NCF Nation: Brady Hoke
Brandon urged patience with the program, mentioned coaches like Jim Harbaugh and Nick Saban in his post and praised defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, whose job, at least to the outside, always appeared safe. Noticeably absent from the post was offensive coordinator Al Borges, who, along with offensive line coach Darrell Funk, has been the subject of increasing criticism as Michigan's offense sunk to historic lows in early November before reviving itself last Saturday against archrival Ohio State.
Hoke doesn't have a blog (am I the only one who wished he did) and isn't nearly as verbose as his boss, but he also expressed some public support for his staff Monday during an appearance at Detroit's Ford Field.
From The Detroit News:
Hoke was asked if he's happy with the staff and anticipates having this staff in 2014.
"Yeah, I anticipate the staff [returning]," he said.
When pressed and asked if he does not expect any changes, he responded simply.
"Correct," Hoke said.
He was asked again if this is a "we'll-see situation."
"No," he said.
Like every coach, Hoke will conduct evaluations with his staff following the season. Not surprisingly, Brandon will be a part of those. So it's possible changes could come following Michigan's bowl appearance, but don't hold your breath.
There's no doubt Hoke is loyal, and loyalty is a fleeting quality in today's pressurized world of college coaching. Florida on Monday fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis, and other programs either have made or will make significant staff changes.
Michigan's offensive woes and season record aren't nearly as bad as Florida's, but both programs are supposedly big time and face pressure to win championships. Brandon's counterpart at Florida, Jeremy Foley, also had to give his head coach a vote of confidence in recent days. What do the two approaches say about the culture of the programs, the leagues they play in and the standards they set for performance?
Hoke and Borges were united in their offensive vision at San Diego State, and nothing has changed at Michigan. They want to restore a pro-style offense built around the power run. But for various reasons -- personnel types, youth, lack of development -- it hasn't happened yet. Michigan's offense had negative net rushing totals in its first two November games, couldn't score a touchdown in regulation at Northwestern and racked up just 158 yards at Iowa before exploding for 41 points, 31 first downs and 603 yards against Ohio State.
The Wolverines seem to be at their best with quarterback Devin Gardner moving around and ball-carriers attacking the perimeter, rather than between the tackles. That hasn't been the long-term vision, but the plan could come into focus next season as young linemen and young running backs mature.
Borges is a smart coach, but he's also a journeyman coordinator. He had different jobs each season from 2000-04 and hasn't been at one stop for longer than five years since a seven-year stint at Portland State from 1986-92.
Like many coaches, Hoke believes in staff continuity, which is often a top indicator of success. We've seen plenty of examples in the Big Ten, including the long-tenured staffs at Michigan State and Minnesota picking up the slack when head coaches Mark Dantonio and Jerry Kill stepped away because of health reasons.
Northwestern attributes much of its recent success, at least until this year, to the staff remaining fully intact. Coach Pat Fitzgerald plans to keep it that way despite a highly disappointing 5-7 record. But Fitzgerald isn't at Michigan. He doesn't have the same external and historic demands as Hoke does, or should.
Does the patience/loyalty shown by Brandon and Hoke show that Michigan is different (in a good way), avoids knee-jerk reactions and wisely plans for long-term success? Or does it show Michigan talks like a big-time program but struggles to make the hard choices needed to compete at the highest level?
I'll admit it's a tough one. We'll probably get our answer in 2014.
That was the scenario in both the Ohio State-Michigan and Alabama-Auburn games. You know what happened. Brady Hoke went for the two-point conversion and didn't get it. Auburn chose to kick the extra point for the tie and won on a heaven-sent final play.
Ultimately, I had no problem with Hoke's call, though the two-point play itself was uninspiring. Sometimes it's not the decision but how it unfolds.
Consider that in the biggest play calls for both Penn State and Northwestern on Saturday, both coaches went with a run up the middle on third down. The Nittany Lions' surprise draw play on third-and-9 from their 19 resulted in a 61-yard gain by Zach Zwinak that put Wisconsin away. Northwestern went with a basic running play on third-and-6 at Illinois and got 11 yards from Treyvon Green, allowing the Wildcats to then run out the clock.
Had those runs been stuffed, both coaches would have been criticized for being too conservative and playing not to lose. It's a tough world, coaching. Unless you are blessed with Guz Malzahn's luck.
Take that and rewind it back ...
Team of the week: Penn State. Absolutely no one saw the Nittany Lions' 31-24 win at Wisconsin coming, especially because PSU had played so poorly on the road in Big Ten play. But coach Bill O'Brien led his team to another victory in a season finale, and recording two straight winning seasons under heavy NCAA sanctions is wildly impressive.
Worst hangover: BCS for Wisconsin? Yes, if that stands for Badgers Caught Sleepwalking. Instead of earning a possible Orange Bowl bid, the Badgers laid a giant egg. A tremendously successful large senior class somehow went out on the worst possible note at Camp Randall Stadium.
Big Men on Campus (offense): It has been a tough year for Northwestern, but the Wildcats finally got a Big Ten win at Illinois. And quarterback Trevor Siemian and receiver Christian Jones were big reasons why. Siemian threw for 414 yards and four touchdowns, while Jones had two of those scores during a 13-catch, 182-yard career day.
Big Man on Campus (defense): Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey was named Walter Camp national defensive player of the week after recording 11 tackles, including three for loss, plus a sack and a forced fumble against Nebraska. Really, you could just as easily single out fellow linebackers James Morris and Anthony Hitchens, who also had great games to cap tremendous seasons by all three. The Hawkeyes will really miss all three seniors next year.
Strangest moment: Penn State's hurry-up offense clearly confused Wisconsin's defense several times. The most obvious moment came early in the third quarter, when the Badgers had only nine men on defense when the Nittany Lions ran a play. Somehow, Wisconsin got out of that power-play situation when Tanner McEvoy broke up an underthrown deep ball.
Pointing the thumb or the finger? Coaches always talk a good game about accountability, and Bo Pelini usually is one to take blame for a poor performance by his team. But the Nebraska coach looked everywhere but in the mirror on his 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Iowa. Pelini said the call was chicken manure -- I'm paraphrasing -- and even brought Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz's own sideline demeanor into the conversation.
But where was the personal responsibility for Pelini nearly hitting an official in the face with his hat? In what other sport -- or walk of life -- would that be acceptable? Even Prop Joe and Avon Barksdale ("The Wire" nerd alert) knew better than to accost the ref in their annual basketball game. Pelini is lucky to still be employed by Nebraska after Friday's meltdowns.
A Bucket load of offense: Indiana took out a little offensive frustration on Purdue. After being bottled up on offense by Wisconsin and Ohio State, the Hoosiers unleashed a school record 692 yards and 42 first downs to win the Old Oaken Bucket for the first time in three years. Tre Roberson, D'Angelo Roberts and Stephen Houston all rushed for more than 100 yards for Indiana, the first time in school history the team produced a trio of 100-yard rushers in the same game.
Zero sum game: Minnesota failed to score an offensive touchdown in its final 10 quarters of the regular season. The lack of an explosive/entertaining offense could hurt the Gophers come bowl selection time. Meanwhile, Michigan State has held six opponents without an offensive TD and pitched shutouts in six of its eight Big Ten games.
Fun with numbers: Because the debate is about to take over our lives, some key comparisons between Ohio State and Auburn:
- Scoring margin: Plus-27.9 per game for Ohio State, plus-16.1 for Auburn
- Rushing yardage: 321.3 per game for Ohio State, 318.3 for Auburn
- Total yards: 530.5 per game for Ohio State, 491 for Auburn
- Team adjusted QBR: 83.8 for Ohio State, 81.0 for Auburn
- Yards allowed per game: 355.8 for Ohio State, 414.3 for Auburn
- Sagarin strength of schedule rating: 61st for Ohio State, 26th for Auburn
- Wins over ranked teams: One for Ohio State (Wisconsin), three for Auburn (Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M)
The theory was spawned sometime after the 2011 season, as Michigan celebrated Brady Hoke's successful debut and new Ohio State coach Urban Meyer had Columbus buzzing with optimism.
