NCF Nation: Iowa Hawkeyes
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
Why Illinois will win: There has been a noticeable change in the Illini down the stretch, and Tim Beckman’s players appeared to have fully bought in to his message as they fought back to qualify for a bowl game. Across the board, this looks like the most favorable matchup for any Big Ten team, and with a motivated team playing its best football when it mattered most, expect Illinois to come away with a trophy. Illinois 31, Louisiana Tech 24. -- Austin Ward
Why Louisiana Tech will win: I suppose I should believe more in Illinois after it finished the season strong, and Louisiana Tech has some bad losses on its schedule (Northwestern State and Old Dominion … oy). But I still have a wait-and-see attitude with this Illini defense, and the one thing the Bulldogs can do is score points. They averaged 37.5 points per game this season, and I think they'll win a shootout against a group of players not accustomed to the bowl stage. Louisiana Tech 38, Illinois 35. -- Brian Bennett
Quick Lane Bowl
Why Rutgers will win: Rutgers has already played four of the nation's top 10 defenses and a half-dozen of the top 25 rushing attacks. So, even with dual-threat quarterback Marquise Williams, North Carolina isn'’t going to throw anything at Rutgers it hasn’t already seen. The Tar Heels have one of the worst defenses in the country -- only 10 have allowed more yards -- so Rutgers shouldn’t have a problem scoring. The issue here is Rutgers' defense, but, again, Rutgers has fared OK there against middle-of-the-road teams, and that's exactly what UNC is.
Rutgers 38, North Carolina 31. -- Josh Moyer
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Why Boston College will win: It's fitting this bowl is played in Yankee Stadium because the final score might look like it belongs to a baseball game. Both teams have top-five rushing defenses and middling offensive production. Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy, a former Florida Gator who transferred before this season, has been the X factor this season that helped BC beat USC and stick within a field goal of Florida State. Murphy does most of his damage on the ground, and that plays in Penn State's favor. But if he can break one or two big plays, that should be enough for a close win. Boston College 10, Penn State 6. -- Dan Murphy
Why Penn State will win: Let’s be honest: The Nittany Lions offense is lousy, and the special teams (outside of Sam Ficken) are almost just as bad. But I'm going with Penn State for the same reason it made a bowl game in the first place: defense. Only four teams in the FBS threw for fewer yards than Boston College, and no team defended the run better than Penn State. That works right into the strengths of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. Plus, the Nittany Lions will be motivated in their first bowl appearance since 2011. Underestimate this team at your own peril; it ended the plast two seasons with even bigger upsets.
Penn State 16, Boston College 13. -- Josh Moyer
National University Holiday Bowl
Why USC will win: Because the Trojans have more offensive firepower than any team to face Nebraska this season -- and the Huskers have surrendered 475 yards per game to Miami, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Minnesota. USC, with quarterback Cody Kessler, running back Buck Allen and receiver Nelson Agholor, will torment a Nebraska team that might feel a bit lost without deposed coach Bo Pelini. The Huskers, organizationally, figure to struggle after a tumultuous month. They're stuck in turmoil as USC looks to build off a strong finish to the regular season in a win over Notre Dame. USC 38, Nebraska 24. -- Mitch Sherman
Foster Farms Bowl
Why Stanford will win: This is a virtual home game for the Cardinal in nearby Santa Clara, California, while the Terrapins have to travel all the way across the country. Stanford struggled earlier in the season but seemed to find its footing late, beating UCLA by 21 points in the regular-season finale. Maryland has been unpredictable most of the season and has enough big-play ability to pull off an upset. But it's a tall order. Stanford 24, Maryland 17. -- Brian Bennett
Why Wisconsin will win: It's been a topsy-turvy three weeks for the Badgers, between losing 59-0 in the Big Ten title game and then losing their head coach, but this group isn't one to just lie down, and I can't envision Melvin Gordon taking it easy in the last game of his college career. How you view this game is basically a reflection of how you view that Big Ten championship -- and I see that as an anomaly. It won't happen again against Auburn. I still think Wisconsin has a great defense. I still think this offensive line can overpower Auburn. And I still think these players want to win one for Barry Alvarez. Auburn has an average defense and a great offense, but the Badgers win a close one in the end. Wisconsin 31, Auburn 28. -- Josh Moyer
