NCF Nation: Wisconsin Badgers

SEC viewer's guide: Week 13

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
10:00
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Saturday feels a little like the calm before the storm in the SEC. There are eight games on the docket, including a couple of intriguing matchups, and yet everybody is already talking about the rivalry games next week.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s a preview of this Saturday’s slate. All times ET.

Noon

Eastern Kentucky at Florida, SEC Network: It might be a bit strange to see Will Muschamp on the sideline Saturday considering he won’t be back at Florida next season, but he’s staying on to coach the team’s last two regular-season games. How will the players respond to a coach who’s on his way out? Based on Dante Fowler Jr.'s tweet this week, I'd expect them to come out and play hard for their coach. Also, the Gators become bowl eligible with a win.

South Alabama at South Carolina, ESPN3: Raise your hand if you had South Alabama becoming bowl eligible before South Carolina this season. If your hand is raised, you’re lying. Credit the job Joey Jones has done in his sixth season with the Jaguars, but don’t expect an upset on Saturday. The Gamecocks bounced back from that excruciating overtime loss to Tennessee with a solid, come-from-behind win in the Swamp last weekend.

Charleston Southern at No. 10 Georgia, SEC Network: If there was ever a week to give Nick Chubb a break, this would be it. With Todd Gurley out for the season, Chubb is once again the man in Georgia’s backfield, but fellow freshman Sony Michel is expected to return Saturday, and both he and Brendan Douglas should see plenty of carries. All three backs could be in for a big day against the Buccaneers.

[+] EnlargeBo Wallace
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsBo Wallace and Ole Miss will have a tough matchup Saturday against an Arkansas defense fresh off a shutout win over LSU.
3:30 p.m.

No. 8 Ole Miss at Arkansas, CBS: After last weekend, Ole Miss still has a chance to win the SEC West. Auburn knocking off Alabama isn’t likely, but crazier things have happened. First, though, the Rebels have to take care of business Saturday against an Arkansas team that is dangerous at home and confident after winning its first conference game in over two years. The Razorbacks allowed a total of 31 points to Alabama, Mississippi State and LSU this season. That doesn’t bode well for Bo Wallace, who will be without top target Laquon Treadwell. With rain in the forecast, points might be hard to come by in this one.

4 p.m.

Western Carolina at No. 1 Alabama, SEC Network: The Alabama basketball team had trouble with the Catamounts earlier this week, but I don’t expect much of a struggle for the football team on Saturday. Western Carolina might be a “good little team,” as Nick Saban put it, but the Crimson Tide have dominated all three previous meetings and should do the same this season. If anything, it will give us another look at backup quarterback Jake Coker.

7 p.m.

Samford at No. 14 Auburn, ESPNU: There are a lot of connections between these two in-state schools. Samford coach Pat Sullivan won a Heisman Trophy at Auburn back in 1971. Samford assistant coach Kodi Burns played and coached at Auburn. And Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee spent a year at Samford before joining Gus Malzahn at Arkansas State. The game itself won’t be very entertaining, but it should get the Tigers back on track.

7:30 p.m.

No. 20 Missouri at Tennessee, ESPN: Missouri has to lose, right? There’s no way the Tigers can get back to Atlanta for the second straight season. Consider this -- Gary Pinkel’s team has won 12 of its past 14 conference games and has won nine straight road games, including seven straight in the SEC. Maybe it’s time we start taking this team seriously. The Tigers are going to have their hands full Saturday against a Tennessee team on the rise. The Volunteers have won back-to-back games with Joshua Dobbs under center, and a win over Missouri would make them bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.

Vanderbilt at No. 4 Mississippi State, SEC Network: Dan Mullen was a happy man Tuesday when the latest College Football Playoff rankings came out, as his Bulldogs were still among the four playoff teams despite losing to Alabama the week before. Now the question is: Can they stay in the top four and hold off teams such as TCU, Ohio State and Baylor? Mississippi State has two chances left to impress the committee, beginning with Saturday’s tilt against the Commodores. It’s important the Bulldogs not only win, but win big.
Lessons learned from the second-to-last week of the Big Ten regular season:

1. Ohio State won but may lose ground: If "game control" is as important as College Football Playoff selection committee chairman Jeff Long said last week, Ohio State should find itself in a spot of bother come Tuesday night. The No. 6 Buckeyes led Indiana just 14-13 at halftime and trailed deep into the third quarter before pulling out a 42-27 win. And remember that these Hoosiers are winless in Big Ten play and now just 3-8 overall. A letdown after winning on the road against Michigan State and Minnesota could have been expected, but Urban Meyer's team needs all the positive impressions it can create. It wouldn't be surprising to see Ohio State slip in next week's poll, just as TCU did after a shaky win over Kansas. On the plus side, the Buckeyes clinched a spot in the Big Ten championship game and will have a chance to add a quality win there. If all else fails, Meyer & Co. should just remind everybody that Indiana did beat Missouri -- or that Florida State barely wins every week.