Both programs signed top-10 recruiting classes in February 2012. Both coaches had clear visions and lofty goals and standards. The rest of the Big Ten, the theory held, was in serious trouble.
The Big Ten was headed back to the Big Two and everybody else. Some college football observers said it publicly; many others said it privately. They pointed mainly to recruiting, but also to other factors.
At the very least, the gap separating Ohio State and Michigan from 2008 to 2010 -- and also from 2005 to 2009 -- would narrow as both programs were poised to take up residence in college football's penthouse.
Ohio State and Michigan seemingly are worlds apart as they gather this week for The Game at Michigan Stadium. The Buckeyes, headed for the league championship, lead a group of Big Ten elites that includes No. 11 Michigan State and No. 15 Wisconsin. Michigan is a rung or two below.
The last time the longtime rivals met at the Big House, Michigan ended its seven-game losing streak against Ohio State. The Wolverines went on to win the Sugar Bowl and finish 11-2, but the victory over Ohio State, from an emotional and symbolic standpoint, arguably meant more to Hoke, his players and Michigan fans sick of hearing about The Streak.
Two days after the Michigan loss, Ohio State named Meyer head coach. The Buckeyes went on to lose their bowl game under Luke Fickell before Meyer took full control. They have yet to lose under Meyer, setting a team record Saturday against Indiana with their 23rd consecutive win.
Ohio State is No. 3 in the BCS standings, and with two more wins could make the trip to Pasadena, Calif., for the national championship game on Jan. 6. The Buckeyes rank third nationally in scoring (48.7 ppg) and boast arguably the nation's most dynamic offensive backfield: quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde.
Michigan is fortunate to be bowl-eligible, is unable to run the ball and, barring a major surprise Saturday, is headed for its worst stretch under Hoke (losses in four of its final five games). Hoke, along with his offensive staff, is feeling the heat. While Ohio State has reached historic milestones under Meyer, Michigan has endured historic lows in recent weeks, from the lowest net rushing total in team history (minus-48 against Michigan State) to becoming the only FBS team in the past 10 seasons with consecutive games of minus-20 rush yards or fewer (minus-48 against MSU, minus-21 against Nebraska).
The win over Ohio State in 2011, followed by the Sugar Bowl triumph, have been high points in the Hoke era. Since the bowl win, Michigan is just 15-9, including a 2-5 mark against teams ranked in the AP Top 25.
Even after a 2012 season filled with close losses to good teams, Michigan seemed ready to join Ohio State in the elite when it thumped Notre Dame, the 2012 national runner-up, in Week 2 this season. Quarterback Devin Gardner and the offense were rolling, star linebacker Jake Ryan would soon return from injury, and a favorable schedule put Michigan in great position to meet Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game.
Then the turnovers started. Michigan nearly lost to Akron at home and Connecticut on the road. Defensive woes surfaced in an overtime loss to Penn State and a shootout win against Indiana. The offense then fizzled against Michigan State and Nebraska. Michigan's lone win since Oct. 19 -- an overtime triumph at Northwestern -- wouldn't have happened if officials had called illegal motion on a tying field goal at the end of regulation.
Sure, the Wolverines are young at some spots, namely offensive line, but the clear vision that seemed to be in place two years ago is cloudier now.
"Is the goal always to win the Big Ten championship? No question about it," Hoke said Monday. "We won't make excuses nor back down from it. Have we played and coached as well as we needed to? Obviously not."
Both Meyer and Hoke are taking the correct approach to the week and have put the rivalry on a pedestal. Ohio State began its Michigan prep a day early, while Michigan, typically off on Mondays, went to work today.
There's plenty at stake for both teams, as Ohio State can keep its national title hopes alive and Michigan can lessen the disappointment of the season by beating its rival on senior day and handing the Buckeyes their first loss under Meyer. On paper, The Game looks like a mismatch, but rivalry games can spark surprises, especially when the underdog is playing at home on senior day.
"This game has always been different in some ways," Hoke said. "Are they a good football team? Yeah. They're a very good football team. Do we have to play better than we've played? I don't think there's any doubt about that."
Meyer doesn't put much stock in the Wolverines' record and expects "their best game."
When national signing day rolls around in February, Ohio State and Michigan will be in the same category, both likely signing top-10 recruiting classes (possibly top-five). It might refuel the Big Two theory in the Big Ten. After all, the original argument was heavily rooted in recruiting success.
But the real gauge comes this week on the field. Michigan must close the gap.
Otherwise, it's just another Big Ten program looking up at the Buckeyes.
2. Hoke, Fitzgerald and Wilson deserve some heat: Michigan, Northwestern and Indiana all entered the season with high expectations, and for good reason. The Wolverines and Wildcats both were in the mix for the Legends Division title, and Indiana had a schedule with eight home games, just needing to win six for its first postseason appearance since 2007. But all three programs have significantly underachieved, and all three coaches should feel some heat. Hoke's team completely lacks an identity on offense. Michigan couldn't beat Iowa despite a 21-7 halftime lead and a plus-3 turnover margin. Northwestern outplayed Michigan State for much of the first half but Coach Fitz continued to look like Scaredy Pat, twice punting in Spartans territory. Michigan State's first three touchdowns all came after Northwestern punts in plus territory. The Wildcats, enduring their longest losing streak since 1998, also failed to score a touchdown. Indiana had the most explosive offense of the three, thanks to Wilson's fast-paced scheme. But the Hoosiers once again were grounded in a blowout loss at Ohio State. Northwestern and Indiana are assured of no bowl trip, and while Michigan will be playing in the postseason, the future looks murky in Ann Arbor. All three coaches have some soul searching to do.
3. The Big Ten's BCS at-large hopes are looking better: Rich Rodriguez might not have fond memories of his time in the Big Ten, but he provided a big assist for the league Saturday, when his Arizona Wildcats upset Oregon to hand the Ducks their second loss. The Pac-12 can keep talking about its parity and cannibalistic nature all it wants, but it won't be sending two teams to BCS bowls, as every league squad has at least two losses. Tough tacos, Pac-12. The Big Ten, meanwhile, is in better shape for multiple BCS entries if its contenders can qualify. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said his team is playing for a BCS bowl next week against Minnesota, confident the Spartans will remain in the top 14 of the final standings even if they lose in Indy. Wisconsin, meanwhile, strengthened its case for at-large selection with a road win against Minnesota. The Badgers still need to climb into the top 14 but should end the season on a seven-game win streak. A Clemson loss this week against South Carolina would help the Big Ten even more.
4. Iowa-Nebraska is worth watching: The Heroes Game hasn't lived up to its name the first two years, as Iowa and Nebraska have played two relative snoozers on Black Friday. This week's contest has some more intrigue as both squads come in with some momentum following mini turnarounds. Nebraska has won three of its last four, beginning with the Hail Mary triumph against Northwestern, and still could finish at 9-3. Will that be enough to keep coach Bo Pelini around for another year? We'll soon find out. Iowa also has won three of four following its come-from-behind victory against Michigan. An 8-4 regular-season record with a win against a supposed rival would look pretty good for an improved Hawkeyes squad. The division races are wrapped up and the Ohio State-Michigan game could turn into a blowout, so Iowa-Nebraska might be the best contest of rivalry weekend.
5. Tim Beckman should get another year at Illinois: Had Beckman's Illini lost at Purdue on Saturday, their Big Ten losing streak would have reached 21 games with no real end in sight. And that might have been enough to justify dumping Beckman after just two years in Champaign. The Illini didn't exactly dominate the lowly Boilers -- they needed a defensive stop late to preserve a 20-16 victory -- but at least the team finally got it done. Perhaps now that the albatross has been lifted, the program can move forward. The Illini host Northwestern in next week's finale, and given the state of the Wildcats right now, it's not inconceivable that Illinois could start a Big Ten winning streak. Regardless, Illinois has made progress, however incremental, in doubling its win total over last year, and the offense has made obvious strides. Beckman should be given another season to try to right the ship on defense and continue the offensive fireworks with likely new starting quarterback Wes Lunt.
"He'll stop in and say, 'I didn't know you threw a fake pass against Notre Dame,'" Aaron Bates said.
