Our third question of the week: What was the Big Ten's biggest disappointment of the season?
Mitch Sherman: Christmas came early for Big Ten detractors. No individual or team performance matched the league-wide flop of Week 2. You remember it as the day Ohio State lost 35-21 at home to Virginia Tech, Notre Dame pounded Michigan 31-0 and Oregon dominated the second half against Michigan State. Moreover, Nebraska barely avoided overtime against McNeese State. Iowa scored two late touchdowns to sneak past Ball State. Maryland, Minnesota, Rutgers and Illinois – all eventual bowl teams -- won close over South Florida, Middle Tennessee and Howard and Western Kentucky. Northwestern lost to Northern Illinois, and Central Michigan routed Purdue. Seriously, The nation laughed at the Big Ten all year because of that day. Want to know why league teams opened as underdogs in all 10 bowl games? Look to Sept. 6.
Dan Murphy: The Big Ten championship game. The state of Ohio might disagree, but this year's game in Indianapolis did not live up to its billing. This was supposed to be a showdown between one of the country's best offenses and one of its best defenses. One side of that equation never showed up in Ohio State's 59-0 win over Wisconsin. The lopsided score (and the Buckeyes defense) gave us no chance to marvel at Melvin Gordon. The Heisman Trophy runner-up ran for 76 yards, eliminating whatever small chance he had to win the award. I understand that without an Ohio State blowout, the Big Ten probably would have been the odd man out in this year's College Football Playoff. But from the standpoint of wanting a dramatic, competitive finale to the conference season, man, what a dud.
Adam Rittenberg: I remember talking with MGoBlog's Brian Cook about Michigan in the summer, and Cook described Michigan's schedule as "low-variance," likely to produce eight or nine wins, but probably not 10 or seven. I completely agreed. No one envisioned 5-7 as being remotely possible for a team that, despite underachieving the year before, seemingly had improved depth and leadership. Brady Hoke really liked his team. Opposing coaches told me the talent absolutely was in place for a solid season. Then the bottom fell out against Notre Dame and Michigan never truly recovered. I really thought the offense could at least be respectable under new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, but it never got on track against solid competition. Northwestern and Iowa certainly belong in the biggest-disappointment conversation, but neither team has as much raw talent as Michigan. What a clunker.
Brian Bennett: As disappointing as Michigan and Northwestern were, I never viewed either as a serious league title contender. Many picked Iowa to win the West Division because of its dream schedule. No Ohio State or Michigan State and both Wisconsin and Nebraska at home the final two weeks. Yet the Hawkeyes managed to go just 7-5, losing at home to a terrible Iowa State team, getting blown out at Minnesota and letting Maryland run all over them. This Iowa team never found a real identity and squandered what could have potentially been a special season. That should cause some re-evaluation this offseason in Iowa City.
Austin Ward: The premature end of defensive end Noah Spence’s college career. Ohio State obviously disagreed with the ruling against Spence, and perhaps it had a case that his failed drug test wasn’t for a performance-enhancing substance. But either way, the junior did break the rules when he was suspended for a second time by the Big Ten, bringing a promising college career to a sad end. The league was robbed of a chance to watch his elite talent for another season, Ohio State’s plans for unleashing a completely unstoppable defensive line at every position took a blow and, of course, Spence’s own health was damaged. Hopefully there is a happy ending for him following his time away from the field, but it was certainly a wasted opportunity this season.
Urban Meyer is the offensive guru, a master motivator with a reputation for his relationships with players. Nick Saban is the defensive genius, a notedly strong disciplinarian with an incredible attention to detail.
The lines between them may actually blur at times, with Saban also beloved by his players and Meyer not one to let his organization fall out of order. And the truth is, other than that split between offense and defense, the two might actually be more like-minded than they’re given credit for, a point that was driven home again when they took up yet another issue in lockstep to try to change college football for the better.
“I know we both committed our entirely livelihood to college football and believe in players,” Meyer said. “The players are the most important part of this whole institution of college football.
“So we've had many, many conversations about how to make sure we keep the game or do the best we can to make sure the game stays what it is.”
That previously put agents on campus and the possibility of providing stipends for players in the cross-hairs of arguably the two most famous coaches in America, and now they’re pushing for some help for families ahead of a historic meeting between Alabama and Ohio State in the semifinal of the inaugural College Football Playoff.
With expensive price tags on flights and hotels around the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the possibility of an additional game looming with a victory, families have expressed their concerns both in letters and on social media that they can’t afford to see their sons play in the most important games of their lives. Ohio State was able to offer $800 in reimbursements through the student-assistance fund, but that isn’t likely to come close to covering even one trip on relatively short notice, and Saban and Meyer are once again raising their voices to draw attention to an issue that might otherwise be overlooked.
