NCF Nation: Caleb TerBush

Rob Henry lost a chance at the starting quarterback job in 2011 after he tore his ACL a week before the season-opener. Now, two seasons later, the senior has reclaimed the job.

Henry was named Purdue’s starting quarterback Sunday by first-year coach Darrell Hazell, a move that will likely be both popular in the locker room -- Henry was named a co-captain before tearing his knee in that season -- and makes sense with the Boilermakers’ schedule.

Flat out, Henry gives Purdue the best chance to be successful early in the season, with trips to Cincinnati and Wisconsin in the first month of the season along with home games against No. 14 Notre Dame and Northern Illinois, which reached the Orange Bowl last season.

To ask a freshman (Danny Etling) or a redshirt freshman (Austin Appleby) to handle that rough early schedule could destroy a young quarterback’s confidence, let alone his team’s belief in him. By going with Henry, who has had a strong preseason anyway, it gives the Boilermakers a seasoned leader to look to.

In Henry, Purdue also has a quarterback who understands what it is like to lose his starting job and not be able to reclaim it, as former coach Danny Hope chose to go with then-seniors Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush. TerBush had won the job when Henry tore his ACL two years ago.

Now back as the starter, he’ll be looked to as the stopgap for a team which will be learning Hazell’s new offense while also setting an example for his replacement a year from now. He is the perfect player to be in this position, considering he won the team’s unselfishness and dedication award in 2010 and even made a run at becoming Purdue’s student body vice president.

Having even moved positions for the good of his team, Henry is now back where he started his career -- running the Boilermakers’ offense as their quarterback.
Way back in the heady days of the 2012 preseason, we ranked every Big Ten position group from No. 1 through 12. We had to base our thoughts on previous performance and a lot of projections in August.

We're going back now and issuing a final, postseason ranking for each position group, and these will be far less subjective now because we have an actual full season's worth of data on hand.

Quarterbacks, naturally, are up first. (Those guys hog all the glory). You can take a look back and see how we ranked this group in the preseason here. Depth is an important factor in these position rankings, but having a standout main guy under center (or in the shotgun) is the most overriding concern with this group.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteThanks to consistent play by QB Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes finished the 2012 season unbeaten.
1. Ohio State (Preseason rank: 5): We figured Braxton Miller would improve greatly in his second year of starting and in Urban Meyer's system. We didn't know he'd become the Big Ten offensive player of the year or finish fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. While he didn't always throw the ball with precision, Miller made all the big plays and led his team to a 12-0 record. The biggest preseason worry was what would happen if he got hurt. Kenny Guiton answered that in the Purdue comeback.

2. Penn State (Preseason: 12): The Nittany Lions were dead last in our preseason rankings, and with good reason considering their past performances at the position. But I did write at the time: "Call me an optimist, but I believe Matt McGloin will be more effective at quarterback now that he's got a more modern offensive system and peace of mind that he's the starter." Uh, yeah. McGloin led the Big Ten in passing yards (3,266) and passing touchdowns (24) while throwing only five interceptions. And he stayed healthy, keeping Penn State's youthful backups from getting exposed.

3. Nebraska (Preseason: 3): Taylor Martinez led the Big Ten in total offense and completed a career-best 62 percent of his passes. When he was good, he was as good as there was in the league. But he still struggled with turnovers in key games, including 12 interceptions and numerous fumbles. If he can eliminate the mistakes, the sky's the limit.

4. Michigan (Preseason: 2): The Wolverines are a hard to team to peg in these rankings. Do we rank them based on Denard Robinson's poor showings in big games against Alabama and Notre Dame? Do we rank them based on Devin Gardner's strong finish to the season, when he was as productive as any Big Ten QB? How much do we factor in the team's lack of a solid backup plan in the Nebraska loss when Robinson got hurt early? You have to weigh the good with the bad, which makes this spot feel about right.

5. Northwestern (Preseason: 9): Starting quarterback Kain Colter threw for 872 yards, which was nearly 450 yards less than nominal backup Trevor Siemian. But Colter also rushed for 894 yards and kept defenses off balance with his versatility. Meanwhile, the Wildcats could use Siemian when they needed to stretch the field. The next step for Northwestern is developing a more consistent downfield passing attack.

6. Indiana (Preseason: 11): Who would have guessed in the preseason that the Hoosiers would actually exhibit the best depth at quarterback? After starter Tre Roberson went down in Week 2, Indiana was able to plug in juco transfer Cameron Coffman and true freshman Nate Sudfeld to sustain the league's top passing offense. The three combined to throw for more than 3,700 yards. Coffman got the bulk of the work but needed a better touchdown-to-interception ration than his 15-to-11 mark.

7. Purdue (Preseason: 1): We overrated the Boilermakers' depth in the preseason. It turned out that only one of the trio of former starters performed at a high level, and Robert Marve didn't play enough because of a torn ACL and Danny Hope's misguided insistence on sticking with Caleb TerBush. Purdue actually led the Big Ten in passing touchdowns (30) and finished third in passing yards, but much of that was because the team often had to throw the ball a lot after falling way behind. This ranking could have been higher with a full season of Marve.

8. Wisconsin (Preseason: 8): Danny O'Brien quickly showed that he was not the next Russell Wilson, but luckily the Badgers had some depth. Redshirt freshman Joel Stave showed major promise before his season was derailed by a broken collarbone, and Curt Phillips turned in a nice comeback story by managing the team well down the stretch. Still, Wisconsin ranked last in the Big Ten in passing yards.

9. Michigan State (Preseason: 10): It was not exactly a season to remember for first-year starter Andrew Maxwell, who was benched late in the Spartans' bowl game. But for all his struggles, Maxwell still finished No. 4 in the league in passing and had some nice games in the middle of the year.

10. Minnesota (Preseason: 6): What could MarQueis Gray have done if he hadn't hurt his ankle, prompting an eventual move to receiver? True freshman Philip Nelson took over the reins midseason and broke out with a huge first half against Purdue. However, he failed to throw for more than 80 yards in the team's final three regular season games. Nelson led the team with just 873 passing yards on the season, and the Gophers threw 15 interceptions.

11. Iowa (Preseason: 4): Nobody took a bigger tumble than the Hawkeyes, as James Vandenberg went from a 3,000-yard passer as a junior to often looking lost as a senior. He completed only 57.3 percent of his passes and tossed only seven touchdowns, with eight interceptions, and Iowa showed almost no ability to go vertical. And no other Hawkeye attempted a pass all season.

12. Illinois (Preseason: 7): The Illini had experience at the position with Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole, but they were both part of a wildly dysfunctional offense. Illinois was next-to-last in passing yards in the Big Ten and also had just 11 touchdown passes versus 14 interceptions. In fairness, both QBs were often running for their lives and had very little help.
As a Chicago Bears fan, my fingers are trembling as I type this ...

According to reports, Purdue has hired John Shoop as its new offensive coordinator.

FootballScoop.com first reported Shoop's hiring, and the Big Ten Network also is reporting it. Purdue hasn't officially confirmed the addition of Shoop to Darrell Hazell's staff.

OK, John Shoop. That John Shoop? Yes, that John Shoop. (Chill goes down spine). Breathe, Adam, breathe ...

