Our crew of Big Ten reporters will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. They'll have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which one is right.
The Michigan-Michigan State series resumes on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC), and the Spartans have been dominant of late in winning five of the past six meetings. But will it continue? Today's Take Two topic is: Which program will be in better shape five years from now?
Take 1: Brian Bennett
The real answer here is we have no idea. Things can change quickly in college sports, and nothing is guaranteed. Just look at Florida and Texas.
It's particularly hard to predict with any accuracy what Michigan will look like in the future, because we don't know who will be the coaching the Wolverines in five months, much less years. Of course, the Maize and Blue have all the resources to bounce back quickly, assuming they hire the right man. But they've missed on that two times in a row now, right?
That's why I'll pick Michigan State. Rivalries tend to go in cycles, and the Spartans' ownership of their in-state opponent likely won't continue at this rate. But stability has been a key to the success of Mark Dantonio in East Lansing, as so many of his coaches have been with him since the beginning. That probably won't stay the case -- Pat Narduzzi has to get a head-coaching gig this winter, and he is likely to take some other Spartans assistants with him when he does -- but Dantonio will keep sticking with what works.
He just coached his 100th game with Michigan State and is only 58. Dantonio figures to still be leading the Spartans five years from now, and the program continues to get better in all areas. Even if Michigan finally maximizes its potential, Michigan State isn't going away. I'll stick with the sure thing.
Take 2: Dan Murphy
Five years is a long time in the cyclical world of college football. As far ahead as Michigan State currently sits in just about every metric of a successful program, there's no reason to believe Michigan can't catch up and possibly pass the Spartans in the future.
There's a good chance Michigan is closing in on a clean slate with its athletic department leadership. Strong relationships between the head coach, athletic director and the university's big wigs is an essential part of creating a consistent winner on the football field. If things in Ann Arbor continue down this current path, the Wolverines will get a chance to start building those bounds from scratch before the 2015 season.
The resources -- money, facility, support and athletic talent -- have always tilted toward Michigan in this rivalry. The ingredients for a better product are there, Michigan just hasn't been able to put them together during the past couple years.
Meanwhile, in East Lansing, Dantonio is battling the high expectations and attrition that come with success. His coaching staff has remained largely intact during the Spartans' rise, but that can't continue forever.
Five years from now, Dantonio will be a 63-year-old coach that might be dealing with a new staff for the first time in a long time. It's not a foregone conclusion that the Goliath he's built will shrink, but history certainly points to the possibility that Michigan will be in a good spot to catch up, which is probably a good thing for Wolverines' fans to keep reminding themselves as this season's meeting plays out on Saturday.
But first, the Spartans must make sure they don't overlook their last game before that matchup: Saturday's contest against Michigan.
Michigan State, once infamously chided as "Little Brother" by former Michigan running back Mike Hart, will always approach this game with long knives drawn. Remember the "60 minutes of unnecessary roughness?"
"It's always really personal," linebacker Taiwan Jones told reporters on Tuesday. "Pretty much because we've always known every single game we play, we're never picked to be the favorites. It's always been about the school down the road instead of, I feel like, as much emphasis about us."
And yet ... you couldn't blame the Spartans if for maybe the first time ever vs. Michigan, the chip on their shoulders is more like a crumb. It's hard to fight for respect when you've so thoroughly stepped on your opponent's throats.
Michigan didn't even want to acknowledge the Paul Bunyan Trophy when it debuted in the early 1950s. Now, the Wolverines would love to see the little big man more often. Michigan State has won five of the past six meetings and is favored this week by 17 points, which is believed to be the largest spread on the Spartans' side in the rivalry's history.
Let's face it. This is a golden era to be rooting for the green and white.
Mark Dantonio's program is on a serious roll, having won 13 straight games against Big Ten opponents, building its College Football Playoff this year and still enjoying the glow from last season's Rose Bowl title. The only thing better than watching your team reach a crescendo is seeing your hated rival's drown. That's just what is happening at Michigan, as the Wolverines have wheezed to a 3-4 record while dealing with an angry fan base demanding heads on a pike.
Former Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins famously said he and his teammates could "walk the streets" of Michigan proudly the rest of their lives after they completed a rare four-year sweep of the Wolverines in 2011. Right now for Michigan State supporters, it must seem like the streets are paved in gold (or perhaps more appropriately bronze, given the team's mascot).
There are only two comparable periods to this one: the early 1950s, when Clarence "Biggie" Munn turned the Spartans into a national powerhouse, and the early-to-mid 1960s, when Michigan State won two national titles as Michigan struggled under Bump Elliott. Michigan State went 14-4-2 against the Wolverines from 1950 to 1969, including a 9-1-2 mark from '56 through '67. Meanwhile, Michigan finished with losing records six times between 1958 and '67.
