Why Michigan State will win: Improvement was expected all along on offense, but seeing the Spartans on top of the league in scoring at this point still qualifies as a surprise. Connor Cook’s development at quarterback makes Michigan State even more dangerous than it was a year ago, when it won the Big Ten relying heavily on its defense, and the roster looks capable of winning either a slugfest or a shootout. Heisman Trophy candidate Ameer Abdullah might be able to make this one the latter, but the Spartans are the most talented team in the league, their playoff hopes are on the line and they’re at home. That’s too much to overcome for the Huskers. Michigan State 34, Nebraska 24. -- Austin Ward
Why Nebraska could win: The Huskers, under Bo Pelini, usually find a way to match up well with Michigan State because the Spartans, especially on defense, coach with a mindset similar to the Nebraska style. MSU lost to Nebraska in 2011 and 2012 and beat the Huskers 41-28 last year, with help from five Nebraska turnovers. Such understanding helps the Huskers find weaknesses. There’s no doubt Nebraska will attempt to establish the running game. Likely, though, it’ll need help from quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. to extend the field -- his strength in the passing game. If it works, Nebraska can eat clock and play keep-away from Cook. -- Mitch Sherman
Why Rutgers will win: Well, first things first: Have you seen Michigan play lately? The program is in total disarray behind the scenes, and the Wolverines haven't shown that they can beat -- or even compete credibly with -- any team with a pulse. Plus, Rutgers has had a terrific pass rush this season, which should frighten the bejeezus out of Devin Gardner given the state of the maize and blue offensive line. Michigan's defense will keep it in the game, and Gary Nova has to make sure he doesn't play Rutgers out of the game. But no sane person can possibly pick the Wolverines with any confidence right now. Rutgers 21, Michigan 14 -- Brian Bennett
Why Michigan will win: Of course the resident contrarian is going with the Maize and Blue. Rutgers sees all the turmoil at Michigan and clearly will overlook the Wolverines (now there's a sentence that has never been typed). In all seriousness though, Michigan can't be done this early, can it? A loss in Piscataway, New Jersey, effectively ends the season for the Wolverines, who have yet to lose in the East Division and still can hope for a stunning turnaround. I expect a big night from Frank Clark, Blake Countess, possibly New Jersey native Jabrill Peppers and the Wolverines' defense, which records two pick-sixes against Nova. Gardner avoids the turnover bug and leads two field goal drives as Michigan prevails in Piscataway. Michigan 20, Rutgers 17 -- Adam Rittenberg
Why Purdue will win: I just can't shake the idea that Darrell Hazell can push his Boilermakers to at least one conference win this season. The Illini (or Northwestern on Nov. 22) might be their best chance. Illinois ranks 109th nationally with 11 turnovers at the end of September. A couple more on Saturday could give Purdue the opportunities it needs to stay close and pull out a big win. If that doesn't sell you, Jim Cornelison of Chicago Blackhawks anthem fame will be singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before kickoff. Something interesting is bound to follow. Purdue 26, Illinois 24. -- Dan Murphy
Why Illinois will win: Neither team is particularly good, but Illinois shouldn't struggle putting up points in this game. Quarterback Wes Lunt, tailback Josh Ferguson and wideout Geronimo Allison combine to form one of the more underrated trios in the Big Ten, and Purdue's defense gave up 72 points to the directional Michigans. As for Purdue's offense? Well, Hazell still isn't quite sure who's going to start at quarterback Saturday. It won't matter; Illinois pulls away in the second half. Illinois 35, Purdue 21. -- Josh Moyer
The other unanimous selections
Ohio State 42, Maryland 30: Maryland's first-ever Big Ten home game is a doozy as the Buckeyes come to town. The Terrapins are strongest where Ohio State is weakest, with their electric receivers capable of causing all sorts of trouble for Chris Ash's still wobbly pass defense. Expect lots of fireworks, but in the end a rapidly improving Buckeyes offense has too much speed for Maryland to handle.
