Revised image suits Michigan's Jake Ryan

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
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Jake RyanMatthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsMichigan's Jake Ryan has grown into a leadership role since suffering a torn ACL in his left knee.
Jake Ryan has been looking forward to this weekend for a long time.

Playing his final game at the Big House as a Michigan linebacker will be a moment to remember, as will the pregame curtain call in front of his family and more than 100,000 other onlookers. The chance to clinch bowl eligibility by beating Maryland for the team’s sixth win this season is nice, too. But that is not what Ryan has been waiting for. No, this weekend he’s finally getting a new suit.

Since turning a few heads at Big Ten media days in Chicago this summer, Ryan has been beseeching his father to help him upgrade his wardrobe.

"He’s asked me to call my suit person like six times in the last two months. It’s nonstop," said Tim Ryan, who lent Jake the plaid, maize-ish and blue sport coat and matching gold tie that he wore to represent the Wolverines in Chicago.

Jake stuffed the jacket’s pocket with a silk blue handkerchief, pinned a Block M to his lapel and then canvassed the gathered media to see if he was the sharpest-dressed player in town. He held his own. At the very least, this GQ-styled, well-coiffed version of Ryan was a far cry from the long-haired sophomore who emerged as one of the conference’s most promising young defenders two years earlier.

"I like dressing nice," Ryan said months later. "I do, I’ll admit that. I’ve always thought I’ve gotta have some style."

Ryan’s style took a sharp turn 19 months ago, shortly after the lowest point of his football career. Eight days removed from surgery to repair a torn ACL, Ryan chopped off and donated 10 inches of the shoulder-length blond hair that had been his calling card during the first half of his Michigan career.

This was a fresh start, he told his family, a symbolic reminder that he would have to remake himself to get where he wanted to go. It was the first step in a tumultuous year and a half -- one that included a painful and patience-testing rehab, a position change and a senior season besmirched by disappointing losses and distractions. As it draws to a close, that path has transformed Ryan into a more polished professional, in football and fashion.

A family affair

The Ryans are a football family. Tim played wide receiver at Wake Forest. Jake’s cousin John was a defensive end at Notre Dame, and Jake's older brother, Connor, was a receiver at Ball State. Their younger brother, Zack, is a starting linebacker at Ball State, and the youngest of the four Ryan boys seems destined to follow them when he finishes high school. It’s what the Ryans do. They play for Chuck Kyle’s St. Ignatius football powerhouse in Cleveland and then find a college to continue their career.

In high school, Jake needed to forge an identity he could call his own. He picked a surfer’s wardrobe and adopted the laid-back personality to match. His inspiration was his West Coast cousin Mikey. Ten years older, Mikey was the epitome of cool in the eyes of his younger cousins.

Mikey used product to slick back his hair as a teenager, so 7-year-old Jake slapped globs of gel in his hair until his father nixed that idea. Mikey wore Vans, so Jake searched Cleveland for whatever psychedelic-colored, floral-patterned shoes he could find. Mikey was a surfer. There were no waves anywhere near Ohio, so Jake learned to snowboard.

When Jake injured his hand during a playoff run in his senior year at St. Ignatius, he opted to wrap it in a neon pink cast. He visited Ball State a few weeks later on a recruiting trip, which meant Connor had to explain to his teammates that the goofball prospect with the pink cast was actually his little brother.

"He always wanted to be different," Connor said. "He’s starting to [learn] a little bit more from me I would say. He’s getting a little bit better fashion sense, definitely starting to get the hang of it."

Jake’s style on the football field was equally unique.

"Unorthodox," he said. "That’s what they’re calling it now, I guess."

He finds the ball by instinct, he says, more than following a premeditated path or assignment. His coaches at St. Ignatius stuck him at safety during his first week with the varsity team, but Ryan had trouble understanding why they wanted him to move backward when the ball was in front of him. Midway through double sessions they moved him to linebacker, and his coaches say he "just started wrecking guys."

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
AP Photo/Rich SchultzLinebacker Jake Ryan (90 tackles) has had six games this season with at least 10 stops.
His unorthodox style, combined with a lack of size he wouldn’t overcome until a last growth spurt as a senior, put Ryan behind schedule on the typical recruiting process. Brady Hoke, who had recruited Connor to Ball State before moving on to coach at San Diego State, had one of his Aztecs assistants call the Ryans to say he wasn’t interested in offering Jake a spot on the team.

