NCF Nation: Michigan State Spartans

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 4

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
8:00
AM ET
The chances to bolster the leaguewide résumé are running low, and the Big Ten already has squandered almost all of them. Can it turn things around today before conference action picks up in earnest next week? Or is more of the same from the past couple of Saturdays on tap starting at noon?

There's only one way to find out, and here’s the blueprint for following all the action (all times Eastern):

Noon games

[+] EnlargeJames Conner
Gregory J. Fisher/USA TODAY SportsIowa's schedule doesn't get any easier, as it comes off the loss to Iowa State with a tough matchup at Pittsburgh.
Iowa (2-1) at Pittsburgh (3-0), ESPNU: So much for that supposedly easy schedule. The Hawkeyes have strangely been unable to run the football, which made their conservative play calling a problem in last week’s loss to Iowa State. The Panthers are more talented and Iowa must travel to play them, which could present a real test for coach Kirk Ferentz.

Eastern Michigan (1-2) at No. 11 Michigan State (1-1), BTN: The Spartans had some extra time to regroup after the loss at Oregon, and that doesn’t bode well heading into the last two weeks of nonconference action for their opponents. First up is Eastern Michigan, which will have its hands full with Connor Cook and what so far seems to be a much more dangerous offense for the reigning conference champs.

Western Illinois (2-1) at Northwestern (0-2), ESPNews: The bye week was definitely not a time to rest for the Wildcats or Pat Fitzgerald, who certainly wasn’t expecting to be in this early hole as the nightmare year for the program continued with two early losses. If Northwestern didn’t find some answers ahead of the visit from Western Illinois, there’s not much left to look forward to this fall.

Southern Illinois (3-0) at Purdue (1-2), BTN: There were signs of life from the Boilermakers in the loss against Notre Dame, though in the end they didn’t have the talent to hang around for four quarters. Purdue’s non-Big Ten slate wraps up this weekend, and it could surely use a confidence boost before hosting Iowa next weekend.

Bowling Green (2-1) at No. 19 Wisconsin (1-1), ESPN2: The Badgers are still something of a mystery at this point thanks to an off date last week following a relatively uneventful win over FCS-member Western Illinois. The Falcons already have a win over a Big Ten team and can wear defenses out with their up-tempo attack, which might make this a good time for Melvin Gordon and the Wisconsin running game to get rolling.

Maryland (2-1) at Syracuse (2-0), 12:30 p.m., GamePlan: This matchup might be better suited for the hardwood, but the Terrapins and Orange could put on a pretty good show in pads at the Carrier Dome. Maryland has proved capable of putting up points in bunches while Syracuse relies on its defense, leaving an intriguing contrast of styles before Randy Edsall’s team dives into its first Big Ten action.

Midafternoon games

Utah (2-0) at Michigan (2-1), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2 mirror: Brady Hoke usually takes care of business at the Big House, but this could be a difficult matchup with Utah scoring at least 56 points in each of its first two games. If this turns into a shootout, the Wolverines and quarterback Devin Gardner will have to protect the football much better than they have so far this season to build some momentum for Minnesota’s visit next week.

Rutgers (2-1) at Navy (2-1), 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network: Even in a losing effort, the Scarlet Knights impressed in their Big Ten debut last week against Penn State. Rutgers can create problems with its stout defense and nearly won last week despite getting almost no offensive help, though Navy could easily pose problems with its tricky triple-option rushing attack.

Massachusetts (0-3) at Penn State (3-0), 4 p.m., BTN: The wins may not be all that overpowering, but the Nittany Lions are undefeated -- and for now, that’s enough to make them contenders in both the Big Ten and nationally until the outcomes change. Christian Hackenberg should have some chances to add to his résumé again this week as he faces a UMass defense allowing 35 points per game.

San Jose State (1-1) at Minnesota (2-1), 4 p.m., BTN: Uncertainty continues to swirl around the quarterback position for the Gophers, but whether or not Mitch Leidner plays again this week, the rushing game figures to be front and center. The two programs met last season, and Minnesota exploded for 353 rushing yards and won easily while completing just five passes.

Texas State (1-1) at Illinois (2-1), 4 p.m., ESPNews: The Illini and their high-powered offense hit a stumbling block last week at Washington, but they’re back home again Saturday afternoon and looking to unleash Wes Lunt again through the air. If Illinois is serious about making a push for bowl eligibility this season, this is a game the Illini can’t afford to overlook with a trip to Nebraska looming.

Indiana (1-1) at No. 18 Missouri (3-0), 4 p.m., SEC Network: Bowl projections for the Hoosiers almost certainly banked on a victory last week at Bowling Green, but that one slipped away and Kevin Wilson’s program now is a bit behind schedule in the win column. A soft defense continues to plague Indiana, and that could be an issue against a Missouri offense that has scored at least 38 points in each of its three wins so far.