[+] EnlargeJalin Marshall
Jason Mowry/Icon SportswireOhio State's Jalin Marshall scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to go along with another score late in the third, rallying Ohio State past Indiana.
2. One ax to rule the West: Minnesota's 28-24 win at Nebraska and Wisconsin's 26-24 road victory over Iowa simplified the West Division race. The Gophers and Badgers are the last two contenders left, and in a stroke of great fortune, they will play for Paul Bunyan's Axe next Saturday in Madison. The longest-played rivalry in the FBS will have its most meaning in years, with the winner advancing to the Big Ten championship game against Ohio State. Wisconsin has won the ax 10 straight years, so Minnesota has its work cut out. But the Gophers have been proving people wrong all season. They will need a healthy David Cobb to have a chance.

3. Land of Lincoln game holds intrigue: If we had told you a few weeks ago that the season finale between Illinois and Northwestern would be really interesting, you probably would have laughed. But the Wildcats have gotten hot at the right time, upsetting Notre Dame in overtime last week and cruising past Purdue 38-14 on Saturday to get to five wins. Illinois, meanwhile, edged Penn State on a late field goal 16-14 for its fifth victory. So the Land of Lincoln Trophy game in Evanston will be a bowl play-in game for both sides. And it might just decide whether Tim Beckman keeps his job for another year in Champaign. Neither team's projected starting quarterback may play a huge role, as Northwestern's Trevor Siemian injured his leg against Purdue and Reilly O'Toole came in for an ineffective and perhaps-still-a-bit-gimpy Wes Lunt in the Illini's win.

4. Michigan State belongs in a major bowl: Instead of sulking after the home loss to Ohio State, the Spartans have taken out their frustrations on the Big Ten's newbies. After a 37-15 win at Maryland last week, Michigan State romped past Rutgers 45-3 on Saturday. Mark Dantonio had some fun on Senior Day, starting Tony Lippett on offense and defense, calling for a fake field goal while ahead 35-0 and giving offensive lineman Connor Kruse a carry. It's clear that the No. 11 Spartans are still one of the top teams in the country, with their only losses coming to potential playoff teams. They deserve to make one of the major bowls outside the playoff -- the Fiesta, perhaps? -- and get a shot against an outstanding opponent from a major conference. If they play like they have the past couple of weeks, they'll have a great chance to win a big bowl, too.

5. Maryland is having a nice first Big Ten season: Winning at Penn State and 23-16 on Saturday at Michigan is a pretty nice way to introduce yourself to the league, even if those two programs are at near historic low points. Randy Edsall's Terrapins can post an 8-4 record by beating Rutgers at home next week. Their only losses would be to three of the league's top teams -- Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State -- and a close call at home against West Virginia. They also beat Iowa and weren't quite as hapless in big games as fellow newcomer Rutgers, which was outscored 180-43 in its four games against ranked Big Ten opponents. Maryland still has to finish it off this week, but a third-place showing in the Big Ten East and an eight-win season would make for a very solid conference debut.

Video: 'Sport Science' on Melvin Gordon's Track Influence

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
11:43
PM ET
video
John Brenkus examines how much the Wisconsin running back’s style is heavily influenced by his track background.

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
Like most people, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen wasn't sure what to expect from his linebackers coming into this season.

[+] EnlargeVince Biegel
AP Photo/Morry GashWisconsin's Vince Biegel makes up part of a group of linebackers that flew under the radar to lead the nation's top defense.
The Badgers had to replace all four starters from their 3-4 scheme, including Big Ten defensive player of the year Chris Borland. There was good athleticism in the group but precious little experience and no household names.

Well, it's way past time to get to know these Wisconsin linebackers, because they've formed the core of the nation's No. 1 defense and are a major reason why the Badgers could clinch the Big Ten West Division as early as Saturday if they beat Iowa and Minnesota loses to Nebraska.

