Big Ten Monday mailbag

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
5:00
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Well, it's been a while, folks. Did ya miss me?

Let's get to those Big Ten questions.

Adam Rittenberg: It's a fascinating question, Jesse, because Indiana hasn't had a win like this in a while. Coach Kevin Wilson has often talked about the challenge of handling success when you achieve it and how that's part of turning a corner as a program. Indiana can compete with just about anyone in the Big Ten, especially if its defense can build off the Missouri game.

This week's home game against Maryland is huge. Maryland has the playmakers to test the Hoosiers' defense, but Indiana comes in with confidence and a good chance to start Big Ten play at 1-0. If so, the Hoosiers have a chance to improve to 4-1 against North Texas. Then bowl eligibility, which has been so elusive for IU, is within sight.

Wilson and his staff have upgraded the talent. It's now about maturity and not getting too carried away with a great win. But I've always felt Indiana could win seven or eight games if things go right.

Coleman finally got overdue national attention after his performance at Missouri. It's hard to get hype in a league featuring two elite running backs (Ameer Abdullah and Melvin Gordon), but people are finally noticing what Coleman can do.

Every UMFan from Streamwood, Illinois, writes: On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being Lane Kiffin (USC or Tennessee, take your pick) 10 being Nick Saban at Alabama, what's Brady Hoke's job security? Is Michigan still a destination job?

Adam Rittenberg: It has dropped from about a 7 to begin the season to a 3 or 4 right now. Anyone who objectively watched the end of the Utah game sensed the hopelessness surrounding Hoke's program right now. Hoke needs a strong showing in Big Ten play, at least five wins and possibly more, to keep the hounds at bay. It starts this week against Minnesota, a team Michigan has beaten even when it's really down (see: 2008). If Michigan loses the Jug, the talk about Hoke losing his job will only intensify.

Is Michigan a destination job? There's great tradition. The facilities have recently become top-notch. The resources are there. The right coach can make Michigan great again. But I also think the culture needs to change. I'm tired of hearing about what Michigan was. Stop living in the past. Don't be afraid to bring in an outsider if that person can win. If so, embrace that person. Spend less time on legends jerseys and more time on how to appeal to the best recruits from around the country. It's not a turn-key job, but it remains an appealing one.

Adam Rittenberg: At some point, Lefty, we're going to look around and realize, "Hey, Penn State can really win this thing." It seems like people are still grasping that Penn State is, indeed, eligible for everything again. I still worry that the Lions are an injury or two away from being in big trouble, but they've remained relatively healthy so far and seem to be getting better each week. A 6-0 start is certainly possible as PSU plays two struggling teams (Northwestern and Michigan) and has two open weeks between now and the Ohio State game. But it will take a win against Ohio State for Penn State to be viewed as a serious contender in the East. From what I've seen, Michigan State is still a cut above everyone else.

Dave from Marietta, Ohio, writes: Yes, 12-1 was an excellent weekend for the Big Ten (BIG ups to Indiana from an OSU grad; no thanks to you, U-M). But, the hatred for the Big Ten will remain. 1-10 is burned into the memories of the media. For anyone from the Big Ten to get in, there has to be an even weaker sister champion from the other Power 5 conferences, and right now, I don't see one.

Adam Rittenberg: First impressions tend to stick, Dave, and the Big Ten made a very poor one during the first three weeks. The media doesn't make the selections and the committee has pledged to take into account the whole season, but the Big Ten didn't show much punch in nonleague play. A Clemson win against Florida State would have really helped because the ACC would have a tougher road to the playoff. The Big Ten would really benefit from Oklahoma losing (and Baylor, too) and the Pac-12 beating up on each other.

If Nebraska or Penn State runs the table, it's in. And I still think a Michigan State team that dominates Big Ten play would have a shot. But it will be tough.

Take Two: B1G's best receiving tandem

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
3:30
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Our crew of Big Ten reporters will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. They'll have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which one is right.

Today's Take Two topic: Who has the best receiving tandem in the Big Ten?

