Chicago Colleges: Urban Meyer

Big Ten morning links

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
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Spring football starts Tuesday at Michigan, where temperatures are forecast to dip below zero each of the next three nights.

Why do I feel like everyone on Twitter is talking to Jim Harbaugh these days?



The Wolverines will be warm and cozy at practice inside Al Glick Field House. Northwestern also starts this week. Maryland, Minnesota and Nebraska open drills next week, which makes now as good a time as any to review staff openings around the Big Ten.

Presumably, all 14 programs will get back to full strength for spring practice. For now, four teams remain down a man.

Since we last took a divisional look at offseason changes in the East and the West, Nebraska and Wisconsin lost assistant coaches, and Purdue hired Terry Malone over the weekend to coach tight ends.

Malone made it to a 6 a.m. workout Monday with the Boilermakers.

He is an intriguing hire for Purdue. Most recently the tight ends coach of the New Orleans Saints, where he was instrumental in the development of 2013 first-team All-Pro pick Jimmy Graham, Malone coordinated Michigan's offense from 2002-05 and also worked under Lloyd Carr as offensive line coach.

Michigan won five league crowns in Malone's nine seasons. He brings an NFL pedigree and a history of success in the Big Ten. Pretty good place to start for the Boilermakers, who have won one Big Ten game in two seasons under coach Darrell Hazell.

Here's a rundown of the programs with open positions:

Nebraska needs a secondary coach to replace Charlton Warren, who left after signing day for North Carolina. Several reports have indicated the Cornhuskers are close to an agreement with Brian Stewart, who left Maryland as defensive coordinator last week in what the Terrapins termed a mutual parting.

If it is Stewart, the move makes sense for coach Mike Riley, who generally hires coaches that he or his assistants know. Stewart served a solid stint in 2007-08 with the Dallas Cowboys as defensive coordinator. Also on that Dallas staff was Bruce Read, Nebraska's special teams coach and a longtime Riley assistant.

Stewart is also a San Diego native and coached the secondary for the Chargers before his stint in Dallas; Riley, former head coach of the Chargers, and his staff have numerous San Diego ties.

Of little relevance, Stewart, as the Cowboys coordinator, succeeded Mike Zimmer, who -- after the 2003 season -- interviewed for the Nebraska head-coaching job. It went to Bill Callahan, who spent 2012-14 with the Cowboys.

And of minor relevance, Stewart would be the only full-time member of the Nebraska staff to coach a game at Memorial Stadium. He spent three seasons at Missouri, losing to the Huskers in 1996 and 2000 in Lincoln and in 1999 at Mizzou.

Illinois still has an opening after the January firing of two assistant coaches. The spot yet to be filled was vacated by special teams coach Tim Salem, though coach Tim Beckman might hire for a different position. Beckman said recently that he had interviewed internal candidates and likely would assign Alex Golesh, the Fighting Illini recruiting coordinator who worked last season with running backs and tight ends, to handle a heavy load on special teams next season.

Maryland needs an assistant to replace Stewart. Inside linebackers coach Keith Dudzinski was promoted to defensive coordinator.

Wisconsin must hire a running backs coach to replace Thomas Brown, who left for alma mater, Georgia. John Settle, who coached the position for the Badgers from 2006-10 and for Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst at Pittsburgh last season, has been mentioned in reports as a candidate.

Let's get to the links:

Big Ten mailbag

February, 2, 2015
Feb 2
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So let's see ... since the last time I dipped into ye olde mailbag, the calendar flipped to 2015, the Big Ten became home to the national champions and two Big Ten quarterbacks played in a Super Bowl.

Yeah, it's been a long time. Way too long, actually. So before another big event takes place -- the sugar high of signing day draws near -- I just had to answer some of your questions.

Brian Bennett: Two similar questions here from Patrick and John, and they're good ones. Without question, Ohio State's national championship -- as well as strong performances by other Big Ten teams in the postseason, most notably Michigan State and Wisconsin -- has completely flipped the script on the Big Ten narrative.

Thank goodness for that. Not because I have any rooting interest in the league's success or failure, but because the whole notion that the conference was miles away from the SEC and other conferences was exaggerated to begin with and became incredibly tiresome the past few years. The best counterargument to such claims is always: "Scoreboard!" Finally, the Big Ten can say that. And after witnessing Buckeyes players run away from Alabama and Oregon defenders, the "Big Ten speed" jokes officially must be retired for at least the next eight months.

Ohio State should start the 2015 season off as No. 1, and Michigan State will be a top 10 team again. You can't put a price tag on that value. The Buckeyes' title bought credibility not just for themselves but for the entire league. If anyone can defeat Urban Meyer's team in 2015, it will gain a huge boost for beating the defending national champs. Similarly, Ohio State will get the benefit of the doubt if it is involved in a comparison of one-loss teams at the end of the season. While the selection committee is charged with reviewing the current season's results only, members would be hard pressed to leave out the defending champs if résumés are mostly equal otherwise.