"We'll talk about [the play] a little bit, and then they'll go on their way," said Bates, who became Fairfield Christian Academy's athletic director this spring. "And then the next week, I'll have a new kid come in. It's something."
Indeed, Michigan State's knack for calling trick plays is something. It has become a hallmark of Spartans coach Mark Dantonio and the program, partly because of the playful names attached to the plays, but mostly because they've worked so well.
Michigan State employed its latest fake last week at Nebraska when it lined up for a field goal but instead sent punter Mike Sadler on the move. Sadler picked up a first down, and the Spartans eventually scored a touchdown in a 41-28 win.
Sadler's dash placed "Charlie Brown" in the glorious glossary with "Hey Diddle Diddle," "Mouse Trap" and, of course, "Little Giants" -- previous Spartans fakes that led to big wins.
"Our players like to see us take a calculated risk," Dantonio said. "We don't want to do it every game. We've done it twice in 10 games, we did it once last year, so it’s not like we’re doing these things every week.
"It's just a part of who we are."
Dantonio isn't sure how the tricks trademark evolved but credits the success to his players. Bates recalls executing a successful fake field goal against Indiana in 2007, and how Dantonio then wanted to run one every week.
The reputation grew in 2010 with "Little Giants" and "Mouse Trap," a fake punt pass from Bates to Bennie Fowler that helped Michigan State erase a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit at Northwestern.
"That was kind of the breakout year for the trick plays," Sadler said. "In the past, they ran a couple fakes, but 2010 was ‘Little Giants,’ ‘Mousetrap’ and everything. That's when we became known for it because of the magnitude of those two plays."
Michigan State runs through the fakes at every practice during the special teams portion of the workout. The Spartans enter games with "at least a dozen in our back pocket," according to Sadler, but the plays actually used are based largely on opponent and situation.
"We create them as we go," Dantonio said.
A fake punt sweep employed last season against Michigan, nicknamed "Sandlot," wasn't practiced during the week but still worked as Sadler raced for 26 yards.
"There's always some base ones, plays that will work against any look," Sadler said. "And then every week, there's one or two specific looks. We just try to play according to their tendencies. That's why the one at Iowa worked ['Hey Diddle Diddle'], because they turn their backs. Same with Northwestern, when we ran 'Mouse Trap.'
"But that same fake wouldn't work against a bunch of other teams in the Big Ten."
The famous fakes enhance the profiles of often overlooked specialists like Bates and Sadler, good friends who compare stats. Bates finished his career with a passer rating of 400.4, while Sadler averages 18 yards per carry.
MSU's coaches make the planning process interactive, encouraging players to brainstorm plays and names for them. Sadler is still waiting for one of his ideas to be used in a game.
"Mike has a tendency to have a few over-the-top suggestions," special teams coach Mike Tressel said, laughing. "There's no doubt we have fun with coming up with them and naming them. The kids get into it."
So does Dantonio. He's a defensive-minded coach who comes from the typically conservative Jim Tressel coaching tree, but his penchant for trick plays shows a different side.
Even the playful names like "Mouse Trap" ("We had to get them to take the cheese," Dantonio joked afterward) and "Hey Diddle Diddle" (send Sadler up the middle) point to a sense of humor Bates describes as unique.
"Normally people associate defensive coaches with being risk-averse people," Sadler said, "but you don’t run that fake against Nebraska if you're not trying to win a championship. While he's a defensive coach, he's definitely not afraid to take risks."
The Spartans' top-rated defense makes it easier to gamble, but Dantonio often calls fakes in the fourth quarter, with the Spartans trailing and with the ball in MSU territory.
Opponents are aware of MSU's trick record. As Michigan prepared to face Michigan State, Wolverines coach Brady Hoke told ESPN.com, "I'm sure Mark's got something for this week."
“But the knowledge rarely helps. Dantonio said Nebraska looked ready for "Charlie Brown" but still couldn't prevent a first down. After "Hey Diddle Diddle" worked against Iowa, Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz lamented, "We may never try to return one again."
Normally people associate defensive coaches with being risk-averse people, but you don’t run that fake against Nebraska if you're not trying to win a championship. While he's a defensive coach, he's definitely not afraid to take risks.
-- Mike Sadler on Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio
Predicting when and where Michigan State will run a fake is futile, even for those closely involved.
"There's times you might feel like he's in the mood and this is the right time and he doesn't do it," Tressel said. "Other times, you're shocked that he does do it. I suppose if he’s keeping us on our toes and we don't know, that means the other guys can't know, either."
It's unlikely Dantonio has emptied his bag of tricks for the 2013 season. Don't be surprised if he has something ready if Michigan State returns to the Big Ten title game.
"He wants to win," Bates said. "He thinks the ground-and-pound and the conservative mentality is probably good for the most part, but you do have to take those risks here and there if you want to be a champion."
That's how much time remained in regulation at Northwestern after Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner hit Jeremy Gallon on a 16-yard pass. The clock was running. What happened next was what Wolverines coach Brady Hoke said "might be the best single play I've ever seen."
The Michigan field goal unit sprinted onto the field. Holder Drew Dileo, who had run a pattern as a wide receiver, ran in from the other side of the field and slid into position. The snap came with one second to go, and kicker Brendan Gibbons made a 44-yarder to send the game into overtime, where the Wolverines eventually won.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was upset that his team didn't get a chance to substitute its block team in. The Wildcats were in disarray as the field goal try went up. Referee Bill LeMonnier explained to a pool reporter afterward that on the final play of the half, teams aren't automatically given the right to substitute on field goal defense.
That play goes down as the second-craziest finish to regulation of a Big Ten game this year. In the Wisconsin-Arizona State game, there were 18 seconds left when Joel Stave downed the ball. The Badgers never got to run another play.
Take that and rewind it back ...
Worst hangover: Northwestern finds more ways to lose than anybody. The Wildcats had a dominant defensive effort against Michigan in allowing no touchdowns in regulation. But they had a 7-yard shank punt that set up a Michigan first-and-goal, Ibraheim Campbell dropped an easy interception on the Wolverines' final drive, and they couldn't pounce on a fumble in overtime. Northwestern has lost twice in overtime, once on a Hail Mary and in games that went down to the final drives against Minnesota and Ohio State. Sheesh.
Best call: Nebraska had to be ready for some Michigan State tomfoolery, right? We've seen it so many times from Dantonio in a big game.
And it worked again on Saturday. The Spartans lined up for a field goal on fourth-and-1 from the Nebraska 27, leading 27-21 in the fourth quarter. Punter Mike Sadler, who serves as the holder on field goals, took the snap and pushed his way forward for 3 yards. The play was called "Charlie Brown," evoking memories of Lucy snatching the ball away in "Peanuts." But Sadler was actually supposed to check out of the play because of the way Nebraska was set up, and the play was never designed to go up the middle where he ran.
"That was the last thing going through my mind," said Sadler, who went up the middle on a successful punt fake at Iowa last month. "I was just trying to think of my touchdown dance."
He didn't score, but Connor Cook delivered a touchdown pass three plays later to all but seal the victory.
Big Man on Campus (Offense): Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde piled up five total touchdowns while rushing for 246 yards on just 24 carries versus Illinois. He had touchdown runs of 51 and 55 yards in the final four minutes to put the game on ice.
Big Man on Campus (Defense): In a game that didn't feature a whole lot of defense, Ohio State's Ryan Shazier still managed an impressive stat line at Illinois: 16 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He had the safety on Reilly O'Toole that gave the Buckeyes some breathing room. And while he had a chance to turn that into a touchdown had he not celebrated a bit too soon, Shazier still had an outstanding performance considering Ohio State's other two starting linebackers were out with injuries.
Sideline interference: Illinois coach Tim Beckman had to be separated from offensive coordinator Bill Cubit on the sidelines after quarterback Reilly O'Toole was sacked in the end zone. Both coaches later said it was just a heat-of-the-moment thing, and Cubit added, "You'd be shocked at how many times" that happens during games. But it's still not a good look for Beckman, whose sideline mishaps the past two years include getting called for interference penalties and getting caught using chewing tobacco.
