NCF Nation: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Big Ten Week 10 predictions

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
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After a weird week in which everyone agreed on their selections, things are back to normal and our experts are fighting among themselves.
Why Indiana will win: This season Michigan's offense is averaging 1.16 touchdowns per game against Power 5 conference competition. Hoosiers RB Tevin Coleman is averaging 1.25 touchdowns per game against Power 5 competition. Big plays from Coleman and IU receiver Shane Wynn will be the difference. The Wolverines' run defense has been strong this year, but not against marquee running backs. David Cobb ran for 183 yards in Minnesota's win at the Big House, and Jeremy Langford finished with 177 last week. Coleman will do the same, and Michigan's offense doesn't have enough horsepower to keep up. ... Indiana 27, Michigan 23 -- Dan Murphy

Why Michigan will win: Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for the Wolverines, this week happened, with the controversies surrounding Joe Bolden’s spearing of the Spartan Stadium turf and Dave Brandon’s alleged angry email exchanges with fans. Yes, it got worse. Michigan has been dodging disasters for nearly two months now. At some point, it’s got to get better in Ann Arbor, right? This is the week, as Indiana brings its downtrodden defense to the Big House, for Devin Gardner and the U-M offense to get healthy, even if temporarily. What about Tevin Coleman and the Hoosiers’ offense? Yeah, that’s a concern, but the Wolverines have been strong against the rush, allowing 3.1 yards per carry to rank second in the Big Ten. ... Michigan 34, Indiana 24 -- Mitch Sherman

Why Maryland will win: Penn State is primed for a letdown game after an emotionally exhausting overtime loss at home. The Terps didn't inspire much confidence last week in their loss to Wisconsin, but they've been hot and cold all season. Maryland's run defense has been miserable (110th nationally), which should make for a good matchup with Penn State's woeful offensive line. The Nittany Lions' defense should keep this a low-scoring game. Expect a lot of action for the field goal kickers, and Maryland's Brad Craddock is the best in the Big Ten in that department. ... Maryland 19, Penn State 17 -- Dan Murphy

Why Penn State will win: Penn State will have to bounce back from an emotional overtime loss to Ohio State, but the Nittany Lions' defense proved it was one of the league's very best vs. the Buckeyes. Meanwhile, schizophrenic Maryland nearly got shut out at Wisconsin. The Terps won't have any easier time moving the ball in Beaver Stadium, and Christian Hackenberg will do just enough for Penn State to improve to 36-1-1 all-time in this "rivalry." ... Penn State 17, Maryland 14 -- Brian Bennett

Why Iowa will win: Let's take a three-point look at Northwestern's offense: QB Trevor Siemian has been so inconsistent this season that he's ranked behind both Devin Gardner and Tanner McEvoy in passing efficiency. Northwestern RB Justin Jackson is good, but the Wildcats have managed to average more than four yards a carry in only one game. And only 19 offenses in the nation are averaging fewer points per game (20.9). Add that all together, and you get a struggling offense that Iowa should take advantage of. The Hawkeyes aren't a one-dimensional offense, so this shouldn't be a repeat of the Wisconsin game. It should be close, but the Hawkeyes win in the end. ... Iowa 24, Northwestern 20 -- Josh Moyer

Why Northwestern will win: Iowa and Northwestern both have had disappointing seasons to date. Both come off of bye weeks and both look to finish strong. The vibe around Iowa is more concerning. Other than the Indiana game, when has Iowa actually looked good? Northwestern at least has solid wins against Penn State and Wisconsin. The Wildcats have a better defense and should be able to run against Iowa with Justin Jackson. Iowa has more offensive firepower, but can the Hawkeyes deliver in a critical game? These are typically close contests, and Northwestern comes out on top this time. ... Northwestern 23, Iowa 21 -- Adam Rittenberg


Unanimous selections

Ohio State 49, Illinois 21: If the Buckeyes can grab a comfortable edge, look for Urban Meyer to rest J.T. Barrett, nursing a knee sprain, in advance of the season-defining trip next week to Michigan State. Though the Illini are riding high after an upset victory over Minnesota, Ohio State and its defensive front pose a new kind of challenge.