Night game

Miami (2-1) at No. 24 Nebraska (3-0), 8 p.m., ESPN2: The latest polls might not reflect it, but this is still a prestigious matchup packed with historical significance. Having already lost and coming in unranked, the Hurricanes aren’t as close to competing for college football’s top prize as the Huskers. But if Bo Pelini and his team can knock off Miami to stay unbeaten, that might be a victory that resonates as the season progresses.

Bye week

Ohio State

Required reading

Big Ten Week 4 predictions

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
9:00
AM ET
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

Early Offer: Could LSU lose RB pledge? 

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
11:00
PM ET
video

Should LSU fans be worried that Tigers running back commit Nick Brossette plans to take official visits to other schools, and South Carolina's defense is about to get even better thanks to JUCO linebacker Davon Durant?

Big Ten bowl projections: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
8:00
PM ET
The major development in this week's bowl projections isn't that the Big Ten suddenly looks poised for a breakthrough postseason. If anything, things went from bad to worse for the league in Week 3 with a 3-6 record in nonconference games.

So what changed? Penn State is back. For good.

Not only did the Lions improve to 3-0 under new coach James Franklin, but they learned Monday that they once again are eligible for bowl games after two seasons of sanctions. So for the first time since the 2011 season, Penn State appears in the bowl projections. While the Lions have a lot to fix, especially on offense, they're a young, talented team that should improve throughout the season. They've posted two of the better wins (UCF and Rutgers) of any Big Ten team so far, and we like their potential to keep racking up W's.

Penn State is slotted for the Capital One Bowl, which knocks several teams down a peg. There's some shuffling at the bottom of the projections as Minnesota tumbles following its blowout loss at TCU, and Indiana falls out of the rankings entirely after an all-too-familiar-looking defeat at Bowling Green.

We continue to keep two teams in the major bowls as Ohio State rebounded nicely from the Virginia Tech loss to crush Kent State.