I'm going to give Shoop a chance to show he won't do to Purdue's offense what he did to the Bears' offense from 1999-2003. Every new Big Ten assistant deserves somewhat of a clean slate from the Big Ten blog.

Sorry, just had a flashback of a bubble screen for minus-3 yards. Focus, Adam.

Shoop coordinated some decent offenses at North Carolina toward the end of his tenure as Tar Heels' offensive coordinator (2007-2010). Players like quarterback T.J. Yates and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks developed nicely under his watch in Chapel Hill. He remains in demand, interviewing for NFL coaching positions in recent weeks. And Shoop certainly boasts enough experience for this job.

He takes over a Purdue offense that loses its top two quarterbacks from 2012 (Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush), its top running back in Akeem Shavers, a valuable receiver in Antavian Edison and several starting linemen. Quarterback will be Shoop's primary focus as he figures out who will lead the Boilers in 2013.

Will there be some Bears jokes made? Yes. Will there be some jokes about Shoop and Jim Bollman being on the same offensive staff? Plenty. Hazell has made some, well, interesting hires so far at Purdue. But maybe it works out in the end and Boiler fans are crankin' up Salt-N-Pepa by the end of the season.
The 2012 college football season is barely on ice and we're already heating up for the 2013 campaign with a way-too-early version of the Big Ten power rankings. This is a snapshot of how the league looks at this point in time, not knowing all the personnel/coaching changes that will be in place for next season. As a reminder, these can and will change during the next eight months.

Ohio State is on top, and quite frankly, the Buckeyes are head and shoulders above the rest of the league. Other teams such as Northwestern, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan certainly belong in the league's lead pack, while Michigan State and Penn State both have talent as well as question marks. We don't see a whole lot separating Nos. 2-6.

Here we go ...

1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes made the most of their sanctioned season, running the table to post just the sixth unbeaten, untied season in team history. Urban Meyer's crew now takes aim at a Big Ten title and perhaps even a national title, its first since 2002. Junior quarterback Braxton Miller leads a potentially explosive offense, but Ohio State needs its young defenders to grow up in a hurry as there are depth and experience questions on that side of the ball.

2. Northwestern: The Wildcats won 10 games in 2012 with a young team most projected to win no more than seven. Northwestern returns a very strong nucleus, led by running back Venric Mark and quarterback Kain Colter, and loses only a few key seniors. Most of the Wildcats' talent can be found in their younger classes. The schedule gets tougher in 2013 -- Northwestern opens Big Ten play with Ohio State and Wisconsin -- but the Wildcats should be a major factor in the Legends Division if they can shore up their offensive line and continue to make strides on defense.

3. Nebraska: There's no doubt Nebraska will have one of the nation’s top offenses in 2013. Fourth-year starter Taylor Martinez returns at quarterback and has the Big Ten's largest arsenal of weapons at his disposal. The big concerns are on defense after Nebraska hemorrhaged points and yards in its four losses this past season and loses a group of seniors. Bo Pelini needs to get his defense back on track and hope the offense can limit turnovers, a huge problem throughout this season.

4. Wisconsin: Gary Andersen hardly inherits a bare cupboard in Madison. His predecessor, Bret Bielema, actually pointed to the 2013 team as potentially his best with the Badgers. The coaching transition could create some speed bumps, but Wisconsin returns two dynamic running backs in James White and Melvin Gordon, multiple quarterbacks with experience and a good defensive front seven led by Chris Borland. There are concerns in the secondary (three starters gone) and at wide receiver (not enough playmakers), but Wisconsin should push Ohio State in the Leaders Division.

5. Michigan: The Denard Robinson era is over and Michigan needs offensive playmakers to replace its record-setting quarterback and surround new signal-caller Devin Gardner. A bigger concern, though, is an offensive line that struggled at times in 2012 and must replace most of its starting lineup. Coach Brady Hoke should see some of his strong early recruiting efforts pay off in Year 3, although Michigan might not have the depth to challenge for a league title until 2014. Linebacker Jake Ryan leads a defense that has improved the past two seasons but must measure up to elite competition.

6. Michigan State: Pat Narduzzi's defense should once again be one of the nation's best, especially with All-Big Ten standout Max Bullough once again leading the unit at middle linebacker. But the NFL departures of Le'Veon Bell and Dion Sims could hamper an offense that had no other consistent weapons in 2012. The schedule definitely favors MSU, but how will the Spartans score points? MSU's quarterback competition between Connor Cook and Andrew Maxwell will be one of the top storylines of spring practice.

7. Penn State: Bill O'Brien had a lot to do with Penn State's success in 2012, but so did a senior class featuring several NFL players on defense who certainly will be missed. O'Brien's next challenge is developing a capable quarterback, whether it's Steven Bench, junior college arrival Tyler Ferguson or, just maybe, heralded incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg. Penn State could feel the sting of the sanctions more from a depth standpoint in 2013, but O'Brien's Lions have defied the odds so far.

8. Minnesota: The Gophers doubled their win total in Jerry Kill’s second season, and Kill's track record at previous stops suggests another boost could be on the way in Year 3. Quarterback Philip Nelson looked good in the bowl game after some late-season struggles, but Minnesota still needs more weapons to develop around him as well as continued progress from the offensive line. Senior defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman leads a unit looking to fill gaps at linebacker and cornerback.

9. Indiana: The arrow is pointed up in Bloomington despite a poor finish to the regular season, and with eight home games on the slate in 2013, Indiana should expect to go bowling. Third-year coach Kevin Wilson has three quarterbacks with experience -- Tre Roberson, Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld -- at his disposal, as well as other weapons such as running back Stephen Houston and receiver Cody Latimer. IU's defense once again is a major question mark, but recruiting efforts have picked up on that side of the ball.

10. Purdue: If the Heart of Dallas Bowl was any indication, new Boilers coach Darrell Hazell has a lot of work ahead in Year 1. Purdue loses its top two quarterbacks (Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush), its top defender in Kawann Short and other key contributors on both sides of the ball. Hazell's predecessor, Danny Hope, signed a bunch of quarterbacks in his recent recruiting classes, and it will be interesting to see who rises to the top. Hazell should be able to clean up some of Purdue's sloppy play, but the Boilers have quite a few question marks after a disappointing 2012 campaign.

11. Iowa: After taking a significant step back in 2012, Iowa might have a tough time turning things around in a loaded Legends Division in 2013. The Hawkeyes welcome in a new quarterback (Jake Rudock) and need playmakers to emerge around him to generate much better results in Year 2 under coordinator Greg Davis. The defensive front seven could be solid as Iowa boasts a strong linebacking corps, but the Hawkeyes must plug a few holes in the secondary and get back to their traditionally stout play on D.

12. Illinois: Coach Tim Beckman needs to show significant signs of progress in Year 2 after a disastrous first season, and he might not have the personnel to do so. The Illini once again lose several defenders to the NFL draft and need to fill holes along the defensive line and in the secondary. Their bigger concerns are on the offensive side, as they had fewer playmakers than any Big Ten team in 2012. Veteran quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase returns, but Illinois needs a much better plan on offense and the personnel to get things done. An influx of junior college players must step up in a make-or-break year for Beckman.
Robert Marve never could have predicted his football career to play out the way it has. No one could.

