Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 14

November, 28, 2014
Nov 28
10:00
AM ET
Hopefully you've already recovered from a day's worth of turkey and pumpkin pie because the games start in about two hours.

It’s the final week of the Big Ten’s regular season, and there are still quite a few questions left to be answered: Will Tevin Coleman surpass 2,000 yards on the season? Who will face Ohio State in the Big Ten championship? Will Northwestern or Illinois find its way to bowl eligibility?

There are no night games or byes this week. So shake off that tryptophan, make another turkey sandwich – possibly to go with that bowl of turkey soup – and get that remote ready. Here’s a glance at what you should look forward to (all times ET):

Noon Friday

Nebraska (8-3, 4-3 Big Ten) at Iowa (7-4, 4-3), ABC: Ameer Abdullah admitted he’s been frustrated the past two weeks – because of his injury and back-to-back losses – and even said matter-of-factly, “It sucks. It definitely does suck.” Bo Pelini is on the hot seat again and can’t afford a third straight loss; Kirk Ferentz wants to secure another eight-win season and have some kind of trademark Big Ten victory. (Iowa hasn’t beaten a Big Ten team with a winning record.) Something has to give.

[+] EnlargeBriean Boddy-Calhoun
AP Photo/Nati HarnikMinnesota and defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun are playing for a Big Ten division title at Wisconsin.
Noon Saturday

Illinois (5-6, 2-5) at Northwestern (5-6, 3-4), ESPNU: Let the (unlikely) battle for bowl eligibility begin. Northwestern bounced back from a 3-6 record with victories over Notre Dame and Purdue, while Illinois played its best special-teams game of the year last week to beat Penn State. The Wildcats are without senior QB Trevor Siemian, who suffered a torn ACL, so their postseason hopes are pinned to backup Zack Oliver.

Purdue (3-8, 1-6) at Indiana (3-8, 0-7), BTN: Don’t let the records fool you. Sure, these are two of the worst teams – recordwise – in the Big Ten. But this one might be worth watching for no other reason than Tevin Coleman, who could be playing in the final college game of his career. Coleman needs just 94 yards to reach 2,000 on the season and he’s also a finalist for the Doak Walker Award. He might be the best running back in the nation not named Melvin Gordon.

Michigan (5-6, 3-4) at No. 6 Ohio State (10-1, 7-0), ABC: The Ga_e will always _ean so_ething special. Especially as long as Ohio State continues with its tradition of crossing off every “M” on campus. The Buckeyes are the big favorite, while the Wolverines have been a big disappointment. But nothing would make Wolverines fans happier than knocking Ohio State out of the playoff picture. Of course, Ohio State is also currently scoring an average of 24 points more per game than Michigan -- so that’s not going to be easy.

3:30 p.m. Saturday

No. 10 Michigan State (9-2, 6-1) at Penn State (6-5, 2-5), ABC: The Nittany Lions are hoping to experience some déjà vu this season. Last year, they entered their home finale as 24-point underdogs to Wisconsin and some way, somehow, came out on top in an upset. This season, they’re only 13-point underdogs. And while the Penn State defense is historically good this season, the offense is historically bad. Michigan State, on the other hand, is a well-rounded team that’s fighting for a trip to one of the New Year’s Six bowl games.

No. 18 Minnesota (8-3, 5-2) at No. 14 Wisconsin (9-2, 6-1), BTN: It all comes down to this in the West. The winner will advance to the Big Ten title game to face Ohio State; the loser will have to lament watching it from the dorms. Gordon needs just 1 yard to break the Big Ten single-season rushing record, and Minnesota’s David Cobb is “very questionable” for the contest. Jerry Kill is arguably the front-runner for Big Ten Coach of the Year and, if he pulls this out, we can probably take “arguably” away from that sentence. This is a must-watch.

Rutgers (6-5, 2-5) at Maryland (7-4, 4-3), ESPNU: Both teams have met or exceeded expectations this season, but it’s been a difficult second half for Rutgers. After starting 5-1, the Scarlet Knights have won just one of their past five and have looked really overmatched against the B1G’s best. Maryland has looked like the better team – and beat both Iowa and Penn State – but Rutgers would like to change the conversation here. A victory for either team would go a long way; Rutgers could grab some second-half respect or Maryland could climb its way to a better bowl.

