You could see all three scenarios happen in the Big Ten this weekend, which could be an important recruiting weekend for a few teams.
Nebraska vs. Purdue:
Can Austin Appleby keep it going this week against Nebraska? Sure. While the Cornhuskers rank third nationally in limiting opponents to a 48.1-percent completion rate, Appleby can look for high percentage throws to speedy backs Akeem Hunt and the do-it-all Raheem Mostert. They've combined to catch 40 passes this year. Miami burned Nebraska in September with a similar style. It’s a good formula for a talented, young quarterback such as Appleby, whose 83.4 QBR index ranks seventh nationally and leads the Big Ten. Since taking over for Danny Etling, the 6-foot-5 sophomore has completed 66.3 percent of his throws and led the Boilermankers to 35.7 points per game. With what we saw from the Nebraska defense last week against Rutgers, reason exists to believe that Appleby can have another good day.
Have we seen the last of Maryland’s feel-good story for this season? The Terps’ fast start took a dramatic turn for the worse last week at Wisconsin. Maryland’s quarterbacks have been beaten up. Its running game was non-existent in Madison. The turnovers are starting to mount -- with nine in the past three games -- and it faces two of the Big Ten’s top defensive units next in Penn State, a familiar foe to coach Randy Edsall, and, after a bye, Michigan State. Maryland looks like it’s a year or two away from a breakthrough. It has recruited athletes such as William Likely and Stefon Diggs, plenty capable of changing games against Big Ten competition, but the infrastructure is not yet strong enough. It’s conceivable, despite five wins in its first seven games, that Maryland will still be in search of a bowl eligibility-clincher in the regular-season finale on Nov. 29 against Rutgers.
Is Illinois on track to salvage its season? The easy answer is no. The Fighting Illini scored a lot of points behind Wes Lunt, now injured, early in the season, and it hasn’t been the same since Reilly O'Toole took over this month. Before its upset win over Minnesota last week, Illinois had lost four of five games, including a clunker at home to Purdue. But suddenly, the Boilermakers look much better. Illinois was competitive in losing at Wisconsin, and it punched Minnesota in the mouth, capitalizing on three turnovers and four sacks. Don't expect Illinois to win Saturday at Ohio State for the first time in seven years, but if it can continue to build on last week, a bowl appearance is not out of the question with a closing stretch at home against Iowa and Penn State and a visit to Northwestern.
- Penn State coach James Franklin plans to dress as Olaf from "Frozen" for Halloween.
- The QB decision between Gary Nova and Chris Laviano will go down to the wire at Rutgers.
- Brady Hoke is not concerned about speculation that touted freshman Jabrill Peppers might look to leave Michigan.
- Connor Cook says he wants to return to Michigan State as a senior next year.
- Ohio State is not looking past Illinois to its Nov. 8 showdown with the Spartans.
- Is Indiana in danger of losing a homegrown quarterback recruit to Penn State?
- Safety Corey Cooper quietly helps direct the Nebraska defense.
- Jerry Kill is not worrying about negativity after Minnesota's loss to Illinois.
- Wisconsin safeties Michael Caputo and Peniel Jean rely on film study to improve.
- Northwestern receiver Miles Shuler feels fortunate to have made a quick recovery from the neck injury that knocked him out of the game two weeks ago against Nebraska.
- It's time to get the running game revved up at Iowa, says Mark Weisman.
Adam Rittenberg: Purdue will pace Nebraska well into the second half.
This isn't a knock on the Huskers, who are quietly putting together a very solid, and refreshingly drama-free, season. But Purdue's offense is hitting its stride behind quarterback Austin Appleby, speed backs Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert and a much-improved offensive line. The Boilers have had two weeks to prepare and face a Nebraska defense that still has too many technical breakdowns for my liking. This will be a track meet for two, maybe three quarters -- thinking 28-24 Nebraska at halftime -- before Ameer Abdullah and Nebraska pull away in the fourth.
Mitch Sherman: Wisconsin will make its biggest statement yet.