Here's the synopsis: nationally decorated recruit, signs with Miami, breaks his arm in car accident before freshman year, redshirts the 2007 season, starts most of the 2008 season, clashes with coach Randy Shannon, transfers to Purdue, tears his ACL, sits out the 2009 season as per NCAA rules, starts at quarterback to open the 2010 season, tears his ACL again in Week 4, misses the rest of the season, backs up Caleb TerBush in 2011, receives sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, starts the 2012 opener after TerBush is suspended, tears his ACL in Week 2 against Notre Dame, amazingly returns to the field four weeks later despite the ligament tear, claims the starting job four weeks later and leads Purdue to a 2-1 mark since.

Got all that?

"It's definitely been interesting," Marve told ESPN.com this week. "It's been a roller-coaster, but I wouldn't want to change it for anything. It's made me a better person. It's matured me and gotten me to a place on and off the field where I'm definitely happy with myself.

[+] EnlargeRobert Marve
Sandra Dukes/US PresswirePurdue QB Robert Marve has had a made-for-TV movie kind of career.
"It'd be a great ending to go to the bowl game and get that W."

Marve and his Purdue teammates must beat rival Indiana on Saturday in the Bucket game at Ross-Ade Stadium to reach the 6-win mark and head to a bowl for the second straight season. It isn't the situation they envisioned back in August, when many saw the Boilers as a potential sleeper team in the wide-open Leaders division, and coach Danny Hope touted the squad as his best at Purdue.

A five-game losing streak to start Big Ten play -- including four losses by 16 points or more -- derailed the Boilers, but they've rebounded a bit with consecutive wins. Although Purdue lacks a signature victory, no team tested the nation's two unbeatens -- No. 1 Notre Dame and Ohio State -- more than the Boilers, who fell 20-17 in South Bend and were a play away from beating the Buckeyes in Columbus before losing in overtime.

An odd season, to say the least.

"It wasn't exactly what we had in mind," Marve said.

"There was some real rough sledding in the middle of the season at a focal point in time in our season," Hope said. "But hats off to our players for being resilient."

No Purdue player has shown more resiliency than Marve. Out of eligibility beyond this season, he vowed to return following his latest ACL tear. Hope had his doubts but Marve made steady progress in practice.

He has completed 72.9 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions in his last two games.

"Everyone is rallying around Robert," Hope said. "He's inspirational to us all, coaches and players alike. I really admire him playing the game at the level he's playing at with the injury that he has. Very unusual … to see a guy playing Big Ten football at the quarterback position with a torn ACL."

Other Purdue players have elevated their play after the disappointing start to the Big Ten campaign. Senior cornerback Josh Johnson ranks second in the Big Ten and in the top 10 nationally in passes defended with 17.

Johnson has five pass breakups and two forced fumbles in Purdue's last two games. He has multiple passes defended in five games this season and has three forced fumbles, three interceptions and a fumble recovery, including a pick-six against Marshall.

"My whole concept of every series is get a turnover or make a big play," Johnson told ESPN.com. "Right now, it's been working very well for me."

Johnson notes that Purdue found itself in the same situation a year ago, needing to beat Indiana to reach 6-6 and secure a bowl spot. The Boilers got it done and then won the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl against Western Michigan.

"We know what it takes," Johnson said.

Another subplot Saturday is whether a win saves Hope's job. The fourth-year coach has been under fire this season, and many fans are voicing their opinion by not showing up for games.

Purdue has lost its three Big Ten home games by an average of 26.7 points. Hope wants more time to get his master plan in place, but whether he gets another year remains to be seen.

"We love Coach Hope," Johnson said. "We're doing whatever it takes to have him stay here."

Marve to start at QB for Purdue

October, 29, 2012
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Saddled with a 0-4 Big Ten record, Purdue needs to make some changes. And Danny Hope is pulling the trigger on one that many Boilermakers fans wanted to see for a while.

Hope said Sunday night that Robert Marve would replace Caleb TerBush as the starter at quarterback this week when Penn State comes to West Lafayette. TerBush was just 5-for-18 for 49 yards with one touchdown and an interception in Saturday's 44-28 loss at Minnesota. Marve, meanwhile, was 11-for-19 for 97 yards and two touchdowns when he came in during the third quarter, giving the team a little spark, though it was already trailing big.

This will be Marve's first start since the season opener, when TerBush was suspended. Marve tore the ACL in his left knee in Week 2 against Notre Dame but returned to play less than a month later against Michigan.

For the season, Marve has completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 597 yards, with six touchdowns and two interceptions. TerBush has completed 58 percent for 995 yards, with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Hope insisted there was no quarterback controversy at Purdue.

“It has been a management nightmare from an injury standpoint for the guys to get the reps that they needed,” Hope said. “It’s unfortunate, at times, the media can spin it like it’s a quarterback controversy and our fans embrace that perception, if you will. It’s been competition all along.”

In reality, Purdue needs a lot more than just a quarterback change to turn its season around. But Marve has been a spark plug when he has played, even though he sometimes free-lances too much. In a season that is quickly spiraling away from Hope, he has no reason not to try something different.
There's no more debate. Quarterback Braxton Miller and the Ohio State Buckeyes made sure everyone knows they're the best team in the Big Ten.

The so-called Ineligi-bowl on Saturday night in State College paired the top two teams in the most recent power rankings. Penn State came in brimming with confidence following five straight wins, but it missed several big opportunities early in the game. Ohio State took over behind Miller and a surprisingly good defense, showing that it remains the class of the Big Ten.

Nebraska moves up to the No. 2 spot after keeping Michigan out of the end zone, while Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State and Iowa all drop. Wisconsin looks very shaky without top quarterback Joel Stave, and Iowa is a mess after being outclassed for the second straight week. Aside from Wisconsin's and Iowa's drops, and Minnesota's and Indiana's rises, there's not a ton of movement. Purdue and Illinois remain at the bottom of the barrel.

As a reminder, the power rankings are a snapshot of a team's current state -- how it is performing in real time. Injuries are considered.

Here's the rundown ...

1. Ohio State (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten, last week: 1): The Buckeyes have the Big Ten's best player in Miller and the league's best team, period. They racked up 234 rush yards and three touchdowns against a stout Penn State defense and controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Ohio State's defense had one of its best efforts, keeping Penn State out of the end zone for more than three quarters. Urban Meyer's squad had looked shaky the previous two weeks, but it cranked things up in the second and third quarters and never looked back. A perfect season seems much more realistic with three games to play.

2. Nebraska (6-2, 3-1, last week: 5): Three weeks after being crushed by Ohio State in Columbus, Nebraska has new life and control of the Legends Division. The Huskers have regained their swagger on defense and capitalized on a Denard Robinson-less Michigan team in the second half Saturday night, allowing just 52 yards. Nebraska has survived almost two full Big Ten games without top running back Rex Burkhead, who should be back this week at Michigan State. Bo Pelini challenged his team to win out after Ohio State, and the players have responded. Another test awaits this week against the Spartans.

3. Penn State (5-3, 3-1, last week: 2): Bill O'Brien's team had been efficient and opportunistic in its first three Big Ten games. The Lions were neither against Ohio State, failing to build a bigger first-half lead and making too many mistakes in the middle part of the game. Penn State had too many penalties, not enough third-down conversions, not enough in the run game and not enough third-down stops against Ohio State. The Lions took a big step up in class but couldn't match the Buckeyes despite an electric atmosphere in State College. They aim to get back in the win column this week at Purdue.