Wisconsin 45, Rutgers 14: With or without Gary Nova, the Scarlet Knights are feeling the effects of trips over the past two weeks to Ohio State and Nebraska. And Rutgers is getting the Badgers at a bad time, right as Wisconsin finds itself offensively behind rejuvenated QB Joel Stave and the relentless Melvin Gordon.

Nebraska 52, Purdue 28: Lots of points in Lincoln, but look for the Huskers to control this from the start. Purdue has made huge strides offensively behind Austin Appleby, but its defense still lacks the playmakers to slow Ameer Abdullah. Another big day, too, for Kenny Bell, set to break Johnny Rodgers’ career receiving-yardage record at Nebraska.

Our records:
1. Mitch Sherman: 66-14 (.825)
2. Brian Bennett: 64-16 (.800)
3. Austin Ward: 63-17 (.786)
4. Adam Rittenberg: 62-18 (.775)
5. Josh Moyer: 60-20 (.750)
6. Dan Murphy: 32-11 (.744)

Big Ten playoff tracker: Oct. 29

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
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The College Football Playoff rankings are out, but they're hardly the last word. Teams have another five weeks to build their cases for inclusion in the four-team playoff. But they know where they stand now.

Three Big Ten teams remain in the playoff mix. Let's take a look at how things stand for them:

Michigan State

Record: 7-1 (4-0)

Rank: 8

Next big obstacle: Nov. 8 vs. Ohio State

Reason for optimism: The Spartans have won 14 straight games against Big Ten opponents, and their toughest remaining game -- against Ohio State on Nov. 8 -- will be in East Lansing. Plus, their lone loss of the season was at Oregon, which was understandable. They remain the favorites to win the Big Ten and could easily move up as others lose.

Cause for concern: This year's defense has been more susceptible to the big play than defense in recent seasons, and Mark Dantonio's team has yet to play its A-game against a good opponent for four full quarters. The margin of the Oregon loss -- 19 points -- is a black mark, and the Spartans could suffer from the Big Ten's weak perception.

Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: Michigan State wants Ohio State to beat Illinois so the matchup against the Buckeyes is a marquee one. The Spartans need Oregon to beat Stanford and continue winning. They would also benefit from a Florida State loss at Louisville, a Notre Dame loss to Navy and more chaos in the SEC West.

Nebraska

Record: 7-1 (3-1)

Rank:
15

Next big obstacle: Nov. 15 at Wisconsin

Reason for optimism: The Huskers are still lurking in the Big Ten race and could avenge their lone loss -- on the road by five points to Michigan State -- in the Big Ten championship game. They have an easier path to Indianapolis through the Big Ten West and have one of the nation's best players in running back Ameer Abdullah.

Cause for concern: Nebraska's best victory of the season came against a 5-3 Miami team, which just might not be good enough. The Huskers have been inconsistent at times and still have road tests at Wisconsin and Iowa. In their lone marquee game, they trailed Michigan State 27-3 in the fourth quarter before a furious comeback. They also don't have any ranked teams left on the schedule, though that could change if they make the Big Ten title game.

Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: Nebraska still needs a lot of help to move up 11 spots (at least). The Cornhuskers should definitely root for Florida State to lose and will want TCU to go down to West Virginia to weaken the case for both the ACC and Big 12 champ. Losses by Notre Dame, Oregon and chaos in the SEC West are needed. Nebraska also wants Wisconsin and Iowa to keep winning to make those games look more important and for Miami to finish strong.

Ohio State

Record: 6-1 (3-0)

Rank: 16

Next big obstacle: Nov. 8 at Michigan State

Reason for optimism: The Buckeyes have steadily improved since a Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech, and quarterback J.T. Barrett has developed into a reliable playmaker. If the Buckeyes win in East Lansing in two weeks, they should have relatively smooth sailing to the Big Ten championship game. The selection committee will respect Urban Meyer's track record and Ohio State's talent.

Cause for concern: That loss to Virginia Tech -- by two touchdowns, at home -- could be hard to overcome, especially because the Hokies are just 4-4. Other than Michigan State, there's no real opportunity for a statement win. And the Buckeyes barely survived the past week at Penn State, which suggests their offensive improvement might have been built on the back of a weak schedule.

Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: The Buckeyes need all the same carnage Nebraska is hoping for, but at least they could get a significant boost by winning at Michigan State. They'll also want the Huskers to win out and hope to play them in Indianapolis.
Factors outside of football are going to be key to Florida’s pursuit of five-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey. Plus, there are so many elite players in the West still on the board that sometimes fans forget about other ESPN 300 prospects like Zach Robertson.

Big Ten bowl projections: Week 9

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
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Tuesday nights have become rather significant in college football with the release of the playoff selection committee's rankings. As a result, bowl projections also move to Tuesdays and will be released immediately after the committee's rundown.

Last week, we projected Maryland to the Holiday Bowl based on merit, while noting that the Terrapins would have to prove themselves again at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin ended up mauling Maryland, so the Badgers move up the projections. Remember: the Big Ten is taking greater control over bowl pairings this season, so the teams that have earned it on the field, not necessarily those with the largest fan bases, will land in the higher-profile games.

We had a brief discussion about projecting Michigan State or Ohio State to the playoff, but a few more things need to break the Big Ten's way. There's a good chance the winner of the Nov. 8 showdown at Spartan Stadium moves up a rung, but we're not ready to pull the trigger.

We also discussed whether to project Illinois to its first bowl game under coach Tim Beckman after a big home win against Minnesota. The Illini only need two more wins, but we need to see a little more.

Maryland and Rutgers move down after losses. Penn State, meanwhile, actually moves up after taking Ohio State to the brink before falling in two overtimes.

Here are the latest projections:

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

The College Football Playoff selection committee will issue its first-ever set of rankings Tuesday night.

It's an exciting time for fans and the signal of a bold new beginning for the sport. Many will be glued to their TV sets for the unveiling of the Top 25.

But in terms of appointment viewing for the three Big Ten figures who have the most to gain or lose tonight, this show might as well be a rerun of "New Girl."

On Tuesday's Big Ten coaches' teleconference, I asked Nebraska's Bo Pelini, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and Ohio State's Urban Meyer -- all of whom should see their teams ranked in the top 20 -- how much attention they'd pay to the rankings release. All three said they didn't even plan on watching the show.

"I think you'll notice it, but I think our focus has got to be on our next football game," said Dantonio, whose team has a bye this week before hosting Ohio State. "That will be where the challenge is. I think this is the starting point for everything from a media perspective. I'm really not quite sure how it will even work."

"I'm sure I'll hear about it, but I've got other things on my mind than what that vote is today," Pelini said. "It's not something that affects me."

"I'm sure I'll look at them tomorrow morning," Meyer said. "We're practicing and it's a heavy game plan night. So I know I won't watch it, though I'm aware it's going to happen."

Playoff talk has dominated college football since the end of last season. But even though there are two men with major Big Ten ties on the committee -- Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez and former Nebraska coach/athletic director Tom Osborne -- the coaches all said they were unfamiliar with how the process will work.

Pelini even said he's had no conversations with Osborne about the playoff selection in the past year. I asked him if he'd address the playoff rankings with his team.

"No," he said. "Other than to ignore them."

None of the coaches expected to learn much from the rankings, either, though the committee could tip its hand on which areas -- like strength of schedule, good wins vs. bad losses -- it prioritizes.

"I haven't followed it that much," Meyer said. "I don't know if it's much different than the old BCS system when the BCS rankings came out. The only thing I look at it as, it's four teams instead of two. I really don't understand the whole dynamics."

"I think it's just another poll," Dantonio said. "I'm sure they have their methodology. It will be interesting to watch as it goes through. [But] we need to try and live in the present."

Tonight's show should attract a lot of interested college football fans. But not so many Big Ten coaches, apparently.

"I didn't know the rankings were tonight and will not watch them," Penn State's James Franklin said. "But I am curious about how the whole thing will play out. I will follow it from a distance in my free time."
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LINCOLN, Neb. -- Midway through the fourth quarter of Nebraska’s victory over Rutgers on Saturday, Ameer Abdullah appeared on the HuskerVision screens inside Memorial Stadium. As his school record of 341 all-purpose yards was announced to the crowd, the senior I-back stood steely-faced, staring ahead, seemingly oblivious to the moment.