Why Auburn will win: You can bet Auburn coach Gus Malzahn watched the Big Ten championship game with a big smile on his face. Ohio State had its way with Wisconsin's supposedly elite defense despite using a quarterback making his first career start with only one week to prepare. Auburn has as much, or more, offensive talent and speed as Ohio State, and it has a veteran quarterback in Nick Marshall. The Tigers' shaky defense could struggle with Gordon, Wisconsin's All-America running back, but it should be able to outscore the Badgers. Wisconsin can't match up with Sammie Coates in the back end and could struggle with Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne on the perimeter. Auburn 35, Wisconsin 24. -- Adam Rittenberg
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
Why Michigan State will win: The fearsome Spartans defense has already allowed more than 40 points twice this season. There's a decent chance it will happen a third time against Baylor, the country's No. 1 offense, but Michigan State is no slouch on offense, either, and should be able to keep pace. While Baylor uses a breakneck tempo to get its advantage, the Spartans rely more on their instinct to grind opponents down. If Michigan State can control the pace of the game and get a couple of stops, it should be able to avoid falling to 0-3 against top-10 opponents this season. Michigan State 45, Baylor 42. -- Dan Murphy
Why Baylor will win: Michigan State faced two ranked teams this season and lost both games in unflattering fashion. Oregon and Ohio State hung 46 and 49 points, respectively, on the Spartans as Michigan State's offense just couldn't keep up. The problem for Mark Dantonio's squad? Baylor’s offense is even better. The Bears are ranked No. 1 in the country in scoring and yards, so the "No-Fly Zone" could have as much a hard time stopping Bryce Petty as it did Marcus Mariota. The Spartans are a good team, but I just don't like this matchup for them. MSU starts off strong but Baylor pulls away in the second half.
Baylor 45, Michigan State 35. -- Josh Moyer
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
Why Minnesota will win: The SEC East champions were already given fits by a Big Ten team, and Indiana won only a single conference game after knocking off Missouri on the road. Minnesota, with its power rushing attack, aggressive defense and solid leadership from the coaching staff, was better than the Hoosiers in virtually every way this season. Plus, it will be fired up to end the season on a high note with a fan base excited for the destination. The Gophers claim more hardware here. Minnesota 27, Missouri 20. -- Austin Ward
Why Missouri will win: All the Gophers have to do is follow Indiana's game plan from the Hoosiers' 31-27 upset in Columbia, Missouri, back in September, right? It might not be that easy. While the Tigers benefited from playing in the terrible SEC East, Missouri did improve as the season went along and has a strong rush defense that allowed just 3.5 yards per carry. That means Mitch Leidner will likely have to make some plays -- and avoid the fierce pass rush of Shane Ray. Minnesota has an excellent shot here, but I like Missouri in a close one.
Missouri 27, Minnesota 24. -- Brian Bennett
Why Tennessee will win: Bowl games are often about motivation and momentum, and Tennessee trumps Iowa in both areas. The Vols are that incredibly young, talented team that should benefit more than most from bowl practices and the chance to punctuate this season before a 2015 campaign that will carry much higher expectations. Iowa has a good track record in bowls but comes in on a down note after a very disappointing regular season. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs sparked Tennessee down the stretch and should give Iowa's defense trouble. Tennessee's defense should pressure Iowa's quarterbacks into mistakes.
Tennessee 24, Iowa 17. -- Adam Rittenberg
Allstate Sugar Bowl
Why Ohio State will win: Urban Meyer doesn't need to call on his psychological tricks for an underdog team all that often, though the Ohio State coach did already have a couple occasions to do so this year. Look at what happened to Michigan State and Wisconsin when the Buckeyes felt slighted and Meyer pushed their buttons to bring out their best. Certainly, No. 1 Alabama is the ultimate test and is favored for a reason, but Ohio State has the personnel to match up with the SEC champions, and the Buckeyes have one more chance to shock everyone in what has been already been a stunning season. Ohio State 31, Alabama 30. -- Austin Ward
Why Alabama will win: Have you watched the Crimson Tide? They have the best talent nationally and possibly the best coaching. Ohio State is not too bad itself, with a young and fast-improving stable under Meyer, but Alabama is several steps ahead and tested against a daunting schedule in the SEC West. If it boils down to playmakers, the Buckeyes will be at a disadvantage for the first time this season -- perhaps a big disadvantage. Ohio State simply can't match Blake Sims, Amari Cooper and the Bama backs with a third-string quarterback in Cardale Jones and weapons elsewhere whose athleticism won't surprise the Alabama defense.