4. Michigan (5-3, 3-1, last week: 3): No Robinson equaled big, big problems for Michigan against Nebraska. Backup quarterback Russell Bellomy struggled mightily, and Michigan could have a tough time in the coming weeks if No. 16 doesn't return to the field. The defense still performed well against Nebraska, at least until the fourth quarter, but Michigan is too invested in Robinson on offense and has very few answers without him. The Jug Game becomes a lot more interesting as Michigan visits a Minnesota team coming off of its best performance in Big Ten play.

5. Northwestern (7-2, 3-2, last week: 6): After three very shaky weeks on offense, Northwestern finally established its identity behind junior quarterback Kain Colter and the option game. Iowa had no answers for Colter and the Wildcats' ground attack, as Northwestern piled up 349 rush yards, averaging 7.1 yards per attempt. Northwestern's defense once again allowed some yards but limited points and big plays, making Iowa work for every point it scored. Pat Fitzgerald's team got through October, a month when it typically struggles, at 2-2, and enters November with some momentum.

6. Michigan State (5-4, 2-3, last week: 7): There's new life in Sparta as Michigan State's beleaguered offense showed up just in time and helped the Spartans rally past Wisconsin in Madison. Pat Narduzzi's defense has been elite for most of the season but cranked things up a notch at Camp Randall Stadium, limiting Wisconsin to 10 first downs and 19 net rushing yards, and racking up five sacks and 12 tackles for loss. Defensive end William Gholston finally had a breakout game, and linebacker Max Bullough and others were fabulous. The Spartans now return home to play the spoiler role as they host Legends Division front-runner Nebraska.

7. Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2, last week: 4): The Badgers lost their first home game since 2009 and also their top quarterback, Stave, to injury. All the mojo generated from three consecutive impressive wins is gone, as Wisconsin's offense reverted to its early September form under backup Danny O'Brien. Wisconsin still has the inside track to represent the Leaders Division in Indianapolis, but Indiana is now in the running, too, and the Badgers must get things together offensively during a much-needed open week before heading to Bloomington.

8. Minnesota (5-3, 1-3, last week: 10): The future is now, and his name is Philip Nelson. Minnesota's freshman quarterback dazzled before the home faithful Saturday against Purdue, firing three first-half touchdown passes and finishing with 246 pass yards, 37 rush yards and no interceptions. With Nelson at the controls, Minnesota scored more points (44) against Purdue than it had in its first three Big Ten contests (39). An improved defense shut down Purdue until garbage time and received a nice lift from cornerback Michael Carter. Minnesota looks to make a major statement and regain the Little Brown Jug this week against Michigan.

9. Indiana (3-5, 1-3, last week: 11): Kevin Wilson and his team finally celebrated a Big Ten win Saturday, and several more could be coming in the next few weeks. Indiana -- yes, Indiana -- controls its own fate in the Leaders Division and has two huge home games coming up against Iowa and then Wisconsin, the only other team that can represent the Leaders in Indianapolis. The Hoosiers made fewer mistakes than Illinois, received a nice lift from their defense at times and seemed to identify their top quarterback in freshman Nate Sudfeld. IU has been in every game this season and could be tough to beat down the stretch.

10. Iowa (4-4, 2-2, last week: 8): The frustration is mounting in Hawkeye Country as Iowa received a thorough beating for the second straight week. The Hawkeyes lost by only 11 at Northwestern, but they never stopped the Wildcats' rushing attack and couldn't attack a shorthanded secondary down the field. The offense piled up 336 yards but couldn't translate them into nearly enough points. A bigger concern is a defense that has surrendered 937 yards the past two weeks. If Iowa can't rebound this week against Indiana, it could be staring at a bowl-less season.

11. Purdue (3-5, 0-4, last week: 11): The Boilers' season is on life support, and Danny Hope's tenure as head coach could be, too. Billed by Hope as his best team, Purdue hasn't shown up for three of its first four Big Ten contests. The Boilers' defense, featuring several future NFL players, let Minnesota's Nelson have his way with them Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. Caleb TerBush clearly isn't the answer at quarterback, but it has taken too long for Hope to figure that out. Purdue has replaced Michigan State as the Big Ten's biggest disappointment, and it'll be tough for the Boilers to get bowl-eligible with four games to play.

12. Illinois (2-6, 0-4, last week: 12): Illinois had more first downs (23-14) and total yards (372-292) than Indiana, and held the ball for more than 33 minutes Saturday. But a flurry of mistakes -- penalties, turnovers, sacks, you name it -- allowed Indiana to score 24 of the game's final 27 points. Nathan Scheelhaase did some good things and Donovonn Young (124 rush yards) provided a boost in the ground game, but Illinois makes far too many errors to win games right now. It only gets tougher for Tim Beckman's crew as it heads to Columbus.

Final: Minnesota 44, Purdue 28

October, 27, 2012
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Third time's the charm, right?

It seems that way for the Minnesota football team. The Gophers are on their third quarterback of the season, but their first that seems to be making major strides. And in a 44-28 win over Purdue it was freshman signal caller Philip Nelson who was making quite the impression at the position.

He led the Gophers to their first Big Ten victory this season with his impressive performance -- three touchdowns and no interceptions on an 15-of-22 passing day.

Nelson made the Boilermakers defense look mismatched in nearly every aspect of the game (though it didn't help the Boilermakers' case that Purdue senior defensive tackle Kawann Short exited the game during the first quarter due to injury). On the ground the Gophers picked up 214 yards and in the air Nelson picked apart the Boilermakers secondary through the first half. He didn't complete a pass in the second half as the Gophers' offense slowed and focused on the rush more.

And while it was the Boilermakers who struck first, they just never got it going until it was too late (scoring the game's final three touchdowns). Starting quarterback Caleb TerBush completed 5 of 18 passes and threw a touchdown and an interception before being pulled in the third quarter for sixth-year senior Robert Marve. But by the time Marve hit the field the Gophers were leading 44-7. Marve's play was much better by comparison, completing 11 of 19 passes for two touchdowns, but it wasn't nearly enough to overcome the Gophers' lead at that point.

With Minnesota's hefty scoring attack, it surpassed the total number of points the Gophers scored in their first three conference games (39). However, they fell short of the school's record for the most points scored in a game (63).

Purdue didn't appear to be in the same form as it was a week ago when it took Ohio State to overtime before falling, 29-22, and Minnesota looked more complete than it has all season.

Purdue drops to 0-4 in the Big Ten and hosts Penn State next weekend. Meanwhile, a somewhat revived Minnesota team moves to 1-3 in the conference and welcomes Michigan to the Twin Cities in a week.

Wisconsin-Purdue pregame ponderables

October, 13, 2012
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Greetings from Ross-Ade Stadium, where it's about 50 degrees and a little overcast. But the rain appears to be holding off.

How big is today's game between Wisconsin and Purdue? Boilermakers receiver O.J. Ross said on the Purdue pregame show that his team is approaching this as if it's "a championship game." And it basically is, in the Leaders Division. With Penn State and Ohio State ineligible for the Big Ten title game and Indiana and Illinois struggling, whoever wins this one will have a huge leg up on getting to Indianapolis in the first week of December.