"The Big Ten is back" theme will likely be as overstated this offseason as "The Big Ten is dead" story line was in previous years. Still, this one is a lot more enjoyable, and it's up to the league to build upon hard-fought success.

Alex from Kenosha, Wis., writes: With Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman, and Ameer Abdullah gone to the NFL, who is going to be the next big back in the Big Ten?

Brian Bennett: The three guys you mentioned were phenomenal, but don't forget about Michigan State's Jeremy Langford and Minnesota's David Cobb. That's five of the top 19 rushers in the FBS, so a ton of talent is leaving at the tailback position.

Yet the Big Ten often easily replenishes its running backs, and the next big back is one who already announced himself as a superstar in early 2015: Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott. The offensive MVP of both the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the national title game is an early Heisman Trophy contender (not to mention an obvious future eight-minute abs pitchman). The only question about Elliott's production in '15 is whether Ohio State will have enough touches to go around with its abundance of playmakers.

Add Corey Clement to the list of budding stars, as he'll move to the front of Wisconsin's assembly line of stud tailbacks. Clement ran for 949 yards -- 10th best in the Big Ten -- despite backing up a guy who ran for the second-most yards ever in an FBS season. Amazing.

Northwestern's Justin Jackson deserves mention, too. Despite a mediocre yards per carry average (4.8), he racked up 1,187 rushing yards in 12 games as a true freshman. That was impressive.

Brian Bennett: Speaking of running back talent, I think that's the position where the Scarlet Knights could shine in 2015. Paul James was headed toward an excellent campaign before he was lost for the year to injury for a second straight season. No Rutgers player ran for more than 447 yards all season. But freshman Josh Hicks erupted for 202 yards in the Quick Lane Bowl, while fellow freshman Robert Martin delivered an even 100 yards in the same game. Throw in Desmon Peoples and hopefully a healthy return by James, and Rutgers could be pretty loaded in the backfield next season.

Brian Bennett: That's a question best answered three or four years from now. The one concern I had about Nebraska's hiring of Riley was whether he would be able to recruit nationally, something that's necessary for the Huskers to succeed. Riley ran more of a developmental program at Oregon State, though the Beavers don't have anywhere near the resources that Nebraska boasts.

That said, I've been pretty impressed thus far with Riley and his staff. Hanging on to DaiShon Neal despite a late (and reportedly botched) push from Michigan was big, and the Huskers have attacked specific areas of need in this class. What I've really liked is how enthusiastically Riley and his staff have embraced the recruiting efforts, for instance keying fans in to where they're traveling to visit prospects on Twitter. Bo Pelini and his staff never seemed to enjoy the showmanship aspect of recruiting, but I think you need to draw attention to yourself at a place like Nebraska, which is not surrounded by a built-in talent base. Riley's approach offers encouragement for the future.


Steven from Chicago writes: What will it take for Paul Chryst to get the Badgers some top 20 recruiting classes? Does it even matter with the way Wisconsin develops its players so well?

Brian Bennett: Wisconsin is ranked 29th right now by ESPN Recruiting, though some recent defections may hurt. The Badgers finished 34th in 2013 and 33rd in 2013. The difference between that and a top-20 class is fairly negligible, in my view. Wisconsin is likely never going to have a top 10-type class because it simply cannot profit from a lot of homegrown, blue-chip talent.

But as you mentioned, few schools do as good a job in developing talent as the Badgers do. The program's recent history is full of walk-ons or no-name recruits turning into stars in Madison, and Wisconsin knows exactly what type of player it wants for a system that has changed little in two decades. Chryst will need to improve the recruiting at certain positions, especially wide receiver and quarterback. I've never quite understood why more receivers wouldn't want to play for the Badgers, since they're almost always wide open on play-action calls. Still, Chryst has shown he can mold offensive talent, so I'm never going to be too worried about the star rankings of Wisconsin's classes.

Big Ten morning links

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
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A week ago, the Big Ten was waking up to a national championship.

1. Defensive end Noah Spence couldn't take part in Ohio State's title run after being declared ineligible from the team because of two failed drug tests. But Spence's college career will continue at FCS Eastern Kentucky, his father told me Monday night. A first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2013, Spence had eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss with the Buckeyes. But the first of two failed drug tests sidelined him for the Orange Bowl, and the second effectively ended his Buckeyes career.

The good news: Spence is doing well, according to his father, Greg, and "continues to be open and receptive to all of the guidance that has been provided professionally and non-professionally in regards to those areas of concern." He considered entering the NFL draft and received projections in the third to fifth round, but ultimately elected for one more year at the college level to mature both on and off the field. Greg Spence repeatedly praised Urban Meyer and the Ohio State coaches and athletic department for standing by his son during a trying time.

