NCF Nation: Bill Lynch

There's hardly ever a perfect time to part ways with a coach, especially one who has had success. Some programs opt to nudge out long-tenured, mostly successful coaches only to pay the price later for their decisions. Others that part ways with a veteran coach end up seeing improvement. ESPN.com is taking a closer look at this topic today, and we're putting it under the Big Ten microscope.

Here are some notable Big Ten (and Nebraska) coaching forceouts:

LLOYD CARR, Michigan (1995-2007)

What happened: A longtime Michigan assistant for Bo Schembechler and Gary Moeller, Carr moved into the top job in 1995 and two years later guided Michigan to a national title. He led the Wolverines to at least a share of five Big Ten championships and six bowl victories, including the 1998 Rose and 2000 Orange bowls. Carr had the Wolverines positioned for another national title run in 2006 as they faced archrival Ohio State in an epic matchup of undefeated teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 nationally. But Carr's squad fell to Jim Tressel's Buckeyes, a theme during the later part of Carr's tenure. The 2007 season began with a humiliating loss to Football Championship Subdivision team Appalachian State. Although Carr officially retired in November 2007, there certainly was some pressure for the school to go in a new direction.

[+] EnlargeLloyd Carr
Chris Livingston/Icon SMILloyd Carr is carried off the field following Michigan's win over the Gators in the Capital One Bowl, which was Carr's final game.
What happened next: Michigan went away from its coaching tree and plucked Rich Rodriguez from West Virginia to succeed Carr. It was a rocky situation from the start that never truly smoothed out. Rodriguez's first Michigan team in 2008 might have been the worst ever, tumbling to 3-9 and ending the school's streak of consecutive bowl appearances at 33. The following summer, Michigan admitted to committing major violations for the first time in its history -- relating to practice time -- and self-imposed probation. The Wolverines once again missed a bowl game in 2009 and struggled to make one in Rodriguez's third season. After a blowout loss in the 2011 Gator Bowl, Michigan fired Rodriguez, who went just 15-22 at Michigan (6-18 Big Ten, 0-3 against Ohio State). Michigan might have slipped a bit from the ranks of the elite under Carr, but the program plummeted to historic depths under Rodriguez. Michigan replaced Rodriguez with former Carr assistant Brady Hoke.

JOHN COOPER, Ohio State (1988-2000)

What happened: After a rocky start (4-6-1 in 1988), Cooper went on a nice run at Ohio State in the mid- to late 1990s, averaging 10.3 victories between 1993 and 1998. He guided Ohio State to its first Rose Bowl appearance in 13 years during the 1996 season and emerged with a victory against Arizona State. He also won the Sugar Bowl after the 1998 season and coached Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George. But Cooper had two problems: an inability to beat archrival Michigan (2-10-1) and struggles in bowl games (3-8). Three times the Buckeyes entered The Game with a perfect record -- 1993, 1995 and 1996 -- and fell to the Wolverines. After a 6-6 clunker in 1999 and another loss to Michigan in 2000, Ohio State fired Cooper, who finished second on the school's all-time coaching wins list, behind Woody Hayes, with 111.

What happened next: Ohio State made an unorthodox move in bringing in Youngstown State's Tressel to succeed Cooper. It paid off as Tressel guided the Buckeyes to a national title in his second season. Ohio State remains the only Big Ten team to win a crystal football during the BCS era. Tressel ended up dominating the Big Ten (six titles) and Michigan (8-1) during his tenure, leading Ohio State to five BCS bowl wins (one vacated) and three appearances in the national title game. Although Tressel's tenure ended in scandal, he certainly boosted Ohio State's program after the Cooper era.

BILL MALLORY, Indiana (1984-1996)

What happened: After mostly successful runs at Miami (Ohio), Colorado and Northern Illinois, Mallory came to Indiana and put together an impressive run, reaching six bowl games between 1986 and 1993. He became the first man to win back-to-back Big Ten Coach of the Year honors in 1986 and 1987. Indiana had three top-four finishes in the Big Ten (1987, 1991, 1993), but after Mallory went just 5-17 (1-15 Big Ten) in 1995 and 1996, Indiana fired him. Mallory remains Indiana's all-time coaching wins leader (69) and is responsible for six of the Hoosiers' nine bowl teams.

What happened next: Indiana has yet to come close to achieving the type of moderate success it enjoyed in the Mallory era. The program struggled under Cam Cameron and Gerry DiNardo before surging a bit for the late Terry Hoeppner. Still, it took 11 seasons after Mallory's dismissal for Indiana to return to the postseason under Bill Lynch in 2007. Although the Hoosiers are making strides under Kevin Wilson, the program has a ways to go to match where it was under Mallory.

GLEN MASON, Minnesota (1997-2006)

What happened: Mason never got Minnesota to the promised land -- its first Big Ten championship since 1967 -- but he made the Gophers a consistent bowl team. He won six to eight games in six of his final eight seasons, slumping to a 4-7 finish in 2001 but breaking through with 10 victories in 2003. Minnesota reached bowls seven times under Mason, but his middling Big Ten record (32-48) and inability to challenge for league titles eventually stirred the administration into action. The school fired Mason two days after Minnesota squandered a 31-point third-quarter lead against Texas Tech in the 2006 Insight Bowl.

What happened next: The program backslid with the overmatched Tim Brewster at the helm, going 1-11 in 2007. Brewster made some splashes in recruiting but couldn't get enough talent to translate to the field. After a 7-1 start in 2008, the Gophers dropped their final five games, including a 55-0 decision to archrival Iowa at the Metrodome. A 6-7 season followed in 2009, and Minnesota fired Brewster after a 1-6 start in 2010. Brewster went 15-30 at the school and 6-21 in the Big Ten, which included an 0-10 mark in trophy games. His tumultuous tenure had many questioning why Minnesota ever got rid of Mason.

FRANK SOLICH, Nebraska (1998-2003)

What happened: A former Huskers fullback, Solich had the nearly impossible task of following coaching legend Tom Osborne, who won national titles in three of his final four seasons at the school. Solich won 42 games in his first four seasons, a Big 12 championship in 1999 and Big 12 North titles in 1999, 2000 and 2001. He guided the Huskers to the 2000 Fiesta Bowl championship, and the 2001 team, led by Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch, played Miami for the national title at the Rose Bowl but fell 37-14. Nebraska then went 7-7 in 2002, its first nonwinning season since 1961. Solich rebounded with a 9-3 mark in 2003 but was fired despite a 58-19 record in Lincoln.

What happened next: Much like Michigan, Nebraska went away from its coaching tree and hired Bill Callahan, who had led the Oakland Raiders for two seasons. And much like Michigan, Nebraska paid a price as the program went downhill. The Huskers went 5-6 in Callahan's first year, their first losing campaign since 1961. They won eight games the following year and the Big 12 North in 2006, but a highly anticipated 2007 season fell apart, particularly for the celebrated Blackshirts defense. Nebraska surrendered 40 points or more in six games and went 5-7, leading to Callahan's dismissal. Although Nebraska has rebounded under Bo Pelini, its last conference championship came under Solich's watch, 14 long years ago.
It's not Cody Latimer's fault that a sports hernia cut short his promising freshman season at Indiana.

Good luck trying to convince him of that.

"I feel like I let them down," Latimer told ESPN.com, referring to his Hoosiers teammates. "I felt like I missed out on a lot because of my injury. I really didn't pick up the offense that well, so this year, I felt like I needed to master the offense as best as I can so I could play faster and make big plays for my team.

[+] EnlargeCody Latimer
AJ Mast/Icon SMICody Latimer already has 223 yards on 14 catches after three games this season.
"I feel like I owed 'em."

Latimer, a wide receiver for the Hoosiers, is making up for lost time this season. The 6-foot-3, 208-pound sophomore leads Indiana in both receiving yards (223) and yards per reception (15.9), while ranking second behind Shane Wynn in both receptions (14) and touchdowns (2).

Indiana is emphasizing the pass game more this year with new offensive coordinator Seth Littrell, a Mike Leach disciple. The Hoosiers lead the Big Ten in passing average (326 ypg) and have more pass yards (978) than all but one Big Ten team despite playing one fewer game than all but one league squad.

Often the team's featured outside receiver, Latimer is a big part of Indiana's plans this season and beyond.