"Until now, that had pretty much been Michigan State's period of success," said Dr. David A. Young, author of Arrogance and Scheming in the Big Ten: Michigan State's Quest for Membership and Michigan's Powerful Opposition. "Otherwise, Michigan has been dominant in this rivalry."
Some other comparisons can be made between the eras.
Munn, Young said, "was known as intense and highly ethical, so you could say he's a lot like Mark Dantonio." Elliott had strong Michigan ties -- he'd played tailback at the school -- and was a well-liked man who just couldn't get the Wolverines over the hump, Young said. Sound familiar?
Dantonio is undoubtedly achieving legendary status at Michigan State. On Saturday at Indiana, he coached his 100th game for the Spartans and gained win No. 70. Tyler O'Connor and Kurtis Drummond presented Dantonio with game balls after the 56-17 victory.
Dantonio has certainly raised expectations in East Lansing. It's not just about beating Michigan and winning a Big Ten title now. The Spartans have their eyes on a national title, and as such, the game against Ohio State (coming after a bye week), looms as the biggest of their season. Still, Dantonio calls the Michigan game "the most important game on the schedule."
"When you compete day in and day out with them -- and that's what we do on recruits, for fans, for everything, it ... carries over to every sport here," he said Tuesday. "That still is a game that we have to point to and say, 'Hey, this goes beyond our schedule. This goes beyond the future.'"
The balance of power in this rivalry will likely change again in the future. But for right now, Michigan fans must be green with envy.
By the way, if you’re not following us on Twitter, what are you waiting for? Follow along at @ESPNRittenberg, @BennettESPN, @ESPNJoshMoyer, @DanMurphyESPN, @MitchSherman and @AWardESPN.
Brady Hoke filibuster watch: Opening statement clocks in at 90 seconds this week.— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) October 21, 2014
Mark Dantonio says he thinks a one-loss Big Ten champ should make the playoff. "But that's just me as a fan," he said.— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) October 21, 2014
More from Dantonio on the playoff: Could make a case for 15 different teams to be in the playoff.— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) October 21, 2014
Last 3 weeks, Fitz has seen Melvin Gordon, David Cobb and Ameer Abdullah: "Pretty special [group of RBs in B1G], no question about that."— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) October 21, 2014
Jerry Kill said coming from behind to beat Purdue was significant step last week. Gophers had never won after trailing at half under Kill.— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) October 21, 2014
Urban Meyer said Joey Bosa played his best game on Saturday vs. Rutgers. Kid's still getting better. Scary.— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) October 21, 2014
Kevin Wilson on Tevin Coleman's big plays: "He's got a knack for it. Little bit of it is scheme, lot of it's him."— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) October 21, 2014
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The affectionately named Terp Tank sits tucked away around a few corners from the desk of the athletic director on the Plaza Level of the Xfinity Center, about a half-mile northeast of Byrd Stadium on the picturesque University of Maryland campus.
Four large LG televisions hang opposite the entrance on a dark wall adorned with a larger-than-life image of a Maryland football player covered in Under Armour-inspired designs.
You can't miss the cool factor.
Technological instruments measure the impact of the school's digital-marketing efforts in real time, flashing analytics on the mounted screens.
The unveiling of Maryland's Star Spangled uniforms, worn in the Terrapins' Sept. 13 home loss to West Virginia, for instance, generated 325 million online media impressions in 24 hours, including 9.8 million in social media conversation, according to Nick Lofaro, czar of the Terp Tank.
The value of such exposure is difficult to calculate, but Maryland is ahead of the curve in trying.
"Everything we do," said Lofaro, Maryland's associate AD for digital media and creative services, "is centered around our on-field image."
The driving force behind that image is headquartered some 30 miles north, adjacent to Baltimore's Inner Harbor on Locust Point near Fort McHenry. Under Armour, the burgeoning sportswear force nurtured from nothing by founder and CEO Kevin Plank -- a former walk-on football player at Maryland -- collaborates extensively with this new Big Ten institution to craft the Maryland image in ways that transcend the traditional athletic department/outfitter relationship.
Under Armour assisted on the ground floor of Maryland's rebranding campaign after the September 2010 hiring of athletic director Kevin Anderson, who witnessed elsewhere the kind of coordinated revival he envisioned in College Park.
Look good, feel good, play good. It's a mental thing.- Maryland equipment manager Jason Baisden, the keeper of all the Terps' uniform combinations.
"We want to be first in the marketplace," Anderson said. "We want to be an innovator in collegiate athletics. Under Armour wants to be an innovator in sports, period."
Between the two parties, Anderson said, "nothing is out of bounds.
"The sky's the limit."
Under Armour is a hungry player in a powerful industry. It exceeded $2 billion in global sales in 2012, with a stated goal to double that revenue by 2015, and it recently surpassed Adidas as the No. 2 sportswear provider in the United States.