Required reading
Let's get this Queen song queued up -- and, for Adam Rittenberg's team, we'll have another ready -- because it's down to just Austin Ward and me in the final week.

Ward needs to beat me by 57 points to win our championship, so the odds are against him. But it's not over just yet; I've been outscored by that much twice this season.

It's been a see-saw year but, ultimately, it's no coincidence the top two teams just happen to have the top two fantasy players. Melvin Gordon has earned me an average of 34.8 fantasy points per week, while J.T. Barrett has gotten Ward 33.4 points a game. Rittenberg was in the driver's seat early on with Ameer Abdullah (24.9 ppg), but the MCL injury hurt The Trombone Shorties as much as it did the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

We'll know our champion for sure by Saturday night. In the meantime, here's a look at the scoring, waiver-wire moves and final rosters.

Your results this week:

Coal Crackers (Josh Moyer): 137
Massive Attack (Austin Ward): 124
The Trombone Shorties (Adam Rittenberg): 89
Legendary Leaders (Brian Bennett): 75
Sherman Tanks (Mitch Sherman): 57

And the overall standings:

Coal Crackers: 1,597
Massive Attack: 1,541
The Trombone Shorties: 1,416
Legendary Leaders: 1,239
Sherman Tanks: 1,105

Waiver wire: Only seven moves were made in our final week, and none were all that significant. Rittenberg was forced to find a replacement for Trevor Siemian, but most of us just picked up players based on their matchups this weekend. Sherman didn't even make a move.

Bennett adds Northwestern WR Kyle Prater and drops Michigan WR Devin Funchess

Rittenberg adds Indiana WR Shane Wynn and drops Nebraska WR Kenny Bell

Ward adds Michigan kickers and drops Penn State kickers

Moyer adds Maryland defense and drops Penn State defense

Rittenberg adds Illinois QB Reilly O'Toole and drops Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian

Moyer adds Maryland WR Deon Long and drops Maryland QB C.J. Brown

Rittenberg adds Northwestern defense and drops Michigan defense

Coal Crackers (Moyer)

Purdue QB Austin Appleby
Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
Indiana RB Tevin Coleman
Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo
Maryland WR Deon Long
Wisconsin kickers
Maryland defense
Bench: Michigan WR Amara Darboh (at Ohio State)

Massive Attack (Ward)

Iowa QB Jake Rudock
Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott
Illinois RB Josh Ferguson
Ohio State WR Michael Thomas
Penn State WR DaeSean Hamilton
Michigan kickers
Michigan State defense
Bench: Minnesota RB David Cobb (at Wisconsin)

The Trombone Shorties (Rittenberg)

Illinois QB Reilly O'Toole
Michigan State QB Connor Cook
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Northwestern RB Justin Jackson
Ohio State WR Devin Smith
Indiana WR Shane Wynn
Maryland kickers
Northwestern defense
Bench: Ohio State RB Dontre Wilson (vs. Michigan)

Legendary Leaders (Bennett)

Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong
Wisconsin QB Joel Stave
Iowa RB Mark Weisman
Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford
Northwestern WR Kyle Prater
Illinois WR Mike Dudek
Ohio State kickers
Wisconsin defense
Bench: Illinois QB Wes Lunt (at Northwestern)

Sherman Tanks (Sherman)

Rutgers QB Gary Nova
Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg
Michigan RB De'Veon Smith
Purdue RB Akeem Hunt
Michigan State WR Tony Lippett
Iowa WR Kevonte Martin-Manley
Michigan State kickers
Ohio State defense
Bench: Wisconsin RB Corey Clement (vs. Minnesota)

Big Ten awards race tracker: Week 13

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
12:00
PM ET
The Big Ten individual awards will be revealed next week. But if you've been following us here all season long, you should know exactly who the favorites and top contenders are.

This is our last one of the season, and since we've pretty much exhausted all the competitive bonus categories, we've added a special holiday-themed one to get you ready for tomorrow.

Away we go ...