"Disappointed the injury kind of slowed him last year," head coach Kevin Wilson said, "but [with] the emphasis on passing and throwing the football this year, his maturity, his development, he's in position to have a solid season for us. He's a good young player with a lot of potential."

One of 16 true freshmen to see the field for Indiana in 2011, Latimer appeared in eight games, starting two, and had 12 receptions for 141 yards and two touchdowns, before being shut down with the hernia in early November. An offseason spent on film study and route refining has helped Latimer -- and many of his teammates -- get a better handle on the offense.

"It's way easier, and we're going full speed at it," he said. "Most people have mastered it and know what we're doing now. There are no questions out there, so we're just going."

Latimer, a native of Dayton, Ohio, received scholarship offers on both sides of the ball coming out of Jefferson Township High School. Michigan State recruited him as a safety, Ball State as a linebacker and Connecticut as a receiver. His decision came down to one factor -- "I want to score touchdowns," he said -- and he picked Indiana, which had a strong tradition at the position.

Latimer committed to Indiana in October 2010, while Bill Lynch was still the Hoosiers' coach. He had built friendships with Hoosiers' receivers Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher.

"I knew they were always throwing them the ball," he said. "And then when the coaching change happened [to Wilson], I know they were really going to throw the ball with the Oklahoma offense. I'm a receiver, and I want to get the ball, so I've got to go here."

Latimer grew up admiring Randy Moss, noting that they have similar size and look to make game-changing plays on the perimeter.

"He's got a really good skill set," Wilson said. "Very strong, good hands, he’s learning every day, getting better. He's got a lot of qualities you're looking for. ... He's got a long way to go, but he's off to a good start."
Luke Fickell/Brady Hoke/Jerry KillUS Presswire/AP Photo/US PresswireLuke Fickell, Brady Hoke and Jerry Kill will make their debuts as Big Ten head coaches Saturday.

Every college football season brings new faces and new storylines, but the Big Ten hasn't had a makeover like this before.

The conference will feature a new member (Nebraska), new divisions (Legends and Leaders) and a new championship game, the first in its history. Five new coaches join the league, and at least six teams will start new quarterbacks. Not surprisingly, the league race appears wide open.

As the Big Ten season kicks off Thursday night in Madison, let's take a look at all the newness around the conference.

NEW TEAM

Nearly 15 months after being admitted to the Big Ten, Nebraska will play its first game as a member of the league. The Huskers have enjoyed a honeymoon of sorts as the rest of the league familiarizes itself with the program's history, the school and a talented team projected to be in the mix for the Big Ten championship.

There will be much more hype surrounding Nebraska's first Big Ten game -- Oct. 1 at Wisconsin -- and rightfully so, and Saturday's opener against FCS Chattanooga won't be the best barometer for Bo Pelini's squad. The game will, however, provide a look at Nebraska's new offense under coordinator Tim Beck. Quarterback Taylor Martinez is healthy and supposedly more mature, while running back Rex Burkhead has received high marks throughout the offseason. Who steps up among Nebraska's talented young offensive skill players?

Those of us who haven't watched Big Red regularly also will get a sense of the defense and the complex scheme defensive tackle Jared Crick, coordinator Carl Pelini and others have cited. Don't expect Nebraska to reveal too much against Chattanooga, but after discussing the Huskers ad nauseum, it'll be nice to see them on the field.

NEW COACHES

Four Big Ten coaches will make their debuts with new teams Saturday, while Nebraska's Pelini works his first game as a Big Ten member.

Luke Fickell's job interview at Ohio State begins Saturday against Akron, as the former Buckeyes defensive lineman and longtime assistant makes his head-coaching debut for his alma mater. Fickell's in-game decisions, sideline demeanor and perhaps even his game-day attire (vest? no vest?) will be closely examined. Ohio State shouldn't have trouble with Akron, and anything less than a strong opening statement after a tough offseason will elicit some grumbling.

Another highly anticipated debut takes place in Ann Arbor as Brady Hoke leads Michigan out of the tunnel. Hoke has made few missteps since his hiring in January, and his approval rating among Michigan fans has soared. But things can change on game day, and a team going through quite a bit of transition must deliver a strong performance against Western Michigan.

Jerry Kill also has energized a fan base in Minnesota, and he begins another turnaround project with the Gophers after successfully rehabilitating programs at lower levels. Kill has been realistic about his team's prospects this season, and an opener at USC provides a huge challenge for Minnesota.

After years as one of the nation's top assistants, Kevin Wilson begins his head-coaching career Saturday as Indiana takes on Ball State at Lucas Oil Stadium, site of the Big Ten championship game. Wilson's personality and coaching style differ sharply from his predecessor, Bill Lynch, and Indiana fans hope the on-field results do, too. A new attitude certainly is taking root in Bloomington.

NEW QUARTERBACKS

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
AP Photo/The News & Observer,Ethan HymanRussell Wilson will make his highly anticipated debut under center for the Badgers on Thursday.
At least half the Big Ten will be starting new quarterbacks in Week 1: Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin. Penn State could play two quarterbacks with previous starting experience (Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin), while Northwestern might have to play multiple signal-callers because of Dan Persa's lingering injury issues.

Terrelle Pryor's departure from Ohio State in June leaves the Buckeyes with virtually no proven experience under center. Senior Joe Bauserman and freshman Braxton Miller emerged in camp, and both men could see significant time against Akron.

The Big Ten's most anticipated player debut takes place Thursday in Madison as Russell Wilson leads the Wisconsin offense against UNLV. Wilson, who started the past three season at NC State, has seamlessly transitioned to a new team and performed well in preseason practices.

Familiar names step into leading roles at Minnesota and Iowa. MarQueis Gray, the Gophers' No. 2 wide receiver in 2010, will start at quarterback, while James Vandenberg, who nearly led Iowa to a Big Ten championship in 2009 after Ricky Stanzi went down, leads the Hawkeyes offense against Tennessee Tech.

Purdue didn't expect to be in this category again, but Rob Henry's knee injury last week marked the latest blow for a star-crossed team. With Robert Marve still hobbled, Caleb TerBush will start the opener, making his first appearance since 2009.

Indiana's quarterback competition has been wide open throughout camp, as Dusty Kiel, Ed Wright-Baker and Tre Roberson try to separate themselves.

The season also brings some new challenges for returning quarterbacks. Michigan's Denard Robinson will have to adjust to a new offense after flourishing in the spread, while Northwestern's Persa might have to reinvent himself as a pocket passer because of limited mobility. Nebraska's Martinez aims for greater consistency in Beck's offense after mixed results in 2010.

As you can see, new is the norm for the Big Ten in 2011. Enjoy the ride.
After the 2010 season wrapped up, Damarlo Belcher had Indiana's video staff compile cutups of all his catches and drops from the previous 12 games.

The catches far outnumbered the drops. Belcher had 78 receptions last fall, tops among Big Ten players. He ranked 19th nationally in receptions per game (6.5) and finished fourth in the league in receiving yards per game (69.3 rpg). The 6-foot-5, 214-pound Belcher emerged as the most consistent pass-catcher on the league's top passing offense.

[+] EnlargeDamarlo Belcher
AP Photo/Darron CummingsDamarlo Belcher led the Big Ten in receptions last fall, but is motivated by his drop against Iowa.
Belcher reviewed every play, but he spent more time on the drops. Specifically, he watched The Drop.

Indiana fans don't need further explanation. Anyone who watched the end of the Hoosiers' Nov. 6 game against then-No. 15 Iowa understands.

After Iowa scored a late touchdown to take an 18-13 lead, Indiana responded with a drive to the Hawkeyes' 18-yard line. After three incompletions, quarterback Ben Chappell lofted a pass to the end zone on fourth-and-10. Belcher leaped above the defenders to grab it for the game-winner.

But the ball bounced off of his hands. Iowa ran out the clock, and another chance for Indiana to turn a corner had disappeared.

Belcher hasn't forgotten what happened that day.

“I can't," he said. "But it won't happen again, I'll tell you that. That’s the one I watch the most."

Belcher felt understandably sick after the drop, but his coaches and teammates rallied around him. Indiana's leadership council unanimously voted him a game captain the next week against Wisconsin.

