Big Ten: Indiana Hoosiers

Big Ten morning links

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
8:00
AM ET
Nebraska-Miami occupies a special place in my heart and mind. Their games of the 1980s and ‘90s symbolized an era of college football. It was power versus speed, stability matched against flash.

The programs' styles stood in perfect contrast. Yet in four Orange Bowl meetings over 11 years, they made for the game's best of unlikely rivalries. Though Nebraska slipped from the top in the midst of that decade, by the end, it had supplanted Miami like the Hurricanes did to Tom Osborne's team after the 1983 season.

The Hurricanes visit Lincoln on Saturday night. The thought of those two helmets together again stirs emotions. It feels big -- bigger, apparently, than it is.

ESPN's matchup-quality metric ranks games on a zero-to-100 scale, based on the team's spots in the Football Power Index and the expected competitiveness. It was jarring this week not to find Nebraska-Miami among the top five matchups in Week 4.

It's Nebraska-Miami, after all. When these two have met historically, it's not just the biggest game of the week; it's the biggest of the year.

But today in college football, Florida-Alabama (91.6 matchup quality), Clemson-Florida State (90.5), Mississippi State-LSU (90.1), Oklahoma-West Virginia (87.2) and Auburn-Kansas State (87.0) earn higher billing than the Huskers and Hurricanes.

I heard an intriguing question this week: What program is better positioned, Nebraska or Miami, to make a run at the top again? I can't say definitively. Nebraska's infrastructure and internal resources favor it; Miami's natural resources are a big advantage.

But until Nebraska-Miami cracks the top five most important games on a September weekend, neither team is in position to join the national conversation.
  • Another interesting question: What Big Ten team on Saturday matched against a Power 5 opponent is most in need of a win this week? Other than Nebraska-Miami, Iowa visits Pittsburgh, Maryland visits Syracuse, Utah plays at Michigan and Indiana visits Missouri. While I'm tempted to pick Iowa, but my answer is Michigan. A loss by the Wolverines against the high-flying Utes, who won at the Big House in 2008, would serve to draw another parallel between this staff and the previous regime. And that's not good for Brady Hoke. Neither are all these turnovers.
  • Columnist Rick Brown of the Des Moines Registers urges Iowa fans upset with Kirk Ferentz to be careful what they wish for. I understand the sentiment and agree that Iowa does more with less better than several Big Ten counterparts. But have you watched the Big Ten lately? Why use Illinois and Minnesota as the measuring stick? It's OK to set the bar high. Fans ought to be upset with the Hawkeyes' offensive play. Don't apologize for reasonable expectations.

Around the rest of the league:

East Division
West Division

Big Ten Monday mailbag

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
5:00
PM ET
Let's cut through the pleasantries -- it wasn't really a pleasant weekend for the Big Ten -- and get right to the mailbag questions. As always -- more than ever, in fact -- thanks for your submissions.

Mitch Sherman: Nothing has changed in the East, where Michigan State remains the team to beat. The Spartans look like the best team in the league, and I don't think you will get much of an argument from logical fans of other Big Ten teams. If anything, the results of the past two weeks -- even the Michigan State setback at Oregon -- has solidified MSU atop its division. It's murky in the West, where the schedule says Iowa is the favorite. The Hawkeyes' play does not. Wisconsin also plays a favorable slate, and we will see if the week off has allowed the Badgers to flip momentum. If so, they are a co-favorite with Nebraska, which, despite a near disaster against McNeese State, has produced two of the league's top performances this seasons in wins against Fresno State and Florida Atlantic.

Mitch Sherman: Joel Stave, fighting a football version of the yips, returned to team drills in some form last week, though coach Gary Andersen has not declared anything in regard to his senior quarterback. Sounds like it remains an extended process with Stave, who has sought some outside attention in dealing with his throwing issues. It's good to hear that Stave has maintained a healthy approach in practice, though I have concerns about his effectiveness even after he clears the hurdles necessary to get back on the field. What happens when adversity strikes in a game? How will it impact his play to perform in front of tens of thousands of people who know about his struggles? For that reason, expect the Badgers to move slowly with Stave. The schedule is on their side, staying soft through October.

Mitch Sherman: Well, considering that the Boilermakers tanked this year before playing Notre Dame, I don't know if parallels exist to be drawn. It seems that Purdue does a nice job of getting up for the Irish, or maybe it's something about the matchup that works well. Or maybe Notre Dame is disinterested. Regardless, the Boilers have a good shot on Saturday against unbeaten FCS foe Southern Illinois. If it doesn't happen, another one-win season enters the realm of possibility. As bad as the Big Ten looks, I still don't see that as likely. Quarterback Danny Etling showed improvement against Notre Dame, and hey, Northwestern visits Ross-Ade Stadium this year. Realistically, if Purdue can build on the good things from Saturday in Indianapolis, as many as four games in the Big Ten could be competitive.

Mitch Sherman: That question wins the award, Matt, for most intriguing of the day. I'm not sure J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes would have defeated Kent State 66-0 if it had been the opener. But it would have been an easy victory that could have provided the young quarterback and his offensive line with the confidence it lacked against Navy and Virginia Tech. I'm convinced that by the end of this season, Virginia Tech could not come into the Horseshoe and dominate Ohio State in any way close to what happened in Week 2. By the same token, the Buckeyes might have had even more trouble with Navy if that game came later in the season. But to answer your question, no; Ohio State would have fared better in its bid to escape this nonconference season with a perfect mark intact if the order of games had been arranged differently..

One and ten. Get to know those numbers because they'll be shoved down your throat all week.

After the Big Ten's worst two-week stretch in nonconference play since, well, ever, the league sits with a 1-10 record against Power 5 teams and Notre Dame. The season looked so promising when Rutgers upset Washington State in Seattle on college football's opening night.

Since then: bupkis.

So prepare for 1-10 fever. Many of you would expect nothing else from evil ESecPN and its Big Ten-hating agenda. But 1-10 is a fact, and in a playoff-first environment where conferences will be constantly compared until Dec. 7, the Big Ten finds itself in a miserable spot.