Wisconsin 28, Northwestern 17: Wisconsin hasn't won in Evanston, Illinois, since 1999, and the Wildcats are riding a sudden urge of confidence after knocking off Penn State on the road last week. Tanner McEvoy will have to be sharp, but the combination of the Badgers' defense and Melvin Gordon will rule the day.
Indiana 31, North Texas 24: Indiana can beat almost anybody if its offense is clicking (see: Missouri) and lose to just about anyone because of its defense (see: Bowling Green). Still, the Hoosiers should bounce back against the Mean Green.
Mitch Sherman: 48-11 (.814)
Austin Ward: 48-11 (.814)
Brian Bennett: 47-12 (.797)
Adam Rittenberg: 47-12 (.797)
Dan Murphy: 17-5 (.773)
Josh Moyer: 43-16 (.729)
1. Michigan Meltdown: Now the Wolverines are right back where they started, restoring Devin Gardner as the starter at quarterback and hoping for different results. Based on his disappearance from the depth chart, it's a safe bet that the injuries Shane Morris sustained Saturday forced the swap, but Brady Hoke went right back to highlighting the continued lack of communication both inside and outside Schembechler Hall right now in the press conference announcing the change. Hoke clearly hasn't learned anything from the last few days, falling right back to his policy of not discussion the health of his players at a time when transparency would almost certainly work in his benefit. Pointing out the problems Michigan has had getting players at 100 percent might actually be a useful excuse for some of the on-field issues the program has had during its 2-3 start. Maybe it's too late for that now anyway, but pulling back the curtain and trying to be a bit more open and honest could at least be a start in trying to fight back in the public-relations battle he is badly losing at the moment.
2. Undercard Bout of the Week: All the attention is focused on the prize fight under the lights between Nebraska and Michigan State, and deservedly so given the standing of those marquee teams and how important the matchup will be for the College Football Playoff selection committee. But there's a battle in the afternoon that could be just as entertaining, and what it might lack in implications for the national title, it makes up for it with intrigue in the East Division. Maryland has the athletes at wide receiver to test the Buckeyes and their suspect secondary. Ohio State is rolling offensively with J.T. Barrett at quarterback, and the Terps were gashed in their biggest test of the season against West Virginia. There could be plenty of fireworks, and the winner will establish itself as a contender in the East -- and potentially the favorite depending on what happens with the Spartans.
3. Trophy talk: The votes have been unanimous for a couple weeks now, but Ameer Abdullah's standing as the unquestioned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year at this early stage could be threatened as early as this week given the head-to-head matchup with one of his closest competitors. Obviously the Nebraska tailback isn't directly squaring off with Connor Cook on the field, but if the Michigan State quarterback puts up another impressive statistical outing, knocks off the Huskers and keeps his team in line for a potential playoff berth, Abdullah might find himself lower than the No. 1 spot next week despite his gaudy numbers. On the flip side, a road win that keeps the Huskers unbeaten with Abdullah gouging one of the most feared defenses in the nation would only solidify his push for the Heisman Trophy. Of course, there is plenty on the line for both teams, but individual honors are up for grabs on Saturday evening as well.
- Defensive tackle Damon Knox could be returning just in time for Michigan State.
- Brady Hoke has a "great relationship" with embattled athletic director Dave Brandon.
- Some key players are taking it easy during Penn State's bye week.
- Rutgers wide receiver Leonte Carroo is earning just as much praise for his blocking as he does for his catches.
- Maryland is breaking out some special helmets for its first Big Ten home game.
- Ohio State is looking forward to welcoming the Terps to the conference.
- Griffin Oakes has been a threat from long range since high school, and he's already forced Indiana to update its record book.
- Nebraska linebacker Zaire Anderson beat the clock for a memorable play.
- The hit that has caused so much scrutiny at Michigan has been a teachable moment for Minnesota.
- If Northwestern is going to pull off another upset this week, it will need to generate some turnovers.
- There are still tickets available for Iowa's last four home games.
- Purdue didn't win last week, but it showed signs of finding some consistency on defense.
- Lessons learned about Illinois coming out of its loss at Nebraska include some ugly defensive numbers.
- Wisconsin quarterback Tanner McEvoy is looking for faster starts offensively.