Belcher finished the season with an eight-catch, 83-yard performance as Indiana knocked off Purdue in overtime to reclaim the Old Oaken Bucket. But Indiana fell a win shy of bowl eligibility, and the school fired coach Bill Lynch the day after the Bucket game.

The Drop has lingered in Belcher's mind throughout the winter and spring.

"I think about it every day," he said. "Whenever I'm in the weight room or out at practice, I think about it. It gives me an extra effort or motivation to just go hard."

Belcher will be Indiana's clear-cut No. 1 receiver this fall after teammate Tandon Doss declared early for the NFL draft. Belcher also considered bolting after the coaching change.

Indiana's hiring of offensive guru Kevin Wilson helped keep Belcher in Bloomington.

"That was a big part of the reason why I stayed," Belcher said. "Coming from where he came from, I couldn't do anything but stay."

Wilson has talked to Belcher about former Oklahoma star tight end Jermaine Gresham and other standout pass-catchers he coached in Norman. Belcher has responded well to the new staff this spring.

"He's the oldest guy in the group, the most experienced, and he's been great to work with," co-offensive coordinator/receivers coach Kevin Johns said. "For someone who led the Big Ten in receptions, who made All-Big Ten recognition, he's very hungry to learn. He comes into meetings with wide eyes, not a guy who feels, 'I already know everything.'"

Belcher's hunger stems in part from the drop against Iowa. He can't wait for the season and a chance for redemption.

"If it can be close, man, I want it, I want the ball in my hands," he said. "That's how much it affected me. Whenever it's crunch time, I'll be ready."

Big Ten 2010 regular season wrap

December, 8, 2010
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Big Ten fans had to be pleased to hear colleague Rod Gilmore's proclamation during ESPN's BCS selection special Sunday night.

"Let's welcome back the Big Ten to college football royalty," Gilmore said.

Perhaps we should hold off on crowning this league for a few more weeks.

[+] EnlargeWisconsin Badgers
AP Photo/Morry GashWisconsin finished as the highest ranked Big Ten school and earned a trip to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 11 years.
Although the Big Ten maintained its momentum from a strong 2009-10 bowl season, the league still needs a strong finish to brand 2010 a success. The Big Ten lacked many signature nonconference wins -- it had some bad luck as teams like Miami and Notre Dame didn't meet expectations -- and few squads finished the regular season on a good note.

What can't be disputed is the Big Ten's strength at the top. Three teams went 11-1 and shared the Big Ten title -- Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State -- and all three squads finished in the top 10 of the final BCS standings. No other conference had more than two squads in the top 10, and the Big Ten was the only league with a legitimate beef about the BCS's limit on two teams per conference.

Wisconsin finally took that critical step from good to great this fall, winning its final seven games, mostly in dominating fashion, while not compromising the program's core values. Michigan State was one of the best stories of the college football season, going from unranked to 11-1 with a share of the league crown. The Spartans repeatedly overcame adversity both on and off the field, showing that the program has truly taken a step under Mark Dantonio's leadership. Ohio State was, well, typical Ohio State, surging down the stretch behind a strong defense and an improved offense to record a record-tying sixth consecutive Big Ten championship.

The rest of the Big Ten? Meh.

After the big three, no other squad recorded more than seven victories. Iowa endured an extremely disappointing season, given the August hype, and lost its late-game mojo in shocking fashion. Northwestern and Michigan both started 5-0 before dropping five of their final seven contests. Penn State showed improvement as the season went on but lost convincingly to elite foes. Illinois made strides in all three phases and recorded some quality wins, but losses in three of its final four games combined with more maddening inconsistency left Illini fans feeling unsatisfied.

The league had a clearly defined bottom tier with Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue. The Boilers get a pass after enduring an unthinkable stretch of injuries to key players, although their inability to avoid major mistakes is a concern going forward. Minnesota endured a nine-game slide and became the first Big Ten school to fire its coach during the season since 2002. Indiana waited until the day after the season to fire coach Bill Lynch, as the Hoosiers once again couldn't get over the hump in Big Ten play.

Once again, the bowl games will serve as a proving ground for the Big Ten. If the league performs well, especially in the two BCS games, it could enter 2011 billed as the nation's top conference following the addition of Nebraska.

But if the league stumbles in the coming weeks, forget the crown. It will be back to court jester status.

Offensive MVP: Michigan QB Denard Robinson

It's a close call between Robinson and Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa, but there's no way Michigan gets to seven victories without "Shoelace." Robinson made his mark in the Michigan, Big Ten and NCAA record books, breaking the single-season FBS mark for quarterback rushing (1,643 yards) and becoming the first player in NCAA history to record 2,000 pass yards and 1,500 rush yards in a season. Although he slowed down against superior Big Ten competition, Robinson altered game plans and carried Michigan on his back for much of the season.

[+] EnlargeRyan Kerrigan
AP Photo/John TerhuneRyan Kerrigan's 26 tackles for loss was the best in the nation
Defensive MVP: Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan

You can call him "Superman," and Kerrigan delivered a heroic performance for the Boilers. He led the nation in tackles for loss (26) and ranked third nationally in sacks (12.5). The consensus Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year tied for second nationally in forced fumbles with five and recovered two fumbles. Kerrigan recorded a tackle for loss in 11 of Purdue's 12 games and had multiple tackles for loss in seven contests. Just an absolute beast. Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt is a close second to Kerrigan. Watt made more game-changing plays than any Big Ten defender.

Coach of the Year: Michigan State's Mark Dantonio

Dantonio needed only four years to turn a chronic underachiever into a Big Ten champion. He fostered a new sense of mental toughness in his players after a rough season both on and off the field in 2009. Dantonio made two of the gutsiest calls of the college football season, "Little Giants" against Notre Dame and "Mousetrap" against Northwestern, and worked his way back to the sideline barely a month after suffering a heart attack Sept. 19. He certainly shares this honor with offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, who did a great job overseeing the team in Dantonio's absence. Wisconsin's Bret Bielema also merits a mention here.

Newcomer of the Year: Wisconsin RB James White

If you listed the Big Ten position groups least likely for a freshman to emerge entering the season, Wisconsin's running backs might be at the top. The Badgers returned 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay as well as capable backup Montee Ball and veteran reserve Zach Brown. But true freshman James White hit the ground running as soon as preseason camp began and never looked back. The consensus Big Ten Freshman of the Year led Wisconsin and ranked fifth in the league with 1,029 rush yards, and he reached the end zone 14 times. White looked like Wisconsin's best back for much of the fall. Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase merits a mention here.

Biggest surprise: Michigan State

Those of us who study the league closely saw the potential with Michigan State entering the season. But after a rough 2009 and with a history of struggling to reach elite status, the Spartans were a tough sell. They ended up going from unranked in the preseason to 11-1, co-Big Ten champions and ninth in the final BCS standings (Michigan State rose to as high as No. 5). The biggest surprise for me wasn't necessarily that Michigan State won 11 games, but how it got there, by repeatedly overcoming adversity. These aren't your same ol' Spartans. Illinois merits a mention here after doubling its wins total from 2009.

Biggest disappointment: Iowa

The Hawkeyes claimed 11 wins and an Orange Bowl championship last season, and with a sizable senior class returning, expectations had been understandably elevated entering the fall. A preseason top 10 squad in both major polls, Iowa seemed to put its living-on-the-edge days behind it in the first two weeks. But the Hawkeyes couldn't complete a furious comeback at Arizona, setting the tone for a series of late-game problems. Iowa surrendered late touchdowns in all five of its losses and blew fourth-quarter leads in all four of its Big Ten defeats. A 7-5 record wasn't what anyone had in mind this year.

Game of the Year: Wisconsin 31, Iowa 30 (Oct. 23 at Kinnick Stadium)

Iowa fans likely won't agree with this choice, but the game not only provided the drama but largely shaped the Big Ten title race. Wisconsin had come off of a win against top-ranked Ohio State, but a loss in Iowa City likely would have eliminated the Badgers from the Big Ten championship chase. Iowa came in 2-0 in Big Ten play and would have been seen as the league title frontrunner had it won. The game featured eight lead changes and several huge performances by players on both teams. Iowa led 30-24 late in the fourth quarter when Wisconsin called a fake punt deep in its own territory -- Bielema called the play "chain" -- and moved the chains to keep the drive alive. The Badgers, playing without several key players because of injury, went on to score the game-winning touchdown as Iowa struggled to manage the clock in the final minute. Wisconsin won its final four games easily to secure its first league title and its first trip to the Rose Bowl in 11 years.
Kevin Wilson is a great offensive mind.