Who needs tickets?: Want to see a Big Ten game, but you don't have more than 50 cents in your pocket? Then this week's Illinois-Purdue Basement Bowl is for you. On StubHub this morning, several tickets to Saturday's game at Ross-Ade Stadium could be had for as little as 39 cents. Get 'em while they're hot!
Fun with numbers (via ESPN Stats & Info):
- Wisconsin ran for 554 yards Saturday versus Indiana. It was the second most in school history, behind the 564 the Badgers compiled against the Hoosiers last year. So in the past two games against IU, Wisconsin has rushed for 1,118 yards and 13 touchdowns; on Saturday the Badgers had three 100-yard rushers (James White, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement) and an 86-yard rusher (Jared Abbrederis, on reverses). The Badgers' running game added 35.8 expected points to their net scoring margin; two of the top 10 rushing EPA games in the FBS the past 10 years were posted by Wisconsin against Indiana. The Badgers still fell far short of the Big Ten rushing record of 832 yards, set by Minnesota in 1905. But they do get Indiana again next year, so you never know.
- ESPN's strength of schedule rankings (out of 126 FBS teams):
Florida State: 60th
Ohio State: 88th
2. Wisconsin's defense deserves more notice: Indiana came into Saturday's game averaging 43.1 points and 527 yards. Whatever you think of the Hoosiers, their offense is legitimately explosive. Wisconsin completely defused that attack in a 51-3 win, shutting out Indiana in the first half while allowing 224 yards and a lone third-quarter field goal. The Hoosiers had scored in every quarter but three this year and hadn't been blanked in a half since September of last season. The point is that the Badgers' defense is outstanding, yet like the team as a whole, remains underrated. Everyone will notice how Wisconsin ran all over IU for 554 yards, second most in school history, but that pretty much happens every year in the Indiana game. The Badgers D is led by experienced players up front like Chris Borland, Beau Allen and Brendan Kelly and is getting terrific play from less experienced guys like Sojourn Shelton and Tanner McEvoy on the back end. Don't forget that Ohio State turned in its lowest point total of the season (31) against Dave Aranda's defense. This is a complete team, even if the the voters in the major polls still somehow fail to recognize it.
3. Don't tell Michigan this season is over: We could have understood if Michigan would have mailed in the end of Saturday's Northwestern game. The Wolverines have been beaten up by opponents and piled on by fans and critics for their lackluster offensive performances. Their Big Ten title hopes are dead, and in coach Brady Hoke's own view, that means the season is a failure already. In the rain in Evanston, they found themselves down 9-6 in the closing moments of an ugly game. But Michigan pulled off a truly incredible effort to set up Brendan Gibbons' field goal at the very end of regulation, then ground its way through a triple-overtime win. Quarterback Devin Gardner, who has been battered and bruised countless times, appropriately scored the winning touchdown and two-point conversion. The Wolverines looked in serious danger of losing out for a 6-6 campaign before Saturday's gritty comeback. While wins at Iowa and against Ohio State the next two weeks won't be easy to come by, Michigan proved that it will not fold up shop. As for Northwestern, you can't fault the effort. But the Wildcats have now lost in just about every terrible way imaginable, including twice in overtime and on a Hail Mary. It's just one of those years for coach Pat Fitzgerald's crew.
5. Freshmen making strides at Penn State, Purdue: If you didn't watch Penn State's win over Purdue, we don't blame you. Neither team is going anywhere this season. But the game did provide some hope for the future, thanks to the play of true freshmen on both sides. Purdue quarterback Danny Etling took a step forward with the best start of his career, throwing for 223 yards and a touchdown. Both he and Penn State freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg finished with similar stat lines. And their first-year targets fared pretty well, too. DeAngelo Yancey was Purdue's leading receiver, with four catches for 83 yards, and Nittany Lions tight end Adam Breneman caught the first TD pass of his career. Both teams are looking forward for different reasons, and the play of their youngsters gave them some reasons for hope.
But Hoke will be bucking some trends in order to get that done. In his third year in Ann Arbor, Hoke's Wolverines have taken a major step backward. After Saturday's 17-13 home loss to Nebraska, they're 6-3 with some challenging games ahead, and they're probably lucky not to have one or two more losses already.
Most of the truly great college football coaches in recent times have had their programs up and running by the third year. Alabama's Nick Saban and LSU's Les Miles won BCS titles in their third years at their current schools. Pete Carroll won an AP national title in his third season at USC.
The same is true for some legends. Joe Paterno guided Penn State to an undefeated record in his third season as head coach. Bear Bryant went 8-1-2 at Alabama in Year 3. And it's the case for revered Michigan Men. Bo Schembechler was 11-1 and had an undefeated Big Ten record in his third year at the helm of the Wolverines, while the third season for Lloyd Carr resulted in the undefeated 12-0 campaign of 1997.
Hoke did have to revamp the program and rebuild for a new system after Rich Rodriguez left, but several of the coaches mentioned in the preceding paragraphs also had to make major transitions. And any argument preaching patience for Hoke loses some steam when you look at Minnesota, where Jerry Kill and his staff have an 8-2 record in Year 3.
There is hope, but Hoke would have to find precedent in two places he'd probably rather not look. Woody Hayes was just 6-3 in his third year at Ohio State before going undefeated and winning the Rose Bowl the following year. Michigan State took a step back in Mark Dantonio's third year with a disappointing 6-7 mark; the Spartans would win 11 games and a share of the Big Ten title the next season.
So maybe Hoke, who is just 6-5 in his last 11 games, will get things rolling after this difficult third season. But history shows that most truly great coaches have done so by this point.
Take that and rewind it back:
Team of the week: Nebraska. Say what you want about Michigan's troubles, the Huskers still went into the Big House and snapped the Wolverines' 19-game home winning streak. And the Big Red offense is being held together by spit and string, at times. All-America guard Spencer Long is out for the season and senior quarterback Taylor Martinez is unavailable. Starting guard Jake Cotton is also out, and on Saturday, starting tackle Jeremiah Sirles went down with a knee injury. The Huskers turned to little-used Zach Sterup to replace Sirles. Take away a pick-six and a Hail Mary against Northwestern, and the Nebraska offense has scored just 30 points total in its last two games. With two victories.
Worst hangover: The nightmare continues for Michigan. If the Wolverines don't win at Northwestern this week -- and the Wildcats are coming off a bye -- then a 6-6 finish with a five-game losing streak becomes a real possibility.
Best play: For the second straight week, a late Nebraska play involving Ameer Abdullah takes this honor. This time, it was quarterback Tommy Armstrong's pitch to Abdullah on third-and-goal from the 5 for the winning touchdown.
Armstrong was ready to run on the option play until Michigan defensive end Frank Clark committed to him, and just before he got flattened, Armstrong had the presence of mind to flip the ball forward to Abdullah. The running back did the rest by diving into the end zone, helped by a nice block on the perimeter from receiver Alonzo Moore. It was one of the stranger-looking option plays and went down in the box score as a pass, but it couldn't have been any prettier for Nebraska fans.
Big Men on Campus (offense): Wisconsin's James White ran for 147 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries against BYU, and he added a receiving touchdown. Indiana receiver Cody Latimer had a career day versus Illinois, catching 11 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns.
Big Man on Campus (defense): Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory recorded three sacks and a quarterback hurry as part of a dominating effort by the Blackshirts (and yes, they've earned that nickname again).
Big Man on Campus (special teams): Minnesota punter Peter Mortell helped the Gophers hang on in the second half of a 24-10 win. He had punts downed at the Penn State 1, 2 and 12 while averaging 46 yards on four attempts.
The best part of the Gophers' victory celebration was clearly Jerry Kill's locker room dance. Watch it here.
Back to a bowl: Iowa can officially chalk up last year's 4-8 season as an aberration. The Hawkeyes pounded Purdue 38-14 on the road to earn their sixth win and ensure they will be back in a bowl game this season.
“Obviously, it’s not our endgame, but that’s one nice byproduct of winning,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s something we don’t take for granted. All you have to do is look back to last year. So it’s great to get that accomplished.”