“I just hope that because it's a first that we do the best job that we possibly can for all teams involved, all players involved, all families involved, assessing how we do this so that we can make it better for the families in the future,” Saban said. “I think that when I say make it better, I think for the travel that's involved with all the families, that maybe we should do something for the family so that they have an opportunity to get to the game so that they can see the players play.
“I think that would be something great, and I think that's something that all the coaches up here really, really support.”
Sitting right next to him at the news conference last week in Orlando, Saban already had an ally who had strongly come out in favor of assisting the extended football family, with Meyer pointing to the huge amounts of money the playoff format is expected to bring in for conferences and universities.
Figuring out exactly how to slice up the pie and make sure moms and dads are in the building moving forward surely won’t be an issue that is resolved in time for the first playoff. But just like they did back in the SEC, a pair of powerful rivals are at least making it a topic of conversation to potentially influence some change down the line.
“That was my first thought,” Meyer said. “I want to see how our families are going to be able to afford two bowl games if we’re fortunate enough to keep going. Universities and conferences are making a lot of money off the TV deals, how are we going to treat the families of the players? I still haven’t heard much about it, but I’m going to keep pushing it because I want to know.
“I’m not sure what the answer is. ... They had a room where all those people sat and selected [the teams], I wonder if they have another room where people decide on how we make sure we treat the players the right way. You talk about stress over the holidays? Watch what happens here over the next month. I’ve spoken to some of my colleagues about it.”
The conversation between long-time rivals was surely a short one this time. Once again, Saban and Meyer were already on the same page.
1. Today's the day when Wisconsin can make its reunion with Paul Chryst official. Chryst told his players at Pittsburgh that he planned to meet with the Badger brass. His move might leave room for another domino to fall among Big Ten coaches. The chain reaction that started with Bo Pelini's firing at Nebraska could wind up affecting Michigan State as well. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is one of many potential candidates that make sense for the opening at Pitt. Narduzzi danced around questions about his contact with other schools this week. Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio knows it's a matter of time before he loses the talented coordinator, and this might finally be the year.
2. At least Dantonio knows he won't be losing his quarterback this offseason. Redshirt junior Connor Cook said he would return for his final year of eligibility in 2015. Cook said he has “unfinished business” to attend to at the college level. The 6-foot-4 Cook won't have star receiver Tony Lippett to help him fill out his résumé next fall, but he could be helping his draft stock by sticking around. Heisman winners Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston would likely have been selected before Cook in this year's draft. Next year's class is a little less daunting.
3. The Associated Press released its All-America teams Tuesday and 14 Big Ten players were mentioned on the top three units. Four players -- Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman, Brandon Scherff and Joey Bosa -- made the first team. There are always tough calls and offended feelings when trying to narrow down a pool of thousands of players to the very best at each position, but the Big Ten shouldn't feel slighted by any of the picks this season. It would be a tough sell to say any others were undeservedly left off the list.
Now, on to the links…
- Offensive coordinator Tom Herman will stay at Ohio State for the playoffs before taking over as Houston's new head coach.
- Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis says bowl teams are hurt by an antiquated system for distributing ticket allotments.
- Rutgers receiver Andrew Turzilli, a fifth-year transfer from Kansas, is looking forward to his first college bowl experience.
- In a postseason full of Big Ten underdogs, none is fighting the odds as much as Maryland against Stanford.
- Coachless Michigan lost its first player to a transfer this offseason on Tuesday, a redshirt freshman linebacker.
- Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has attracted a lot of attention in coaching circles during his first year with the Nittany Lions.
- The Big Ten Network reached way back in time to fill its Mt. Rushmore of Indiana football.
- Madison prepared to welcome its native son Paul Chryst with a slideshow of his past connections to the town and university.
- The Gophers are feeling the love as they prep for Minnesota's first New Year's Day bowl in a half century.
- Former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini landed a job in his hometown at Youngstown State.
- Iowa is having trouble selling tickets to its eighth Florida bowl game in the last 13 years.
- Former Illinois linebacker Houston Bates, now at Louisiana Tech, will get a chance to end his career against his former teammates.
- Freshman linebacker Ja'Whan Bentley has a bright future in the middle of the Purdue defense.
2. Making a Freshman All-America team has a lot to do with talent and a little to do with luck. Is there a hole that a freshman can fill? There are more holes on struggling teams, but those are the teams avoided by freshmen talented enough to become All-Americans. Four of ESPN's top-10 recruits from the Class of 2014 became freshmen A-As, and 16 of the 22 came from the ESPN Top 300. The lowest-rated recruit to become a Freshman All-American? BYU center Tejan Koroma, a Texan who added 25 pounds when he got to Provo and, at 6-1, 280, started every game. Bet he gets bigger -- and better.