@BennettESPN Has the Nebraska-MSU game taken over the preseason consensus pick of Ohio State-MSU as the biggest conference game of the year?— Adam Wilson (@wilsonadamiam) October 1, 2014
Brian Bennett: I'm going to East Lansing this weekend and simply cannot wait. This game should be terrific, especially since Nebraska has had more offensive success against Michigan State's defense than anyone else in the Big Ten. The Huskers have a real shot on Saturday night, and I'm expecting a thriller.
In some ways, it could be the biggest game of the year in the conference, because the loser is basically out of the running for the College Football Playoff. But I always think division games are bigger. Whichever team loses this weekend could still get to Indianapolis (perhaps to force a rematch). The Ohio State game may still loom larger for Michigan State because of the division stakes, just as Wisconsin (and possibly Iowa and Minnesota) will for Nebraska. But there might not be a better Big Ten matchup all year then the one on deck at Spartan Stadium.
@BennettESPN Didn't expect announcement of 2 QB system from Iowa coaches. Should we be nervous? Can't recall last time 2 QBs worked out.— DamirSD (@dspot23) October 1, 2014
Brian Bennett: Well, you don't have to look too far back to find successful two-QB systems in the Big Ten. Northwestern pulled it off during a 10-win season in 2012, while Indiana successfully juggled Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson last year.
So it can work, though in those examples, the two quarterbacks offered different skill sets. C.J. Beathard and Jake Rudock aren't all that dissimilar, though Beathard seems to throw a better deep ball and Rudock is a better scrambler. This will likely be more of a ride-the-hot-hand situation than a strict platoon. That has higher potential to be divisive, but at this point, neither quarterback has really separated himself with consistent play.
@BennettESPN 1yr ago UofM was said to be 'a year away' from title contention. Were there any overlooked signs of what has actually happened?— Matt Kirwin (@UofMKirwin12) October 1, 2014
Brian Bennett: I'm not sure who said Michigan was a year away, and in fact, I was always skeptical of the Wolverines this year. Still, it's Brady Hoke's fourth year and his roster should be full of his recruits by now. He can make excuses for being young all he wants, and yes, the offensive line is still fairly inexperienced. But look at Ohio State and how many first-year and second-year players are making key contributions.
The biggest knock on Hoke, in my mind, is the lack of player development in Ann Arbor. (Our Tom VanHaaren did a nice job of detailing that here.) The only two players Hoke has recruited who have made an All-Big Ten team are Blake Countess and Devin Funchess, who were both second-team selections in 2013, and outside of Funchess, none would make an All-Big Ten team if the season ended today. That's way too low of a number for Michigan.
Disrespected Husker Fan from Lincoln writes: Can you explain the reasoning for everybody keeping Nebraska so low in the polls despite their undefeated record? McNeese State would beat Kansas by two touchdowns.
Brian Bennett: I'm not sure comparing yourself to Kansas is the best way to earn respect. While it would be foolish to get hung up on meaningless polls, I do think Nebraska is ranked curiously low right now at 5-0. That's because, in my opinion, of two factors: 1. People still remember that close call with McNeese State (a team, by the way, that is ranked No. 5 in the FCS); and 2. Voters still have a healthy distrust for the Cornhuskers because of their stumbles in big games the past few years.
There's no reason to fret about it, however. If Nebraska manages to win this weekend, it will make a huge leap in the polls. More importantly, the committee will have to consider a 6-0 Huskers team very seriously. An unbeaten Big Ten champion would almost certainly get into the playoff.
@BennettESPN what will it take for IU to beat Iowa nxt week? are there 3 games remaining after NT that are winnable to get bowl eligible?— Iago (@_Blake_Jones) October 1, 2014
Brian Bennett: If Indiana's recent pattern continues, the Hoosiers probably will lose to North Texas and then beat Iowa. The win at Missouri stands as the most inexplicable result in the Big Ten thus far. Obviously, beating the Mean Green this week is crucial for Kevin Wilson's team, which then must find three more victories in Big Ten play. Indiana will be favored to beat Purdue at home in the finale, so there's one. The other three best options appear to be at reeling Michigan on Nov. 1, at home against Penn State (whom the Hoosiers beat last year in Bloomington) on Nov. 8 and at Rutgers on Nov. 15.