The Badgers served notice to the rest of the West last week with a 52-7 win over Maryland that they’ve turned a corner. Still, it was one game. It was at home, and we’ve seen previous flashes from Wisconsin. But with most of the attention focused on the exploits of Melvin Gordon and uncertainty at QB, the Wisconsin defense has built a résumé as the Big Ten’s best. Now, with Joel Stave back in command, the Badgers will streamroll Rutgers, beat up at QB and elsewhere after trips to Ohio State and Nebraska, and enter the final four weeks as the favorite in the West despite that ugly Northwestern loss.
Brian Bennett: Northwestern and Iowa will head to overtime. Again.
Just like last year in Iowa City, the Wildcats and Hawkeyes will play to a draw in regulation. They're similar teams, with good defenses and running games but who struggle to score at times. Justin Jackson and Mark Weisman will each find the end zone twice as the teams go into overtime tied at 20. Northwestern makes one more play in the second extra period to win it.
Austin Ward: Tevin Coleman will be held in check.
The Indiana tailback wasn’t getting all that much support from the passing game even when Nate Sudfeld was healthy and that didn’t slow him down even against stout rush defenses. But with the attack even more one-dimensional now, his string of 100-yard outings is going to come to an end on the road against Michigan and a defense allowing just 3.1 yards per carry. That’s about the only thing the Wolverines do well at this point, and any chance of salvaging something positive out of this season for Brady Hoke’s club will require coming out inspired to take care of Indiana. That’s yet another sign of how bad things are at Michigan, but there is a talented, proud defense waiting for a chance to do something nobody else has done yet this season.
Dan Murphy: Ohio State hits 60 points for the second time this season.
Any chances of the Buckeyes looking ahead to the Michigan State next weekend were knocked out after the close call in Happy Valley. J.T. Barrett will be back in his comfort zone at home and looking to pick a part the Fighting Illini defense. Ohio State hung 66 points on Kent State earlier this year. While Saturday might not be quite as big of a blowout, the Buckeyes will get to 60 for the second year in a row against Illinois.
Josh Moyer: Penn State hits its highest rushing total of the Big Ten season.
OK, maybe this is a bit of a gamble considering that left tackle Donovan Smith -- the only returning starter on the line this season -- suffered an injury Saturday, and his status is unknown against Maryland. But the Nittany Lions fared better than I expected against Ohio State, and the offensive line has a much easier test against the Terrapins. Only 17 teams in the nation are faring worse in run defense than than the Terps, so we should see a healthy dose of Penn State speedsters Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch. James Franklin has vowed to keep running the ball, and I think that strategy finally pays off this weekend.
Terry Beckner Jr., the No. 1 ranked prospect in the country, likes to play his recruitment close to the vest. He doesn’t share too much when it comes to what he’s thinking, but Beckner is ready to release the schools where he will make official visits.
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Why Indiana will win: This season Michigan's offense is averaging 1.16 touchdowns per game against Power 5 conference competition. Hoosiers RB Tevin Coleman is averaging 1.25 touchdowns per game against Power 5 competition. Big plays from Coleman and IU receiver Shane Wynn will be the difference. The Wolverines' run defense has been strong this year, but not against marquee running backs. David Cobb ran for 183 yards in Minnesota's win at the Big House, and Jeremy Langford finished with 177 last week. Coleman will do the same, and Michigan's offense doesn't have enough horsepower to keep up. ... Indiana 27, Michigan 23 -- Dan Murphy
Why Michigan will win: Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for the Wolverines, this week happened, with the controversies surrounding Joe Bolden’s spearing of the Spartan Stadium turf and Dave Brandon’s alleged angry email exchanges with fans. Yes, it got worse. Michigan has been dodging disasters for nearly two months now. At some point, it’s got to get better in Ann Arbor, right? This is the week, as Indiana brings its downtrodden defense to the Big House, for Devin Gardner and the U-M offense to get healthy, even if temporarily. What about Tevin Coleman and the Hoosiers’ offense? Yeah, that’s a concern, but the Wolverines have been strong against the rush, allowing 3.1 yards per carry to rank second in the Big Ten. ... Michigan 34, Indiana 24 -- Mitch Sherman
