NCF Nation: Northwestern Wildcats

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 13

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
10:00
AM ET
It's the second-to-last week of the season, and it's the first time all year that all 14 Big Ten teams are in action against one another in conference play. (Still hate you, double bye.) And there are no night games, so you'll have to be on top of your remote control game in the early afternoon.

Here's a look at what's on tap Saturday (all times ET):

Noon

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMelvin Gordon and Wisconsin are looking to punch their tickets to Indianapolis in Iowa.
No. 25 Minnesota (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten) at No. 23 Nebraska (8-2, 4-2), ESPN: The Gophers can win the Big Ten West by winning their final two games. But first they'll have to get through a Nebraska team that should be fighting mad after last week's embarrassment in Madison. Bo Pelini said this week that Ameer Abdullah might not be 100 percent the rest of the year.

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?

3:30 p.m.

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.

Required reading
Week 13 predictions | Bold calls

Ohio State offensive line again rises from the ashes

J.T. Barrett speeds toward Heisman race

Minnesota, Nebraska fight to move forward

Revised image suits Michigan's Jake Ryan

Rutgers not satisfied with bowl eligibility

'Chevy Bad Boys' power Wisconsin's No. 1 D

The cold truth: Embrace the B1G weather

Big Ten's second act worth watching

West Division title scenarios

"Dilly Bar Dan" enjoys his brush with fame

Bowl projections

Awards race tracker

Big Ten Week 13 predictions

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
9:00
AM ET


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

Unanimous decisions

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.

Our records:
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)

Big Ten bowl projections: Week 12

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
8:00
PM ET
This week's Big Ten bowls debate centered on the bottom of the projections, not the top. But first things first.

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
Outback: Wisconsin
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
At-large: Rutgers
At-large: Northwestern

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
2:00
PM ET


SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- His hair was a little thinner. The outside temperature was a lot lower. He was the one reining in his exuberant players this time around, not the one whom, he would say later Saturday, did not "have a clue" what was going on 19 years ago.

And yet after Northwestern pulled off another South Bend shocker, this one a 43-40 overtime victory that extended Notre Dame's late-season misery while resuscitating its own campaign, Pat Fitzgerald had a confession to make.

"I think it's much more enjoyable today," the ninth-year Wildcats coach said.

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesPat Fitzgerald's Wildcats pulled off another big win over the Irish on Saturday.
 He had entered the postgame press conference later than normal, the rare visiting coach who got to speak last in this building. Fitzgerald and Northwestern had waited 19 years for another shot at Notre Dame, its like-minded rival some 100 miles east. They came here in 1995 to open the season -- sun-baked, four-touchdown underdogs who would go on to do the unthinkable, recording the first of many upsets en route to a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl trip.

No trophies or bowl games were clinched this time around, but a 4-6 team now finds itself in position to extend its season to a bowl game after pulling off the improbable here once again.

"[I] talked to them on Tuesday about a playoff mentality going back to high school: You get to November, the weather gets nasty, and that's when champions are crowned," Fitzgerald said. "We're not going to win a Big Ten championship, we understand that. We can still achieve our goals, but we have to have our back against the wall, playoff-type mentality and win and advance. We've advanced to another week to keep this team alive for postseason play."

Northwestern football, he said, is in a totally different place now than it was the last time these Cats took the field here. All-Americans like himself -- All-Americans who grew up on Chicago's South Side bleeding blue and gold, yet somehow ended up in Evanston -- undertook a massive culture change, one that led to three Big Ten titles, and one that now sheds the weight of a season that had been cast in a negative light.

Fitzgerald can thank himself for that, too, as the man just a few weeks shy of his 40th birthday can get Northwestern to its sixth bowl game in its past seven seasons with just two more wins, over Purdue and Illinois.

Those might look like child's play compared to what his players pulled off here on the third Saturday of November, sizing up an Irish team just a week removed from the College Football Playoff picture and delivering it another gut punch.

There was a blocked extra-point try on Notre Dame's second touchdown, which Nick VanHoose returned all the way and made what should have been a 14-7 game a 13-9 one.

There was the fallout of those Irish special-teams miscues: Coach Brian Kelly's questionable decision to go for two after the Irish's final touchdown, an incomplete pass that kept it a 40-29 Irish lead instead of putting Northwestern in a position where it would have to score two touchdowns.

Then, of course, there was the fumble -- the fourth, final and most costly Irish turnover, this from sure-handed captain Cam McDaniel, which gave Northwestern the ball back with a three-point deficit and 1 minute, 28 seconds to work with.