Earlier, in the midst of his 225-yard rushing effort, Abdullah, while waiting for his next opportunity, clutched a football on the sideline. Teammates mingled or sat on the bench, but Abdullah just held that ball in a locked position near his chest and kept his body in motion, a drill -- designed for practice -- that running backs coach Ron Brown encourages.

Eight games into his final season at Nebraska, Abdullah leads the nation in rushing yardage. He’s second in touchdowns. With four 200-yard rushing performances, he’s on track to top 2,000 yards in the 13th game of the season, whether that’s in Indianapolis Dec. 6 or at a bowl site.

He just passed Anthony Thompson and Archie Griffin to take the No. 2 spot on the Big Ten’s career all-purpose yardage list. With a couple more games like Saturday, in which he returned a kickoff 76 yards and caught two passes, Abdullah will pass Ron Dayne, who totaled 7,429 all-purpose yards, as the league’s all-time leader.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
AP Photo/Nati HarnikNebraska's Ameer Abdullah is putting up a historically good season -- and career.
You’d think, perhaps, the guy would take a moment to appreciate his accomplishments.

Not a chance.

“He’ll be able to look back on this with a lot of pride,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “It’s pretty special.”

Abdullah said he needs to keep his head down. Literally.

“You can’t get caught up in that right now,” he said, “because that’s not what is important. What’s important is tomorrow.”

Brown compared the past three months for Abdullah to a walk through the jungle. The deeper into the season he gets, the thicker the brush and the more difficult it becomes for him to see if, for even a minute, he loses focus.

“He’s just pulling things out of the way to get to the destination,” Brown said. “He realizes this is part of the jungle. He’s trying to keep his eyes on the prize.

“If you lose your senses, you can get discombobulated and go find a place to melt down somewhere.”

Last month, as Nebraska ramped up its promotion of Abdullah for the Heisman Trophy and other awards, the Alabama native largely shut down his availability to the media.

If an activity is not sharpening his focus, Abdullah prioritizes other things.

“He doesn’t have to think about that stuff,” Brown said.

Abdullah granted an extended interview Saturday, continuing to deflect attention even as he fielded questions about his own record-setting performance.

He sits 555 yards from breaking Nebraska's career rushing mark of 4,780 yards, set in three seasons by Heisman winner Mike Rozier. That record has long been considered unattainable at the school known for its legacy of I-backs.

Despite the appearance, Abdullah said he recognizes the significance of his achievements this fall.

“They're definitely memories,” he said. “Every time I step on the field, whether it's practice or a game, I'm always creating memories here. I'm always going to remember coming here and playing for this great university. Not many people are blessed with that opportunity. Definitely, it’s an honor."

His array of spectacular runs, in a way, creates a difficult situation for Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck.

For instance, on Saturday, Abdullah scored on consecutive touches of 53 and 48 yards as he buckled the knees of Rutgers defenders on both plays. The back-to-back drives unlocked a 7-7 tie early in the second quarter and had the stadium abuzz about Abdullah’s next chance.

But on the ensuing possession, Beck called three pass plays. The first two fell incomplete. Rutgers cornerback Anthony Cioffi intercepted Tommy Armstrong Jr. on the third.

Collectively, more than 90,000 people in attendance groaned. Why didn't Beck call the number of his best player?

“You can’t always just hand the ball to Ameer,” Beck said. “Everyone is going to know. You can’t just do that.”

Oh, the problems of coaching a Heisman candidate.

“Coach Beck understands getting the ball in the playmakers’ hands and spacing is really important,” Abdullah said. “We have to utilize all of our skilled players. We don’t want to just make this offense one-dimensional.”

Through it all, Abdullah keeps his head down, navigating the jungle. As for any discussion about his place among other great running backs -- this season or historically -- Pelini said Abdullah belongs in the discussion.

“I mean, just watch the film,” the coach said. “That’s all you’ve got to do.”
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Our crew of Big Ten reporters will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which one is right.

Today's Take Two topic is: Which of the Big Ten's two top Heisman Trophy contenders -- Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah or Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon -- has a better chance of getting to New York in December as a Heisman finalist?

