): Debate the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry all you want, but it mattered a lot for quarterback Devin Gardner and the Wolverines. Gardner proved he's a big-game quarterback and triggered an impressive offensive performance against Notre Dame's physical defense. Although Michigan's defense had some issues, it made timely plays against the Irish. The Wolverines have the look of a BCS bowl team and possibly a Big Ten champion.

3. Northwestern (2-0, last week: 3): Week 1 was all about survival for Northwestern. Saturday night, the Wildcats showed why they should contend for the Legends Division title this season. Quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian had their way with Syracuse's defense, and wideout Tony Jones had a huge night as Northwestern easily improved to 2-0. The Wildcats should be 4-0 in three weeks when Ohio State visits Evanston, and star running back Venric Mark should be healthy by then.

4. Wisconsin (2-0, last week: 4): The run game has been dominant, the defense suffocating and the competition level horrendous. What do we make of these Badgers after two not surprisingly dominant performances against lowly Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech? Wisconsin deserves credit for handling its business with few if any mistakes, recording back-to-back shutouts to open a season for the first time since 1958. Quarterback Joel Stave looks comfortable. But the competition goes up -- way, way up -- this week at Arizona State.

5. Nebraska (2-0, last week: 5): The Huskers defense doesn't deserve the "Blackshirts" label quite yet, but at least the unit avoided less-flattering terms for a week. Cornerbacks Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans set the tone for a rebound performance with pick-sixes in the first quarter, and junior-college transfer Randy Gregory applied pressure all game. The defense needs a better performance this week against UCLA, potentially the only team that can beat the Huskers during the first two months of the season.

6. Penn State (2-0, last week: 6): After a rough start, freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg settled down in his Beaver Stadium debut. He also got a ton of help from the run game, which had struggled in the opener but broke out for 251 yards and five touchdowns. Tackle DaQuan Jones triggered a suffocating Lions defense, which will be tested much more this week when Blake Bortles and Central Florida visit Happy Valley.

7. Minnesota (2-0, last week: 8): Although Aggie Vision was the real highlight Saturday night, Minnesota provided a few of its own in an easy win against New Mexico State. The Gophers continue to find creative ways to score, adding a special teams touchdown and a defensive touchdown in a 44-21 romp. Despite being short-handed at running back, Minnesota got the ground game going behind Rodrick Williams (148 yards, 1 TD), David Cobb (56 yards, 1 TD) and quarterback Philip Nelson (122 rush yards, 1 TD). The Gophers have another tuneup this week before their first real test Sept. 21 against San Jose State.

8. Michigan State (2-0, last week: 7): Can Shilique Calhoun play quarterback? The sophomore defensive end has been Michigan State's best offensive weapon in the first two games, scoring one more touchdown than the entire Spartans offense. Michigan State's defense has added a dynamic playmaking element early this season. Unfortunately, the problems on offense only seem to be worsening and the quarterback situation is anyone's guess right now.

9. Illinois (2-0, last week: 11): Surprise, surprise, the Illini are unquestionably on the rise. Few saw it coming, but Illinois walloped Cincinnati behind another impressive performance by quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and the offense. One of the nation's worst offenses has surged under coordinator Bill Cubit, scoring 87 points in the first two games. Linebacker Mason Monheim and the defense rebounded nicely after a shaky Week 1 effort. Can the Illini pull off another upset this week against Washington at Chicago's Soldier Field?
10. Indiana (1-1, last week: 9): Kevin Wilson's words last week proved prophetic as Indiana's offense lacked the efficiency it needed early on against Navy's ball-control offense. But eventually a defense has to make some stops and Indiana's once again couldn't, especially in the closing minutes. The Hoosiers surrendered 444 rush yards in a 41-35 loss, once again showing that this program hasn't turned a corner. Things get tougher this week as a very good Bowling Green squad comes to Memorial Stadium.

11. Iowa (1-1, last week: 10): Some Iowa fans undoubtedly felt better about their team after last week's loss to Northern Illinois than Saturday's win against FCS Missouri State. The Hawkeyes had just seven points through the first 37 minutes before Mark Weisman (180 rush yards, 2 TDs) took over down the stretch. Quarterback Jake Rudock showed good mobility but also threw a pick-six. Iowa faces a must-win this week as it hits the road to face rival Iowa State.

