Big Ten: Indiana Hoosiers
This is our last one of the season, and since we've pretty much exhausted all the competitive bonus categories, we've added a special holiday-themed one to get you ready for tomorrow.
Away we go ...
Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year
1. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (six first-place votes): When Wisconsin absolutely needed Gordon to come through in the fourth quarter at Iowa, he did just that. Not much more left to say about this special player and his historic season.
2. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: The records keep falling for the Buckeyes' redshirt freshman, who'd probably be a runaway winner if Gordon had been born a couple of years earlier or later. Barrett will likely settle for the quarterback of the year trophy -- not a bad consolation prize.
3. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: He's 94 yards away from 2,000 for this season. Unbelievable season, but again, just bad timing for a major award.
4. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: He showed his heart by rushing for 98 yards despite a bad knee and shoulder vs. Minnesota. I think he would have made a run at 2,000, too, if not for those unfortunate late-season injuries.
5. Minnesota RB David Cobb: He injured his hamstring in the second half at Nebraska and is questionable for the finale at Wisconsin. The Gophers need their workhorse back.
Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year
1. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa (six first-place votes): Simply the most destructive defensive player in the Big Ten all season. He'll be back as a true junior for the Buckeyes next season, which is scary.
2. Penn State LB Mike Hull: On pace for a 130-tackle regular season, Hull has been as consistently good as it gets from the linebacker position.
3. Michigan LB Jake Ryan: He was named a finalist for the Butkus Award on Monday. Hull has had a better season overall, but Ryan has still been outstanding as a senior.
4. Wisconsin LB Vince Biegel: One of the Badgers' "Chevy Bad Boys," Biegel leads the Big Ten's top defense with 14.5 tackles for loss.
5. Minnesota CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun: The Big Ten co-defensive player of the week, he has a been a big-play machine all season, including his forced fumble and recovery to seal the win at Nebraska.
Also receiving votes: Penn State DT Anthony Zettel; Minnesota LB Damien Wilson
1. Stuffing (four first-place votes): That's right. It's almost Thanksgiving, so we're ranking the best dishes on Turkey Day. And in perhaps a slight upset, preseason favorite turkey did not come in first. Stuffing pulled off a J.T. Barrett-like surprise. Because it is awesome. Especially my grandma's.
2. Turkey (two first-place votes): It is the featured back, if you will, of the entire Thanksgiving attack. Says Josh Moyer: "You guys haven't lived until you've tried it deep-fried."
3. Pumpkin pie: Dessert is kind of like the special teams of Thanksgiving meals; you can't win with it alone but it can't be forgotten, either. Pecan pie also received one vote (from Dan Murphy), though I'd argue it's too sweet unless part of a Derby Pie. Austin Ward voted for "any kind of pie." I like where his head's at.
Also receiving votes: Mashed potatoes, grilled potatoes, potatoes au gratin and any kind of potatoes.
Why Iowa will win: Based on the roller-coaster ride Iowa has been on lately, now is the time to jump back in and hang on tight as the regular season comes to a close. The Hawkeyes actually impressed even in a losing effort last week against Wisconsin, and with Nebraska reeling and having to go on the road, expect Kirk Ferentz to get his team ready to capitalize. The Blackshirts have been a mess down the stretch once again, and Black Friday won’t be any different with Jake Rudock leading an Iowa passing attack that somewhat surprisingly ranks No. 4 in the Big Ten. ... Iowa 31, Nebraska 20. -- Austin Ward
Why Nebraska will win: Are the Huskers trending downward? You bet. But Iowa is not nearly as good as Wisconsin or Minnesota. The Huskers still boast the better total offense here -- they're 34 spots ahead of Iowa in the national rankings at No. 29 -- and the better scoring offense, with 10 points more per game. The defense has been up and down, but Mark Weisman is no Melvin Gordon or David Cobb. And Ameer Abdullah is only getting healthier. Iowa hangs tough but loses in the end. ... Nebraska 28, Iowa 24. -- Josh Moyer
Why Indiana will win: It’s time to cash in the chips on Purdue. I’ve been a believer in the Boilers since they beat Illinois in early October, then hung around with Michigan State and Minnesota. But things have gone downhill. Lately, Purdue can’t run the football, and it can’t stop the run -- a bad combination, especially against Tevin Coleman. The Indiana junior will have a huge day and cruise past 2,000 rushing yards for the season in perhaps his last collegiate game. Defensively, the Hoosiers haven’t stopped a decent offense all year, but they’ve got enough left to avoid a winless Big Ten season. ... Indiana 38, Purdue 24. -- Mitch Sherman
Why Purdue will win: Purdue's production has taken a step backward since scoring 38 against Minnesota and threatening to take down the Gophers. The Boilermakers stumble into the Hoosier State battle, but Indiana is exactly what the doctor ordered in that front. No one on Purdue's roster compares to Tevin Coleman, but speedy senior Raheem Mostert can have a big day against Indiana's run defense. Austin Appleby proves to be the difference to help Darrell Hazell end his second year on a high note. ... Purdue 24, Indiana 20. -- Dan Murphy
Ohio State 35, Michigan 14: No, Brady Hoke, there is no Santa Claus. The Wolverines simply do not have enough offensive competence to hang with the Buckeyes on the road, though emotion will help them keep it close into the third quarter.