So, you ask, is there hope for a turnaround? Sure. There's a lot of season left, and as we saw Saturday night at Boston College, anything can happen in college football. The biggest measuring-up opportunities -- Wisconsin-LSU, Michigan State-Oregon, even the Notre Dame games -- are finished, but the baby-step opportunities remain.

There are several of those for the Big Ten in Week 4. It's not the end of nonleague play, but it's the last full Saturday before conference play kicks off.

No one will confuse Missouri, Pitt, Syracuse, Utah and Miami for world beaters, although Mizzou is pretty darn good (Big Ten expansion miss?). But the Big Ten's Week 4 opponents provide chances for that 1-10 mark to look a little bit better ... or much worse.

Fans have to understand that in the playoff environment, everything is connected. Teams can be both playoff contenders and enhancers for league brethren who carry genuine playoff hopes.

For example: If Maryland beats West Virginia on Saturday, and WVU later knocks off a Big 12 heavyweight or two, Maryland suddenly carries more cache, even in subsequent defeats. If Michigan State beats Maryland later this season in College Park, the Spartans would get more playoff credit for that road win.

The problem for the Big Ten is when you lose almost all of your games against comparable conferences, your league race becomes devalued. Conference wins that could make the difference between getting into the playoff and just missing the cut aren't as impressive because of the opponent's nonleague struggles.

And don't kid yourself: it's all about the playoff now. Don't imprison yourself in a Big Ten bubble and pretend like the national race is secondary. You can still enjoy league play and all the twists and turns from now until Dec. 6 in Indianapolis. But you should ultimately judge this league on whether it's in or out on Selection Sunday. Some of you will disagree, but expecting less than the best is part of the reason why the Big Ten finds itself in this position.

That brings us to Week 4. On paper, it should be a better week for the Big Ten, but the last two weeks have shown us nothing is guaranteed.

Nebraska will beat Miami in Lincoln if it plays like it did Saturday night at Fresno State. But if the Huskers revert to McNeese State form against a Hurricanes team that never lacks talent, things could turn sour for one of the Big Ten's last two remaining unbeatens.

Michigan also gets its Power 5 foe at home, where it has been 11-0 in nonconference games under Brady Hoke (21-2 overall). But Utah leads the nation in sacks per game (5.5) and is tied for first in tackles for loss (10.5 per game), which could be a problem for a still-shaky Michigan offensive line.

Other than Rutgers, Big Ten teams have been dreadful in nonleague road games against the Power 5 -- not just losing but losing big (average margin of defeat: 24.5 points). This week, Iowa travels to Pitt, Indiana travels to Missouri and Maryland visits Syracuse.

Pitt is off to a very good start behind bruising back James Conner, while Iowa hasn't played particularly well in any of its three games. Indiana just lost to an undermanned Bowling Green team on the road, as the Falcons ran 115 plays and racked up 39 first downs. Maryland and Syracuse look fairly comparable, but Syracuse comes off an impressive win at Central Michigan, while Maryland surrendered 694 yards in the West Virginia loss.

A 4-1 or a 5-0 record in these games won't transform the national narrative about the Big Ten. But it will keep the league out of the crosshairs. After all, 6-10 sounds a lot better than 1-10.

But another bad day -- 1-4 or 0-5 -- would make the Big Ten's playoff path even trickier. And the way this season is going, expect the worst.

The Big Ten can't repair its reputation in Week 4, but it can begin the patching-up process and take some baby steps toward respectability.

Weekend Rewind: Big Ten

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
10:00
AM ET
There they go again.

Just when it looked like it was safe to start kicking around some other leagues, the Big Ten tripped all over itself and bumbled away its handful of chances to claim wins over teams from Power 5 conferences.

Minnesota and Illinois were blown out. Purdue fought hard but was ultimately overmatched. A shootout slipped away from Maryland. It’s probably best not to mention what happened to Iowa at all.

The conference obviously has nobody else it can blame for the lack of respect nationally when it keeps coming up short in its biggest opportunities to earn it around the nation. There may still be a College Football Playoff contender or two at the top of the league, but if there’s a logjam for the third and fourth spots in December, the Big Ten’s best may look back at September games it wasn’t even involved in as the reason it gets left out of the playoff field.

There were a few bright spots Saturday scattered among the wreckage. Reflect on those and start turning the page to Week 4.

Team of the week: Struggling mightily to find the end zone for 58 minutes, Penn State didn’t look much like the program about to pick up the most valuable win of the weekend. But Christian Hackenberg again delivered when it mattered most, calmly leading the game-winning drive in the closing minutes and staking the Nittany Lions to an early lead in the East Division with a rivalry win over Rutgers.

Game of the week: The game tape won’t be sent to the Hall of Fame and the outcome didn’t go the Big Ten’s way, but the battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy was still an entertaining affair -- though certainly not because of the offenses. The emotions were high, the score was close from start to finish and the closing minutes leading up to Iowa State’s go-ahead field goal also provided a seemingly endless amount of opportunities to question the clock-management skills of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. There were high-scoring, competitive games elsewhere, but this was pretty solid theater that will still be worth dissecting all week.

Biggest play: After the Nittany Lions beat their heads against the wall for more than three quarters, Hackenberg had one final shot at a breakthrough as he took a snap with three minutes left on the clock. His strike to Geno Lewis on first down went for 53 yards, instantly flipping the field position and setting the stage for Penn State’s breakthrough. Lewis would also grab another 23-yarder on the drive, but it was the initial hookup that generated the momentum that finally carried the Nittany Lions to the end zone.

Big Man on Campus (offense): The opponent clearly didn’t provide much of a challenge, and looking back now, Ohio State surely wishes it could have shuffled around its schedule to get J.T. Barrett a chance to tune up against a team like Kent State instead of throwing him into the fire against Navy and Virginia Tech. Who knows if it would have changed anything, but the redshirt freshman quarterback certainly left Saturday’s blowout with more confidence after tying a school record with six touchdown passes and throwing for more than 300 yards -- two things Braxton Miller has never done with the Buckeyes.