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: Michigan
New Era Pinstripe: Maryland
Quick Lane: Minnesota
Heart of Dallas: Rutgers
Another rough Saturday for the Big Ten, with just three wins in nine nonconference games. Here's what we learned:
    [+] EnlargeCole Netten
    Charlie Neibergall/Associated PressGiven a mulligan by Kirk Ferentz, Cole Netten nailed a last-second field goal to give Iowa State a win over Iowa.
  • Kirk Ferentz won’t soon live down that decision to call a timeout: Didn’t coaches learn long ago that if they want to ice the kicker with a timeout, call it before the snap so as to avoid the painful situation that bit Iowa in its 20-17 home loss to Iowa State? Ferentz signaled timeout just in time to negate Cole Netten's miss wide left from 42 yards with seconds to play. Thanks for the practice kick, Coach. Netten nailed it the second time. “We had one timeout left,” Ferentz said, “and that’s the reason I called it.” Not a good enough reason.
  • It doesn’t pay to be unbeaten in the Big Ten: Eight league teams began Saturday with perfect records. By early Sunday, it was two: Nebraska, which easily handled Fresno State 55-19, and Penn State, with a 13-10 win over Rutgers in a game that guaranteed the league an unbeaten team for one more week. Meanwhile, down went Maryland and Indiana, on last-second scores by West Virginia (40-37) and Bowling Green (45-42) in early games. Then down went the Hawkeyes, along with Minnesota and Illinois, which were blown out on the road by TCU (30-7) and Washington (44-19) after both West Division squads opened with consecutive home wins over non-Power 5 programs.
  • Ohio State has plenty of gas left in the tank: Left for dead by many after its 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech, Urban Meyer’s club produced an impressive 66-0 win over Kent State. Forget that the Hokies turned around and lost to East Carolina. And forget the opponent. (Kent State is not good.) The Buckeyes were playing against themselves. They answered the doubters, jumping to a 45-0 halftime lead behind five TD passes from J.T. Barrett in the opening 30 minutes. OSU’s young quarterback and offensive line needed this, and the schedule stays manageable for a while.
  • Penn State continues to live a charmed life: The Nittany Lions, after winning in Week 1 on a game-ending field goal and beating the Icelandic volcano eruption to get back home, led for all of 73 seconds on Saturday in spoiling Rutgers’ Big Ten debut. In its first game since getting its bowl eligibility restored, Penn State created some of its own good fortune with five interceptions of Gary Nova, and Christian Hackenberg was his usual late-game self in leading a six-play, 80-yard drive for the winning points. The Nittany Lions likely will enter October at 5-0 and need to be taken seriously as an East Division contender.
  • Nebraska starts to emerge in West: Shaky starts by Wisconsin and Iowa leave the Cornhuskers as the best-looking team in the division. But with visions still fresh of their escape against McNeese State, questions linger. Nebraska pounded Fresno State on the road Saturday night, ending the Bulldogs’ 13-game home winning streak. A nice showing, powered by a handful of big plays, but the offensive consistency was lacking, especially in the first half. Randy Gregory’s return at defensive end made a difference. The competition level rises with a visit from Miami in Week 4 and a trip to Michigan State looming. Time to learn a lot more about these Huskers.
Another rough Saturday for the Big Ten, with just three wins in nine nonconference games. Here's what we learned:
    [+] EnlargeCole Netten
    Charlie Neibergall/Associated PressGiven a mulligan by Kirk Ferentz, Cole Netten nailed a last-second field goal to give Iowa State a win over Iowa.
  • Kirk Ferentz won’t soon live down that decision to call a timeout: Didn’t coaches learn long ago that if they want to ice the kicker with a timeout, call it before the snap so as to avoid the painful situation that bit Iowa in its 20-17 home loss to Iowa State? Ferentz signaled timeout just in time to negate Cole Netten's miss wide left from 42 yards with seconds to play. Thanks for the practice kick, Coach. Netten nailed it the second time. “We had one timeout left,” Ferentz said, “and that’s the reason I called it.” Not a good enough reason.
  • It doesn’t pay to be unbeaten in the Big Ten: Eight league teams began Saturday with perfect records. By early Sunday, it was two: Nebraska, which easily handled Fresno State 55-19, and Penn State, with a 13-10 win over Rutgers in a game that guaranteed the league an unbeaten team for one more week. Meanwhile, down went Maryland and Indiana, on last-second scores by West Virginia (40-37) and Bowling Green (45-42) in early games. Then down went the Hawkeyes, along with Minnesota and Illinois, which were blown out on the road by TCU (30-7) and Washington (44-19) after both West Division squads opened with consecutive home wins over non-Power 5 programs.
  • Ohio State has plenty of gas left in the tank: Left for dead by many after its 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech, Urban Meyer’s club produced an impressive 66-0 win over Kent State. Forget that the Hokies turned around and lost to East Carolina. And forget the opponent. (Kent State is not good.) The Buckeyes were playing against themselves. They answered the doubters, jumping to a 45-0 halftime lead behind five TD passes from J.T. Barrett in the opening 30 minutes. OSU’s young quarterback and offensive line needed this, and the schedule stays manageable for a while.
  • Penn State continues to live a charmed life: The Nittany Lions, after winning in Week 1 on a game-ending field goal and beating the Icelandic volcano eruption to get back home, led for all of 73 seconds on Saturday in spoiling Rutgers’ Big Ten debut. In its first game since getting its bowl eligibility restored, Penn State created some of its own good fortune with five interceptions of Gary Nova, and Christian Hackenberg was his usual late-game self in leading a six-play, 80-yard drive for the winning points. The Nittany Lions likely will enter October at 5-0 and need to be taken seriously as an East Division contender.
  • Nebraska starts to emerge in West: Shaky starts by Wisconsin and Iowa leave the Cornhuskers as the best-looking team in the division. But with visions still fresh of their escape against McNeese State, questions linger. Nebraska pounded Fresno State on the road Saturday night, ending the Bulldogs’ 13-game home winning streak. A nice showing, powered by a handful of big plays, but the offensive consistency was lacking, especially in the first half. Randy Gregory’s return at defensive end made a difference. The competition level rises with a visit from Miami in Week 4 and a trip to Michigan State looming. Time to learn a lot more about these Huskers.

Big Ten Week 3 predictions

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
9:00
AM ET
Reports of the Big Ten's death are greatly exaggerated. Look, they're still playing games in Week 3 and everything.



Why West Virginia wins: Maryland crushed West Virginia 37-0 last year in Baltimore, but Dana Holgorsen brings a much better team to College Park. Quarterback Clint Trickett looks like a different player so far, and the Mountaineers seem much more competent on defense. The Terrapins have been a bit sloppy so far (seven turnovers in two games) and it will cost them in a close one. West Virginia 31, Maryland 28. -- Adam Rittenberg

Why Maryland wins: A lot of concerns remain on a West Virginia defense that was among the worst in the nation last season. So the Mountaineers can score -- but can they stop the Terps? Granted, Maryland didn't look great in the last outing, but there's simply too much firepower here for the offense to stay down. WR Stefon Diggs is an elite talent, and the defense is at least average. Maryland 31, West Virginia 24. -- Josh Moyer



Why Penn State will win: The Scarlet Knights turned heads by flying across the country and knocking off Washington State. But the Cougars followed that up by losing to Nevada. That leaves Rutgers as somewhat of a mystery, and while it will have a raucous home crowd and plenty of motivation for a rivalry game in its Big Ten debut, the Nittany Lions suddenly have even more to play for after their NCAA postseason sanctions were repealed this week. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg is throwing for 386.5 yards per game, which could be trouble for a Rutgers defense that has allowed more yards than any team in the conference through two weeks. Still, this should be an entertaining game. Penn State 35, Rutgers 31. -- Austin Ward

Why Rutgers will win: Rutgers' shaky pass defense certainly concerns me against Hackenberg. But Penn State hasn't been dominant, either, and the Scarlet Knights' defensive front seven could pose some problems for the Nittany Lions' offensive line and mostly invisible run game. I expect this one to come down to the wire in an emotional game for both sides. The home-field advantage and Rutgers' desire to prove itself on a B1G stage cause me to go with the mild upset. Rutgers 28, Penn State 27. -- Brian Bennett

Unanimous decisions

Indiana over Bowling Green, 31-21: A rested Hoosiers team comes out firing against a Falcons squad that was blown out by Western Kentucky and lost its starting QB.