Wisconsin 24, Minnesota 20: The Gophers have a real chance here, but the potential absence of David Cobb (hamstring) and the road environment will make it tough. Melvin Gordon is held under 200 yards but rips off the game-winning score in the fourth quarter.
Maryland 31, Rutgers 23: The Scarlet Knights' only win since Oct. 4 was at home against Indiana. The Terps have been playing much better than their fellow first-year Big Ten newbie, and they'll protect home field to spoil Ralph Friedgen's homecoming.
Northwestern 28, Illinois 21: It's win or go home for both teams. The Wildcats are surging at the right time, having scored 81 points in back-to-back wins the past two weeks. The loss of quarterback Trevor Siemian (ACL) hurts Northwestern, but picking the Illini to win consecutive Big Ten games strains logic.
Michigan State 19, Penn State 10: Don't underestimate the power of Senior Day in Beaver Stadium, as we've seen the Nittany Lions put up strong performances in their regular-season finales the past two years. Their defense will also cause the Spartans some trouble. But Penn State is going to a bowl regardless, and its offense has few options against Pat Narduzzi's defense.
1. Austin Ward: 83-22 (.790)
2. Dan Murphy: 53-15 (.779)
T-3. Brian Bennett: 81-24 (.771)
T-3. Mitch Sherman: 81-24 (.771)
5. Adam Rittenberg: 78-27 (.743)
6. Josh Moyer: 77-28 (.733)
Adam Rittenberg: Wisconsin needs a late rally to beat Minnesota
There's something about these Golden Gophers, who have turned a corner under Jerry Kill and aren't just a cute little story any more. After winning rivalry trophies against both Michigan and Iowa, Minnesota aims for the Axe and leads for most of Saturday's game at Camp Randall Stadium. Remember, Wisconsin lost its home finale last year and might not have the benefit of the usual raucous student section. The Badgers gather themselves in the fourth quarter and take the lead on a 70-yard Melvin Gordon touchdown run to chop Minnesota (sorry, Rutgers) and advance to their third Big Ten title game in four seasons.
Dan Murphy: J.T. Barrett will pass or run for a career high.
Barrett makes his debut in the heated Michigan rivalry with one of his top performances of the year. The Buckeyes offense shouldn't have any issue moving the ball Saturday, it's just not clear yet whether they will spend more time in the air or on the ground. Barrett ran for 189 yards against Minnesota and threw for 330 yards against Cincinnati. One of those season- and career-high marks is likely to fall against a Wolverines team that doesn't have much left to play for in the regular-season finale.
Brian Bennett: Penn State takes Michigan State to the wire
James Franklin was passionate in his press conference this week, and I expect the Nittany Lions to play the same way at home on senior day. Penn State doesn't match up well with Michigan State on paper, but they didn't against Ohio State, either. This is a better team at home, and while the offensive line will have its troubles against the Spartans' pass rush, I expect Franklin's team to turn in one of its better efforts of the season.
Austin Ward: Jake Rudock sets a new career high in passing yards.
The Hawkeyes' performance varies from game to game, and some inconsistency from their junior quarterback has been part of the problem. But when Iowa is aggressive with its play-calling, Rudock seems to gain confidence and has shown an ability to pick apart a few defenses with three 300-yard passing performances this season. Nebraska has been pretty solid for the most part with the No. 5 pass defense in the Big Ten, but the program is reeling right now and Rudock is poised to take advantage on the way to topping his career-best 322 yards set earlier this season.
Mitch Sherman: Tevin Coleman makes a run at the single-game FBS rushing record
After Melvin Gordon went for 408 against Nebraska on Nov. 15, Oklahoma freshman Samaje Perine churned out 427 against Kansas last week. How about three weeks in a row? After all, Coleman is red hot, with 535 rushing yards in the past two games, including 228 against Ohio State in the Horseshoe. And Purdue’s defense has allowed an average of 251 yards on the ground to its past five opponents. I like Coleman to go over 2,000 for the season in the first quarter (he’s at 1,906) and stay on pace with Perine into the second half. In the end, he falls short, rushing for a career-best 315 as Indiana earns its lone Big Ten victory in what is likely Coleman’s final game as a Hoosier.
Josh Moyer: Tevin Coleman and Melvin Gordon both rush for more than 200 yards.
The Nos. 1 and 2 rushers in the nation have both picked up more than 200 yards in each of the last two weeks -- and it just so happens those two weeks are the only times both Coleman and Gordon reached the mark on the same weekend. I'm predicting it happens for a third straight week. Neither of their opponents' run defenses are particularly strong, with Purdue ranked No. 90 and Minnesota at No. 52, so the opportunity is there for both backs. They're both on a hot streak, and they both have a lot on the line (last game for Indiana, title hopes for Wisconsin), So, it should be another week of dominance.
While the award should have included Minnesota's David Cobb as a semifinalist, at least it got the next round of voting right. All three finalists for the trophy that goes to the nation's top running back are from the Big Ten: Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Indiana's Tevin Coleman and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah.