In January, Under Armour signed a 10-year agreement with Notre Dame for approximately $90 million in cash and apparel, the largest deal in industry history.
It marked a massive step, no doubt.
But Maryland and Under Armour are inextricably linked through a dynamic that differs from the connection between the company and other star clients.
The marriage with Maryland, in fact, appears a unique and near-perfect fit. Under Armour is positioned to help the school in ways that Notre Dame, Auburn or South Carolina do not require. Maryland is a rising brand itself, looking to capitalize on energy from conference realignment, its location amid fertile recruiting ground and the cool factor fostered by Under Armour.
This story should sound familiar. Similar teamwork struck gold -- better yet, green -- in the Pac-12 more than a decade ago as apparel-industry behemoth Nike used the University of Oregon as a test lab to produce groundbreaking results that helped boost the Ducks to national prominence.
"Being here," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said, "how could you not notice that?"
As the reach of Under Armour expands, so grows Maryland's potential. Beneath the surface of its middling football success lurks a giant.
Underestimate the potential reach of Under Armour at your own risk.
"Frankly," Plank said in a recent "SportsCenter" special, "we're not done until we're the No. 1 brand in the world."
The presence of Under Armour at Maryland is immense. From recruits to players, coaches and administrators, a mantra exists.
"Look good, feel good, play good," said equipment manager Jason Baisden, the keeper of secrets before every new look is uncovered. "It's a mental thing."
And it begs the question: Could the Terrapins leverage the power of Under Armour to become Oregon of the East?
To continue reading to see the relationship between Under Armour and Maryland, how UA is impacting the Terps on and off the field, how the relationship parallel's the one between Oregon and Nike and if the Terps can have the same kind of success as the Ducks on the field, click here.
So you’d expect that he might need more time than most to find his way. Seven games into his fourth season, things may have just clicked for the offensive tackle.
And it looks like he’s intent to lead a group of teammates on this ascension.
Price, the Cornhuskers' backup right tackle, reserve guard Chongo Kondolo and No. 2 center Ryne Reeves stepped to the forefront on Saturday, as Nebraska overcame a halftime deficit to win 38-17 at Northwestern.
The emergence of Price, Kondolo and Reeves came after a bye week that followed a 27-22 loss to Michigan State in which none of the backup linemen played a snap. The starters struggled as Nebraska rushed 37 times for 47 yards, a low in coach Bo Pelini’s seven seasons at the school.
The backup linemen made their move in practice. And Price led the way.
“Everybody noticed,” left tackle Alex Lewis said. “He was very energetic, emotional at practice. I think it also helped guys like Chongo to see that it doesn’t always have to be the starters who step up and have that energy.”
Saturday started like Nebraska’s first six games -- with Lewis and Jake Cotton on the left side of the line, Mark Pelini at center, guard Mike Moundy and Zach Sterup on the right side.
The reserves got their feet wet in the first half, as planned. The Huskers trailed 17-14, rushing for just 79 yards in the first 30 minutes.
On the second possession of the third quarter, Moudy moved to the left side. Reeves entered. Kondolo and Price took the right side.
The next three drives produced 185 yards and three touchdowns.
Nebraska rushed for 155 yards in the second half and cruised to the easiest victory against Northwestern in four meetings since joining the Big Ten.
“It was really just everybody doing their jobs,” Price said, “listening to the coach and playing as hard as you can, as fast as you can, finishing blocks.”
Each of the three backups brings a compelling backstory.
Price, who turned 20 this month as a fourth-year junior, played little until this season. He said he understood the reasoning of offensive line coach John Garrison to go without subs against Michigan State.
“I wasn’t consistent in my game preparation,” Price said.
Price told himself and his fellow reserves that “we need to play like we’re playing a game.”
During the bye week, they did it, he said.
“The fact that it was acknowledged put more emphasis on it to do the little things right,” Reeves said. “There was a sense of urgency.”
Reeves, also a fourth-year junior, came to Nebraska as a heralded recruit from Crete, Nebraska. He was expected to contribute early but battled injuries, including a fractured ankle in the spring before his sophomore season, and has shifted between guard and center.
Last spring, Reeves was taken from the practice facility by ambulance after suffering a neck injury. He returned in April but missed more time with an ankle sprain.
Kondolo counted offers from Florida State and Tennessee out of high school in Carrollton, Texas. He failed to reach academic standards and landed at junior college in California before redshirting last season.
They’re an odd mix, but the trio works well together. Rarely does one enter the game without the other two.
“It’s nice throwing the second team in there and to still go down and score touchdowns on the first-team defense,” Lewis said. “It’s going to help us down the road. We’re such a close-knit group that you could see how it works. We’re all on the same page.”
This week as Nebraska hosts Rutgers, the backups are sure to play big roles again -- that is, if Price, Kondolo and Reeves remain on the second unit.