Alabama 31, Ohio State 17. -- Mitch Sherman
1. Austin Ward: 88-25 (.779)
T-2. Brian Bennett: 85-28 (.752)
T-2. Mitch Sherman: 85-28 (.752)
4. Dan Murphy: 57-19 (.750)
5. Adam Rittenberg: 83-30 (.735)
6. Josh Moyer: 82-31 (.726)
QB: J.T. Barrett, Ohio State: Barrett broke the Big Ten single-season record for touchdowns produced with 45. He would have added to that total if not for a broken ankle in the regular-season finale vs. Michigan.
RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: All he did was lead the FBS in rushing, break the Big Ten single-season rushing record and earn the Big Ten’s offensive player of the year honors.
RB: Tevin Coleman, Indiana: Coleman joined Gordon as the only other player in the country to top 2,000 yards; he would have been a serious Heisman contender in another year or on a more successful team.
WR: Tony Lippett, Michigan State: The Big Ten’s receiver of the year led the league with 1,124 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
WR: Leonte Carroo, Rutgers: Carroo joined Lippett at over 1,000 yards and averaged 19.7 yards per catch.
TE: Maxx Williams, Minnesota: A John Mackey Award finalist, Williams was the Golden Gophers’ top receiver and crucial cog in their run game.
OT: Taylor Decker, Ohio State: Anchored a Buckeyes offensive line that developed into one of the league’s best over the course of the season.
OT: Brandon Scherff, Iowa: He was named the Big Ten offensive lineman of the year and is a surefire NFL first-round draft pick.
C: Jack Allen, Michigan State: The Spartans gave up fewer sacks (10) than any Big Ten club and had one of the league’s top offenses with Allen at the point of attack.
G: Kyle Costigan, Wisconsin: An ESPN All-American, Costigan helped pave the way for Gordon’s record-breaking runs.
G: Pat Elflein, Ohio State: He was a sturdy performer all season on the Buckeyes’ line as the offense scored at a rapid pace.
DE: Joey Bosa, Ohio State: The Big Ten defensive player of the year led the league in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (20) and tied for the lead with four forced fumbles.
DE: Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State: After a quiet start, Calhoun got back to his dominating ways and finished with 6.5 sacks.
DT: Anthony Zettel, Penn State: With eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss from the defensive tackle position, Zettel was the most disruptive interior lineman in the conference.
DT: Louis Trinca-Pasat, Iowa: LTP was a pleasant surprise for the Hawkeyes, leading the team with 11 tackles for loss and adding 6.5 sacks.
LB: Mike Hull, Penn State: Hull was the Big Ten linebacker of the year and led the league with 134 tackles.
LB: Jake Ryan, Michigan: Ryan turned in a strong senior season with 112 tackles and 14 tackles for loss.
LB: Derek Landisch, Wisconsin: Any one of the Badgers’ four “Chevy Bad Boys” linebackers could have made the first team, but Landisch led the team with nine sacks and 16 tackles for loss.
DB: William Likely, Maryland: A big-play machine, Likely grabbed six interceptions and scored touchdowns on two of them.
DB: Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Minnesota: Like Likely, he was always in the middle of the action with four picks and a key strip late to seal the Nebraska win.
DB: Trae Waynes, Michigan State: Probably the best pure cover guy in the league, Waynes is asked to do a whole lot as the point man in the Spartans' "No Fly Zone."
DB: Michael Caputo, Wisconsin: Caputo was the leader from his safety spot for a defense that was the best in the league during the regular season; he finished with 99 tackles.
K: Brad Craddock, Maryland: The Big Ten kicker of the year made his first 18 field goals this season, including a 57-yarder and a game-winner at Penn State.
P: Peter Mortell, Minnesota: Mortell was a field-position weapon for the Gophers, leading the league with a 45.5-yard average per attempt
PR: De'Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska: The freshman scored three touchdowns on punt returns and had a preposterous 17.8 yard average for the season.
All-purpose: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: We had to find a spot for Abdullah on the team, and since he returned kicks and was extremely versatile as a running back, this seemed like a good spot.
As ESPN.com first reported this week, the Big Ten could have a bowl-eligible team miss a bowl. If a Big Ten team goes to the Capital One Orange Bowl, the league won't have a participant in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. And if only one other Big Ten team reaches a New Year's Six bowl, it will leave eight eligible teams for only seven spots. Since there are more bowl-eligible teams than spots, and all spots are contracted, there are no at-large selections this year.