It's a richly deserved recognition for all three guys, and it's great to see Coleman get his due despite playing on a 3-8 team. It will be a major surprise if Gordon doesn't bring home the trophy next month.
Several other major college football awards announced their finalists Tuesday night. Gordon is also a finalist for the Maxwell Award --which goes to the nation's top player -- along with Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Mississippi State's Dak Prescott.
Here are other finalists from the league:
Bednarik Award (top defensive player)
Ohio State DE Joey Bosa
Outland Trophy (top lineman)
Iowa OT Brandon Scherff
John Mackey Award (top tight end)
Minnesota's Maxx Williams
Lou Groza Award (top placekicker)
Maryland's Brad Craddock
The one mild surprise out of the night's announcements was that Ohio State's J.T. Barrett wasn't a finalist for the Davey O'Brien Award (top QB). Mariota, Prescott and TCU's Trevone Boykin edged him out.
Congratulations to all the awards finalists. Winners will be announced at The Home Depot College Football Awards Show on Dec. 11 in Orlando.
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.
Pat Fitzgerald says he would be in favor of the Big Ten giving its teams the week off for Thanksgiving.— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) November 25, 2014
Brady Hoke asked about the impact of Rutgers and Maryland joining the Big Ten: "Well, for us it hasn't been very good." Mich. lost to both.— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) November 25, 2014
Mark Dantonio says he's been "very impressed" with ability of Rutgers and Maryland to adjust to Big Ten. MSU beat them by a combined 82-18.— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) November 25, 2014
Brady Hoke on what has stood out watching Ohio State on film: "Both sides of the ball, and their kicking game, too." So, everything.— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) November 25, 2014
Kill on a chance to reach B1G title game with a win: "We're probably doing it sooner than I thought we would."— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) November 25, 2014
Franklin says that being in the pocket is Hackenberg's strength -- but having a pocket isn't a strength of the offense.— Josh Moyer (@ESPNJoshMoyer) November 25, 2014
Jerry Kill on stopping Melvin Gordon: "It's an issue... He's like a missile." Stresses gap control is essential.— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) November 25, 2014
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill on the status of running back David Cobb: "He'll be very questionable."— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) November 25, 2014
The combination of those two things made it quite clear to the Buckeyes what they were up against last weekend, though, which was exactly why they were feeling so good about the job they had done in the first half against Tevin Coleman.
"I mean, I felt like we were shutting him down pretty good," Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee said. "But when he has his opportunity, a chance to make a big play, he takes it. It's a credit to him. He's a really good running back, and I think he's really impressive in that aspect because I felt like we were shutting him down for most of the game.
"Give him two opportunities, and he'll make those plays. I see what all the hype is about, and it's true."
Coleman has steadily converted any doubters into believers during his breakout junior campaign, which has been all the more impressive because the Hoosiers have essentially needed him to fly solo for a short-handed, one-dimensional offense. And even without much support, few defenses have been able to keep Coleman grounded for long, as the Buckeyes learned when he shook off a 15-carry, 50-yard first half with a dazzling 90-yard sprint to the end zone that briefly gave Indiana a lead over the No. 6 team in the country.
Ohio State eventually pulled away and wasn't threatened down the stretch, sending the Hoosiers to an eighth loss this season and once again blocking out some of the spotlight Coleman certainly deserves but doesn't usually get.
His team loses too much, which isn't exactly his fault but occasionally makes it easy to forget what he's doing so far outside of the national conversation. The Big Ten is also historically loaded at running back and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon casts a large shadow, which not even rushing for 1,906 yards and 15 touchdowns can quite allow Coleman to escape.
Those two factors alone have effectively knocked him out of the Heisman Trophy conversation despite his long list of impressive accomplishments this season. The teams that have played against him this year have no trouble recognizing how special Coleman's talent truly is, though, and obviously the Hoosiers know what they have in him and would dearly love him to return for another year with the program. But with eye-popping statistics and draft stock that perhaps can't get too much higher, hanging on to Coleman might prove just as difficult for coach Kevin Wilson. It could also make Saturday's battle for the Old Oaken Bucket against Purdue the last chance to appreciate him before he's gone.
"To me he's going to be one of the all-time great Hoosiers and one of the all-time great kids I've coached just because of the way he does it every day, not just Saturdays," Wilson said. " ... He takes a lot of nickels, and he'll get you some quarters and 50 cents and dollar bills out of it because he can make some guys miss and go the distance.
"His ability for the home run play is legit."
The Buckeyes weren't the first team to find that out and it certainly shouldn't come as a surprise to the Boilermakers, who have fresh evidence to break down with Coleman coming off a performance that ended up at 228 yards with 3 touchdowns after the somewhat sluggish start.
But will Purdue be the last team on the list before he moves on? If so, the rest of the Big Ten almost certainly will be glad to see him go.
"I wish him well in the NFL if that's what his desire is, because he's a really good back," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "He's a top-10 back -- maybe higher than that."
That will ultimately be up to professional scouts and general managers to decide, potentially sooner than later.