Big Man on Campus (defense): The Nittany Lions might need to split this award up after that impressive second-half shutout and only allowing one touchdown total on the way to their road win. Anthony Zettel was again a fixture in the backfield with three tackles for loss, C.J. Olaniyan forced a fumble and tallied a sack, and four different defenders intercepted Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova. But Trevor Williams doubled down with a pair of picks and finished second on the team with five tackles, giving him the slight nod.

Big Man on Campus (special teams): The Huskers might have finally found the solution for the problem that has been plaguing them over the last couple seasons on special teams. De'Mornay Pierson-El provided a jolt of energy to Nebraska’s punt return unit, dazzling with an 86-yard scamper for a touchdown and following that up with a 51-yarder as an encore shortly after to set up another score in the rout of Fresno State.

Biggest face plant: The Hawkeyes are tempting, but Indiana’s loss at Bowling Green figures to be far more damaging to Kevin Wilson’s club and its bid to get back to a bowl game. The defense is still a weakness that no amount of production from running back Tevin Coleman can consistently overcome, and the Hoosiers will probably be kicking themselves over this loss in November.

Numbers and facts to know: Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah moved up to No. 5 on the school’s all-time rushing list, posting his 19th 100-yard rushing performance to move his career total up to 3,373. ... Officially, Barrett’s 300-yard outing through the air was Ohio State’s first since Troy Smith in 2006. Terrelle Pryor threw for 334 yards against Indiana in 2010, but those statistics were vacated. ... Michigan held Miami (Ohio) to 33 rushing yards, its lowest rushing total allowed since 2010.

Big Ten morning links

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
8:00
AM ET
A few thoughts after a wild weekend of football:

1. The revival of Gary Nova under offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen had become a popular narrative, and the Rutgers quarterback did have a decent opening game at Washington State. But Nova's bad tendencies cropped backed up in the 13-10 loss to Penn State, as he had five interceptions and only 15 completions. What I thought was his worst throw of the night -- a ridiculous, on-the-move, throw-across-his-body toss to the crowded middle of the field -- could have easily been picked off for interception No. 6.

Simply put, a senior quarterback with Nova's experience shouldn't still be making those mistakes, and the Scarlet Knights played well enough in just about every other facet to win that crucial game Saturday night. But the same old issues are there with Nova, and Rutgers risks losing the entire team if something doesn't change, Steve Politi writes. That's a harsh assessment, but inconsistent quarterback play has kept the program from reaching its full potential the past few years.

2. I've written it before, but it's beyond past time to eliminate the "ice the kicker" timeout. For one, it's poor sportsmanship, which the Big Ten supposedly treasures. A coach should not be able to call a timeout when no one on the field knows it's happening and just a split-second before the ball is snapped just to make a kicker think more. And the tactic doesn't even work that well, as Kirk Ferentz painfully found out against Iowa State. If the kicker misses the try just before the timeout, he gets another chance, and you're essentially giving him a practice kick.

Ferentz, whose clock management skills have been questioned before, should have used his timeouts more productively. The Hawkeyes let too much time slip off the clock before calling their second timeout during the final Iowa State drive. They could have preserved some time for a possible comeback instead of giving Cole Netten a second life. Netten thanked Iowa for the freeze attempt.

3. Randy Edsall used part of his news conference following Maryland's 40-37 loss to West Virginia to complain about the length of games. The Mountaineers ran 108 plays on the day, and Edsall said it's a safety problem.

“When you continually stop the clock for moving the first downs, I think there’s issues," Edsall said. "All these things that you hear with the health and welfare and safety of the student athlete, I think something has to be looked into and something has to change."

There's probably a decent point in there; for example, I agree that stopping the clock after first downs isn't really necessary, except perhaps at the end of halves. But raising those concerns after a loss isn't the right time. The Terrapins' defense could have cut down the number of plays by stopping West Virginia's offense a few more times and not giving up 694 yards. Bowling Green, by the way, ran a whopping 113 plays in its win over Indiana.

East Division
West Division

And finally, my favorite moment from Saturday ...