"They're giving us a shot, guys," Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian said in the huddle. "Just let it rip."

Jack Mitchell's 45-yard field goal sent the game to overtime. His 41-yard kick -- which came after another Irish special-teams miscue, a missed 42-yard try in overtime -- set off a party nearly two decades in the making for the large contingent dressed in purple.

Said running back Justin Jackson, who could not bear to watch the game-winning kick: "First of all, that fumble was unbelievable, how we got that ball back. And then the drive, the field goal, and then for them to miss the field goal and for us to make a field goal -- it's a storybook ending to a crazy game. So it was really fun."

Fun for cornerback Matthew Harris, who was on the ledge of the stands celebrating with traveling fans long after the team had sung the alma mater. Fun for those traveling fans -- one of whom waved a purple T-shirt bearing a Chicago Sun-Times cover from 1995 that read: NU 17, ND 15. And fun for the man who had 11 tackles in that '95 meeting and sold this group on the belief that lightning could strike twice.

Fitzgerald held Siemian in a long embrace after the game. He made references to iPhones and Instagrams, luxuries and pitfalls of today's youth that will grant his players more attention than he ever received. He mentioned conversations with Ara Parseghian, the legendary former Northwestern and Notre Dame coach with whom he speaks regularly. He said boardrooms across Fortune 500 companies will feature more purple than usual Monday, as proud alumni revel in another victory at Notre Dame.

Nineteen years later, and here Fitzgerald was in a familiar position, at home once again after winning over a few more non-believers.

"I wouldn't want to play for anybody else in the country," Siemian said. "He's awesome. That's it. I just wouldn't want to play for anybody else."

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 12

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
10:00
AM ET
Bundle up if you're going to a Big Ten game this weekend. Temperatures could be in the 20s or lower in some places, and there's possibilities for snow. Remember: Layers.

If you're just watching the Week 12 games from someplace warm, then A) you're smart and B) here's what you need to know about today's lineup (all times ET):

Noon

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJ.T. Barrett and Ohio State can't afford to have a letdown against Minnesota on Saturday.
No. 8 Ohio State (8-1, 5-0 Big Ten) at No. 25 Minnesota (7-2, 4-1), ABC: Can the Golden Gophers pull off the big upset at home? The cold weather might help slow down the Buckeyes' surging offense, but Minnesota will have to play a nearly perfect game. Ohio State could be battling a letdown factor after the win at Michigan State, but it can't afford to get distracted given its place in the playoff chase.

Iowa (6-3, 3-1) at Illinois (4-5, 1-4), Big Ten Network: The maddeningly inconsistent Hawkeyes look to bounce back from that 51-14 thrashing in Minneapolis last week; remember, they can still win the Big Ten West by winning out and having the Gophers lose twice more. The Fighting Illini are just hoping to get closer to bowl eligibility and possibly preserving Tim Beckman's job. Having Wes Lunt back at quarterback this week should help.

Temple (5-4, 3-3 American) at Penn State (5-4, 2-4), ESPN2: The Owls will try to beat the Nittany Lions for the first time since 1941 and for the first time ever in State College. Penn State hopes to clinch bowl eligibility and use that get-out-of-jail card from the NCAA. Don't expect a lot of points from either side in this one.

3:30 p.m.

No. 16 Nebraska (8-1, 4-1) at No. 20 Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1), ABC: This is much more than Ameer Abdullah vs. Melvin Gordon, though that showdown between the two marquee backs could be great if Abdullah is healthy. The winner will remain in great shape in the West Division race, while the loser will need a lot of help. Wisconsin has the home-field advantage, but the Cornhuskers will be by far the best team the Badgers have played since the season-opening loss to LSU.

Northwestern (3-6, 2-4) at No. 18 Notre Dame (7-2), NBC: The Wildcats have been looking forward to this game for a long time, but they'd hoped to be in better shape for it. Northwestern has lost four straight and is averaging just 12.5 points per game in that span. The Fighting Irish aren't scheduled to play another Big Ten team until September 2016, when they'll face Michigan State.

Indiana (3-6, 0-5) at Rutgers (5-4, 1-4), BTN: This is the first-ever meeting between these two teams, and no one is exactly clamoring for it right now. The Hoosiers have lost five straight against Power 5 opponents since beating Missouri and have virtually no offense to speak of. Rutgers has lost three straight and was outscored by 94 points in that span but should clinch bowl eligibility here.

8 p.m.