Got all that?
Michigan State is virtually assured of an Orange Bowl berth, following Alabama's win against Missouri in the SEC championship. At No. 8, the Spartans should remain ahead of No. 10 Mississippi State in Sunday's rankings -- neither team played this week -- and therefore be the highest ranked non-champion from the Big Ten or SEC.
Big Ten champion Ohio State is the only other league squad heading for the big bowls -- either a Playoff semifinal or a New Year's Six game. After the Buckeyes' 59-0 spanking of Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship, we project Urban Meyer's squad to the Playoff. Boom.
That means one eligible Big Ten team is out of the bowls. Although Penn State and Illinois both are 6-6 and the Fighting Illini beat the Nittany Lions, there's no way PSU misses a bowl after being banned the past two years. Illinois, unfortunately, is the odd team out.
Wisconsin's horrific performance in the Big Ten title game drops the Badgers down to the Holiday Bowl, which really, really wants Gary Andersen's team. Minnesota heads to the Outback Bowl, while Nebraska likely would go to the Music City Bowl to avoid a repeat in Jacksonville.
Penn State in the Pinstripe has been a likelihood for weeks, and we have Rutgers going to Detroit and Maryland to Dallas.
Here are our final, final Big Ten bowl projections for the season:
College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual or Allstate Sugar Bowl): Ohio State
Capital One Orange: Michigan State
National University Holiday: Wisconsin
TaxSlayer Bowl/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Nebraska
Foster Farms: Iowa
New Era Pinstripe: Penn State
Quick Lane: Rutgers
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas: Maryland
You're probably wondering, what is this joker talking about?
The Big Ten could have a bowl-eligible team not end up in a bowl game this season. The league outlined the scenario -- and other postseason probables -- in a memo sent to its athletic directors Wednesday and obtained by ESPN.com.
Here's the deal: If Michigan State ends up in the Orange Bowl, a strong possibility, and only one other Big Ten team makes the New Year's six bowls, the Big Ten will be left with eight eligible teams for seven contracted spots. Remember, when the Big Ten sends a team to the Orange Bowl -- the bowl pairs an ACC team with the highest-ranked non-playoff participant from the SEC or Big Ten, or Notre Dame -- it does not fill its spot in the Citrus Bowl.
There are already 80 bowl-eligible teams for 76 available spots, all of which are contracted to certain leagues. So there will be no at-large selections this season.
Michigan State is No. 8 in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings, two spots ahead of Mississippi State, the other likely candidate for the Orange Bowl. If No. 1 Alabama loses to No. 16 Missouri in the SEC championship game, the Tide almost certainly would go to the Orange Bowl ahead of Michigan State. But if Alabama wins, Michigan State is a virtual lock for the Orange unless the selection committee somehow flip-flops the two MSUs on a weekend when neither plays.
If No. 5 Ohio State beats No. 13 Wisconsin, the Big Ten would be limited to two teams in New Year's Six games. If that's the case and Michigan State makes the Orange Bowl, the league would have an eligible team miss out on a bowl. The likely candidates would be Illinois (6-6), Rutgers (7-5) or Maryland (7-5).
Although the Big Ten has more say in preventing repeat matchups, the bowls still have a decent amount of pull.
"The Conference will not interfere or influence our contract bowls' selection rights, nor does it have any control over the CFP," Mark Rudner, the Big Ten's senior associate commissioner for television administration, wrote to the athletic directors Wednesday. "Unless a contract bowl selects a team that is over-exposed because of recent trips to the same bowl or same region, we will not interfere with the bowl’s selection."
Rudner goes on to write: "Our bowls have the choice, other than the repeat criteria, to select the team that fits their bowl need on an annual basis. In other words, the number of wins, number of losses, head to head, and schedule strength are advisory only. These factors guide the bowl's selection, but do not direct it. The selection process is intended to move teams and fan bases around the country over the life of these contracts."
The Big Ten memo encourages its schools to "advocate and communicate on behalf of your institution with the bowls in light of this set of circumstances." Put on those sales caps, Mike Thomas, Kevin Andersen and Julie Hermann. You might need them.
Or just root for Wisconsin to beat Ohio State on Saturday night. Although it would eliminate the Big Ten from the playoff picture, it likely would ensure the Big Ten has three teams in New Year's Six games and all eligible teams in bowls.
