Why Iowa will win: Based on the roller-coaster ride Iowa has been on lately, now is the time to jump back in and hang on tight as the regular season comes to a close. The Hawkeyes actually impressed even in a losing effort last week against Wisconsin, and with Nebraska reeling and having to go on the road, expect Kirk Ferentz to get his team ready to capitalize. The Blackshirts have been a mess down the stretch once again, and Black Friday won’t be any different with Jake Rudock leading an Iowa passing attack that somewhat surprisingly ranks No. 4 in the Big Ten. ... Iowa 31, Nebraska 20. -- Austin Ward
Why Nebraska will win: Are the Huskers trending downward? You bet. But Iowa is not nearly as good as Wisconsin or Minnesota. The Huskers still boast the better total offense here -- they're 34 spots ahead of Iowa in the national rankings at No. 29 -- and the better scoring offense, with 10 points more per game. The defense has been up and down, but Mark Weisman is no Melvin Gordon or David Cobb. And Ameer Abdullah is only getting healthier. Iowa hangs tough but loses in the end. ... Nebraska 28, Iowa 24. -- Josh Moyer
Why Indiana will win: It’s time to cash in the chips on Purdue. I’ve been a believer in the Boilers since they beat Illinois in early October, then hung around with Michigan State and Minnesota. But things have gone downhill. Lately, Purdue can’t run the football, and it can’t stop the run -- a bad combination, especially against Tevin Coleman. The Indiana junior will have a huge day and cruise past 2,000 rushing yards for the season in perhaps his last collegiate game. Defensively, the Hoosiers haven’t stopped a decent offense all year, but they’ve got enough left to avoid a winless Big Ten season. ... Indiana 38, Purdue 24. -- Mitch Sherman
Why Purdue will win: Purdue's production has taken a step backward since scoring 38 against Minnesota and threatening to take down the Gophers. The Boilermakers stumble into the Hoosier State battle, but Indiana is exactly what the doctor ordered in that front. No one on Purdue's roster compares to Tevin Coleman, but speedy senior Raheem Mostert can have a big day against Indiana's run defense. Austin Appleby proves to be the difference to help Darrell Hazell end his second year on a high note. ... Purdue 24, Indiana 20. -- Dan Murphy
Ohio State 35, Michigan 14: No, Brady Hoke, there is no Santa Claus. The Wolverines simply do not have enough offensive competence to hang with the Buckeyes on the road, though emotion will help them keep it close into the third quarter.
Wisconsin 24, Minnesota 20: The Gophers have a real chance here, but the potential absence of David Cobb (hamstring) and the road environment will make it tough. Melvin Gordon is held under 200 yards but rips off the game-winning score in the fourth quarter.
Maryland 31, Rutgers 23: The Scarlet Knights' only win since Oct. 4 was at home against Indiana. The Terps have been playing much better than their fellow first-year Big Ten newbie, and they'll protect home field to spoil Ralph Friedgen's homecoming.
Northwestern 28, Illinois 21: It's win or go home for both teams. The Wildcats are surging at the right time, having scored 81 points in back-to-back wins the past two weeks. The loss of quarterback Trevor Siemian (ACL) hurts Northwestern, but picking the Illini to win consecutive Big Ten games strains logic.
Michigan State 19, Penn State 10: Don't underestimate the power of Senior Day in Beaver Stadium, as we've seen the Nittany Lions put up strong performances in their regular-season finales the past two years. Their defense will also cause the Spartans some trouble. But Penn State is going to a bowl regardless, and its offense has few options against Pat Narduzzi's defense.
1. Austin Ward: 83-22 (.790)
2. Dan Murphy: 53-15 (.779)
T-3. Brian Bennett: 81-24 (.771)
T-3. Mitch Sherman: 81-24 (.771)
5. Adam Rittenberg: 78-27 (.743)
6. Josh Moyer: 77-28 (.733)
Adam Rittenberg: Wisconsin needs a late rally to beat Minnesota
There's something about these Golden Gophers, who have turned a corner under Jerry Kill and aren't just a cute little story any more. After winning rivalry trophies against both Michigan and Iowa, Minnesota aims for the Axe and leads for most of Saturday's game at Camp Randall Stadium. Remember, Wisconsin lost its home finale last year and might not have the benefit of the usual raucous student section. The Badgers gather themselves in the fourth quarter and take the lead on a 70-yard Melvin Gordon touchdown run to chop Minnesota (sorry, Rutgers) and advance to their third Big Ten title game in four seasons.