No. 12 Michigan State (7-2, 4-1) at Maryland (6-3, 3-2), BTN: How will the Spartans respond to the Ohio State loss? Will they come out swinging or still be smarting over the loss of their playoff (and most likely Big Ten title) hopes? Maryland has enough big-play ability to make this interesting, even without Stefon Diggs.

Bye: Michigan, Purdue

Required reading

Week 12 predictions | Bold calls

Nineteen years later, Northwestern looks to shock Irish again

Melvin Gordon's Heisman moment

Ameer Abdullah gets another shot to beat the odds

Gophers dance into November relevancy

Explosive plays expose cracks in Michigan State's defense

Buckeyes trust Jalin Marshall to do it all

Indiana's Tevin Coleman defies the odds

Take Two: Big Ten's best defense

Awards race tracker
From hero to liar to forgotten man: that's Josh Shaw's life from August until now.

The USC cornerback and team captain only has himself to blame for his predicament. He was the one who made up a feel-good story to explain his injured ankles. He was the one who initially hid it from his parents. He was the one who lied to Steve Sarkisian's face when the USC coach asked if he was telling the truth.

Shaw paid the price, suffering physical pain but much more mental anguish as he watched USC play its first 10 games, including Thursday night's home win against Cal. Three months later, it's fair to ask: Does he deserve a second chance? More on that in a bit.

The forgotten man is finally speaking about what happened, telling the Los Angeles Times' Bill Plaschke that he "hit the bottom" after details of The Lie came to light. Shaw explained that after an altercation with his longtime girlfriend, Angela Chilton, which he insists never became physical, he panicked when he saw police pull up to his building, thinking that she had called them.
"If she did say anything, I'm a black man with dreadlocks, and with everything going on in the country at the time, all that stuff in St. Louis [Ferguson, Mo.] … in my mind, I'm going to leap from the balcony so authorities did not see me."

That's how Shaw hurt himself (though not as bad as he initially thought). But he needed to come up with a better explanation for the injuries than the truth. So he made up the story about rescuing his 7-year-old nephew from drowning.

Shaw tells Plaschke that he thought the lie would hold up and, more important, could live only inside Heritage Hall. When USC's sports information department decided, understandably, to put out a news item explaining the reason for Shaw's injury, it once again gave Shaw the chance to recant. He didn't.

You know the rest: story went viral, Shaw lied to Sarkisian, questions remained from school officials and, eventually, Shaw came clean.
"It gets harder and harder to keep up with lie after lie after lie … the timeline wasn't right ... everything was off ... but I was still lying," Shaw said. "I thought I was in way too deep."

Shaw has stayed away from team activities ever since, even though Sarkisian said in September that he would be welcomed back to the team (Shaw appeared on Thursday's game program, which was printed before the season). He is medically cleared but remains sidelined as school and police investigate the situation. After a police report is filed, USC will conduct its own investigation.

USC has three games left, including the regular-season finale against Notre Dame at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Time is running out, but should Shaw be allowed to suit up one more time for the Trojans?

Yes. But only if what he said about The Lie -- namely that he never became violent with Chilton -- is proven true. The two "adamantly deny" that the argument became physical still live together in the apartment where the incident occurred.

Shaw sounds like a good guy who did a bad, stupid thing by repeatedly lying, and has suffered for it. But he had a strong track record before the incident. He appears remorseful in Plaschke's piece.

There are far worse characters in college football than Josh Shaw, ones who continue to play every Saturday. Second chances are rewarded to athletes who commit more egregious offenses.

So if things check out with the investigations, Shaw should return to the field before the season is done.

Florida State the new Quarterback U?

Whatever you think of Jameis Winston, the Florida State quarterback will leave a production void when he leaves Tallahassee, likely after this season. But the Seminoles are well prepared for life after Jameis. They received a verbal commitment Thursday from quarterback recruit Malik Henry, the top prospect in the 2016 class. Florida State already has commitments from two ESPN 300 quarterbacks in the 2015 class, Deondre Francois and De'Andre Johnson. Like Winston, Henry also intends to play baseball at Florida State and said he's fine with the inevitable comparisons to Winston.

Florida State has a storied tradition at several position groups, but the Seminoles are building quite the pipeline under center through recruiting.

Around the nation
As all great upsets go, this one started with a pregame speech that has only grown with time.

Gary Barnett's Northwestern team was a four-touchdown underdog as it entered Notre Dame Stadium for its 1995 opener. He knew his players could have a better season than most were expecting, but he doubled-down on them before taking the field, ordering them to act like they have been there when they win.