Why Maryland will win: Penn State is primed for a letdown game after an emotionally exhausting overtime loss at home. The Terps didn't inspire much confidence last week in their loss to Wisconsin, but they've been hot and cold all season. Maryland's run defense has been miserable (110th nationally), which should make for a good matchup with Penn State's woeful offensive line. The Nittany Lions' defense should keep this a low-scoring game. Expect a lot of action for the field goal kickers, and Maryland's Brad Craddock is the best in the Big Ten in that department. ... Maryland 19, Penn State 17 -- Dan Murphy
Why Penn State will win: Penn State will have to bounce back from an emotional overtime loss to Ohio State, but the Nittany Lions' defense proved it was one of the league's very best vs. the Buckeyes. Meanwhile, schizophrenic Maryland nearly got shut out at Wisconsin. The Terps won't have any easier time moving the ball in Beaver Stadium, and Christian Hackenberg will do just enough for Penn State to improve to 36-1-1 all-time in this "rivalry." ... Penn State 17, Maryland 14 -- Brian Bennett
Why Iowa will win: Let's take a three-point look at Northwestern's offense: QB Trevor Siemian has been so inconsistent this season that he's ranked behind both Devin Gardner and Tanner McEvoy in passing efficiency. Northwestern RB Justin Jackson is good, but the Wildcats have managed to average more than four yards a carry in only one game. And only 19 offenses in the nation are averaging fewer points per game (20.9). Add that all together, and you get a struggling offense that Iowa should take advantage of. The Hawkeyes aren't a one-dimensional offense, so this shouldn't be a repeat of the Wisconsin game. It should be close, but the Hawkeyes win in the end. ... Iowa 24, Northwestern 20 -- Josh Moyer
Why Northwestern will win: Iowa and Northwestern both have had disappointing seasons to date. Both come off of bye weeks and both look to finish strong. The vibe around Iowa is more concerning. Other than the Indiana game, when has Iowa actually looked good? Northwestern at least has solid wins against Penn State and Wisconsin. The Wildcats have a better defense and should be able to run against Iowa with Justin Jackson. Iowa has more offensive firepower, but can the Hawkeyes deliver in a critical game? These are typically close contests, and Northwestern comes out on top this time. ... Northwestern 23, Iowa 21 -- Adam Rittenberg
Ohio State 49, Illinois 21: If the Buckeyes can grab a comfortable edge, look for Urban Meyer to rest J.T. Barrett, nursing a knee sprain, in advance of the season-defining trip next week to Michigan State. Though the Illini are riding high after an upset victory over Minnesota, Ohio State and its defensive front pose a new kind of challenge.
Wisconsin 45, Rutgers 14: With or without Gary Nova, the Scarlet Knights are feeling the effects of trips over the past two weeks to Ohio State and Nebraska. And Rutgers is getting the Badgers at a bad time, right as Wisconsin finds itself offensively behind rejuvenated QB Joel Stave and the relentless Melvin Gordon.
Nebraska 52, Purdue 28: Lots of points in Lincoln, but look for the Huskers to control this from the start. Purdue has made huge strides offensively behind Austin Appleby, but its defense still lacks the playmakers to slow Ameer Abdullah. Another big day, too, for Kenny Bell, set to break Johnny Rodgers’ career receiving-yardage record at Nebraska.
1. Mitch Sherman: 66-14 (.825)
2. Brian Bennett: 64-16 (.800)
3. Austin Ward: 63-17 (.786)
4. Adam Rittenberg: 62-18 (.775)
5. Josh Moyer: 60-20 (.750)
6. Dan Murphy: 32-11 (.744)
1. Conversation starter: The College Football Playoff rankings are going to change, that much is certain. But as a starting point, the first-ever edition is pretty useful for gauging where the Big Ten sits and what it must do hitting the homestretch over the final month of the regular season. The heavy lifting mostly applies to Nebraska and Ohio State, and the spots those programs hold at Nos. 15 and 16 might have revealed more about the thinking of the selection committee than just about anything else on Tuesday. For starters, at this point, it's hard to argue that the Huskers didn't deserve the higher ranking since their lone loss was at Michigan State and they own a reasonably attractive win over Miami. The loss to Virginia Tech is currently weighing down the Buckeyes, and despite how hard-fought the victory was at Penn State against its stout defense, there isn't much else on the resume right now worth getting too excited over for the committee. But it's important to keep in mind that even with all those teams standing between Nebraska and Ohio State and a playoff berth, there is a lot of football left to play -- and if either of them can win out, it still seems likely that a one-loss Big Ten champ is going to climb enough rungs to get into the field. Only one of those teams can do it since they would face off in the conference title game, but the Big Ten as a league remains very much alive in the race for the national crown.