"I still tell him that when he messes up," Hoke said. "I probably should have done a little more homework on him."

It worked out for Hoke, who inherited Ryan when he took the Michigan job and played him as an outside linebacker and defensive end during their first two years together. As a redshirt sophomore, Ryan led the Wolverines' defense in tackles (88), tackles for loss (16) and sacks (4.5).

The following winter Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison told Ryan they wanted to move him to inside linebacker so opposing offenses couldn’t run away from him. Ryan, a budding star on the edge, was skeptical. Mattison, the former linebackers coach for the Baltimore Ravens, handed him a stack of Ray Lewis film to explain the new role, and Ryan was sold. He would soon be the new centerpiece of the Michigan defense. A few weeks later, he tore his ACL.

Surviving rehab

Rehab was miserable. Patience was a virtue Ryan had not yet acquired. He vowed to get through the process as quickly as possible. If NFL star Adrian Peterson could get back on the field six months after ACL surgery, so could he. Ryan cut every distraction that might slow him down, including his hair.

Ryan became a fixture in the Michigan training room and tried to help his teammates with their assignments during practice. He learned he could never be a coach. It turns out telling someone to do something over and over is a lot more frustrating than trying to do something over and over.

He sought advice from teammates past and present who had gone through a similar injury, including Michigan fullback Joe Kerridge, who tore his ACL as a high school senior. Kerridge told him surgery wasn’t a death sentence. Stay with your recovery program and you’ll be back, he said.

"He attacked everything with the workouts and the rehab," said Kerridge, who has lived with Ryan for the past three years. "I think the knee really tested him. He excelled through it and he really matured. He learned what he had to do to be a great football player."

Teammates recognized Ryan’s diligence and selected him to be a team captain even though he spent all of training camp on the sideline. The new leadership position made Ryan more conscious of all the eyes that were on him and pushed him to continue to evolve into the more professional version of his free-spirited self. He started speaking up more often when needed. He became a regular volunteer at the university’s children’s hospital. And of course, he made sure he looked sharp whenever he knew he would be going in front of a camera.

"He knows that he can be one of the faces of the team," said his brother Connor. "I think he wants to resemble that 'Michigan man.' When you’re asking to grab some nice suits or dress a little nicer or watch your language, whatever it may be, I think that’s him growing up."

Ryan reached his goal of making it back on the field in six months, but the eight games he played during the 2013 season were humbling. He didn’t fully trust his knee yet, and he didn’t have the speed to keep up with his instincts. The coaching staff kept him at outside linebacker for the rest of the season so as not to overload him with adjusting to a new position while trying to get healthy.

The hurdles came in quick succession from there.

When Ryan felt comfortable with his knee, he set about learning to fend off lineman and see the game from a new angle as an inside linebacker. His first game in the middle, a blowout win against Appalachian State to open the 2014 season, allowed him to settle in.

As Ryan got better at his new job, the program around him seemed to get worse. Michigan lost four of its next five, and off-the-field turmoil spiraled out of control. Ryan continued to hone his image while learning how to ignore the negative public feedback.

"You always learn more from losing than winning," he said. "You learn how to stick together. You learn how to mold a team. I think you do need to go through some situations that put you down to learn a lot of things. It prepares you to be a man."

A resilient leader

This is not the senior season Ryan imagined. It has, though, helped him grow into the resilient face of a team that, if nothing else, continues to show up no matter what punches fate throws its way.

Michigan has won three of its past four during a more forgiving stretch in its schedule. A victory on Senior Day would keep the Wolverines from a losing record and salvage a bowl trip.

Ryan is the team’s top defender again. He is 10 tackles shy of reaching 100 on the season. He has had six games this season with at least 10 stops. Only nine players in the history of Michigan football have had more double-digit performances in a single season. He is one of 15 linebackers in the country still in the running for this year’s Butkus Award, and most experts expect Ryan will be picked in the third or fourth round of the NFL draft in the spring.

Before the team’s most recent game, a 10-9 win at Northwestern, Ryan made a deal with his father. If he made 13 tackles and intercepted a pass against the Wildcats, he would earn a trip to the tailor for a new suit. Ryan had never picked off a pass before in his career, but he finished with an interception and 11 tackles. Close enough.