Another rough Saturday for the Big Ten, with just three wins in nine nonconference games. Here's what we learned:
    [+] EnlargeCole Netten
    Charlie Neibergall/Associated PressGiven a mulligan by Kirk Ferentz, Cole Netten nailed a last-second field goal to give Iowa State a win over Iowa.
  • Kirk Ferentz won’t soon live down that decision to call a timeout: Didn’t coaches learn long ago that if they want to ice the kicker with a timeout, call it before the snap so as to avoid the painful situation that bit Iowa in its 20-17 home loss to Iowa State? Ferentz signaled timeout just in time to negate Cole Netten's miss wide left from 42 yards with seconds to play. Thanks for the practice kick, Coach. Netten nailed it the second time. “We had one timeout left,” Ferentz said, “and that’s the reason I called it.” Not a good enough reason.
  • It doesn’t pay to be unbeaten in the Big Ten: Eight league teams began Saturday with perfect records. By early Sunday, it was two: Nebraska, which easily handled Fresno State 55-19, and Penn State, with a 13-10 win over Rutgers in a game that guaranteed the league an unbeaten team for one more week. Meanwhile, down went Maryland and Indiana, on last-second scores by West Virginia (40-37) and Bowling Green (45-42) in early games. Then down went the Hawkeyes, along with Minnesota and Illinois, which were blown out on the road by TCU (30-7) and Washington (44-19) after both West Division squads opened with consecutive home wins over non-Power 5 programs.
  • Ohio State has plenty of gas left in the tank: Left for dead by many after its 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech, Urban Meyer’s club produced an impressive 66-0 win over Kent State. Forget that the Hokies turned around and lost to East Carolina. And forget the opponent. (Kent State is not good.) The Buckeyes were playing against themselves. They answered the doubters, jumping to a 45-0 halftime lead behind five TD passes from J.T. Barrett in the opening 30 minutes. OSU’s young quarterback and offensive line needed this, and the schedule stays manageable for a while.
  • Penn State continues to live a charmed life: The Nittany Lions, after winning in Week 1 on a game-ending field goal and beating the Icelandic volcano eruption to get back home, led for all of 73 seconds on Saturday in spoiling Rutgers’ Big Ten debut. In its first game since getting its bowl eligibility restored, Penn State created some of its own good fortune with five interceptions of Gary Nova, and Christian Hackenberg was his usual late-game self in leading a six-play, 80-yard drive for the winning points. The Nittany Lions likely will enter October at 5-0 and need to be taken seriously as an East Division contender.
  • Nebraska starts to emerge in West: Shaky starts by Wisconsin and Iowa leave the Cornhuskers as the best-looking team in the division. But with visions still fresh of their escape against McNeese State, questions linger. Nebraska pounded Fresno State on the road Saturday night, ending the Bulldogs’ 13-game home winning streak. A nice showing, powered by a handful of big plays, but the offensive consistency was lacking, especially in the first half. Randy Gregory’s return at defensive end made a difference. The competition level rises with a visit from Miami in Week 4 and a trip to Michigan State looming. Time to learn a lot more about these Huskers.
Another rough Saturday for the Big Ten, with just three wins in nine nonconference games. Here's what we learned:
    [+] EnlargeCole Netten
    Charlie Neibergall/Associated PressGiven a mulligan by Kirk Ferentz, Cole Netten nailed a last-second field goal to give Iowa State a win over Iowa.
  • Kirk Ferentz won’t soon live down that decision to call a timeout: Didn’t coaches learn long ago that if they want to ice the kicker with a timeout, call it before the snap so as to avoid the painful situation that bit Iowa in its 20-17 home loss to Iowa State? Ferentz signaled timeout just in time to negate Cole Netten's miss wide left from 42 yards with seconds to play. Thanks for the practice kick, Coach. Netten nailed it the second time. “We had one timeout left,” Ferentz said, “and that’s the reason I called it.” Not a good enough reason.
  • It doesn’t pay to be unbeaten in the Big Ten: Eight league teams began Saturday with perfect records. By early Sunday, it was two: Nebraska, which easily handled Fresno State 55-19, and Penn State, with a 13-10 win over Rutgers in a game that guaranteed the league an unbeaten team for one more week. Meanwhile, down went Maryland and Indiana, on last-second scores by West Virginia (40-37) and Bowling Green (45-42) in early games. Then down went the Hawkeyes, along with Minnesota and Illinois, which were blown out on the road by TCU (30-7) and Washington (44-19) after both West Division squads opened with consecutive home wins over non-Power 5 programs.
  • Ohio State has plenty of gas left in the tank: Left for dead by many after its 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech, Urban Meyer’s club produced an impressive 66-0 win over Kent State. Forget that the Hokies turned around and lost to East Carolina. And forget the opponent. (Kent State is not good.) The Buckeyes were playing against themselves. They answered the doubters, jumping to a 45-0 halftime lead behind five TD passes from J.T. Barrett in the opening 30 minutes. OSU’s young quarterback and offensive line needed this, and the schedule stays manageable for a while.
  • Penn State continues to live a charmed life: The Nittany Lions, after winning in Week 1 on a game-ending field goal and beating the Icelandic volcano eruption to get back home, led for all of 73 seconds on Saturday in spoiling Rutgers’ Big Ten debut. In its first game since getting its bowl eligibility restored, Penn State created some of its own good fortune with five interceptions of Gary Nova, and Christian Hackenberg was his usual late-game self in leading a six-play, 80-yard drive for the winning points. The Nittany Lions likely will enter October at 5-0 and need to be taken seriously as an East Division contender.
  • Nebraska starts to emerge in West: Shaky starts by Wisconsin and Iowa leave the Cornhuskers as the best-looking team in the division. But with visions still fresh of their escape against McNeese State, questions linger. Nebraska pounded Fresno State on the road Saturday night, ending the Bulldogs’ 13-game home winning streak. A nice showing, powered by a handful of big plays, but the offensive consistency was lacking, especially in the first half. Randy Gregory’s return at defensive end made a difference. The competition level rises with a visit from Miami in Week 4 and a trip to Michigan State looming. Time to learn a lot more about these Huskers.

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 3

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
8:00
AM ET
Week 3 arrives with fresh reasons for optimism. There aren't any heavyweight tilts quite like the Week 2 night games, but there aren't many snoozers on this docket, either. And we get the start of Big Ten conference action. Huzzah!

Here's your rundown for the day (all times ET):

Noon games

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsWVU QB Clint Trickett ranks No. 7 in the country in passing yards with 713.
West Virginia (1-1) at Maryland (2-0), Big Ten Network: This game is getting overlooked a bit nationally but could be a pretty good one between Eastern neighbors. West Virginia gave Alabama a solid run in the opener and should be better than it was in last year's 37-0 loss to the Terps.

Indiana (1-0) at Bowling Green (1-1), ESPNU: The Hoosiers come off their odd Week 2 bye to play their first FBS team of the year. This is the first of two straight Big Ten opponents for the Falcons, who take on Wisconsin next.

Kent State (0-2) at No. 22 Ohio State (1-1), ABC/ESPN2 mirror: The Buckeyes need to work out some kinks and let off some steam after last week's Virginia Tech loss, and this game provides that chance. Kent State has lost to Ohio (the other one, Brady Hoke) and South Alabama at home already this season.

Mid-afternoon games

Miami (Ohio) (0-2) at Michigan (1-1), 3:30 p.m., BTN: You think the Wolverines have struggled of late? The RedHawks have lost 18 straight games. If this one is even competitive, things are worse than we thought in Ann Arbor.