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (six first-place votes): When Wisconsin absolutely needed Gordon to come through in the fourth quarter at Iowa, he did just that. Not much more left to say about this special player and his historic season.

2. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: The records keep falling for the Buckeyes' redshirt freshman, who'd probably be a runaway winner if Gordon had been born a couple of years earlier or later. Barrett will likely settle for the quarterback of the year trophy -- not a bad consolation prize.

3. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: He's 94 yards away from 2,000 for this season. Unbelievable season, but again, just bad timing for a major award.

4. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: He showed his heart by rushing for 98 yards despite a bad knee and shoulder vs. Minnesota. I think he would have made a run at 2,000, too, if not for those unfortunate late-season injuries.

5. Minnesota RB David Cobb: He injured his hamstring in the second half at Nebraska and is questionable for the finale at Wisconsin. The Gophers need their workhorse back.

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa (six first-place votes): Simply the most destructive defensive player in the Big Ten all season. He'll be back as a true junior for the Buckeyes next season, which is scary.

2. Penn State LB Mike Hull: On pace for a 130-tackle regular season, Hull has been as consistently good as it gets from the linebacker position.

3. Michigan LB Jake Ryan: He was named a finalist for the Butkus Award on Monday. Hull has had a better season overall, but Ryan has still been outstanding as a senior.

4. Wisconsin LB Vince Biegel: One of the Badgers' "Chevy Bad Boys," Biegel leads the Big Ten's top defense with 14.5 tackles for loss.

5. Minnesota CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun: The Big Ten co-defensive player of the week, he has a been a big-play machine all season, including his forced fumble and recovery to seal the win at Nebraska.

Also receiving votes: Penn State DT Anthony Zettel; Minnesota LB Damien Wilson

[+] EnlargeThanksgiving
ThinkstockStuffing or turkey for Big Ten dish of the year?
Pilgrim-Pocahontas Thanksgiving Dish of the Year

1. Stuffing (four first-place votes): That's right. It's almost Thanksgiving, so we're ranking the best dishes on Turkey Day. And in perhaps a slight upset, preseason favorite turkey did not come in first. Stuffing pulled off a J.T. Barrett-like surprise. Because it is awesome. Especially my grandma's.

2. Turkey (two first-place votes): It is the featured back, if you will, of the entire Thanksgiving attack. Says Josh Moyer: "You guys haven't lived until you've tried it deep-fried."

3. Pumpkin pie: Dessert is kind of like the special teams of Thanksgiving meals; you can't win with it alone but it can't be forgotten, either. Pecan pie also received one vote (from Dan Murphy), though I'd argue it's too sweet unless part of a Derby Pie. Austin Ward voted for "any kind of pie." I like where his head's at.

Also receiving votes: Mashed potatoes, grilled potatoes, potatoes au gratin and any kind of potatoes.

Big Ten Week 14 predictions

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
10:30
AM ET


Why Iowa will win: Based on the roller-coaster ride Iowa has been on lately, now is the time to jump back in and hang on tight as the regular season comes to a close. The Hawkeyes actually impressed even in a losing effort last week against Wisconsin, and with Nebraska reeling and having to go on the road, expect Kirk Ferentz to get his team ready to capitalize. The Blackshirts have been a mess down the stretch once again, and Black Friday won’t be any different with Jake Rudock leading an Iowa passing attack that somewhat surprisingly ranks No. 4 in the Big Ten. ... Iowa 31, Nebraska 20. -- Austin Ward

Why Nebraska will win: Are the Huskers trending downward? You bet. But Iowa is not nearly as good as Wisconsin or Minnesota. The Huskers still boast the better total offense here -- they're 34 spots ahead of Iowa in the national rankings at No. 29 -- and the better scoring offense, with 10 points more per game. The defense has been up and down, but Mark Weisman is no Melvin Gordon or David Cobb. And Ameer Abdullah is only getting healthier. Iowa hangs tough but loses in the end. ... Nebraska 28, Iowa 24. -- Josh Moyer