Big Ten Week 13 predictions

November, 20, 2014
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Why Minnesota will win: There’s no letup coming for the Blackshirts, who were historically carved up by Melvin Gordon last week and must turn right around and face the Gophers' David Cobb and another productive rushing attack, with flickering hopes of winning the West Division hanging in the balance for both teams. Ameer Abdullah doesn’t look quite back to full speed on his injured knee, and the Gophers are perhaps underrated for their defensive ability when they’re dialed in and aggressive, which could make it tough for the Huskers if the star rusher is limited again. Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner has been inconsistent this season, but this seems like a good opportunity for him to bounce back in the play-action passing game with the Huskers trying to avoid another soft performance on the ground. ... Minnesota 27, Nebraska 24 -- Austin Ward

Why Nebraska will win: Melvin Gordon had his way with the Huskers last week, but Minnesota’s David Cobb -- who’s accounted for more than 40 percent of the offense -- is a different kind of runner. Most of Gordon’s yards came with speed outside the tackles; most of Cobb’s will come from power between the tackles. Nebraska shouldn’t allow half as many big offensive plays this weekend, and the Huskers’ offense clearly has the edge here. Bo Pelini’s squad averages 8.8 more points per game, the offense gains an average of 100 more yards a game, and Ameer Abdullah is one week healthier. Minnesota won’t be able to keep up. ... Nebraska 34, Minnesota 24 -- Josh Moyer



Why Michigan wins: It's the last home game for Michigan seniors such as linebacker Jake Ryan and quarterback Devin Gardner and possibly the last for coach Brady Hoke. The Wolverines will ride their defense and limit mistakes on offense to outlast a Maryland team that has been tough to figure out week-to-week. It's a field-goal fest early on, but Michigan records a defensive touchdown in the third quarter and holds off a Terrapins rally to get bowl-eligible. ... Michigan 19, Maryland 16 -- Adam Rittenberg

Why Maryland wins: Maryland has been a puzzle this season, but my bet is Randy Edsall fits the right pieces together Saturday at Michigan. The Terps are at their best when airing out the deep ball on offense (even without Stefon Diggs). If Michigan can't get a decent pass rush in the absence of Frank Clark, C.J. Brown should have enough time to connect with his receivers on a couple bombs. Michigan's seniors will pour their hearts onto the field for a final time at the Big House, but in close games, Maryland kicker Brad Craddock has been a difference-maker for the Terps. He plays the heartbreaker role again in Ann Arbor. ... Maryland 24, Michigan 21 -- Dan Murphy



Why Northwestern will win: It's a risk picking the Wildcats here because they only seem to play well against top-20 teams. But I've got to believe Pat Fitzgerald's team built some confidence in that upset at Notre Dame, and certainly that was the best Trevor Siemian has looked all year. Purdue has some big-play ability that will give Northwestern trouble, but the Wildcats now have a realistic shot at a bowl and should play with all-out effort with that in mind. ... Northwestern 24, Purdue 21 -- Brian Bennett

Why Purdue wins: Northwestern has shown great fight in coming back from the dead twice this year. Its most remarkable achievement -- slightly ahead of the home victory over Wisconsin last month -- came Saturday with a road win at Notre Dame. But I just don’t trust the Wildcats, who are dreaming of a bowl game. Remember, this is a team that lost by 41 at Iowa three weeks ago. Purdue is playing without pressure. Sure, it has struggled down the stretch, but Austin Appleby is capable of a strong performance against a mediocre defense. If you want my real strategy in pick the Boilermakers, look no further than the calendar. Since 1947, Purdue is unbeaten in nine games on Nov. 22. ... Purdue 35, Northwestern 31 -- Josh Moyer

Unanimous decisions

Ohio State 59, Indiana 10: Shield your eyes from this one, folks. The league's best team and top offense take aim at the winless-in-conference Hoosiers at home and with a need to impress. It's going to get ugly early and stay that way.

Michigan State 42, Rutgers 21: The Scarlet Knights got bowl eligible last week but weren't terribly impressive against Indiana. Meanwhile, the Spartans regained their mojo at Maryland and should have an easy time dissecting a very leaky Scarlet Knights defense. Jeremy Langford will close out his home career in style on senior day with 175 rushing yards.