Iowa State (0-2) at Iowa (2-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPN: The Hawkeyes have won four of the past six in the Cy-Hawk series and face a scuffling Cyclones squad at home, although Iowa State did play Kansas State close last week. Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff (knee) is not expected to play. (Oh, and I made it all week without mentioning this trophy. Whoops, I guess I just did. So close!)

Minnesota (2-0) at TCU (1-0), 4 p.m., Fox Sports 1: Good friends Jerry Kill and Gary Patterson square off in what should be a defensive battle. Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner is expected to play despite injuring his knee last week against Middle Tennessee.

Illinois (2-0) at Washington (2-0), 4 p.m., Fox: A rematch of the 1964 Rose Bowl or, more recently, last year's Huskies win in Soldier Field. Washington has a new coach in Chris Petersen and has had close calls with Hawaii and Eastern Washington the first two weeks. But the Illinois defense will need to make big-time improvements to give the team a shot.

Night games

Purdue (1-1) at Notre Dame (2-0), 7:30 p.m., NBC: The last scheduled meeting between these old rivals until 2020. You'd need something more than 20/20 vision to foresee a Boilers victory here.

Penn State (2-0) at Rutgers (2-0), 8 p.m., BTN: The Big Ten opener. Rutgers' first league game as a Big Ten member. Penn State's first game since learning it can make a bowl this year. Yeah, it's a big one.

Nebraska (2-0) at Fresno State (0-2), 10:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network: Expect a wild atmosphere in Fresno that may lift the Bulldogs, who have gotten blown out by USC and Utah thus far. Nebraska should prevail, but the late kickoff and road environment could conspire to keep this one interesting.

Week 3 byes: Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin

Required reading

Tracking our B1G fantasy teams: Week 3

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
4:30
PM ET
I demand a redraft.

We’re hosting our league on the ESPN College Football Challenge, and The Trombone Shorties currently rank No. 3 overall – nationally – in points scored. It hasn’t been close yet, but hopefully that’s about to change. Your Week 2 results:

The Trombone Shorties (Adam Rittenberg): 160
Massive Attack (Austin Ward): 119
Coal Crackers (Josh Moyer): 91
Sherman Tanks (Mitch Sherman): 81
Legendary Leaders (Brian Bennett): 70

And your overall standings so far:

The Trombone Shorties (Rittenberg): 333
Massive Attack (Ward): 227
Legendary Leaders (Bennett): 206
Coal Crackers (Moyer): 195
Sherman Tanks (Sherman): 177

The Shorties have a big lead, but a lot can change in this league. We only have one bench spot, so bye weeks can be killer. The waiver wire is especially important, so here’s a look at our moves this week:

Sherman adds Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner and drops Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian

Moyer adds Penn State RB Bill Belton and drops Michigan State kickers

Bennett adds Illinois WR Martize Barr and drops Michigan RB Derrick Green

Rittenberg adds Purdue QB Danny Etling and drops Wisconsin RB Corey Clements

Sherman adds Michigan RB Derrick Green and drops Maryland WR Deon Long

Moyer adds Michigan kickers and drops Michigan State WR Tony Lippett

Bennett adds Michigan defense and drops Rutgers defense

Rittenberg adds Iowa defense and drops Minnesota defense

Moyer takes Penn State defense and drops Michigan State defense

Waiver-wire overview: Most of the moves this week were simply made because our players were on bye, but there were a few exceptions. The big switched happened on Bennett's team, where he tried to upgrade at wideout by picking up Barr and sliding Kenny Bell over to his bench. Bell has gotten off to a bit of a slow start, while Barr is sure to rack up some numbers with Wes Lunt under center. Both Bennett and Rittenberg also both substituted their defenses for more favorable matchups.

The Trombone Shorties (Rittenberg)
Purdue QB Danny Etling
Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Rutgers RB Paul James
Michigan WR Devin Funchess
Penn State WR Jesse James
Ohio State kickers
Iowa defense
Bench: Michigan State QB Connor Cook (on bye)

Massive Attack (Ward)

Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld
Illinois RB Josh Ferguson
Minnesota RB David Cobb
Ohio State WR Devin Smith
Penn State WR Geno Lewis
Nebraska kickers
Ohio State defense
Bench: Rutgers QB Gary Nova (vs. Penn State)

Legendary Leaders (Bennett)

Michigan QB Devin Gardner
Maryland QB C.J. Brown
Indiana RB Tevin Coleman
Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott
Illinois WR Martize Barr
Nebraska WR Jordan Westerkamp
Maryland kickers
Michigan defense
Bench: Nebraska WR Kenny Bell (at Fresno State)

Coal Crackers (Moyer)

Illinois QB Wes Lunt
Iowa QB Jake Rudock
Penn State RB Bill Belton
Iowa RB Mark Weisman
Maryland WR Stefon Diggs
Indiana WR Shane Wynn
Michigan kickers
Penn State defense
Bench: Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (on bye)

Sherman Tanks (Sherman)

Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg
Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner
Michigan RB Derrick Green
Penn State RB Zach Zwinak
Penn State WR DaeSean Hamilton
Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo
Penn State kickers
Nebraska defense
Bench: Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford (on bye)

Watch: Big Ten live chat, 2 p.m. ET

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
9:30
AM ET
To watch on your mobile device click here.

Join Big Ten reporters Josh Moyer and Austin Ward as they talk about how the conference rebounds from a tough Week 2, discusses Penn State's future without sanctions and looks ahead to Week 3.


Big Ten Week 3 predictions

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
9:00
AM ET
Reports of the Big Ten's death are greatly exaggerated. Look, they're still playing games in Week 3 and everything.