2. Bucking up: J.T. Barrett isn't completely healthy yet on his sprained knee, but the Ohio State quarterback made it clear after practice on Wednesday that he was on track to play on Saturday night against Illinois. Considering what's looming for the Buckeyes on Nov. 8 at Michigan State, though, it might be best for Urban Meyer to get him out of the game as early as possible to make sure he's in one piece for such a critical matchup with both the Big Ten and national-title implications. Like any week, nothing can be taken for granted, and Illinois has put together some decent game plans on defense and is coming off an upset win over Minnesota. But if the Illini do live up to their billing as the worst total defense in the league in the Horseshoe this weekend, Meyer would be wise not to leave Barrett on the field into the fourth quarter behind backup offensive linemen in an effort to get him extra reps like he did two weeks ago against Rutgers. The stakes are too high, and Michigan State is more than capable of beating the Buckeyes again even if they're at full strength.
3. Under-the-radar matchup: Basically from here on out, the West will have a matchup every week that could serve as an elimination game for the division title. The undercard for a heavyweight November starts with Northwestern visiting Iowa, which isn't exactly a showdown between leading contenders but will nevertheless leave one team in the race and essentially knock the other out. The Hawkeyes have had an extra week to address the issues that popped up in a loss at Maryland that cut down on their margin for error in the rough-and-tumble West. Playing at home will also be an advantage for Kirk Ferentz and his club. Northwestern has been something of a wildcard, though, and it already has gone on the road and come home with a surprising victory after taking apart Penn State in late September. The Wildcats do have two losses in the league already, and they don't have much going for them in a theoretical tiebreaker should they win out. But they're not all that different than the Hawkeyes at this point -- and the loser on Saturday will effectively be out of the race.
- Jabrill Peppers has obviously not had the season anybody envisioned for Michigan, and Brady Hoke admitted the freshman is frustrated.
- Mark Dantonio is only focused on taking care of business with Michigan State after the first rankings were unveiled.
- Thanks to an injury to veteran safety Ryan Keiser, Penn State will take the redshirt off Troy Apke.
- Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova took another step forward, but his status remains unclear for this week's game against Wisconsin.
- Maryland started its preparation for Penn State in the summer by breaking down Vanderbilt film, looking for ways to get pressure on Christian Hackenberg.
- J.T. Barrett left no doubt about his intentions this week for Ohio State.
- Word continues to spread about Indiana running back Tevin Coleman.
- Nebraska has received a boost for its offensive line off the bench.
- Where does Minnesota's loss at Illinois rank among the most deflating for the program over the last 15 years?
- Reilly O'Toole remembers vividly the noise at Ohio Stadium two seasons ago. The Illinois quarterback will actually have a chance to play in front of that crowd this time.
- Wisconsin has already had success in the past recruiting New Jersey. Putting on a good show at Rutgers might open up a few more doors.
- Iowa is fed up with poor tackling, and it has made cleaning it up a priority this week.
- Statistically, Northwestern has plenty in common with Iowa.
- Raheem Mostert is running down a record at Purdue.
The redshirt freshman played the second half and overtime last weekend against Penn State after spraining his MCL and still led the No. 16 Buckeyes to a win. And despite being limited in workouts early in the week thanks to some swelling, barring a setback Barrett is expected to be in the starting lineup for a prime-time matchup with Illinois.
“There would have to be something drastic happen between now and Saturday at 8 p.m.” Barrett said after practice Wednesday. “I plan on playing Saturday.”
That plan is unchanged from the one coach Urban Meyer unveiled Monday, and there hasn’t been anything physically at this point to suggest Barrett won’t be ready to take on the Illini.