Dan Murphy: J.T. Barrett will pass or run for a career high.
Barrett makes his debut in the heated Michigan rivalry with one of his top performances of the year. The Buckeyes offense shouldn't have any issue moving the ball Saturday, it's just not clear yet whether they will spend more time in the air or on the ground. Barrett ran for 189 yards against Minnesota and threw for 330 yards against Cincinnati. One of those season- and career-high marks is likely to fall against a Wolverines team that doesn't have much left to play for in the regular-season finale.
Brian Bennett: Penn State takes Michigan State to the wire
James Franklin was passionate in his press conference this week, and I expect the Nittany Lions to play the same way at home on senior day. Penn State doesn't match up well with Michigan State on paper, but they didn't against Ohio State, either. This is a better team at home, and while the offensive line will have its troubles against the Spartans' pass rush, I expect Franklin's team to turn in one of its better efforts of the season.
Austin Ward: Jake Rudock sets a new career high in passing yards.
The Hawkeyes' performance varies from game to game, and some inconsistency from their junior quarterback has been part of the problem. But when Iowa is aggressive with its play-calling, Rudock seems to gain confidence and has shown an ability to pick apart a few defenses with three 300-yard passing performances this season. Nebraska has been pretty solid for the most part with the No. 5 pass defense in the Big Ten, but the program is reeling right now and Rudock is poised to take advantage on the way to topping his career-best 322 yards set earlier this season.
Mitch Sherman: Tevin Coleman makes a run at the single-game FBS rushing record
After Melvin Gordon went for 408 against Nebraska on Nov. 15, Oklahoma freshman Samaje Perine churned out 427 against Kansas last week. How about three weeks in a row? After all, Coleman is red hot, with 535 rushing yards in the past two games, including 228 against Ohio State in the Horseshoe. And Purdue’s defense has allowed an average of 251 yards on the ground to its past five opponents. I like Coleman to go over 2,000 for the season in the first quarter (he’s at 1,906) and stay on pace with Perine into the second half. In the end, he falls short, rushing for a career-best 315 as Indiana earns its lone Big Ten victory in what is likely Coleman’s final game as a Hoosier.
Josh Moyer: Tevin Coleman and Melvin Gordon both rush for more than 200 yards.
The Nos. 1 and 2 rushers in the nation have both picked up more than 200 yards in each of the last two weeks -- and it just so happens those two weeks are the only times both Coleman and Gordon reached the mark on the same weekend. I'm predicting it happens for a third straight week. Neither of their opponents' run defenses are particularly strong, with Purdue ranked No. 90 and Minnesota at No. 52, so the opportunity is there for both backs. They're both on a hot streak, and they both have a lot on the line (last game for Indiana, title hopes for Wisconsin), So, it should be another week of dominance.
Honestly, the suspense is killing me, and we haven't even gotten to the games this weekend. See, here's the issue that these teams are facing: Who will have the best résumé after championship Saturday?
Mississippi State might not go to Atlanta for the SEC championship game, but if the Bulldogs beat Ole Miss on Saturday, they'll be in position for that fourth spot (assuming the top three win out). But if No. 6 Ohio State wins out, the Buckeyes will be Big Ten champions. Say what you will about the strength of the Big Ten, the Buckeyes would have a conference championship and the fourth-ranked Bulldogs would not. Both would only have one loss.
1. Maryland’s football team got into the holiday spirit this week by explaining the fine tradition of football on Thanksgiving to a room full of foreign diplomats. Four Maryland players visited Washington, D.C.’s, Blair House -- across the street from the White House – to rub elbows with ambassadors from around the world and provide a Nerf-aided tutorial of America’s favorite sport. That must be one of the perks that comes with plastering the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner on your helmets early in the season. For their efforts, the four Terrapins who made the trip were rewarded by taking part in America’s other favorite Thanksgiving tradition -- food.
2. This week’s new College Football Playoff rankings, released Tuesday night, add more evidence that November has been kind to the Big Ten’s image. The league now has four teams in the top 20 with Minnesota moving up to No. 18 behind Wisconsin (14), Michigan State (10) and Ohio State (6). Those rankings will get the conference’s top teams another chance to prove themselves against good competition in bowl season.
The Buckeyes are in good position to test the importance of a conference championship in the new playoff system. At least two teams ahead of Ohio State in the current rankings will finish the year without playing in a conference title game (TCU and either Alabama or Mississippi State). That extra game could help Urban Meyer’s team plead its case to the selection committee.