“I don’t know if we created a spark,” Reeves said. “We went out there, ran some good plays and moved the football.”
The Huskers will take that every week.
The standout individual effort by Funchess gave the Wolverines their longest completion of the year and the longest play of any kind since a season-opening drubbing of Appalachian State. As much trouble as Michigan’s offense has had with turnovers and finding a steady run game this season, it’s had an equally difficult time coming up with the type of big plays that can mask those inconsistencies.
Michigan’s bye week after seven straight games provided Hoke and his 3-4 team with an overdue opportunity to get healthy and evaluate themselves. Beating Penn State the previous Saturday allowed him to go through that process with less pressure and fewer questions about his future.
With in-state rival Michigan State next on the schedule and Ohio State looming a month later, the recalibrations Hoke and his staff make this week have the potential to save their jobs in Ann Arbor or provide the final nail in the coffin of their Michigan coaching careers. This week Hoke is attempting to land on the right side of the fine line that separates making improvements and overwhelming your team by tinkering too much.
“At times you say, ‘We need to add this,’ and then you add too much. Then you have a real problem,” Hoke said. “For us, it’s going back to what we want to be identity-wise, and we want to run the football.”
The run, Michigan hopes, will set up its dynamic offensive players with more chances to produce game-changing plays. Through seven games, the Wolverines have picked up 30 or more yards on a single play six times, fewer than all but four teams in the bowl subdivision this season. The only offensive category where they’ve struggled more is in turnover margin, where they rank dead last.
Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said big chunk gains usually come from exploiting an opponent’s weakest points or putting your best playmakers in a position to excel. Three of those long plays came from sophomore running back Derrick Green, who is sidelined for the rest of the season with a broken collarbone. The onus in Green’s absence falls even more squarely on the shoulders of Funchess and Gardner, the senior quarterback who has looked like more of an offensive threat in his two most recent games.
“I get the ball every play so it’s pretty much all my responsibility,” Gardner said. “Even if it’s a big run play for our running backs, I’ve got to hand it to them. I feel like I’m a big part of that.”
Gardner has the potential to create a few of those plays with his feet, but his best bet is to connect with his favorite target, the 6-foot-5 Funchess. He leads the team with 36 receptions and four touchdowns, but three of those came against Appalachian State.
Funchess battled a leg injury during most of September, making his highlight-reel return to the end zone against Penn State a beacon of hope that more spectacular efforts might be coming now that he’s healthy. Nussmeier knows Michigan has to find ways to get the ball in his hands.
“We’re always looking for ways to [create good match-ups],” he said. “Without giving away too much scheme stuff, we evaluated that very hard during the bye week and looked at ways to do that better.”
The Spartans, for all of their prowess on defense, have been burned by the long ball several times this season. They’ve surrendered at least 30 yards on 19 different plays this season, which ranks them 103rd in the nation in that category. The miscues have come against competition that ranges from Oregon to Eastern Michigan.
Michigan enters Saturday’s rivalry game as a double-digit underdog. The line against the Buckeyes later this season should be equally lopsided. The Wolverines likely need to win at least one of those games if Hoke is going to return in 2015. One tried-and-true way to pull off an upset -- especially with a defense that has held its own this season -- is with a few big plays.
The Big Ten had plenty happen over the weekend, so here is the recap within the conference.
He can sell recruits on the school's tremendous academics, a campus just miles from the nation's capital and long list of distinguished alumni like Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, Seinfeld creator Larry David and legendary puppeteer Jim Henson.
But the one thing that's at the top of Dunn's list is Maryland's recent move to the Big Ten.
Dunn said the Terps also uses the conferences' postseason affiliations with bowl games like the Rose Bowl, Citrus One, Outback, Holiday and other games to sell prospects. And then there's just the overall tradition. Combine all of that together and Dunn says it's a strong pitch to a high school junior or senior.
"It's about as attractive as it gets," he said.
Now the key for Dunn and the rest of the Terps coaches is to get the players in their backyard to buy in.
Maryland's recruiting footprint is the Washington D.C.-Baltimore metro area, called the DMV. The area is better known for producing tremendous basketball players -- ever hear of Elgin Baylor or Kevin Durant -- but everybody in the high school community agrees there's been an uptick in football talent in the last 10 years.
And to win at the highest levels in the Big Ten, the Terps know they're going to have to keep some of that talent at home. It's something they've not done just yet in the 2015 class. Maryland's class doesn't rank in the top 40 of the ESPN class rankings, 15 of its 16 commitments are three-star prospects and no player among Maryland's top 15 has decided to spend his future in College Park. The 2014 class was similar as it ranked as the 50th best and included only two ESPN 300 prospects.
But high school coaches in the area believe it's the right move to sell the Big Ten to recruits and it will eventually pay off.