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
Tom Lynn/Getty ImagesWisconsin's Melvin Gordon has rushed for 1,168 yards and 16 touchdowns this season.
Take 1: Brian Bennett

Both guys are extremely deserving, and if the Heisman vote was taken today and there was any justice, they'd both be finalists. That's how great their seasons have been.

However, given the glut of candidates at quarterback, it's more likely that only one Big Ten running back will make it to the Downtown Athletic Club. And I have to give the slight edge to Gordon.

Abdullah is rising in Heisman straw polls after another huge day against Rutgers last week. But he has one major stain on his résumé: that 24-carry, 45-yard performance in the Huskers' biggest game to date, the loss at Michigan State. Gordon also had an off day, but it came against Western Illinois when nobody was watching, and he had an injury as his excuse.

Voters may hold Gordon's second-half disappearing act versus LSU against him. But he also had 140 yards on 16 carries in that game, and as LSU continues to improve -- just look at what the Tigers' defense did to Ole Miss last week -- that showing will actually look better and better. The Gordon vs. Abdullah debate will likely come down to their Nov. 15 showdown in Madison. It helps that Gordon will be at home for that game. I think the Badgers star finishes slightly ahead of Abdullah in an extremely close call, and Gordon gets to New York.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesNebraska's Ameer Abdullah has rushed for 1,249 yards and 17 touchdowns this season.
Take 2: Mitch Sherman

I could not agree more that both backs belong in any conversation regarding the top player in college football. But for fans of Big Ten teams still unsure how to gauge Nebraska players in historical context, consider that Abdullah last week passed Anthony Thompson, the former Indiana great, and two-time Ohio State Heisman winner Archie Griffin in career all-purpose yardage.

And this season has been Abdullah's best yet, with four of his five career 200-yard rushing performances -- and at least five games to play. Abdullah leads the nation in rushing yardage. He's second in rushing touchdowns. He's on pace to exceed 2,000 yards this season (even if the Huskers don't qualify for the Big Ten title game) and surpass Heisman winner Mike Rozier as the Huskers' all-time leading rusher.

More than that, Abdullah does everything for Nebraska, returning kickoffs and taking snaps from the Wildcat formation. Last week against Rutgers, he split wide to catch a pass and grabbed another as the slot receiver.

He's also the Huskers' unquestioned leader, setting a constant example for teammates. It's part of his greatness and a trait that deserves notice from Heisman voters in the wake of the questionable decisions made regularly by the past two winners of the award.

As for the Michigan State game, yes, it is his one blemish, though Abdullah helped Nebraska get a shot to win at the end, and his poor numbers in that game are largely attributable to inept blocking and a game plan that went awry quickly in East Lansing.

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 9

October, 26, 2014
Oct 26
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Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 9

October, 26, 2014
Oct 26
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Honoring the best and brightest from an action-packed Saturday in the Big Ten.

Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: Something of a forgotten man over the past couple weeks, Abdullah turned in a virtuoso performance in the Huskers' 42-24 win over Rutgers that should serve as a reminder that he belongs in the conversation about the nation’s best weapons. Abdullah racked up 225 yards on the ground and 26 more through the air, sparking another conference win with three trips to the end zone.

Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: With just a little bit of help from an improved passing attack, the star running back was able to carve up Maryland on the ground and stake the Badgers to a big early lead with three touchdowns before halftime. He may have given up some statistical ground to his buddy Abdullah, but with Gordon rolling again, Wisconsin -- a 52-7 winner Saturday -- again looks like a threat to the Huskers in the West Division.

Illinois DB V’Angelo Bentley: The junior has had more impressive touchdowns in a career that has included scores in just about every way imaginable for a non-offensive player, but his relatively easy 12-yard fumble return might go down as the most memorable. After Minnesota running back David Cobb coughed up the football in the fourth quarter, Bentley’s heads-up play produced the game-winning points in Illinois' 28-24 victory -- just the second in the Big Ten for coach Tim Beckman.

Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford: The senior doesn’t usually get much publicity with so many high-profile rushers in the Big Ten, but Langford continues to chew up yardage and pile up touchdowns for the Spartans with or without the spotlight. He matched both Gordon and Abdullah with a hat trick of scores, leading Michigan State to yet another win over rival Michigan -- 35-11 --and keeping it in the thick of the race for the College Football Playoff.