But good luck finding anybody who has played against Coleman this season and walked away not believing he's worthy of some hype.
1. And then there were two ...: Bovada released its updated odds Monday on the Heisman Trophy winner, and only two names are left: Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon. Mariota is the favorite with 1-3 odds, while Gordon is at 2-1. All other players/bets are off the board.
I've said this before, but I'm really not sure what else Gordon has to do to pass Mariota here. In a land where there's just Jesus, girls and Marcus Mariota, the Oregon quarterback has had an unbelievable season. But Gordon's performance is maybe the best from a running back in the last 25 years. Look at past Heisman-winning running backs -- Mark Ingram, Rashaan Salaam, Ron Dayne, Ricky Williams, Eddie George -- and, with the exception of Williams, Gordon has more rushing yards, more yards per carry and more TDs than all of them. And he's just 15 yards and two TDs shy of tying Williams' production; plus, he's averaging 2.4 yards a carry more than Williams. This isn't just a great season for Gordon; it's historically great. He's having one of the best seasons in NCAA history.
2. Ralph Friedgen returning to Maryland: The Rutgers' offensive coordinator is not being made available to the media this week ... but it's pretty clear he doesn't like this week's opponent in Maryland. OK, let's be honest: He hates Maryland. He was fired as its coach in 2010, the same year he was named ACC Coach of the Year, which obviously doesn't happen too often. And he didn't hold back a few years ago when discussing his alma mater: "I could care less about Maryland, I've burned my diploma. ...Well, they talk about Maryland pride. They didn't show me a whole lot of Maryland pride, either getting the job or getting fired."
Think this game doesn't take on a bit more of added importance? Rutgers players told NJ.com there's some added motivation this week. It's a storyline worth following, and it'll be interesting to see how both Friedgen and Maryland fans react to his homecoming.
3. Jerry Kill or Urban Meyer?: One of them has to wind up as the Big Ten coach of the year -- but which one is it going to be? Minnesota has undoubtedly exceeded expectations this season by picking up the Little Brown Jug and the Floyd of Rosedale ... but Meyer's on the cusp of a playoff berth with a redshirt freshman quarterback who was supposed to spend this season on the sideline. If Kill fails to grab Paul Bunyan's Axe by beating Wisconsin this week, Meyer might have the edge. If the Gophers win and wind up in the Big Ten title game? Well, it'd be hard to pick against Kill. Minnesota hasn't finished first or second in the conference since 1967.
Now, on to the links ...
- Urban Meyer says The Game is all that matters this week.
- Michigan center Jack Miller, a native Ohioan, has disliked the Buckeyes for years.
- If Michigan State wants to prove itself further, it'll need a bowl against an SEC opponent.
- The father of Penn State's Christian Hackenberg says he "won't even touch" the prospect of transferring.
- Kyle Flood says Rutgers' margin of defeat lately doesn't change his outlook.
- Takeaways from Maryland's win over the weekend.
- Kevin Wilson is still looking for consistency from the Hoosiers.
- Jerry Kill has become a hot name for some coaching vacancies -- but, for Minnesota fans, that's the price of success.
- Silence from Nebraska's athletic director makes sense for now, writes the Lincoln Journal Star's Steven M. Sipple.
- Looking back on the last time Wisconsin played Minnesota for the B1G title ... 52 years ago.
- Illinois coach Tim Beckman is receiving a bit of a reprieve from the hot seat, at least for now.
- Quarterback Jake Rudock isn't getting a lot of love from Iowa fans, in spite of his likable numbers.
- Purdue coach Darrell Hazell says the Boilermakers are "self-destructing more so than not competing."
- Brandon Vitabile is irreplaceable as Northwestern's man in the middle.
Here are five storylines to watch in Week 14:
1. A Bunyan-sized game: We know Ohio State will represent the East Division in the Big Ten title game. The Buckeyes' opponent will be determined on Saturday in Madison. In an excellent bit of scheduling prowess, Minnesota plays at Wisconsin with the West Division championship on the line. The Gophers are also looking to snap a 10-year losing streak in the Paul Bunyan Axe game, but this may be the best team they've had during that streak. Playing Wisconsin might help Ohio State's chances for the College Football Playoff more since the Buckeyes have already beaten Minnesota. This game is always physical and emotional, and it will have more riding on it than it has in years.
2. Brady Hoke's last stand? Michigan sits at 5-6, needing a win at Ohio State in order to reach a bowl game. Even that might not be enough to save Hoke's job, but it's his best Hail Mary option since beating the Buckeyes always carries weight. Problem is, the Wolverines are a massive underdog in Columbus, and their offense doesn't have enough playmakers to hang with the Buckeyes. It will take a miracle, and Ohio State doesn't figure to be distracted after a subpar performance against Indiana likely snapped the Buckeyes back into focus.
3. The Beckman Bowl? The Land of Lincoln game between Northwestern and Illinois has the potential for some serious fun. Both teams are one win away from bowl eligibility. Illinois might save Beckman's job with a win on the road over the Wildcats, while Northwestern would complete an improbable, bizarre season by reeling off three straight victories to make a bowl. Throw in the recent sniping about who is Chicago's Big Ten team, and this game shapes up as a whole lot more interesting than we had a right to expect.