Why Indiana will win: It’s time to cash in the chips on Purdue. I’ve been a believer in the Boilers since they beat Illinois in early October, then hung around with Michigan State and Minnesota. But things have gone downhill. Lately, Purdue can’t run the football, and it can’t stop the run -- a bad combination, especially against Tevin Coleman. The Indiana junior will have a huge day and cruise past 2,000 rushing yards for the season in perhaps his last collegiate game. Defensively, the Hoosiers haven’t stopped a decent offense all year, but they’ve got enough left to avoid a winless Big Ten season. ... Indiana 38, Purdue 24. -- Mitch Sherman

Why Purdue will win: Purdue's production has taken a step backward since scoring 38 against Minnesota and threatening to take down the Gophers. The Boilermakers stumble into the Hoosier State battle, but Indiana is exactly what the doctor ordered in that front. No one on Purdue's roster compares to Tevin Coleman, but speedy senior Raheem Mostert can have a big day against Indiana's run defense. Austin Appleby proves to be the difference to help Darrell Hazell end his second year on a high note. ... Purdue 24, Indiana 20. -- Dan Murphy

Unanimous selections

Ohio State 35, Michigan 14: No, Brady Hoke, there is no Santa Claus. The Wolverines simply do not have enough offensive competence to hang with the Buckeyes on the road, though emotion will help them keep it close into the third quarter.

Wisconsin 24, Minnesota 20: The Gophers have a real chance here, but the potential absence of David Cobb (hamstring) and the road environment will make it tough. Melvin Gordon is held under 200 yards but rips off the game-winning score in the fourth quarter.

Maryland 31, Rutgers 23: The Scarlet Knights' only win since Oct. 4 was at home against Indiana. The Terps have been playing much better than their fellow first-year Big Ten newbie, and they'll protect home field to spoil Ralph Friedgen's homecoming.

Northwestern 28, Illinois 21: It's win or go home for both teams. The Wildcats are surging at the right time, having scored 81 points in back-to-back wins the past two weeks. The loss of quarterback Trevor Siemian (ACL) hurts Northwestern, but picking the Illini to win consecutive Big Ten games strains logic.

Michigan State 19, Penn State 10: Don't underestimate the power of Senior Day in Beaver Stadium, as we've seen the Nittany Lions put up strong performances in their regular-season finales the past two years. Their defense will also cause the Spartans some trouble. But Penn State is going to a bowl regardless, and its offense has few options against Pat Narduzzi's defense.

Our records:
1. Austin Ward: 83-22 (.790)
2. Dan Murphy: 53-15 (.779)
T-3. Brian Bennett: 81-24 (.771)
T-3. Mitch Sherman: 81-24 (.771)
5. Adam Rittenberg: 78-27 (.743)
6. Josh Moyer: 77-28 (.733)
When merely picking winners and losers isn't enough, the Big Ten reporters sit down at the roundtable and come up with more specific predictions -- this time for the final week of the regular season.

Adam Rittenberg: Wisconsin needs a late rally to beat Minnesota

There's something about these Golden Gophers, who have turned a corner under Jerry Kill and aren't just a cute little story any more. After winning rivalry trophies against both Michigan and Iowa, Minnesota aims for the Axe and leads for most of Saturday's game at Camp Randall Stadium. Remember, Wisconsin lost its home finale last year and might not have the benefit of the usual raucous student section. The Badgers gather themselves in the fourth quarter and take the lead on a 70-yard Melvin Gordon touchdown run to chop Minnesota (sorry, Rutgers) and advance to their third Big Ten title game in four seasons.

Dan Murphy: J.T. Barrett will pass or run for a career high.

Barrett makes his debut in the heated Michigan rivalry with one of his top performances of the year. The Buckeyes offense shouldn't have any issue moving the ball Saturday, it's just not clear yet whether they will spend more time in the air or on the ground. Barrett ran for 189 yards against Minnesota and threw for 330 yards against Cincinnati. One of those season- and career-high marks is likely to fall against a Wolverines team that doesn't have much left to play for in the regular-season finale.