"He's extremely excited to play football again as well as grateful for another opportunity," Greg Spence said.

Best of luck to Noah Spence at EKU. He's an incredibly talented player. Here's hoping his story takes a positive turn and results in an long NFL career.

2. Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour on Monday night apologized for a recent tweet that characterized the #409 displays worn by Lions teams as "inappropriate and insensitive." Barbour told WBLF-AM radio in State College that the restoration of Joe Paterno's wins total is a moment to celebrate for Penn State fans. She also defended hockey coach Guy Gadowsky, who had been criticized after his team wore 409 decals during Friday's game.

"I don't want him to beat up about this," Barbour told WBLF. "He also got killed by the advocate's side of this, and I think just as we have to understand and be sensitive to the victim side, there also has to be some understanding of why we would celebrate."

Barbour also said Paterno would be honored "over time" but that Penn State would need to be "deliberate" in figuring out the right approach. This is delicate ground for Barbour, who can use her status as an outsider to her advantage in trying to strike the right chord with PSU fans but also project the right image nationally. It's still not an easy task.

3. An early signing period is coming closer to reality as a committee has recommended a 72-hour period in December when prospects can sign with colleges. The early period would begin with the class of 2016, and would coincide with the current signing period for junior-college players. Former Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen supported this schedule when we talked in the spring, and it makes sense to give long-committed recruits a chance to make things official.

Still, the more important piece for Big Ten teams -- and the one league coaches should push -- is earlier official visits. A small window in May or June when Big Ten teams could pay for recruits and their families to visit campus would be huge in expanding the league's recruiting reach. The SEC coaches seem united on everything. Why don't the Big Ten coaches stand together and make their voices heard?

Time for the division dish ...

East Division
West Division

And, finally, the Cleveland Cavaliers should invite Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes at every game. It sure worked Monday night.

Big Ten morning links

December, 19, 2014
12/19/14
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Bowl season is a tricky time for coaches to motivate players.

“You can grind guys up if you occupy them too much mentally,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said this week.

Read more from Fitzgerald and others Friday on ESPN.com about motivation in bowl season. His Wildcats, sitting home this month, would trade places with any of the 10 Big Ten bowl teams. And with that wonderful time of year to start on Saturday -- the first Big Ten bowl game is still a week away -- it makes sense to look at the factors motivating conference teams.

Here’s a ranking of Big Ten teams with the most for which to play in the postseason:

Ohio State (Allstate Sugar Bowl, vs. Alabama, Jan. 1): A clear leader in this category as the Big Ten representative in the College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes carry the weight of the league on their shoulders. What else is new? Ohio State is flagship program of the Big Ten under Urban Meyer, who had a lot to say Thursday about his team's daunting task against the Crimson Tide.

Michigan State (Goodyear Cotton Bowl, vs. Baylor, Jan. 1): The Spartans lost to a pair of playoff teams, yet they're largely forgotten nationally. A business trip to Texas to face Baylor, the next best thing to a playoff opponent, offers a chance for MSU to finish on a high note nearly equal last year's Rose Bowl win.

Minnesota (Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, vs. Missouri, Jan. 1): A victory in Orlando would give the Golden Gophers a nine-win season for the first time since 2003 and the second time in more than a century, and it would represent the school's best two-year run in over 50 years. It won't come easy against the two-time SEC East champ. The Gophers must run the ball effectively, their bread and butter, now and in the future.

Penn State (New Era Pinstripe Bowl, vs. Boston College, Dec. 27): The Nittany Lions, exposed in the second half of this season for a lack of overall talent, can end on a high note in this much-awaited return to the postseason after a two-year bowl ban. A visit to New York against a regional recruiting rival heightens the stakes.

Rutgers (Quick Lane Bowl, vs. North Carolina, Dec. 26): The Scarlet Knights exceeded expectations to make it this far. After an inspiring comeback win over fellow Big Ten newcomer Maryland to close the regular season, confidence is high, though the uncertain injury status of star receiver Leonte Carroo threatens to put a damper on the excitement around this bowl trip.

Wisconsin (Outback Bowl, vs. Auburn, Jan. 1): Motivated by the embarrassment of a 59-point loss in the Big Ten title game, the Badgers got knocked down another step by the surprise departure of Gary Andersen. But the return of Paul Chryst has boosted the spirits of players, who will look to impress their new coach as he observes in Tampa. Against Auburn's multi-faceted offense, Wisconsin must use everything at its disposal, including QB Tanner McEvoy on the defensive side.

Nebraska (National University Holiday Bowl, vs. USC, Dec. 27): The Cornhuskers are also playing to catch the eye of a new coach, as Mike Riley figures to watch closely. Riley's new staff will start fresh though, so what happens in San Diego stays in San Diego. Still, Nebraska players, amid a dramatic exit from their former coach that has sparked more debate, want to provide a fond farewell for their old staff of assistant coaches.