4. Rivalries old and new: Not many people will pay attention the Old Oaken Bucket game between Purdue and Indiana, as neither will make a bowl, but it still means something in the Hoosier State. Michigan State and Penn State will play for one of the ugliest trophies in sports. More recent rivalries hold more intrigue. The Nebraska-Iowa Heroes Game won't be for a division title, but the Bo Pelini watch could be in full effect. Meanwhile, Rutgers and Maryland play for the first time as Big Ten members and could start a new rivalry on the East Coast.
5. The race for records: Melvin Gordon needs one yard to break Ron Dayne's Big Ten single-season rushing record, and he still has Barry Sanders in his sights. David Cobb could set Minnesota's school record for rushing, if he's healthy enough to play. Indiana's Tevin Coleman needs 94 yards to reach 2,000 for the season, which would give the Big Ten two 2,000-yard rushers in the same season for the first time ever. Ohio State's J.T. Barrett is six touchdown passes away from the Big Ten single-season record held by Drew Brees . And if Buckeyes teammate Joey Bosa can get three more sacks, he'll break the school season record. He has promised to do a backflip if he gets the record, so we should all root for that.
The Wisconsin junior is having a Heisman Trophy-caliber season even if he doesn't win the award next month. Although Gordon's FBS single-game rushing record of 408 yards lasted a single week, as Oklahoma's Samaje Perine eclipsed it Saturday, Gordon still became the fastest player in FBS history to reach 2,000 yards in a season (241 carries). He leads the nation with 2,109 yards. According to Wisconsin, his rushing total from the first three quarters alone (1,915 yards) still would lead the nation.
But there are other standout running backs in the Big Ten -- great ones and really good ones. As the season concludes this week for a handful of teams, it's important to acknowledge all of them. Because we might never a group of Big Ten backs like this one in the same season.
"There's a lot of guys in this league that are going to be playing on Sundays from that specific position," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said Sunday.
How high would Coleman's stock be if he played for a contender?
At least Coleman's name is known around the Big Ten and, to a degree, around the country. No one is talking about Jeremy Langford. Not even in the Big Ten. OK, maybe in East Lansing. But nowhere else.
Here's what Langford did this past Saturday: rushed for 126 yards and two touchdowns as Michigan State stomped Rutgers. It marked his 15th consecutive 100-yard rushing performance against a Big Ten opponent. Think about that. He has the longest active streak of 100-yard rushing performances against conference opponents since at least 1996.
Langford has 1,242 rush yards and 17 touchdowns, and he's barely a blip on the Big Ten radar. It's a tribute to the league's incredible depth at running back. Langford is quietly having another productive season a year after quietly rushing for 1,422 yards on a team that won the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl. But it's time he gets his due as one of the more consistent runners in the country the past two seasons.
"He's one of the reasons we won 13 games last year and won nine this year," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said Sunday night. "Remember, he had 23 yards rushing coming into his junior year. He's put together a string of 14 100-yard games in [regular-season] conference play.
"He's been a tremendous performer for us."
Minnesota's David Cobb has a slightly higher profile than Langford, but he also gets overlooked in a league loaded with star running backs. Cobb is one of the nation's most physical and prolific backs, yet his steak evidently doesn't match Gordon's or Coleman's sizzle. Despite 1,350 rush yards entering play Saturday, Cobb amazingly didn't make the cut for Doak Walker Award semifinalists.
Cobb left Saturday's win against Nebraska with a hamstring injury. He's questionable for this week's showdown against Wisconsin, although he tweeted that he'll be ready to go. If so, the game at Camp Randall Stadium will feature the longest uninterrupted rivalry in the FBS, the Big Ten West Division title at stake, a giant axe and two of the nation's best running backs. Sign me up.
Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott and Northwestern's Justin Jackson both eclipsed 1,o00 yards. Elliott recorded his fourth 100-yard rushing performance in Big Ten play and fifth of the season against Indiana. Jackson, a true freshman, boasts five 100-yard rushing performances in the past seven games and consistently produces for a Northwestern offense that has struggled most of the season.
The Big Ten now has seven 1,000-yard rushers with a week to go in the regular season. No other league has more than five. The Big Ten has four players -- Gordon, Coleman, Cobb and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah -- with more than 1,400 rush yards. No other league has more than two.
The surge has taken place without star rushers from Michigan or Penn State, two traditionally elite running programs, and despite the season-ending injury to Rutgers standout Paul James. Dantonio, who has spent much of his career in the Big Ten, recalls the running back depth in the mid-to-late 1990s, when the league had stars like Wisconsin's Ron Dayne, Ohio State's Eddie George, Michigan's Tim Biakabutuka and Penn State's Curtis Enis.
"It seemed like everybody had a guy," Dantonio said. "It's very similar to that [now]. You've got four or five guys who really deserve to be first-team all-conference players. Somebody's going to get left out in the cold a little bit."
That's life in the league of running backs, but this group, not just Gordon, should not soon be forgotten.
The Big Ten has actually been pretty fun this season after all.