"They've been over the top, as far as my expectation level," Andersen said this week.

They are inside linebackers Marcus Trotter and Derek Landisch and outside linebackers Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert. Or you can just call them the "Chevy Bad Boys."

That's the nickname that Trotter bestowed on the group at the beginning of the season as a nod to their rural roots -- all are from smallish towns in Wisconsin -- and their unflashy dependability.

"We have a lot of guys from the country," Trotter said. "We love Chevys and country music and wear only flannel all day long."

It took some time for the nickname to stick, but now the players are embracing it. So much so, in fact, that Biegel got a Chevy logo shaved into the side of his head this week, bookending the motion "W" on the other side of his Mohawk/mullet.

The linebackers are starting to get more national recognition, too, as Wisconsin's defense keeps piling up impressive numbers. But that's not really what this group is about.

"Not a lot of people really looked at us as being a big-time defense going into the season," Biegel said. "Being able to have that chip on our shoulder and approach every game with that chip has been the difference for us this year.

"We're a bunch of smart football guys who weren't necessarily four- and five-star recruits. We're just hard-working Wisconsin dudes."

Biegel, who leads the team with 6.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss, was actually a four-star recruit out of high school. But Trotter and Schobert, the latter of whom was named Big Ten defensive player of the week for his performance against Nebraska, walked on to the Badgers. The 5-foot-11 Landisch was lightly recruited, with interest from MAC schools, and viewed by some as too small to stay at linebacker.

All four bided their time while waiting for the opportunity to become full-time starters, especially seniors Trotter and Landisch.

"We were all very eager for our chance," Trotter said. "We were excited to finally prove people wrong."

Each of the four have different personalities, but that meshes into a cohesive bond. Trotter is the motormouth leader who wears bear-themed shirts and sometimes only answers to the name "Mookie Blaylock."

Biegel is also talkative and energetic. "If you looked inside his mind," Trotter said, "you'd see a hamster spinning on a wheel. He's just all over the place, all the time. He's a goofy guy who likes to mess with people."

Landisch, who has six sacks and 12 tackles for loss, is quiet and often needs his nerves calmed before games. "I feel like I'm his psychiatrist sometimes," Trotter said.

Schobert is also reserved but in a much more relaxed way. Trotter said while the Nebraska game was still close last week, Schobert cracked a joke to him about missing a fumble recovery right before the snap.

"I was like, 'Joe, be quiet, I'm trying to get the call,'" Trotter said. "But he's just very calm and confident in his technique."

What the quartet lacked in starting experience, they have made up for in pass-rushing ability and football savvy. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda uses his linebackers in all sorts of ways, lining them up in different spots and bringing pressure from a variety of angles. As Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said this week, Wisconsin's defense looks pretty normal on first and second downs. On third down, though, "who knows what you're going to get," Ferentz said.

Andersen said he wasn't confident that the group would be able to master the complicated scheme and take the information from the meeting room to the field. But the Chevy Bad Boys have had no trouble doing just that.

"I've played all kinds of positions this year -- with my hand in the dirt, at standup outside linebacker, even inside linebacker in a couple different packages," Biegel said. "Coach Aranda asks a lot of us mentally. It's fun, because you never know what you'll be doing each week, what your technique and assignment will be."

Wisconsin now knows that it will get elite production from its linebackers every week. And it's way past time that everyone else gets to know who these guys are.

Big Ten Week 13 predictions

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
9:00
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Why Minnesota will win: There’s no letup coming for the Blackshirts, who were historically carved up by Melvin Gordon last week and must turn right around and face the Gophers' David Cobb and another productive rushing attack, with flickering hopes of winning the West Division hanging in the balance for both teams. Ameer Abdullah doesn’t look quite back to full speed on his injured knee, and the Gophers are perhaps underrated for their defensive ability when they’re dialed in and aggressive, which could make it tough for the Huskers if the star rusher is limited again. Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner has been inconsistent this season, but this seems like a good opportunity for him to bounce back in the play-action passing game with the Huskers trying to avoid another soft performance on the ground. ... Minnesota 27, Nebraska 24 -- Austin Ward