Brian Bennett: Penn State takes Michigan State to the wire

James Franklin was passionate in his press conference this week, and I expect the Nittany Lions to play the same way at home on senior day. Penn State doesn't match up well with Michigan State on paper, but they didn't against Ohio State, either. This is a better team at home, and while the offensive line will have its troubles against the Spartans' pass rush, I expect Franklin's team to turn in one of its better efforts of the season.

Austin Ward: Jake Rudock sets a new career high in passing yards.

The Hawkeyes' performance varies from game to game, and some inconsistency from their junior quarterback has been part of the problem. But when Iowa is aggressive with its play-calling, Rudock seems to gain confidence and has shown an ability to pick apart a few defenses with three 300-yard passing performances this season. Nebraska has been pretty solid for the most part with the No. 5 pass defense in the Big Ten, but the program is reeling right now and Rudock is poised to take advantage on the way to topping his career-best 322 yards set earlier this season.

Mitch Sherman: Tevin Coleman makes a run at the single-game FBS rushing record

After Melvin Gordon went for 408 against Nebraska on Nov. 15, Oklahoma freshman Samaje Perine churned out 427 against Kansas last week. How about three weeks in a row? After all, Coleman is red hot, with 535 rushing yards in the past two games, including 228 against Ohio State in the Horseshoe. And Purdue’s defense has allowed an average of 251 yards on the ground to its past five opponents. I like Coleman to go over 2,000 for the season in the first quarter (he’s at 1,906) and stay on pace with Perine into the second half. In the end, he falls short, rushing for a career-best 315 as Indiana earns its lone Big Ten victory in what is likely Coleman’s final game as a Hoosier.

Josh Moyer: Tevin Coleman and Melvin Gordon both rush for more than 200 yards.

The Nos. 1 and 2 rushers in the nation have both picked up more than 200 yards in each of the last two weeks -- and it just so happens those two weeks are the only times both Coleman and Gordon reached the mark on the same weekend. I'm predicting it happens for a third straight week. Neither of their opponents' run defenses are particularly strong, with Purdue ranked No. 90 and Minnesota at No. 52, so the opportunity is there for both backs. They're both on a hot streak, and they both have a lot on the line (last game for Indiana, title hopes for Wisconsin), So, it should be another week of dominance.

Big Ten morning links

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
8:00
AM ET
Tomorrow is a day to remember and be thankful for all of our blessings. Today is a day to be thankful for morning links, the final edition of the regular season.

1. Maryland’s football team got into the holiday spirit this week by explaining the fine tradition of football on Thanksgiving to a room full of foreign diplomats. Four Maryland players visited Washington, D.C.’s, Blair House -- across the street from the White House – to rub elbows with ambassadors from around the world and provide a Nerf-aided tutorial of America’s favorite sport. That must be one of the perks that comes with plastering the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner on your helmets early in the season. For their efforts, the four Terrapins who made the trip were rewarded by taking part in America’s other favorite Thanksgiving tradition -- food.

2. This week’s new College Football Playoff rankings, released Tuesday night, add more evidence that November has been kind to the Big Ten’s image. The league now has four teams in the top 20 with Minnesota moving up to No. 18 behind Wisconsin (14), Michigan State (10) and Ohio State (6). Those rankings will get the conference’s top teams another chance to prove themselves against good competition in bowl season.

The Buckeyes are in good position to test the importance of a conference championship in the new playoff system. At least two teams ahead of Ohio State in the current rankings will finish the year without playing in a conference title game (TCU and either Alabama or Mississippi State). That extra game could help Urban Meyer’s team plead its case to the selection committee.

3. First, the Buckeyes have to avoid an upset against rival Michigan this weekend. Meyer told his team earlier this week that losing their cool would not be tolerated. Last year the two teams fought, players were ejected and an overmatched Wolverines team was in the game until its final play.

Meyer’s solution – simply telling his team not to scuffle with opponents – seems like a better approach than the altercation avoidance tactics supported by the Wisconsin and Minnesota coaching staffs for their battle this week. After a stand-off last season, the teams decided to water down the winning team’s celebration with the massive axe rivalry trophy by keeping it tucked away until after the game ends. It seems that reminding players that fighting should remain between the sidelines should be enough.