The Big Ten has contracts with 12 bowls but shares spots in the Orange-Citrus, Gator-Music City and Heart of Dallas-Armed Forces bowls. If a Big Ten team goes to the Orange Bowl, the remaining non-New Year's Six tie-ins would be: Outback, Holiday, Gator or Music City (not both), San Francisco, Pinstripe, Quick Lane and Heart of Dallas.
This situation is far from ideal, especially for a program like Illinois that hasn't gone bowling since 2011. Imagine if Michigan had become bowl eligible, too. The league would have been guaranteed to have one eligible team staying home for the holidays.
"Given this year's circumstances, and the new processes and procedures in place for the college football playoff, the Orange bowl and our other contract bowl arrangements, the Conference office felt it was necessary to reiterate the operational impact so that any hypothetical outcomes could be planned for and covered in advance so the broadest community of people were alerted," the memo reads.
Consider this your alert.
The final 2014 edition of bowl projections is here, and we're more confused than ever.
Some questions we pondered this week:
- If Wisconsin beats Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game, how many Big Ten teams appear in New Year's Six bowls? It could be as many as three.
- Will a Big Ten team play in the Orange Bowl, the Citrus Bowl, the Music City Bowl or the Gator Bowl? We won't know until Sunday.
- Are both the Music City and Gator bowls possible landing spots for Big Ten teams? Yes but not both.
Our projections originate with the Big Ten title game winner. In a majority decision, not a unanimous one, we're going with Wisconsin over Ohio State in a close game. Wisconsin would earn an automatic berth in a New Year's Six bowl. Also, we believe both Michigan State and Ohio State will qualify for New Year's Six games by finishing in the top 10 of the final College Football Playoff rankings.
While the Big Ten will be the only Power 5 league without a playoff entrant, it will have three teams in the bigger bowls.
That brings us to the Orange Bowl, which will pair an ACC team against the highest-ranked available SEC or Big Ten team. This likely will come down to which MSU -- Michigan State or Mississippi State -- is higher in the final rankings. Michigan State is higher in tonight's rankings (No. 8 vs. No. 10) and both teams are done with the regular season. We don't see things changing so the Spartans are projected for South Florida.
It means no Big Ten team in the Citrus Bowl for the first time since 1992.
Minnesota is the likely choice for the Outback Bowl. Nebraska appeared in Holiday Bowls both in 2009 and 2010, but we have the Huskers heading to San Diego.
We're also going with the Music City over the Gator as the destination for a Big Ten team this year. The Big Ten hasn't played in the Nashville bowl since 2005. We'll send Iowa there.
The bottom of the Big Ten bowl order is in flux and could be arranged just about any way you'd like, although Penn State looks like a lock for the Pinstripe Bowl in New York.
Again, very confusing. About the only thing we know is the number of bowl-eligible Big Ten teams: 10. Welcome to the club, Illinois.
Here are the full projections ...
Chick-fil-A Peach/Goodyear Cotton/VIZIO Fiesta: Wisconsin
Chick-fil-A Peach/Goodyear Cotton/VIZIO Fiesta: Ohio State
Capital One Orange: Michigan State
National University Holiday: Nebraska
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Iowa
Foster Farms: Rutgers
New Era Pinstripe: Penn State
Quick Lane: Maryland
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas: Illinois
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Some 46 hours before Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst stepped out from behind the curtain of silence and explained his decision on Sunday to fire Bo Pelini as coach, the Huskers celebrated an emotional overtime victory at Iowa.
It marked the second-largest comeback in school history. Players and coaches rejoiced.
"We kept fighting and swinging and needed something good to happen," defensive coordinator John Papuchis said in the aftermath on Friday, "and something good did happen."
The athletic director's clear message at the end of this holiday weekend? Not good enough.
Credit Eichorst, in his second year at Nebraska, for removing the emotion of the regular-season-ending victory from his decision on Pelini. Credit him for recognizing that, if Nebraska expects to reach its desired position in the Big Ten and beyond, it's not about beating Iowa.
"In the final analysis," he said, "I had to evaluate where Iowa was."
The truth hurts. It hurts for Nebraska, too. Look, the Big Ten West is a hard place to thrive. It'll lull you to sleep, then punch you in the mouth. Nebraska's next coach will learn that lesson in time, but Eichorst on Sunday sent a strong message about his belief in the Huskers to advance as a program.