Why Nebraska will win: Melvin Gordon had his way with the Huskers last week, but Minnesota’s David Cobb -- who’s accounted for more than 40 percent of the offense -- is a different kind of runner. Most of Gordon’s yards came with speed outside the tackles; most of Cobb’s will come from power between the tackles. Nebraska shouldn’t allow half as many big offensive plays this weekend, and the Huskers’ offense clearly has the edge here. Bo Pelini’s squad averages 8.8 more points per game, the offense gains an average of 100 more yards a game, and Ameer Abdullah is one week healthier. Minnesota won’t be able to keep up. ... Nebraska 34, Minnesota 24 -- Josh Moyer



Why Michigan wins: It's the last home game for Michigan seniors such as linebacker Jake Ryan and quarterback Devin Gardner and possibly the last for coach Brady Hoke. The Wolverines will ride their defense and limit mistakes on offense to outlast a Maryland team that has been tough to figure out week-to-week. It's a field-goal fest early on, but Michigan records a defensive touchdown in the third quarter and holds off a Terrapins rally to get bowl-eligible. ... Michigan 19, Maryland 16 -- Adam Rittenberg

Why Maryland wins: Maryland has been a puzzle this season, but my bet is Randy Edsall fits the right pieces together Saturday at Michigan. The Terps are at their best when airing out the deep ball on offense (even without Stefon Diggs). If Michigan can't get a decent pass rush in the absence of Frank Clark, C.J. Brown should have enough time to connect with his receivers on a couple bombs. Michigan's seniors will pour their hearts onto the field for a final time at the Big House, but in close games, Maryland kicker Brad Craddock has been a difference-maker for the Terps. He plays the heartbreaker role again in Ann Arbor. ... Maryland 24, Michigan 21 -- Dan Murphy



Why Northwestern will win: It's a risk picking the Wildcats here because they only seem to play well against top-20 teams. But I've got to believe Pat Fitzgerald's team built some confidence in that upset at Notre Dame, and certainly that was the best Trevor Siemian has looked all year. Purdue has some big-play ability that will give Northwestern trouble, but the Wildcats now have a realistic shot at a bowl and should play with all-out effort with that in mind. ... Northwestern 24, Purdue 21 -- Brian Bennett

Why Purdue wins: Northwestern has shown great fight in coming back from the dead twice this year. Its most remarkable achievement -- slightly ahead of the home victory over Wisconsin last month -- came Saturday with a road win at Notre Dame. But I just don’t trust the Wildcats, who are dreaming of a bowl game. Remember, this is a team that lost by 41 at Iowa three weeks ago. Purdue is playing without pressure. Sure, it has struggled down the stretch, but Austin Appleby is capable of a strong performance against a mediocre defense. If you want my real strategy in pick the Boilermakers, look no further than the calendar. Since 1947, Purdue is unbeaten in nine games on Nov. 22. ... Purdue 35, Northwestern 31 -- Josh Moyer

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)

David Cobb snubbed by Doak Walker?

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
1:20
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The Doak Walker Award, given annually to the nation's top running back, announced its 10 semifinalists Wednesday.

No, the semifinalists didn't simply include the top 10 Big Ten running backs, though it feels like that would make sense this season. Three league players did make the cut: Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Indiana's Tevin Coleman and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah.

All three are no-brainers, as Gordon leads the nation in rushing, Coleman is No. 2 and Abdullah was having an incredible season before a knee injury slowed him down his past two games. But where's Minnesota's David Cobb?

Cobb has rushed for 1,350 yards, good for seventh-best in the FBS. He's had two 200-yard games this season, a 194-yard effort vs. Purdue, a 183-yard showing vs. Michigan and last week's 145-yard, three-touchdown day against Ohio State. He's done all this while basically carrying a Gophers' offense that doesn't pass the ball much. According to Minnesota, Cobb is responsible for 31.6 percent of his team's all-purpose yards and 37.6 percent of its total offense.

Cobb only has 11 touchdowns, which may be one thing that held him back in the voting. But he actually has more rushing yards in as many games as Abdullah (again, take into account Abdullah's injury) and is a total workhorse back with a Big Ten-leading 254 carries on the season.

Cobb appeared to take the news in stride on Twitter:



You could also make a strong case for Michigan State's Jeremy Langford as a Doak Walker semifinalist. He has rushed for 1,115 yards (No. 17 in the FBS) and 15 touchdowns (tied for eighth nationally) and has surpassed 100 yards in every Big Ten contest and has done so against his last 14 games vs. league opponents, dating back to last season.