Why West Virginia wins: Maryland crushed West Virginia 37-0 last year in Baltimore, but Dana Holgorsen brings a much better team to College Park. Quarterback Clint Trickett looks like a different player so far, and the Mountaineers seem much more competent on defense. The Terrapins have been a bit sloppy so far (seven turnovers in two games) and it will cost them in a close one. West Virginia 31, Maryland 28. -- Adam Rittenberg

Why Maryland wins: A lot of concerns remain on a West Virginia defense that was among the worst in the nation last season. So the Mountaineers can score -- but can they stop the Terps? Granted, Maryland didn't look great in the last outing, but there's simply too much firepower here for the offense to stay down. WR Stefon Diggs is an elite talent, and the defense is at least average. Maryland 31, West Virginia 24. -- Josh Moyer



Why Penn State will win: The Scarlet Knights turned heads by flying across the country and knocking off Washington State. But the Cougars followed that up by losing to Nevada. That leaves Rutgers as somewhat of a mystery, and while it will have a raucous home crowd and plenty of motivation for a rivalry game in its Big Ten debut, the Nittany Lions suddenly have even more to play for after their NCAA postseason sanctions were repealed this week. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg is throwing for 386.5 yards per game, which could be trouble for a Rutgers defense that has allowed more yards than any team in the conference through two weeks. Still, this should be an entertaining game. Penn State 35, Rutgers 31. -- Austin Ward

Why Rutgers will win: Rutgers' shaky pass defense certainly concerns me against Hackenberg. But Penn State hasn't been dominant, either, and the Scarlet Knights' defensive front seven could pose some problems for the Nittany Lions' offensive line and mostly invisible run game. I expect this one to come down to the wire in an emotional game for both sides. The home-field advantage and Rutgers' desire to prove itself on a B1G stage cause me to go with the mild upset. Rutgers 28, Penn State 27. -- Brian Bennett

Unanimous decisions

Indiana over Bowling Green, 31-21: A rested Hoosiers team comes out firing against a Falcons squad that was blown out by Western Kentucky and lost its starting QB.

Michigan over Miami (Ohio), 48-7: The Wolverines take out some frustration from last week's Notre Dame fiasco against the overmatched RedHawks.

Ohio State over Kent State, 38-3: The Buckeyes work out their own frustrations against another MAC pushover.

Washington over Illinois, 44-31: The Illini keep it interesting behind Wes Lunt's arm, but their defense isn't yet good enough to slow the Huskies.

Iowa over Iowa State, 21-17: It's a slugfest, and offensive lineman Brandon Scherff's injury limits the Hawkeyes' offense enough to keep this one close.

TCU over Minnesota, 17-13: Another low-scoring, defensive slog; the Gophers' lack of a passing attack (especially with gimpy QB Mitch Leidner) dooms them.

Nebraska over Fresno State, 34-24: The Huskers get a scare, but they finally pull away in the fourth quarter behind RB Ameer Abdullah.

Notre Dame over Purdue, 37-17: The Boilermakers just don't have the talent to hang with QB Everett Golson and the Irish.

Our records:
Austin Ward: 21-5
Brian Bennett: 20-6
Adam Rittenberg: 20-6
Mitch Sherman: 20-6
Josh Moyer: 19-7

Big Ten morning links

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
8:00
AM ET
In just more than 48 hours, the Big Ten can finally get back on the field and start erasing those painful memories from last week. Maybe the opportunities to wash out the stains of a miserable Week 2 aren't as plentiful this Saturday, but the process has to start somewhere. These three developments will be key, and there's plenty of news to dive into after that.

1. Jerry Kill's old buddy and a guy he hails as a defensive genius is certainly cooking up something special for Minnesota's visit, and TCU coach Gary Patterson isn't going to take it easy on his longtime friend. The road trip is going to be difficult no matter what, but it might be more manageable now that quarterback Mitch Leidner is officially expected to play against the Horned Frogs. There's been uncertainty swirling around the sophomore since he injured his knee late in Saturday's win over Middle Tennessee State, and while Minnesota had been publicly optimistic about his availability throughout the week, Kill made it quite clear on Wednesday that Leidner would be playing. The Gophers haven't exactly lit the world on fire through two games offensively, but taking their field general out of the lineup would have made for a pretty tall order against a coach who isn't afraid to dial up some pressure packages.

2. The offseason quarterback competition at Michigan always seemed contrived and destined to be won by Devin Gardner, more of a challenge to the starter than an indicator of a tight competition. Coming off another turnover-filled loss, it seems more clear than ever that the Wolverines don't have an alternative they feel confident enough to play with Brady Hoke standing firmly behind his senior. "He's our quarterback," Hoke said Wednesday. Those three words can always change if Gardner has any more 3-interception outings, and the loss at Notre Dame was only one game. But if Shane Morris had really been challenging Gardner for playing time, wouldn't now be a perfect opportunity to test him out with Miami (Ohio) coming to the Big House?

3. Which seems stranger at this early juncture: Ohio State ranking No. 10 in the conference in rushing or Indiana sitting last in the league in passing yardage? Those attacks were the best in the Big Ten a year ago in those categories, showing how differently the spread could be used to keep defenses off balance and making it look easy to find the end zone. The Hoosiers have only played once, and they really didn't need to air it out to beat Indiana State, so perhaps Kevin Wilson's play-calling and the postgame stats sheet will be more recognizable after visiting Bowling Green. But the Buckeyes might have a tougher time getting back to what has been so successful for them until their young offensive line comes together and starts opening up the kind of holes four seniors provided Carlos Hyde last year.