Illinois (Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, vs. Louisiana Tech, Dec. 26): With victories over Penn State and Northwestern to get bowl eligible, Illinois has won simply by making it this far. No marquee opponent awaits, and Dallas isn't exactly a winter paradise, though maybe the man of the hour, QB Reilly O'Toole, can rally the Fighting Illini once again.

Maryland (Foster Farms Bowl, vs. Stanford, Dec. 30): Did the Terrapins run out of gas in the second half against Rutgers? It was a long season, packed with several highlights, in Maryland's first season of Big Ten play. But a visit to face Stanford, which is coming off four consecutive major bowls, near its home turf, looks like another significant challenge for Randy Edsall's team.

Iowa (TaxSlayer Bowl, vs. Tennesssee, Jan. 2): The Hawkeyes need someone to step up, a habitual practice in the postseason, or they face a dull ending to a disappointing season that set up well in Iowa City.

Around the rest of the league:

Big Ten morning links

December, 12, 2014
12/12/14
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Wisconsin survived its first full day since way back in 2012 without a head coach, though the search to replace Gary Andersen -- set to to be introduced Friday at Oregon State -- appears set end quickly.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported Thursday night that the school is prepared to hire Pitt coach Paul Chryst, a former UW quarterback and offensive coordinator.

It’s a delicate situation, of course, for the Badgers, the uprooted assistant coaches and their families -- not to be taken lightly. But perhaps the most interesting byproduct of Andersen’s unexpected departure is the news that Barry Alvarez will coach Wisconsin in its bowl game. Again.

Alvarez, the 67-year-old athletic director and Hall of Fame former coach of 16 years in Madison, led the Badgers in the 2013 Rose Bowl, a six-point loss to Stanford, after Bret Bielema bolted to Arkansas.

Alvarez ought to just coach the Badgers in every bowl game. In fact, other legends should follow suit and rejoin their former programs on the sideline in the postseason. Surely, the NCAA would allow a special 10th coach. If not, just make them interns.

Let’s bring back Bobby Bowden, Lou Holtz, Mack Brown (too soon?), Don Nehlen, Lavell Edwards, Hayden Fry, Barry Switzer and, if Indiana can get to six wins, Bill Mallory.

Yes, I’m joking. Slightly more serious about this, though: Nebraska has an opening on its staff for the Holiday Bowl. How about Tom Osborne? If Alvarez can go from the College Football Playoff selection committee to the sideline, why not Osborne?

Yeah, he’s 77, served three stints in Congress, lost a gubernatorial primary in Nebraska -- did that really happen? -- and spent five years as athletic director since coaching his last game, a resounding win over Peyton Manning and Tennessee in the 1998 Orange Bowl.

But Osborne has perhaps never watched more college football than in this season. He must have some ideas on how the Huskers could surprise USC. One more fumblerooski up his sleeve.

What an experience it would be for Barney Cotton, long loyal to Nebraska, to have the ex-coach at his side. Cotton played under Osborne from 1975-78, then sent his three sons to Nebraska. It could also be a meaningful sendoff for Ron Brown, the Nebraska running backs coach who worked alongside Osborne in the legendary coach’s final 11 seasons.

Might help a bit with ticket sales, too, and inject a little spice into a game that means a great deal to several Huskers who want to honor their former coach, Bo Pelini, but realistically, little to the forward movement of the program.

Alvarez played linebacker for Bob Devaney on Nebraska teams of the 1960s that included Osborne as an offensive assistant. If Barry can do it, so can Tom.

Alas, it’s unrealistic. Osborne would likely never thrust himself into the spotlight in such a way. But just let me dream.

Thursday in Lake Buena Vista, Florida...

Lots of hardware

What a night on the Disney Boardwalk at the College Football Awards Show. The Big Ten had a good showing, as Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff won the Outland Trophy, presented to the nation's top interior lineman; Maryland's Brad Craddock took home the Lou Groza Award as the top place-kicker; and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon beat finalists Tevin Coleman of Indiana and Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska for the Doak Walker Award, given to the best running back.

Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright won the Bednarik Award, given to the best defensive player. Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa was among the finalists.

Also, Nebraska wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp won a vote for college football's play of the year for his behind-the-back catch in the season opener.