Ohio State DE Joey Bosa: Penn State had a handful of worthy candidates for an award, but none of them added a game-winning play to the box score. The sophomore sensation was all over the field helping slow down the Nittany Lions on the ground, he put Christian Hackenberg under a barrage of pressure from start to finish and finished with 2.5 sacks. But it was his last play, a walk-off takedown in double overtime, that clinched a 31-24 win for the Buckeyes and earned him another weekly honor.
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In the spring, when quarterback Matt Joeckel decided to transfer from Texas A&M to TCU, the Frogs' coaching staff exhaled.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesAmeer Abdullah set a Nebraska record with 341 all-purpose yards in a win over Rutgers.
Finally. Gary Patterson and his assistants could move Trevone Boykin to his natural position, receiver, and let Joeckel, who was familiar with a fast-paced offense as an Aggie, handle the transition to the hurry-up, tempo offense.

A funny thing happened during those summer months: Boykin took to TCU's new offensive assistants, playcaller Doug Meacham and quarterbacks coach Sonny Cumbie.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Boykin never relinquished the position. He never made it over to receiver.

Now look where we are.

TCU, a program founded on stingy defense, scored 82 points Saturday against Texas Tech. Eighty-two. TCU very much remains a playoff contender, even after its late collapse at Baylor.

And Boykin, after a school-record seven touchdown throws in three quarters, is now in the heart of the Heisman conversation.

“I told people before the year this would happen, that he was going to have this type of year,” Frogs running back Aaron Green told ESPN.com. “Seeing how comfortable he was in the offense, I was like, ‘You’ll see. You’ll see.’”

Boykin now has 24 total touchdowns and just four turnovers and is averaging a healthy 8.1 yards per pass attempt.

Scoring 50.4 points per game, TCU is the only FBS school averaging more than half a hundred. Now’s a great time to remind you the Frogs scored 25.1 points per game a year ago. They went 4-8.

It’s been an incredible turnaround and a recreation of the program’s identity. Credit Patterson for the willingness and adaptability to do it. Credit the hires of Meacham and Cumbie, who should be co-favorites for the Broyles Award for the country’s top assistant coach.

And of course, credit Boykin for growing into the position.

I’ll have Boykin third on my Heisman Watch poll this week. Here’s how the rest of the top five looks as we enter the stretch run for the award:

First, a wild card who is currently an asterisk on my ballot:

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Observations from an illuminating Saturday in the Big Ten:

Shake up the West: The leader going into the weekend might have been exposed as a pretender. A preseason favorite written off after an early loss turned in perhaps the most impressive overall performance in the league all year. Sandwiched between Minnesota’s stumble at Illinois and Wisconsin’s rebirth against Maryland, Nebraska simply handled its business without incident as the West Division came into somewhat clearer focus, as we head into what could be a crazy November in that half of the conference. As Wisconsin’s ability to right the ship proved, it can be dangerous to discount any program in the West after they lose just once. But the Gophers have a murderous slate ahead of them after their bye next week, and falling to the Illini doesn’t leave much reason to consider them a legitimate contender down the stretch now. On the flip side, with some improvements in the passing game, the Badgers are rounding into form offensively and can be a truly terrifying matchup when a defense can’t just focus on Melvin Gordon. Nebraska might not be thrilled to allow 24 points to Rutgers, but it was never really threatened -- and the stage might be set for a huge clash with the Badgers on Nov. 15.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsJ.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes can learn from their mistakes after squeaking by Penn State on Saturday.
Buckeyes not a finished product just yet: J.T. Barrett is resilient, tough and mature enough as a redshirt freshman to go on the road and win in a hostile environment in overtime. All of those are positives for the Ohio State quarterback, obviously, but maybe it was a bit premature to think he and his young counterparts on offense were all grown up after they rolled over Rutgers and Maryland. Penn State’s tenacious defense gave Urban Meyer’s attack all it could handle, and though Barrett appeared slowed at times by a knee injury, he struggled for the first time since the loss to Virginia Tech with his decision-making and his accuracy, as a 17-point lead vanished and put Ohio State’s chances of climbing back into the College Football Playoff on the ropes. The end result is all that ultimately matters heading into November, and in some ways Ohio State might feel it has two weeks to get ready for Michigan State, given the weakness of the Illinois defense. But the Buckeyes are going to face another tough test on the road against the Spartans, and they’ll need to be sharper with the football.