With an off week to get ready for the final two games, Iowa should give Michigan and Nebraska all they can handle.
The Indiana effect: We are thinking of adding a separate helmet sticker post each week just for games involving Indiana. The Hoosiers put up big numbers and allow opponents to do the same in their weekly shootouts. Against Illinois, IU got huge games from Latimer and running back Tevin Coleman (215 yards on 15 carries, two touchdowns). Illini receiver Steve Hull caught nine passes for 224 yards and two scores. Nathan Scheelhaase threw for 450 yards in a losing effort. The two teams combined for 1,262 total yards, which sounds like a lot until you remember that Indiana and Michigan went for 1,323 last month.
The winning team has scored at least 41 points in every one of the Hoosiers' nine games, and an average of 80.5 points has been scored in each of those contests. Don't expect that to change, as Wisconsin and Ohio State are next up on the schedule.
Fun with numbers (via ESPN Stats & Information):
- In the past two weeks, Michigan lost a combined 49.2 expected points on rushing plays. Expected points added is a metric that measures the contributions of each unit to its team’s net scoring margin. Therefore, Michigan lost almost 50 net points as a results of its rushes and sacks. An average EPA is 0, so if Michigan had had an average rush offense, and all else remained equal, the Wolverines would have been about even with Michigan State and would have beaten Nebraska by about 22 points.
- Against Nebraska, Michigan gained zero or negative yards on 21 of its 36 rushes (58.3 percent). It was the Wolverines’ second-most rushes and second-highest percentage of rushes that gained zero or negative yards in a game in the past 10 seasons.
- Overall, Michigan added minus-26.3 expected points towards its net scoring margin on rushes (including sacks). That is the lowest rushing EPA for a team in an FBS game this season.
- Coleman and his Indiana backfield mate Stephen Houston make an efficient pair. Houston is averaging 7.34 yards per rush, while Coleman is at 7.31. That ranks 10th and 11th, respectively, in the FBS among qualified rushers. They have combined for nearly 1,500 rushing yards despite averaging a little more than 22 rushes per game.
- There are 123 FBS teams. Here are some of Purdue's national rankings: Points per game (120), rushing (122), passing yards per attempt (121), yards per play (121), points allowed (109), rushing yards allowed (111), third-down defense (122).
- Minnesota is 8-2 and is passing the ball just 31.3 percent of the time. But that can definitely be a winning formula. Ranking right ahead of the Gophers is Stanford (35.5 percent of total plays are passes), while just below them is Auburn (30.8 percent).
2. Ohio State is one stumble away: Despite not playing in Week 11, it was a good weekend for Ohio State, because one of the three teams ahead of it lost when Oregon fell to Stanford on Thursday night. It could have been a great weekend had Alabama lost to LSU, but the Buckeyes can't complain too much. That's because they're in position to move into the BCS national title game should either the Crimson Tide or Florida State stumble in its final games. Ohio State still has to worry about potentially getting passed by undefeated Baylor or one-loss Stanford, but it should remain in good shape if it keeps winning in style like it has the past few weeks. Wisconsin continuing to win also helps. We've known all along that the Buckeyes would need some help to get in the final two, but a big fluorescent green domino fell on Thursday night. One more break might be all Ohio State needs.
3. No quick fixes for Michigan, Penn State: Two of the Big Ten's marquee brands have fallen on hard times -- and might not be getting up soon. At least not much before the end of this season. Michigan followed up its beatdown at Michigan State by losing at home to Nebraska, snapping a 19-game win streak at the Big House. The Wolverines still can't run the ball; they had minus-21 rushing yards on Saturday, a week after going for minus-48 in East Lansing. Their flaws have been evident for weeks and have finally caught up to them; with road trips to Northwestern and Iowa and a date with Ohio State left, there's no guarantee this team finishes better than 6-6. Michigan is just 14-8 since the Sugar Bowl victory in Hoke's first year, and he'd better hope that all of those glittery recruiting rankings translate into better success down the road. Penn State's struggles are more understandable, given the sanctions, but things are still rougher than many expected. Not only is the defense still a mess, but the offense has taken a nose dive the past few weeks as the Nittany Lions have averaged just 13.7 points per game in regulation the last three times out. That's surprising, given the presence of stars such as Allen Robinson and Bill Belton and a talented, albeit freshman, quarterback in Christian Hackenberg. Penn State has lost to Indiana and Minnesota, and if not for near-miraculous overtime wins over Illinois and Michigan, it could be riding a five-game losing streak. Luckily, Purdue is up next, but with the final two games coming against Nebraska and then at Wisconsin, Bill O'Brien's team will need to do some good work just to finish at .500.
5. James White deserves his due: The Wisconsin running back has played all four years in the shadow of other backs, first with John Clay, then Montee Ball and even now as a senior with Melvin Gordon. But we should not overlook the fact White has had a spectacular career. Forget that he's one of the Big Ten's best players right now. He ran for 147 yards and two touchdowns and caught another score in Saturday's 27-17 win over BYU, a week after he put up 132 rushing yards and two touchdowns at Iowa. White, not Gordon, has been Wisconsin's best back in November. He has 951 rushing yards for the season, leaving him poised for his second 1,000-yard campaign and ranking him fourth among league rushers this year. White has rushed for more than 3,500 yards in his career. And if he keeps playing like he has lately, White might accomplish something even more special: playing in four straight BCS games.
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.
At Wisconsin, star running backs James White and Melvin Gordon have popularized a touchdown dance -- being called the "UDub Step" -- that's going viral. Green Bay Packers backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks paid homage to it earlier this week during "Monday Night Football."
"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.
"We can only go forward," quarterback Devin Gardner said.
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.
Every problem, every failure, every struggle of this Michigan football team ... it lies with him.
That’s what he made perfectly clear Saturday night following the Wolverines’ 17-13 loss to Nebraska, as he professed nine times in a 10-minute news conference that he needs to coach better.
It was Michigan’s third loss in four games, and the defeat has taken from the Wolverines what little hope they had to contend for a Big Ten title -- what Hoke has set as his standard of success at Michigan.
His third year in maize and blue. His third season failed. And this game showed all of the struggles the Wolverines have had over that period.
That’s not on the six guys who filtered through the offensive line. Or the All-America left tackle. Or offensive-line coach Darrell Funk.
I’ve got to do a better job coaching, it looks like.
And then there was the fact it seemed like whatever game-to-game or in-game adjustments the Wolverines had made were failing miserably, as the offensive game plan never really gained momentum.
I thought there were a number of things I've got to do a better job coaching the kids on.
Even with that, the Wolverines had one last drive to win the game. And on fourth-and-5, quarterback Devin Gardner threw a pass that slid through Drew Dileo’s hands and hit the Michigan Stadium turf.
It was a chance to make something happen. And just as quickly, it was over.
Gardner stood on the 35-yard line in shock. Less than a minute remaining, and he’d have to watch the game from the sidelines knowing that he and the rest of his teammates had lost for the first time at Michigan Stadium during Hoke’s tenure.
But no, that loss wasn’t on Gardner and his teammates, was it?
Guys were working, guys were fighting, guys were doing things -- did we do them well enough? No. That goes on me.
And then there was the run game, which finished with minus-21 yards. That’s not just Michigan bad, not just Big Ten bad. That’s historically bad.
From 2000-12, Michigan had just one game with negative rushing yardage (minus-5 against Oregon in 2003). And in the past five seasons, the only FBS team to go consecutive games with negative rushing yardage was Washington State, which did it last year en route to a 3-9 record.
Michigan’s minus-48 rushing yards last weekend against Michigan State and its minus-21 against Nebraska make the Wolverines the only FBS team in the past decade to record consecutive minus-20-yard games.
But that’s not on the offensive line. Not on Fitzgerald Toussaint. Not on Derrick Green. Not on running-backs coach Fred Jackson.
I’ve got to do a better job coaching those guys.
Someone needs to call bluff. Because it just doesn’t seem right. Several times this year, these coaches and players have professed that this is the greatest team sport on earth. Team sport.
