Big Ten: Michigan Wolverines

Best of the visits: Big Ten

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
10:46
AM ET
It was a great weekend for the Big Ten, going 12-1 with the only loss coming from Utah’s defeat of Michigan. A few of the games turned out to be exciting matches, including Indiana’s win over Missouri and eventually Nebraska’s win over Miami.

It was a great opportunity for visiting recruits to see some big games and the prospects took to social media to document those trips. Here is a look at some of the best posts from the weekend.

Nebraska vs. Miami:

This game lived up to the hype and the Cornhuskers put on a show for the visiting recruits. There were some big targets on hand, so this was an important game.

Wide receiver Tavin Richardson made the trip from South Carolina and tweeted his approval of the game.

Turnt is good. The fans were in full force and as loud as ever, something defensive back Kahlil Haughton took notice of. It's not hard to see why after seeing offensive coordinator Tim Beck's picture of the raucous crowd. Beating Miami in the fashion it did, this was a big win for Nebraska on the field and on the recruiting trail as well.

Penn State vs. UMass:

On paper this doesn't look like a huge game for Penn State, but there were some big visitors in town to watch the Nittany Lions.

A few of the commitments got a chance to bond, and that might be a help for the future as defensive end Jonathan Holland has been talking about taking other visits. He and offensive line commit Sterling Jenkins spent some time together on the visit and seemed to enjoy themselves.

Outside of the commitments, Penn State had a few important uncommitted prospects checking out campus as well. The No. 29-ranked prospect in 2016, quarterback Brandon McIlwain took in the game and got the chance to speak with the coaches during the trip. Fellow ESPN Jr. 300 prospect Rahshaun Smith, the No. 99-ranked recruit in 2016, was also on campus. Penn State has made the East Coast a big priority, and since Smith hails from Maryland and happens to be a top prospect, he will be a main target for the coaches going forward. Eastern Michigan vs. Michigan State:

It was a walk in the park for the Spartans on Saturday as they rolled past Eastern Michigan. That means it was a relaxed time for the recruits after the game once they spent time with the coaches.

Brandon Wildman, a 2016 quarterback, made the trip in from Illinois and got his money's worth on the unofficial visit.

Michigan vs. Utah:

Michigan had the only loss for the conference on Saturday after losing to Utah at home. The Wolverines didn't have a huge visitor list, but there were plenty of prospects watching to see the outcome right from the comfort of their own home.

Todd Sibley, a 2017 Ohio running back, tweeted that he had his eyes on the game and was curious to see what would take place.

Sibley was watching because he's interested in Michigan, but the outcome wasn't what he was hoping for. The Wolverines have now lost two games in convincing fashion, which could start to impact prospects and their perception of the program.

It might not have been the best game to have prospects on campus because of the loss, but also because of the terrible weather. The game was eventually delayed due to rain and lightning and resumed over two hours later.

In-state running back Matt Falcon was one of the visitors on hand, though, and because he lives relatively close, this likely won't be Michigan's last chance to impress the talented back.

Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.

1. The Big Ten can step up in key games: After two weeks of justified bashing, the Big Ten deserves some credit for bouncing back nicely in the last meaningful Saturday of nonconference play. The league went 3-0 against the ACC and recorded a huge road win against a ranked SEC opponent as Indiana stunned No. 18 Missouri in Columbia. Iowa finally found its swagger -- and, potentially, its new quarterback (C.J. Beathard) -- in rallying to beat Pitt. Nebraska didn't lose its composure in a chippy game against Miami and outlasted the Canes behind star back Ameer Abdullah. And all three games against MAC teams -- Michigan State-Eastern Michigan, Wisconsin-Bowling Green and Penn State-Massachusetts -- turned into routs by the Big Ten squads. Michigan remains a black eye for the league, but everyone else took a step forward and the Big Ten bolstered its record against Power 5 opponents. It doesn't erase the damage done the previous two weeks, but the Big Ten can feel a little better as league play cranks up next week.

[+] EnlargeRalston Evans
Ed Zurga/Getty ImagesIndiana had plenty of reason to celebrate on Saturday after notching a signature win over No. 18 Missouri.
2. Indiana is back on track: Same old Hoosiers. That's what everyone said in Week 2 when an Indiana defense that hasn't stopped anyone for two decades let Bowling Green march downfield for the game-winning score. The loss made bowl eligibility seem unlikely and raised questions about the program's direction under fourth-year coach Kevin Wilson. And then Indiana did the most un-Indiana-like thing imaginable: beat Missouri on the road, 31-27, thanks in large part to its defense. The Hoosiers limited Missouri to one second-half touchdown, and Tevin Coleman (132 yards rushing, one touchdown) showed why he's one of the nation's best big-play backs. It added up to the biggest win of the Wilson era and the biggest in recent memory for IU. The coaches and players deserve a ton of credit for rebounding from the Bowling Green setback. IU has teased us before, but a win like this suggests the program is truly turning a corner under Wilson.