[+] EnlargeGeno Lewis
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsPSU's Geno Lewis has the stats and intangibles to make a case for one of the Big Ten's best WRs.
Take 1: Josh Moyer

Dan, Dan, Dan -- let's not overthink this. Michigan has the Big Ten's best receiver in Devin Funchess, but there's really no No. 2 there. Stefon Diggs is an elite talent, but Deon Long hasn't made a huge impact this season. So, let's not get cute with this pick. The answer is really simple: Penn State's Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton.

Now, before the season, I wouldn't have guessed this. Lewis was inconsistent last season, and Hamilton missed his true freshman season with an injury. But you can't argue with their production this season. Only four receivers in the Big Ten are averaging at least 100 yards a game, and Lewis and Hamilton are two of them. Lewis leads the conference in receiving yards (462) and is second in receptions (25); Hamilton leads the conference in receptions (30) and is second in receiving yards (402). How's that for complementary?

But you know what, Dan? Let's forget about the stats. You want a deep threat with great focus and athleticism? Lewis has made several highlight-worthy catches, including a tipped ball he pulled down for a 41-yard gain against UCF. You want consistency and a target on more underneath routes? Hamilton caught a pass in 13 of this season's first 14 quarters. You want clutch plays? Well, on PSU's game-winning drive against Rutgers, Lewis accounted for 76 yards on the Nittany Lions' 80-yard drive. You want a guy who has the potential to grow a lot more just this season? Hamilton was called "one of the biggest sleepers in the Big Ten" in the preseason by his receivers coach and, despite an 11-catch performance in Week 1, Hamilton said he didn't feel 100 percent.

This is a young tandem -- Hamilton is a redshirt freshman, Lewis a redshirt sophomore -- but their ability is not in doubt. We'll probably see these guys a few times on "SportsCenter"'s top 10 plays, and it certainly doesn't hurt that they have Christian Hackenberg throwing to them. So the answer here is an easy one: It has to be Penn State's tandem.

Take 2: Dan Murphy

[+] EnlargeTony Lippett
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesThrough three games this season, Spartans WR Tony Lippett has 18 receptions for 345 yards and 5 TDs.
Michigan State veteran Tony Lippett played less than a half on Saturday in Sparty's blowout 73-14 win against Eastern Michigan, but he still had time to add to his league-leading total of five receiving touchdowns. Getting to the end zone was the main thing missing from Lippett's game in past years. Now he's on track to contend for the conference's best receiver and a shot at the Biletnikoff Award short list.

To make this list, though, he'll need a partner. That's where junior MacGarrett Kings Jr. comes in. The 5-foot-10 speedster has only four catches through three games this season, but he has the physical skills to complement Lippett when he reaches his potential.

Kings missed the majority of spring practice after a DUI arrest and has been playing catch up ever since. Spartans coach Mark Dantonio made Kings scrape his way back toward the top of the depth chart during fall camp. His day against Eastern Michigan was short as well, but he did flash his big-play ability with a 43-yard punt return to set up the first of many scores.

Lippett is averaging six receptions and 115 yards per outing after three games, one of which came against a talented Oregon team that boasts one of the best cornerbacks in the country in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. He has reached the end zone in every game this season, more than doubling his career touchdowns after starting the year with only four to his name.

Penn State's Lewis owns the Big Ten passing play of the year so far with his 53-yard catch-and-run to help take down Rutgers two weeks, but we're only four weeks (and one league game) into the season. Lewis and Hamilton rank among the top three receivers in the conference in catches per game and yards per game, but small sample sizes make it hard to extrapolate in September.

Lippett and Kings should be able to pass Lewis and Hamilton as the conference's top receiving tandem once they get up to full speed.

The battle for wide receiver duo supremacy is likely to remain between these two programs this season for one main reason -- both pairs have the luxury of a quality quarterback. The league has other talented receivers such as Diggs, Funchess, and Kenny Bell and Jordan Westerkamp in Nebraska, but no one from that group has a proven consistent passer to feed them the ball.

Big Ten bowl projections: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
8:00
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Those in Ann Arbor will understandably disagree, but Week 4 was a very good one for the Big Ten. The league went 12-1 and won several games in impressive fashion. When almost every team handles its bid-ness, there's not much shuffling in the bowl projections.

The big development this week is Indiana's return. Seven days after an all-too-typical, potentially bowl-crushing loss at Bowling Green, Indiana recorded its biggest win in years, shocking No. 18 Missouri on the road. The Hoosiers are back in the projections and could rise higher in the coming weeks if they can build on the Missouri win. For now, we have them receiving an at-large bowl invitation.