So how then can all the blame from a 21-year-old quarterback and a rehabilitated running back and a defensive line that allowed 128 rushing yards and dozens of coaches and trainers fall completely on Hoke? Isn’t the blame collective?
At different points during the game, boos came from the fans. And they weren’t aimed toward Nebraska. For the first time during Hoke’s tenure, the Michigan fans booed Michigan.
Maybe some were aimed at Hoke in particular and others at Al Borges’ play calling. But in general, they were aimed at it all -- at the game plan, the failure of the players to execute, the un-Michigan-ness of it all, and maybe, yes, the coaching, too.
Did Hoke hear that?
“That’s the way things are,” he said.
No, the way things are is that this Michigan team -- which has preached about Big Ten championships and dreamed of bigger things -- is realizing how bad its youth and depth issues really are.
Fans are discovering that maybe that national title they dreamed of is still (very optimistically) a few years off. And everyone is discerning that all of the talk of these championships and toughness can only heal the wounds of losses for so long -- and Michigan has reached that point.
With three games to go in the regular season, the Wolverines have failed.
They've failed by taking themselves out of the Big Ten title race. That is not on Gardner or the offensive line or the defensive line. They weren’t the ones who made that the standard. That is on Hoke.
But the loss, put it on the team. Lose as a team, win as a team. The buck stops with Michigan, not its coach.
It is the team, the team, the team ... right?
Brian Bennett has rallied to take a one-game lead in the season standings. If he can hold on, he'll be chowing down on Adam Rittenberg's dime at St. Elmo in Indianapolis. But there's a long way to go, including five games this Saturday.
Let's get started
PENN STATE at MINNESOTA
Brian Bennett: I might pick Penn State here if it the game were in State College, Pa., where the Lions seem to have all of their mojo. But Minnesota has something special going and I'm done doubting the Gophers. Ra'Shede Hageman causes havoc on defense as Penn State turns the ball over three times, and Minnesota's ground game wears down the Nittany Lions defense. Minnesota 24, Penn State 20.
Adam Rittenberg: Gophers fans probably won't like this, but I'm picking Minnesota after being burned the past two weeks. A balanced offense takes advantage of Penn State's leaky defense and a team that struggles away from home. David Cobb goes for 150 rush yards and two scores, and Philip Nelson adds two more touchdown passes. Allen Robinson has another big day for Penn State, but it's not enough as Minnesota wins its fourth consecutive Big Ten game for the first time in 40 years. Minnesota 31, Penn State 24
IOWA at PURDUE
Rittenberg: The Hawkeyes need this one to become bowl eligible, and they'll play with a purpose at Ross-Ade Stadium. Iowa finishes a touchdown drive on the first possession behind a Mark Weisman run and controls the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Linebacker James Morris adds another takeaway as Iowa pulls away in the third quarter behind Weisman and Damon Bullock. Iowa 31, Purdue 7
Bennett: Iowa won't need to score in the second half of this game in order to win, but the Hawkeyes will do so anyway. There's just not much to like about the way Purdue is playing right now, and I think Jake Rudock will throw a couple of touchdown passes in the second quarter to put this away early. Iowa 38, Purdue 3.
ILLINOIS at INDIANA
Bennett: I guess somebody's got to win this one, eh? Don't expect a whole lot of defense from either side. Indiana has a few more playmakers on offense, and that, plus the home-field advantage, should be enough. But barely, as the Hoosiers rally from an early 10-point deficit to win on the Mitch Ewald field goal they should have kicked last week. Indiana 38, Illinois 35
Rittenberg: Both of these teams had brutal losses last week, so which one bounces back? Although I liked much of what Illinois did at Penn State, but the Illini's struggles against the run still concern me. Tevin Coleman goes for 180 yards and three touchdowns, including the game winner, as Indiana overcomes a 300-yard passing performance by Nathan Scheelhaase and wins a shootout. Indiana 45, Illinois 41
NEBRASKA at MICHIGAN
Rittenberg: The Hail Mary didn't do much to change my opinion of Nebraska, and while Michigan also has its problems, the Wolverines are a different team at home under coach Brady Hoke. Quarterback Devin Gardner continues his season of extremes with a big performance, passing for 250 yards and two touchdowns and adding another on the ground. Ameer Abdullah keeps the Huskers in this one with 150 rush yards and two scores, but Michigan uses a big second half to record the W. Michigan 38, Nebraska 31
Bennett: No outcome here would surprise me because these are two of the most inconsistent and flawed teams we've seen all season. I'm worried about whether Gardner has PTSD from last week's Michigan State beatdown. But Nebraska has to win one of these big games on the road before I will pick it, and I think the Huskers' offense is a little too beat up right now to win in Ann Arbor, Mich. Michigan 27, Nebraska 17
BYU at WISCONSIN
Bennett: I'm tempted to pick BYU because the Cougars have been on a roll and have the ability to put up points fast. Wisconsin is also pretty beat up right now. I'll stick with the Badgers because their run defense is very stout and the Camp Randall Stadium edge is just too much. It will be awfully close, however. Wisconsin 28, BYU 24
Rittenberg: This is a sneaky-good game as both teams are better than their 6-2 records indicate, and both coaching staffs have a lot of familiarity from Gary Andersen's time in the state of Utah. Taysom Hill puts BYU on top early with some big plays, but Wisconsin's defense stiffens and the Badgers get strong performances from Melvin Gordon and James White, who combine for four touchdown dances on the day. Wisconsin 34, BYU 26
You've heard from us. Now it's time to hear from one of you. As a reminder, throughout the season, we'll choose one fan/loyal blog reader each week to try his or her hand at outsmarting us. There's nothing but pride and some extremely limited fame at stake. If you're interested in participating, contact us here and here. Include your full name (real names, please), hometown and a brief description of why you should be that week's guest picker. Please also include "GUEST PICKS" in all caps somewhere in your email so we can find it easily.
This week's guest is Adam Miller from Los Angeles. Adam, the floor is yours
Long time reader, first time writer, hoping to be your next guest picker! As a recent Penn State grad living across the country in Pac-12 territory, I need all the B1G I can get, and your blog does a lot to help with that (even though I'm still adjusting to 9am 'Lunchtime Links'). I'm even traveling from SoCal to Minneapolis this weekend with college buddies to watch my Nittany Lions taking on a surging Minnesota squad. Pretty excited for a short work week capped off with a great football weekend. Hope to hear from you guys. Keep up the good work -- Adam, PSU Class '13
Here are Adam's Week 11 picks:
Penn State 28, Minnesota 24
Iowa 27, Purdue 14
Indiana 41, Illinois 21
Michigan 34, Nebraska 27
Wisconsin 34, BYU 17
Brian Bennett: 62-12
Adam Rittenberg: 61-13
Guest pickers: 57-17
If you're not at the top end of the Big Ten (hello, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State) or the bottom (sorry, Purdue), chances are you're going to find yourself in a very tight game in November. That's why execution at the end of halves and end of games is so big, and why some of what we saw Saturday was troubling.
Indiana's transgression was even worse. The Hoosiers had the ball on the Minnesota 9-yard line, trailing 42-39, in the final minute. They then called for a swing pass to running back Tevin Coleman that Nate Sudfeld appeared to deliver a little early. Coleman hadn't yet turned around for the ball and was still behind Sudfeld, making it a lateral. Coleman didn't catch the ball and didn't immediately realize it was live, while the Gophers scooped it up to save the win.
IU coach Kevin Wilson said the swing pass was "not an ideal call." Uh, yeah. It wasn't going to result in a touchdown, and the risk of a backward pass made it a curious choice. Wilson also made another questionable decision earlier, going for the two-point conversion after the Hoosiers had scored to take a 39-35 lead. He explained his reasoning later that Indiana would have a chance to remain tied by blocking a PAT in the event Minnesota scored a touchdown. But what are the odds of that? Had Wilson simply kicked the extra point for the 40-35 lead, the Hoosiers could have later kicked a short field goal for the win.
And then there was the ending of the Northwestern-Nebraska game. By now, you know what happened, with the Huskers winning on a play they call "Geronimo." Ron Kellogg III heaved the ball about 55 yards in the air, where it was tipped by a Northwestern defender into the waiting arms of Jordan Westerkamp.