So it's really a matter of which team shows up, for both teams. Will Wisconsin continue its slow but steady offensive progress and look like the team that has dominated the Boilers the past few years? (The Badgers have won six straight in this series). Or will Bret Bielema's offensive line struggle against a good Purdue defensive front, forcing redshirt freshman Joel Stave to make plays down the field? If that's the case and Montee Ball is not running wild, Purdue will like its chances. Jared Abbrederis is one of the best receivers in the Big Ten, but the Boilers' cornerback tandem of Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson is as good as it gets in this league. That should be a fun matchup to watch.

And which Purdue will we see? The one that took Notre Dame to the wire in South Bend, or the one that looked like an FCS team against Michigan last week in a 44-13 loss here? Players and coaches all said this week that their spirits were still high despite the disappointing showing last week, and the word around the team is that this week's practices were crisp. But this remains an outfit under Danny Hope that has struggled with consistency and discipline in big spots.

The Boilermakers will have to unleash their varied offense, utilizing running backs Akeem Hunt and Akeem Shavers -- and Ralph Bolden. The senior is expected to make his season debut today after recovering from another torn ACL that he suffered in last year's season finale. How effective he will be remains to be seen. Maybe we'll see Bolden and quarterback Robert Marve in the same backfield, which we could call the ACL festival. Caleb TerBush should start again at quarterback, but Hope won't hesitate to pull the trigger on fan favorite Marve early if TerBush has trouble.

Wisconsin's defense is an underrated crew that's playing pretty well, though Nebraska's spread and speed gave it major problems in Lincoln. Purdue could follow a similar blueprint.

This is also a huge game for Hope, whose support among the Purdue fan base would dwindle if his team falls flat in this one. With a trip to Ohio State looming next week, the Boilers can't afford another Big Ten loss. This is a must-win situation, and Purdue needs to come out firing as if it is indeed a championship game. Because, in all reality, it is.
When Wisconsin players enter the field at Camp Randall Stadium, they pass under this sign.

Coach Bret Bielema has drilled home a 1-0 mentality with his players since he took the top job. And, for the most part, it works.

The approach doesn't change this week. Purdue is the next opponent. Wisconsin has to go 1-0 on Saturday afternoon at Ross-Ade Stadium. It then must go 1-0 against Minnesota, and Michigan State, and so on ...

"It's the next game on the schedule," Bielema told ESPN.com.

[+] EnlargeDanny Hope
Pat Lovell/US PresswireDanny Hope's Boilermakers look to rebound from an ugly loss to Michigan last week.
But the next game means a little more because of the unique circumstances surrounding it. Wisconsin and Purdue make up 50 percent of a four-team race to represent the Leaders division at the Big Ten championship game Dec. 1 in Indianapolis. Ohio State and Penn State are both ineligible, while both Indiana and Illinois are 0-2 in league play (Illinois lost to Wisconsin last week).

Although the Boilers and Badgers are a combined 1-2 in Big Ten play and still both have more than half their league schedules left to play, it's hard to envision a scenario where neither team ends up in Indy. The team that prevails Saturday not only gets a division win, but the head-to-head tiebreaker, which could loom large in late November.

"It's not a one-game season, obviously, but it's certainly a game that can impact our team and our season and would be a great springboard opportunity for our program in a lot of ways," Purdue coach Danny Hope said. "A huge game."

It's big for both teams, but a bit bigger for Purdue. The Boilers are in the middle of their defining stretch of the season -- Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State. They opened it with a thud last week against the Wolverines, falling behind 21-0 and 28-3 to put a damper on the most anticipated home game in recent memory.

A loss Saturday puts Purdue in danger of starting league play at 0-3, as they next visit unbeaten Ohio State. Although Purdue has claimed its past two home games against the Buckeyes, the Boilers haven't won in Columbus since 1988. Wisconsin at least has a Big Ten win within the division under its belt. As weak/unique as the Leaders is this season, it would be extremely tough for Purdue to climb out of an 0-3 hole.

If Purdue plans to turn a corner under Hope, whose approval rating among fans is shaky at best, now is the time.

"It means a lot," junior cornerback Ricardo Allen told ESPN.com. "There's not too many who can go on our side of the division, and Wisconsin's one of those top people. It's going to be a big game. We really need this one."

Allen chalks up Purdue's poor showing against Michigan to a lack of focus. Although none of Purdue's units performed particularly well, Allen said the defense shoulders the loss after failing to contain Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson (235 rush yards, 105 pass yards).

After allowing just 42 points in its first three games, Purdue has seen opponents rack up 85 the past two weeks.

"A lot of people on the defense stood up and said, 'We put that game on us,'" Allen said, referring to the Michigan loss. "If we make up for it and we do well in this game and we keep doing well going forward, everybody will start believing in us again."

Wisconsin's offense is starting to believe as well after a rocky start to the season that saw Bielema dump offensive line coach Mike Markuson after a Week 2 loss at Oregon State. The Badgers still haven't put together a complete performance, but they've had stretches where they look like their former selves: the second and fourth quarters against UTEP, the first half at Nebraska, the fourth quarter against Illinois.

"If you compare our first three games offensively to our last three games, it's been night and day," Bielema said. "Just the points per game, the production, the yards per play, the efficiency in the red zone. All those things have been very, very positive the last three games.

"It's not where everybody wants it to be overnight, but they're definitely getting better."

Despite Purdue's recent defensive struggles, its front four should provide the biggest test for Wisconsin's offensive line since Oregon State. Bielema this week called the Boilers' line, led by senior tackle Kawann Short, arguably the best in the Big Ten.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave has held his own since being named the Badgers' starter -- 678 pass yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions in the last three games -- and didn't seem intimidated Sept. 29 at Nebraska. But he'll need protection from the offensive line and help from running backs Montee Ball, James White and Melvin Gordon.

"Purdue's strength is in their front four, for sure," Bielema said. "They're very talented at the corner position as well. To win on the road in this league is extremely difficult, and Purdue has always played us tough at home.

"This is going to be a great test to find out exactly where we're at."

And where they could be on Dec. 1.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 7

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
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Ten items to track around the Big Ten in Week 7:

1. Follow the Leaders: Neither Wisconsin nor Purdue is the best team in the Leaders Division -- that'd be Ohio State -- and the two squads own just one Big Ten win between them. But since both Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible for postseason play, it's a good bet that the Badgers or Boilers will represent the Leaders Division at the Big Ten championship game Dec. 1 in Indianapolis. That likelihood puts an added emphasis on Saturday's game at Ross-Ade Stadium. "It's a huge game for both teams," Purdue coach Danny Hope said. Wisconsin has dropped both of its road games this season, while Purdue comes off of a feeble performance at home against Michigan.

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
Andrew Weber/US PresswireTwo of the league's best backs will be on display this Saturday when Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell (pictured) faces off with Iowa's Mark Weisman.
2. Big backs on display: The Big Ten has become a spread league, but Iowa-Michigan State games turn the clock back a few decades to the league's glory days. Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell and Iowa's Mark Weisman both resemble some of their Big Ten predecessors at the running back spot. Both are power backs in the truest sense who have bulldozed defenders in their path. Bell leads the Big Ten in rushing yards (776), while both average more than 100 rush yards per game and have been MVPs of offenses that have struggled with the pass game. More than 650 pounds of running back will be on display Saturday at Spartan Stadium, and the defense that best slows down the boulder coming its way likely records a victory.