I first saw this in 2000 as a student reporter at Northwestern, where Wilson transformed the Wildcats' attack, trading in a going-nowhere, traditional scheme for the spread system. Under Wilson's leadership, Northwestern ranked third nationally in total offense, eighth in rushing and ninth in scoring en route to a co-Big Ten championship in 2000.

Wilson moved on to Oklahoma, where he has coordinated offenses that ranked in the top 25 nationally in six out of the last eight seasons. Wilson's offense in 2008 led the nation in scoring (51.1 ppg) and ranked third in passing and 20th in rushing. He can run the spread with the best of them and twice was a finalist for the Frank Broyles Award, given to the nation's top assistant, winning it in 2008.

[+] EnlargeKevin Wilson
AP Photo/Darron CummingsNew head coach Kevin Wilson knows how important having the right defensive coordinator will be.
It's clear that Wilson is ready to be a head coach, and Indiana has provided him with the opportunity. I think he's a good hire, and I have no doubt Wilson will help the Hoosiers score a lot of points in the coming years.

Here's my concern: Can Wilson fix Indiana's chronic problems on defense?

If he can't, he'll meet the same fate as Bill Lynch, Gerry DiNardo and Cam Cameron, offensive-minded coaches who were fired because they couldn't make Indiana's defense respectable. Cameron had star quarterback Antwaan Randle El for four years and still couldn't make a bowl.

Indiana fans are tired of seeing these numbers, but they bear repeating. There isn't a unit in the Big Ten that has struggled as much for as long as Indiana's defense.

Here's where Indiana's defense has ranked nationally in the 11 years:

2010: 89th (410.2 ypg)
2009: 88th (401 ypg)
2008: 107th (432.2 ypg)
2007: 71st (403.4 ypg)
2006: 109th (402.3 ypg)
2005: 93rd (417.7 ypg)
2004: 110th (453.2 ypg)
2003: 94th (429.7 ypg)
2002: 101st (428.4 ypg)
2001: 72nd (393.8 ypg)
2000: 112th (457.3 ypg)

Again, I'm not hating on the Wilson hire at all. I've known Wilson for a long time. He's a straight shooter who Indiana fans will really like, if they don't already after the coach's strong performance at Tuesday's introductory news conference.

He has a very strong résumé and Indiana landed him for a fair price ($1.2 million a year).

Wilson also will have time to fix the program, receiving a seven-year contract.

"Indiana needs to give continuity a try in its football program," athletic director Fred Glass said.

But for Wilson to last in Bloomington, he has to get the defense on track. The good news is Wilson knows firsthand that you can't win in a major conference without a defensive focus.

"I'm an offensive guy, but nine years going against coach [Bob] Stoops every day [in practice], you learn how to play great defense," Wilson said. "We're going to play some great defense here."

Wilson isn't sure if he'll continue to call the offensive plays from the field or hire a playcaller to IU. It's an important decision, and I think Wilson would be better served to be a CEO-type and leave the play calling to someone he can trust.

The bigger hire, and arguably the biggest hire he'll make at Indiana, is defensive coordinator. Indiana lacks the talent on defense to consistently stop Big Ten offenses, and it really needs someone who can provide a schematic advantage.

"I'm going to take some time because I do have time and I need to get it right," Wilson said. "I need to get the right guy. It's a huge hire.

"We're going to get someone good."

Indiana got someone good in Wilson.

While he lacks head-coaching experience, he's no stranger to the big stage after nine years at Oklahoma and has several indirect ties to the Indiana program and to the region. He'll bring energy to a program that has been unable to get over the hump in Big Ten play.

If this offensive guy can fix Indiana's defense, the Hoosiers will finally get over that hump.
Indiana has been down this road before.

The school is no stranger to hiring offensive-minded coaches.

Cam Cameron came to Indiana in 1997 after coaching quarterbacks at Michigan and then with the Washington Redskins. He was succeeded in 2002 by Gerry DiNardo, who won a national title as Colorado's offensive coordinator before becoming a head coach at Vanderbilt and LSU. Indiana broke the mold in 2005 with Terry Hoeppner, a longtime defensive assistant at Miami (Ohio) before taking the top job in Oxford. But when Hoeppner died tragically in 2007, Indiana handed the head-coaching duties to Bill Lynch, the team's offensive coordinator.

After firing Lynch on Sunday, Indiana once again is looking for a coach to lead its football program.

It might be time for the Hoosiers to look to the other side of the ball.

Indiana's defense has dragged down the program for more than a decade. The Hoosiers have scored points and produced offensive standouts like Antwaan Randle El, Kellen Lewis, James Hardy and Ben Chappell, but their repeated inability to field adequate defenses has kept them out of bowl games. It still baffles me how IU couldn't make a single bowl game during Randle El's four years as the starting quarterback.

Defense was a large part of Lynch's downfall. His offenses fared well, but Indiana couldn't stop the opposition on a consistent basis.

Here's where Indiana's defense has ranked nationally in the 11 years:

2010: 89th (410.2 ypg)
2009: 88th (401 ypg)
2008: 107th (432.2 ypg)
2007: 71st (403.4 ypg)
2006: 109th (402.3 ypg)
2005: 93rd (417.7 ypg)
2004: 110th (453.2 ypg)
2003: 94th (429.7 ypg)
2002: 101st (428.4 ypg)
2001: 72nd (393.8 ypg)
2000: 112th (457.3 ypg)

Just dreadful.

I've been told most of the candidates for the Indiana job come from the offensive side, guys like Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill and former Minnesota coach Glen Mason.

Not saying these guys wouldn't work well at IU, but given the deficiencies on defense in Bloomington, the Hoosiers might be better off with a defense-oriented head coach.

Here are a few suggestions:

Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren: Doeren has the charisma, the recruiting skills and the track record to succeed as a head coach. His defense ranks in the top four of the Big Ten in all the key categories, including second in takeaways and third in yards allowed, despite losing star linebacker Chris Borland in September. Doeren has helped mold standout players like Borland, defensive end J.J. Watt and defensive end O'Brien Schofield.

San Diego State coach Brady Hoke: I doubt Indiana could lure Hoke away from the West Coast, but he would qualify as a very good hire for the Hoosiers. He knows the area as the former Ball State coach, and he has a background in defense as the former defensive line coach at Michigan, among other spots. Hoke coached three All-American defensive linemen at Michigan.

Toledo coach Tim Beckman: Beckman led Toledo to an 8-4 mark in his second season at the school. He previously served as defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, cornerbacks coach at Ohio State and defensive coordinator at Bowling Green. Beckman coached six All-Big Ten defensive backs in Columbus, including Donte Whitner.

Offense sells these days. I get that. But Indiana might be wise to hire a guy who knows a thing or two about defense.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 14

November, 29, 2010
11/29/10
9:00
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» Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

Not many changes this week, aside from a shuffle at the bottom.

1. Wisconsin (11-1, 7-1 Big Ten): It's dangerous for anyone to get in Wisconsin's path right now. The Badgers bullied their way to a share of the Big Ten title and most likely earned their first trip to the Rose Bowl since Jan. 1, 2000. Paul Chryst's offense is the most dangerous unit in the conference.

2. Ohio State (11-1, 7-1): Big Ten titles and beat-downs of Michigan have become the norm for Ohio State, and the 2010 Buckeyes kept the streaks alive. Ohio State is a team that gets stronger as games go on and as the season goes on. The Buckeyes likely will aim for a second consecutive BCS bowl win, most likely in New Orleans against the dreaded SEC.

3. Michigan State (11-1, 7-1): Whatever happens with the bowl selections, Michigan State can call itself a champion after an impressive performance against Penn State. The Spartans have a strong case for BCS selection but could get snubbed because of more impressive finishes by both Wisconsin and Ohio State. Still, Mark Dantonio's team has overcome a ton of adversity both on and off the field.