A crazy fluke of a play? OK, maybe. But the Wildcats -- who say they practice against the Hail Mary every Thursday -- made the unpardonable mistake of not accounting for the deepest receiver in the end zone.
"You can never let someone get behind the pile," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "That's pretty much it."
Northwestern could have avoided the pain of the play if, after reaching the Nebraska 1-yard line on second down in the final two minutes, it had scored a touchdown instead of settling for a field goal.
It's the little things at the end of halves and games that could decide the outcome of some more November Saturdays.
Take that and rewind it back:
Team of the week: Michigan State. The Spartans bullied, battered and bruised Michigan in one of the most impressive defensive performances we've seen in a while. They should be favored in their final three games, even though the next two (at Nebraska and at Northwestern) are on the road. Michigan State fans might actually root for Michigan this week, because a Wolverines' victory over Nebraska this week would give Mark Dantonio's team a two-game lead over everybody in the Legends Division.
Worst hangover: Michigan. This may be a literal, physical hangover for the Wolverines, who were beaten up all day in East Lansing. Devin Gardner looked shell-shocked as his jersey was covered with mud after taking so many hits. At least this week's game is at home. Brady Hoke is just 5-7 in true road games in three years.
Best play: Nothing more needs to be said about Westerkamp's Hail Mary catch. Just enjoy the video again.
Biggest unsung play: The Westerkamp catch would never have happened if not for Ameer Abdullah's heroics earlier on the final Nebraska drive. The Huskers faced fourth-and-15 when Kellogg scrambled and threw a dump-off pass to his running back. Abdullah caught the ball at the 34-yard line and needed to get just past the 39 for a first down. Two Northwestern defenders barreled in on him. But Abdullah shook off a tackle at the 36, got hit near the 38 and then lunged forward with the ball to just cross the first-down marker. Abdullah has left no doubt this season who Nebraska's best player is.
Big Man on Campus (Offense): Penn State's Bill Belton ran for 201 yards and a touchdown on 36 carries versus Illinois. All that was nearly forgotten when he fumbled near the goal line late in the fourth quarter. But all was forgiven as the Nittany Lions came back to win in OT.
Big Men on Campus (Special teams): Michigan State's Michael Geiger drilled all three of his field goal attempts in a game where offense was at a premium for three quarters, and punter Mike Sadler helped keep Michigan pinned in bad field position by averaging 40.8 yards on five kicks. The Wolverines started three of their drives from the 10-yard line or worse. No surprise there. Michigan State leads the country in punts downed inside the opponent 10, with 15.
A rule that needs review: Wisconsin's Jack Russell appeared to make a 54-yard field goal at the end of the first half, but Iowa had called a timeout just before the snap. The Hawkeyes then proceeded to call two more timeouts in a row, and Russell would finally miss the attempt after several minutes of waiting. Credit Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz for using the ploy, since there is no sense in saving first-half timeouts. But can anyone argue this is good for the game? I don't think teams should be allowed to call more than two consecutive timeouts without a play happening. It disrupts the flow of the game and certainly doesn't embody the spirit of sportsmanship and collegiality the Big Ten claims to prioritize.
Again, that's not a criticism of Ferentz, just the rule. (And am I the only one who thinks of this when discussing whether to put Jack Russell in a timeout situation? Yeah, I probably am).
Fun with numbers (via ESPN Stats & Info):
- After holding Michigan to minus-48 rushing yards on Saturday, Michigan State's defensive numbers have gone from outstanding to other-worldly. The Spartans are now allowing an average of just 43 rushing yards per game. The next best team in the FBS is Louisville at 82 yards per game. MSU is also giving up just 1.61 yards per rush attempt, which is a full yard lower than any other team in the country. Opponents are gaining zero or negative yardage on 36.5 percent of their attempts against the Spartans, also the highest number in the land, and only 22.7 percent of rushes versus that defense have gone for 5 yards or more. We could go on and on, but you get the point.
- With its 56-0 win over Purdue following a 63-point effort versus Penn State, Ohio State registered its third back-to-back 50-plus point performance in two seasons under Urban Meyer. The program did that only four times total in the previous 122 seasons. The offense has been incredibly productive, as 38.4 percent of the Buckeyes' plays have gone for either a first down or a touchdown and 53.9 percent of those plays have gone for at least 5 yards. That latter figure is the highest in the FBS.
- Do bye weeks help? Wisconsin would say yes. The Badgers have won last their past seven games following a bye week, including Saturday's win over Iowa. All of those victories have come by at least 19 points.
- Penn State's Allen Robinson now ranks second in the nation in receiving yards per game, at 130.4. He trails only Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, who is averaging 149.3 yards per game. What might hurt Robinson come awards time is that he has only six touchdown catches. Cooks, by comparison, has 14. (And remember that Robinson missed half of the season opener because of a suspension).
- Since October began, Michigan is averaging just 2.69 yards per rush attempt, which is 116th out of 123 teams in that span. (Purdue is dead last at 1.45 yards per attempt). In that same time period, the Wolverines have 63 rushes for zero or negative yards, more than any other FBS team.
The big debate in these rankings concerns the No. 2 spot, which Wisconsin has occupied for several weeks. The Badgers handled Iowa on the road and delivered a salty defensive performance even without superstar linebacker Chris Borland. Michigan State smothered Michigan, complementing a dominant defense with timely passes from Connor Cook. Both teams have won at Iowa and at Illinois. Michigan State has the best win between the bunch but has played the easier schedule.
For now, we're keeping Wisconsin at No. 2. We realize we're in the minority there, but Wisconsin hasn't done much to move down since the Northwestern game. It's too bad the Badgers and Spartans can't play this season to decide the second spot.
Elsewhere, Nebraska avoids another drop thanks to its Hail Mary against sad-sack Northwestern. We debated whether to move Minnesota higher, and we will if the Gophers keep winning. Iowa falls down a few spots, and the bottom of the rankings remains unchanged.
Here's one last look at the Week 9 rankings.
Now, the new rundown ...
1. Ohio State (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten; last week: 1): Ross-Ade Stadium is no longer a graveyard for the Buckeyes, who buried Purdue in a matter of minutes Saturday. Ohio State scored 28 first-quarter points and 42 in the first half, as the tight ends got involved, quarterbacks Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton both had jump-pass touchdowns and the defense blanked Purdue. Whether style points matter, Ohio State is finally getting them. The Buckeyes are off this week before visiting Illinois on Nov. 16.
2. Wisconsin (6-2, 4-1; last week: 2): The offense struggled and top defender Borland watched from the sideline with a hamstring injury, but Wisconsin found a way to beat Iowa. Marcus Trotter was fabulous filling in for Borland, as the Badgers' defense repeatedly turned Iowa away in plus territory. Running back James White came alive late as Wisconsin pulled away. The Badgers will need a stronger performance this week as they step out of league play against a good BYU squad.
3. Michigan State (8-1, 5-0; last week: 3): Not only did the Spartans reclaim their superiority against in-state rival Michigan, but they looked like a worthy competitor for Ohio State in a potential Big Ten championship game matchup. If Nebraska falls this week at Michigan, MSU would have a two-game lead on the rest of the division with three weeks to go. An elite defense had its best performance under Pat Narduzzi, as end Shilique Calhoun and linebackers Denicos Allen and Ed Davis combined for seven sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Cook made some impressive throws as the Spartans pounded Michigan. They'll have some extra time to celebrate during an open week before visiting Nebraska on Nov. 16.
4. Nebraska (6-2, 3-1; last week: 7): One play makes all the difference between another Power Rankings drop for Big Red and a three-spot gain. Nebraska had defensive problems early and turnover problems late against Northwestern, but the Huskers never gave up and won a game on a Hail Mary to Jordan Westerkamp for the first time in team history. Credit running back Ameer Abdullah for keeping a potentially splintering team together. The young defense also shut down Northwestern's offense in the second half. Nebraska must beat Michigan on the road this week to stay in the Legends Division race.