"We have many kids that are playing in the Big Ten, and the pull of the Big Ten is really attractive to kids in this area," said Elijah Brooks, who coaches at Hyattsville (Maryland) DeMatha Catholic, a school that's a must-stop spot for recruiters. "We think of the Big Ten as big-time football. We have kids at Wisconsin and Penn State, so when you go to those games and see 100,000 people that really impresses.
"You see that Maryland had 55,000 for the first Big Ten home game that's something that wows, too. Kids around here can relate to that and can see that Maryland is becoming a part of something special."
Gaithersburg (Maryland) Quince Orchard coach John Kelley agrees.
“I just think recruiting wise when you can sell you're playing Ohio State, playing Michigan, playing Nebraska, playing Penn State; that will sell to the kids in this area," Kelley said. “No offense to Wake Forest and schools like that in the ACC, but on the national scene that just doesn't match up against Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. I think that plays better to 16, 17 and 18-year-old."
And while it hasn't gone exactly as the Terps have planned so far with the 2015 class, Brooks and Kelly both strongly believe Dunn and the Maryland coaches must continue to sell the lure of the Big Ten on the recruiting trial.
“I think with Maryland, it's more of a wait and see how they perform in the Big Ten before they really jump on board," Brooks said. “They have our starting running back (Lorenzo Harrison) committed, and that's going to start to lead to others in our program. To me, I think it was definitely a good move to join the Big Ten and they're doing a great job of selling it to the kids. It's the No. 1 thing they sell and they're doing a good job of it."
On Monday, the two seemed to share different philosophies. Beckman stated that utilizing two quarterbacks was more difficult for defenses to prepare for than one. Cubit intimated this week’s opponent, Minnesota, now has that film -- so it won’t be caught off-guard by dual-threat Aaron Bailey spelling pocket-passer Reilly O’Toole. Not like the Wisconsin Badgers were.
“Wisconsin, they were practicing against a certain offense,” Cubit said. “And I noticed first-hand because it was told to me afterward, and the other thing [dual-threat quarterback] gave them conflicts. Well, now it’s on tape so they’re going to game-plan against that.”
But, Cubit was asked, isn’t this at least the right week to try such a system since they’ve had two weeks to prepare? Doesn’t the bye help to formulate the game plan?
“No,” he told reporters Monday. “No.”
“Are you OK with using two QBs?” one reporter followed up.
“If it helps us win,” Cubit said with an unconvincing shrug.
Starting quarterback Wes Lunt broke his leg Oct. 4 against Purdue and only recently moved from crutches to a boot. He’ll be out until next month and, until then, there doesn’t seem to be an agreement on how to best handle his absence. There's no consensus on Illinois' plan for success.
Beckman said fans will see both quarterbacks Saturday afternoon against Minnesota. He also said he doesn’t necessarily plan to go with the hot-hand; he prefers giving each player a heads-up when he’s entering the game. Against Wisconsin, however, Bailey was told he was coming in late in the second quarter -- or the third quarter -- but plans shifted when O’Toole was successful.
So how would Cubit go about rotating them?
“I don’t know,” he said to open the interview. “I’ll be honest with you, I’ve never done it before, and they both got pretty good qualities. So we’ll figure it all out.”
That wasn’t the only time Cubit rested on, “I don’t know,” either. Right after his shrug, he was asked whether Beckman’s two-quarterback system was the best option.
“I don’t know. I’ll be honest with you, the playbook gets really expanded for one guy. How much can he handle?” Cubit said. “There’s a lot that’s involved with this. … It’s not as easy as everybody thinks it is.”
Illinois’ defense has surrendered at least 34 points in every game against an FBS team this season, so a lot of pressure is placed upon the offense. If Illinois stands any chance at a win, it usually comes during a shootout. Lunt was able to eke out three wins because of his consistency and accuracy; he completed 66 percent of his passes and tossed 13 touchdowns to just three picks.
O’Toole saw considerable time in the past three games and appeared to be the answer. But Bailey added another dimension to this offense in his first time under center against Wisconsin, when he finished 2-of-5 with an interception -- but also carried the ball 12 times for 75 yards and a score.
This isn't a system the Illini are accustomed to. But Beckman thinks it's worth the risk. If it helps his team win, maybe Illinois' plan for success won't be so controversial.
"I mean, I really haven't done that since freshman year but, I mean, whatever helps the team," O'Toole added. "I think we're both capable quarterbacks."
1. Larry Johnson deserves cheers, not jeers from Penn State fans. The longtime Nittany Lions assistant, now an Ohio State coach, is returning to Happy Valley for a Saturday night game. One fan tweeted at me, referring to LJ as “Larry Judas.” He’s not the only PSU fan that still harnesses some bitterness toward Johnson. But that really misses the mark. Johnson knew James Franklin was big on defensive line coach Sean Spencer -- he admitted as much Monday -- so Johnson simply stepped aside. This is the same man who declined a defensive coordinator position with Illinois in 2008 which would’ve reportedly doubled his salary. And who, in 2011, declined to put his name in for Maryland’s next coordinator job because he already promised Penn State’s recruiting class he’d coach them the next season. Just because a coach leaves somewhere doesn’t mean he’s “disloyal.” I’m not 100 percent certain what kind of reception he’ll receive Saturday night, but a standing ovation seems much more appropriate than any boos.