3. Northwestern's blueprint: Coach Pat Fitzgerald said Northwestern got away from its blueprint in last week's loss to Penn State, as the Wildcats ran far fewer plays than the Lions and wore out the defense with too many three-and-outs. Northwestern is still getting the hang of an offense that features two quarterbacks, one of whom is also an outstanding receiver (Kain Colter), as well as multiple threats in the run and pass game. Northwestern needs to do a better job of staying on the field and getting the ball to its top playmakers -- Colter and running back Venric Mark -- against a Minnesota team that has shown improvement throughout its defense.

4. Buckeye 'backers: Ohio State coach Urban Meyer didn't downplay the loss of senior linebacker Etienne Sabino to a leg injury, calling it a "tremendous blow." The Buckeyes lack veteran depth at linebacker and will need to lean on younger players for the next month. Although Ohio State is heavily favored at Indiana, the Hoosiers' dynamic spread offense provides a good test for a defense that has mediocre numbers on the season (60th nationally in yards allowed, 34th in points allowed). Indiana will make Ohio State's linebackers tackle in space, and it'll be interesting to see how freshman Joshua Perry performs as he fills in for Sabino.

5. Hope floats: Saturday could be a defining game for Purdue's Hope, who appears to have his best team in West Lafayette but needs to show he can turn a corner in a season filled with opportunity. Hope's decision to stick with quarterback Caleb TerBush as his starter continues to upset a portion of Boilers fans, who want to see the bionic-armed, ACL-less Robert Marve get more opportunities to lead the offense. TerBush will start against Wisconsin, but Hope could rotate Marve or make changes depending on the flow of the game. One thing is certain: Purdue needs to come out a lot stronger than it did last week against Michigan.

6. Illini try to stop bleeding: The Tim Beckman era is off to a very rocky start as Illinois has dropped four consecutive games by double digits, and Beckman last week committed an NCAA secondary violation when cameras caught him chewing tobacco on the sideline at Wisconsin. Saturday's forecast calls for more pain as Illinois heads to Michigan as more than a three-touchdown underdog. The Illini played decently for three quarters at Wisconsin, and Beckman is stressing the need for a 60-minute effort from his team, which still needs more offensive playmakers to develop and must regain its swagger on defense after allowing a league-worst 28.3 points per game through the first half of the season.

7. Gray day: Minnesota fans are anxiously awaiting the return of quarterback MarQueis Gray from a high ankle sprain. Could it happen Saturday? Coach Jerry Kill says there's a chance, and Gray practiced at about 60 percent on Tuesday. It's unlikely Gray will have his typical mobility, but his presence, even in a limited role, could spark Minnesota in a critical division home game against Northwestern. Max Shortell has passed for 616 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions in place of Gray in Minnesota's last three games.

8. Ferentz eyes 100: The dean of the Big Ten coaches aims for his 100th victory at Iowa as the Hawkeyes visit Michigan State on Saturday. Kirk Ferentz is 99-68 in 14 seasons at the helm in Iowa, and while it looked as though he'd reach the 100-win plateau a little faster back in 2009, it's still a significant achievement. In fact, Big Ten fans could be waiting awhile to see this again. After Ferentz, the coach with the second-most wins at a Big Ten school is Wisconsin's Bret Bielema with 64, followed by Nebraska's Bo Pelini with 42 (36 wins came in the Big 12). Ferentz is 13th on the all-time list of Big Ten victories with 58. He's 18th in all-time win percentage (.593) among coaches who spent at least 10 seasons in the Big Ten.

9. Toussaint's time: Michigan's Denard Robinson got back on track last week against Purdue (235 rush yards), but the Wolverines are still trying to spark top running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. After being suspended for the season opener, Toussaint has just 169 yards on 53 carries (3.2 ypc average) this season. Coach Brady Hoke continues to support Toussaint as the starter and wants to get the junior more opportunities with the ball. Toussaint has recorded no more than 17 carries in a game this season after recording 20 or more carries in four of the final five regular-season games in 2011. Illinois boasts a talented defensive front and has been strong against the run, but Wisconsin had success late in last week's game and Michigan hopes to replicate it with Toussaint.

10. Indiana's opportunity: The wins aren't coming yet, but Indiana is competing a lot better in Kevin Wilson's second year than it did last fall. The Hoosiers dominated the first half against Michigan State and played well during the second half against Northwestern. They need to put four quarters together to finally get over the hump in the Big Ten, where they have dropped 10 consecutive games. Indiana gets another big opportunity to measure up Saturday against Ohio State, which has won 16 straight against the Hoosiers. Although an upset seems tough to fathom, Indiana can hang around in the game because of its offense. A strong performance should boost the Hoosiers before they enter a much more manageable stretch (Navy, Illinois, Iowa).

Big Ten predictions: Week 7

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
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Will lucky Week 7 bring out a perfect set of predictions from the Big Ten bloggers? Both of us are still searching for perfection in this highly imperfect Big Ten season.

After a pair of identical 4-1 marks in Week 6, Adam Rittenberg maintains a four-game lead against Brian Bennett in the season standings. Those shrimp cocktails at St. Elmo's in Indianapolis -- on Brian's dime -- are sounding pretty good right now, but there's still a long way to go and time for Brian to catch up.

It's prediction time ...

IOWA at MICHIGAN STATE

Brian Bennett: Get ready for a classically rugged Big Ten game between two teams who love to pound the rock and play defense. Neither team will be able to sustain many long drives against strong defenses. But home-field advantage and a key turnover forced by the Spartans' defense will make the difference. Le'Veon Bell contributes two scores as he outduels Mark Weisman. ... Michigan State 17, Iowa 14

Adam Rittenberg: While I'm tempted to pick Iowa in the upset, Michigan State matches up well against the Hawkeyes on both sides of the ball. The Spartans' defense holds Weisman to 90 rushing yards and records a key second-half interception against James Vandenberg. Bell records 100 yards and two scores as Michigan State grabs the early lead and holds on for its second straight win. ... Michigan State 21, Iowa 17

NORTHWESTERN at MINNESOTA

Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern can't afford another poor start on offense, and I think the Wildcats come out of the gates a little stronger and take an early lead. Minnesota's Max Shortell makes some plays in the pass game, firing two touchdown passes, but Northwestern gets the ball in the hands of playmakers Venric Mark and Kain Colter a lot more often this week than last. Mark and Colter combine for three touchdowns and Northwestern survives a late scare to improve to 6-1. ... Northwestern 28, Minnesota 24

Brian Bennett: If the Gophers had a fully healthy MarQueis Gray, I'd be more likely to pick them here. As it stands, I don't think a gimpy Gray gives them enough firepower to get past Northwestern. Minnesota struggled against the run last time out against Iowa, and will do the same against Colter and Mark. A Jeff Budzien field goal provides the difference. ... Northwestern 31, Minnesota 28

WISCONSIN at PURDUE

Brian Bennett: It's practically do-or-die time for the Boilermakers, and I expect them to play as if their Leaders Division lives depend on this effort. In fact, they will lead most of the way after a couple of quick-strike scores early. But an improving Wisconsin offense chips away until Joel Stave hits Jared Abbrederis for a long touchdown in the fourth quarter, and the Badgers' defense hangs on late. ... Wisconsin 23, Purdue 20