Around the league:

West Division
  • As expected, Gordon plans to leave after this season for the NFL.
  • Some confusion exists over Iowa's starting quarterback for the TaxSlayer Bowl.
  • A meeting with Missouri in the Citrus Bowl is a "big step" for Minnesota, according to coach Jerry Kill.
  • One of Purdue's recent football brings a French flavor, by way of a California junior college.
  • Northwestern needs to make changes, writes Teddy Greenstein, but will it happen?
  • The competition continues at Illinois during bowl practices.
East Division
  • Urban Meyer and Nick Saban have already met once in a playoff. They sat side by side Thursday and recalled the 2009 SEC championship game.
  • No surprise that Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess did not meet his own expectations this year.
  • The explanation of playoff committee chair Jeff Long on Mississippi State's final-week jump over Michigan State does not erase flaws in the process, writes Graham Couch.
  • Indiana lands UAB receiver Marqui Hawkins but misses a juco QB target.
  • Freshman quarterback Michael O'Connor is leaving Penn State.
  • Maryland coach Randy Edsall, in San Francisco on Thursday, to discuss the Terps' matchup with Stanford, says receiver Stefon Diggs will play in the Foster Farms Bowl.
  • The salary pool for Rutgers' assistant coaches ranks eighth in the Big Ten.

Big Ten bowl projections: Week 13

November, 25, 2014
11/25/14
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It's the penultimate version of the bowl projections, and we have some news at the top. Sorry, Buckeyes fans, we're not projecting the Scarlet and Gray to the College Football Playoff -- not yet, at least.

As we did for a portion of the season, we're projecting two Big Ten teams to New Year's Six bowls, as we now believe Michigan State will finish high enough for selection. The Spartans should get to 10-2 this weekend against Penn State, their only setbacks coming against playoff hopefuls Oregon and Ohio State. There's a possibility they would qualify for the Capital One Orange Bowl if they're ranked higher than the highest available SEC team. If so, the Big Ten would not have a team in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

This possibility would increase if Arkansas beats Missouri on Saturday, sending Georgia to the SEC championship game. Georgia is ahead of Michigan State in the College Football Playoff rankings, but a loss, either this week against Georgia Tech or in the SEC title game, likely would drop the Bulldogs behind Michigan State.

For now, we're keeping Michigan State out of the Orange and sending Wisconsin to the Citrus.

The Buckeyes still need some help to reach the playoff. Charlie Strong, a former Urban Meyer aide, can help his old boss Thursday when his Texas squad hosts TCU.

There are also some moves at the bottom of the projections. Michigan's loss to Maryland takes the Wolverines out of the postseason picture, as none of us expects them to win The Game at The Shoe.

The Big Ten has nine bowl-eligible teams, and there will be a 10th as Northwestern and Illinois, both 5-6, play Saturday at Ryan Field. Although the Wildcats will be without starting quarterback Trevor Siemian, we project them to win and reach the six-win threshold.

Nebraska's slide on the field means a slide in the projections, as we now have the Huskers headed to the Music City Bowl. Minnesota moves up to the Outback after its big win in Lincoln, and Maryland bumps up to the Foster Farms Bowl in the Bay Area as it positions itself for a somewhat surprising 8-4 season.

Both Penn State and Rutgers are limping toward the finish and likely will finish the regular season at 6-6. The Lions seem like a good bet to reach New York City for their postseason return, while Rutgers could be headed to Motown.

Enough jabbering. Here are the latest projections ...

Chick-fil-A Peach/Goodyear Cotton/VIZIO Fiesta: Ohio State
Chick-fil-A Peach/Goodyear Cotton/VIZIO Fiesta: Michigan State
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus: Wisconsin
Outback: Minnesota
National University Holiday: Iowa
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Nebraska
Foster Farms: Maryland
New Era Pinstripe: Penn State
Quick Lane: Rutgers
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas: Northwestern

Big Ten morning links

November, 19, 2014
11/19/14
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It's cold in Big Ten country.

1. Several of the country's football conferences dabble in cold temperatures, but none face the elements quite like the Big Ten. The league's two biggest games last week were snow-covered events. Temperatures dipped into the mid-teens Tuesday night in six of the seven cities that will host Big Ten games this Saturday. As the season's first arctic blast visits the northern half of the country, it's time we consider weather as a playoff committee consideration.

After his team beat Minnesota by a touchdown in freezing temperatures, Urban Meyer challenged any playoff contender to visit Minneapolis in November and fare as well. If the selection committee is going to consider injuries and hot streaks and other factors the BCS computers of yore didn't, shouldn't bad weather be on that list as well? Rain storms, lightning delays and bitter cold days can affect games. Not every team has to deal with the elements. If we're going to credit teams for whom they play, it makes sense to do the same for where they play.

2. Ohio State moved up two spots in this week's College Football Playoff rankings to No. 6, jumping an idle Baylor team and Arizona State, which lost to Oregon State. The Buckeyes are in a good position now if they win the Big Ten championship, but there's a growing consensus that Wisconsin won't make that easy if both teams wind up in Indianapolis next month. If the Badgers continue their recent success, they'll provide an interesting test case for the selection committee when picking the New Year's Day bowls or potentially even the playoff teams. Wisconsin has two damning losses on their schedule, but appear to be a different team in November. Will the committee judge them more on their body of work or the way they're playing now?