The injury is similar to one sustained by Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller a year ago, and the sprained MCL actually forced him to miss two full games and most of another early in the season. But Meyer isn’t anticipating being without his current starter even for a week after his gritty performance down the stretch against the Nittany Lions, and the Buckeyes certainly figure to need him on Nov. 8 for a critical Big Ten clash at Michigan State.
“He [practiced], I wouldn’t say quite full, but he’ll be full tomorrow,” Meyer said. “He did good, real good.
“It’s very similar to what [Miller] had. I’m not a doctor, but it’s probably not as severe. Everybody is built differently, I guess.”
Whether it’s a matter of severity or build makes little difference for the Buckeyes. The main thing is the prognosis moving forward, and all signs are pointing to Barrett returning to the field without missing a game.
Brian Bennett: An excellent question. On the surface, it would seem like a one-loss Pac-12 champion Ducks team would help Michigan State's cause. But I as I wrote in the previous answer, there could be a lot of jockeying among one-loss teams for perhaps only one or two playoff spots. I actually think the Spartans are better off if Oregon loses another game (but just one) and goes on to win the Pac-12. Michigan State will still get credit for going to Eugene despite the loss, but the Pac-12 would be essentially out of the running. Heck, the coaches' poll already has Michigan State ranked ahead of Oregon. If only those guys watched some games ...
@BennettESPN What's better for MSU: Oregon wins out & stays ranked ahead, or Oregon loses one more & drops below MSU but hurts MSU's resume?- Jeff Brennemonster (@brennemania) October 29, 2014
Brian Bennett: It was a mild surprise seeing Nebraska ranked one spot ahead of Ohio State, but it was also completely understandable. The Huskers' résumé is just as good if not better than the Buckeyes', and their lone loss (at Michigan State) is infinitely better than Ohio State's loss at home to 4-4 Virginia Tech. This would probably be a good time to review bowl tie-ins and procedures in case the Big Ten champion does not get into the playoff. The league winner would then go to either the Cotton, Peach or Fiesta Bowl. Those bowl matchups will be decided by the playoff selection committee. The Big Ten champion is not eligible to play in the Orange Bowl, though that game could feature a Big Ten non-champion if it is ranked higher than SEC non-playoff teams or Notre Dame -- which seems unlikely given the glut of top 10 SEC teams. Nebraska almost certainly needs to win the conference to be ranked high enough to qualify for one of the marquee non-playoff bowls. I still think the Huskers are the best team in the West Division, though trips to Wisconsin and Iowa won't be easy. If Nebraska doesn't win the Big Ten, I would bet on the Bo Pelini's team ending up in the Holiday Bowl, because the league's new bowl guidelines are aimed at avoiding repeat destinations, and Big Red has gone to Florida three straight years. Kameron from Glen Ellyn, Ill. writes: I agree both Ameer Abdullah and Melvin Gordon are deserving of making it to NYC. I am biased as a Husker fan but Abdullah's blemish against MSU I feel is better than Gordon's against an inferior opponent like WIU where he had 38 yards. I would think voters would view that as worse than the MSU game for Abdullah. Your thoughts?
@BennettESPN As a husker fan I was ecstatic to see that Nebraska was 15 how do you feel about a possibility of one of the "bcs" bowls for us- Brandon Williamson (@Husker_bran) October 29, 2014
Brian Bennett: If you're going to have a bad day during a Heisman campaign, it's better to do it in a blowout game against a no-name opponent than to in a loss during your biggest game of the season on national TV. Gordon also was coming off a hip flexor injury against LSU when he had the subpar game against Western Illinois. Abdullah was not able to carry his team to victory or get much of anything going at Michigan State.
But let's acknowledge that we're splitting hairs here. Both players are having incredible seasons, and both are more than worthy of a trip to New York City as Heisman finalists. As is, for that matter, Indiana's Tevin Coleman. Recent history suggests, however, that it will be tough for more than one running back to make it there.
We're tracking the offensive and defensive player of the year races every week. And this week's bonus category is offensive lineman of the year.
Here we go:
Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year
1. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (five first-place votes): Abdullah had been overtaken in our poll by Melvin Gordon in recent weeks, but he's back on top after he broke the Nebraska record for all-purpose yards versus Rutgers. This race should last all year.
2. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (one first-place vote): Gordon did nothing wrong in running for 122 yards and three scores against Maryland last week. It's just that his competition is steep.
3. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: He and the Hoosiers were off last week. He will try to keep his streak of 100-yard games going at Michigan on Saturday.
4 . Michigan State WR Tony Lippett: He had his fourth straight 100-yard day and sixth of the season against Michigan, while recording his Big Ten-best ninth touchdown catch.
5. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: The Buckeyes freshman didn't have his best day at Penn State. But battling through a knee injury and leading the team to two scores in overtime was very impressive.
Also receiving votes: Minnesota RB David Cobb
Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year
1. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa (six first-place votes): He came up with the walk-off sack at Penn State and won his first Big Ten defensive player of the week award. It likely won't be his last.
2. Penn State LB Mike Hull: Inexplicably left off the Butkus Award semifinalist list, Hull leads the Big Ten in tackles and was sensational against Penn State with 19 stops.
3. Nebraska DE Randy Gregory: Despite missing some time earlier this year, he still has 5.5 sacks and is a holy terror to block.
4. Iowa DE Drew Ott: With the Hawkeyes off, Ott fell out of the Big Ten sacks lead. But he still has seven in as many games
5. Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun: He was a little quiet early in the season, but the defending Big Ten defensive lineman of the year has come on strong of late and has six sacks on the season.
Also receiving votes: Penn State DT Anthony Zettel; Wisconsin LB Derek Landisch; Maryland CB William Likely.
Rimington–Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year
1. Michigan State LT Jack Conklin (six first-place votes): We unanimously agrees that the Spartans sophomore, who had no other Division I scholarship offers out of high school, is the Big Ten's best offensive lineman so far this year. What a great story.
2. Ohio State LT Taylor Decker: The Buckeyes' O-line has made great improvement since early in the season, and Decker is the anchor at left tackle. That's why he is somewhat surprisingly ahead of ...
3. Iowa LT Brandon Scherff: The Hawkeyes senior probably still will be an early first-round draft pick, and he made the ESPN midseason All-American team. But he and the Iowa line have been disappointing, especially last time out against Maryland.
His arm might not be the strongest, but the Buckeyes have seen him consistently put the football where it needs to be with accuracy and to a variety of targets. He might not be the fastest runner in the country, but the redshirt freshman is certainly athletic and intelligent enough to operate the zone-read attack and pile up yardage. He has proven to have the brains to memorize the playbook, has established a voice that can command a huddle ,and he has the confidence to speak his mind in the locker room.
“I'll probably never forget that look,” the Ohio State coach said. “The more you’re around him, he’s just a very serious guy who handles his business on and off the field. To see what he did in that game in overtime, in that environment, it just -- I had him stand up in front of the team [after the game].
“To say that I really knew him a year and a half ago, I did not. Now I do.”
The Buckeyes are largely still early in the learning process with the redshirt freshman and finding out more about him every week, but the way he handled a hostile environment with the team’s College Football Playoff chances hanging in the balance told them plenty about the makeup of a guy who has already shown he had the physical tools to run Meyer’s high-flying attack.
And while Barrett had to deal with a sprained knee during the second half and overtime against the Nittany Lions, there’s already another measuring stick on tap this week for Ohio State as it watches how he deals with and responds to an injury.
The Buckeyes planned to limit his role in practice early in the week while he received treatment on his MCL, hoping to get him back to full speed by Wednesday. Scaling back his workload isn’t something the coaching staff would be in a hurry to do if it weren’t necessary considering how much importance they’ve placed on getting the first-year starter reps. They even kept him in behind an inexperienced line in a fourth-quarter blowout two weeks ago against Rutgers.
Ideally, of course, Ohio State would never have to find out how its quarterback responds to physical setbacks or how much pain he can play through. But it already has reason to be encouraged by what it has seen from Barrett heading into the final month of the regular season and Saturday’s matchup with Illinois.
“Coach Meyer likes to call them War Daddies,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “He was a hero, definitely.
“He came out there with a lot of confidence, a little banged up, but he played through it.”
