Happy Halloween in the Big Ten

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
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Happy Halloween, Big Ten fans! The conference got off to a ghoulish start this season but has since provided enough tricks and treats to set up an entertaining final month of the regular season. In celebration of the undead, let’s take a look at what Halloween staples we think of when talking about the Big Ten.

Jason Voorhees: Have you ever seen Jason run after one of his soon-to-be victims? Nope, but somehow he always catches them with his slow-and-steady gait. Watching Minnesota hasn’t been much different this season. The Golden Gophers are in no hurry, defiantly marching their way toward wins in the age of turbo-speed offenses. Somehow Jerry Kill (a name made for a horror movie villain) and his team, which is now 6-2, usually end up catching their opponent and slashing them to bits.

Zombies: Unless of course, Minnesota is playing the Fighting Illini. Tim Beckman and his coaching staff might be walking dead as his third season in Champaign rolls toward the finish line, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take a few other teams down with them along the way. Can Illinois infect another team with an undefeated conference record when it faces Ohio State this Saturday? Something tells me J.T. Barrett will be going to this weekend’s party dressed as Michonne, katana and all.

Freddy Krueger: You don’t want to sleep on Nebraska this season. The Cornhuskers fell off the radar after a loss at Michigan State in early October. With Ameer Abdullah terrorizing defenses this season, they haven’t played their way out of an unexpected playoff bid just yet. The original playoff rankings put Nebraska at 15th. If Bo Pelini's team can win the West Division and a potential rematch with the Spartans in the Big Ten championship game, it can silently sneak up on a lot of folks in the college football world.

Sidney Prescott: The Ohio State-Penn State referee crew. Sidney is the main character in the Scream series, but this one applies to pretty much any pretty slasher-film target. You know, the ones who always seems to make the wrong decision. The front door is open? It’s time to scramble up the stairs. An incomplete pass bounces on the turf? Let’s rule it an interception. Getaway car is running in the driveway? Time to hide behind the chainsaws. The play clock expired? Let them kick the field goal anyway. These decisions always work out for the killer, and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone outside of Columbus who doesn’t see Urban Meyer as the perfect fit for a Big Ten villain role.

The Headless Horseman: Michigan isn’t headless quite yet, but coach Brady Hoke and athletic director Dave Brandon are both moving in the direction of the guillotine. The Wolverines may be riding through the night searching for a couple new leaders a month from now. While football season has left the people of Ann Arbor feeling hollow, the town has been anything but sleepy this autumn. The Big House feels haunted. Maybe that explains all the boos.

All right, I think we’ve filled our quota for (candy)corny Halloween puns this year. Before we go, a few costume suggestions for coaches and players around the Big Ten…

Michigan LB Jake Ryan: He-Man (Before Ryan cut his hair, of course)

Rutgers DE Kemoko Turay: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (No one has rocked the flat top as well as Turay since Will Smith.)

Michigan WR Dennis Norfleet: Carlton Banks (Will needs his partner in crime, and Norfleet’s dance moves fit the bill.)

Northwestern DC Mike Hankwitz: Walter White (No costume required, maybe just a black hat.)

Penn State coach James Franklin: Gus Fring (Close enough, and Hankwitz's defense did blow up the Nittany Lions this year.)

Purdue coach Darrell Hazell: George Whitfield (No wonder Hazell has Austin Appleby playing so well.)

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini: Voldemort (When Bo is screaming, the resemblance is uncanny.)

Michigan State P Mike Sadler: Bo Pelini (Well, technically Faux Pelini, but his impression was spot-on.)

Indiana QB Zander Diamont: Derek Zoolander (There’s more to life than being ridiculously good looking, and for former model Diamont, that includes playing quarterback for the Hoosiers.)

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 10

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
10:00
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November is almost here, and that means it's time for the championship push in the Big Ten. While there are no games between ranked teams this weekend, there are some contests that could separate pretenders from contenders.

Here's a look at what's on tap Saturday (all times ET):

Noon

Northwestern (3-4, 2-2 Big Ten) at Iowa (5-2, 2-1), Big Ten Network: The games between these two are often close, with four of the past six meetings being decided by seven points or fewer, including last season's overtime affair. Both the Wildcats and Hawkeyes have similar statistical profiles, so this could be another thriller.

Maryland (5-3, 2-2) at Penn State (4-3, 1-3), ESPN2: The Nittany Lions and Terrapins have not played since 1993, and this could become a new Big Ten rivalry -- provided that Maryland can actually make it competitive. The Terps have won only once in 37 tries against Penn State (1961). Nittany Lions coach James Franklin used to be Maryland's head-coach-in-waiting, while Terrapins boss Randy Edsall is from Pennsylvania.

Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1) at Rutgers (5-3, 1-3), ESPN: This is the first-ever meeting between the Scarlet Knights and the Badgers, who appear to be traveling different paths. Rutgers has been blown out in its past two games -- at Ohio State and at Nebraska -- while Wisconsin just put together its best effort of the season in a 52-7 win over Maryland. Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova (knee) is questionable, which could make things tougher against a Wisconsin defense ranked No. 7 nationally in points allowed.

3:30 p.m.