Michigan moves down after its loss to Utah. The Michigan brand still carries weight in the bowl pecking order, but this Wolverines team could have a tough time reaching the six-win mark if its offense doesn't dramatically improve. The Wolverines are last nationally in turnover margin at minus-10 through four games. Yuck.

For now, we have Michigan essentially staying home for bowl season in Detroit.

New Big Tenners Maryland and Rutgers, meanwhile, move up after impressive starts.

Expect more shuffling next week as Big Ten play begins in full force. Several matchups could affect the order, namely Minnesota visiting Michigan and Indiana visiting Maryland.

To the projections ...

Chick-fil-A Peach/Cotton/Fiesta/Orange: Michigan State
Chick-fil-A Peach/Cotton/Fiesta/Orange: Ohio State
Capital One: Penn State
Outback: Nebraska
National University Holiday: Wisconsin
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Iowa
San Francisco: Maryland
New Era Pinstripe: Rutgers
Quick Lane: Michigan
Heart of Dallas: Minnesota
At-large: Indiana

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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Best of the visits: Big Ten

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
10:46
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It was a great weekend for the Big Ten, going 12-1 with the only loss coming from Utah’s defeat of Michigan. A few of the games turned out to be exciting matches, including Indiana’s win over Missouri and eventually Nebraska’s win over Miami.

It was a great opportunity for visiting recruits to see some big games and the prospects took to social media to document those trips. Here is a look at some of the best posts from the weekend.

Nebraska vs. Miami:

This game lived up to the hype and the Cornhuskers put on a show for the visiting recruits. There were some big targets on hand, so this was an important game.

Wide receiver Tavin Richardson made the trip from South Carolina and tweeted his approval of the game.

Turnt is good. The fans were in full force and as loud as ever, something defensive back Kahlil Haughton took notice of. It's not hard to see why after seeing offensive coordinator Tim Beck's picture of the raucous crowd. Beating Miami in the fashion it did, this was a big win for Nebraska on the field and on the recruiting trail as well.

Penn State vs. UMass:

On paper this doesn't look like a huge game for Penn State, but there were some big visitors in town to watch the Nittany Lions.

A few of the commitments got a chance to bond, and that might be a help for the future as defensive end Jonathan Holland has been talking about taking other visits. He and offensive line commit Sterling Jenkins spent some time together on the visit and seemed to enjoy themselves.

Outside of the commitments, Penn State had a few important uncommitted prospects checking out campus as well. The No. 29-ranked prospect in 2016, quarterback Brandon McIlwain took in the game and got the chance to speak with the coaches during the trip. Fellow ESPN Jr. 300 prospect Rahshaun Smith, the No. 99-ranked recruit in 2016, was also on campus. Penn State has made the East Coast a big priority, and since Smith hails from Maryland and happens to be a top prospect, he will be a main target for the coaches going forward. Eastern Michigan vs. Michigan State:

It was a walk in the park for the Spartans on Saturday as they rolled past Eastern Michigan. That means it was a relaxed time for the recruits after the game once they spent time with the coaches.

Brandon Wildman, a 2016 quarterback, made the trip in from Illinois and got his money's worth on the unofficial visit.

Michigan vs. Utah:

Michigan had the only loss for the conference on Saturday after losing to Utah at home. The Wolverines didn't have a huge visitor list, but there were plenty of prospects watching to see the outcome right from the comfort of their own home.

Todd Sibley, a 2017 Ohio running back, tweeted that he had his eyes on the game and was curious to see what would take place.

Sibley was watching because he's interested in Michigan, but the outcome wasn't what he was hoping for. The Wolverines have now lost two games in convincing fashion, which could start to impact prospects and their perception of the program.

It might not have been the best game to have prospects on campus because of the loss, but also because of the terrible weather. The game was eventually delayed due to rain and lightning and resumed over two hours later.

In-state running back Matt Falcon was one of the visitors on hand, though, and because he lives relatively close, this likely won't be Michigan's last chance to impress the talented back.

video

Check out the top plays from Week 4 of college football.

