NCF Nation: Ryan Collado

It's time to look back at the first Saturday of Big Ten play before peeking ahead at Week 6.

Note: I've adjusted the Game Balls section to include players from losing teams who deliver exceptional performances. Helmet stickers will continue to go to players only from winning teams -- that's been my policy since Day 1 -- but the game balls section is a way to recognize guys who stepped up even though their teams didn't get the job done. You really need to do something special to make the list if your team loses, but it's now possible.

[+] EnlargeKirk Cousins
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioKirk Cousins and the Spartans overcame early mistakes to knock off the Badgers.
Team of the Week: Michigan State. The Spartans overcame three first-half turnovers and the absence of head coach Mark Dantonio to record a convincing win against then-No. 11 Wisconsin on Saturday. A program that has struggled with adversity and mental toughness in the past demonstrated plenty of it throughout the Wisconsin game. Kirk Cousins grew as a quarterback, Don Treadwell grew as a playcaller/future head coach and Michigan State grew into a Big Ten title contender. The Spartans ended John Clay's 10-game streak of 100-yard rushing performances, and their third-down execution was sharp on both sides of the ball. The fake field goal against Notre Dame provided an emotional lift, but Michigan State will draw a lot more confidence from a 15-play, 84-yard drive to seal the Wisconsin win.

Best game: Michigan at Indiana. The game played out as many had forecast, as both quarterbacks surged and both defenses struggled to stop anyone. Quarterbacks Denard Robinson (Michigan) and Ben Chappell (Indiana) both produced historic numbers, and the teams combined for 77 points and 1,142 offensive yards. Neither team led by more than a touchdown and the game featured five ties before Robinson scored the game-winning touchdown from 4 yards out with 17 seconds left. Northwestern at Minnesota also produced some drama as the Wildcats rallied from eight points down in the fourth quarter to win 29-28.

Biggest play: Robinson provided several possible selections with both his legs and his arm, but I'm going with Jeremy Ebert's 25-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter for Northwestern against Minnesota. Northwestern trailed 28-20 at the time and faced third-and-7. Quarterback Dan Persa already had committed two turnovers in the red zone and appeared to make another ill-advised throw on Ebert's touchdown. But Ebert wrestled the ball away from Minnesota's Ryan Collado on the jump ball and Northwestern ended up rallying for the win. Another play worth mentioning is Cousins' fourth-down touchdown pass to B.J. Cunningham to put Michigan State up 10 points with 2:43 left. Cousins had wanted to run the play in two other games, only to be turned down. "I guess this was the moment to have it," he said afterward.

Specialist spotlight: Michigan State's Keshawn Martin made the biggest special-teams play around the league Saturday when he returned a Brad Nortman punt 74 yards to the end zone. Wisconsin led 10-6 in the second quarter before Martin's electrifying runback. Martin, who ranked in the league's top five in both kick returns and punt returns last season, appears to be the league's top return man. Iowa punter Ryan Donahue had a nice night, placing three punts inside the Penn State 20-yard line with a long of 53 yards. Illinois punter Anthony Santella continued his stellar season (47-yard average against Ohio State), and Michigan punter Will Hagerup made the most of limited opportunities at Indiana. Northwestern's Stefan Demos converted the game-winning 27-yard field goal.

Coolest image: Iowa fans deserve a shoutout after making Kinnick Stadium look like this Saturday night. The black and gold stripes were well coordinated and well executed.

Game balls (given to players not selected for helmet stickers):

  • Indiana QB Ben Chappell: Chappell set school records with 45 completions, 64 attempts, 480 pass yards and 475 yards of total offense against Michigan. He became just the second Indiana player to eclipse 400 pass yards in a game and tied for the third most completions in Big Ten history. Chappell set a team record with his sixth career 300-yard passing performance and tossed three touchdowns to extend his streak of games with multiple touchdown passes to eight.
  • Michigan State LB Greg Jones: A week after recording the first two interceptions of his college career, Jones returned to his blitzing role against Wisconsin and recorded three tackles for loss, eight total tackles and a quarterback hurry in the 34-24 win.
  • Ohio State DE Nathan Williams: The Buckeyes' defense showed up in a big way in the second half at Illinois, and Williams recorded nine tackles, including 1.5 sacks and two tackles for loss. He also had a quarterback hurry as the Buckeyes pressured Nathan Scheelhaase.
  • Iowa CB Shaun Prater: Prater recorded his fourth career interception against Penn State and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown to make any thought of a Penn State rally obsolete. He shares the game ball with fellow defenders Tyler Nielsen (four passes defended), Karl Klug (two tackles for loss) and James Morris.
  • Michigan WRs Roy Roundtree and Junior Hemingway: The Wolverines wideouts share a game ball after combining for eight receptions, 255 yards and two touchdowns against Indiana. Roundtree had a 32-yard touchdown grab and a 74-yard gain, while Hemingway recorded a 70-yard touchdown grab in the third quarter.
  • Indiana WR Tandon Doss: The junior recorded career highs in both receptions (15) and receiving yards (221) in the loss to Michigan. He had the fourth-highest receiving yards total in team history and set a career high in all-purpose yards with 363, which included 111 on kick returns.
  • Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt: Watt continued his push for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors Saturday in East Lansing. He was all over the field and recorded a game-high 10 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack and a tipped pass that wound up as an interception for teammate Devin Smith. Watt has been a beast this season.
  • Minnesota CB Michael Carter: The Gophers didn't deliver a great defensive performance against Northwestern, but Carter came up with several huge plays. He recorded a team-high 11 tackles with an interception, a forced fumble near the goal line and a tackle for loss.