3. First, the Buckeyes have to avoid an upset against rival Michigan this weekend. Meyer told his team earlier this week that losing their cool would not be tolerated. Last year the two teams fought, players were ejected and an overmatched Wolverines team was in the game until its final play.
Meyer’s solution – simply telling his team not to scuffle with opponents – seems like a better approach than the altercation avoidance tactics supported by the Wisconsin and Minnesota coaching staffs for their battle this week. After a stand-off last season, the teams decided to water down the winning team’s celebration with the massive axe rivalry trophy by keeping it tucked away until after the game ends. It seems that reminding players that fighting should remain between the sidelines should be enough.
- Noah Spence’s career at Ohio State officially came to a close Tuesday night.
- Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford is fired up to face the top-ranked run defense.
- Randy Edsall is coming off of his best week in four years as Maryland’s head coach.
- A look back at a year Michigan fans would prefer to forget.
- Penn State coach James Franklin met with his captains after losing last Saturday to try to right the ship.
- Rutgers coordinator Ralph Friedgen returns this weekend to the program he spent nine years helping to build.
- An attempt at explaining the mysteries of Indiana star running back Tevin Coleman.
- Wisconsin’s jump in the rankings gives the Big Ten another program in the top 15.
- Confidence is as good a sign as any that Minnesota is trending in the right direction.
- Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz thinks a slightly short week of preparation is a good deal for the Hawkeyes.
- The making of a fun new trophy during the Nebraska-Minnesota game week.
- Tim Beckman is hoping to add some heat to the Northwestern-Illinois rivalry
- Former starter Danny Etling is handling his move to second-string quarterback well.
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.
Pat Fitzgerald says he would be in favor of the Big Ten giving its teams the week off for Thanksgiving.— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) November 25, 2014
Brady Hoke asked about the impact of Rutgers and Maryland joining the Big Ten: "Well, for us it hasn't been very good." Mich. lost to both.— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) November 25, 2014
Mark Dantonio says he's been "very impressed" with ability of Rutgers and Maryland to adjust to Big Ten. MSU beat them by a combined 82-18.— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) November 25, 2014
Brady Hoke on what has stood out watching Ohio State on film: "Both sides of the ball, and their kicking game, too." So, everything.— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) November 25, 2014
Kill on a chance to reach B1G title game with a win: "We're probably doing it sooner than I thought we would."— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) November 25, 2014
Franklin says that being in the pocket is Hackenberg's strength -- but having a pocket isn't a strength of the offense.— Josh Moyer (@ESPNJoshMoyer) November 25, 2014
Jerry Kill on stopping Melvin Gordon: "It's an issue... He's like a missile." Stresses gap control is essential.— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) November 25, 2014
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill on the status of running back David Cobb: "He'll be very questionable."— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) November 25, 2014
Each team could have used one or two more victories on the recruiting trail, so let’s take a look at a few current players recruited by both teams who could have made an impact for the opposing team in the big game on Saturday, and a few future battles that could impact games in the years to come.
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer is expecting better behavior from his Ohio State team, and anybody who gets ejected for fighting this year against rival Michigan could face an even harsher penalty from the Buckeyes coach.
"He wants the game to be very intense, but if anybody throws any punches this year, we're dismissed," linebacker Curtis Grant said. "You know he pretty much put it out there [Sunday], so there's no telling what will happen if you get into a fight this year. We've got to be on our best behavior."
Dismissal from a game for fighting is automatic from game officials, something Ohio State running back Dontre Wilson and offensive guard Marcus Hall both found out after a second-quarter melee marred last year's game against Michigan.
Hall missed the Big Ten championship game against Michigan State because of a suspension, a matchup the Buckeyes lost to snap a 24-game winning streak and fall out of position to play for the national title.
Grant seemed to be referring to the in-game disqualification, but with Meyer making it clear during his first team meeting this week that he would have no tolerance for extracurricular activity, the punishment from the program could be severe and long-lasting as well.
Unless, that is, you’re into watching the single-game FBS rushing record fall for the second straight Saturday. (So who breaks it this week?) Yes, last week was dull, unless, of course, you’re into Florida State’s weekly high-wire act, re-awakenings at Arkansas and Minnesota or UCLA’s continued stranglehold on Los Angeles.
My point is, the latest set of games didn’t significantly impact the College Football Playoff picture -- at least in comparison to the past few weeks. Barring some craziness at the selection-committee table, the top four on Tuesday night is going to look no different than last week’s edition.