12. Purdue (1-1, last week: 12): The Boilers got a win Saturday, but they won't win many more if they don't clean up their problems on offense. If Purdue can't punch the ball into the end zone against Indiana State from inside the 5-yard line, what's going to happen against Big Ten defenses? Defensive tackle Bruce Gaston had a big day, but the Boilers need many others to elevate their play as Notre Dame visits Ross-Ade Stadium this week.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 2

September, 8, 2013
9/08/13
2:41
PM CT
Recognizing the best and brightest from the Big Ten in Week 2:
  • Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase: The Illini senior had a big game for the second straight week, this time against strong competition. Scheelhaase completed 26 of 37 attempts for 312 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in his team's surprising 45-17 win over Cincinnati.
  • Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun: The Spartans sophomore has scored three defensive touchdowns in his first two games. Michigan State's offense, meanwhile, has produced only two touchdowns in the same span. Calhoun's incredible start to 2013 continued in a 21-6 win over South Florida, as he recovered a fumble and ran it into the end zone from 4 yards out in the first quarter and added a 56-yard interception return in the third quarter. Can Calhoun play quarterback?
  • Northwestern QBs Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter: No team has a more effective one-two punch at quarterback than the Wildcats. Returning after missing all but two plays of the Cal game with a concussion, Colter jumped right back into the flow of things, and Siemian continued his precision passing. Combined, the two of them completed 30 of 37 passes for 375 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions, in the 48-27 win over Syracuse. Colter added 87 yards rushing and a score on 11 carries.
  • Michigan QB Devin Gardner and WR Jeremy Gallon: The Killer G's had a huge night in a 41-30 win over Notre Dame under the lights at the Big House. Gardner completed 21 of 33 passes for 294 yards and four touchdowns while adding 82 rushing yards and a fifth score. He did make one giant mistake by throwing the ball from his own end zone to Stephon Tuitt to put the Irish back in the game, but for the most part he carved up the vaunted Notre Dame defense. And his favorite target was Gallon, who's only 5-foot-8 but plays so much larger than that on the big stage. Gallon hauled in eight catches for 184 yards and three touchdowns as the Irish secondary just couldn't slow him down.
  • Nebraska's secondary: The Huskers bounced back from Week 1's scary defensive performance with a fine showing on that side of the ball in a 56-13 win over Southern Miss. Give a lot of credit to the Nebraska defensive backs. Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste returned an interception 43 yards for a score less than two minutes into the game. Nickelback Ciante Evans added two interceptions, and safety Corey Cooper grabbed his first career pick. Corner Josh Mitchell chipped in with three tackles for loss. The Huskers will need that kind of effort again next week versus UCLA.
Lessons learned from Week 2 in the Big Ten:

1. Ohio State has company at the top: The widely-accepted thought going into the season was that the Big Ten would be Ohio State and everybody else. Well, after two weeks, it's fair to say the Buckeyes have company from the team they dare not name: Michigan. The Wolverines have looked mighty impressive in their first two games, especially in Saturday's 41-30 win over Notre Dame.

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsDevin Gardner wore No. 98 to honor Michigan great Tom Harmon, then played great against Notre Dame.
Devin Gardner has made Michigan's offense truly balanced, and he is as dynamic a playmaker as Ohio State's Braxton Miller. Greg Mattison's defense gave up some yards and points to Notre Dame but is always going to be solid, more so if Jake Ryan returns this year.

Ohio State was also very good in a 42-7 win over San Diego State, especially considering Miller got hurt early on and was replaced more than adequately by Kenny Guiton. The Buckeyes have yet to play good competition or reach their peak with their full lineup available. Their ceiling might remain higher than the Wolverines', but Ohio State still has to go to the Big House, where Brady Hoke has never lost as a head coach. Having both of these teams reach superpower status this year ultimately will be good for the league. It's early, but it looks like we're on our way toward that, though those two teams are not the only ones to consider in the conference race. Speaking of which ...