East Division
West Divison

Big Ten bowl projections: Week 13

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
8:00
PM ET
It's the penultimate version of the bowl projections, and we have some news at the top. Sorry, Buckeyes fans, we're not projecting the Scarlet and Gray to the College Football Playoff -- not yet, at least.

As we did for a portion of the season, we're projecting two Big Ten teams to New Year's Six bowls, as we now believe Michigan State will finish high enough for selection. The Spartans should get to 10-2 this weekend against Penn State, their only setbacks coming against playoff hopefuls Oregon and Ohio State. There's a possibility they would qualify for the Capital One Orange Bowl if they're ranked higher than the highest available SEC team. If so, the Big Ten would not have a team in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

This possibility would increase if Arkansas beats Missouri on Saturday, sending Georgia to the SEC championship game. Georgia is ahead of Michigan State in the College Football Playoff rankings, but a loss, either this week against Georgia Tech or in the SEC title game, likely would drop the Bulldogs behind Michigan State.

For now, we're keeping Michigan State out of the Orange and sending Wisconsin to the Citrus.

The Buckeyes still need some help to reach the playoff. Charlie Strong, a former Urban Meyer aide, can help his old boss Thursday when his Texas squad hosts TCU.

There are also some moves at the bottom of the projections. Michigan's loss to Maryland takes the Wolverines out of the postseason picture, as none of us expects them to win The Game at The Shoe.

The Big Ten has nine bowl-eligible teams, and there will be a 10th as Northwestern and Illinois, both 5-6, play Saturday at Ryan Field. Although the Wildcats will be without starting quarterback Trevor Siemian, we project them to win and reach the six-win threshold.

Nebraska's slide on the field means a slide in the projections, as we now have the Huskers headed to the Music City Bowl. Minnesota moves up to the Outback after its big win in Lincoln, and Maryland bumps up to the Foster Farms Bowl in the Bay Area as it positions itself for a somewhat surprising 8-4 season.

Both Penn State and Rutgers are limping toward the finish and likely will finish the regular season at 6-6. The Lions seem like a good bet to reach New York City for their postseason return, while Rutgers could be headed to Motown.

Enough jabbering. Here are the latest projections ...

Chick-fil-A Peach/Goodyear Cotton/VIZIO Fiesta: Ohio State
Chick-fil-A Peach/Goodyear Cotton/VIZIO Fiesta: Michigan State
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus: Wisconsin
Outback: Minnesota
National University Holiday: Iowa
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Nebraska
Foster Farms: Maryland
New Era Pinstripe: Penn State
Quick Lane: Rutgers
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas: Northwestern

Best of Big Ten Week 14 conference call

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
3:30
PM ET
Questions were asked, and coaches had answers. Here are a few of the highlights from this week's Big Ten conference call.

By the way, if you’re not following us on Twitter, what are you waiting for? Follow along at @ESPNRittenberg, @BennettESPN, @ESPNJoshMoyer, @DanMurphyESPN, @MitchSherman and @AWardESPN.

Big Ten morning links

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
8:00
AM ET
Good morning, Big Ten fans. Some notes and observations for Thanksgiving week:

1. And then there were two ...: Bovada released its updated odds Monday on the Heisman Trophy winner, and only two names are left: Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon. Mariota is the favorite with 1-3 odds, while Gordon is at 2-1. All other players/bets are off the board.

I've said this before, but I'm really not sure what else Gordon has to do to pass Mariota here. In a land where there's just Jesus, girls and Marcus Mariota, the Oregon quarterback has had an unbelievable season. But Gordon's performance is maybe the best from a running back in the last 25 years. Look at past Heisman-winning running backs -- Mark Ingram, Rashaan Salaam, Ron Dayne, Ricky Williams, Eddie George -- and, with the exception of Williams, Gordon has more rushing yards, more yards per carry and more TDs than all of them. And he's just 15 yards and two TDs shy of tying Williams' production; plus, he's averaging 2.4 yards a carry more than Williams. This isn't just a great season for Gordon; it's historically great. He's having one of the best seasons in NCAA history.