But until Wilson's team can find some consistency from week to week on both sides of the ball, I'll believe it when I see it.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke, who moved Devin Gardner back into the starting quarterback role Wednesday, said he takes responsibility for communication issues that allowed Shane Morris to return to the field on Saturday after he showed symptoms of a concussion.
Hoke, however, reiterated that it's not his decision to determine when players are healthy enough to play. He declined to clear up any discrepancies between his account of the weekend's events and a statement released by athletic director Dave Brandon at 1 a.m. Tuesday.
"When you're a leader you have to take responsibility," Hoke said. "I take responsibility for our student-athletes, and I take it for their health and welfare."
Gardner, a redshirt senior, will start at quarterback against Rutgers on Saturday night. He had started 16 consecutive regular-season games before last week.
Morris, who suffered a high ankle sprain in addition to the head injury Saturday, wasn't listed by Hoke as an option for the Rutgers game.
Hoke and his players are the only members of the Michigan athletic department to date who have fielded questions about what Brandon called a "serious lack of communication" in a written statement. Hoke said he still has a strong relationship with his boss and that he isn't bothered by the statement.
"This is a big family, this university is. That's the way we look at it," Hoke said. "The statement itself is what we stand by."
Hoke has said this is a young team and attributes that fact to some of the woes on the field.
While youth can be a factor in some cases, one Big Ten assistant says it shouldn’t be an excuse for why a team isn’t performing, or why players aren’t developing.
“I’m not sure anyone can use the excuse of a young team,” the coach said. “It’s the coaches’ job to get players ready to play. If they don’t have experience, then you have to minimize what you ask [the players] to do.”
To understand Michigan’s situation, we take a look at the past recruiting classes, how the players have developed and how the results compare to their biggest rival.
Class of 2011
Hoke was hired in January 2011, so he and his staff only had a month to add any pieces to the 2011 class before national signing day. Hoke and his assistants added several prospects to this class, and these players are currently either seniors or redshirt juniors.
ESPN 300 commits: 0
Solid contributors (5): Brennen Beyer, Blake Countess, Frank Clark, Desmond Morgan, Raymon Taylor
Players who left early (7): Thomas Rawls, Chris Barnett, Tony Posada, Chris Rock, Antonio Poole, Greg Brown, Tamani Carter
Outcome: With seven players leaving before graduating, that was a huge blow to depth and the current roster. Only having five of 19 commitments develop to their potential didn’t help, either.
Class of 2012
This was Hoke’s first full class, and those players are now either juniors or redshirt sophomores. These prospects have had three years in Hoke’s system and ideally should be the big contributors for the program.
Total commits: 25
ESPN 300 commits: 4
Solid contributors (5): Devin Funchess, Jehu Chesson, Willie Henry, Joe Bolden, Jarrod Wilson.
Jury is still out (4): Amara Darboh, Dennis Norfleet, Chris Wormley, James Ross.
Comparison: Ohio State’s 2012 class had 25 commits as well, and eight of those prospects turned into solid, consistent contributors. Urban Meyer was hired in November 2011, so this was partially his first class.
Outcome: You could make the argument that there is still time left for these players to develop. Time is running out, though, and having only five of 25 playing up to their expected potential from this class is not good for the roster.
Class of 2013
This was Hoke’s second recruiting class at Michigan and it was loaded with talent. This class is now redshirt freshmen and sophomores, so it’s hard to fully judge these prospects as they still have plenty of football ahead of them.
Total commits: 27
ESPN 300 commits: 15
Solid contributors (5): Derrick Green, Jake Butt, Jourdan Lewis, Delano Hill, Taco Charlton.
Jury’s out (5): David Dawson, Patrick Kugler, Chris Fox, Mike McCray, Ben Gedeon.
Comparison: Ohio State’s 2013 class was Meyer’s first full class and 11 of the 24 commitments are already solid, consistent contributors. This is impressive, as these players are still relatively young. Having that many young contributors has helped accelerate Meyer’s plan for the Buckeyes and turned them into Big Ten title and College Football Playoff contenders.