Purdue (3-5, 1-3) at No. 15 Nebraska (7-1, 3-1), ABC/ESPN2: The Boilers' offense is vastly improved, but it will need to find a way to keep pace with a Huskers squad that's averaging 42.8 points per game at home. Purdue ranks 11th in the Big Ten in rush defense and could have a hard time stopping Ameer Abdullah.

Indiana (3-4, 0-3) at Michigan (3-5, 1-3), BTN: Last season's game produced 110 points and more than 1,300 yards. That seems highly unlikely this year, as both teams are struggling to score. Devin Gardner will remain the Wolverines' starting quarterback, while Indiana hopes Zander Diamont can improve after he threw for just 11 yards in his college debut, versus Michigan State.

8 p.m.

Illinois (4-4, 1-3) at No 16 Ohio State (6-1, 3-0), ABC: The Illibuck game might not be ready for prime time unless Illinois can build off last week's rare Big Ten win versus Minnesota. The Illini are last in the Big Ten in total defense, while Ohio State is putting up 44.3 points per game. So, yeah, it could get ugly (and cold, with temperatures expected to dip into the low 30s in Columbus).

Byes: Michigan State, Minnesota

Required reading

Week 10 predictions | Bold calls

Take Two: Abdullah or Gordon to NYC

Ameer Abdullah fights to see through the jungle

Gordon does Gotham; return trip in store

Ohio State learning more about J.T. Barrett

James Franklin to face familiar opponent

Michigan's issues run deeper than Hoke

Spartans sharpen focus as stakes grow

Big Ten playoff tracker

Big Ten's top recruiting visits 

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
9:00
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We are moving later and later into the season, which always means there is potential for decommitments, flips and surprise visitors.

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:

Big Ten morning links

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
8:00
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Happy Halloween. Let’s get your Friday started with three questions that may have slipped through the cracks -- until now -- about Week 10 in the Big Ten.

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.

East Division
West Division
About this time of year coaches scour junior college ranks for offensive line talent, and thathas helped Tyler Howell become one of hottest targets around. Plus, is Clemson in danger of losing ESPN 300 commitment Juwuan Briscoe?

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When simply picking the games doesn't cut it, the Big Ten blog crew takes it to another level. For some bolder, more specific predictions for the opening weekend of what could be an unforgettable November, we hit the roundtable.

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.
video
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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Big Ten Week 10 predictions

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
9:00
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After a weird week in which everyone agreed on their selections, things are back to normal and our experts are fighting among themselves.
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


Unanimous selections

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.

Our records:
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)

Big Ten morning links

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
8:00
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A wild November is two days away. Buckle up.

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.

East Division
  • 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.
West Division
  • 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.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There is still some soreness in J.T. Barrett's left knee and he isn’t quite back to full strength on the practice field, but the Ohio State quarterback remains on track to start on Saturday.

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.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
5:00
PM ET
It's a new era in college football, as the first playoff rankings have been released. And understandably, questions about those rankings and the playoffs dominate Wednesday's mailbag:

Brian Bennett: That's the key question, isn't it? I'm not so sure. It's impossible to answer without knowing what happens elsewhere, and the Big Ten needs other leagues to falter. That's why Thursday night's game between Florida State and Louisville is huge for the conference. If the Seminoles win, it's hard to see them losing this season. That would all but guarantee FSU a spot in the playoff, and I believe two SEC teams will make it (the committee showed its admiration for the SEC by ranking three teams from that league in the top four and four in the top six on Tuesday night). That leaves only one spot open, and the Big Ten would be competing with the Big 12 champ, the Pac-12 champ and possibly Notre Dame. At this point, I would say the Big Ten does not get in. But there is a lot of football left. Remember that at this time a year ago with the BCS, Michigan State was unranked. 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 ... 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?

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.
Champions are made in November. That's the same for individual award winners. But as we close the book on October in the Big Ten, several players have already built strong foundations for their awards push.

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.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The basics of playing quarterback had effectively already been evaluated, and Ohio State already knew what it had in J.T. Barrett.

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.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesJ.T. Barrett sprained his knee against Penn State but still rushed for 32 yards and two touchdowns in the double-overtime win.
Ohio State largely was able to learn all that about Barrett without all that much adversity, at least relative to what he was facing on the sideline last weekend before a make-or-break drive in overtime against one of the nation’s toughest defenses backed by a white-out student section making it hard to even think. But the meaningful lessons, the truly revealing moments for a player at Barrett’s position, come when the stakes are highest -- and that’s when Urban Meyer evaluates a quarterback’s eyes.

“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.
Some Penn State fans have grown a little paranoid this week, after the latest series of bad calls against them. But can you really blame the group? The missed calls against Ohio State weren’t isolated incidents; they were part of a pattern. It’s systematic! A conspiracy!

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.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
MCT via Getty ImagesPenn State's James Franklin wasn't real pleased with the officiating last Saturday.
Or maybe they could just borrow a smart phone from one of the fans in the front row (maybe the fan could put a jacket over an official so he could feel like he was in a booth) if they felt they needed a closer look.

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.

Rankings Winners And Losers

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
12:11
PM ET


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Now that the first College Football Rankings have been made official, Brad Edwards looks at who were some of the winners and losers.

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Brad Edwards and Antonietta Collins react to the College Football Playoff rankings that were released on Tuesday night.
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