5. Michigan (6-2, 2-2; last week: 4): That Notre Dame win feels like years ago as Michigan's warts were exposed in Saturday's loss at Michigan State. The Wolverines are either too young or simply not tough enough, as they were pushed around the field at Spartan Stadium. Michigan had a program-low rushing total (minus-48 yards) and couldn't protect quarterback Devin Gardner. The program's Big Ten championship drought almost certainly will reach nine years, and it's fair to question where things are really headed under third-year coach Brady Hoke. At least Michigan returns home, where it has never lost under Hoke, to face Nebraska this week.
6. Minnesota (7-2, 3-2; last week: 6): The Minnesota mojo continues, thanks in large part to an inexcusable crunch-time blunder by Indiana. Minnesota blew a 22-point third-quarter lead but rallied behind Philip Nelson, who established himself as the team's offensive leader with 298 pass yards and four touchdowns. It was a rough second half for the defense, but linebacker Aaron Hill came up with the decisive play late as the Gophers got out of Bloomington with their third consecutive league win. Minnesota is a factor in the Legends Division race but must keep winning this week against Penn State.
7. Iowa (5-4, 2-3; last week: 5): Sure, the Hawkeyes are improved this season, but some of the same maddening offensive traits remain, like being unable to finish drives. Iowa should have been up at halftime rather than down 7-6 to Wisconsin, and although quarterback Jake Rudock's injury impacted the game, the Hawkeyes' second-half struggles on offense are nothing new. The defense is good enough to get Iowa a few more wins, but can the offense start scoring? Iowa visits Purdue this week.
8. Penn State (5-3, 2-2; last week: 8): It isn't always pretty with Penn State, but the Lions don't quit, especially on their home field. Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg once again rallied his team from a late deficit and stepped up in overtime as Penn State avoided what would have been a bad loss to Illinois. Bill Belton established himself as the team's top running back with 201 yards and a touchdown. The defense remains far too vulnerable to big passing plays. Penn State will need to be better on both sides of the ball this week as it visits surging Minnesota.
9. Indiana (3-5, 1-3; last week: 9): Coach Kevin Wilson's crew doesn't quit, but the Hoosiers still don't know how to win. They were 9 yards away from completing a huge second-half comeback against Minnesota and moving a step closer to bowl eligibility. At worst, they were in position to send the game to overtime. Instead, everything fell apart on a dropped backward pass to Tevin Coleman, who had a big game (108 rush yards, TD). The quarterback race took another turn with Nate Sudfeld outplaying Tre Roberson, and the defense had a wildly inconsistent performance. Indiana hosts Illinois this week but will need a road win at Ohio State or Wisconsin to become bowl eligible.
10. Northwestern (4-5, 0-5; last week: 10): The former Cardiac Cats are only giving their fans heartache at this point as they've forgotten how to perform in the clutch. Northwestern had another golden opportunity for a road win, but let it slip away when it couldn't finish off Nebraska on either side of the ball, leading to the Hail Mary touchdown to Jordan Westerkamp. Injuries continue to mount in a snakebitten season for the Wildcats, who likely won't make a bowl. Northwestern has an off week to regroup before hosting Michigan on Nov. 16.
11. Illinois (3-5, 0-4; last week: 11): The Big Ten losing streak has reached 18 games, and arguably no defeat stung more than Saturday's at Penn State. Illinois wasted opportunities early, took the lead late and still couldn't hold on for a victory. Tim Beckman's team performed better than expected and can take some positives from its performance in Happy Valley, but there's still too much inconsistency on both sides of the ball, as the defense allowed 250 rush yards. Illinois visits Indiana this week.
12. Purdue (1-7, 0-4; last week: 12): The misery continues for Darrell Hazell's crew, which is on its way to its worst season since 1993 (1-10) and might be one of the worst squads in recent Big Ten memory. Young quarterback Danny Etling had another rough outing as Purdue never challenged Ohio State and had no answers for the Buckeyes' offense. Purdue has been shut out in consecutive games and has scored just 17 points in four Big Ten contests. The remaining schedule is a little more favorable, but Purdue has to show something positive by season's end.
1. Mark Dantonio's Spartans own the state: The buzz around the Big Ten during the offseason was that Ohio State and Michigan soon would separate themselves, creating a Big 2-Little 10 dynamic in the conference. While both programs are recruiting at a nationally elite level, only Ohio State is translating the talent into tangible progress. Michigan fell to Michigan State on Saturday for the fifth time in six years, and the gulf between the two programs is unmistakable.
Michigan still can spoil the Buckeyes' national title hopes later this month, but the Wolverines continue to fall short of their self-imposed standard for success: a Big Ten championship.
2. Some programs just seem snake-bitten: We don't believe in curses or anything like that, but it sure seems like some programs are the victims of voodoo. How else to explain how Illinois, Indiana and Northwestern keep finding incredible ways to lose?
The Illini shot themselves in the foot over and over again at Penn State but still had the lead and the ball after a Bill Belton fumble near the Illinois goal line with 3:23 left. They lost in overtime.
Indiana, after trailing Minnesota 35-13, rallied to take a 39-35 lead. The Hoosiers then trailed 42-39 in the final minute and had the ball on the Gophers' 9-yard line. They tried a pass to running back Tevin Coleman, which ended up being a lateral that Coleman dropped and gave up on. Minnesota scooped the ball up to survive.
And Northwestern suffered the biggest heartbreaker, giving up a 49-yard Hail Mary touchdown to Jordan Westerkamp on the game's final play. Remember when Northwestern thrived in the clutch? Not anymore.
Learning to win is a skill, and Indiana and Illinois -- the latter of which has lost 18 straight Big Ten games -- still haven't mastered that. We thought Northwestern had, but the Wildcats have lost five straight games now and have been hit the hardest by injuries of any league team. Makes you almost believe in curses.
Much of that can be credited to the improvement of Braxton Miller as a passer; he has thrown seven touchdown passes with only 10 incompletions his past two games. The defense has been stifling as well. Yes, the competition hasn't been stellar, but remember that Ohio State historically has had trouble against Purdue and hadn't really dominated anybody in the Big Ten. But this team appears to be hitting its stride now and making a statement to those who doubt it belongs in the national title discussion.
4. Wisconsin can win without its stars: When Wisconsin has had success this year, it usually has happened by riding stars like Melvin Gordon, Chris Borland and Jared Abbrederis. The Badgers proved they're a complete team in a 28-9 win at Iowa.
Borland didn't play because of a bum hamstring. Gordon rushed for a season-low 62 yards. Abbrederis had only 30 receiving yards and left the game after catching a third-quarter touchdown pass. Still, Wisconsin's defense held the Hawkeyes to only 289 yards and no touchdowns, while the offense chipped away until breaking free late, thanks to senior James White's 132 yards rushing and two touchdowns. It was a defensive slog most of the afternoon, but a team like the Badgers with BCS bowl hopes has to win some games like that along the way.
Meanwhile, Iowa just wishes it had a few offensive stars. The Hawkeyes' defense is very good, but a complete lack of explosiveness on the other side of the ball ultimately limits this team's potential.
5. Minnesota is in the thick of the Legends Division race: We talked last week about Minnesota being a great story. The Gophers are more than that now. They've won three straight games to improve to 7-2 (3-2 conference). While they trail Michigan State by two games in the standings, they do play the Spartans in the final week of the season. Next week's home game against Penn State, which has played valiantly at home but very shaky on the road, is entirely winnable.
We're not saying Minnesota is going to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game. The Gophers still have some issues, and the team did not handle a huge lead at Indiana very well. But the mere fact that the Gophers are even still in the discussion for the division crown is a testament to what the players and coaching staff have accomplished under difficult circumstances.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
Final 20 Duke 7 1 Florida State 45 Final 2 Ohio State 24 10 Michigan State 34 Final 5 Missouri 42 3 Auburn 59 Final 17 Oklahoma 33 6 Oklahoma State 24 Final 7 Stanford 38 11 Arizona State 14 Final 25 Texas 10 9 Baylor 30 Final 16 UCF 17 Southern Methodist 13 Final Utah State 17 23 Fresno State 24