Adam Rittenberg: You touched on the sense of urgency for Purdue and coach Danny Hope, and I think that'll be the difference in this game. A Boilers defense hungry to avenge last week's poor showing records an early takeaway against Stave. Both Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve play and fire touchdown passes. Although Wisconsin's Montee Ball records two rushing scores, the kicking game is the difference as Raheem Mostert breaks off a long return to set up the game-winning touchdown. ... Purdue 27, Wisconsin 24

ILLINOIS at No. 25 MICHIGAN

Adam Rittenberg: Little is going right for the Illini right now, and they catch Michigan at the wrong time. After a quiet first quarter, Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson turns in another big performance (150 rushing yards, 175 pass yards, 2 rushing TDs, 2 passing TDs), and linebacker Jake Ryan records his first interception of the season. Versatile running back Josh Ferguson has a nice game for the Illini, but Michigan has far too much firepower and pulls away in the second quarter. ... Michigan 37, Illinois 14

Brian Bennett: The Illini's problems defending the spread and finding any kind of offensive rhythm don't bode well for this week's game in Ann Arbor. Robinson will throw for three touchdowns this week, and Michigan's defense holds Illinois to under 250 yards. ... Michigan 34, Illinois 10

No. 8 OHIO STATE at INDIANA

Brian Bennett: The Hoosiers are getting closer and closer to finally winning a Big Ten game. But it won't happen this week, as their shaky run defense is going to have a lot of trouble containing Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde. Those two combine for four touchdowns, and Bradley Roby picks off another pass to stymie Indiana's mild second-half charge as the Buckeyes move to 7-0. ... Ohio State 42, Indiana 24

Adam Rittenberg: I've also been impressed with Indiana's ability to compete, but this is just a tough matchup against Big Bad Brax. Miller runs for 150 yards and two touchdowns, and Hyde records his second straight 100-yard rushing performance. Quarterbacks Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld both play and have some success in the first half, and receiver Cody Latimer tests the Buckeyes' defense, but Ohio State shifts into fifth gear late in the second quarter and cruises to 7-0. ... Ohio State 45, Indiana 21

Nebraska and Penn State are off this week.

Season records

Adam Rittenberg: 45-12 (.789)

Brian Bennett: 41-16 (.719)
Robert Marve laughed this week when I asked him if he had any aspirations of playing in the NFL.

"No," he said. "I'm just worried about playing Wisconsin next week. That's about as far as my thoughts were going."

It wasn't too long ago when playing pro football seemed like a natural course for Marve. His father, Eugene, played in the NFL. Robert was one of the top quarterback recruits in the country after breaking Tim Tebow's Florida high school state records. He started for Miami as a redshirt freshman in 2008.

[+] EnlargeRobert Marve
Sandra Dukes/US PresswirePurdue QB Robert Marve played against Michigan, his first game back since tearing his left ACL on Sept. 8.
But Marve's career has taken plenty of twists and turns since then, and now all he wants is a chance to play a few more games. Live for today. Don't worry about tomorrow.

That's why the Purdue sixth-year senior was, rather amazingly, on the field in the second half of last week's loss to Michigan, playing less than a month after he tore the ACL in his left knee on Sept. 8. Other than the large brace he wore on his knee, there were no signs that Marve was stiff-arming an injury that usually sidelines athletes for several months.

"It's been real surprising," he said. "In the Notre Dame game, I had an ankle sprain that hurt a lot more than my knee ever did."

What Marve is doing is unusual but not unprecedented. San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers played in the 2008 AFC championship game after tearing his ACL. Still, it does carry risk, as Marve could seriously damage the cartilage in his knee by not having the ACL repaired.

His most recent injury was the third torn ACL of his college career. The first came in 2009, after he transferred to Purdue from Miami. The second happened early in the 2010 season, after he had started the first four games for the Boilermakers.

The latest tear wasn't as severe as the previous two. Marve checked with Purdue's training staff and several doctors, who gave him examples of other athletes who had played through the injury.

"They all said it was doable," Marve said. "But I think they're a little surprised with the way I'm bouncing around out here."

Marve returned to practice just a couple of weeks after the injury, but his coaches were understandably cautious about putting him back to full contact work, let alone a game. But Marve got his chance in the 44-13 loss to Michigan and gave the struggling Boilers a noticeable spark. He led the team on a drive that ended in a field goal on his first series before throwing an interception the next possession. He completed 5-of-8 passes for 43 yards.

He also took a couple of big hits, including a leveling from Wolverines linebacker Jake Ryan.

"The one hit that tore my knee at Notre Dame was such a vicious hit," he said. "My leg got stuck in the ground, and I probably can't take another hit like that. But it felt good to get knocked around a little bit [on Saturday]."

Purdue's energy level seems to go up when Marve is in the game. Coach Danny Hope said Marve gave the team "a shot in the arm" against Michigan and that his successful return made the coaches comfortable with playing him more in the future.

That's all Marve wants. His career has not gone the way he once envisioned it; he lost his starting job at Miami before transferring, then suffered the two injuries and served as a backup last season. He started this year's opener for Purdue and played well at Notre Dame while splitting time with Caleb TerBush. For the first time, he said, he felt like his physical and mental skills were matching up at the same time.

Then he got hurt again. But he wasn't going to let that be the end of the story.

"This is a special time in your life, and you only get so much time to play," he said. "I came a long way from Tampa to Purdue to play football, and I really wanted to accomplish that this year.

"I'd really love it to get rolling again like I did the first two games and get back in the rotation. I feel like I can help the team win a couple of big games."

Marve said he didn't experience any swelling or soreness in his knee after Saturday's game, and he was out there running around during Sunday's practice. Is he a medical Marve-l? Maybe. Or maybe he's just a guy who's extremely motivated to live for today.

"The body's really funny sometimes, and you never know how a person's body is going to respond," he said. "I think it's very situational, and I'm in a special situation. My back's against the wall, and I don't have much to lose."
The Big Ten's blue bloods are back.

Despite new coaches at both Ohio State and Penn State, and a shaky start at Michigan, the Big Ten's three top traditional powers occupy the top spots in the power rankings as the season approaches its halfway point. Ohio State has accelerated its learning curve under Urban Meyer, while Penn State continues its hot streak behind boss Bill O'Brien. Michigan needed a strong performance on the road and got a great one at Purdue. Michigan and Penn State both make moves up the rankings, while Ohio State holds steady at No. 1.

Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue all drop in the rankings, as the Boilers take the biggest tumble after a feeble showing on their home field in a game that had been hyped up. Wisconsin is slowly creeping its way back toward the league's elite.

Here's the full rundown ...

1. Ohio State (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten, last week: 1): If this is what the Buckeyes can do just six games into the Meyer era, the rest of the Big Ten should be very, very concerned. Ohio State slapped 63 points on Nebraska, the most points a Bo Pelini-coached team (or defense) ever has allowed during Pelini's college coaching tenure. Braxton Miller continues to dazzle behind a surging offensive line, and Carlos Hyde (4 rush touchdowns) looks more than capable as the starting running back. Expect more big numbers this week at Indiana.