To rise above Iowa and Minnesota to the level of Wisconsin. And bid to go higher.
Eichorst ended his epidemic of silence, which -- in the face of uncertainty -- conveyed a vacuum of leadership.
He took a step in the right direction, dragging Nebraska toward a place it has not dared to venture in the past four years as a Big Ten program -- a place in which it thinks strategically about its place in college football.
Sure, Pelini said he wouldn't be satisfied until the Huskers won every game. But how did he plan to get there? And where was the progress?
The coach, in recent weeks, wouldn't discuss the big picture.
Eichorst demanded such talk on Sunday.
"We just, for whatever reason, weren't good enough in the games that mattered against championship-caliber opponents," Eichorst said. "And I didn't see that changing at the end of the day."
A bit shaky at the start on Sunday, Eichorst grew comfortable as he answered questions. He displayed leadership. He showed respect in the right moments. He illustrated that this matters to him, like it does to fans who have contributed to 340 consecutive sellouts.
He showed he has a vision. Some Nebraskans had begun to wonder.
Asked how he plans to unite the fan base in this period of trepidation, Eichorst said he would do it through communication.
It's a vow worth remembering.
"I'm compassionate about that," Eichorst said. "This isn't a day of celebration for me. We've got a lot of good, young people in our program who are hurting. And I get that. My focus needs to be on that."
Pelini's players, former and current, chimed in loudly on Sunday.
The leadership issues at the University of Nebraska extend above the Head Football Coach's office.— Ndamukong Suh (@NdamukongSuh) November 30, 2014
Words can't explain how much all the players appreciate what you did for us. Love you Coach Bo and thanks for everything.— Rex Burkhead (@RBrex2022) November 30, 2014
Unreal. Bo believed in me and I 100% believed in him. Can't believe this....— Jordan Westerkamp (@JordanWesty1) November 30, 2014
I left Ohio to come to Nebraska #BECAUSEOFBO— Greg McMullen (@IamHuskers90) November 30, 2014
Bo was the best coach I have ever had the pleasure to play under. Highest character, loyal, I could make a freakin list.....— Mike Moudy (@Mike1Husk3r) November 30, 2014
Recruits Kendall Bussey, a star running back out of Louisiana, offensive lineman Mirko Jurkovic and receiver Stanley Morgan, reportedly decommitted on Sunday.
The healing process may take a while. Nebraska will likely step back before Pelini's successor creates an opportunity to break through the 10-win ceiling in place since 2001.
More than ever, Nebraska needs strong leadership.
"The people of Nebraska deserve not only high standards and expectations," Eichorst said, "but they deserve seeing our people and our teams reach them."
Pelini's teams won 40 of 42 games since 2008 against opponents that finished at .500 or worse. They lost 25 of 51 games against winning teams, went 4-9 since 2011 against ranked foes, and lost by 20 points or more 10 times.
Not good enough, said Eichorst, who won't hire a search firm to help him find a new coach.
Asked if he was concerned over how coaching candidates might view a program that fired a coach with Pelini's nine- and 10-win history, Eichorst sounded irritated at the suggestion.
"No," he said.
Now is not the time for excuses. Now is not the time to hide among the Big Ten West, where Illinois issued a statement of support on Sunday for coach Tim Beckman after a 6-6 finish in his third year. Now is not the time to gauge your program against Iowa, where the status quo reigns after a 7-5 finish under a coach in his 16th season.
"This is what's best for the university," Eichorst said in a decisive tone to open his remarks Sunday.
He started on a strong note.
For the sake of the program's future, Nebraska needs its athletic director to stay strong and lead.
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):
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.
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.
- Week 14 predictions | Bold calls | Awards tracker
- B1G sweeps Doak, has other finalists
- Big Ten backs deliver historic season
- Heisman debate: Mariota vs. Gordon
- Last hurrah with Hoosiers for Tevin Coleman?
- Tale of the tape: Minnesota vs. Wisconsin
- It's Michigan week in Columbus
- Michigan, Hoke hope to end on a high note
- Ohio State in great position for stretch run
- Planning for success: Michigan State
- Kenny Bell's Nebraska career full of fun, heartbreak
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
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.
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)
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
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
Here's a look at what's on tap Saturday (all times ET):
Rutgers (6-4, 2-4) at No. 11 Michigan State (8-2, 5-1), Big Ten Network: League championship dreams are all but over for the Spartans, but they can still win 10 games and get to a major bowl. The Scarlet Knights are looking to score an upset over one of the upper-tier teams in the league, but they're going bowling regardless.