Outcome: Michigan’s recruiting classes have improved as time has gone on, but it might be too late. The 2011 and 2012 classes were where the Wolverines needed the most help with Hoke’s transition, and whether it was lack of development or some other reason, those players haven’t provided much production. Prospects from the 2013 and 2014 classes have started to take over as the majority of the impact players for the Wolverines.
Class of 2014
This was Hoke’s best class yet, with a five-star commit and 10 prospects ranked as four-stars. Injuries have hampered a few prospects from making a real impact, but it is clear that the younger players are already pushing for time on the field.
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 9
Solid contributors: Mason Cole, Bryan Mone.
Comparison: Ohio State had 23 commitments in its 2014 class with 11 ESPN 300 prospects. The Buckeyes are seeing results from Curtis Samuel, Raekwon McMillan, Sean Nuernberger and Erick Smith. The Buckeyes have five true freshmen in the two-deep, so they are again getting production from the younger players.
Outcome: Jabrill Peppers, Drake Harris and a few other prospects have dealt with injuries, preventing them from consistently contributing. By all accounts, Peppers should be on the field when healthy and this class already has one starter in Cole along the offensive line. It’s too early to tell how these prospects will pan out, but it is looking as though there will be some good players from this class.
- Michigan remains on the front page, rather than the sports page, for the way it handled quarterback Shane Morris' concussion and the hit's aftermath. Students and alumni marched to the university president's house to ask that athletic director Dave Brandon be removed from his post. The biggest authority figures on campus doled out written statements Tuesday, leaving head coach Brady Hoke and his players to answer all the questions that follow. A member of Congress got involved, but the Big Ten said it won't penalize Michigan for failing to follow the conference's head injury protocol. This is growing into a problem that doesn't appear will wash away with the next news cycle.
- Ameer Abdullah sprinted forward in the Heisman Trophy chase this week after churning out another 200-yard performance Saturday against Illinois. The Alabama native is now behind only Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Georgia running back Todd Gurley, according to the oddsmakers in Vegas. Abdullah jumped from a 25-1 candidate to a 9-1 candidate in a week. He could launch himself into the frontrunner spot with another standout performance and a victory over Michigan State in East Lansing this Saturday.[+] EnlargeEric Francis/Getty ImagesNebraska's Ameer Abdullah is getting plenty of Heisman Trophy consideration already.
- It's been a good start to the week for second-string quarterbacks around the Big Ten. Iowa announced its former backup, C.J. Beathard, will split time with Jake Rudock in a platoon system moving forward. Maryland's Caleb Rowe received a big vote of confidence from his head coach while challenging C.J. Brown for playing time. And lastly, Wisconsin veteran Joel Stave, who began the season with 19 career starts, has battled through the mental block that kept him on the sideline during September.
Read about all those quarterback happenings and more, in this morning's edition of the links:
- The Michigan athletes council supports AD Dave Brandon.
- Leonte Carroo is on pace to become the best receiver in Rutgers history.
- Inspecting Penn State’s running back development the last few weeks.
- Ohio State’s offensive line shows signs of dominance.
- Michigan State QB Connor Cook reflects on last season’s game against Nebraska and running away from DE Randy Gregory.
- What is wrong with Indiana’s passing game?
- Randy Edsall has confidence in Maryland backup QB Caleb Rowe.
- A Cornhuskers offensive line that has steadily improved this season faces its toughest test to date against the Spartans.
- The Illini offense has been more explosive this season, but it’s also imploding just as frequently.
- Iowa plans to move to a two-quarterback system with C.J. Beathard and Jake Rudock for the rest of the season.
- Minnesota fans can get a closer look at the Little Brown Jug now that it’s back in the Gophers possession for the first time since 2005.
- Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave has put his September case of the yips behind him this week.
- Rob Ennis, a running back prospect committed to Purdue, faces aggravated assault charges after punching a female classmate in the nose during a school beauty pageant.
- Northwestern’s win over Penn State on Saturday gave its players a rare chance to celebrate this season.