2. Purdue fans have a reason to be excited -- finally. Danny Etling was heralded as Purdue's savior before he ever took a snap last season. And when he did finally step under center for the first time, against Northern Illinois, the crowd offered him a standing ovation. Well, it turns out the quarterback to turn this Boilermakers team around might just be the lesser-known Austin Appleby. At least, he was lesser-known until a few weeks ago. In his last three starts, the Boilermakers are averaging 35.7 points a game. Before Appleby, that number was 23.8. He has some weapons on offense and, if this defense can step up, Purdue could really be a good team. Seriously. Appleby stuck with it after Etling twice beat him out for the starting job, and Appleby still has no shortage of confidence. He said last week that Purdue "could've hung 40" on Michigan State.
3. Illinois’ “Gray Ghost” uniforms deserve a thumbs-up. Maybe it’s just because I’m a sucker for history, but I really dig the uniforms the Fighting Illini plan to wear this weekend for Homecoming. It’s not necessarily how they look -- and they look fine -- but it’s the story behind them that really gets me. Ninety years ago, during Illinois’ Homecoming against Michigan, Red Grange scored four touchdowns in the first 12 minutes of the game. He ended up with six TDs as the Illini became the first team to beat Michigan in two years. After that game, famous sportswriter Grantland Rice referred to Grange as a “gray ghost.” So, that’s the idea behind Illinois’ uniforms. Wish more teams would honor history like that. Seems like fans are embracing the new design, too. The jerseys have already sold out online.
Now, on to the links ...
- Last year's beatdown against Michigan State still lingers for Michigan.
- The Spartans are setting their sights on the College Football Playoff.
- Urban Meyer expects more from Ohio State's offense.
- The Hoosiers must stay aggressive despite some mistakes.
- Tackling woes doomed Rutgers in its loss to Ohio State.
- Notes about Maryland, including how the Terrapins plan to stick with their punter.
- Minnesota's latest top-25 ranking is a big victory for a team off to its best start since 1990.
- Bo Pelini is glad to have Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. on his side.
- Wisconsin must "keep its eye on the ball" against Maryland.
- Purdue's defense is giving up too many big plays.
- Tim Beckman will utilize a two-quarterback system against Minnesota.
- Reviewing four factors in Iowa's loss to Maryland.
- Three takeaways from Northwestern's loss over the weekend.
not a lot of separation over in the West. Minnesota is the only team that has yet to drop a conference game, but three others (Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin) are within striking distance with only one loss. At the same time, we've been saying for quite a few weeks now that Nebraska clearly boasts the edge, talent-wise, in the division. Heck, I picked the Huskers to win the West in the preseason. Nebraska is the only balanced team here. Minnesota and Wisconsin really don't have much in the way of passing games, and the Hawkeyes haven't exactly been models of consistency. But one misstep in this division could cost the crown. That's why the “Wild, Wild West” may have become slightly clearer, but it's still pretty muddled. We'll know how the East shakes out when Michigan State takes on Ohio State in two weeks. But the West? We might not know until the final week. Take a look at the Huskers' final three opponents: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa. Now that's wild.
Mike from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, writes: Does Brady Hoke need to win out to save his job? As much as I'm in the minority, I don't want to see Michigan go through another coaching search. This team, their O-line in particular, is pretty young.
Moyer: See, that's a tough question, Mike -- only because there's about a zero percent chance Hoke wins out. Listen, he's gone. Even he has to know he's gone. Michigan has looked worse every season, and player development seems to be an ongoing issue. I'll even give you the offensive line since it's young. But why is Devin Gardner regressing? And why couldn't U-M adjust when Rutgers nailed them for 404 passing yards? As far as player development/recruiting, let me share kind of an eye-opening fact here: Michigan's usual starting lineup features seven players who were on the ESPN 300; Rutgers has recruited seven total ESPN 300 players since 2006. How about resources? For every dollar Rutgers' athletic department spends, Michigan spends $1.82. Yet, Rutgers was the Vegas favorite earlier this season -- and won. So it's clear Michigan is not on the right track. If Hoke somehow turns this team around and beats Michigan State and Ohio State, sure, he'll keep his job. But we might as well talk about what happens to Tim Beckman if Illinois wins out. Because neither is very likely to happen.