No carrying the coach off the field. No Gatorade shower. When they win, not if.

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPat Fitzgerald has a win over Notre Dame as a Northwestern player. On Saturday, he'll try to nab one as the Wildcats' head coach.
"I was just trying to build confidence in our team," Barnett told ESPN.com. "I was telling them that we all know we're going to win, and when we do win let's not act like this is the biggest win of the century; let's just act like we're used to doing this thing, and everybody needs to get used to us doing this sort of thing, and that's the message we'll send."

Did they ever. Nostalgia has been in the air this week as the Wildcats resume their rivalry Saturday with the Irish, the schools' first meeting on the gridiron since that fateful Sept. 2 matchup 19 years ago. The 17-15 stunner that propelled Northwestern to a Big Ten title that season is arguably the greatest Wildcats victory of them all, and one of its engineers will take center stage this weekend on that same visiting sideline in South Bend, Indiana.

"Contrary maybe to popular belief, I think we think that about every game," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, a linebacker on that 1995 team, said of Barnett's expectation to win. "Otherwise I don't know why you compete."

Fitzgerald recorded 11 tackles in that win, en route to the first of consecutive consensus All-America honors. An Orland Park, Illinois, native, Fitzgerald, naturally, grew up a fan of the Irish.

"I'm Catholic from the South Side -- you didn't have a choice," he cracked. "Absolutely. And then we had a great player from my high school, Jeff Alm, play. Unfortunately he's passed away, but Jeff was a great player at Notre Dame. He was an All-American. So he'd come back and work out, things of that nature, at Sandburg [High]."

How and why Fitzgerald did not end up in South Bend remains somewhat of a mystery, with the ninth-year Northwestern coach saying this week that he had attended a camp, but that he never took an official visit.

Notre Dame's loss ended up being Northwestern's gain, with Barnett just happy to land the prized linebacker regardless of how he fell into his lap.

"I think all along he wanted to go to Notre Dame and he was putting off committing to us, waiting to hear from Notre Dame, if they were going to offer him," Barnett said. "He was one of our last commitments, actually. So I'm not sure, he'll have to tell you how that all went down. And I didn't really care. We were recruiting him, we didn't care if Notre Dame turned him down or whatever. We wanted him on our football team, so we were fortunate that whatever happened, happened."

Barnett gets a kick out of how everything will have come full-circle for Fitzgerald this weekend. He recalled telling his assistants during training camp of Fitzgerald's sophomore year in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that they would be jockeying to hire Fitzgerald as an assistant if any of them ever took head coaching jobs down the line.

Ninth-ranked Notre Dame proved to be the first of several heavyweights Northwestern would take down in 1995, as the Wildcats won at No. 7 Michigan and beat No. 12 Penn State before falling to No. 17 USC in the Rose Bowl. Barnett looks at that campaign -- and, by extension, that Notre Dame game -- as the launching point for the past two decades of Northwestern football, as the program has gone from a conference bottom-feeder to one that went on to share two more Big Ten titles, and one that has reached five bowl games under Fitzgerald.

A loss at 7-2 Notre Dame on Saturday would make it consecutive seasons without a bowl for Northwestern. Still, bigger upsets have happened, as everyone from these teams' last meeting knows.

That 1995 tilt ended up being decided, in large part, on Irish quarterback Ron Powlus tripping during a two-point conversion. Two months before the game, sophomore defensive back Marcel Price was fatally shot while home in Nashville. His memory stuck with the Wildcats throughout their historic run.

"I remembered watching Powlus go back and slip, and somebody on the sideline said, 'Marcel made that tackle,'" Barnett said. "I think after we look back, it certainly is a big play. But at the time I don't recall thinking other than we just maintained our lead. That's what you're thinking at the time, and what do you do next."

Big Ten Week 12 predictions

November, 13, 2014
Nov 13
9:00
AM ET
Why Nebraska will win: Wisconsin's defense has been great this season, but it hasn't played a Power 5 offense ranked within the top 60. Nebraska is No. 17. The Huskers have the ability to keep a defense off-balance with one of the top rushers in the nation in Ameer Abdullah -- who should still play, even if he's not 100 percent -- and with a passing offense that averages nearly 60 yards more a game than Wisconsin. Gary Andersen's squad hasn't seen a team quite like Nebraska, and Wisconsin managed to lose to Northwestern, after all. I've been high on Nebraska all season, and I'm not about to jump off the bandwagon now. Nebraska comes away with the Freedom Trophy. ... Nebraska 34, Wisconsin 28. -- Josh Moyer