The calendar has flown by, particularly since those rough couple weeks at the end of August and start of September, but this last weekend offered yet another reminder of why the conference has been so enjoyable for the most part and almost universally underrated for what it has brought to the table nationally.
There continues to be a legitimate threat to not only qualify for the College Football Playoff, but -- with Ohio State continuing its resurgence from the early loss to Virginia Tech -- perhaps Urban Meyer’s team has become one that nobody would want to face in the postseason. And look out if the Buckeyes could cut down on the turnovers, because that’s about the only thing keeping some of the scores close recently.
Meanwhile, a handful of Big Ten Heisman Trophy candidates are making cases to appear in New York City, with Melvin Gordon again shining down the stretch, J.T. Barrett accounting for four more touchdowns and Tevin Coleman submitting one more eye-catching performance for an Indiana team that has no other credible weapon aside from the dynamic running back.
There have been some low points, sure. But take a moment before the end of the regular season sneaks up on Saturday to appreciate what the Big Ten has provided this season -- before football is gone again for the interminable offseason.
Team of the week: After a 28-24 win at Nebraska, Minnesota is halfway through the closing two-week gauntlet on the road with the West Division title on the line, and its dreams of winning the West and setting up a rematch with Ohio State remain intact. The Gophers even stared down a little extra adversity with running back David Cobb getting injured, but that wasn’t enough to slow down a program that has proved several times this season that it has capable backups ready and waiting for a chance to step in and contribute to a victory.
Biggest play: A hard-nosed, opportunistic defense has been the true calling card for the Gophers this season, and the defense solidified its reputation when Briean Boddy-Calhoun ripped the ball away from Nebraska’s De'Mornay Pierson-El at the 2-yard line with just more than a minute left. The turnover was absolutely critical for Minnesota, and it set the stage for one of the biggest Axe games ever against Wisconsin next weekend.
Big Man on Campus (Offense): After coughing up a pair of fumbles the week before and then becoming the target of social-media scorn, Jalin Marshall left no doubt about why Meyer and the Buckeyes were standing so firmly in his corner. Starting with an electrifying punt return, the redshirt freshman almost single-handedly saved Ohio State’s season with four consecutive second-half touchdowns -- and one of his three scoring catches literally only required one hand.
Big Man on Campus (Defense): Essentially an afterthought as recently as two weeks ago, Northwestern has charged back into postseason consideration with consecutive wins, the latest spurred by another veteran effort from a freshman linebacker. Anthony Walker helped pin down Purdue with sideline-to-sideline work that included nine tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. The Wildcats face a bowl-or-bust battle with Illinois on Saturday.
Big Man on Campus (Special Teams): Marshall’s game-changing punt return makes him a worthy candidate, but Ohio State punter Cameron Johnston had previously pinned Indiana on its 1-yard line to help set up the situation, and he was invaluable in a game that didn’t include Ohio State’s best offensive or defensive efforts this season. Johnston was called on five times in all Saturday, averaging nearly 50 yards per punt with three of them downed inside the 20-yard line.
Biggest face-plant: There’s no question it would have been asking a lot for Rutgers to go on the road and upset a fired-up Michigan State squad on Senior Day, but the first-year Big Ten member once again was completely steamrolled when it stepped on the field with one of the league’s best in a 45-3 laugher. The Scarlet Knights deserve credit for earning bowl eligibility this season, but lopsided losses to Ohio State (56-17), Nebraska (42-24), Wisconsin (37-0) and now Michigan State show how far they have to go still.
Facts and numbers to know: Barrett added Ohio State’s single-season records for both total offense (3,507 yards) and passing touchdowns (33) to his growing collection. ... In the losing effort, Coleman established a new record for Indiana by pushing his season total to 1,906 rushing yards. His 90-yard touchdown was the longest for the Hoosiers since 1912. ... Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford rushed for 100 yards or more for the 15th consecutive game against a Big Ten opponent, the longest streak by an FBS player in the last 10 seasons.
1. Next week, the Big Ten will hand out its individual trophies, as well as reveal the all-conference teams. And the media and coaches are going to have a hard time deciding on the coach of the year award.
On one hand, you have Urban Meyer, who has led a very young Ohio State team to a 10-1 record while developing freshman J.T. Barrett into a Heisman Trophy contender on the fly. Eventually, a Buckeyes coach has to win this thing again, right? It hasn't happened since Earle Bruce took home the hardware in 1979, and that's silly.
On the other hand, how do you overlook what Jerry Kill has done at Minnesota? He has the Gophers sitting at 8-3, with a chance to win the West Division by beating Wisconsin this week. It would be nearly impossible to ignore Kill for the award if Minnesota does win that game and forces a rematch with Ohio State in Indianapolis. The Gophers are 16-7 in their last 23 regular-season games and 9-4 in their last 13 Big Ten contests. Remarkable stuff, especially considering a lot of people thought Kill would not return to the sidelines after last year's health issues.
The 28-24 win at Nebraska may have been Kill's best one yet, and it shows the progress this program has made, Chip Scoggins writes.