It tells you what kind of year it's been for running backs in the Big Ten that five of the Doak Walker semifinalists could have reasonably come from the league. Cobb truly deserved a spot among the 10. When the finalists are announced next week, Gordon and Coleman need to be included.

Big Ten bowl projections: Week 12

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
8:00
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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 West Division title scenarios

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
10:40
AM ET
There are two weeks left in the regular season, and neither Big Ten division has been officially decided yet.

Of course, Ohio State has all but locked up the East thanks to its victory over Michigan State. The Buckeyes simply have to win one of their final two games -- or have the Spartans lose one -- to clinch a spot in the Big Ten championship game. Michigan State would need to win out and have Ohio State lose twice. And with Indiana and Michigan going to Columbus, there's only about a 1 percent chance of that happening.

But the question of who'll meet the Buckeyes in Indianapolis from the West Division remains unsolved. All four remaining contenders -- Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska -- play important games against another contender in the final two weeks. Here's a rundown of what needs to happen for each team to get to the championship game:

Wisconsin

The Badgers (5-1) are in great shape thanks to their blowout win over Nebraska last Saturday. They could clinch a spot in the title game this weekend if they win at Iowa and Minnesota loses at Nebraska. The Huskers could still be West co-champs in that scenario, but Wisconsin would own the head-to-head tiebreaker.

If Wisconsin beats Iowa and Minnesota wins in Lincoln, then the Axe game between the Badgers and Gophers on Nov. 29 would be an Indianapolis play-in game. If Wisconsin loses to Iowa, it would need to beat Minnesota and have the Hawkeyes lose to Nebraska on Nov. 28.

Minnesota

The Gophers (4-2) have a simple formula for capturing the West: win out. If they beat Nebraska and Wisconsin, both on the road, they'll be in Indianapolis and force a likely rematch with Ohio State. A loss in either game eliminates them from the Big Ten championship game.

Iowa

Like Minnesota, the Hawkeyes (4-2) still control their own destiny. Well, almost. If Iowa can beat Wisconsin and Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium and Minnesota loses one if its last two, Kirk Ferentz's team will be going to Indianapolis. A loss in either game would be the end of those hopes.

Nebraska

The Cornhuskers (4-2) need the most help of any remaining West contender, by virtue of their loss to Wisconsin. First, they need to beat Minnesota and Iowa. Then they need Wisconsin to lose to both Iowa and Minnesota. That would leave Nebraska as the only two-loss team in the division. And it's the only way Bo Pelini's team can get to Indy.
This week, USA Today, in the latest of its fan index lists, catalogued the top 10 traditions in college football.

Among them, dotting the "i" at Ohio State, lighting the Tower at Texas and rolling Toomer's Corner at Auburn. All fine events, but no list of such customs in the sport is complete without the latest craze: the wait for Tuesday night.

I say that somewhat jokingly, so refrain from the angry tweets. No, I don't really think it's more fun to dream about the details of a five-minute interview with Jeff Long than to decorate an intersection with toilet paper.

But it's close.

So welcome to the fourth of seven Tuesday College Football Playoff poll unveils, where it finally gets real in the selection-committee room.

Why is this Tuesday different? Because after last Saturday, none of the remaining unbeaten or one-loss Power 5 contenders will meet in the regular season or in conference-title games.

Big Ten's second act worth watching

November, 17, 2014
Nov 17
12:00
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The great thing about the college football season is that until it ends, there is a chance to change the story. Players, coaches, teams and even leagues can have a second act.

The Big Ten's first act in 2014 was a tragedy or comedy -- probably both. It also was surprisingly short, lasting just two weeks. A face-plant in Week 2 elicited national mockery, confirmed the stereotypes and brought more bad vibes to a league that has had more than its share. Many cropped the Big Ten from the College Football Playoff picture after high-profile losses by Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan, coupled with three losses to Mid-American Conference foes.

Was it over for the Big Ten? Many said yes. And if the league is left out of the playoff -- translation: if Ohio State finishes with one loss (Week 2 against Virginia Tech) and still doesn't make it in -- it will trace back to that sorry Saturday.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBig performances by players like Melvin Gordon and some exciting games have improved the perception of the Big Ten on the national stage.
But the curtain didn't come down on the Big Ten's season. The league still had time to change the narrative, and it's starting to happen.