Why Wisconsin will win: Abdullah is questionable for Saturday's game after spraining his MCL two weeks ago. Even if he plays at full strength, which doesn't seem likely for the senior this weekend, Abdullah struggled the last time he faced a top-notch defensive front. Wisconsin ranks No. 5 nationally in rushing defense. The Badgers' offense is averaging more than 40 points per game during its current four-game winning streak. Wisconsin's passing game showed a glimmer of existence in last week's 34-16 win over Purdue. And of course the Badgers still have Melvin Gordon, now the country's leading rusher. He gets the better of this battle with Abdullah and so do the Badgers. ... Wisconsin 36, Nebraska 28. -- Dan Murphy

Why Illinois will win: Quarterback Wes Lunt, the Big Ten’s most productive passer, returns for the Illini, who played respectably without him and figure to get a big boost from the presence of their offensive leader. Iowa, meanwhile, is spiraling after that embarrassment last week at Minnesota. And realistically, what’s left for the Hawkeyes, who are already bowl eligible and must win out -- and get help from the Gophers -- to take the West? If Iowa is to stage an uprising, that seems more likely in the final two weeks at home against Wisconsin or Nebraska. Meanwhile, Illinois has plenty for which to play, needing two wins in its manageable three-game finish to get to .500 and perhaps save the program from a tumultuous offseason. ... Illinois 31, Iowa 21. -- Mitch Sherman

Why Iowa will win: No Big Ten team is more frustratingly inconsistent than the Hawkeyes, but after last weekend’s blowout loss, maybe they’ve finally purged all the poor performances from their system in time for the stretch run. At a minimum, Jake Rudock and the Iowa offense figure to put up points against a hapless Illinois defense that is allowing nearly 37 points per game. And even with Lunt back running the attack for the Illini, the Hawkeyes should be able to generate enough pressure with Drew Ott leading the charge up front. Obviously everything doesn’t always work out as planned for Iowa, but it should this weekend. ... Iowa 31, Illinois 20. -- Austin Ward

Unanimous selections

Ohio State 38, Minnesota 17: Maybe the cold weather can slow down the Buckeyes and an offense that is once again rolling at a record-setting pace. The Gophers have a hard-nosed, disciplined defense at their disposal as well, but Ohio State simply has too many weapons and too much momentum.

Rutgers 20, Indiana 10: The Hoosiers are a mess on offense, and there doesn’t seem to be anything Tevin Coleman can do about it at this point without any help at all from the passing attack. Rutgers had an extra week to prepare, gets to play at home and is plenty motivated with bowl eligibility dangling in front of it -- not a good setup for Indiana.

Michigan State 38, Maryland 17: An angry group of Spartans will be looking to take out some frustration this weekend, and unfortunately for the Terrapins, they happen to sit in the post-Nov. 8 spot on the schedule. Even worse for Maryland, it won’t have Stefon Diggs on hand to try to hit some big plays and keep pace with the Spartans.

Penn State 13, Temple 7: Considering all the expectations heaped on quarterback Christian Hackenberg ahead of his sophomore season, it still seems odd that it’s an elite defense carrying the Nittany Lions. The Owls can do some damage on that side of the ball also, but they’ll struggle mightily to move the chains on offense.

Notre Dame 27, Northwestern 13: The Wildcats aren’t playing for much more than pride after their 2-point conversion debacle last week. They aren’t officially out of contention for the postseason yet, but the Irish should take care of that.

Our records:
1. Mitch Sherman: 73-18 (.802)
2. Austin Ward: 72-19 (.791)
3. Brian Bennett: 71-20 (.780)
4. Dan Murphy: 41-13 (.759)
5. Adam Rittenberg: 69-22 (.758)
6. Josh Moyer: 68-23 (.747)

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 11

November, 9, 2014
Nov 9
2:00
PM ET
Lessons learned after Week 11 in the Big Ten:

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsA clutch performance by J.T. Barrett on Saturday night helped keep Ohio State's playoff hopes alive.
1. Ohio State is king of the East and one of the B1G's two best bets for the playoff: Michigan State linebacker Taiwan Jones said he felt as if the College Football Playoff started Saturday. He was kind of right, but the Spartans are out, and the Buckeyes are in ... the playoff picture. Few people saw the Buckeyes' dominating 49-37 win over Michigan State coming, and that's exactly what they needed to make a statement in this playoff race. J.T. Barrett outplayed Connor Cook, Ohio State scored touchdowns on six straight drives, and there was no sad pizza eating for Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer. Margin of victory can only help the Buckeyes, and they'll need to keep playing like this to show they deserve one of the playoff's four spots. Only two Big Ten teams, one-loss Ohio State and Nebraska, are in contention for the playoff now, and they could face each other in the Big Ten title game. Of course ...