3. We've got a CSU Saturday coming up. The Colorado State Rams play No. 22 Utah in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl at 3:30 p.m. ET. A half-hour later, the CSU-Pueblo Thunderwolves play Minnesota State for the NCAA Division II title. Hey, even nostalgic Colorado fans may root for CSU-Pueblo. Several former members of Gary Barnett's Buff staff coach the Thunderwolves, including John Wristen, the head coach since the program restarted in 2008. Barnett keeps a hand in as advisor and booster. When the team stayed in a hotel the night before one playoff game, Barnett footed the bill.
Our second question of the week: Besides Melvin Gordon and his 408-yard rushing game, who had the top individual performance in the Big Ten?
Brian Bennett: J.T. Barrett's five TDs vs. Michigan State
Josh Moyer: Tevin Coleman's 307 rushing yards vs. Rutgers
My pick didn't break a school record in this game -- or even win, for that matter. But he still put on a tremendous display after running for a season-low 71 yards the week before, against Penn State. Eight of Coleman's carries went for 10 yards or more, and he also had rushing attempts of 67 and 68 yards. His final numbers: 32 carries, 307 yards, 1 TD, 9.6 yards per carry. His performance was overshadowed by having it fall on the same day as Gordon's 408-yard game. But that didn't make it any less impressive.
Dan Murphy: Barrett's 389 total yards (200 passing, 189 rushing) and 4 TDs vs. Minnesota
Barrett saved his best performance of the season for one of the Buckeyes’ closest games. He scored all four of his team’s touchdowns in a 31-24 win against an underrated Minnesota defense. Barrett ran for a school-record 189 yards, which included a record-setting 86-yard touchdown run on a bitterly cold day. He also threw three touchdowns passes (each at least 22 yards long) to reach yet another milestone. The final throw broke Braxton Miller’s mark for most touchdowns by an Ohio State player in a single season. Coach Urban Meyer said after the game that the win at Minnesota provided “a very clear picture of who [Barrett] is now.”
Mitch Sherman: Ameer Abdullah's powerful statement vs. Miami
Before Gordon shredded the record books and Coleman raced past 2,000 yards, Abdullah enjoyed the best start to the season of the league's runners. And his crown jewel of a game came Sept. 20 in Nebraska's 41-31 win over Miami on an emotionally charged night at Memorial Stadium. Abdullah was unyielding, rushing 35 times for 229 yards and three scores. More than the stats, the senior displayed his determination, repeatedly carrying defenders. On not one of those 35 runs did he take a rest. In the aftermath, coach Bo Pelini said Abdullah ran like a "man possessed." No one who saw his performance argued.
Austin Ward: Jalin Marshall's four second-half TDs vs. Indiana
Maybe it wasn’t a relentless onslaught like the Melvin Gordon Show, but for pure explosion and frightening production in a limited window, there might not have been a more jaw-dropping display than the one Marshall crammed into less than a quarter of action against Indiana. Ohio State was dealing with a legitimate upset threat late in the third quarter when the redshirt freshman dynamo fielded a punt and darted 54 yards for a go-ahead score that eased some of the pressure. But that was merely a prelude for a ruthless closing stretch that would include three more touchdowns all through the air that almost single-handedly fought off the Hoosiers and kept the Buckeyes in position to qualify for the College Football Playoff.
Adam Rittenberg: Barrett's five TDs vs. Michigan State
I'm all for variety but I just kept coming back to Barrett's game against Michigan State. He's on the road in a building where the Spartans almost never lose under Mark Dantonio. He's making only his third career road start (Navy was a neutral-site game). And he absolutely carves up the "No Fly Zone" secondary for 300 passing yards and three touchdowns, and he added 86 rushing yards and two more scores. I can't think of a better performance by a freshman quarterback in the Big Ten in recent years.
Normally a prominent offensive coordinator leaving in late December to take a head coaching job would impact a recruiting class quite a bit. That doesn't seem to be the case, though, with Ohio State and offensive coordinator Tom Herman leaving for Houston.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There was already more than enough evidence proving the sharpness of Urban Meyer's eye for talent, but add one more perfect example to the Ohio State coach's file.
Tom Herman wasn't toiling away in total anonymity while at Iowa State and building his case as one of the hottest young coordinators in the nation, but he also wasn't so well known that it was obvious Meyer would have to pursue him when he was putting together his first Buckeyes coaching staff three seasons ago. In fact, there really was no previous relationship between the two of them at all.
But Herman shared a similar philosophy with Meyer and won him over quickly despite not popping up on many coaching hot lists. The same was true for current co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash, when Meyer was in the market for an assistant on that side of the ball after last season.
With a coaching tree that has sprouted yet another branch -- Herman is officially taking over as Houston's coach -- and so many Meyer protégés scattered around the country, by now it should be no secret that Meyer is as successful at spotting what he wants in his coaches as he is recruiting top-shelf talent for them to work with on the field.
