Saturday, November 9, 2013
Dancing with the B1G's surprise stars
By Adam Rittenberg
MADISON, Wis. -- The Big Ten has been a wallflower in college football in recent years, watching from the fringes of the dance floor as other leagues twerked the night away.
While crowds gathered around the SEC, the Big Ten stood in the corner, unwanted and uncool. The league seemingly was too buttoned-up, allergic to fun and clearly lacking a slick nickname (Legends and Leaders didn't cut it). Even if the Big Ten was asked to dance, there were those age-old concerns about it keeping up. And November dance parties were out of the question. Everyone knows the Big Ten goes to sleep before 8 p.m.
But something is happening around the league. A dance party has started, and the guest list might surprise you. November is shaping up to be a lot of fun around the Big Ten.
James White scored three touchdowns and had nearly 200 yards combined rushing and receiving.
White and Gordon had three more dance displays Saturday during Wisconsin's 27-17 win against BYU, as White had two rushing touchdowns and a receiving score in one of his more complete performances as a Badger.
"I love that dance," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said.
Perhaps the least likely dance took place in Minnesota's locker room after Saturday's 24-10 win against Penn State, which gave the Gophers four consecutive Big Ten victories for the first time in 40 years. Head coach Jerry Kill, making his way down from the coaches' booth, from which he has witnessed the team's entire win streak, elbowed his way through a wall of players and showed off his moves, to his team's delight.
"We're having fun now," Minnesota running back David Cobb said. "Before it was more of a job coming to work, and you didn’t know if you were going to win or not, but now we expect to win. We're having fun during practice. We're having fun during the games."
Who expected Kill or the Gophers to be partying like it's 1973 four weeks ago? Minnesota seemed headed for a lost season, and Kill's coaching future was in doubt after he took a leave of absence to seek additional treatment for his epilepsy. The Gophers are one of the best -- and coolest -- stories in college football right now, as they enter an open week at 8-2 and still very much alive in the Legends division race. Their Nov. 23 game against archrival Wisconsin will be the biggest in recent team history.
There also was dancing at the Big House, but not by Michigan, as things have turned ugly in a hurry for Brady Hoke's crew. Instead, a Nebraska team that many wrote off after its loss to Minnesota -- or even with 4 seconds to go in last week's game against Northwestern -- celebrated a 17-13 victory. The Huskers handed Michigan its first home loss under Hoke and put themselves right back under the Legends division strobe light.
"That's a great feeling," freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. said. "This was a great win. It was a tough win; it was a team win."
Nebraska next week welcomes first-place Michigan State to Lincoln. Although the Spartans are surging, they're 0-7 all-time against Nebraska, including 0-2 in Big Ten games, and the Huskers are riding high behind an improving young defense and do-it-all running back Ameer Abdullah. A Nebraska win would give Bo Pelini's team the head-to-head tiebreaker and the inside track to return to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship.
Although Minnesota is clearly the Big Ten's biggest surprise dance star, Nebraska isn't too far behind, as things looked bleak for Big Red just two weeks ago. Some of the teams expected to carry the Big Ten banner, meanwhile, are stumbling over themselves. Hoke has reached his first major crossroads at Michigan, which finished with a negative net rushing total (minus-21) for the second consecutive game.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Michigan is the only FBS team in the past 10 seasons with consecutive games of minus-20 rush yards or fewer. Michigan had only one game with a negative rushing total from 2000-12.
Darius Hillary and the Wisconsin defense limited BYU to 19 completions in 41 attempts for 207 yards.
It'll be a quiet week at Schembechler Hall as Michigan tries to salvage what's left of a once-promising season. The music will be hopping elsewhere, including here at Camp Randall Stadium, as Wisconsin continues its pursuit of a 10-win season and possibly a BCS at-large berth.
Still paying a perception price for the desert debacle and a seven-point road loss to Ohio State, Wisconsin has won four straight in businesslike fashion, combining salty defense with a formidable run game and just enough passing mixed in. The Badgers (7-2) should start gaining more traction in the BCS standings if they continue to succeed.
"We've got a lot to play for," linebacker Chris Borland said. "To be honest with you, the BCS is in our sights. If we want to accomplish that, we understand Indiana is the next opponent. Absolutely we'd like to win out and ride that wave wherever it takes us."
Ride that wave? Will "Surfin' U.S.A." replace "Jump Around" next week at Camp Randall? Don't bet on it.
There are three weeks left in the regular season, and the Big Ten dance party is just getting started. Ohio State and Michigan State get back on the floor this week after a Saturday of rest.
The music won't stop until Dec. 7 in Indianapolis, when the real celebration takes place at Lucas Oil Stadium. That one is sure to last well into the night.