Melvin Gordon. The Terrapins are ranked No. 102 nationally in rush defense and the Badgers are ranked No. 1 in rushing offense. That's a big reason the Badgers are favored by double digits. Before the injury to Indiana's Nate Sudfeld, Maryland's offense also kind of reminded me of the Hoosiers without Tevin Coleman – you saw all this potential through the air … but you wondered when it was going to materialize. With C.J. Brown struggling, you still wonder. Maryland hasn't faced a top-25 defense yet this season, and it should struggle against Wisconsin. As far as Wisconsin's quarterback situation, both players are still splitting reps with the first team. Joel Stave has seen more time than Tanner McEvoy the last two games and, unless McEvoy practices better this week, I'd expect more of the same.
Moyer: Haha ... well, I can't argue with that logic. Here's another fact to chew on: Penn State beat Ohio State, 63-14, in 1994. The next season, the Buckeyes won 28-25. Of course, do I really think the Nittany Lions will win Saturday after getting demolished last season by that same 63-14 score? Of course not. This is one of the worst offensive lines in the Power 5, while the Buckeyes have one of the best defensive lines. If Penn State can even keep this close -- Saturday night's game is the hot PSU ticket this season -- then it should be a boost. The Nittany Lions' defense is much improved from last season, but it really hasn't yet played a good quarterback. And J.T. Barrett has been great this season. This needs to be a low-scoring affair for PSU to really stand a chance. But I'd be surprised if Penn State really threatened.
@ESPNJoshMoyer seeing as Penn State beat Akron, who beat Pitt, who beat Virginia Tech, who beat Ohio State, PSU clearly wins Saturday right?— Amanda Wrzeszczynski (@PSU_Wrz) October 20, 2014
OK, so you might hate pop music or Taylor Swift. But if you don't enjoy choreographed mascot dances, you are a cold, humorless soul and I cannot help you.
The latest from the Big Ten mascots is a rendition of Swift's "Shake it Off."
In addition to Sparty, the video includes appearances from: Herky the Hawk, Purdue Pete, Goldy Gopher, Herbie Husker (and Lil' Red), Bucky Badger, Brutus Buckeye and a new face to the party, Rutgers' Scarlet Knight. Best moves (coming from someone who has none) and creativity in performance: Bucky Badger, followed by Purdue Pete.
Enjoy the video ...
On Saturday night, for the first time in his career, Johnson will be standing across from that sideline.
The 18-year Penn State assistant is now the defensive line coach at Ohio State, and his new team will face his old Saturday night in State College. Urban Meyer scooped Johnson up after he left Happy Valley in January -- making the Buckeyes just the second college team he’s ever coached -- and Johnson said he’s not quite sure what emotions to expect when he returns.
“I’m looking forward to going back home and being excited to play in the stadium.”
Johnson’s departure was an emotional one for Penn State fans. He was the final Joe Paterno holdover, the last assistant with a direct connection to the no-name jerseys and the rolled-up khakis. While unprecedented change swept through Happy Valley, Johnson was the lone constant.
He was promoted to co-defensive coordinator when Paterno was fired. Then he was relegated to defensive line coach with Bill O’Brien’s arrival. Two seasons later, when O’Brien left, he kept this team together as the interim head coach. Then, with James Franklin’s hiring, he left.
“I didn’t have any bitterness when I left. It was my decision to leave, it was my time to move on,” he said Monday. “I just felt that Coach Franklin was coming in with a new staff, and I knew he had a guy he really liked a lot. I just felt it was the best thing to do.”
Now, instead of addressing the media behind a blue and white backdrop, he talks to reporters behind a scarlet and gray one. On Monday afternoon, in a dark Ohio State jacket, the even-tempered coach kept a soft tone as if he were in a library while reflecting on his time in State College.
He spoke highly of his past stop throughout the news conference. About how past “White Outs,” where the crowd wears all white, jump-started his players. About the “great friends, great players” he coached. About how blessed he feels with PSU and now OSU on his resume. Though he remained stoic for much of the time, he smiled when asked if -- in his 18 years -- he ever caught a peek of the visitors’ locker room.
“I have not,” he said.
But have you heard about it?
“I have heard about it,” he said with a slight grin. “It’s very small.”
Besides Monday’s location -- and the color of his shirt -- Johnson said not all that much has changed in his life. He still tends to his flowers in the offseason -- “That’s kind of my style,” he added -- he still preaches player development and relationships, and he’s still a top recruiter. He built a new house near Ohio State, and his son, former Penn State wideout Tony Johnson, moved closer to him.
He sold his old house in State College and doesn’t plan to stop by once he returns. He doesn’t plan to swing by the Creamery for some Peachy Paterno ice cream, or see much of anything other than the walls to his hotel and the inside of Beaver Stadium. He said he simply doesn’t have the time.
He remains in touch with his pastor from Penn State, along with some members of the congregation, so he plans to see some familiar faces in the crowd Saturday night. He’ll shake hands with his former players after the game, and it’s sure to be a surreal experience for the coach whom Paterno plucked from the high school ranks back in 1996.