2. ... The Wild West still remains wild: Just when you think you’ve started to figure out the West Division, with Minnesota coming off a puzzling loss to Illinois and Iowa blowing out Northwestern, Jerry Kill’s squad steps up and absolutely dominates the Hawkeyes in a 51-14 thrashing that was over by halftime. Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin all boast just one Big Ten loss now -- so anything can happen in these last three weeks, especially when you consider these three teams will all play one another, with Nebraska taking on Wisconsin next Saturday. (Even Iowa, which still plays Wisconsin and Nebraska, isn’t technically out of the equation.) It’s looking more and more as if we’ll have to wait until the final week of the regular season to get a clear picture of who will move forward. Lessons learned: It was way too premature to write off Minnesota (and Kill’s dancing skills), and it’s still too early to pick a clear favorite.

3. Wisconsin passing game has some potential: Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy appeared doomed early this season, but they might end up just fine if Stave can build off part of Saturday’s performance. The Badgers set a season high with 30 pass attempts, and Stave finished 19-of-29 for 216 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His QBR of 77.2 was the highest of any Wisconsin starter in the Big Ten season, and he was especially hot in the second quarter of the 34-16 win. This was about as balanced as Wisconsin’s offense has been all season, and if defenses are forced to take some of the focus away from the running game, the Badgers’ offense could become even more dangerous. One game doesn’t make a trend, but it does show Stave is capable of more this season.

4. Several B1G offenses are regressing: If you watched -- and stayed awake through -- Penn State's 13-7 win over Indiana and Michigan's 10-9 win over Northwestern, feel free to pat yourself on the back. Those four teams combined for three offensive touchdowns, 39 points, 33 punts and 10 turnovers. It wasn’t pretty. For Indiana, it’s more understandable because Nate Sudfeld's injury forced this team to become even more one-dimensional. But for the other three, every week seems to lead to fewer answers and more questions. Turnovers continue to be an issue for Devin Gardner and the Wolverines, Trevor Siemian remains incredibly inconsistent … and Penn State? Well, nothing seems to be going well there. Penn State, Michigan and Northwestern are ranked outside the top 100 in scoring offense, and the Hoosiers have averaged 11.3 points per game with Zander Diamont as the starting quarterback. These offenses aren’t showing much progress.

5. Penn State bowl hopes pinned to the defense: As bad as the Nittany Lions’ offense has been, the defense has performed nearly perfectly. Indiana never reached the red zone Saturday, Tevin Coleman didn’t reach 100 rushing yards for the first time all season, and the Lions’ defense didn’t allow a single point. (IU’s only touchdown came on an interception return for a TD.) PSU needs just one more win for bowl eligibility, but even with Illinois and Temple left on the slate, that’s no guarantee. The offense hasn’t once reached 20 points in regulation in a Big Ten game, but on the flip side, the defense has allowed just nine touchdowns in regulation in six B1G games. This is arguably the best defense in the Big Ten, but it’s also arguably the worst offense.

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 11

November, 7, 2014
Nov 7
10:00
AM ET
Nov. 8 has been circled on our calendars for a long time because of one game. But it's not the only game on Saturday in the Big Ten. Here's a look at all the action on tap (all times ET):

Noon games

Iowa (6-2, 3-1) at Minnesota (6-2, 3-1), ESPN2: It's the battle for my all-time favorite trophy, Floyd of Rosedale. It's also the first game in a four-week showdown between the four West Division contenders, and the loser may find itself out of the running. Iowa turned in its best performance of the year last week vs. Northwestern, while the Gophers were uncharacteristically sloppy in their previous two games -- including a bad loss at Illinois -- before a bye week.

Penn State (4-4, 1-4 Big Ten) at Indiana (3-5, 0-4), Big Ten Network: Christian Hackenberg may be struggling, but Indiana would gladly take those kinds of struggles. The Hoosiers have generated just 35 passing yards in their past two games combined. Penn State likely needs this win to make a bowl, but the Nittany Lions did lose in Bloomington last year.