Penn State 17, Illinois 13: Odds are the Nittany Lions aren't going to blow any Big Ten opponents away because of their limited offense. But their defense has been one of the best in college football, and Anthony Zettel and Mike Hull will consume the Illini offensive line. A pick-six helps Penn State escape Champaign with win No. 7.

Wisconsin 31, Iowa 24: The Badgers won't have as easy a time running the ball as they did against Nebraska last week (historically speaking, that would be almost impossible). But Melvin Gordon isn't going to slow down now that he has a Heisman Trophy in his sights. Iowa will hang around all day, but Wisconsin's defense will make the necessary stops to pull another step closer to the West Division title.

Our records:
T-1. Mitch Sherman: 78-20 (.796)
T-1. Austin Ward: 78-20 (.796)
3. Dan Murphy: 47-14 (.787)
4. Brian Bennett: 77-21 (.786)
T-5. Adam Rittenberg: 73-25 (.745)
T-5. Josh Moyer: 73-25 (.745)

Big Ten morning links

November, 20, 2014
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November upside: Competitive games, division races. Downside: Dropping temperatures, snow flurries.

The Big Ten is definitely making the trade worth it.

1. Boiling down the Broyles: The guys on the field jockeying for individual awards deserve the attention, and their coaches are always quick to deflect any praise back to the players doing the work in pads. But it's time to take a minute and give a little credit to the assistants in headsets, either on the sidelines or in the booth, because the Big Ten might have the deepest pool of candidate for the coveted but often overlooked Broyles Award for the country's top assistant. The list is longer than three names in the league, of course, but Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop would all be deserving winners for the incredible work they've done this season. The guys on the defensive side of the ball have put together units that both rank in the top three in the nation in total defense, with the Badgers currently No. 1. That gives Aranda a slight edge over Shoop, but it's a tougher call against Herman, who not only has Ohio State leading the Big Ten in scoring again, but as the quarterbacks coach, is also responsible for the rapid rise of redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. If both teams stay on track for a collision in the Big Ten title game, maybe they can settle the matter once and for all in Indianapolis.

2. B1G love: The first time could have been written off as a fluke, but the College Football Playoff selection committee proved it truly respects the depth at the top of the Big Ten this week with five teams ranked among its Top 25. It would have been easy to write off No. 25 Minnesota following a home loss or to drop Nebraska out entirely after getting crushed by Wisconsin. But just like Michigan State last week, the way the committee has reacted to losses in the conference reflects how highly it thinks of the Big Ten despite those early missteps to start the year. The Huskers and Gophers square off Saturday in what will definitely serve as an elimination game in the West Division and will probably wind up being a loser-leaves-town matchup for the committee, which would drop the Big Ten down to four teams in its poll. But considering how that compares with the ACC or Big 12, the committee still clearly isn't buying the supposed demise of the Big Ten.

3. Under-the-radar matchup: Michigan has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons essentially all season long, and this week has been no exception with the troubling off-the-field issues with defensive lineman Frank Clark and his subsequent dismissal. The Wolverines may even be in a hurry to get the year over with and move on. Even with all their problems on the field, they are in position to qualify for the postseason and go out on a high note as Brady Hoke's tenure likely draws to a close. The odds are going to be stacked against them in a major way next week against Ohio State, but the Wolverines have home-field advantage, an underrated defense and potentially no shortage of motivation with Maryland coming to the Big House -- and if the chance to earn a trip to a bowl game doesn't bring out the best in Hoke's club, there's really no reason to even consider it a possibility he could return for another year.

East Division
West Division
In just a couple of weeks, the Big Ten will announce its individual award winners for 2014. We've been giving you the scoop on those races all season long, and it's time again to see who leads for the top offensive and defensive honors. Plus, this week we look at the chase for the punter of the year award. Hey, punters need love, too!

Here we go:

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (six first-place votes): Well, yeah. After his 408-yard performance last week, Gordon has solidified his grip here. He's on pace to do things that only one or two FBS running backs have ever done, like finish with 2,000 yards and 30 TDs.

2. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: He's coming on strong and is a bona fide Heisman contender now. In another year, Barrett would be running away with this award. If Gordon falters in the next two weeks, maybe he can sneak in.

3. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: Speaking of "in any other year ..." Coleman is No. 2 nationally in rushing yards (1,678) and put up 307 at nearly the same time Gordon was doing his thing. Phenomenal player on a crummy team.

4. Minnesota RB David Cobb: If you still had any doubts about Cobb, he answered them with a 145-yard, three-touchdown performance against Ohio State. He should break Minnesota's single-season rushing record.

5. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: We hate to see Abdullah finish this way. He clearly wasn't himself against Wisconsin, running for just 69 yards on 18 carries. Hopefully he'll get healthier and end his illustrious career on a high note.

Also receiving votes: Michigan State WR Tony Lippett

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa (six first-place votes): Ho hum, just 1.5 sacks against Minnesota. He's got 11.5 sacks in 10 games, or more than any Big Ten player managed in either of the past two full seasons.

2. Penn State LB Mike Hull: The Nittany Lions rank third nationally in total defense, and Hull -- the Big Ten's top tackler -- is a big reason why.

3. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel: Did we mention how good Penn State's D has been? Zettel has been the anchor up front all year long. He's got 11 tackles for loss, which is a big number for an interior lineman.

T-4: Michigan LB Jake Ryan: There haven't been many bright spots for Michigan all season, but Ryan (90 tackles, 13 for loss) has been a beacon of hope.

T-4: Wisconsin LB Vince Biegel: It's hard to pick just one of the Badgers' outstanding quartet of linebackers. But Biegel might be the most versatile, and he's second in the league in TFLs with 14.

Also receiving votes: Iowa DE Drew Ott

Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year

1. Minnesota's Peter Mortell (six first-place votes): Mortell was brilliant against Ohio State, consistently flipping field position. He leads the league with a 45.4-yard average.

2. Illinois' Justin DuVernois: He's right behind Mortell with a 44.9-yard average, including a league-best 74-yarder. Illinois also leads the Big Ten in net punting

Also receiving votes: Ohio State's Cam Johnston
You can question whether the Big Ten always competes at the same elite level as some other leagues. You can question, at times, some conference teams' all-out commitment to winning national championships in football.

But you can't question whether Big Ten head coaches are paid like the best of the best, at least at the top of the heap. USA Today has again done yeoman's work in compiling the salaries and compensation for every FBS head coach, and several Big Ten bosses remain among the most richly rewarded.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
AJ Mast/Icon SportswireMark Dantonio is the Big Ten's highest-paid coach at $5.6 million in total pay.
According to the database, the league has four of the top 10 highest-paid coaches in the FBS, though the names and rankings may surprise you a bit. Michigan State's Mark Dantonio surprisingly, checks in at No. 2 at more than $5.6 million in compensation, behind only his former boss, Alabama's Nick Saban.

It's important to note here that USA Today's methodology includes bonuses and other pay besides just salary. Dantonio received a $2 million longevity bonus that is being calculated into this list; his salary, which was bumped up after the Spartans won the Rose Bowl, is $3.64 million.

Ohio State's Urban Meyer checks in at No. 6 at just over $4.5 million, followed by Penn State's James Franklin (No. 8 overall at $4.3 million) and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz (No. 9, $4.075 million). Note that the figure for Franklin is based on a proposed financial term sheet released by the school, which declined to make Franklin's actual contract public.

Surprised not to see Michigan in the Top 10? Brady Hoke checks in at a relatively (key word) modest $2.85 million, good for only No. 30 in the FBS. Hoke ranked in the top 10 last year because of a large retention bonus he received. If the Wolverines make a coaching change and decide to land an established head coach, they could easily pay in the $3 million to $4 million range. Maybe more, if they could reel in a truly big fish like Les Miles or one of the Harbaughs.

The difference between the Big Ten and the SEC in salaries is much like the on-field rankings: depth. Twelve of the 14 SEC coaches are ranked in the Top 30 in salary and all 14 are ranked in the Top 34. Just six of the Big Ten coaches are in the top 30, which is one less than the Big 12 has. The SEC also boasts eight of the top 20 highest-paid coaches in the FBS, while half of the Big Ten's 14 coaches are ranked No. 41 or lower.