Penn State powers past UMass, 48-7

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
7:37
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video

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak rushed for a pair of touchdowns each, Christian Hackenberg threw for 179 yards and Penn State defeated Massachusetts 48-7 on Saturday.

Penn State (4-0), which needed late-game drives to win two of its first three games, displayed a run-pass balance for the first time this season during its first-ever game against UMass (0-4).

The Nittany Lions punted on their first possession but kicked two field goals and scored six touchdowns on their next eight. It was the most points Penn State scored since a 52-3 win over Eastern Illinois on Oct. 10, 2009.

Akeel Lynch rushed for 81 yards on eight carries while Belton's 76 yards came on seven rushes.

Penn State rushed for 228 yards on 45 attempts and its defense allowed just three rushing yards.

UMass quarterback Blake Frohnapfel was 17 of 33 for 263 yards and a touchdown.


(Read full post)


Penn State 48, UMass 7

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
7:32
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video
Penn State rushed for 228 yards and five touchdowns in a 48-7 win over Massachusetts.

Rutgers: AD made 'off the cuff' joke

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
8:07
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[+] EnlargeJulie Hermann
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIRutgers acknowledged that AD Julie Hermann made a joke about the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal during a meeting with staff last fall.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann made an off-the-cuff joke about the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal at Penn State during a meeting with staff last fall.

The university acknowledged Friday that Hermann made the impromptu comment in a fundraising meeting but said it was not directed at anyone associated with Penn State.

The comment was first reported by NJ Advance Media, whose story included statements from more than a half-dozen people inside the Rutgers athletic department.

The report said Hermann told staff members to "reach out and touch the donors" of the Rutgers program, and her punchline was to not do it "in a Sandusky way."

"Julie's comment was an off the cuff response to a give-and-take interaction urging the fundraising team to reach out and touch the donors," Pete McDonough, senior vice president for external affairs, said in a statement sent Friday evening to The Associated Press. "There probably isn't a person alive today who hasn't made an impromptu remark in a private meeting that probably shouldn't have been said. Even taken out of context, this single comment was not directed at Penn State, its students, staff or faculty."


(Read full post)


Big Ten mailbag

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
5:00
PM ET
Hope still abounds in the mailbag, at least among Nebraska and Penn State fans. Let’s get straight to the questions:

Right now Penn State is the only Big Ten team with a unanimous top-10 recruiting class from the ranking services, and Franklin definitely has some positive momentum rolling in Happy Valley. They have some issues to iron out before they can get past Ohio State and Michigan State to reach the conference title game, but there is no reason to think the Nittany Lions won't be a threat in the East Division in the next couple years. There's still a more significant gap, one that might be out of Franklin's control, to close before Penn State fans should be thinking about national championships.

Nebraska has a very long way to go for an undefeated season. ESPN's FPI rating gives the Huskers a 0.8 percent chance of winning out (tied for 29th among FBS teams). If they do defy the odds, that will mean beating Michigan State and Wisconsin on the road along with the East Division champ (most likely Michigan State again or Ohio State) at a neutral site. With that resume, it would be almost impossible to leave them out of the College Football Playoff. They would still be a No. 3 or 4 seed, and I don't think they have the individual skill level to compete with the Alabamas and Oregons of the world this season. The consolation prize? If they get that far, you would have to imagine Ameer Abdullah would be a Heisman front-runner in December.

Let's start by setting the bar for "the top half of the B1G." Rutgers is currently in sixth place in our weekly power rankings and plays the same newcomer role that any hypothetical additions would assume. Teams that could reasonably expect to compete with or beat the Scarlet Knights will make our cut.

I think that group includes the three major independents (Notre Dame, BYU and Navy), three from the American Athletic Conference (UCF, East Carolina and Cincinnati), Northern Illinois and Boise State. Marshall and maybe one or two others could sneak into that conversation if they continue on an upward trajectory, but at this point I think they would still be underdogs against Rutgers. To be fair to the beloved Big Ten, I'm not sure this list would be much shorter if you asked the same question about the Big 12 or the ACC.