Filling Herman's shoes won't be easy, not after his wild success preparing four quarterbacks in the past two seasons -- thanks to a string of injuries that almost certainly would have crippled most attacks but barely slowed down the Buckeyes -- to operate the highest-scoring offense in the Big Ten. But when added to a list of former assistants -- like Dan Mullen, Charlie Strong, Steve Addazio, Doc Holliday, Tim Beckman and Gary Andersen -- who are now in charge of programs, the loss of Herman represents another chance for Meyer to add fresh ideas and continue evolving, rather than pose an insurmountable obstacle for title chances in 2015.
The hiring of Herman by the Cougars also offers a fantastic fit for both parties. Herman's ties to recruiting Texas, his knowledge of quarterback play and the spread offense, and his personality will be smash hits with fans and boosters of his new program. It's a victory for the Buckeyes in that they'll keep him around for as long as they're alive in the College Football Playoff.
So even though there's always uncertainty when a job this critical to a major program like Ohio State comes open, Meyer has earned the benefit of the doubt that he'll get his hire right, probably by nabbing an up-and-comer who wasn't widely considered an option when the process began. And given the somewhat unusual way Meyer operates with his offensive staff, he's already working from ahead because he doesn't have to also replace his invaluable offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner, who like Herman is destined to run his own program at some point in the near future.
"Like on offense right now, we have two coordinators -- Ed Warinner, Tom Herman -- and myself," Meyer said recently. "It’s not one guy calling plays, that’s not the way how we do business. At some places, that’s maybe how they do it.
"But we script each play, everybody is involved in the game plan and that’s the only way I’m going to have it. I don’t want that dictator in there, that’s not the way we do business."
Losing another coordinator, even the reigning Broyles Award winner as the best assistant in the nation, isn't going to run the Buckeyes out of business.
It's probably going to provide a major boost for Houston and it sets Herman on the path to prove himself and potentially land a bigger job down the road, while leaving Meyer to do a bit of professional recruiting again this offseason. In the end, the odds look good that everybody gets what they want.
Aguayo is the first kicker to be a two-time All-American since Ohio State's Mike Nugent, though Nugent did not make the first team in consecutive seasons like the Seminoles' star.
The second-seeded Ducks will play third-seeded Florida State on Jan. 1 at the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual.
A holding penalty eliminated what at first looked like a rushing touchdown for Spartans running back Jeremy Langford. Not long after, the Buckeyes wiped clean the rest of Michigan State’s lead and its chance at a second consecutive Big Ten title, making the holding call a pivotal play in the race for a conference championship.
Langford’s run would have given his Spartans a 28-14 lead with under four minutes to play in the second quarter and their second touchdown in less than 60 seconds. The drive, which started inside the red zone thanks to a fumbled kickoff, was a chance to dump a truckload of pressure on the Buckeyes and their rookie quarterback J.T. Barrett.
Instead, All-American center Jack Allen hooked his arm around an Ohio State defender and dragged him down to open the lane for Langford. It was a clear penalty, which set up a third-and-long Michigan State couldn’t convert. Michael Geiger missed a field goal on the following play, and the Spartans missed a great chance to push Ohio State’s back to the wall.
“All of the sudden momentum just flipped,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said following the game. “If we go in at 28-14 there's a different feel, there's a little bit more like, 'OK, we've got them.' But they hit two big plays in that three minutes. So you deal with it."
Barrett connected with Michael Thomas on the next play for a 79-yard, game-tying touchdown. He would throw another deep ball for another score before the end of the half to complete a 21-point swing in the final minutes of the second quarter. Ohio State took its touchdown lead into the locker room and never looked back en route to a 49-37 win.
If Michigan State doesn’t get caught for holding, it could have pressed the Buckeyes and perhaps taken a two-score lead into the second half. To push the hypothetical further, maybe Barrett doesn’t play as loose without those two late scores and perhaps the Spartans hang on to win. They would be the one-loss team playing an overmatched Wisconsin squad in Indianapolis. With their only loss coming on the road to No. 2 Oregon, perhaps the selection committee sees them as worthy of one of four playoff spots.
On the other side, Urban Meyer is pinned with his first regular-season conference loss in the Big Ten and his third year without a conference title. A second loss kills the Buckeyes' chance of a playoff berth. Meyer is suddenly human, and the perception of the league’s top two teams is flipped.
Instead, the referee threw a flag between Allen and left tackle Jack Conklin and potentially altered the Big Ten season.
"Who knows what could have happened,” Conklin said after the game, “if we could have come out and finished that drive.”
Here is a look at the latest news on the recruiting trail within the Big Ten.
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BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
11:00 AM ET Nevada Louisiana-Lafayette 2:20 PM ET Utah State UTEP 3:30 PM ET 22 Utah Colorado State 5:45 PM ET Western Michigan Air Force 9:15 PM ET South Alabama Bowling Green
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State