Here's how the rest of the Big Ten coaches stack up:

No. 24: Nebraska's Bo Pelini: $3.08 million
No. 39: Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald: $2.48 million
No. 41: Wisconsin's Gary Andersen: $2.29 million
No. 45: Minnesota's Jerry Kill: $2.1 million
No. 46: Purdue's Darrell Hazell: $2.09 million
No. 47: Maryland's Randy Edsall: $2.03 million
No. 52: Illinois' Tim Beckman: $1.95 million
No. 66: Indiana's Kevin Wilson: $1.3 million
No. 73: Rutgers' Kyle Flood: $987,000

Re-evaluating the Michigan situation 

November, 19, 2014
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Back in October, Michigan coach Brady Hoke's seat was so hot we looked at potential candidates for the seemingly inevitable job opening. Since then, AD Dave Brandon resigned. Hoke is still in office, but the ice on which he stands is perilously thin.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioThings have been looking up for Brady Hoke and Michigan of late. Could the embattled coach be back for the 2015 campaign?
Brandon was replaced by interim AD Jim Hackett, a longtime corporate executive (similar to the man he replaced) who is well-regarded. Those close to the situation say Hackett is in good position to be the point man for the expected coaching search.

“He can handle this,” one industry source told me this week, adding that he expects Hackett, a 1977 grad who played for Bo Schembechler, to remain at Michigan for a year or so.

Hackett was brought on to steady things; he'll need to hire a new AD and make a decision about who will coach the Wolverines moving forward. If that person isn't Hoke, who makes the most sense?


1 and 2. The Harbaughs, NFL
Let’s get these brothers out of the way.

ESPN Jr. 300: What to know in the Big Ten 

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
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video
The ESPN Jr. 300 has been updated with new rankings, and there are a ton of Big Ten commits and targets on the list. To help break down the movement and implications, here is all you need to know about the top list and the Big Ten conference.


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The last few days haven't exactly been the best for college football's image.

On Saturday, arguably the country's best player basically ended his career with a devastating ACL injury in his first game back from a four-game NCAA suspension. Sunday brought us the firing of a coach who did everything right, but win. The work week brought more attention to autograph issues with Florida State's star, and two schools are dealing with horrific allegations away from the field.

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Big Ten morning links

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
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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?
There have been some interesting names linked to the Florida opening, but several coaches believe Marshall's Doc Holliday could be a good recruiting fit in Gainesville. Plus, many expected ESPN 300 OT Chuma Edoga to flip from USC to Georgia, but it looks like the Trojans have won the battle in the end.


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Big Ten bowl projections: Week 12

November, 18, 2014
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This week's Big Ten bowls debate centered on the bottom of the projections, not the top. But first things first.

Ohio State maintained its No. 1 spot and will be heading at least for a New Year's Six bowl game. Another Buckeyes win or two, coupled with some surprises outside the Big Ten, and Urban Meyer's team would be projected for the College Football Playoff.

We also considered projecting Michigan State to a New Year's Six bowl. If the Spartans finish strong at 10-2 and have losses only to two potential playoff teams -- Oregon and Ohio State -- they'll have a strong case to go somewhere like Arizona or Atlanta. For now, they're headed to Orlando for the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl.

Wisconsin also is coming on strong, but it would be hard for the Badgers to reach a New Year's Six bowl unless they beat Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.

Nebraska is an intriguing candidate. The Big Ten seemingly would like the Huskers to go to a non-Florida bowl after three consecutive trips to the Sunshine State. But the Holiday Bowl, the next obvious choice for the Huskers, might prefer a team like Iowa that hasn't been to the San Diego game since 1991. For now, we have Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, where it made consecutive appearances in 2009 and 2010.

The Big Ten's bowl pool is expanding, as Penn State and Rutgers both qualified for the postseason and cemented spots in the projections. We like Michigan to earn its sixth win against Maryland on Saturday and to make the short trip to Detroit for its bowl game.

Northwestern has moved back into the projections after a where-did-that-come-from win against Notre Dame. The Wildcats still must beat Purdue and Illinois to become bowl-eligible, hardly a guarantee for an up-and-down team. But we see Pat Fitzgerald's squad getting it done.

Also, our sincere apologies to the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl, which will have a Big Ten team this year and has entered the rundown.