Michigan over Miami (Ohio), 48-7: The Wolverines take out some frustration from last week's Notre Dame fiasco against the overmatched RedHawks.

Ohio State over Kent State, 38-3: The Buckeyes work out their own frustrations against another MAC pushover.

Washington over Illinois, 44-31: The Illini keep it interesting behind Wes Lunt's arm, but their defense isn't yet good enough to slow the Huskies.

Iowa over Iowa State, 21-17: It's a slugfest, and offensive lineman Brandon Scherff's injury limits the Hawkeyes' offense enough to keep this one close.

TCU over Minnesota, 17-13: Another low-scoring, defensive slog; the Gophers' lack of a passing attack (especially with gimpy QB Mitch Leidner) dooms them.

Nebraska over Fresno State, 34-24: The Huskers get a scare, but they finally pull away in the fourth quarter behind RB Ameer Abdullah.

Notre Dame over Purdue, 37-17: The Boilermakers just don't have the talent to hang with QB Everett Golson and the Irish.

Our records:
Austin Ward: 21-5
Brian Bennett: 20-6
Adam Rittenberg: 20-6
Mitch Sherman: 20-6
Josh Moyer: 19-7

Big Ten awards race tracker: Week 2

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
1:00
PM ET
We're only two weeks into the season, but we're taking a weekly look at how the major Big Ten individual awards races are shaping up.

All five of our Big Ten reporters are voting weekly on the races, with players receiving five points for a first-place vote, four for a second-place nod, etc. Also, we try hard to base these standings on 2014 season results only, not any preconceived notions or a player's previous track records. That's why you might see some names here you likely did not expect in the preseason.

Away we go:

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year


1. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (five first-place votes): A unanimous pick right now, and understandably so given his game-winning catch and run vs. McNeese State. Abdullah is ranked No. 6 in the latest ESPN Heisman Watch.

2. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: The sophomore leads the Big Ten with 773 passing yards through two games, though his 4-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio could stand to improve.

3. Illinois QB Wes Lunt: The Oklahoma State transfer has been a big hit in Champaign, especially after he threw for 456 yards last week in a win against Western Kentucky.

4. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: Coleman and the Hoosiers were off this week, so he'll look to build on his huge Week 1 performance (247 yards, two touchdowns) on Saturday at Bowling Green.

5. Michigan State QB Connor Cook: He threw for 343 yards and two scores in the loss at Oregon, though he also had two picks. Cook is completing 68.3 percent of his passes through two games.

Also receiving votes: Rutgers RB Paul JamesPaul James

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Iowa DT Louis Trinca-Pasat (1): A surprise early leader. Trinca-Pasat has four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks as Iowa's defensive line has carried the team in two close wins.

2. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa: Bosa already has two forced fumbles, including one against Virginia Tech last weekend. Will he be even more effective when Noah Spence returns on the other side of the Buckeyes' line?

3. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel (2): Zettel is tied with Trinca-Pasat for the most tackles for loss in the league through two weeks, and he owns two quarterback sacks. The Nittany Lions' defense has done a great job of bending but not breaking.

4. Penn State LB Mike Hull (2): Hull has been the leader of the Penn State defense as expected, and he has the second-most tackles in the league, with 22.

5. Wisconsin S Michael Caputo: After registering 15 tackles in the opener against LSU, Caputo grabbed an interception last week vs. Western Illinois.

Also receiving votes: Iowa DE Drew Ott; Indiana DL Bobby Richardson; Illinois S Taylor Barton

The Big Ten's path to the playoff

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
11:00
AM ET
video
Week 2 confirmed what many had long suspected: the Big Ten's most recent expansion moves were a mistake. Yes, Maryland and Rutgers are really regretting joining a less relevant league.

I kid, I kid! (Hey, it's better to laugh than cry, right?). There's no getting around what a disaster last weekend was for the Big Ten, and plenty of pundits have already thrown dirt on the league's College Football Playoff chances -- some of whom seemed to enjoy playing undertaker a little too much, but that's another story. Colleague Mark Schlabach doesn't have a single Big Ten team still in playoff contention in his weekly eliminator, ignoring that eight conference teams are still, you know, undefeated.

But to bury the Big Ten after two weeks of games is to miss two key points: 1) nobody really knows how the selection committee will work in December and 2) college football seasons often take some wacky twists and turns. Who would have ever thought, for instance, that a two-loss team could win the BCS national title? LSU did just that in the 2007 season.