2. Michigan (3-2, 1-0, last week: 4): Brady Hoke got the response he wanted after an open week as Michigan opened Big Ten play with its best performance of the season. The Wolverines' defense continued to build on the Notre Dame performance with four takeaways, including a pick-six by sophomore cornerback Raymon Taylor. Denard Robinson (235 rush yards) rebounded well after his disastrous night in South Bend, and Michigan's offensive line controlled a pretty good Boilers defensive front. Michigan can't afford a letdown against Illinois before its home showdown against Michigan State, which has won the teams' past four meetings.

3. Penn State (4-2, 2-0, last week: 6): Few saw this coming after a nightmarish summer and an 0-2 start, but Penn State keeps finding reasons to Bill-ieve. The Lions rallied to win their fourth consecutive game, completely outplaying Northwestern in the fourth quarter, a time when the Wildcats typically shine. Quarterback Matt McGloin continues his senior-year renaissance with plenty of help from Allen Robinson and a good defense. O'Brien is the front-runner for Big Ten Coach of the Year honors. The Lions enter the open week with a ton of momentum.

4. Nebraska (4-2, 1-1, last week: 2): Pelini had no explanation for his team's latest road meltdown at a big-boy stadium. After a strong first quarter, Nebraska's defense fell apart, allowing six consecutive touchdown drives. Quarterback Taylor Martinez reverted to his past roadkill form and committed four turnovers, including an interception returned for a touchdown. The Huskers have talent and an exciting, big-play offense, but they repeatedly wilt in the spotlight away from Lincoln. The good news: They can still win a weak league.

5. Northwestern (5-1, 1-1, last week: 3): Despite a sluggish offensive start, Northwestern put itself in position for its first 6-0 start since 1962, taking a 28-17 lead behind explosive running back/returner Venric Mark. And then it all fell apart as a supposed fourth-quarter team couldn't do anything right in crunch time. A nonexistent pass rush and some questionable offensive coaching decisions hurt the Wildcats, who were burned for a third consecutive year by McGloin. Northwestern still struggles with big leads and needs to do a better job of putting away teams. The Wildcats begin division play next week at Minnesota.

6. Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1, last week: 8): Little will be easy for the Badgers this season, and while Saturday's final score against Illinois (31-14) looked like a cakewalk, it definitely wasn't. Wisconsin seemed to hit its stride in the second half and particularly in the fourth quarter, as running back Montee Ball and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis both turned in nice performances. The offensive line remains inconsistent, but the defense is doing its part. Despite all the early-season turmoil, Wisconsin can put itself in the driver's seat for Indianapolis with a win this week at Purdue.

7. Michigan State (4-2, 1-1, last week: 7): Mark Dantonio's players nearly starred in "The Hangover: Bloomington" on Saturday, as they stumbled out of the gate at Indiana and had a miserable first half. Fortunately for the Spartans, they regrouped during the break and rallied for a potentially season-saving win against the Hoosiers. Freshman wide receiver Aaron Burbridge sparked the passing attack, while tailback Le'Veon Bell bounced back after a no-show against Ohio State. Michigan State still has to show it can put together a complete game as the challenges get tougher in the coming weeks.

8. Purdue (4-2, 0-1, last week: 5): No Big Ten team had a more disappointing Week 6 showing than Danny Hope's Boilers, who never really challenged Michigan despite a great opportunity to begin a defining stretch of the season. The defense has taken significant steps backward the past two weeks, while the quarterback plot has thickened, as Caleb TerBush struggled while Robert Marve, playing just weeks after an ACL tear, could be the better option. Purdue still has a chance to put itself in the driver's seat for Indianapolis with a home win this week against Wisconsin, but there's a lot of work ahead.

9. Iowa (3-2, 1-0, last week: 9): The Hawkeyes scored a potentially season-saving win against Minnesota before the open week, and resume play this week at Michigan State. Can the Mark Weisman legend continue? We'll find out as Weisman faces his best defense to date as Iowa's starting running back. Iowa got some bad news Saturday as top cornerback Micah Hyde was arrested for public intoxication. There's no change to Hyde's status right now, but he has been arguably Iowa's top defensive playmaker the past few seasons. We'll learn a lot about these Hawkeyes in East Lansing.

10. Minnesota (4-1, 0-1, last week: 10): An open week came at a good time for the Gophers, who need to get healthy and get a chance to regroup after getting a reality check in Iowa City. Minnesota hopes top quarterback MarQueis Gray can return from a high ankle sprain for the Big Ten home opener against Northwestern. Gophers coach Jerry Kill called out his safeties for their struggles against Iowa's run game. It'll be interesting to see how Derrick Wells and his teammates respond against a good Northwestern rushing attack.

11. Indiana (2-3, 0-2, last week: 11): It looked like the Hoosiers finally would turn the corner and record a signature win under Kevin Wilson. They dominated the first half against Michigan State and sliced through arguably the Big Ten's top defense with their up-tempo attack. Cameron Coffman could do no wrong. And then it all fell apart as Indiana couldn't stop Michigan State's Bell or do much of anything on offense. There are some positives to take away for an improved Hoosiers team, but the inability to get over the hump in the Big Ten has to be frustrating.

12. Illinois (2-4, 0-2, last week: 12): The Illini didn't play nearly as poorly at Wisconsin as they did on their home field the previous two weeks, but they still came out on the losing end. Tim Banks' defense played well for three quarters before surrendering three touchdowns in the final 13:28. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase did some good things, but he still has so few weapons around him in an offense that continues to search for its identity. Things only get tougher for the Orange and Blue this week as they travel to Michigan Stadium.
Michigan finished off its Big Ten opener by handily beating Purdue, 44-13, in the Wolverines’ first win outside of Ann Arbor this season. The Boilermakers, meanwhile, lost their Big Ten opener.

It was over when: Michigan sophomore cornerback Raymon Taylor intercepted a tipped pass thrown by Caleb TerBush and returned it 63 yards for a touchdown, giving the Wolverines a 21-0 lead in the second quarter. It was the second straight game Taylor intercepted a pass.

Game ball goes to: Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. The senior needed a rebound performance after accounting for five turnovers in a loss to Notre Dame two weeks ago. He did, completing 8 of 16 passes for 105 yards and rushing for 235 more yards. He also showed improved decisions, actually throwing the ball away when pressured and going out of bounds instead of absorbing big hits.

Stat of the game: Purdue’s 56 rushing yards. The Boilermakers were never able to really establish any sort of ground game, led by 34 yards from Akeem Shavers on 10 carries. The lack of a running game made the Boilermakers, who trailed the majority of the game, very one-dimensional.

What it means: For Michigan, it was the best game it had played all year both on offense and defense. The Wolverines were efficient on offense and save for one poor exchange, didn’t turn the ball over. On defense, they flustered Purdue and overall put themselves in position to be a contender in the Legends Division. Purdue might leave Saturday with questions of who to play at quarterback, TerBush or Robert Marve, and some concerns about its previously strong defense.

Record performance: Robinson had another standout day on the ground and became the Big Ten’s career quarterback rushing leader with 3,905 yards, passing former Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle El, who had 3,895 yards. He also moved into fourth place in the FBS quarterback rushing career list, passing Randle El. Next up on that list is former Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick with 4,112 yards.

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