Here are the latest projections, which now include 11 teams from the Big Ten ...

Chick-fil-A Peach/Goodyear Cotton/VIZIO Fiesta: Ohio State
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus: Michigan State
Outback: Wisconsin
National University Holiday: Nebraska
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Minnesota
San Francisco: Iowa
New Era Pinstripe: Penn State
Quick Lane: Michigan
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas: Maryland
At-large: Rutgers
At-large: Northwestern
Questions were asked, and coaches had answers. Here are a few of the highlights from this week's Big Ten conference call.

By the way, if you're not following us on Twitter, what are you waiting for? Follow along at @ESPNRittenberg, @BennettESPN, @ESPNJoshMoyer, @DanMurphyESPN, @MitchSherman and @AWardESPN.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
10:00
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There was plenty of recruiting news once again this weekend so we are here to recap all that happened within the conference. This is the Big Ten weekend recruiting wrap and a small look at what is ahead within the conference.


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This week, USA Today, in the latest of its fan index lists, catalogued the top 10 traditions in college football.

Among them, dotting the "i" at Ohio State, lighting the Tower at Texas and rolling Toomer's Corner at Auburn. All fine events, but no list of such customs in the sport is complete without the latest craze: the wait for Tuesday night.

I say that somewhat jokingly, so refrain from the angry tweets. No, I don't really think it's more fun to dream about the details of a five-minute interview with Jeff Long than to decorate an intersection with toilet paper.

But it's close.

So welcome to the fourth of seven Tuesday College Football Playoff poll unveils, where it finally gets real in the selection-committee room.

Why is this Tuesday different? Because after last Saturday, none of the remaining unbeaten or one-loss Power 5 contenders will meet in the regular season or in conference-title games.

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Big Ten morning links

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
8:00
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Good morning, Big Ten fans. Looks as if we have another interesting weekend on tap ...

1. Record-setting rushing Saturday: No, not last Saturday. This Saturday. Three Big Ten running backs could break their respective schools' single-season rushing records -- all within hours of one another. Minnesota's David Cobb needs just 115 yards, Indiana's Tevin Coleman is just 128 yards shy, and Melvin Gordon needs to follow up his incredible effort against Nebraska with just 201 yards. Barring the unforeseen, all these records will fall this season. And it's incredible to think they could all fall within three or four hours of one another, and all on Game 11.

The longest-standing record is over at Indiana, where Vaughn Dunbar set the mark of 1,805 yards back in 1991. The shortest? Minnesota, where Laurence Maroney had 1,464 yards in 2005. (Wisconsin's Ron Dayne set the record of 2,109 yards in 1996.) This is one rare crop of Big Ten running backs, and it'd be even rarer to watch all three of these rushing records fall in one day. Don't blink Saturday.

2. Tim Beckman Quotables: He's had quite a few this season, but let's address his most recent from Monday's news conference, or as the media like to call it “Comedy Hour.” The Illinois head coach said, straight-faced, “We've played an incredible schedule.” There's just one small problem with that excuse, as the Chicago Sun-Times notes: The Sagarin index ranks Illinois' slate as the 96th -toughest in the nation and as the weakest among the 14 Big Ten teams. But, hey, those weak opponents are just a couple of plays away from being ranked higher ...

3. And the most underrated B1G offensive player is …: My vote would have to go to Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford. In any other year, he'd be singled out for his solid performance. But not in a year with the B1G's fantastic four of Abdullah, Cobb, Coleman and Gordon. Langford is No. 19 in the nation in rushing yards per game (111.6), and he's put up solid stats without simply pounding the cupcakes. He barely saw time against Jacksonville State and Eastern Michigan, but he gained at least 100 yards in every Big Ten game. He has 1,116 yards and 15 TDs so far this season -- and he's had 11 TDs in just the last four games. He's averaging more than a half-yard extra per carry compared to last season, and he's been a huge contributor to MSU's offense. He doesn't get the attention he deserves, because it just so happens to be the Year of the running back in the conference.

Now on to the links …

East Division
West Division

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Michigan Dismisses DE Frank Clark
ESPN Big Ten reporter Dan Murphy reacts to the news that Michigan dismissed DE Frank Clark after police arrested him on domestic violence charges.
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