He also delivered when it mattered most for the Buckeyes. Barrett rushed for 32 yards on four carries in the overtime sessions and scored both touchdowns, fighting off both an upset bid from the Nittany Lions and the sprained knee to keep Ohio State unbeaten in Big Ten play.
Illinois likely won’t pose quite as much difficulty thanks to the worst total defense in the league that also is allowing more than 34 points per game. That migtht wind up being a blessing for the Buckeyes if they can get Barrett out of the game quickly and ensure he’s rested and ready for a massive showdown against Michigan State. But if they need more from him, they’ve got fresh evidence and even more confidence that Barrett can give them what they need regardless of the circumstances.
“It was a tough, gritty performance,” Meyer said. “It wasn’t a great performance, as far as making the right reads and doing all the things that a quarterback has to do. But the more experience a quarterback has, the better he is adapting to things that maybe we have not practiced. You can’t practice everything.”
Hostile crowds, overtime situations and playing hurt can’t really be simulated. Turns out, the Buckeyes appear to have a guy who can handle all three at the same time without blinking an eye.
Luckily, our equipment -- laptop/TV -- isn’t broken, so let’s replay Saturday’s egregious acts and then break this case wide open. Two minutes into the game, the officials’ replay system just so happened to fail when Christian Hackenberg threw a clearly incomplete pass that was ruled an interception. It didn’t help much that the refs insisted they couldn’t see the play on their own equipment and weren’t allowed to look elsewhere, like, oh, I don’t know, up at the TWO NEW GIANT VIDEO BOARDS. Yeah, tough to get a good look when there are two big screens that feature a combined total of 10,285 square feet of video space and show replays in high definition just behind each end zone.
Innocent mistake or malice?
A quarter later came Ohio State’s 49-yard field goal, which was snapped about three seconds after the play clock expired. Referee John O’Neill and his crew messed up so many calls that there has to be something more sinister at play. Ohio State needed the win to keep its – and the Big Ten’s -- playoff hopes alive. The Buckeyes’ game at Michigan State is a playoff elimination game if both enter with just one loss, and can’t have Ohio State stumble before that Nov. 8 primetime matchup, right? Naturally, the B1G officials had to protect the B1G. If it takes out Penn State in the process, that’s acceptable collateral damage. So, of course, the biggest screw-ups just so happened to go against the Nittany Lions.
Coincidence? Even Dana Scully thinks that’s a reach.
O’Neill is the same official who worked the Penn State-Nebraska game in 2012, when the crew ruled tight end Matt Lehman did not cross the goal-line for a score. Here’s visual evidence to the contrary.
But wait, there’s more proof that officials are clearly out to get Penn State. Remember the Penn State-Michigan game earlier this season? How about the Lions’ onside kick recovery, when tight end Jesse James was ruled offside and the ball was mistakenly given to the Wolverines? Does THIS look offside to you?
And just for fun apparently, on Monday, somehow, linebacker Mike Hull – easily the best linebacker in the conference – didn’t make the list of Butkus semifinalists. Penn State’s coaches didn’t hide their feelings there.
So how do you explain all that?
To quote Joseph Heller, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”
Overreaction of the week: All this fuss over the College Football Playoff Rankings, and there’s still a lot of season left.
No, the committee is not out to get your team. Sure, three SEC teams are currently ranked within the top four. But that really doesn’t matter. Seriously. Take a look at where we would’ve stood at this time last season with the rankings, and you’ll see why. After Week 10 in 2013, Michigan State was ranked No. 22 and Auburn was No. 11. But both teams entered the bowl season ranked within the Associated Press' top four.
Oregon and Ohio State were also ranked within those four spots at this time last year -- but finished outside of those four spots following losses late in the season.
In other words, let this serve as a reminder: Rankings can change a lot in a couple weeks and, just because a team’s ranked outside the top four, top 10 -- or maybe even the top 20 doesn’t mean it’s out of the playoff hunt. Six of the committee’s top-10 teams will play at least one other top-10 team, after all.