Now, we're not going to pretend that everything is rosy for the Big Ten. Far from it. But let's play optimist now and look at some of the ways in which a league team could still wind up in Pasadena (or New Orleans) on New Year's Day:
  • Iowa, Nebraska or a total surprise team runs the table: Let's not forget that several teams remain unbeaten. Iowa has yet to impress, and Nebraska nearly lost to McNeese State. So it's hard to see them going undefeated, and neither will pile up impressive nonconference wins (Miami's blowout loss on Labor Day hurt the Huskers). Still, the committee would likely find it very tough to keep out any undefeated major conference champion, especially one with name-brand power like Nebraska or Iowa. Or what if a newly-eligible Penn State or some bomber like Rutgers, Maryland, Minnesota, Illinois or Indiana finishes without a blemish? Stranger things have happened. Well, OK, not many.
  • Ducks soar, Spartans soldier on: The 19-point margin of Michigan State's loss to Oregon hurts, undoubtedly. The Spartans now really need Oregon to not just win but dominate the Pac-12. If the Ducks finish 13-0 and are seeded first or second, MSU backers could point to how their team led by nine points in the third quarter before getting overwhelmed late. That would also require Mark Dantonio's club running the table in impressive fashion. Remember the Spartans lost last September to a mediocre Notre Dame team but would still have made the playoff had there been one.
  • The Big 12 falters: The Big Ten is providing cover for a Big 12 that looks very top heavy (hello, Texas). If Oklahoma were to lose, the Big 12 champ almost assuredly wouldn't have a glittering résumé, as the committee must punish Baylor for its shameful schedule, and that league has no title game. A two-loss Big 12 champ? Even better.
  • Separation in the SEC and Pac-12: Let's assume the Big Ten champ compares favorably to the Big 12 winner. The next concern would be a second Power 5 team getting in ahead of both leagues, most likely from the Pac-12 or SEC. That's why the Big Ten should root for Oregon to win the Pac-12 and no second team to come close to the Ducks, and either total chaos or only one dominant team in the SEC.
  • Notre Dame losing once or twice: Big Ten fans already root for the Irish to lose every week, so this should come naturally.
  • A big jump by Ohio State: The Buckeyes have lost two of their last three games to ACC teams, so that certainly doesn't help. But Ohio State also probably has the biggest room for growth of any Big Ten team because of its young talent. Urban Meyer needs to get that talent to take off right away and for the Buckeyes to go on a tear. The selection committee is supposed to consider complete body of work, but all human beings' minds lean toward recency. A strong finish by the Buckeyes matters, especially if the committee is inclined to forgive an early-season loss while Meyer broke in a new QB.
  • A thrilling league title game: Pit a one-loss Michigan State or Ohio State versus undefeated Nebraska or Iowa or one-loss Wisconsin and have a high-level game. Big Ten detractors would still howl, but seasoned committee members might see otherwise. The worst thing that could happen is for one division winner to limp into Indianapolis with three or more losses, eliminating any credibility-gaining possibilities.

Is it an uphill climb for the Big Ten? No doubt. But Jim Delany has already scaled Mount Kilimanjaro. In comparison, this will be a leisurely Sunday hike.

Big Ten bowl projections: Week 2

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
8:00
PM ET
The Big Ten reporting crew thought about scrapping this entirely after a week in which few teams in this conference looked worthy of a postseason trip. An uninspiring day of MAC-tion and near misses slipped into a night of three double-digit losses in marquee games, including Michigan's first scoreless performance after going an NCAA record 365 straight games without one.

It's still very, very early, but good luck in finding a path to the playoff for a Big Ten team that doesn't go undefeated. The fact is winning this league might not resonate with the selection committee after what we saw in Week 2.

We have no Big Ten teams in the field of four, but two (Michigan State and Ohio State) assigned to other major bowls by the playoff selection committee. The Wisconsin-Iowa-Nebraska bloc is pretty much interchangeable, but we're trying to avoid repeat destinations, a mandate from the Big Ten in the new structure.

Michigan moves down a rung or two after its embarrassing loss to Notre Dame. Minnesota moves up a spot and the bottom remains the same. Illinois is close to entering the projections, but we need to see a little more.

Our Week 2 projections ...

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

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 2

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
2:00
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The Big Ten went 8-5 in Week 2, and we learned some things in the process. Brace yourself; this won't be pretty.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsAmeer Abdullah's heroics helped Nebraska escape what would have been an embarrassing loss to McNeese State.
1. The Midwest misery index is at an all-time high: Don't completely count out the Big Ten from the College Football Playoff; we're a long, long way until the first Sunday in December, after all. But the road to getting a team in the four-team field became extremely difficult after a disappointing and dispiriting Week 2 showing by the conference. In the three marquee night games, Michigan State lost by 19 points to Oregon, Michigan got embarrassed in a 31-0 shutout at Notre Dame and Ohio State lost by 14 at home to an unranked Virginia Tech squad. Meanwhile, Nebraska needed Ameer Abdullah's heroics in the final minute just to squeak past FCS McNeese State, and Iowa had to pull off a huge comeback to escape at home against Ball State. Two other MAC teams took down Purdue and Northwestern (Central Michigan and Northern Illinois, respectively). This is as bad a weekend as the Big Ten has had since Week 2 in 2012, and the league was supposed to be improved this season. Instead, it took another savage beating in terms of national perception, with almost no opportunities to turn that around the rest of the regular season.