3. And now for a different kind of semifinalist, the Biletnikoff and Mackey Award, given to the nation's best wide receiver and tight end, respectively, released their lists of semifinalists this week. We were reminded there aren't many pass-catching stars in the Big Ten. Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams -- who is tied for the national lead with seven receiving touchdowns -- was the only conference player to make either list. Michigan State's Tony Lippett has the stats to stack up with his counterparts from other leagues, but doesn't carry the same national profile.

Some of the lack of attention in the passing game is, of course, a result of an unprecedented year of dominant running backs in the Big Ten. The Doak Walker committee releases its semifinalist group late Wednesday morning. As many as five Big Ten backs -- Gordon, Ameer Abdullah, Tevin Coleman, David Cobb and Jeremy Langford -- have a legitimate claim to be on that list.

East Division

Urban Meyer avoided several attempts to stump for a playoff spot at Ohio State during a news conference this week.

Michigan State is in good shape to play on New Year's Day after moving up another spot in the playoff rankings.

Brady Hoke doesn't regret giving Frank Clark a second chance at Michigan despite Clark's failure to make good on it.

A new documentary attempts to sift through the nuance of the Sandusky scandal and all it affected in Happy Valley.

Rutgers is bowl eligible. Where are the Scarlet Knights most likely to be spending their postseason?

Despite the losses, Indiana fans should enjoy Tevin Coleman's special season while he's still around.

Maryland submitted plans this week to build a $155 million indoor practice facility.

West Division

Melvin Gordon isn't the first member of this Badgers team to set a rushing record at Camp Randall Stadium.

There are more questions than answers for Nebraska after a tough loss last weekend.

Jerry Kill likes where his team is sitting as it heads into the final two weeks of the regular season.

Wide receiver Derrick Willies wants back in at Iowa, but he'll have to wait for Kirk Ferentz to decide.

With a bowl berth on the line, Northwestern players are fighting to keep their football family alive.

Purdue's Raheem Mostert is a cold-weather convert as his career in West Lafayette winds to a close.

Illinois fans think Will Muschamp can be their savior as a defensive coordinator. Wishful thinking?

Big Ten morning links

November, 12, 2014
11/12/14
7:00
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We missed Veterans' Day by about eight hours, but I think we've got time for one more pride-swelling story of patriotism to tee up the links this morning.

1.Many football teams like to carry American flags with them on to the field on Saturdays. Few players have been more deserving flag bearers than Tom Hruby. The Northwestern junior is a 32-year-old active Navy SEAL. The father of three, who lives in a dorm room during the week, made his college football debut Saturday on the Wildcats' kickoff team against Michigan. Hruby talked to his teammates about being a veteran Tuesday morning after practice, which Pat Fitzgerald called "one of the most special moments" he's had as a college coach. It's hard to imagine these types of stories ever growing old.

2. Welcome to the Top 25, Minnesota. The Gophers (7-2) are the fifth Big Ten team to join the College Football Playoff rankings this week. At No. 25, they find themselves almost as tangled up in playoff implications as any team in the nation this week. On Saturday, Minnesota hosts No. 8 Ohio State, the Big Ten's best remaining hope to land a spot in the playoff this season. A Gophers' win would severely damage the league's chance for a playoff bid.

One team that certainly will be cheering for Jerry Kill this weekend is TCU. The fourth-ranked Horned Frogs are ranked higher than Baylor (despite losing to the Bears, 61-58) because of a better nonconference schedule. A Minnesota win this weekend would make TCU's defeat of the Gophers in September an even stronger bargaining chip at the playoff table.

3. It's been a truly rotten year for quarterbacks at Indiana. Along with losing starter Nate Sudfeld and back-up Chris Covington to injuries, the Hoosiers also lost two others to transfers earlier in the year. One of them, Tre Roberson, has scored 22 touchdowns and totaled more than 2,100 yards of offense at Illinois State. Meanwhile, true freshman Zander Diamont has struggled to pilot the offense in a recent 0-3 stretch in which the Hoosiers have scored only three offensive touchdowns. Penn State didn't allow the Hoosiers' offense any points on Saturday, then kicked them in the teeth once more on the way out door -- a few days after the game Indiana's top quarterback recruit, three-star Tommy Stevens, switched his commitment to the Nittany Lions. That makes quarterback loss No. 5 this season.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the Big Ten...

East Division
West Division

What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 9

October, 26, 2014
10/26/14
12:42
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Observations from an illuminating Saturday in the Big Ten:

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

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

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

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

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

Big Ten morning links

October, 22, 2014
10/22/14
7:00
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Trophy games and rivalries will be a regular occurrence from now until the end of the Big Ten season. This week features one of the nastiest in-state showdowns, but the build-up to this year’s version has been comparatively tame.

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

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

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

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

 

Big Ten: What to watch in the second half

October, 15, 2014
10/15/14
9:00
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We're winding down our midseason overview with a look at five storylines to watch in the second half of the Big Ten season:

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

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

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

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

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

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 7

October, 12, 2014
10/12/14
2:00
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Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 5, 2014
10/05/14
8:00
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Tipping the cap to the best and brightest performances in the Big Ten on Saturday.

Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: Urban Meyer has publicly backed Braxton Miller as his quarterback for next season, but the Buckeyes might be headed for a heated battle if Barrett continues developing at this frightening pace. The redshirt freshman has been on an absolute tear over the last three games, keeping his red-hot play rolling with 267 passing yards, 71 more on the ground and 5 total touchdowns in a 52-24 blowout on the road against Maryland.

Purdue QB Austin Appleby: The Boilermakers snapped their 9-game losing streak in the Big Ten, and they might have found an answer at quarterback that can keep them competitive moving forward. Appleby accounted for three touchdowns, proving effective as both a rusher with 10.9 yards per carry and as passer thanks to just 5 incompletions in a meaningful 38-27 victory at Illinois.

Indiana WR Shane Wynn: There’s been a spark missing from the passing attack for the Hoosiers early in the season, but Wynn provided the type of explosion they’ve been looking for with a pair of touchdowns in the 49-24 win over North Texas. Wynn only caught five passes but averaged more than 25 yards per reception as Indiana hit the halfway mark in its bid for bowl eligibility.

Northwestern S Godwin Igwebuike: What can the redshirt freshman possibly do for an encore after that splashy starting debut? Igwebuike nabbed three interceptions to spark the Wildcats to another upset victory, this time 20-14 over Wisconsin, playing an integral role for a defense that has suddenly turned the team into a contender in the West Division. Ibraheim Campbell might have a hard time getting his job back now.

Rutgers DE Kemoko Turay: The Scarlet Knights got a huge outing from quarterback Gary Nova to drive the offense, but it was the playmaking pass-rusher and kick-blocking specialist who clinched the historic Big Ten victory, 26-24 over Michigan. Turay chipped in another half of a sack before soaring to swat down Michigan’s last-gasp field goal, setting off a wild party at Rutgers.

Michigan State WR Tony Lippett: The touchdown binge continued, with the Spartans senior making two more visits to the end zone -- scores that wound up being more valuable than they seemed after Nebraska’s furious comeback bid in the fourth quarter that fell just short in a 27-22 Michigan State win. Lippett has a touchdown in every game and eight overall after catching one and rushing for another to keep Michigan State’s playoff hopes alive.

Big Ten morning links

September, 25, 2014
9/25/14
7:00
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With every team in action for just the second weekend this season, there's plenty to get to in the links this morning. Before diving into that, three thoughts on hot topics in the Big Ten as an important Saturday draws closer.

1. What's the secret?: Chalk it up as gamesmanship or protecting the offensive plan, but there's really no reason for Brady Hoke to be trying to hide his starting quarterback at this point. For one thing, Minnesota coach Jerry Kill has already made it clear that he won't waste time preparing for a "ghost," which means he's already gearing his team up for Devin Gardner. Considering Gardner's multipurpose abilities, it would seem far easier for the Gophers to adjust to Shane Morris if the Wolverines elect to start him, so there doesn't seem to be much gained there. And from a Michigan standpoint, if Hoke is sticking by Gardner, wouldn't he be better served with a public vote of confidence from his coach instead of leaving open the debate about which option is really best to lead the attack? Hoke surely has enough to worry about at this point elsewhere, and he's never seemed all that concerned about public perception when it comes to his news conferences. But it's hard to think guarding a secret about his starting quarterback is worth the effort, and there's a chance it might actually be doing damage.

2. Sneaky-good game of the weekend: Before the season started, it was easy to overlook the matchup. Even now with both teams bringing a loss into the weekend, it might still not stand out as worth watching. But Maryland visiting Indiana for the Big Ten opener for both promises to be entertaining, and it may also have the benefit of being a worthwhile win for the victor down the road. The Hoosiers put themselves back on track for a possible bowl bid with their win at Missouri last weekend, and the Terrapins have emerged as something of a dark horse threat in the East Division with their only loss coming in a shootout against a tough West Virginia squad. There's much more on the line than might have been guessed before the season when it just looked like the conference debut for Maryland, and it certainly will be worth watching on Saturday afternoon.

3. Buckeyes scrambling to replace Spence: Ohio State already had to rely on Steve Miller to fill the void at defensive end left by Noah Spence's suspension before his second failed drug test, so it hasn't had to come up with a new solution since a second failed drug test made it unlikely they would ever get the All-Big Ten pass-rusher back on the field. But what would happen now if Miller goes down or the Buckeyes need to expand the rotation back to eight or nine guys up front as they originally planned? It's possible Adolphus Washington might again be forced to move back outside after seemingly finding a spot to settle once and for all on the interior, and Urban Meyer admitted there have been discussions about making that adjustment. But he indicated it won't happen this week, which could put freshmen Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes in line for action against Cincinnati. That definitely wasn't what Ohio State had in mind before the season when the line was touted as perhaps the nation's best unit, but that's now the reality of its situation.