Underreaction of the week: Why isn't anyone talking about Marshall? Maybe Conference USA should ask for its money back from the PR firm it hired to boost Marshall’s profile in the College Football Playoff. Because the undefeated Thundering Herd (8-0) didn’t make any noise in the inaugural CFP Rankings.
They’re not even ranked.
As was mentioned earlier, teams can move up. Plenty of season is left. But that doesn’t quite hold true for a Group of 5 member that doesn’t boast a single ranked team on its schedule. It’s a bit of a shame, but we just don’t know how good Marshall is. Even Marshall’s nonconference slate is sickeningly easy, with three MAC teams and an FCS school.
The PR firm, Brener Zwikel & Associates, still has time to boost Marshall’s profile. But, since it’s not yet ranked, even overtaking No. 23 East Carolina for a contract bowl won’t be an easy accomplishment.
Three Big Ten teams remain in the playoff mix. Let's take a look at how things stand for them:
Record: 7-1 (4-0)
Next big obstacle: Nov. 8 vs. Ohio State
Reason for optimism: The Spartans have won 14 straight games against Big Ten opponents, and their toughest remaining game -- against Ohio State on Nov. 8 -- will be in East Lansing. Plus, their lone loss of the season was at Oregon, which was understandable. They remain the favorites to win the Big Ten and could easily move up as others lose.
Cause for concern: This year's defense has been more susceptible to the big play than defense in recent seasons, and Mark Dantonio's team has yet to play its A-game against a good opponent for four full quarters. The margin of the Oregon loss -- 19 points -- is a black mark, and the Spartans could suffer from the Big Ten's weak perception.
Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: Michigan State wants Ohio State to beat Illinois so the matchup against the Buckeyes is a marquee one. The Spartans need Oregon to beat Stanford and continue winning. They would also benefit from a Florida State loss at Louisville, a Notre Dame loss to Navy and more chaos in the SEC West.
Record: 7-1 (3-1)
Next big obstacle: Nov. 15 at Wisconsin
Reason for optimism: The Huskers are still lurking in the Big Ten race and could avenge their lone loss -- on the road by five points to Michigan State -- in the Big Ten championship game. They have an easier path to Indianapolis through the Big Ten West and have one of the nation's best players in running back Ameer Abdullah.
Cause for concern: Nebraska's best victory of the season came against a 5-3 Miami team, which just might not be good enough. The Huskers have been inconsistent at times and still have road tests at Wisconsin and Iowa. In their lone marquee game, they trailed Michigan State 27-3 in the fourth quarter before a furious comeback. They also don't have any ranked teams left on the schedule, though that could change if they make the Big Ten title game.
Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: Nebraska still needs a lot of help to move up 11 spots (at least). The Cornhuskers should definitely root for Florida State to lose and will want TCU to go down to West Virginia to weaken the case for both the ACC and Big 12 champ. Losses by Notre Dame, Oregon and chaos in the SEC West are needed. Nebraska also wants Wisconsin and Iowa to keep winning to make those games look more important and for Miami to finish strong.
Record: 6-1 (3-0)
Next big obstacle: Nov. 8 at Michigan State
Reason for optimism: The Buckeyes have steadily improved since a Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech, and quarterback J.T. Barrett has developed into a reliable playmaker. If the Buckeyes win in East Lansing in two weeks, they should have relatively smooth sailing to the Big Ten championship game. The selection committee will respect Urban Meyer's track record and Ohio State's talent.
Cause for concern: That loss to Virginia Tech -- by two touchdowns, at home -- could be hard to overcome, especially because the Hokies are just 4-4. Other than Michigan State, there's no real opportunity for a statement win. And the Buckeyes barely survived the past week at Penn State, which suggests their offensive improvement might have been built on the back of a weak schedule.
Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: The Buckeyes need all the same carnage Nebraska is hoping for, but at least they could get a significant boost by winning at Michigan State. They'll also want the Huskers to win out and hope to play them in Indianapolis.
Drive Through: Rankings Reaction
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
12:00 PM ET Northwestern Iowa 12:00 PM ET Maryland Penn State 12:00 PM ET Wisconsin Rutgers 3:30 PM ET Purdue 15 Nebraska 3:30 PM ET Indiana Michigan 8:00 PM ET Illinois 16 Ohio State