2. Northwestern is a legitimate contender: Ohio State and Michigan are the Big Ten's top two teams, but Northwestern isn't far behind. Pat Fitzgerald's team needed some offense from its defense to survive a tough opener at Cal last week. The offense needed no such help Saturday as top quarterback Kain Colter returned to the field and, along with quarterback Trevor Siemian, wide receiver Tony Jones and others, shredded Syracuse's defense to the tune of 48 points and 581 total yards. Colter and Siemian combined to go 30-of-37 passing for 375 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions and 91 rush yards.

Northwestern hasn't even been at full strength yet -- star running back/return man Venric Mark continues to nurse an injury -- and still looks like a superior team to the 2012 version, which won 10 games. Although the defense remains vulnerable to the big play, it also generates takeaways, continuing a theme from last season. The tough part of the non-league slate is over, as Northwestern has only Western Michigan and Maine left before two weeks to prepare for an Oct. 5 showdown with Ohio State, which should be the most-anticipated game of Fitzgerald's tenure. Northwestern's league schedule isn't easy, but it should be in the thick of the Legends Division race when November rolls around.

3. Song remains the same for Michigan State, Indiana: What good is it being outstanding on one side of the ball if the other side can't hold its own weight? Michigan State and Indiana have changed a lot of names in an effort to shore up their crummy offense and defense, respectively, but the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Spartans' quarterback picture is becoming an absurd theater; Mark Dantonio gave Connor Cook his first career start and Tyler O'Connor his first collegiate action but had to go back to incumbent starter Andrew Maxwell to start the second half against USF after both struggled. The three quarterbacks combined to go just 12-of-24 for 94 yards and did nothing to clear up the picture, while the offense managed only one score against a Bulls team that gave up 53 to McNeese State a week earlier. Thank goodness for the MSU defense, but it can't carry everything on its back all season again.

It's the opposite story at Indiana, which supposedly practiced all offseason to prepare for the Navy option but then looked as if it had never seen such a thing before in a dispiriting 41-35 loss. The Hoosiers have added some talented freshmen to the defensive mix, but they couldn't prevent the Midshipmen from rolling up 444 rushing yards. Indiana can still throw it and score with anybody and has put up 108 points in two games, but Kevin Wilson's team isn't going bowling unless the defense becomes competent. If only the Spartans and Hoosiers could combine into an all-star team, we'd really have something.

4. Mystery lingers around Wisconsin, Nebraska and Minnesota: We're still waiting to learn something about the Badgers, Huskers and Gophers, who are a combined 6-0 but have yet to face a true test (sorry, Wyoming).

Wisconsin has posted back-to-back shutouts to open a season for the first time since 1958, and the run game looks as strong as ever with James White, Melvin Gordon and even Corey Clement, each of whom has rushed for more than 100 yards in the first two games. But few teams have faced weaker competition (Massachusetts, Tennessee Tech).

Nebraska's defense performed much better in Week 2, as cornerbacks Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans both had pick-sixes. But the Huskers' performance came against a Southern Miss team that now has lost 14 straight.

Minnesota continues to find creative ways to score, adding touchdowns on both defense and special teams in an easy win at New Mexico State. Then again, who have the Gophers faced? Fortunately, we'll find out a lot more next week as Wisconsin travels to Arizona State and Nebraska hosts UCLA. The wait will be a little longer for Minnesota, which hosts high-powered San Jose State in Week 4.

5. Illini are cellar-dwellers no more: Illinois has held pretty steady at or near the bottom of our Big Ten power rankings for about a year. But while the Illini are still far from league contenders, they no longer can be viewed as the conference's worst team after Saturday's stunning 45-17 win over Cincinnati improved their record to 2-0. The Bill Cubit-directed offense looks legit, and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is playing as well as he has in his career.

The Big Ten's No. 12 team now has to be Purdue, which lost to that same Cincinnati squad, 42-7, in the opener and needed a pair of late defensive stops to hold off Indiana State 20-14. Yes, the same Indiana State team that Indiana destroyed 73-35 in the Hoosiers' opener. The Boilermakers once again were plagued by communication issues and an ineffective offense that got outgained by nine yards by an FCS opponent. Darrell Hazell's team figures to be a heavy underdog in its next six games, beginning with Notre Dame this weekend.

Iowa also still has a lot to prove after struggling to put away Missouri State at home until the fourth quarter. At least the Hawkeyes finally snapped their seven-game losing streak, though beating an FBS team would be nice.

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