East Division
West Division
  • From trash talk to cheap shots, Nebraska's Randy Gregory is getting plenty of attention this season.
  • Purdue has already doubled its win total from last season and Darrell Hazell believes things are pointing in the right direction.
  • Minnesota isn't planning to win any Big Ten games with just 7 passing yards. In the past, the Gophers have actually won with less.
  • A look at everything that goes into handling a weather delay like Illinois had last weekend.
  • Fullbacks may be falling by the wayside nationally, but the position is still alive and well at Iowa.
  • Northwestern has the speakers blaring at practice and is ready to hit the road to take on Penn State.
  • Blitzing is all about effort, and that's no problem for Wisconsin's Derek Landisch.

Big Ten morning links

September, 18, 2014
9/18/14
8:00
AM CT
Hitting on the hottest topics in the Big Ten before sweeping through the league ahead of another critical non-conference Saturday.

1. Minnesota's QB quandary: There's not exactly a controversy under center, since the Gophers have made it quite clear that Mitch Leidner is the top option to lead the offense. But for the second week in a row, there have been questions about his health, and therein lies the uncertainty that could turn this into a more pressing issue for Jerry Kill. The Minnesota coach pegged Leidner at 100 percent on his injured knee last week, but Saturday something else popped up with his foot -- though Kill shot down reports of a broken bone and seemed puzzled by where they came from. Backup Chris Streveler has appeared in all three games and was needed to finish the last two, and at some point if he keeps handling himself well and if Leidner's bumps and bruises remain a weekly topic of conversation, perhaps the Gophers may find themselves in the midst of a real controversy. This week it probably won't matter given the way Minnesota ran the ball all over San Jose State last year. But Michigan is looming next week, and the Gophers would likely be better off if they didn't have to keep answering questions about their starting quarterback.

2. Waiting game for Buckeyes: From the outside, the case seems pretty open and shut regarding Noah Spence's latest failed drug test and what figures to be permanent ineligibility for the All-Big Ten defensive end. But there hasn't yet been an official verdict handed down, so Ohio State coach Urban Meyer confirmed after practice Wednesday night that Spence was still practicing with the team while "doing things to get healthy." Given what would seem to be a long-shot appeal combined with the serious tone from the Spence family when they addressed a "medical illness" to the Columbus Dispatch last week, it is somewhat surprising that the star junior would be back on the field at all right now while each of those separate, but related, issues are sorted out. Meyer stressed that Ohio State was doing what it could to support him, and if Spence is eventually cleared for a return, everybody involved would surely want him ready to play again. So unless or until the Big Ten tells him otherwise, Spence is still working out with the Buckeyes and waiting for the next update on his status.

3. Heat is on Hawkeyes: The running game is struggling. The kicking game looked like a fire drill even when the field-goal unit hit a clutch attempt last weekend. Kirk Ferentz is under fire with his clock management skills being questioned. And after dealing with all that in the aftermath of the loss to Iowa State, the Hawkeyes have to hit the road to play unbeaten Pittsburgh before diving into conference play. Maybe Iowa could actually use that traveling time to bond and rally against the odds that seem to be stacking up against the program, because it's pretty clear the team needs a spark. The Hawkeyes were a trendy dark horse pick to win the West, and no matter what happens at Pitt it should be fine next week at home to open conference play against Purdue. But it's time for them to show they really have what it takes to contend this fall.

East Division
  • Brady Hoke explained the reasoning behind his unwillingness to address injuries.
  • Michigan State right guard Connor Kruse could be back in the lineup as early as next week.
  • Keys for Penn State as it looks to move to 4-0 to open the season.
  • The secondary has been key for Rutgers defensively so far this season, and it will need its safeties to play a big role against Navy.
  • Fixing problems on third down has been a top priority for Maryland this week.
  • Indiana receiver J-Shun Harris II is developing into another weapon for the uptempo offense.
  • Just more than a year after believing his football career might be over, Donovan Munger is providing depth at defensive tackle for Ohio State.
West Division
  • Danny Etling knows how to prepare. The Purdue quarterback might be overdoing it though.
  • Nebraska defensive backs are preparing for "the fastest receivers" they've ever gone against.
  • It doesn't appear Pat Fitzgerald is easing off the intensity at all coming off the bye week and as kickoff draws closer.
  • Injuries are dominating the headlines at Minnesota, but the offensive line is coordinator Matt Limegrover's biggest concern.
  • A look at the Texas State defense, which has some athletes who can provide a test for the Illinois offense.
  • Pressing questions for Wisconsin as it gets back to work against Bowling Green.
  • Iowa linebacker Quinton Alston said the Hawkeyes needed a "kick in the butt" after losing to Iowa State.

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