4. Penn State (7-5, 4-4): At least Penn State competed on Saturday, which is more than I can say for Michigan and Northwestern, and, for that matter, Iowa in the closing minutes. The Nittany Lions clearly are not an elite team, but they have fared very well in bowl games under Joe Paterno and can start building toward 2011 in the upcoming practices before a New Year's Day contest.

5. Iowa (7-5, 4-4): What happened here? After dismantling Michigan State on Oct. 30, the Hawkeyes backslid in November and finished the regular season with three consecutive losses. The team that was so good at finishing last fall allowed late touchdowns in all five of its losses and repeatedly lost its poise in clutch situations. Extremely disappointing.

6. Illinois (6-5, 4-4): The open week came at a good time for Illinois, which got to sit back and watch its fellow mid-tier mates fall apart. Illinois faces a huge test Friday night at Fresno State, which is always tough to beat on its home field. A victory secures a winning season for Illinois and gives the Illini some momentum entering a bowl game.

7. Michigan (7-5, 3-5): Back-to-back blowout losses put a damper on a season that began with a surge but slowed down considerably in Big Ten play. Quarterback Denard Robinson is a stud but he does not have enough weapons around him, and Michigan's repeated breakdowns on defense and specials teams are discouraging so late in the season.

8. Northwestern (7-5, 3-5): You expected the offense to have its struggles without star quarterback Dan Persa, but Northwestern's defense simply has not shown up the past two weeks. Whether it is youth or a lack of leadership, the Wildcats have to be concerned after surrendering 118 points to Illinois and Wisconsin. Pat Fitzgerald's teams have finished the season strong until this year.

9. Minnesota (3-9, 2-6): Written off in mid November, Minnesota won its final two regular-season games to end things on a good note. You had to be pleased for senior quarterback Adam Weber, who finally got his hands on a rivalry trophy as the Gophers hoisted the Floyd of Rosedale. Uncertain times are ahead for Minnesota, but the players have a reason to smile entering the offseason.

10. Indiana (5-7, 1-7): Winning the Bucket game wasn't enough to save coach Bill Lynch, but Indiana moves up a spot in the power rankings after winning at Ross-Ade Stadium for the first time since 1996. The Hoosiers really will miss Ben Chappell, one of the nation's more underrated quarterbacks. All eyes now turn to the coaching search.

11. Purdue (4-8, 2-6): If Purdue could hold a lead, it would be going bowling as one of the nation's more improbable success stories. But the Boilers didn't get it done against Michigan State and Indiana and finished the season with six consecutive defeats. The injury excuse works this season, but Danny Hope needs to make a bowl in Year 3 to avoid some serious heat.
In a perfect world, college football's classiest coaches could also be the best ones.

If so, Bill Lynch might be hoisting a crystal football in early January.

Instead, Lynch's Indiana Hoosiers players hoisted the Old Oaken Bucket on Saturday at Purdue. Indiana had ended a 12-game Big Ten losing streak and beaten its archrival on the road for the first time since 1996.

[+] EnlargeBill Lynch
Jim Brown/US PresswireThe Hoosiers had a 6-26 conference record after Bill Lynch took over as head coach in 2007.
It was a great moment for Lynch and the Hoosiers, but that's all it was. A moment. Reality set in Sunday, as Indiana athletic director Fred Glass looked at the football program under Lynch's leadership through a wide-angle lens.

For all the good things that Glass saw -- and that so many of us see in Lynch -- the AD couldn't turn a blind eye to the number three.

As in, three Big Ten wins in the past three seasons.

Glass proceeded to make a bottom-line decision in a bottom-line business and fired Lynch on Sunday after the Hoosiers finished 5-7. It was the first major personnel move for Glass, and it likely will be one of the toughest choices of his career.

"I take no joy in this at all," Glass said at a news conference Sunday afternoon, "but I'm confident that it's the right thing to do."

Glass had three options with Lynch following Indiana's third consecutive bowl-less season:

  • Extend Lynch's contract
  • Allow Lynch to coach in the final year of his deal
  • Make a change

"Three Big Ten wins in three years isn't the basis for an extension," Glass said.

You might remember Glass, after being hired, talked a lot about how contracts needed to be honored and needed to mean something again at Indiana. Some might view Sunday's decision as hypocritical because Lynch still had a year left on the extension he received in November 2007 after leading Indiana to its first bowl appearance in 14 seasons.

But in today's college football, a coach with one year left on his deal might as well have no years left. A coach can't recruit without some semblance of security, and going through a season as a potential lame duck would be tortuous.

"That wouldn't serve Bill or Indiana University very well," Glass said.

Glass made the right call Sunday, even though it was a tough one.

Lynch is the consummate gentleman, a total class act and an excellent representative for Indiana and its football program. His players stayed out of trouble for the most part, and he and his staff upgraded recruiting in recent years.

Lynch viewed Indiana like few coaches do -- as a destination job. He grew up in the state, starred as a player at Butler and coached at three in-state schools (Butler, Ball State and Depauw) before taking over at Indiana in 2007 following Terry Hoeppner's death.

But he didn't win enough, plain and simple. Especially in the Big Ten, where he went 6-26 with two last-place finishes in his four seasons. Indiana came so close so many times in league play, especially last season and also this year, but the Hoosiers couldn't get over the hump.

The Big Ten is a tough league that is about to get tougher in 2011 with the addition of Nebraska. Indiana needs a coach who can help the program take the next step. It will take time.

"Any change often results in one or two steps back," Glass said.

Glass called Lynch "a fabulous guy" and "a great teacher" and said several times how hard the decision was to make.

"It’s been really hard on me," he said. "But boo hoo for me. It’s part of being an athletic director. It’s my decision."

The next coach also will be Glass' decision, and he's willing to take his time to find the right man. Indiana won't use a search committee, although Glass will consult many people, including Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian, former Colts coach Tony Dungy and Chuck Neinas, who runs the Neinas Sports Services consulting firm.

Dungy, for the record, now is being used as a consultant for both Big Ten vacancies (Indiana and Minnesota).

Glass declined to outline the specifics he's looking for in Indiana's next coach but mentioned several times that he'll reach out to the Black Coaches Association. I'd be surprised if Indiana doesn't strongly consider some minority candidates in its search.

Some early possibilities for IU: San Diego State coach Brady Hoke, former Minnesota coach Glen Mason, Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell.

Glass might not find many coaches who view Indiana as a dream job, as both Lynch and Hoeppner did. But Indiana certainly is a better job than it was several years ago, as the school has upgraded its stadium, its football training facilities and, perhaps most important, its home attendance.

“I think it's a fantastic job," Glass said. "Properly understood, it will be highly sought after. Indiana University is clearly committed to the football program."

Indiana can show its commitment by paying its next coach appropriately. Lynch made $650,000 this season, well below the bar for a coach from a major conference.

"We’re prepared to make the resources available to get the group that we want," Glass said, "and understand that it's probably going to be significantly more expensive than what we're spending now."

It takes tough decisions to become a better program. Indiana made one today.
The game resembled so many others for Indiana, but this time, the Hoosiers found a way to end up on top.

After tying the score late in regulation, Indiana outlasted Purdue 34-31 in overtime behind the bionic arm of quarterback Ben Chappell. The senior passed for 330 yards and three touchdowns to break Indiana's single-season passing record of 3,043 yards held by Kellen Lewis. Chappell spread the ball around well as three receivers recorded eight or more catches, including three touchdown grabs by star Tandon Doss.

Indiana won in West Lafayette for the first time since 1996 and ended a 12-game Big Ten road losing streak.

The big question: Will today's win be enough to save coach Bill Lynch?

Today certainly was a great moment for Lynch, who has come close to leading Indiana to so many more Big Ten wins. The Hoosiers finish the season just one win shy of their second bowl appearance in four years. If Damarlo Belcher comes down with the ball against Iowa on Nov. 6, you never know how things turn out.

On the flip side, Lynch's record in Big Ten play remains very poor, and Indiana loses Chappell and several other key players. While Indiana is off to a fast start on 2011 recruiting, this wouldn't be the worst time to make a change.

It's a tough call for AD Fred Glass. But today is one to raise the Old Oaken Bucket and celebrate.

Purdue finishes a hard-luck season at 4-8 after blowing fourth quarter leads in consecutive games. Quarterback Rob Henry made strides late in the season but the Boilers couldn't stop Chappell when it mattered.