The Big Ten's second act, not surprisingly, is a lot easier to watch. Nebraska fans are understandably flinging tomatoes, eggs and anything they can find at Bo Pelini after his team's latest big-game flop, but Saturday, overall, was really good for the Big Ten. So was the previous Saturday, as league heavyweights Ohio State and Michigan State played a high-scoring, visually appealing game on the national stage.

What has changed in the Big Ten?

Start with much-needed star power. The Big Ten hasn't had a Heisman Trophy winner since 2006, when Ohio State's Troy Smith claimed the award. Worse, the league has had just one Hesiman finalist since then (Wisconsin's Montee Ball in 2011).

Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon will be going to New York. That became clear as he took down record after record on a snowy Saturday in Madison, culminating with LaDainian Tomlinson's single-game FBS mark of 406 yards. Gordon finished with 408 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries (16.3-yard average). He has 15 runs of 40 yards or longer, more than any other FBS team.

"I'm glad we never play him again!" one Big Ten coach text-messaged me Sunday.

It's a sentiment undoubtedly shared by others, but at least we can enjoy Gordon for several more games.

#GordontoGotham will happen, and if Gordon keeps dazzling, he could be the one holding the trophy Dec. 13.

Gordon might not be the only Big Ten player at the Heisman ceremony. Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett continues his rapid rise. He set Ohio State's single-game quarterback rushing record with 189 yards Saturday at Minnesota. Barrett is responsible for 38 touchdowns, eclipsing Braxton Miller's single-season record set last season.

Though Gordon has separated himself in the Big Ten's unparalleled running back group, three other players -- Indiana's Tevin Coleman, Minnesota's David Cobb and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah -- rank in the top 10 nationally in rushing. Coleman ran for 307 yards Saturday at Rutgers, a performance overshadowed by Gordon's, but deserving of major recognition.

There are also intriguing teams around the Big Ten. Ohio State is still very much in the playoff hunt. Michigan State is pushing for New Years Six consideration. Wisconsin overcame early season drama/losses to put itself in position for a third Big Ten championship appearance in four years. Minnesota continues to make strides. The West Division is far from settled, and if Iowa upsets Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium, it will really get wild.

Penn State somewhat quietly became bowl-eligible Saturday with a win against Temple. Regardless of your opinion on the initial sanctions, it's nice to see these players rewarded, especially resilient seniors like linebacker Mike Hull. The Lions still have a lot to improve -- quarterback Christian Hackenberg's future will be a major offseason topic -- but their defense is superb and they will play into the postseason.

Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers also are going bowling, no small feat given the gloomy outlook (especially for Rutgers) and apathy surrounding their arrivals. Rutgers has overcome key injuries and a grinding schedule to reach six wins. Maryland finally has stayed relatively healthy and recorded notable wins against Iowa and Penn State, with Michigan up next.

Northwestern still needs work to reach bowl eligibility, but is there a wackier 4-6 team? Three of the Wildcats wins have come against Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Penn State, the latter two on the road. Northwestern has endured a rough 13 months, but the Notre Dame win -- how it happened, where it happened -- provides a boost.

It's not all warm and fuzzies in this league. Michigan could soon follow Florida in dumping its coach, and the situation involving defensive lineman Frank Clark appears extremely disturbing. Illinois coach Tim Beckman is on the ropes. Indiana, which beat SEC East-leading Missouri in September, remains winless in conference play.

Still, the Big Ten is doing enough good to keep fans in their seats, on the edge of them or even standing.

The second act is nearing its conclusion, and this time, no one is turning away.
They’ll line up on opposite sides this week in Nebraska, fans and media and anyone with an opinion -- with seventh-year Cornhuskers head coach Bo Pelini in the middle -- and trade angry shots.

The argument is futile and redundant, and it nearly ripped this football program in half a year ago. Yet for the fourth straight season, it’s unfolding, with a little more exasperation and resentment each November or December.

Remember those good vibes in the offseason as Pelini showed his playful side? Turns out, it was never more than a distraction. The seemingly timeless debate is back: Support Pelini for his consistent winning ways and unwavering loyalty or skewer him for the Huskers’ repeated flops on the big stage.

The latest, a 59-24 defeat Saturday at Wisconsin in which Melvin Gordon rushed for an FBS-record 408 yards and the Badgers outgained Nebraska 627 yards to 180, destroyed momentum from the Huskers’ eight wins in nine games to open this season.