The boo birds showed up at Michigan Stadium last weekend against Miami (Ohio) and Michigan won that game 34-10. If Utah beats the Wolverines on Saturday, the calls for Brady Hoke's job will get a lot louder, but it's way too early in the year to starting writing anyone off. Even if he has another mediocre season, Hoke can save himself by beating Ohio State in the season finale. Combined with a relatively easy month of November before the rivalry game, a win against the Buckeyes would produce enough optimism for the future to buy a fifth year. There are way too many dominoes still standing upright to predict who could be next in line for the job.

Hello there, I'm Dan. I enjoy chocolate-covered almonds, romantic comedies and the read option. Adam's just fine, I promise. See you all next week. 
First it was dominate the state. Now ... dominate the airwaves?

Penn State coach James Franklin found himself in the backyard of Penn State's rival, Pittsburgh, on Friday morning for a recruiting trip and decided to call in to the local sports morning talk show, 93-7 The Fan. It didn't seem like the call was entirely expected -- since the producer hung up when he called the first time.

Here's how the second, successful, call opened:
Let’s go to James, who’s calling from State College. What’s going on, James?

Franklin: What’s going on guys?

This voice sounds familiar. Who is this?

Franklin: Well, I tried to call in. I just landed in Pittsburgh this morning to run around and do some work, and I tried to call in and your producer hung up on me.

Wait a second -- is this James Franklin?

Franklin: Yeah, man, good morning.

Franklin remained on the line for several minutes to briefly touch on recruiting, UMass and the sanction reduction. Penn State’s head coach also explained how he tried to call in earlier, but the show’s producer didn’t believe he was actually James Franklin.

“He said, 'How can we verify it's you?'" Franklin told 93-7 The Fan. "I'm like, 'I don't know. I can't give you my license number over the phone.'"

Franklin ended the conversation over the radio by asking if it was OK for him to call in whenever he’s in Pittsburgh again. The show’s hosts seemed just fine with the prospect.

You can listen to the entire segment right here.

Comparing Hackenberg to past elite QBs

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
3:00
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Christian Hackenberg has made just 15 starts, but there is no shortage of hype surrounding the Penn State quarterback: One AFC scout recently called him the top quarterback in college football, and The Sporting News asked months ago whether he would go No. 1 in the 2016 NFL draft.

So, right now, how does Hackenberg stack up with the top quarterbackss of past years?

To find out, we looked at the first 15 starts of the past five quarterbacks who were taken first at their position in the NFL draft. The lone exception was the 2011 draft, where we skipped over Cam Newton since he made starts in junior college and instead went with the second drafted quarterback.

So far, Hackenberg has thrown for more yards than any of those past quarterbacks -- 310-of-519 passing (59.7 percent) for 4,037 yards, 24 TDs and 15 INTs -- although he’s also received the least amount of run support.

Here’s a closer look at those past quarterbacks:


Sam Bradford, Oklahoma, started from 2007 to 2009

No. 1 overall NFL draft pick (2010) by St. Louis Rams

Bradford
Bradford
The stats (in first 15 starts): 254-of-363 passing (70 percent), 3,304 yards, 38 TDs, 8 INTs; 31 rushes for 7 yards and no TDs

The run-game support (in first 15 starts): Oklahoma averaged slightly more than 41 carries a game for 190 yards (4.6 ypc). The Sooners ran the ball on about 59 percent of their offensive plays.

The highlights (in first 15 starts): Bradford didn’t come into Oklahoma as a highly touted recruit, but he stepped up in a big way when he won the job as a redshirt freshman. In his first career game, against North Texas, he set a school record for most passing yards in a half by going 20-of-22 for 350 yards. He won the Big 12 championship as a redshirt freshman and broke the NCAA freshman record for passing TDs.


Jake Locker, Washington, started from 2007 to 2010

No. 8 overall NFL draft pick (2011) by Tennessee Titans

Locker
The stats (in first 15 starts): 200-of-412 passing (48.5 percent), 2,523 yards, 15 TDs, 15 INTs; 218 rushes for 1,149 yards and 16 TDs.

The run-game support (in first 15 starts): Washington averaged 40 carries a game for 175 yards (4.4 ypc), but Locker was a big reason for that. Including Locker’s runs, this offense ran the ball 56 percent of the time.

The highlights (in first 15 starts): He went 3-12 in his first 15 games, but he was named the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year in addition to making some freshman All-American teams. His best game, statistically, came against Arizona in 2007 when he passed for 336 yards, rushed for another 157 yards and scored four total TDs. An injury derailed his sophomore season during the 16th game of his career.