East Division
  • Does being a "Michigan Man" give Hoke more fan support than his predecessor? He answered that question and defended the Big Ten.
  • James Franklin still isn't sure exactly how Penn State might be able to get all the way back up to 85 scholarship players by next season, even though it is once again allowed to hit that number.
  • The atmosphere for primetime games and the chance to play in matchups like Saturday's against Penn State is part of the reason Darius Hamilton signed with Rutgers.
  • Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley is expecting shifting looks and personnel from West Virginia ahead of the showdown on Saturday.
  • Ohio State had some problems with drops in its loss to Virginia Tech. It might look to break in a couple new faces at wide receiver against Kent State.
  • Instead of hearing from teammates wanting the ball from him, Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld is getting more requests for unique handshakes.
  • A closer look at some Michigan State players who are off to slow starts.
West Division
  • Illinois will have its hands full with a Washington offense coming off a 59-point outburst. Expect a shootout on Saturday.
  • Nebraska has had to tweak its travel plans for the long journey over to Fresno State and the late kickoff when the program gets there.
  • Another series with Notre Dame is coming to an end, although it's only temporary and there's far less fanfare around the annual meetings with Purdue.
  • Pat Fitzgerald isn't just blowing smoke about toughening up Northwestern based on the practice location on Wednesday.
  • Friends may not like to play against each other, but TCU coach Gary Patterson said there weren't any other options as the two programs put together a home-and-home.
  • What is going on with Iowa's rushing attack?
  • Wisconsin has already played more true freshmen this year than it did all of last season.
There's a new scheme that allows for better pass-rushing opportunities, more confidence, and perhaps most simply, a healthy body at Bobby Richardson's disposal.

Any or all of those factors can be pointed to for perhaps the most surprising individual start in the Big Ten with the Indiana defensive lineman bursting out of the blocks with 3 sacks in a season-opening win. But rather than try to explain his early success, Richardson is more focused on trying to duplicate it this week at Bowling Green.

“That felt good,” Richardson said. “We had a week off early and some guys around the Big Ten had a chance to catch up [in sacks]. But I'm going to try my best to stay in front of them and separate myself just so Indiana can be known for the way we work.”

[+] EnlargeBobby Richardson
Pat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsSenior Bobby Richardson had 5.5 sacks in his career before busting out for three sacks in the season opener.
That's exactly what coach Kevin Wilson wants, too. And right now his top priority might be keeping the Hoosiers and their new-look defense grounded until they've proven themselves for more than just one week.

Wilson isn't necessarily expecting that to be an issue, particularly with a veteran like Richardson who has three years of experience in the program to draw on and a healthy groin after offseason surgery which is allowing him to practice at a higher level more consistently. With just 5.5 sacks in his career before the breakout performance against Indiana State, Wilson is also quick to point out there's plenty of circumstances from that game that might have contributed to Richardson's big outing or skewed his numbers -- and it's up to him to show that it wasn't a fluke.

“He was sporting that hernia, groin injury, and he had played well but was a little bit nagged,” Wilson said. “He wasn't able to maybe train or practice as consistently as high as he has this summer and this preseason camp. But he had that procedure in the offseason, he's very, very healthy, and he had by far his best camp. Short term, he's gotten off to a good start.

“We'll see if that will continue or if he can maintain that. He's put it up for a one-week deal, we'll see how he moves against Bowling Green and the challenge they bring.”

That message isn't just aimed at Richardson, and it also surely applies to more than just his defensive teammates.

Thanks to an early bye week ahead of the trip to Bowling Green, the Hoosiers only have a win over an FCS program to their credit so far as they try to climb back into a bowl game for the first time since 2007. So whether it's Tevin Coleman's eye-popping rushing statistics or Richardson jumping out to an early lead in the sack race, at this point Indiana still has to go out and show that those kinds of performances are repeatable against stiffer competition.

“That's a great way to build confidence though,” Richardson said. “I missed spring ball and I had to put back in my extra work just to get back out there and stay healthy. I came out with a great start and I feel my confidence is way higher than it was.

“I already had a lot of it, but I think it can carry over and help my teammates, too. We all just have to keep working.”

For starters, the offseason work appeared to pay off in the opener. Now Richardson and the Hoosiers just have to go out and do it again.

Big Ten morning links

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
8:00
AM ET
News, notes and observations coming right at you:

1. The hits keep on coming for Northwestern: First, it lost its star running back due to transfer. Then its top two wideouts came down with injuries, as Christian Jones is out for the season. Now? Quarterback Trevor Siemian is coming off a "minor" leg injury, and DT C.J. Robbins will miss the next game after the Big Ten suspended him for throwing a punch Saturday. He'll only miss the Western Illinois contest, so the Wildcats shouldn't be affected much. But, every week, it seems as if there's more bad news for Pat Fitzgerald's squad. Northwestern continues to make the kinds of headlines it wants to avoid, and it keeps getting harder for the Cats to stop this downward spiral. Maybe that finally ends next week?

2. RU should remove Ray Rice's art from campus -- and be open about it: Yes, Rutgers has been asked about whether it plans to scrub Rice's photos completely. No, it's declined to come out and say exactly what it plans to do, although you can probably read between the lines when a spokesman says the university plans to change "all the art around our program." Here's an idea: Let's just be transparent and direct about this. It's difficult to celebrate Rice's on-field feats at Rutgers after watching that video. And it would be a huge misstep if Rice's photos remained at the football building through all this. Although, as it's been pointed out, at least Rutgers announced such photos would not be at the football stadium ... several hours after it wouldn't say for sure.

3. Oh say, did you see Maryland's jerseys? I don't care how you feel about the Terps, you have to admit these are pretty cool. The new uniforms, which were inspired by the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore and the writing of the Star-Spangled Banner, are now the most patriotic in all of sports. The helmet and jersey even feature the words to Francis Scott Key's "Defense of Fort McHenry," a poem that was transformed into the national anthem. That's the best part, in my opinion. These jerseys would look incredibly out of place at, say, Michigan or Penn State ... or, really, just about any other team in the Big Ten. But at Maryland? It's obviously a perfect fit.

Now, onto the links ...

East Division
  • DT Willie Henry entered Michigan without much fanfare, but he's one of the defense's bright spots now.
West Division
  • Without left tackle Brandon Scherff, Iowa will need to find success running the ball by adopting the "Next Man In" philosophy.
  • Purdue's Austin Appleby is ready for his turn at quarterback, if the coaches decide to plug him in Saturday.
  • Wes Lunt's slow starts can't follow Illinois to Washington.
Extra point

The Big Ten's path to the playoff

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
11:00
AM ET
video
Week 2 confirmed what many had long suspected: the Big Ten's most recent expansion moves were a mistake. Yes, Maryland and Rutgers are really regretting joining a less relevant league.