Since Pelini arrived in 2008, Nebraska has lost 10 games by 20 points or more. It has allowed 45 points or more six times since the 2011 move to the Big Ten. Wisconsin has twice set the all-time rushing record by a Nebraska opponent and won three of four games against the Huskers by an average of 35 points.

Next will come the calls for Pelini to revamp his coaching staff. Major change is unlikely. Pelini showed last year he would rather be fired than disassemble the group around him.

As the drama progresses, inevitably, a big-name coach or commentator will issue this advice to the Pelini detractors:

Be careful for what you wish. Dozens of programs with more natural advantages than Nebraska would gladly trade spots with the Huskers, who need one victory to reach the nine-win plateau for the seventh time in seven seasons under Pelini. Don’t take for granted such success, says the narrative, and, oh, stop living in the 1990s. Your days of dominating college football are gone and never coming back.

Such an argument is comically out of touch with reality at Nebraska, where repeated embarrassments in meaningful moments are threatening to steal the soul from a proud program and its passionate fans.

Media in attendance for the Saturday debacle in Madison offered strong words, all of them justified. Wrote Omaha World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel of Pelini:
    Yes, he’s won a bunch of games. But Pelini’s era is defined by victories you don’t remember and losses that you do.

From Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star:
    The latest embarrassment is frankly inexplicable for a program with Nebraska's wide array of resources and energy poured into the program.

And the World-Herald’s Dirk Chatelain on the post-Wisconsin comment of defensive coordinator John Papuchis that the next game, Saturday in Lincoln against Minnesota, would reveal much about the Huskers:
    No. No. A thousand times no. ... These are the games that MATTER. These are the days that define a coach and his program.

Nebraska football is officially in a dangerous place. Its reputation nationally has absorbed hit after hit, dipping after Saturday perhaps to its lowest point of Pelini’s time at the school.

Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst, a protégé of Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez, no doubt felt uncomfortable in the return to his old home.

But the second-year boss in Lincoln stays notably quiet, especially in these times.

A year ago, Nebraska struggled to the finish, losing by three touchdowns to Iowa in a regular-season finale overshadowed by speculation about the coach’s job security. Eichorst said nothing in public until the morning after that game. Most observers interpreted his silence to mean Pelini was in trouble.

The coach appeared to believe it, too -- or maybe he was just sick of the scrutiny. Regardless, it's coming back.

And it's more clear than ever that leaders at Nebraska face a decision. Maintain the stability in place or risk change to make a run at the top in the College Football Playoff era?

The choice is up to Pelini, unless Eichorst makes it for him.

The 46-year-old coach, resolute as ever, said on Saturday that he would not engage in “big picture” conversation.

Nebraska is inching closer to that tipping point, where the school and the fans, who ultimately pay Pelini’s salary, demand some attention paid to the big picture over the comfort of another nine-win season.

National links: What next for Florida? 

November, 17, 2014
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When an elite football program like Florida -- certainly one of the top destinations in the sport -- has a coaching vacancy, it’s always interesting to see which names surface as possible candidates.

The writing was on the wall that Will Muschamp was on his way out in Gainesvile, and the school made it official on Sunday, the day after the Gators’ late implosion in an overtime loss to South Carolina.

Immediately the rumor mill began to churn out names, like in an Associated Press story that mentioned Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze as possibilities. Insider’s Travis Haney weighed in on why it’s a top-tier job and some candidates that Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley might contact.

Will Foley look for an offensive-minded coach after defensive specialist Muschamp fell flat? Will he be willing to hire a coveted coordinator, as Muschamp was, with no head coaching experience? Might he look to the NFL ranks, or to someone like Mike Shanahan, who once served as an assistant at Florida?

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
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MADISON, Wis. -- Melvin Gordon didn't see Ron Dayne as he entered Wisconsin's interview room early Saturday evening.

Gordon sidestepped Dayne, just as he did numerous Nebraska defenders during an afternoon that won't soon be forgotten in a place used to seeing extraordinary running backs do extraordinary things.

"I should be kicking you in the legs or something," Dayne joked, which caused Gordon to turn back and grin.