Michigan State keeps rolling: A sluggish start had to be overcome, and an ejection actually needed to be overturned to ensure the roster stayed in one piece, but the Spartans ultimately stayed right on track for the Nov. 8 showdown with Ohio State. Jeremy Langford relentlessly pounded away at Michigan on the ground, the opportunistic defense chipped in another touchdown and Michigan State appeared to stay relatively healthy heading into a bye week that comes at a good time with the de facto East Division title game looming. The Wolverines aren’t the stoutest competition, at least not for a College Football Playoff contender, but Mark Dantonio and his club kept their focus and emotions in check to keep the train rolling along into the final month of the regular season.

Flying Illini: The writing appeared to be on the wall a few weeks ago, but Tim Beckman applied a fresh coat of paint to his tenure with an upset win at home over Minnesota. The Illini coach might not be completely in the clear, given that was just the second Big Ten victory of his career, but he deserves credit for the gutty defensive effort his team turned in and the way the offense has responded without Wes Lunt available at quarterback. Even the loss to Purdue doesn’t look quite so bad as it once did, thanks to improvement from that team as well. And now, with a .500 record through eight weeks, earning a bowl bid isn’t out of the question for Illinois. One win doesn’t magically fix everything, but it might help Beckman buy more time with the program.

Gophers grounded: Minnesota isn’t suddenly going to become a pushover down the stretch, not with its stout defense and a powerful rushing attack led by David Cobb at its disposal. With every team in the West Division having lost a game, it can’t be ruled out quite yet as a contender, either. But if it’s going to navigate a closing stretch that includes home games with Iowa and Ohio State followed by consecutive road trips to Nebraska and Wisconsin, Jerry Kill’s team is going to need to find some consistency through the air. Mitch Leidner has proven his toughness while battling injuries this season, and on occasion Saturday, the quarterback looked more than capable of making difficult throws against the Illini. But he didn’t do it often enough, and completing 12 of 30 passes isn’t going to be good enough for the Gophers late in the year. Finding some answers will no doubt be an emphasis during the upcoming bye week.

Video: No. 16 Nebraska 42, Rutgers 24

October, 25, 2014
Oct 25
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video Ameer Abdullah ran for 225 yards and three touchdowns and set a school record with 341 all-purpose yards to power Nebraska to a 42-24 win over Rutgers.

Video: Another huge day for Ameer Abdullah

October, 25, 2014
Oct 25
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Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah discusses his standout performance against Rutgers in which he rushed for 225 yards and three touchdowns.

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 9

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
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It's an interesting weekend for the Big Ten. On one hand, we have an intra-state rivalry on tap along with a nationally televised night game at one of the best atmospheres in the country.

On the other, only one of the conference's five games is expected to be close. Four of the underdogs are picked to lose by double digits this week, and the closest game isn't exactly a hot ticket: Minnesota at Illinois.

For the first time all season, we Big Ten writers all picked the same winners. But will there be an upset? Can someone surprise in the Big Ten? Let's take a closer look at the matchups:

Noon

Minnesota (6-1) at Illinois (3-4), ESPNU: The Gophers are still fighting for respect, as they appear at No. 24 in the USA Today poll -- but they're still left out of the Associated Press' top 25. They've quietly put together a solid season, with their only loss coming against TCU, and running back David Cobb could be the most underrated player in the conference. Illinois coach Tim Beckman is fighting for his job, and he and his offensive coordinator can't even seem to agree on whether a two-quarterback system is best for the team. The Illini have a plethora of defensive problems, and they can't afford to have their offense stumble.