But Week 13 was simply the calm before the storm. Not so sure? Check out first nine paragraphs Gene Wojciechowski’s BMOC column. The rocky road to Dec. 9 is enough to make a fan of any playoff contender choke on his or her turkey dinner.
And it starts in two days.
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1. And then there were two ...: Bovada released its updated odds Monday on the Heisman Trophy winner, and only two names are left: Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon. Mariota is the favorite with 1-3 odds, while Gordon is at 2-1. All other players/bets are off the board.
I've said this before, but I'm really not sure what else Gordon has to do to pass Mariota here. In a land where there's just Jesus, girls and Marcus Mariota, the Oregon quarterback has had an unbelievable season. But Gordon's performance is maybe the best from a running back in the last 25 years. Look at past Heisman-winning running backs -- Mark Ingram, Rashaan Salaam, Ron Dayne, Ricky Williams, Eddie George -- and, with the exception of Williams, Gordon has more rushing yards, more yards per carry and more TDs than all of them. And he's just 15 yards and two TDs shy of tying Williams' production; plus, he's averaging 2.4 yards a carry more than Williams. This isn't just a great season for Gordon; it's historically great. He's having one of the best seasons in NCAA history.
2. Ralph Friedgen returning to Maryland: The Rutgers' offensive coordinator is not being made available to the media this week ... but it's pretty clear he doesn't like this week's opponent in Maryland. OK, let's be honest: He hates Maryland. He was fired as its coach in 2010, the same year he was named ACC Coach of the Year, which obviously doesn't happen too often. And he didn't hold back a few years ago when discussing his alma mater: "I could care less about Maryland, I've burned my diploma. ...Well, they talk about Maryland pride. They didn't show me a whole lot of Maryland pride, either getting the job or getting fired."
Think this game doesn't take on a bit more of added importance? Rutgers players told NJ.com there's some added motivation this week. It's a storyline worth following, and it'll be interesting to see how both Friedgen and Maryland fans react to his homecoming.
3. Jerry Kill or Urban Meyer?: One of them has to wind up as the Big Ten coach of the year -- but which one is it going to be? Minnesota has undoubtedly exceeded expectations this season by picking up the Little Brown Jug and the Floyd of Rosedale ... but Meyer's on the cusp of a playoff berth with a redshirt freshman quarterback who was supposed to spend this season on the sideline. If Kill fails to grab Paul Bunyan's Axe by beating Wisconsin this week, Meyer might have the edge. If the Gophers win and wind up in the Big Ten title game? Well, it'd be hard to pick against Kill. Minnesota hasn't finished first or second in the conference since 1967.
Now, on to the links ...
- Urban Meyer says The Game is all that matters this week.
- Michigan center Jack Miller, a native Ohioan, has disliked the Buckeyes for years.
- If Michigan State wants to prove itself further, it'll need a bowl against an SEC opponent.
- The father of Penn State's Christian Hackenberg says he "won't even touch" the prospect of transferring.
- Kyle Flood says Rutgers' margin of defeat lately doesn't change his outlook.
- Takeaways from Maryland's win over the weekend.
- Kevin Wilson is still looking for consistency from the Hoosiers.
- Jerry Kill has become a hot name for some coaching vacancies -- but, for Minnesota fans, that's the price of success.
- Silence from Nebraska's athletic director makes sense for now, writes the Lincoln Journal Star's Steven M. Sipple.
- Looking back on the last time Wisconsin played Minnesota for the B1G title ... 52 years ago.
- Illinois coach Tim Beckman is receiving a bit of a reprieve from the hot seat, at least for now.
- Quarterback Jake Rudock isn't getting a lot of love from Iowa fans, in spite of his likable numbers.
- Purdue coach Darrell Hazell says the Boilermakers are "self-destructing more so than not competing."
- Brandon Vitabile is irreplaceable as Northwestern's man in the middle.
Each year in the week leading up to The Game, red tape covers Ohio State's campus and redacts all the appearances of the unlucky 13th letter of the alphabet that tape can reach. Gossip on Twitter the first day of this week suggested the school was getting rid of the last two letters -- the "um" -- on a large sign that says "Ohio Stadium" and hangs outside the Buckeyes' field. A photo of a crane lifting the letters away turned out to be a hoax.
The Wolverines travel to Ohio's capital city this weekend with a 5-6 record after losing to the Terrapins last Saturday. Ohio State (10-1) needs to beat its rival in order to keep alive its chance for an invite to the College Football Playoff. No red tape needed here.