Dayne had just watched those legs break his Wisconsin single-game rushing record (339). Dayne's milestone was just the first Gordon took down in Wisconsin's 59-24 mashing of Nebraska at Camp Randall Stadium. Anthony Thompson's Big Ten single-game record of 377 yards -- set on the same field in 1989 -- fell during the third quarter. Moments later, on a 26-yard touchdown run, Gordon shattered LaDainian Tomlinson's FBS single-game record of 406 yards.

Afterward, Gordon took a small, appropriate bow.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
AP Photo/Morry GashWisconsin's Melvin Gordon was in rarefied air with his record-breaking effort on Saturday.
He finished with 408 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries for an average of 16.3 yards per carry that is ridiculous for any college running back not named Melvin Gordon. He also didn't play in the fourth quarter.

"You never know when a special day comes," Gordon said. "When it does, it's a special feeling."

Wisconsin running backs now hold the FBS single-season rushing record (Dayne), single-season touchdowns record (Montee Ball) and single-game rushing record (Gordon). But only Dayne has the most coveted individual award in college football, the Heisman Trophy, which he captured in 1999.

When Dayne won, it was common for running backs to hoist the Heisman. Texas' Ricky Williams had won in 1998, and running backs went back-to-back in 1994 (Colorado's Rashaan Salaam) and 1995 (Ohio State's Eddie George). But since Dayne, only two non-quarterbacks have won the Heisman -- USC running back Reggie Bush in 2005 and Alabama running back Mark Ingram in 2009. As Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah, a good friend of Gordon's, told ESPN.com in September, "the Heisman's really become a quarterback's award."

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota entered Saturday as the clear Heisman front-runner. Another quarterback, one-time favorite Mississippi State's Dak Prescott, had an opportunity to gain on Mariota -- or perhaps eclipse him -- with a signature performance at Alabama. Gordon was in the mix, but after putting up big numbers against inferior teams and with an incomplete performance against LSU, he needed to make a convincing case on this day, against the nation's 20th-best rush defense.

Mission accomplished.

"I think he's the best of the best," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. "And he proved it on the national stage when he was given the opportunity. There's some great players out there ... and the decision is going to be made by other people. But if I made that decision, it's going to this guy right here.

"A lot of people have God-given ability, and a lot of people don't do anything with that ability. He's taken it to the highest level."

Gordon still has to catch Mariota, a tough task because the Oregon quarterback does so much good and so little bad and leads a team gunning for a College Football Playoff spot. But the gap is narrowing.

On Saturday, Gordon earned more than a courtesy trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony on Dec. 13. He earned the right to be seriously evaluated as a Heisman contender.

"Just show the man respect," Wisconsin second-string running back Corey Clement said. "That's all I ask."

Gordon will forever be respected here. Students chanted his name and "Heisman!" as the snow turned Camp Randall Stadium into a Wisconsin wonderland (at just 26 degrees at kickoff, it was the coldest game at Camp Randall in 50 years).

The tributes flooded in during and after the game, from Tomlinson, Ball and others.

"The best of the best," Andersen said. "Unbelievable."

A fourth-year junior, Gordon could have skipped this season and likely been the first running back selected in the NFL draft. He returned to guide Wisconsin to a national championship, a dream that died in early October with a stunning loss to Northwestern. But a Big Ten title remains possible, individual awards are coming, and Gordon, a Kenosha, Wisconsin, native, will leave as one of Wisconsin's favorite sons.

"There's risks that come with coming back when you have the chance to leave," Clement said. "God willing, he doesn't get injured, so he can do what he needs to do."

What he does is record big runs. Gordon had four runs of 40 yards or more Saturday, which brought his season total to 14, including a 62-yard scoring burst in the second quarter, when he hurdled Nebraska's Corey Cooper.

"It's something special," Badgers guard Dallas Lewallen said. "Once he gets to the open field, you never know if he's going to take it [to the end zone]."

Added quarterback Joel Stave: "He wowed us all again today."

Gordon's first half included 238 rush yards, a touchdown and two lost fumbles, the first time he has lost multiple fumbles in a game. It will be a forgotten footnote to everyone but Gordon, who thanked the coaches "for just sticking with me."

Smart choice.

The snow continued to fall Saturday night and blanketed the field where Gordon made his Heisman move.

"His legacy is going to be left here for a long time," Andersen said. "His footprints are going to be left all over these hallways."

Whether those same footprints are behind a podium in New York in four weeks remains to be seen.

Gordon gained the nation's attention Saturday. Now he needs to keep it.

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