Maryland (5-2) at Wisconsin (4-2), BTN: Melvin Gordon is one of the most dynamic backs in all of college football, and the Terrapins are one of the worst rushing defenses in all of college football. That's not exactly a recipe for success for the Terps. That being said, Wisconsin's woes through the air have been well-documented, and it would be no surprise to see the Terps dare Wisconsin to throw. Randy Edsall needs to get his own house in order, too. Maryland has a lot of firepower on offense, but C.J. Brown needs to find more consistency for this team to hang with the Badgers. Backup Caleb Rowe is out for the season, so it's Brown or bust. And Brown has thrown three picks to zero touchdowns in the last two games.

Rutgers (5-2) at Nebraska (6-1), ESPN2: The Scarlet Knights just can't catch a break with their schedule. They were dismantled by Ohio State 56-17 on Saturday and they play Wisconsin next week. Rutgers was the surprise team of the conference in the first half of the season, but it will have to show something in this second half to retain that title. It won't be easy. Like the Buckeyes, Nebraska boasts a balanced offense -- and Ameer Abdullah is the best back the Knights have seen since ... well ... it's been years. With one Big Ten loss already, Nebraska can't afford a slip-up. But it might just have the most talented team, overall, in the West.

3:30 p.m.

Michigan (3-4) at Michigan State (6-1), ABC: Since 2008, this rivalry has basically been owned by the Spartans. Mark Dantonio's team has won five out of the last six, with the Wolverines winning only once in a 12-10 game in 2012. Michigan is coming off a bye week -- and actually won its last Big Ten game, against Penn State -- but the Spartans are on another level. If U-M can pull off this upset, maybe Brady Hoke has an outside chance to save his job and the Wolverines really have sparked a turnaround. If not, expect the same Michigan storyline that you've heard since Week 2.

8 p.m.

Ohio State (5-1) at Penn State (4-2), ABC: The Buckeyes have scored at least 50 points in four straight games, but they haven't faced a defense quite like Penn State's. On the flip side, the Nittany Lions haven't faced any offense resembling Ohio State's, either. The key to an upset here is two-fold: Penn State's weak offensive line must somehow keep one of the nation's best front fours at bay (unlikely), or Penn State's defense has to play out of its mind and force turnovers (more likely). Ohio State pounded Penn State 63-14 last season, and the Lions would like nothing more than to avenge the worst loss in program history since 1899 (a 64-5 loss to Duquesne). This game will act as a good measuring stick for both J.T. Barrett and the PSU defense.

Required reading

Big Ten Week 9 predictions

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
9:00
AM ET
Is it a full moon or something? First, we have three people -- Brian Bennett, Josh Moyer and Mitch Sherman -- who notched perfect weeks last week. And now, all of our experts agreed on the games this week. Yes, strange days indeed.

Anyway ... here are the breakdowns:

Unanimous selections

Minnesota 31, Illinois 20: The Big Ten's worst run defense will get a heavy dose of David Cobb, the nation's carries leader (189) and No. 4 rusher (1,013). Like Purdue, Illinois will try to attack Minnesota with its speed and will have some success, but Minnesota remains perfect in league play.

Wisconsin 38, Maryland 30: Expect a ton of handoffs from Wisconsin's quarterbacks, who should want no part of Will Likely. But Maryland allows nearly 200 rush yards per game, which doesn't bode well against a rested Melvin Gordon.

Nebraska 41, Rutgers 27: Can the Huskers avoid a slow start? If so, they should be able to pull away from a Rutgers team that had no answers for Ohio State's offense. Quarterbacks Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Gary Nova both put up big numbers in this one.

Michigan State 24, Michigan 13: The Wolverines' points totals against MSU have dropped every year since 2004. They exceed last year's woeful production but can't stop the Spartans' Connor Cook and Tony Lippett, who connect for two touchdown strikes.

Ohio State 27, Penn State 16: J.T. Barrett won't go nuts against an improved Penn State defense that can shut down the run. But his counterpart, Christian Hackenberg, could be in real trouble if he's not protected from Joey Bosa and Ohio State's fearsome defensive line.

Our records:

Mitch Sherman: 62-13 (.827)
Brian Bennett: 60-15 (.800)
Austin Ward: 59-16 (.787)
Adam Rittenberg: 58-17 (.773)
Josh Moyer: 56-19 (.747)
Dan Murphy: 28-10 (.737)

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