I kid, I kid! (Hey, it's better to laugh than cry, right?). There's no getting around what a disaster last weekend was for the Big Ten, and plenty of pundits have already thrown dirt on the league's College Football Playoff chances -- some of whom seemed to enjoy playing undertaker a little too much, but that's another story. Colleague Mark Schlabach doesn't have a single Big Ten team still in playoff contention in his weekly eliminator, ignoring that eight conference teams are still, you know, undefeated.

But to bury the Big Ten after two weeks of games is to miss two key points: 1) nobody really knows how the selection committee will work in December and 2) college football seasons often take some wacky twists and turns. Who would have ever thought, for instance, that a two-loss team could win the BCS national title? LSU did just that in the 2007 season.

Now, we're not going to pretend that everything is rosy for the Big Ten. Far from it. But let's play optimist now and look at some of the ways in which a league team could still wind up in Pasadena (or New Orleans) on New Year's Day:
  • Iowa, Nebraska or a total surprise team runs the table: Let's not forget that several teams remain unbeaten. Iowa has yet to impress, and Nebraska nearly lost to McNeese State. So it's hard to see them going undefeated, and neither will pile up impressive nonconference wins (Miami's blowout loss on Labor Day hurt the Huskers). Still, the committee would likely find it very tough to keep out any undefeated major conference champion, especially one with name-brand power like Nebraska or Iowa. Or what if a newly-eligible Penn State or some bomber like Rutgers, Maryland, Minnesota, Illinois or Indiana finishes without a blemish? Stranger things have happened. Well, OK, not many.
  • Ducks soar, Spartans soldier on: The 19-point margin of Michigan State's loss to Oregon hurts, undoubtedly. The Spartans now really need Oregon to not just win but dominate the Pac-12. If the Ducks finish 13-0 and are seeded first or second, MSU backers could point to how their team led by nine points in the third quarter before getting overwhelmed late. That would also require Mark Dantonio's club running the table in impressive fashion. Remember the Spartans lost last September to a mediocre Notre Dame team but would still have made the playoff had there been one.
  • The Big 12 falters: The Big Ten is providing cover for a Big 12 that looks very top heavy (hello, Texas). If Oklahoma were to lose, the Big 12 champ almost assuredly wouldn't have a glittering résumé, as the committee must punish Baylor for its shameful schedule, and that league has no title game. A two-loss Big 12 champ? Even better.
  • Separation in the SEC and Pac-12: Let's assume the Big Ten champ compares favorably to the Big 12 winner. The next concern would be a second Power 5 team getting in ahead of both leagues, most likely from the Pac-12 or SEC. That's why the Big Ten should root for Oregon to win the Pac-12 and no second team to come close to the Ducks, and either total chaos or only one dominant team in the SEC.
  • Notre Dame losing once or twice: Big Ten fans already root for the Irish to lose every week, so this should come naturally.
  • A big jump by Ohio State: The Buckeyes have lost two of their last three games to ACC teams, so that certainly doesn't help. But Ohio State also probably has the biggest room for growth of any Big Ten team because of its young talent. Urban Meyer needs to get that talent to take off right away and for the Buckeyes to go on a tear. The selection committee is supposed to consider complete body of work, but all human beings' minds lean toward recency. A strong finish by the Buckeyes matters, especially if the committee is inclined to forgive an early-season loss while Meyer broke in a new QB.
  • A thrilling league title game: Pit a one-loss Michigan State or Ohio State versus undefeated Nebraska or Iowa or one-loss Wisconsin and have a high-level game. Big Ten detractors would still howl, but seasoned committee members might see otherwise. The worst thing that could happen is for one division winner to limp into Indianapolis with three or more losses, eliminating any credibility-gaining possibilities.

Is it an uphill climb for the Big Ten? No doubt. But Jim Delany has already scaled Mount Kilimanjaro. In comparison, this will be a leisurely Sunday hike.

Big Ten morning links

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
8:00
AM ET
Three thoughts to kick off a fine Tuesday morning.
  • The timing of Penn State's bowl ban being lifted coincides nicely with Saturday's trip to Rutgers. We knew the Scarlet Knights faithful would be geared up for Rutgers' Big Ten debut against the program of record in the Mid-Atlantic region. Now Penn State fans will be even more energized as their team is eligible for a Big Ten championship and a postseason berth. I'll be at a non-Big Ten venue on Saturday night, but I can't wait to see the images from Piscataway, as High Points Solutions Stadium will be rocking for the first conference game of the season. Good times.
  • The Big Ten's Week 3 schedule lacks the national showcase opportunities we saw in Week 2, but there are some sneaky good matchups that could help or hurt the league's profile. Illinois aims for a bowl-boosting road upset against Washington, which has struggled in its first two games under new coach Chris Petersen. West Virginia, which visits Maryland on Saturday, looks much improved after testing Alabama in Week 1 and thumping Towson. Minnesota tries to validate its stock with a road win against TCU, while Iowa faces an Iowa State team that nearly stunned Kansas State last week. Notre Dame is a heavy favorite against Purdue, but the Boilermakers have given the Irish their best shot in recent years.
  • Perhaps we should expect this early in the season, but it seems like Big Ten coaches are being outwitted quite a bit by their opponents. In Week 1, Northwestern's staff admitted it didn't expect Cal to use freshman quarterback Luke Rubenzer as a complement to Jared Goff. Now Ohio State's coaches say they didn't expect Virginia Tech's defense to load the box so much or Hokies quarterback Michael Brewer to move around so much in the pocket. "That is the first time I've seen that kind of defense, maybe in our coaching career, where they were all [within] six yards [of the line of scrimmage]," Urban Meyer said. Meyer is a big fan of hyperbole, so take that into account. I just wonder when Big Ten teams will get the schematic edge in some of these games.

To the links ...

Penn State
East Division
West Division
And, finally ...

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