Indiana (3, 7, 0-6) at No. 6 Ohio State (9-1, 6-0), BTN: The Buckeyes are around a five-touchdown favorite, and understandably so. This one might be about style points for the selection committee, and not much else.
Northwestern (4-6, 2-4) at Purdue (3-7, 1-5), ESPNU: After a surprising upset in South Bend, the Wildcats now have a bowl game in sight if they can win this one and close out the season against Illinois. But Purdue had a week off to prepare, and Northwestern has had a habit of playing up or down to its competition.
Penn State (6-4, 2-4) at Illinois (4-6, 1-5), ESPN2: Tim Beckman's last stand? The Illini have to win here to have any hope of getting to a bowl game and potentially saving their coach's job. Christian Hackenberg is scuffling for Penn State, but is Illinois' defense enough to lift his doldrums?
No. 16 Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1) at Iowa (7-3, 4-2), ABC/ESPN2: The Heartland Trophy game has enormous West Division implications. If Wisconsin wins, it can do no worse than tie for the division title and could clinch a spot in Indianapolis with a Minnesota loss. Melvin Gordon, who originally committed to Iowa, will look to add to his Heisman Trophy credentials after his 408-yard day last weekend.
Maryland (6-4, 3-3) at Michigan (5-5, 3-3), BTN: Can Brady Hoke lead Michigan to a bowl game? He'll almost certainly have to win this one to do so, since the Wolverines' finale is in Columbus. Maryland already has wins over Penn State and Iowa, and would solidify a nice first season in the Big Ten by winning in the Big House.
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Why Minnesota will win: There’s no letup coming for the Blackshirts, who were historically carved up by Melvin Gordon last week and must turn right around and face the Gophers' David Cobb and another productive rushing attack, with flickering hopes of winning the West Division hanging in the balance for both teams. Ameer Abdullah doesn’t look quite back to full speed on his injured knee, and the Gophers are perhaps underrated for their defensive ability when they’re dialed in and aggressive, which could make it tough for the Huskers if the star rusher is limited again. Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner has been inconsistent this season, but this seems like a good opportunity for him to bounce back in the play-action passing game with the Huskers trying to avoid another soft performance on the ground. ... Minnesota 27, Nebraska 24 -- Austin Ward
Why Nebraska will win: Melvin Gordon had his way with the Huskers last week, but Minnesota’s David Cobb -- who’s accounted for more than 40 percent of the offense -- is a different kind of runner. Most of Gordon’s yards came with speed outside the tackles; most of Cobb’s will come from power between the tackles. Nebraska shouldn’t allow half as many big offensive plays this weekend, and the Huskers’ offense clearly has the edge here. Bo Pelini’s squad averages 8.8 more points per game, the offense gains an average of 100 more yards a game, and Ameer Abdullah is one week healthier. Minnesota won’t be able to keep up. ... Nebraska 34, Minnesota 24 -- Josh Moyer
Why Michigan wins: It's the last home game for Michigan seniors such as linebacker Jake Ryan and quarterback Devin Gardner and possibly the last for coach Brady Hoke. The Wolverines will ride their defense and limit mistakes on offense to outlast a Maryland team that has been tough to figure out week-to-week. It's a field-goal fest early on, but Michigan records a defensive touchdown in the third quarter and holds off a Terrapins rally to get bowl-eligible. ... Michigan 19, Maryland 16 -- Adam Rittenberg
Why Maryland wins: Maryland has been a puzzle this season, but my bet is Randy Edsall fits the right pieces together Saturday at Michigan. The Terps are at their best when airing out the deep ball on offense (even without Stefon Diggs). If Michigan can't get a decent pass rush in the absence of Frank Clark, C.J. Brown should have enough time to connect with his receivers on a couple bombs. Michigan's seniors will pour their hearts onto the field for a final time at the Big House, but in close games, Maryland kicker Brad Craddock has been a difference-maker for the Terps. He plays the heartbreaker role again in Ann Arbor. ... Maryland 24, Michigan 21 -- Dan Murphy
Why Northwestern will win: It's a risk picking the Wildcats here because they only seem to play well against top-20 teams. But I've got to believe Pat Fitzgerald's team built some confidence in that upset at Notre Dame, and certainly that was the best Trevor Siemian has looked all year. Purdue has some big-play ability that will give Northwestern trouble, but the Wildcats now have a realistic shot at a bowl and should play with all-out effort with that in mind. ... Northwestern 24, Purdue 21 -- Brian Bennett
Why Purdue wins: Northwestern has shown great fight in coming back from the dead twice this year. Its most remarkable achievement -- slightly ahead of the home victory over Wisconsin last month -- came Saturday with a road win at Notre Dame. But I just don’t trust the Wildcats, who are dreaming of a bowl game. Remember, this is a team that lost by 41 at Iowa three weeks ago. Purdue is playing without pressure. Sure, it has struggled down the stretch, but Austin Appleby is capable of a strong performance against a mediocre defense. If you want my real strategy in pick the Boilermakers, look no further than the calendar. Since 1947, Purdue is unbeaten in nine games on Nov. 22. ... Purdue 35, Northwestern 31 -- Josh Moyer
Ohio State 59, Indiana 10: Shield your eyes from this one, folks. The league's best team and top offense take aim at the winless-in-conference Hoosiers at home and with a need to impress. It's going to get ugly early and stay that way.