Andrew Luck, Stanford, started from 2009 to 2011

No. 1 overall NFL draft pick (2012) by Indianapolis Colts

Luck
The stats (in first 15 starts): 207-of-358 passing (57.8 percent), 3,249 yards, 23 TD, 4 INT; 74 rushes for 494 yards and 3 TDs

The run-game support (in first 15 starts): Stanford averaged 41 carries a game for 228 yards (5.5 ypc), although Stanford aired it out the more Luck progressed. This offense ran the ball 63 percent of the time in Luck’s first 15 games.

The highlights (in first 15 starts): In back-to-back weeks as a redshirt freshman, Luck helped knock off two top-15 teams -- No. 7 Oregon, 51-42, and No. 11 USC, 55-21. He threw four touchdown passes and no interceptions in those two games. But this was a run-first team; Luck threw more than 29 passes just four times in those first 15 games, and it was no coincidence that all four were losses since Stanford was trying to mount a comeback. He led the Pac-10 in pass efficiency as a redshirt freshman, but really made a name for himself in 2010.


EJ Manuel, Florida State, started from 2009 to 2012

No. 16 overall NFL draft pick (2013) by Buffalo Bills

Manuel
The stats (in first 15 starts): 260-of-380 passing (68 percent), 3,251 yards, 18 TDs, 14 INTs; 144 rushes for 441 yards and 6 TDs

The run-game support (in first 15 starts): Florida State averaged 35 carries a game for 150 yards (4.3 ypc). The Seminoles also ran the ball 56 percent of the time.

The highlights (in first 15 starts): Manuel’s first 15 starts came over the span of three seasons, but he always had a high completion percentage. He posted a 3-1 record as a redshirt freshman and was the Gator Bowl MVP. Against Maryland, to keep FSU bowl-eligible, he led a game-winning touchdown drive with 2:31 left. He also started two games as a redshirt sophomore and won the job as a redshirt junior, when he really burst onto the scene.


Blake Bortles, Central Florida, started from 2012 to 2013

No. 3 overall NFL draft pick (2014) by Jacksonville Jaguars

Bortles
The stats (in first 15 starts): 269-of-423 passing (63.5 percent), 3,373 yards, 28 TDs, 7 INTs; 93 rushes for 287 yards and 8 TDs

The run-game support (in first 15 starts): Central Florida averaged 38 carries a game for 180 yards (4.7 ypc). The Knights also ran the ball 56 percent of the time.

The highlights (in first 15 starts): He redshirted, then played in 10 games as a redshirt freshman -- but didn’t start until his redshirt sophomore season. The Knights fell in the Conference USA title game, but Bortles was still named to the all-conference team and earned MVP honors in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl.

Big Ten Week 4 predictions

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
9:00
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Week 4 features a new voice in the predictions mix as our new Big Ten reporter Dan Murphy jumps into the fray. It also features a handful of games our writers disagree on, including games involving programs that desperately need to rebound with a win this week.

 

Why Iowa will win: Call me a contrarian if you'd like (I've been called much worse), but Iowa seems to rise up at the unlikeliest of times. Pitt has looked way better than the Hawkeyes this season. The Panthers can run the ball (James Conner has 544 rush yards and eight touchdowns), while Iowa can't (393 rush yards, four touchdowns). Panthers coach Paul Chryst, the former Wisconsin assistant, knows the Hawkeyes well. So of course I'm going with Iowa, which will discover its run game and force two second-half turnovers to rally for the win. Iowa 21, Pitt 20 -- Adam Rittenberg

Why Pitt will win: Adam did a pretty good job of making my argument for me. This game hinges on who wins the battle between Iowa’s front seven and the Panthers’ running game. Conner's 214 rushing yards against Boston College in a 30-20 win look a lot more impressive this week after the Eagles held USC's entire offense to 20 rushing yards. Pitt also has some good experience in the secondary (CB Lafayette Pitts and S Ray Vinopal) that could put a dent in the strong completion percentage Jake Rudock has put together thus far. Pitt 27, Iowa 17 -- Dan Murphy

 