[+] EnlargeWisconsin's Melvin Gordon
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsIn two career games against Purdue, Melvin Gordon has rushed for 227 yards.
No. 25 Wisconsin (6-2, 3-1) at Purdue (3-6, 1-4), ESPNU: The Badgers have run roughshod over Purdue the past couple of years with more than 850 yards rushing the past two years combined. The Boilers are improved but will be without top receiver Danny Anthrop, who suffered a torn ACL vs. Nebraska. If Wisconsin holds serve at home, it sets up a huge game next week against the Cornhuskers in Madison.

3:30 p.m.

Michigan (4-5, 2-3) at Northwestern (3-5, 2-3), ESPN2: The Wolverines showed a pulse last week against Indiana, while we can't say the same for Northwestern. The past two meetings between these teams have gone into overtime, as Michigan pulled a couple rabbits out of its Maize and Blue hat.

8 p.m.

No. 14 Ohio State (7-1, 4-0) at No. 8 Michigan State (7-1, 4-0), ABC: Here it is, the one we've all been waiting for. It's the de facto East Division title game, a playoff eliminator, a rematch of last year's Big Ten championship game and the "College GameDay" choice for Week 11. Not much more needs to be said. Can't wait.

Byes: Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, Rutgers

Required reading

Week 11 predictions | Bold calls

Michigan State's Jeremy Langford ready for another big game

Meet Joey Bosa: Social media superstar

Different Ohio State offense ready for Spartans

Michigan State offense clings to blue-collar identity

Take Two: Better offense in the big game?

Don't sleep on improving Big Ten West

Remember the past or move on? Delicate balance for Penn State

Does Big Ten scheduling strategy still make sense?

Awards race tracker

Bowl projections

Big Ten Week 11 predictions

November, 6, 2014
Nov 6
9:00
AM ET


Why Michigan State will win: I went back and forth on this pick for several days and was tempted to take the Buckeyes, who strike me as a hungry team seeking a much-needed validating win. But I think home field is huge here, especially with all the young Ohio State players going into an intimidating environment -- much like they did at Penn State. I'm not sure how well Ohio State will be able to run the ball outside of J.T. Barrett against the Michigan State defense, and as long as Connor Cook is not careless with his throws, I'm confident the Spartans will move the ball and score. It's a great matchup between two outstanding teams, but Michigan State is a little deeper, more experienced and has the home-field edge. ... Michigan State 31, Ohio State 28 -- Brian Bennett

Why Ohio State will win: Whether the Buckeyes want to call it a rivalry or not, the matchup with the Spartans has certainly had their attention since having their national-title aspirations ripped away by Michigan State in December. That motivation might help neutralize the Spartans’ home-field advantage, so the intangibles may well be a wash. That just leaves it up to the talent on the field and the ability to execute, and with the offense not missing a beat with Barrett at quarterback and a defense that has dramatically improved since Michigan State carved it up a year ago, Ohio State gets the nod and takes control of the East Division. ... Ohio State 24, Michigan State 23 -- Austin Ward



Why Iowa will win: BACON! Sorry, I just needed to write that. The most delicious rivalry in college football resumes Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, and I expect a very competitive contest. Minnesota has had two weeks to stew (bacon stew?) after its ugly loss at Illinois. Iowa, meanwhile, finally put it all together Saturday against Northwestern. This will be an incredibly physical game on both sides and points could be at a premium. Minnesota's David Cobb records another 100-yard game, but Iowa shows more balance on offense and wins on a Jake Rudock touchdown strike to Jake Duzey in the final minute. Floyd resides in Iowa City for another year. ... Iowa 20, Minnesota 17 -- Adam Rittenberg

Why Minnesota will win: I'll take an order of the Gopher bacon stew, Adam. Not only has Minnesota had an extra week to kick itself and heal itself, but the offense has also had some time to further develop the play-action dimension of its attack that started to peek out of its shell during the last few games. Wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky probably won't be available Saturday, but tight end Maxx Williams can be a difference maker. With Cobb dishing out body blows, the Gophers will only need to pop a couple big plays. Iowa puts up a good fight on defense, but becomes the first team to fall in the race for the Big Ten West. ... Minnesota 24, Iowa 20 -- Dan Murphy



Why Northwestern will win: This has more to do with the law of averages than it does any kind of trending movement for the Wildcats and Wolverines. What happens when you match two wildly inconsistent teams? I’m banking on a pillow fight of the variety you’d least expect based on the results of last week when Northwestern failed to show against Iowa, and Michigan looked unusually efficient against fast-fading Indiana. But the Wolverines have not played well in consecutive games since the first two weeks of last season. And unless Northwestern is ready to flush this season, its final push must start now. Statistically, the Wildcats are bad in just about every way, but look for an inspired effort at home. ... Northwestern 28, Michigan 23 -- Mitch Sherman