Michigan State 42, Rutgers 21: The Scarlet Knights got bowl eligible last week but weren't terribly impressive against Indiana. Meanwhile, the Spartans regained their mojo at Maryland and should have an easy time dissecting a very leaky Scarlet Knights defense. Jeremy Langford will close out his home career in style on senior day with 175 rushing yards.
Penn State 17, Illinois 13: Odds are the Nittany Lions aren't going to blow any Big Ten opponents away because of their limited offense. But their defense has been one of the best in college football, and Anthony Zettel and Mike Hull will consume the Illini offensive line. A pick-six helps Penn State escape Champaign with win No. 7.
Wisconsin 31, Iowa 24: The Badgers won't have as easy a time running the ball as they did against Nebraska last week (historically speaking, that would be almost impossible). But Melvin Gordon isn't going to slow down now that he has a Heisman Trophy in his sights. Iowa will hang around all day, but Wisconsin's defense will make the necessary stops to pull another step closer to the West Division title.
T-1. Mitch Sherman: 78-20 (.796)
T-1. Austin Ward: 78-20 (.796)
3. Dan Murphy: 47-14 (.787)
4. Brian Bennett: 77-21 (.786)
T-5. Adam Rittenberg: 73-25 (.745)
T-5. Josh Moyer: 73-25 (.745)
Ohio State maintained its No. 1 spot and will be heading at least for a New Year's Six bowl game. Another Buckeyes win or two, coupled with some surprises outside the Big Ten, and Urban Meyer's team would be projected for the College Football Playoff.
We also considered projecting Michigan State to a New Year's Six bowl. If the Spartans finish strong at 10-2 and have losses only to two potential playoff teams -- Oregon and Ohio State -- they'll have a strong case to go somewhere like Arizona or Atlanta. For now, they're headed to Orlando for the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl.
Wisconsin also is coming on strong, but it would be hard for the Badgers to reach a New Year's Six bowl unless they beat Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.
Nebraska is an intriguing candidate. The Big Ten seemingly would like the Huskers to go to a non-Florida bowl after three consecutive trips to the Sunshine State. But the Holiday Bowl, the next obvious choice for the Huskers, might prefer a team like Iowa that hasn't been to the San Diego game since 1991. For now, we have Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, where it made consecutive appearances in 2009 and 2010.
The Big Ten's bowl pool is expanding, as Penn State and Rutgers both qualified for the postseason and cemented spots in the projections. We like Michigan to earn its sixth win against Maryland on Saturday and to make the short trip to Detroit for its bowl game.
Northwestern has moved back into the projections after a where-did-that-come-from win against Notre Dame. The Wildcats still must beat Purdue and Illinois to become bowl-eligible, hardly a guarantee for an up-and-down team. But we see Pat Fitzgerald's squad getting it done.
Also, our sincere apologies to the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl, which will have a Big Ten team this year and has entered the rundown.
Here are the latest projections, which now include 11 teams from the Big Ten ...
Chick-fil-A Peach/Goodyear Cotton/VIZIO Fiesta: Ohio State
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus: Michigan State
National University Holiday: Nebraska
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Minnesota
San Francisco: Iowa
New Era Pinstripe: Penn State
Quick Lane: Michigan
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas: Maryland