2. Ralph Friedgen returning to Maryland: The Rutgers' offensive coordinator is not being made available to the media this week ... but it's pretty clear he doesn't like this week's opponent in Maryland. OK, let's be honest: He hates Maryland. He was fired as its coach in 2010, the same year he was named ACC Coach of the Year, which obviously doesn't happen too often. And he didn't hold back a few years ago when discussing his alma mater: "I could care less about Maryland, I've burned my diploma. ...Well, they talk about Maryland pride. They didn't show me a whole lot of Maryland pride, either getting the job or getting fired."

Think this game doesn't take on a bit more of added importance? Rutgers players told NJ.com there's some added motivation this week. It's a storyline worth following, and it'll be interesting to see how both Friedgen and Maryland fans react to his homecoming.

3. Jerry Kill or Urban Meyer?: One of them has to wind up as the Big Ten coach of the year -- but which one is it going to be? Minnesota has undoubtedly exceeded expectations this season by picking up the Little Brown Jug and the Floyd of Rosedale ... but Meyer's on the cusp of a playoff berth with a redshirt freshman quarterback who was supposed to spend this season on the sideline. If Kill fails to grab Paul Bunyan's Axe by beating Wisconsin this week, Meyer might have the edge. If the Gophers win and wind up in the Big Ten title game? Well, it'd be hard to pick against Kill. Minnesota hasn't finished first or second in the conference since 1967.

Now, on to the links ...

East Division
  • The father of Penn State's Christian Hackenberg says he "won't even touch" the prospect of transferring.
West Division
  • Silence from Nebraska's athletic director makes sense for now, writes the Lincoln Journal Star's Steven M. Sipple.
  • Looking back on the last time Wisconsin played Minnesota for the B1G title ... 52 years ago.

Big Ten Monday mailbag

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
5:00
PM ET
Short week. I’ve got the mail. Here you go:

@mitchsherman: Nebraska is a hot topic again late in the season for its failure to win key games. The Huskers' 28-24 loss to Minnesota on Saturday squashed the final strand of hope to play for a Big Ten title, officially extending the drought to 15 years without a conference crown. I think the Nebraska administration needs to ask a different set of questions this year than last, when Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst offered a vague statement in support of coach Bo Pelini at the close of the regular season. Is Nebraska satisfied with its place in the Big Ten? Are the Huskers content to win nine games a year but rarely, if ever, factor in the national conversation? If so, change is unnecessary. But if the Huskers want more, some kind of fix appears in order. Clearly, the formula in place isn't working to improve Nebraska. As for the streak of 340 consecutive sellouts, Nebraska can't afford to wait until it ends before taking action. Apathy is growing as the Huskers slide further down the Big Ten pecking order. And the streak of sellouts should not be taken for granted.

@mitchsherman: The Badgers, in that scenario, would land in the Cotton, Fiesta or Peach. The College Football Playoff committee would then be tasked to determine if Ohio State or Michigan State belonged in another of the New Year's Six games -- other than the Orange, which will be determined by conference tie-ins. The Orange Bowl gets the Big Ten runner-up only if it ranks ahead of every available SEC team. The Spartans appear in decent shape today for a New Year's Six spot, especially if Ohio State keeps winning. Of course, the Buckeyes, with a close loss to Wisconsin, could remain ahead of Michigan State and steal a New Year's Six spot, knocking MSU to the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. Remember, though, if a Big Ten team lands in the Orange Bowl, another can't go to the Citrus. Got that? In a nutshell, it's complicated.

@mitchsherman: It's a safe assumption that the league will get 10 teams in the postseason. Nine are eligible, with Northwestern or Illinois to get a sixth win on Saturday. For an 11th team to make it, Michigan must upset Ohio State. The Big Ten, as usual, will be matched against the SEC as a likely underdog in the Outback and possibly the Citrus or TaxSlayer (formerly Gator). If Ohio State wins the league and misses the playoff, it figures to go in as a favorite to win a New Year's Six bowl, though the same can't be said for other remaining Big Ten contenders Michigan State, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Moving down the line, Pac-12 foes will likely bring stronger resumes than the Big Ten in San Diego and Santa Clara. By my count, the league will be fortunate to go 3-3 with its top six teams. It looks slightly better for the lower-division teams, matched against the ACC in New York and Conference USA in Dallas, though the SEC could loom in Nashville. The Big Ten's at-large matchups might determine its chance to get above .500 in the postseason. I'd say, expect four to five wins and hope for six..