2. Just think about how much better Minnesota's season would look if its only losses were at TCU and a close one at home vs. Ohio State. But, of course, the Gophers somehow stumbled at Illinois. That was undoubtedly the biggest win in the Tim Beckman era. But Beckman just might have a chance to top that.
Beating Penn State these days is no great achievement, considering the dilapidated state of the Nittany Lions' offense. Still, winning that game in Champaign on Saturday meant that Beckman has doubled his previous Big Ten win total this season and, more importantly, has the Illini in contention for a bowl. If they beat Northwestern this Saturday, the postseason awaits.
Can athletic director Mike Thomas really fire Beckman if he goes 6-6? Attendance remains a major issue, especially considering the embarrassing crowd that showed up to Memorial Stadium on Saturday -- less than 10,000 by most media estimates. But Beckman would have gone from two wins to four wins to six wins in three seasons. It's hard not to call that progress, even if it hasn't been pretty at times.
The ticking clock on Beckman's job has stopped for now, Mark Tupper writes.
3. You couldn't talk about Iowa this season without mentioning that dream schedule: No games against Michigan State, Ohio State Michigan or Penn State (though in hindsight, it would have been better to play those last two than Maryland). West Division rivals Wisconsin and Nebraska coming to Iowa City. A very manageable nonconference slate.
That schedule is a major reason why people were predicting as many as 10 or 11 wins for the Hawkeyes, who were a trendy pick to win the West. But Kirk Ferentz's team has been eliminated from the division race already, and if it doesn't beat a reeling Nebraska team on Black Friday, it will finish 7-5. Even an 8-4 record would feel underwhelming, given all the advantages that Iowa squandered.
The Hawkeyes gave a great effort against Wisconsin on Saturday, especially in the second half. You wonder if things would have been different had they played like that all season. Instead, there's no way to talk about this Iowa season without using the word disappointing.
Let's hit the links ...
- Melvin Gordon was disappointed to lose his rushing record after just one week. But he beefed up his Heisman résumé.
- The heat is turned back up for Bo Pelini and Tim Beck after another loss. The writing's on the wall for Pelini, Tom Shatel writes.
- Northwestern's defense smothered Purdue to get a win shy of bowl eligibility.
- The Boilers were just too sloppy.
- Jalin Marshall has solved Ohio State's three-year search for H-back production.
- At least the Hoosiers made the Buckeyes work for it.
- Michigan State won't win a title this year but is building towards continuity at the top.
- Rutgers' message after the loss to the Spartans was a little hard to stomach.
- Maryland added to its growing list of firsts this season.
- Michigan needs a miracle in Columbus now.
- Penn State got beat by less-heralded Illinois offensive players.
And, finally ... "Dilly Bar Dan" received more attention and some nice hospitality in Lincoln.
- Ohio State WR/PR Jalin Marshall: A week after he was nearly the goat at Minnesota, Marshall saved the Buckeyes' bacon in a sluggish 42-27 win over Indiana. Marshall gave Ohio State the lead late in the third quarter with a 54-yard punt return, then added three more touchdowns in the fourth quarter, all on catches from J.T. Barrett. Marshall became the first Power 5 player with at least three receiving touchdowns and a punt return score in the same game since Justin Blackmon in 2010, and he was the first to do all that in the same half in the past 10 seasons.
- Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: The Hoosiers lost the game, but we just have to single out Coleman for yet another brilliant performance. He ran 27 times for 228 yards and three touchdowns, including a 90-yard score and a 52-yarder, to become Indiana's single-season rushing leader. He deserves to be a Doak Walker Award finalist.
- Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner: With David Cobb sidelined in the second half with a leg injury, Leidner had to carry the offensive load for the Gophers at Nebraska. And he did just that, rushing for 111 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries in a crucial 28-24 victory that kept the Gophers alive for the West Division title. That included the game-winning 2-yard score with 3:25 left. Leidner also also completed 8-of-17 passes for 135 yards, none bigger than a 38-yard strike to KJ Maye in the fourth quarter.
- Michigan State WR Tony Lippett and RB Jeremy Langford: These two guys went out in style on Senior Day. Lippett, who played cornerback earlier in his career, played there and at wideout during a 45-3 blasting of Rutgers. Lippett had a pair of pass breakups on defense and caught five passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. Langford, meanwhile, carried the ball 16 times for 126 yards and two scores. He now has rushed for at least 100 yards in his last 15 games against Big Ten opponents, with one more to go.
- Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: Iowa did a great job most of the day bottling up the Badgers star. But Gordon is so good that he still finished with 200 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries in the 26-24 road win. With the game in the balance, Gordon showed off his receiving with two big catches (including a 35-yarder on 3rd-and-13, with Kinnick Stadium coming unhinged) and finished it off with the game-winning, 23-yard touchdown run. Even on a day when he somehow lost his FBS single-game rushing record after just a week, Gordon was truly Heisman-worthy.