University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel has asked for a "thorough review" of the school's in-game player safety procedures following the controversy surrounding quarterback Shane Morris' head injury.
In his first public comments on the situation, Schlissel issued a statement Tuesday afternoon expressing "extreme disappointment" in how the Wolverines coaches and medical staff handled the injury to Morris in Saturday's loss to Minnesota. Morris was left in the game despite appearing woozy from a shot to the head and was later put back in the game for one play. Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon acknowledged in his own statement early Tuesday morning that Morris had suffered a mild concussion..
Schlissel said he has been in "regular discussion" Brandon and the school's board of regents about the incident and wants the athletic department to provide him and other campus leaders with detailed injury and safety procedures. Those protocols will also be reviewed by experts from Michigan's medical system, he said.
"Despite having one of the finest levels of team medical expertise in the country, our system failed on Saturday," Schlissel said in the statement. "We did not get this right and for this I apologize to Shane, his family, his teammates, and the entire Michigan family. It is a critical lesson to us about how vigilant and disciplined we must always be to ensure student-athlete safety. As president, I will take all necessary steps to make sure that occurs and to enforce the necessary accountability for our success in this regard."
Schlissel has been Michigan's president since July. He was previously the provost at Brown.
Brandon outlined two changes Michigan will make immediately.
By the way, if you’re not following us, what are you waiting for? Follow along at @ESPNRittenberg, @BennettESPN, @ESPNJoshMoyer, @DanMurphyESPN, @MitchSherman and @AWardESPN.
Hoke says he won't add anything to Brandon's statement today. "I feel bad for Shane."— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) September 30, 2014
Hoke says "we'll see" about Morris playing Saturday at Rutgers. At this point, I see no good reason why Michigan would play him.— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) September 30, 2014
Brady Hoke: "The statement is out there, and it is what it is." That really cleared things up. Bizarre teleconference.— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) September 30, 2014
Pelini says there's no coach in the B1G who would trot out someone on the field who's "dinged." "Anyone who would imply otherwise is wrong"— Josh Moyer (@ESPNJoshMoyer) September 30, 2014
Gary Andersen notes there's not a player on Wisconsin roster that has played in Evanston. Calls Northwestern "a new venue" for Badgers.— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) September 30, 2014
"I don't think we have a talent problem. I think we have some young corners that need to play better." Urban Meyer on his secondary— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) September 30, 2014
Dantonio notes SR DE Marcus Rush in line to have most career starts in Michigan State history. Still one of most underrated guys in B1G.— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) September 30, 2014
Minnesota's Jerry Kill: "The ceiling for our whole team is that we can get a lot better." If so, Gophers will be a contender in the West.— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) September 30, 2014
Franklin: "It's not like a whole lot of things popped up on Saturday that we haven't been writing stories about all year long."— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) September 30, 2014
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Students and fans flooded the front lawn of University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel's on-campus house Tuesday night, demanding the school get rid of athletic director Dave Brandon.
A few hundred protesters gathered at the school's nearby Diag -- a popular outdoor meeting place on campus -- at 6 p.m. and marched the short distance to the president's house a half-hour later. Craig Kaplan, an undergraduate senior, stood on the home's front steps and led chants with a bullhorn as the rally wound down shortly before 7 p.m.
"Michigan has a special place in my heart," said Kaplan, who played a role in organizing the protest. "The fact that it's been mismanaged like this hurts me deeply as a student, as a fan, just as a person that cares about this university. It makes me upset how students have been handled and how the culture at Michigan has changed."
The protest came in the wake of Brandon and Schlissel acknowledging that the athletic department made mistakes while dealing with quarterback Shane Morris' head injury during Saturday's 30-14 loss to Minnesota in Ann Arbor.
Brandon said a "serious lack of communication" on the Michigan sideline Saturday allowed Morris to return to the field after showing symptoms of a concussion. The incident and the way Brandon and his employees handled its aftermath have led to a large group of Michigan supporters to call for his ouster. More than 9,000 students, staff members and alumni have backed Brandon's removal in an online petition started by a graduate student Monday night.
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