The injuries this season certainly are a valid excuse, but Danny Hope needs better results in 2011.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 13

November, 24, 2010
11/24/10
10:15
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It's rivalry week in the Big Ten, and here are 10 things to watch on Saturday.

1. Title talk: Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State all can claim at least a share of the Big Ten title by winning on Saturday. The Badgers are primarily rooting for a Michigan State loss, although if all three teams win, Wisconsin likely heads to Pasadena because of its higher place in the BCS standings. Michigan State is pulling for hated rival Michigan to upset Ohio State, while the Buckeyes want Northwestern to shock Wisconsin in Madison. Should be an interesting day of scoreboard watching around the league.

[+] EnlargeWisconsin running back Montee Ball
Rick Osentoski/US PRESSWIREMontee Ball and Wisconsin could be heading to the Rose Bowl with a win over Northwestern this weekend.
2. Penn State looks toward the future: Joe Paterno said this week that he'll return in 2011 for his 46th season as Penn State's head coach. Paterno cited having a young team with the potential to get better. Well, Saturday provides the Nittany Lions with the chance to take a big step forward. Penn State has struggled mightily against ranked teams this season, falling by more than 20 points to Alabama, Iowa and Ohio State. A win against No. 10 Michigan State would give Penn State wins in five of its final six regular-season games and raise the bar for next fall.

3. Lynch's last stand: Indiana doesn't want to fire Bill Lynch, but it might have to if the coach goes winless in Big Ten play in his fourth season at the helm. Lynch can avoid such a fate and improve his cause by beating archrival Purdue in West Lafayette. The Hoosiers players are in Lynch's corner, as linebacker Tyler Replogle said this week: "We've been trying to win for Coach Lynch all year." After so many near misses, the Hoosiers need to show that they can get over the hump in a Big Ten game.

4. Robinson vs. Pryor: The Big Ten's two most recognizable players meet Saturday at The Horseshoe, and the league's Offensive Player of the Year Award could be at stake. Robinson has broken records and put up some incredible numbers, but he's still looking for a signature win. Beating No. 10 Ohio State certainly would qualify. Pryor boasts a 29-4 record as Ohio State's starting quarterback and came up big in the clutch last week at Iowa. Both signal callers have significantly improved their passing numbers this season, but both remain threats to run.

5. Getting piggy wit it: Sorry, couldn't resist. The Floyd of Rosedale is at stake Saturday when Minnesota and No. 24 Iowa meet at TCF Bank Stadium. The Hawkeyes need to finish strong after back-to-back heartbreaking losses, and they've taken their anger out on Minnesota in recent years. The Gophers saw coach Tim Brewster fired midseason for, among other things, not winning enough rivalry trophies. Bringing the pig back to Minneapolis in a huge upset would help Minnesota end a disappointing season on a very good note.

6. Wildcats try to rebound against three-headed monster: Northwestern's defense got absolutely shredded for 519 rush yards against Illinois last week at Wrigley Field. It's not the type of performance the Wildcats needed before a game against an even better ground attack in Wisconsin. The Badgers called 28 consecutive run plays last week against Michigan and have been dominant on offense during Big Ten play. John Clay could return to join sophomore Montee Ball and freshman James White, forming a fearsome three-headed monster in the backfield.

7. Kirk Cousins' health: The Michigan State quarterback hasn't looked like himself for a few weeks, and there are reasons why. He has been dealing with a sprained ankle since an Oct. 16 game against Illinois and a sprained shoulder for just about as long. Like his team, Cousins has shown resiliency to play through the pain, and he scored the game-winning touchdown last week against Purdue. But he also reaggravated his injuries in the game. Cousins is never one to complain and will try to lead Michigan State to its first Big Ten title in 20 years Saturday, but will his body hold up in Happy Valley?

8. Greg Robinson's stuffed animal: Robinson is trying just about anything to help Michigan's poor defense, apparently even a stuffed animal. The Wolverines defensive coordinator was seen rubbing the stuffed animal on the neck of linebacker Kenny Demens in last week's game against Wisconsin. I'd prefer to see Jobu show up on the Michigan sideline this week. Then again, it might take more than gimmicks to help this unit become respectable.

9. Gophers try to end scoreless streak: Minnesota has been shut out in its previous two meetings with Iowa, a scoreless streak Hawkeyes' fans never hesitate to point out (pun intended). The Gophers haven't exactly been dynamic on offense this season, but they put up 38 points two weeks ago against Illinois to record their first conference win of the season. Senior quarterback Adam Weber hopes to end an up-and-down career on a strong note against an Iowa defense looking to start strong and finish stronger after blowing fourth-quarter leads in consecutive games.

10. Endgame for Kerrigan: Purdue isn't going bowling, so Saturday marks the final chance for Boilers fans to salute star defensive end Ryan Kerrigan. Former defensive tackle Jeff Zgonina is the only Purdue player to win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors, taking home the award in 1993. Kerrigan soon should add his name to the list, and he tries to go 3-1 against Indiana in his career.
Let's take a look back at Week 12 before looking ahead to rivalry week.

Team(s) of the Week: Wisconsin and Illinois. Both teams get the nod for different reasons. The Badgers overcame their Michigan misery and won in Ann Arbor for the first time since 1994. After Wisconsin's red-hot offense surged out to a 24-0 lead, the Badgers survived a mini scare in the third quarter before steamrolling Michigan with 28 consecutive designed run plays. Running backs James White and Montee Ball combined for 354 rush yards and six touchdowns in the win. Speaking of the ground game, no back in America had a bigger day than Illinois' Mikel Leshoure, who racked up a team-record 330 rushing yards against Northwestern. Behind Leshoure's brilliance, Illinois piled up 519 rush yards and claimed a must-win game against Northwestern at Wrigley Field to become bowl eligible.

[+] EnlargeOhio State Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor
Reese Strickland/US PresswireOhio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor overcame a pair of interceptions to lead the Buckeyes to a win.
Game of the Week: Ohio State at Iowa. The game featured three lead changes and an exciting fourth quarter defined by big plays on both sides of the ball. Both defenses came to play, and only one touchdown was scored in the first half. Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor overcame two interceptions to lead a pair of fourth-quarter scoring drives. After Buckeyes receiver DeVier Posey dropped a wide-open touchdown pass in the end zone with the Buckeyes down 17-13, Pryor saved the day with a 14-yard scramble on fourth-and-10. Ohio State scored the go-ahead touchdown moments later and its defensive line stepped up down the stretch. Iowa's season of heartbreak continued, while Ohio State kept its streak of Big Ten titles intact.

Biggest play: Three immediately come to mind. Pryor's scramble on fourth-and-10 likely saved Ohio State's season. Michigan State's Denicos Allen blocked a Purdue punt late in the fourth quarter to set up the game-winning touchdown as the Spartans rallied from a 28-13 deficit. And Penn State's Andrew Dailey and James Van Fleet teamed up for a punt block and a touchdown return that broke a 24-24 tie against Indiana at FedEx Field.

Specialist spotlight: The two punt blocks by Michigan State and Penn State loomed large in both teams' victories. Michigan State punter Aaron Bates had another big game, averaging 43.4 yards per punt and placing three inside the Purdue 20-yard line. After not attempting a punt the week before against Indiana, Wisconsin's Brad Nortman made the most out of his only chance against Michigan, pinning the Wolverines at their 1-yard line. Ohio State's Devin Barclay kicked a clutch field goal against Iowa for the second straight year, this time a 48-yarder in the fourth quarter. Both punters looked comfortable at Wrigley, as Illinois' Anthony Santella averaged 53.5 yards per punt and Northwestern's Brandon Williams had a 45.2-yard average. Northwestern's Venric Mark had a 58-yard punt return that set up a Wildcats touchdown against Illinois.

Best sign: The Big Ten's last-minute decision to primarily use one end zone at Wrigley Field became the top story in college football heading into Saturday. But just in case players from Northwestern and Illinois didn't hear about the rule changes, a fan sitting behind the dreaded East end zone provided a reminder. He held up a sign that read: "Wrong Way!" Nice.