2. (Almost) anyone can win the mild, mild West: We knew the West Division would feature plenty of parity this season. But can anyone identify a favorite in this division now? Iowa could be 0-2 just as easily as it is 2-0 right now. Wisconsin has major passing game issues. Nebraska is dealing with injuries, barely beat an FCS team Saturday and still has the toughest schedule of any division contender. Minnesota actually had the best day of any West team in Week 2, and its defense looks legitimately strong. But the Gophers still have problems throwing the ball and are holding their breath that quarterback Mitch Leidner didn't get hurt late against Middle Tennessee. Illinois at least can score in bunches behind Wes Lunt and might have a puncher's chance. At this point, it seems you can count out Northwestern (0-2) and Purdue. But who knows how things will eventually shake out in a division that appears to lack any great teams.

3. Running games disappearing: We've talked a lot about poor quarterback play being a reason for the Big Ten's recent decline. But we've almost always been able to count on league teams lining up and pounding the ball on the ground, especially against supposedly weaker competition. That hasn't been the case for far too many league teams. Iowa, which figured to have one of the league's best offensive lines and rushing attacks, is averaging just 4.1 yards per carry and had 113 yards on 29 rush attempts versus Ball State. We underestimated the difficulties Ohio State would have with four new starters on its offensive line; the Buckeyes have done very little on the ground outside of quarterback J.T. Barrett's scrambles. Penn State has basically abandoned the run in its first two games, while Michigan's apparent gains in the rushing attack against overmatched Appalachian State in Week 1 proved a mirage in South Bend. Oregon mostly stuffed Michigan State's attempts to run the ball. Heck, even Wisconsin failed to have a running back gain more than 57 yards against FCS Western Illinois, and Melvin Gordon was held to 38 yards on 17 carries. Big Ten teams can't expect to win big games if their main calling card is bankrupt.

4. The best program in Illinois isn't in Champaign or Evanston: Nope, it's located in DeKalb, home of Northern Illinois. The Huskies went into Northwestern and won 23-15 on Saturday. That shouldn't come as a surprise, as NIU has won 48 games since the start of the 2010 season and showed Saturday that life without Jordan Lynch will be OK. As for Northwestern, the Wildcats never should have bought that monkey's paw before the Ohio State game last year. They're 1-9 since, with no end to the misery in sight. Illinois has more reason for optimism, especially given Lunt's potential at quarterback and some big-play ability. But the Illini have had to sweat out home wins over Youngstown State and Western Kentucky in the first two weeks. The top team in the Land of Lincoln plays in the MAC, a conference that came within one great Iowa comeback of notching three wins over the Big Ten on Saturday.

5. Field goals are an adventure: Iowa was 1-of-4 on field goals against Ball State, with none longer than 37 yards, and it almost cost the Hawkeyes the game. Ohio State's Sean Nuernberger missed both his field-goal attempts in the first half against Virginia Tech, while Illinois' Taylor Zalewski also went 0-for-2. Not that it would have changed the outcome, but Michigan's Matt Wile missed two attempts in the first half at Notre Dame, too. With the margin for error so small for many Big Ten teams, field-goal units need to improve significantly.

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 2

September, 6, 2014
Sep 6
8:00
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Week 2 in the Big Ten brings three titanic tilts at night, a few decent afternoon games and a handful of chaff. We're here to get you ready for all the action, as every league team but Indiana hits the field Saturday (all times listed are ET):

Noon games

Western Kentucky (1-0) at Illinois (1-0), BTN: The Illini will have to play much better than they did in Week 1 against Youngstown State, as Western Kentucky showed a powerful offense in beating Bowling Green 59-31 last week. New Hilltoppers coach Jeff Brohm is a former Illinois assistant.

McNeese State (0-0) at No. 19 Nebraska (1-0), ESPNU: McNeese State is ranked No. 7 in the FCS Top 25, so the Cowboys are no pushover. But if the Huskers roll like they did last week against Florida Atlantic, it won't much matter.

Akron (1-0) at Penn State (1-0), ABC/ESPN2 mirror: The Zips nearly pulled off the huge upset last year at the Big House, and Penn State will have to hope its body clocks are adjusted after returning from Ireland last weekend.

Central Michigan (1-0) at Purdue (1-0), ESPNEWS: The Boilermakers can double their win total from 2013 in the first two weeks. First, they'll have to get by a Chippewas team that can be pretty feisty, though they had to rally just to beat Chattanooga in the opener.