While the majority of top prospects go to powerhouse programs on an annual basis, there are always a handful of selections that are very surprising. Here are five that stand out in the 2015 class with two being at the most important position in sports.

1. Jarrett Stidham, QB
ESPN 300 ranking: No. 39

Big Ten morning links

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
8:00
AM ET
One more weekend to go in the regular season. Some thoughts to begin your Thanksgiving week:

1. Next week, the Big Ten will hand out its individual trophies, as well as reveal the all-conference teams. And the media and coaches are going to have a hard time deciding on the coach of the year award.

On one hand, you have Urban Meyer, who has led a very young Ohio State team to a 10-1 record while developing freshman J.T. Barrett into a Heisman Trophy contender on the fly. Eventually, a Buckeyes coach has to win this thing again, right? It hasn't happened since Earle Bruce took home the hardware in 1979, and that's silly.

On the other hand, how do you overlook what Jerry Kill has done at Minnesota? He has the Gophers sitting at 8-3, with a chance to win the West Division by beating Wisconsin this week. It would be nearly impossible to ignore Kill for the award if Minnesota does win that game and forces a rematch with Ohio State in Indianapolis. The Gophers are 16-7 in their last 23 regular-season games and 9-4 in their last 13 Big Ten contests. Remarkable stuff, especially considering a lot of people thought Kill would not return to the sidelines after last year's health issues.

The 28-24 win at Nebraska may have been Kill's best one yet, and it shows the progress this program has made, Chip Scoggins writes.

2. Just think about how much better Minnesota's season would look if its only losses were at TCU and a close one at home vs. Ohio State. But, of course, the Gophers somehow stumbled at Illinois. That was undoubtedly the biggest win in the Tim Beckman era. But Beckman just might have a chance to top that.

Beating Penn State these days is no great achievement, considering the dilapidated state of the Nittany Lions' offense. Still, winning that game in Champaign on Saturday meant that Beckman has doubled his previous Big Ten win total this season and, more importantly, has the Illini in contention for a bowl. If they beat Northwestern this Saturday, the postseason awaits.

Can athletic director Mike Thomas really fire Beckman if he goes 6-6? Attendance remains a major issue, especially considering the embarrassing crowd that showed up to Memorial Stadium on Saturday -- less than 10,000 by most media estimates. But Beckman would have gone from two wins to four wins to six wins in three seasons. It's hard not to call that progress, even if it hasn't been pretty at times.

The ticking clock on Beckman's job has stopped for now, Mark Tupper writes.

3. You couldn't talk about Iowa this season without mentioning that dream schedule: No games against Michigan State, Ohio State Michigan or Penn State (though in hindsight, it would have been better to play those last two than Maryland). West Division rivals Wisconsin and Nebraska coming to Iowa City. A very manageable nonconference slate.

That schedule is a major reason why people were predicting as many as 10 or 11 wins for the Hawkeyes, who were a trendy pick to win the West. But Kirk Ferentz's team has been eliminated from the division race already, and if it doesn't beat a reeling Nebraska team on Black Friday, it will finish 7-5. Even an 8-4 record would feel underwhelming, given all the advantages that Iowa squandered.

The Hawkeyes gave a great effort against Wisconsin on Saturday, especially in the second half. You wonder if things would have been different had they played like that all season. Instead, there's no way to talk about this Iowa season without using the word disappointing.

Let's hit the links ...

West Division
East Division

And, finally ... "Dilly Bar Dan" received more attention and some nice hospitality in Lincoln.

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 13

November, 23, 2014
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Video: Illinois 16, Penn State 14

November, 22, 2014
Nov 22
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Quarterback Reilly O'Toole came off the bench to help spark Illinois in its 16-14 come-from-behind win over Penn State on Saturday.

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Illinois Beats Penn State
Matt Millan and Bob Wischusen break down Illinois' win over Penn State.
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Friday, 11/28
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