Game balls (given to players on winning or losing teams who didn't receive helmet stickers)

  • Penn State QB Matt McGloin: The sophomore racked up a career-high 315 pass yards and two touchdowns against Indiana, completing 22 of 31 attempts in the win. His 315 pass yards tie for the 10th most in team history.
  • Illinois LB Martez Wilson: The Chicago native sparkled in his hometown Saturday, recording three tackles for loss, two sacks, two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble in the win against Northwestern.
  • Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien: He completed his first 13 pass attempts against Michigan and showed good toughness, absorbing several hits before releasing the ball. Tolzien finished the game 14-for-15 for 201 yards and an interception.
  • [+] EnlargePenn State quarterback Matt McGloin
    AP Photo/Nick WassPenn State quarterback Matt McGloin had a career day in a win over Indiana.
    Michigan State WR Mark Dell: Dell made Senior Day a memorable one by recording eight receptions for 108 yards and two touchdowns against Purdue. The senior receiver hauled in scoring passes of 24 yards and nine yards to match a career high for touchdowns.
  • Michigan QB Denard Robinson: He started slowly against Wisconsin but came on strong in the second half. Robinson racked up 121 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, breaking the FBS single-season record for quarterback rushing. He also had 239 pass yards and two touchdowns with an interception.
  • Purdue CB Ricardo Allen: Any postseason awards list of top freshmen should include Allen, who recorded his second pick-six in as many weeks against Michigan State. He tied Mike Rose's single-season record for interceptions returned for touchdowns. Allen now leads Purdue with three interceptions this season.
  • Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins: The junior played through pain and overcame an early miscue to record four touchdowns (3 pass, 1 rush) and 276 pass yards. Cousins completed passes to 10 different receivers in the come-from-behind win against Purdue.
  • Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor: It's not how you start in football, and Pryor finished extremely strong against Iowa. He led two fourth-quarter scoring drives, racked up 78 rush yards against a stout Iowa defense and passed for 195 yards.
  • Indiana WR Tandon Doss: The dynamic junior led Indiana in both receiving yards (90) and rushing yards (61) against Penn State. Doss had seven receptions and five rushes on the day. He also shined as a return man and finished the game with 293 all-purpose yards, tied for the seventh-best effort in team history.

Now let's look ahead to rivalry week.

Michigan (7-4, 3-4 Big Ten) at No. 8 Ohio State (10-1, 6-1): If the Buckeyes win, they will tie a Big Ten record with their sixth consecutive league title (won or shared). They also aim for their seventh consecutive win against their archrival. Michigan can spoil it all for Ohio State and take the heat off of third-year coach Rich Rodriguez, but a Wolverines win would qualify as a major upset. Pryor takes aim at a Wolverines defense that ranks 99th nationally in points allowed (33.6 ppg).

No. 10 Michigan State (10-1, 6-1) at Penn State (7-4, 4-3): A special season for the Spartans comes down to this, the biggest game in recent team history. Michigan State can record a team record for wins if it beats Penn State, and a victory ensures the Spartans of at least a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since 1990. McGloin and the Nittany Lions look to spoil the party and end the regular season with wins in five of their final six games.

Indiana (4-7, 0-7) at Purdue (4-7, 2-5): For the second straight year, the Bucket game will be played with just pride and bragging rights on the line. Neither Indiana nor Purdue will be going bowling this season, but both teams want to end 2010 on a good note. It could be a pivotal game for Hoosiers coach Bill Lynch, who has recorded just two Big Ten wins since his Hoosiers beat Purdue in 2007 to clinch a bowl berth.

No. 24 Iowa (7-4, 4-3) at Minnesota (2-9, 1-6): Iowa has shut out Minnesota in each of the last two seasons, and the Hawkeyes will come in angry after dropping back-to-back games. The Golden Gophers, meanwhile, come off of an open week after an uplifting win against Illinois and look for their first home victory of the season. It'll be the last game for quarterback Adam Weber, the other Minnesota seniors and probably most of the coaching staff. Iowa has won eight of the teams' last nine meetings.

Northwestern (7-4, 3-4) at Wisconsin (10-1, 6-1): The Badgers are playing for a share of their first Big Ten title since 1999 and most likely their first Rose Bowl appearance since that year. Barring an Ohio State loss, a Badgers win likely punches their ticket to Pasadena. Wisconsin's offense has been sensational as of late, and starting running back John Clay should be back in the fold. It likely spells bad news for Northwestern, which had no answer for Illinois' rushing attack at Wrigley.

Bye: Illinois (6-5, 4-4)

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 12

November, 18, 2010
11/18/10
10:15
AM ET
Ten items to track in Week 12 in Big Ten football.

1. Football at the Friendly Confines: Don't adjust your TVs. Football is back at Wrigley Field for the first time in 40 years, and Northwestern and Illinois play the first college game at Clark & Addison since 1938. ESPN "College GameDay" will be on hand for the unique event, which has become a major marketing coup for Northwestern. Although the game itself likely won't match the build-up, Illinois needs a win to become bowl eligible and Northwestern begins life without star quarterback Dan Persa.

2. Buckeyes go streaking: Ohio State's run of five consecutive Big Ten titles (outright or shared) is one of the most impressive streaks in college sports. To keep it going, the Buckeyes in all likelihood need to win Saturday at No. 20 Iowa, which eviscerated Michigan State in its last game at Kinnick Stadium. Ohio State hasn't showed its typical road dominance this season, falling at Wisconsin and struggling to beat Illinois. Iowa gave Ohio State all it could handle last year in Columbus, and this time the Hawkeyes will have starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi on the field.

3. Wisconsin and the Big House blues: Michigan Stadium has been a (big) house of horrors for the Wisconsin Badgers in recent years. Wisconsin hasn't won in Ann Arbor since 1994, dropping its last five games at Michigan Stadium. The Badgers' only loss in both 1998 and 2006 took place in Ann Arbor, and two years ago a bad Michigan team recorded the biggest comeback in stadium history to stun then-undefeated Wisconsin. It has been a year of milestones for Bret Bielema and the Badgers, but they need to overcome their struggles at the Big House.

[+] EnlargeGreg Jones
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesMSU linebacker Greg Jones will play his final home game on Saturday.
4. Capital punishment: Indiana's embarrassing 83-20 loss to Wisconsin places the team, and possibly head coach Bill Lynch, in a must-win situation Saturday against Penn State at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. The Hoosiers need to capture their final two games to become bowl eligible, a tall task considering they're 2-20 in Big Ten play in the past three seasons. Lynch's Big Ten record is his biggest obstacle, and losses like the one at Wisconsin really hurt his cause. Fortunately for Indiana, quarterback Ben Chappell is expected to play against Penn State after leaving the Wisconsin debacle with a hip injury.

5. Senior Day send-off for Jones: Michigan State fans get a chance to salute one of the best defenders in team history Saturday. All-American linebacker Greg Jones plays his final game at Spartan Stadium, and it's a big one as the Spartans likely must win out to have a chance of reaching the Rose Bowl. Jones is well on his way toward leading Michigan State in tackles for the fourth consecutive season. He will make his 37th consecutive start and take aim at a patchwork Purdue offense that will run the ball a lot and give Jones plenty of chances to make plays. "It will be very emotional for him," coach Mark Dantonio said.

6. Stanzi on Senior Day: By most measures, Ricky Stanzi has been a significantly better quarterback this season than he was in 2009. Except in one category: wins and losses. Stanzi's fourth-quarter mojo has deserted him in three games, overshadowing his otherwise spectacular stats. He'll look to recapture the magic on Senior Day as one of Iowa's most decorated classes plays its final game at Kinnick Stadium. Stanzi has significantly trimmed his interceptions total, throwing just four picks in 272 pass attempts. But he faces an Ohio State defense that leads the nation with 17 interceptions this season.

7. The dodgy East End (zone): Player safety could be an issue at cramped Wrigley Field, which barely has enough room to wedge in a regulation-sized football field. The main area of concern is the east end zone, which bumps up against the wall in what is normally right field. One section of the wall juts out and is only a foot or so away from the back line of the end zone. Coaches Pat Fitzgerald and Ron Zook both agree the tight quarters will factor into the game. "Hopefully, it's not like Arena [football] where you run into and over billboard signs," Northwestern wide receiver Demetrius Fields said.