Western Illinois (1-0) at No. 18 Wisconsin (0-1), BTN: A trying and strange week in Madison will conclude with what ought to be a typical Badgers home beatdown of a much lesser opponent.

Howard (0-1) at Rutgers (1-0), BTN: Let us know when it's time to talk about the Penn State game in Week 3, because this one holds little to no interest.

[+] EnlargeMike Dantonio
AP Images/Bradley LeebMark Dantonio and Michigan State face a mammoth nonconference test at Oregon on Saturday.
3:30 p.m. games

Middle Tennessee (1-0) at Minnesota (1-0), BTN: The Gophers are dealing with a rash of injuries to their defensive line but are still heavy favorites at home against the Blue Raiders.

Ball State (1-0) at Iowa (1-0), ESPN2: The Hawkeyes struggled to get by a game Northern Iowa team last week and now host a solid MAC outfit. Kirk Ferentz's team will look to make rapid improvement over Week 1.

Maryland (1-0) at South Florida (1-0), CBS Sports Network: Job One for the Maryland defense is to slow Bulls running back Marlon Mack, who leads the FBS in rushing after he piled up 275 yards in Week 1. Job One for the Terps offense is to get quarterback C.J. Brown in a better passing groove after he completed less than 50 percent last week versus James Madison.

Northern Illinois (1-0) at Northwestern (0-1), BTN: A must-win already for the Wildcats? Maybe, after the season-opening loss to Cal. The Huskies would love nothing more than to notch a win over their in-state neighbors.

The three biggies

No. 7 Michigan State (1-0) at No. 3 Oregon (1-0), 6:30 p.m., Fox
Michigan (1-0) at No. 16 Notre Dame (1-0), 7:30 p.m., NBC
Virginia Tech (1-0) at No. 8 Ohio State (1-0), 8 p.m., ESPN
Other must-reads

Finally, make sure to stay up-to-date on all the latest news by following us on Twitter @ESPNBig_Ten and our individual handles:

The skinny: No. 7 MSU-No. 3 Oregon

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
1:00
PM ET
This weekend, Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon, is going to be rocking with one of the biggest nonconference matchups of the year -- No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 7 Michigan State. It’s the first-ever top-10 out of conference matchup that will be played in the stadium and there are playoff implications on the line.

Here are a few different things to watch for as the Ducks and Spartans take the field at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Michigan State offensive player to watch: RB Jeremy Langford. The Spartans hope to use their running game to eat some clock and keep Oregon's offense on the sidelines, and Langford is key to that. But Langford is dealing with an ankle issue, and Michigan State's rushing attack was a little off in the opener against Jacksonville State.

Oregon offensive player to watch: QB Marcus Mariota. The Heisman candidate has been a model of efficiency for the Ducks over the past few seasons and against the Spartan defense, he’s going to need to be at his best. He’s going to have some tougher matchups with his younger wide receivers. Look for him to get the ground game going -- along with Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman -- for Oregon.

Michigan State defensive player to watch: LB Taiwan Jones. The senior gets his first big test as the team's starting middle linebacker. The responsibility for getting the defense organized and aligned against the Ducks' hurry-up attack falls on him. He also needs to provide plenty of help against the Oregon zone-read. The outside linebackers have to control the edge, where Oregon is so dangerous, but they'll look to Jones for leadership.

Oregon defensive player to watch: CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. He’s going to be crucial for the Duck defense. If Connor Cook chooses to throw at him, he needs to make him pay -- or at least make sure Cook doesn’t make a big play. The Ducks like to blitz Ekpre-Olomu from the corner, so look for him to contribute all over the field.

Michigan State wins if: It can win first down, on both sides. A big key to slowing down Oregon's offense is to get it in third-and-long situations that force the Ducks to pass the ball. The Spartans' defense, which has been so good against the run in the past few years, needs to be at its best on early downs. On the flip side, if Michigan State's offense can put itself in manageable down-and-distance scenarios, it can stick with the running game and control the tempo.

Oregon wins if: Mariota can connect with his young wide receivers and the Duck defense can get off the field in crucial situations. They weren’t happy with their defensive performance against South Dakota last weekend and they struggled with tackling. That can’t be the case if the Ducks are going to pick up a win over MSU.

Outlook with a Spartans win: Michigan State immediately becomes a top College Football Playoff contender. With its most difficult remaining games at home -- Nebraska and Ohio State -- the Spartans would have a real chance to run the table.

Outlook with a Ducks win: Mark Helfrich gets that signature win as a head coach, Mariota is provided some Heisman fuel and Oregon is an early favorite to play in the College Football Playoff.

Outlook with a Spartans loss: As long as they don't get blown out, the Spartans aren't necessarily toast if they go down in Autzen. Remember last year, they lost in September at Notre Dame but would still have been in position to make the playoff at the end, had one been in place. But they would need a lot of help and would have to hope Oregon goes on to have a great season.