Nonetheless, there were a few individuals who stood out about the rest and are receiving awards in our penultimate round of helmet stickers.
Senior LB Jake Ryan: Ryan topped 100 tackles on the season during his final game at the Big House. He finished with a game-high 13 stops, which led the Big Ten on Saturday. On Monday, he was named one of the five finalists for this year's Butkus Award, given to the nation's top linebacker.
Junior C Jack Miller: Miller is the cog in the middle of a much-maligned offensive line that has steadily improved this season. Michigan's running attack in November has been as good as we've seen from the Wolverines in the past two years. It gained 292 yards on the ground against Maryland. If nothing else, Miller deserves some recognition for representing his team well while answering questions about their shortcomings throughout the season.
Junior DE Mario Ojemudia: Ojemudia and fellow lineman Taco Charlton played well while replacing dismissed senior Frank Clark. Ojemudia made five tackles, one behind the line of scrimmage and batted down a screen pass that he nearly turned into an interception. He stepped into a bigger role on Saturday and did so without stumbling.
@mitchsherman What do you think should happen at Nebraska?— Shonny Schneider (@sss809) November 24, 2014
@mitchsherman what is the final straw for making changes at NU? Sellout streak?— Christopher Hawkins (@GoBigRedRev) November 24, 2014
@mitchsherman: Nebraska is a hot topic again late in the season for its failure to win key games. The Huskers' 28-24 loss to Minnesota on Saturday squashed the final strand of hope to play for a Big Ten title, officially extending the drought to 15 years without a conference crown. I think the Nebraska administration needs to ask a different set of questions this year than last, when Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst offered a vague statement in support of coach Bo Pelini at the close of the regular season. Is Nebraska satisfied with its place in the Big Ten? Are the Huskers content to win nine games a year but rarely, if ever, factor in the national conversation? If so, change is unnecessary. But if the Huskers want more, some kind of fix appears in order. Clearly, the formula in place isn't working to improve Nebraska. As for the streak of 340 consecutive sellouts, Nebraska can't afford to wait until it ends before taking action. Apathy is growing as the Huskers slide further down the Big Ten pecking order. And the streak of sellouts should not be taken for granted.
@mitchsherman: The Badgers, in that scenario, would land in the Cotton, Fiesta or Peach. The College Football Playoff committee would then be tasked to determine if Ohio State or Michigan State belonged in another of the New Year's Six games -- other than the Orange, which will be determined by conference tie-ins. The Orange Bowl gets the Big Ten runner-up only if it ranks ahead of every available SEC team. The Spartans appear in decent shape today for a New Year's Six spot, especially if Ohio State keeps winning. Of course, the Buckeyes, with a close loss to Wisconsin, could remain ahead of Michigan State and steal a New Year's Six spot, knocking MSU to the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. Remember, though, if a Big Ten team lands in the Orange Bowl, another can't go to the Citrus. Got that? In a nutshell, it's complicated.
@mitchsherman assume 10 bowl eligible teams this year. What are chances B1G can win 6-7 with conference setting up matchups with bowls?— Dave Fitzgerald (@BuckeyeFitzy) November 24, 2014
@mitchsherman: It's a safe assumption that the league will get 10 teams in the postseason. Nine are eligible, with Northwestern or Illinois to get a sixth win on Saturday. For an 11th team to make it, Michigan must upset Ohio State. The Big Ten, as usual, will be matched against the SEC as a likely underdog in the Outback and possibly the Citrus or TaxSlayer (formerly Gator). If Ohio State wins the league and misses the playoff, it figures to go in as a favorite to win a New Year's Six bowl, though the same can't be said for other remaining Big Ten contenders Michigan State, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Moving down the line, Pac-12 foes will likely bring stronger resumes than the Big Ten in San Diego and Santa Clara. By my count, the league will be fortunate to go 3-3 with its top six teams. It looks slightly better for the lower-division teams, matched against the ACC in New York and Conference USA in Dallas, though the SEC could loom in Nashville. The Big Ten's at-large matchups might determine its chance to get above .500 in the postseason. I'd say, expect four to five wins and hope for six..
Kirk Herbstreit's Gameplan Breakdown
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
12:00 PM ET Illinois Northwestern 12:00 PM ET Purdue Indiana 12:00 PM ET Michigan 6 Ohio State 3:30 PM ET 10 Michigan State Penn State 3:30 PM ET 18 Minnesota 14 Wisconsin 3:30 PM ET Rutgers Maryland