OK, deep breath. Now let's take a quick look at Week 6.

Indiana (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) at No. 2 Ohio State (5-0, 1-0): It'll be strength vs. strength as Indiana brings the Big Ten's top pass offense against the league's top pass defense in Ohio State, which begins life without safety/linebacker Tyler Moeller. Chappell and his receivers provide a very good test for the Buckeyes defense, while Ohio State's running backs should gain some confidence against an Indiana D that can't stop the run.

Illinois (2-2, 0-1) at Penn State (3-2, 0-1): This game looks a little more interesting than it did before the season. Illinois has upgraded its defense under new coordinator Vic Koenning, while Penn State's offense continues to struggle with inconsistency and red zone inefficiency. After falling out of the national rankings, Penn State can't afford another step back. Keep an eye on the matchup between two promising young quarterbacks, Illinois' Scheelhaase and Penn State's Rob Bolden.

Minnesota (1-4, 0-1) at No. 20 Wisconsin (4-1, 1-0): The coolest trophy in college sports is at stake, which adds to an otherwise uninspiring matchup. Minnesota's season is on life support after failing to claim a game pretty much handed to it by Northwestern. An upset victory in a trophy game would mean a lot for coach Tim Brewster and seniors like Adam Weber. Wisconsin must rebound from a poor road showing against Michigan State and get more from its experienced offensive players.

No. 17 Michigan State (5-0, 1-0) at No. 18 Michigan (5-0, 1-0): I'm so excited for this one. The in-state rivalry is spicy enough, but this year's meeting brings new storylines like two top-20 rankings, Heisman Trophy candidate Robinson and the health situation involving Dantonio. Michigan State aims for its first three-game win streak in the series since 1965-67. Robinson faces his biggest test of the season with Jones.

Purdue (2-2, 0-0) at Northwestern (5-0, 1-0): After surviving a mistake-ridden game at Minnesota, Northwestern will be favored to record its first 6-0 start since 1962. The Wildcats face an injury-ravaged Purdue team that turns to redshirt freshman Rob Henry at quarterback. The Boilers come off of a much-needed bye week but will need a strong performance from Ryan Kerrigan and the defense to slow down Persa and the Wildcats' attack.

Bye: No. 15 Iowa (4-1, 1-0)

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 5

October, 2, 2010
10/02/10
11:59
PM ET
Time to recognize the best and the brightest from the first Saturday of Big Ten play.

Michigan QB Denard Robinson: People can knock the competition all they want, but there hasn't been a more exciting player in college football than Robinson. He's simply electric. Robinson put up insane numbers again in a 42-35 win against Indiana: 10-for-16 passing, 277 yards, 3 TDs; 19 rushes, 217 yards, 2 TDs.

Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell: Treadwell keeps saying Michigan State's program pretty much runs on autopilot, but he distinguished himself as an excellent play-caller and possibly a future head coach Saturday following a 34-24 victory. He made a few gutsy decisions and several brilliant play calls on Michigan State's decisive 15-play, 84-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter. Mark Dantonio's return is uncertain, but the program is in excellent hands with Treadwell.

Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn: Clayborn has been an impact player all season, but now he has some stats to back it up. The senior superstar recorded a game-high 10 tackles, including three for loss and a sack in a 24-3 win against Penn State. Clayborn shares the sticker with his fellow defenders, including cornerback Shaun Prater, who had an interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Northwestern WR Jeremy Ebert: The Wildcats junior continues to play an at All-Big Ten level. He made the play of the season for unbeaten Northwestern, beating Minnesota's Ryan Collado for a jump ball in the end zone to bring the Wildcats to within two points in the fourth quarter. Ebert finished with seven receptions for 105 yards and a score in a 29-28 victory against the Gophers.

Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins: Many people questioned his ability to make plays in the clutch, including yours truly. But Cousins came through in a big way in the second half against Wisconsin, completing 8 of 10 passes for 118 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He executed the playaction to perfection and made clutch throws on Michigan State's 84-yard touchdown drive. Cousins finished the game 20-for-29 for 269 pass yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
The position rankings march on as I take a look at the top five secondary units in the Big Ten this fall.

1. Iowa: Playmaker extraordinaire Tyler Sash leads a group that boasts good experience but must fill a major void following the departure of All-Big Ten cornerback Amari Spievey. Sash has recorded 11 interceptions in his first two seasons and already holds the team record with 350 interception return yards. His heroics overshadow the very solid play of fellow safety Brett Greenwood, who has started for two and a half seasons and owns seven interceptions and 18 pass breakups in his career. Shaun Prater is a returning starter at corner, and Iowa also has Jordan Bernstine, Micah Hyde, William Lowe and others.

[+] EnlargeTyler Sash
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIowa's Tyler Sash will be one of the leaders of the Big Ten's No. 1 secondary.
2. Penn State: The Lions are always solid in the front seven, but the secondary might lead the unit in 2010. Starting safeties Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay both return, and cornerback D'Anton Lynn takes on an enhanced leadership role after recording five pass breakups last fall. Penn State also has high hopes for cornerback Stephon Morris, who recorded 30 tackles and an interception as a freshman in 2009. Converted receiver Chaz Powell should add depth at the corner spot. Opponents completed just 54.1 percent of their passes against Penn State last fall.

3. Ohio State: There are some question marks here after the departures of All-Big Ten standout Kurt Coleman and veteran safety Anderson Russell, but Ohio State almost always finds a way to survive in the back four. The return of Tyler Moeller definitely helps, and safety Jermale Hines could have a big year after recording two interceptions in 2009. Is Chimdi Chekwa ready to be a shut-down corner in the Big Ten? We'll find out. Also keep an eye on athletic corner Devon Torrence and safety Orhian Johnson.

4. Wisconsin: This isn't a shut-down secondary -- evidence: 55th in pass defense in 2009 (217.5 ypg) -- but there are playmakers and hard-hitters, specifically veteran safety Jay Valai, among the group. There's good depth at cornerback with returning starter Devin Smith, Niles Brinkley, Antonio Fenelus and Marcus Cromartie, who has stood out in camp so far. Chris Maragos is a significant loss at safety, and it remains to be seen whether Aaron Henry can regain his pre-injury form as he moves from cornerback to safety.

5. Minnesota: I'm taking a little leap of faith here again, but if safeties Kim Royston and Kyle Theret are on the field together, good things will happen. The two combined for 159 tackles, four interceptions and 14 pass breakups in 2009, and finished with an outstanding performance in the Insight Bowl. I also like talented young cornerback Michael Carter, while Ryan Collado brings experience to the other corner spot. Minnesota expects juco transfer Christyn Lewis and redshirt freshman Kenny Watkins to add depth at safety.

Up next: Offensive line

More rankings ...

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 12, 2008
10/12/08
10:52
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to recognize some of the Big Ten's best and brightest after a fascinating day of football.

Minnesota DE Willie VanDeSteeg -- The Gophers' junior college transfers have undoubtedly helped a new-look defense, but VanDeSteeg is setting the tone up front. After playing last season with a broken bone in his wrist, VanDeSteeg is proving that when healthy, he's one of the Big Ten's top pass rushers. VanDeSteeg recorded three sacks in the road win at Illinois, forced the Juice Williams fumble that Simoni Lawrence returned for a touchdown, and hit Williams as he threw a pass that Ryan Collado intercepted.

Penn State DE Aaron Maybin -- The sophomore has established himself as the Big Ten's top young pass rusher. Maybin, who entered the night with the Big Ten sacks lead, racked up another sack and 3.5 tackles for loss as Penn State stomped Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium. He forced two fumbles, including one just before halftime that set up Penn State's cleat-in-the-throat touchdown. Maybin leads Penn State and is tied for the league lead in tackles for loss with 12.5 this season.

Iowa RB Jewel Hampton -- Shonn Greene has been as consistent as they come, but Iowa boasts another ball-carrying option. Hampton, a true freshman, had 22 carries for 114 yards and three touchdowns in Iowa's much-needed rout of Indiana. Hampton set career highs in all three categories and became the first Iowa player to score three touchdowns in a game since tight end Tony Moeaki on Sept. 8, 2007.

Michigan State QB Brian Hoyer -- The oft-criticized senior epitomized Michigan State's mistake-free performance at Northwestern. Hoyer made Northwestern respect the passing game and completed 14 of 20 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns. His ability to manage the game and capitalize on Wildcats mistakes helped the Spartans win their sixth consecutive game and vault into league title contention.

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