1. Ohio State won but may lose ground: If "game control" is as important as College Football Playoff selection committee chairman Jeff Long said last week, Ohio State should find itself in a spot of bother come Tuesday night. The No. 6 Buckeyes led Indiana just 14-13 at halftime and trailed deep into the third quarter before pulling out a 42-27 win. And remember that these Hoosiers are winless in Big Ten play and now just 3-8 overall. A letdown after winning on the road against Michigan State and Minnesota could have been expected, but Urban Meyer's team needs all the positive impressions it can create. It wouldn't be surprising to see Ohio State slip in next week's poll, just as TCU did after a shaky win over Kansas. On the plus side, the Buckeyes clinched a spot in the Big Ten championship game and will have a chance to add a quality win there. If all else fails, Meyer & Co. should just remind everybody that Indiana did beat Missouri -- or that Florida State barely wins every week.
3. Land of Lincoln game holds intrigue: If we had told you a few weeks ago that the season finale between Illinois and Northwestern would be really interesting, you probably would have laughed. But the Wildcats have gotten hot at the right time, upsetting Notre Dame in overtime last week and cruising past Purdue 38-14 on Saturday to get to five wins. Illinois, meanwhile, edged Penn State on a late field goal 16-14 for its fifth victory. So the Land of Lincoln Trophy game in Evanston will be a bowl play-in game for both sides. And it might just decide whether Tim Beckman keeps his job for another year in Champaign. Neither team's projected starting quarterback may play a huge role, as Northwestern's Trevor Siemian injured his leg against Purdue and Reilly O'Toole came in for an ineffective and perhaps-still-a-bit-gimpy Wes Lunt in the Illini's win.
4. Michigan State belongs in a major bowl: Instead of sulking after the home loss to Ohio State, the Spartans have taken out their frustrations on the Big Ten's newbies. After a 37-15 win at Maryland last week, Michigan State romped past Rutgers 45-3 on Saturday. Mark Dantonio had some fun on Senior Day, starting Tony Lippett on offense and defense, calling for a fake field goal while ahead 35-0 and giving offensive lineman Connor Kruse a carry. It's clear that the No. 11 Spartans are still one of the top teams in the country, with their only losses coming to potential playoff teams. They deserve to make one of the major bowls outside the playoff -- the Fiesta, perhaps? -- and get a shot against an outstanding opponent from a major conference. If they play like they have the past couple of weeks, they'll have a great chance to win a big bowl, too.
5. Maryland is having a nice first Big Ten season: Winning at Penn State and 23-16 on Saturday at Michigan is a pretty nice way to introduce yourself to the league, even if those two programs are at near historic low points. Randy Edsall's Terrapins can post an 8-4 record by beating Rutgers at home next week. Their only losses would be to three of the league's top teams -- Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State -- and a close call at home against West Virginia. They also beat Iowa and weren't quite as hapless in big games as fellow newcomer Rutgers, which was outscored 180-43 in its four games against ranked Big Ten opponents. Maryland still has to finish it off this week, but a third-place showing in the Big Ten East and an eight-win season would make for a very solid conference debut.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After flirting with disaster and letting an upset alert pop up at the Horseshoe, No. 6 Ohio State snapped out of a turnover-induced funk to knock off Indiana.
The Buckeyes clinched a division title, earned a berth to the Big Ten title game and kept themselves in the College Football Playoff picture with a 42-27 win Saturday afternoon. But those positives aren’t likely to be mentioned much by coach Urban Meyer moving forward, and he has plenty of teaching points at his disposal heading into the regular-season finale.
How the game was won: Ohio State had turnover problems on offense and was gashed for a long touchdown by Indiana’s Tevin Coleman on defense, but decisively winning the battle on special teams was enough to pull out another win. The Buckeyes flipped field position with more impressive punting from Cameron Johnston, and they took a lead it wouldn’t relinquish thanks to a punt return for a touchdown that saved an otherwise shaky outing overall.
Game ball goes to: Jalin Marshall. Criticized for a pair of costly fumbles a week ago, the redshirt freshman wide receiver offered a strong reminder why Ohio State stood firmly behind him when he busted a 54-yard punt return for a touchdown when the team was trailing, and then extended the lead with three more scores through the air after that during a second-half, one-man blitzkrieg. He is an invaluable weapon for the Buckeyes when he hangs on to the football.
What it means: The Buckeyes have developed a troubling habit of turning the football over on offense, but they are still scoring points in bunches and are officially the East Division champion. They will play again for the Big Ten title in two weeks. There is no question, though, Meyer will be working overtime to fix the ball-security issues that have popped up lately.
Playoff implication: Maybe there weren’t many of those mythical style points to be found, but Ohio State got the only thing that really counts with a victory to keep itself solidly in the mix for one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff. The first and only priority for the Buckeyes at this point is to keep winning -- ugly or not.
What's next: A trip to Indianapolis to play for the Big Ten championship is clinched, but the first order of business for Ohio State is The Game. With Michigan coming to Ohio Stadium next Saturday, there doesn’t seem to be much risk of the Buckeyes looking ahead with bragging rights at stake against their hated rival.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
12:00 PM ET Illinois Northwestern 12:00 PM ET Purdue Indiana 12:00 PM ET Michigan 6 Ohio State 3:30 PM ET 10 Michigan State Penn State 3:30 PM ET 18 Minnesota 14 Wisconsin 3:30 PM ET Rutgers Maryland