Outlook with a Ducks loss: They’ll need to run the table convincingly in the Pac-12 conference if they want to be considered for a spot in the playoffs. Even an early loss could lessen the chances for Oregon depending on how other conferences shake out. The Ducks best bet is to leave nothing to chance and not even have to consider that alternative.

Big Ten Week 2 predictions

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
9:00
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Why Michigan State will win: Why not? Don't you believe by now in the Spartans, who beat Oregon's top nemesis -- Stanford -- just eight months ago? The Ducks are tough to beat at home, but I think Michigan State's defense is good enough to frustrate that spread attack, and I love the way Connor Cook is playing at quarterback. The Big Ten has to win one of these big regular-season showdowns eventually. Right? Michigan State 27, Oregon 24. -- Brian Bennett



Why Oregon will win: If there is a blueprint to beating the Ducks, the Spartans are surely capable of duplicating it with solid defense and an efficient, ball-control offense. And if the experienced, proven Michigan State defense from last season was still around, it might be tempting to pick the upset. But the Ducks have a quarterback in Marcus Mariota who won't be intimidated, they're playing with a vocal crowd behind them and they don't have to travel across the country. Oregon wins 34-20. -- Austin Ward



Why it will be closer than you think: Michigan State isn't easily intimidated, and the Spartans rarely get blown out. Of MSU's past eight losses, only one came by more than four points. An underrated Spartans offense keeps pace with the Ducks for much of this one. Oregon wins 31-27. -- Adam Rittenberg


Why Michigan will win: Devin Gardner eviscerated a Notre Dame defense in 2013 that I consider better than the current unit. Both teams will score a lot with dynamic quarterbacks and more streamlined offenses, but Michigan has the better defense, which will be the difference. Michigan 38, Notre Dame 35 -- Adam Rittenberg



Why Notre Dame will win: Both teams fired on all cylinders offensively last week against overmatched opponents. The Irish, at home, are more likely to extend their solid play. Quarterback Everett Golson provides a steadying influence. Look for him to find holes in the Michigan secondary. And the Wolverines, who are just one game removed from so much trouble up front on offense last year, will find the trenches much more difficult to navigate this week than last. Notre Dame 24, Michigan 20 -- Mitch Sherman


Why Ohio State will win: A tricky matchup to open the season put the Buckeyes on upset alert last week in the debut for J.T. Barrett, but this is the kind of opponent that should bring out their best. The defensive line will once again get to rush the passer, a rebuilt secondary figures to have some chances to make something big happen and Barrett can build on his big second half against Navy with a young offense gaining confidence. Plus, the Horseshoe isn't a very welcoming building for visitors under the lights. Buckeyes win 31-13. -- Austin Ward



Why it might be closer than you think: It's clear the Buckeyes still have a few kinks to iron out on offense, and Virginia Tech's bread-and-butter is its defense. The Hokies boast an elite pair of corners and have a disruptive defensive line, and that's not going to make it any easier for Barrett. If Virginia Tech can gain any kind of momentum on offense, the Buckeyes could be in for a scare. Buckeyes 27, Hokies 20. -- Josh Moyer

Majority decisions

Northern Illinois over Northwestern 31-28
(Rittenberg, Sherman and Ward took NIU, while Bennett and Moyer chose Northwestern):
Even without Jordan Lynch, NIU looks to have the same quick-scoring formula as last season, while the Wildcats are still searching for their identity.

Purdue over Central Michigan 35-31
(Moyer, Rittenberg, Sherman and Ward selected Purdue, while Bennett chose Central Michigan)
The Boilermakers' win over Western Michigan wasn't pretty and this won't be either, but this offense will only get better.

Western Kentucky over Illinois 42-38

(Bennett, Moyer, Rittenberg and Sherman took Western Kentucky, while Ward chose Illinois)
It's difficult to pick Tim Beckman's squad after an unconvincing win against Youngstown State.

Unanimous decisions

Maryland over South Florida 34-14. C.J. Brown + Stefon Diggs + Deon Long = Touchdowns. Enough said.
Penn State over Akron 34-21. This one could be closer than expected as PSU adjusts from its Ireland trip, but Christian Hackenberg is an elite talent.
Rutgers over Howard 52-7. Howard lost to Akron by a score of 41-0 last week, so the only question is whether the Knights' second team allows a late TD or clinches the shutout.
Iowa over Ball State 38-20. The Hawkeyes got off to a slow start against Northern Iowa, but this is their chance to make up for it.
Minnesota over MTSU 35-17. Mitch Leidner needs to improve, but the Gophers' defense and ground game should be enough to pull out the win here.
Nebraska over McNeese State 38-17. McNeese State is a quality FCS program, but the Cornhuskers simply have too much firepower with Ameer Abdullah leading the way.
Wisconsin over Western Illinois 42-0. The Badgers don't need a passing game to dominate this opponent; it shouldn't even be close.

Video: What MSU needs vs. Oregon

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
4:52
PM ET

Trevor Matich and Todd McShay explain how Michigan State needs touchdowns on long drives against Oregon on Saturday.

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