Why Syracuse will win: Beating MAC teams isn't easy, as the Big Ten can attest. Well, Syracuse went on the road last week and crushed Central Michigan, one of the better MAC squads, by 37 points, looking nothing like the team that was extremely fortunate to get by Villanova in its opener. The Orange are a different offense with quarterback Terrel Hunt at the helm, and they're stout in defending the run (opponents average just 2.7 yards against them). Maryland makes too many mistakes to get this win on the road. Syracuse 28, Maryland 24 -- Adam Rittenberg

Why Maryland will win: Maryland has shown an explosiveness on offense and special teams, but the Terrapins have lacked consistency. They will need to avoid the turnovers and wild mood swings on the road at Syracuse. Former Orange quarterback Randy Edsall's team has enough playmakers to get the job done. Maryland 31, Syracuse 27 -- Brian Bennett

 

Why Utah will win: Unless Brady Hoke’s unwillingness to talk about injuries is based around a desire to spring a surprise by unleashing a healthy secondary on the Utes, the Wolverines could have their hands full with Travis Wilson, the nation’s No. 2 quarterback in terms of passing efficiency. The jury is still out on Michigan’s offense as well, particularly since it was shut out at Notre Dame, its only true test so far, and has shown signs that issues protecting the football haven’t been solved. That’s not a good combination against a program that appears to be on the rebound and actually has prior experience winning at the Big House under Kyle Whittingham. Utah 34, Michigan 27 -- Austin Ward

Why Michigan will win: Utah is good, but it's no Notre Dame. The Utes' success so far this season has come against two lowly opponents -- Idaho State and Fresno State -- so they might be getting a little bit more credit than they deserve. Devin Gardner is a wild card, but I can't see him committing another four turnovers, at least not in the Big House. Michigan 31, Utah 28 -- Josh Moyer

 

Why Rutgers will win: Rutgers is actually an underdog against Navy, and this game has serious letdown potential after the Scarlet Knights got sky high for Penn State. Yet the Scarlet Knights have been very good against the run and have the defensive front to disrupt the Navy option. That will be enough to pull it out -- provided Gary Nova doesn't throw another five interceptions. Rutgers 24, Navy 21 -- Brian Bennett

Why Navy will win: The Scarlet Knights said there would be no letdown after the loss last week to Penn State. But Rutgers invested so much energy in the program’s first meeting in nearly two decades with the Nittany Lions that, yes, there will be a letdown. And be sure of this, Navy requires Rutgers’ full attention. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds is expected back from injury on Saturday to lead the nation’s No. 1-ranked rushing offense, which averages more than 400 yards. Rutgers looks equipped up front to defend the triple option with Darius Hamilton and a solid line, but Navy’s offensive efficiency will prove too much to overcome. It has won eight straight true home games dating to 2012. Make it nine. Navy 31, Rutgers 21 -- Mitch Sherman

Unanimous decisions

Illinois over Texas State, 38-21: The Illini running game finally emerges and opens things up for Wes Lunt to have a big second half in Champaign.

Missouri over Indiana, 42-27: The Hoosiers couldn’t help the Big Ten’s nonconference record against the MAC’s Bowling Green last week. They aren’t likely to turn that around against an undefeated SEC opponent.

Michigan State over Eastern Michigan, 52-3: Former Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden's last crack at the Big Ten doesn't go any better than the first time around. Mark Dantonio calls off his dogs after halftime to keep this one from getting uglier than it could.

Minnesota over San Jose State, 27-13: David Cobb and the Gophers show they are still headed in a good direction despite a disappointing showing against TCU last Saturday.

Nebraska over Miami, 34-31: The Canes have the talent to make it close, but they don’t have the quarterback to steal a game from a big-time opponent on the road yet.

Northwestern over Western Illinois, 24-10: Pat Fitzgerald keeps it simple and forces his team to play the bully role while trying to develop a new toughness in Evanston.

Penn State over UMass, 44-14: The Christian Hackenberg hype machine continues its crescendo toward a primetime matchup in the Big House in early October.

Purdue over Southern Illinois, 28-20: The Salukis put up a fight, but Danny Etling builds on a strong performance against Notre Dame to pull the Boilermakers to 2-2.