Why Michigan will win: It's probably best just to avert your eyes in this one, as no Big Ten teams have underachieved quite as much as these two. Neither is consistent, neither is very good -- but someone has to win. The Wolverines have the big edge on defense, as they're ranked No. 9 nationally compared to Northwestern's No. 60 spot in total defense. And Trevor Siemian has struggled against worse defenses. It won't be pretty but, as long as turnovers don't completely derail U-M's offense, Brady Hoke's squad comes away with the win. ... Michigan 24, Northwestern 21 -- Josh Moyer

Unanimous selections:

Wisconsin 41, Purdue 24: Wisconsin has rolled through three straight lesser opponents. Purdue seems to be headed in the right direction, but it is not close enough to avoid getting run over by Melvin Gordon and the Badgers.

Penn State 27, Indiana 10: Indiana needs to track down an offense before anyone will pick it as a winner again. Amid the Penn State defense isn't a particularly good place to go hunting for such things this season.

Our records:
1. Mitch Sherman: 71-15 (.826)
T-2. Brian Bennett: 68-18 (.791)
T-2. Austin Ward: 68-18 (.791)
4. Adam Rittenberg: 66-20 (.767)
5. Josh Moyer: 65-21 (.756)
6. Dan Murphy: 37-12 (.755)

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 10

November, 2, 2014
Nov 2
2:00
PM ET

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 10

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
10:00
AM ET
November is almost here, and that means it's time for the championship push in the Big Ten. While there are no games between ranked teams this weekend, there are some contests that could separate pretenders from contenders.

Here's a look at what's on tap Saturday (all times ET):

Noon

Northwestern (3-4, 2-2 Big Ten) at Iowa (5-2, 2-1), Big Ten Network: The games between these two are often close, with four of the past six meetings being decided by seven points or fewer, including last season's overtime affair. Both the Wildcats and Hawkeyes have similar statistical profiles, so this could be another thriller.

Maryland (5-3, 2-2) at Penn State (4-3, 1-3), ESPN2: The Nittany Lions and Terrapins have not played since 1993, and this could become a new Big Ten rivalry -- provided that Maryland can actually make it competitive. The Terps have won only once in 37 tries against Penn State (1961). Nittany Lions coach James Franklin used to be Maryland's head-coach-in-waiting, while Terrapins boss Randy Edsall is from Pennsylvania.

Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1) at Rutgers (5-3, 1-3), ESPN: This is the first-ever meeting between the Scarlet Knights and the Badgers, who appear to be traveling different paths. Rutgers has been blown out in its past two games -- at Ohio State and at Nebraska -- while Wisconsin just put together its best effort of the season in a 52-7 win over Maryland. Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova (knee) is questionable, which could make things tougher against a Wisconsin defense ranked No. 7 nationally in points allowed.

3:30 p.m.

Purdue (3-5, 1-3) at No. 15 Nebraska (7-1, 3-1), ABC/ESPN2: The Boilers' offense is vastly improved, but it will need to find a way to keep pace with a Huskers squad that's averaging 42.8 points per game at home. Purdue ranks 11th in the Big Ten in rush defense and could have a hard time stopping Ameer Abdullah.

Indiana (3-4, 0-3) at Michigan (3-5, 1-3), BTN: Last season's game produced 110 points and more than 1,300 yards. That seems highly unlikely this year, as both teams are struggling to score. Devin Gardner will remain the Wolverines' starting quarterback, while Indiana hopes Zander Diamont can improve after he threw for just 11 yards in his college debut, versus Michigan State.

8 p.m.

Illinois (4-4, 1-3) at No 16 Ohio State (6-1, 3-0), ABC: The Illibuck game might not be ready for prime time unless Illinois can build off last week's rare Big Ten win versus Minnesota. The Illini are last in the Big Ten in total defense, while Ohio State is putting up 44.3 points per game. So, yeah, it could get ugly (and cold, with temperatures expected to dip into the low 30s in Columbus).

Byes: Michigan State, Minnesota

Required reading

Week 10 predictions | Bold calls

Take Two: Abdullah or Gordon to NYC

Ameer Abdullah fights to see through the jungle

Gordon does Gotham; return trip in store

Ohio State learning more about J.T. Barrett

James Franklin to face familiar opponent

Michigan's issues run deeper than Hoke

Spartans sharpen focus as stakes grow

Big Ten playoff tracker

SPONSORED HEADLINES