8. Penn State sticks with McGloin: Matt McGloin's hot streak went up in flames at Ohio Stadium, as he threw two pick-sixes in a disastrous second half. But Penn State coach Joe Paterno is sticking with McGloin as the starting quarterback against Indiana, which could be the perfect cure for the plucky sophomore. The Lions' quarterback race likely will restart next spring no matter what, but McGloin can strengthen his position with a strong finish. It will be interesting to see if Penn State also finds ways to get Rob Bolden some reps against the Hoosiers.

9. Michigan begins rough closing stretch: The Wolverines are assured of a winning season for the first time since 2007, but how much progress has really been made? The last two victories haven't come without some hiccups, namely 10 turnovers from the offense. Michigan should get a good barometer of its growth this season the next two weeks as it faces No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 9 Ohio State. Head coach Rich Rodriguez should return in 2011, but his team needs to show it can at least keep pace with the Badgers and the Buckeyes. Rodriguez is looking for quarterback Denard Robinson to rebound after committing four turnovers at Purdue.

10. "Superman" to the rescue: Ryan Kerrigan, AKA "Superman," has been a bright spot in a mostly bleak season for the hard-luck Purdue Boilermakers. The senior defensive end leads the nation in tackles for loss (23.5) and ranks second in sacks (11.5). But his college career will be over unless Purdue finds a way to win its final two games. The offense is still dealing with major injury issues, so Kerrigan and an improving Boilers defense need a huge effort Saturday to have any chance at upsetting Michigan State. At the very least, Kerrigan can help his cause for Big Ten defensive player of the year honors.

Big Ten stock report: Week 12

November, 17, 2010
11/17/10
1:55
PM ET
What's up? What's down?

STOCK UP

Michigan's defense: As amazing as it sounds, Michigan would have lost to Purdue if not for the play of its defense. It wasn't simply that the Wolverines bottled up a banged-up Purdue offense, but they limited damage after Denard Robinson and the offense committed five turnovers for the second straight game. Linebacker Obi Ezeh, defensive end Craig Roh and others stepped up as Michigan won a sloppy game.

Ohio State's second-half production: The Buckeyes have been exceptional in the second half all season, outscoring their opponents 159-46 in the final two quarters. Their latest explosion came against Penn State, as they rebounded from a lackluster first half to outscore the Nittany Lions 35-0 in the third and fourth quarters. Ohio State's offensive line imposed its will, and an opportunistic defense recorded two pick-sixes.

Northwestern's offensive line: I've criticized this group for much of the season, but it stepped up in a come-from-behind win against Iowa. Northwestern held Iowa's talented defensive line in check on two fourth-quarter scoring drives, allowing quarterback Dan Persa enough time to make some big throws. Although Iowa recorded four sacks in the game, Northwestern's offensive front held the edge when it mattered.

Wisconsin's offensive efficiency: Pretty obvious here, but you don't score 83 points without being near perfect in the critical categories. Wisconsin went 7-for-10 on third down and 10-for-10 in the red zone. It scored on its first drive for the seventh time this season and scored on its first drive after halftime for the eighth time in 10 games. The Badgers avoided a turnover for the fifth time this season.

Minnesota's red-zone offense: Finishing drives has been a major issue all season for Minnesota, which has produced just 19 touchdowns on 32 trips to the red zone. But things changed last Saturday at Illinois, as the Gophers scored touchdowns on all four of their red zone opportunities and rallied for their first Big Ten victory of 2010.

STOCK DOWN

Illinois' defensive line: After some dominant performances in October, the Illini are slipping a bit up front. Illinois recorded only one sack against Minnesota and couldn't stop Gophers running back DeLeon Eskridge (3 rush TDs) near the goal line. "We’re not playing with the same intensity we’ve played the first eight ballgames," coach Ron Zook said.

Iowa's fourth-quarter poise: The Hawkeyes haven't been the same team in crunch time this season, and it shows in their 7-3 record. Fourth-quarter struggles have surfaced in all three losses, most recently at Northwestern, as quarterback Ricky Stanzi and his receivers struggled and the defense looked gassed in allowing two scoring drives. Iowa has outscored its opponents by only four points (66-62) in the fourth quarter. The Hawkeyes own a 242-88 edge in scoring in the first three quarters.

Indiana's resolve: Football is a game of response, and Indiana didn't respond to losing starting quarterback Ben Chappell to a hip injury in the second quarter. The Hoosiers melted down on both sides of the ball and couldn't record a single stop in 10 chances against the Wisconsin offense. "As a football team, we did not handle him leaving the game," Indiana coach Bill Lynch said of Chappell. "As a result, we had no offensive production."

Penn State's defensive line: The Nittany Lions' signature unit on defense has been too inconsistent this season. After a strong second half the week before against Northwestern, Penn State produced only one sack and two tackles for loss against Ohio State, which dominated the line of scrimmage and sprung running back Dan Herron for 190 rushing yards. The Lions are tied for ninth in the Big Ten in sacks with just 14 this season.
Wisconsin's 83-20 shellacking of Indiana continues to be the hot-button topic in the Big Ten.

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
AP Photo/Morry GashBret Bielema and the Badgers hung 83 points on the Hoosiers.
Media folks from around the country have criticized the Badgers' offensive surge, including ESPN colleagues Pat Forde and Mike Golic. A handful of Big Ten coaches were asked Tuesday to weigh in on 83-20.

Michigan's Rich Rodriguez: "The only way you can say somebody is truly running it up is if they’re keeping their starters in all the way until the end and actually trying to do things with their starters to put points up on the board."

Michigan State's Mark Dantonio: "Sometimes things just begin to roll on a football team. It's like a wave and it’s difficult to stop it. … It's difficult to tell your players to go in and not play hard."

The coach in question, Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, faced another round of questions about his decisions in Saturday's game. To recap, Wisconsin had the highest points total for an FBS team this season, its highest total in the modern era and the third-highest total scored in a Big Ten game.

Here are some of Bielema's comments Tuesday:

  • On the criticism: "It was accusations that came from people probably that didn’t see the game. If you watched it, you'd see the way it unfolded. … In the second half, especially, we had our fourth-string center snapping to our fifth-team quarterback, and so on and so forth. And we were still able to have productive yards.
  • On the third-and-5 pass that went for a 74-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter: "My backup quarterback has thrown six passes, and he could be the starting quarterback in one play this weekend. So I would do it again 100 times over. It was a broken play, if you watched it."
  • One whether coaches consider margin of victory in the BCS climate: "It won't factor into my decision-making. People are going to raise an eyebrow to that after what we just did. But there wasn’t any intentions of doing that. It was a 10-10 game, and things unfolded very quickly."

Indiana coach Bill Lynch reiterated that he took no issue with Wisconsin's decision-making Saturday.

"I didn't have any problem," Lynch said. "It was our responsibility to stop them, and we didn’t do a very good job of that."

Quite frankly, I'm surprised that this has generated so much attention. And I think it goes back to something Bielema said Tuesday.

"The part that surprises me is that when other schools across the country -- obviously no one's put up 83 -- put up big numbers, no one says anything, depending on the region," Bielema said. "But it's so surprising when Wisconsin puts up 83."

Pardon the pun, but Bielema makes a really good point here.

If this happened in the Pac-10, Big 12 or SEC, I think it's a minor story. Hello, Bob Stoops. Hello, Urban Meyer. Hello, Jim Harbaugh.

(Not to get off on too big of a tangent, but if Harbaugh ever comes to the Big Ten, you better get ready for scores like the one Saturday in Madison. That guy never takes his foot off the gas.)

As Iowa beat writer Marc Morehouse tweeted earlier: "Oregon does this on a weekly basis and it's considered 'neat.'"

I really think the backlash toward Bielema and the Badgers is largely because they're in the Big Ten. A lot of people think scores like Saturdays simply have no place in a conference of supposedly superior sportsmanship.

Gimme a break. You're naive if you think the Big Ten is a bastion of morality. Need I remind you of what Woody Hayes said about going for two against Michigan?

I bet these are the same folks who hated the wildly entertaining 67-65 triple-overtime game between Michigan and Illinois.

There's no ideal way to handle situations like Saturday's at Camp Randall Stadium. You can't just stop the game early in the fourth quarter, shake hands and call it a day.

These things happen sometimes, even in the hallowed Big Ten.

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