Wisconsin over Bowling Green, 33-7: Bowling Green won’t be able to sneak up on a well-rested Badgers team at Camp Randall Stadium.

Our records:

Mitch Sherman: 31-6
Adam Rittenberg: 29-8
Austin Ward: 29-8
Brian Bennett: 28-9
Josh Moyer: 27-10

Big Ten morning links

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
8:00
AM ET
Hitting on the hottest topics in the Big Ten before sweeping through the league ahead of another critical non-conference Saturday.

1. Minnesota's QB quandary: There's not exactly a controversy under center, since the Gophers have made it quite clear that Mitch Leidner is the top option to lead the offense. But for the second week in a row, there have been questions about his health, and therein lies the uncertainty that could turn this into a more pressing issue for Jerry Kill. The Minnesota coach pegged Leidner at 100 percent on his injured knee last week, but Saturday something else popped up with his foot -- though Kill shot down reports of a broken bone and seemed puzzled by where they came from. Backup Chris Streveler has appeared in all three games and was needed to finish the last two, and at some point if he keeps handling himself well and if Leidner's bumps and bruises remain a weekly topic of conversation, perhaps the Gophers may find themselves in the midst of a real controversy. This week it probably won't matter given the way Minnesota ran the ball all over San Jose State last year. But Michigan is looming next week, and the Gophers would likely be better off if they didn't have to keep answering questions about their starting quarterback.

2. Waiting game for Buckeyes: From the outside, the case seems pretty open and shut regarding Noah Spence's latest failed drug test and what figures to be permanent ineligibility for the All-Big Ten defensive end. But there hasn't yet been an official verdict handed down, so Ohio State coach Urban Meyer confirmed after practice Wednesday night that Spence was still practicing with the team while "doing things to get healthy." Given what would seem to be a long-shot appeal combined with the serious tone from the Spence family when they addressed a "medical illness" to the Columbus Dispatch last week, it is somewhat surprising that the star junior would be back on the field at all right now while each of those separate, but related, issues are sorted out. Meyer stressed that Ohio State was doing what it could to support him, and if Spence is eventually cleared for a return, everybody involved would surely want him ready to play again. So unless or until the Big Ten tells him otherwise, Spence is still working out with the Buckeyes and waiting for the next update on his status.

3. Heat is on Hawkeyes: The running game is struggling. The kicking game looked like a fire drill even when the field-goal unit hit a clutch attempt last weekend. Kirk Ferentz is under fire with his clock management skills being questioned. And after dealing with all that in the aftermath of the loss to Iowa State, the Hawkeyes have to hit the road to play unbeaten Pittsburgh before diving into conference play. Maybe Iowa could actually use that traveling time to bond and rally against the odds that seem to be stacking up against the program, because it's pretty clear the team needs a spark. The Hawkeyes were a trendy dark horse pick to win the West, and no matter what happens at Pitt it should be fine next week at home to open conference play against Purdue. But it's time for them to show they really have what it takes to contend this fall.

East Division
  • Brady Hoke explained the reasoning behind his unwillingness to address injuries.
  • Michigan State right guard Connor Kruse could be back in the lineup as early as next week.
  • Keys for Penn State as it looks to move to 4-0 to open the season.
  • The secondary has been key for Rutgers defensively so far this season, and it will need its safeties to play a big role against Navy.
  • Fixing problems on third down has been a top priority for Maryland this week.
  • Indiana receiver J-Shun Harris II is developing into another weapon for the uptempo offense.
  • Just more than a year after believing his football career might be over, Donovan Munger is providing depth at defensive tackle for Ohio State.
West Division
  • Danny Etling knows how to prepare. The Purdue quarterback might be overdoing it though.
  • Nebraska defensive backs are preparing for "the fastest receivers" they've ever gone against.
  • It doesn't appear Pat Fitzgerald is easing off the intensity at all coming off the bye week and as kickoff draws closer.
  • Injuries are dominating the headlines at Minnesota, but the offensive line is coordinator Matt Limegrover's biggest concern.
  • A look at the Texas State defense, which has some athletes who can provide a test for the Illinois offense.
  • Pressing questions for Wisconsin as it gets back to work against Bowling Green.
  • Iowa linebacker Quinton Alston said the Hawkeyes needed a "kick in the butt" after losing to Iowa State.

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