“I had a great time there for 18 years,” Johnson said. “I got to be part of their lives for a long time. It’s a new job, a new place and a new school, so I’m looking forward to coming back.”
Minnesota is finally getting some national attention.
While pollsters have been slow to notice (the Gophers debut at No. 24 in the coaches poll, but are still outside the AP top 25), the music world seems to be paying attention to 6-1 Minnesota.
Pop star Iggy Azalea was part of the Minnesota homecoming weekend and her plea for everyone to "Do The Gopher" could turn it into a national craze.
Who dat doing the Gopher? Thanks for pumping up the crowd today and the awesome #ForeverGold concert, @IGGYAZALEA! http://t.co/uxiTNgBFVJ - Minnesota Gophers (@GopherSports) October 18, 2014She also got a game ball from coach Jerry Kill.
Coach Kill wants to make sure @IGGYAZALEA feels welcome. It's going to be a great Homecoming weekend, #Gophers! pic.twitter.com/ub5agHX7Lh - Minnesota Gophers (@GopherSports) October 17, 2014She wasn't the only one to give some love to the Gophers. Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam were also in town over the weekend and Vedder gave props to freshman kicker Ryan Santoso's 52-yard game-winning field goal and the Minnesota program, although he did make one note about the mascot's toughness.
Vedder: "nice job by that freshman kicking that FG yesterday. I'm glad you're winning, just the #Gophers isn't the toughest sounding name." - Chris Long (@jclong) October 20, 2014
1. Can Michigan close the Bunyan-sized gap with Michigan State? Based simply on this year's performances, Saturday's game between Michigan and Michigan State could be one of the most lopsided in the history of the Paul Bunyan Trophy series. The Spartans are riding high, having won 13 straight Big Ten contests, while the Wolverines are just 3-4. Michigan State has won five of the past six in this rivalry, including three straight in East Lansing. The inability to beat his rivals is a big reason Brady Hoke is fighting for his job right now. Maybe the Wolverines can rally behind their embattled coach. If not, this has a chance to get ugly.
2. Will Ohio State keep it rolling? The Buckeyes have scored 50 or more points in each of their past four games to build their case for the College Football Playoff. This week brings their toughest road test of the season to date, a night game at Penn State. Beaver Stadium will be decked in white, and Nittany Lions fans will do their best to rattle young quarterback J.T. Barrett. Penn State's defense is probably the best one Ohio State has played in at least a month as well. Of course, the Lions have lost their first two Big Ten games and are having all sorts of issues with their offensive line, which they spent last week's bye week trying to solve. Don't be surprised if James Franklin and his staff throw out some new wrinkles this Saturday night.
3. Make-or-break game in Madison: Is Maryland for real? Is Wisconsin a serious contender? The season has failed to adequately answer these questions thus far. The Terrapins are 2-1 in their first year in the league and are coming off a solid win over Iowa. They've been up and down (the down includes a home blowout loss to Ohio State), but they also have a lot of explosive playmakers. Wisconsin has a Heisman Trophy candidate in Melvin Gordon but hasn't figured much else out on offense, especially in the passing game. The Badgers already have one conference loss and likely can't afford another one if they want to win the West Division. Can Wisconsin keep pace with Maryland's skill players like Stefon Diggs? Can the Terps' shaky defense slow down Gordon? One team will be left standing as a serious division contender after Saturday.
4. Beckman's last stand? Illinois coach Tim Beckman may well have to make a bowl game to save his job this season. That means the 3-4 Illini probably have to win this week at home against Minnesota, because the rest of the schedule isn't kind. The Gophers sit atop the West Division at 3-0 but looked vulnerable to a big-play passing offense on Saturday against Purdue. Illinois will have to follow the Boilermakers' game plan, though either Aaron Bailey or Reilly O'Toole must make a big jump at quarterback. Here's the best reason to predict that Minnesota will come away with the road win in Champaign: Beckman's defense is surrendering a Big Ten-worst 271.1 rushing yards per game. David Cobb could run all day.
5. Rutgers' mettle being tested: You really wanted to join the Big Ten, Rutgers. Well, here you go. After dealing with the piping-hot cauldron of the Horseshoe last week -- where the Scarlet Knights got scalded in a 56-17 loss to Ohio State -- Kyle Flood's team jumps back into the fire this week with a trip to Nebraska. It's harder to imagine many more difficult back-to-back road challenges than that in the Big Ten, and it highlights the difficulty of Rutgers' second-half schedule (a November trip to Michigan State still awaits). Nebraska looked terrific last week in the second half at Northwestern and must simply avoid complacency before the big West Division showdowns arrive the final three weeks (at Wisconsin, Minnesota, at Iowa). For the Scarlet Knights right now, this is mostly about survival and not letting a promising season go up in flames