3. Michigan's offense is just getting worse: Brady Hoke hired Doug Nussmeier to fix Michigan's offense and save his job as head coach. But Michigan's offensive woes clearly run deeper than the playcaller, as the unit has amazingly managed to backtrack this year. The Wolverines have yet to reach the red zone in 23 drives against Power 5 opponents (Notre Dame and Utah). The turnover troubles that plagued them in the past have only intensified, as four more giveaways against Utah leave Michigan with 12 on the season and a minus-10 turnover margin. There was a rock-bottom feeling about the 26-10 Utah loss, which ended at a mostly empty, waterlogged Michigan Stadium following a weather delay. Athletic director Dave Brandon repeatedly gave Hoke a vote of confidence before the season, but if the offense doesn't improve in Big Ten play, Hoke could be in serious trouble.

4. B1G's newcomers are better than expected: The Big Ten might have added Maryland and Rutgers because of their favorable locations, but the league is getting an added bonus so far this season. Both programs could be undefeated and both have won two games away from home in the first three weeks. Maryland responded from a last-second loss to West Virginia and beat Syracuse, 34-20, behind big plays in all three phases. Will Likely continued his excellent season with an 88-yard pick-six, while quarterback C.J. Brown and running back Brandon Ross connected on a 90-yard score on a screen pass. Rutgers beat an always-tricky Navy team, 31-24, in Annapolis, Maryland, despite losing star running back Paul James in the first half. Quarterback Gary Nova responded from his five-interception debacle with a clean performance (12-of-15 passing, no interceptions), and running backs Justin Goodwin and Desmon Peoples picked up the slack with James sidelined.

5. Melvin Gordon is going to be just fine: Until Saturday, things had not gone as expected this season for the Wisconsin star. He barely saw the field in the second half of a Week 1 loss to LSU and was held to 38 rush yards on 17 carries against FCS opponent Western Illinois in Week 2. But after an early fumble against Bowling Green, Gordon could not be stopped. He rushed for a career-high 253 yards, the most by an FBS back this season, and tied the team record with five touchdowns in a 68-17 win. And he did it on only 13 carries, recording the best single-game yards-per-carry average (19.5) in team history by a wide margin (14.5 was next best). Gordon even put himself in the company of the great Glenn Davis, as he's tied with the Army star for the NCAA career yards-per-carry record (8.26). Although Gordon will face better defenses this season, he appears to be just fine for Big Ten play. "The unselfishness of Melvin Gordon ... has been incredible," Badgers coach Gary Andersen said. "I'm so proud of the way that he's handled it. Today was his day."

Stormy night clouds Michigan's future

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
11:20
PM ET
video
The announcement at the start of the fourth quarter thundered ominously, perhaps even forebodingly, from the public address system Saturday night at Michigan Stadium.

The detached voice informed a thinning crowd that severe storms were approaching Michigan’s campus and were expected to reach the stadium within 20 minutes. The sheets of rain and lightning strikes arrived on schedule and delayed a painful day for the Wolverines an extra 144 minutes. The few hundred fans who returned to the Big House after the weather cleared witnessed the end of a 26-10 loss to visiting Utah (3-0) and, if things continue in this direction in Ann Arbor, perhaps the beginning of the end of something much larger and ominous.

Brady Hoke started his fourth season as head coach at Michigan on thin ice, and the first month of the 2014 season has done nothing to halt the melting. Hoke’s team fell to 2-2, with a 31-0 shutout loss to rival Notre Dame and a sound defeat at the hands of the Utes filling the loss column.

It’s not so much the record that created a feeling of woe following Saturday’s game. The manner in which the day unfolded left a locker room disappointed and searching for answers.

“I’m concerned about everything that we’re doing,” Hoke said. “We need to play better. We need to make sure we execute better.”

[+] EnlargeDoug Nussmeier, Brady Hoke
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioMichigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and head coach Brady Hoke are looking for ways to fix a turnover-prone offense.
The frustration of the Michigan coaching staff started to boil over before halftime, when the score was still 10-10 and Michigan’s defense looked stout enough to keep the game close. Cameras captured Hoke jawing with defensive coordinator Greg Mattison following a sideline-infraction penalty late in the second quarter.

Hoke said their “discussion” was nothing out of the ordinary for the two coaches who have worked together on and off for the past 30 years. Michigan’s players defended their coaching staff after the game and echoed Hoke’s mantra that execution and “the little things” are what continue to trip them up.

“It comes down to execution, and we didn’t execute,” said senior middle linebacker Jake Ryan, who made a team-high 13 tackles. “We have the best coaches there are. I’ve got to give all the credit in the world to them.”

Most of the flubbed execution for the Wolverines this season has come on the other side of the ball.

Michigan’s offense didn’t score after the first drive of the game Saturday. It hasn’t run a play inside the red zone in either of its two losses this season. It ran one play inside the Utah 40-yard line in the final 49 minutes Saturday, and that was a pass intercepted by Utah’s Brian Blechen.

That was the first of three interceptions thrown by Wolverines quarterbacks, which sunk the nation’s worst turnover margin to a minus-10. Senior starter Devin Gardner (14-of-26 passing for 148 yards) was responsible for two of the interceptions, with the second one coming on his final play of the day with 13 minutes, 37 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Shane Morris replaced him and threw an interception on his first drive. He also fumbled on the next drive after play resumed.

Hoke said it was too early to assess who his starting quarterback will be when the team starts Big Ten play next Saturday against Minnesota. Turnovers have been the biggest bugaboo thus far for Michigan, but the changes the Wolverines need, if Hoke is going to survive for a fifth season in Ann Arbor, are broader than one player.

“I don’t think there has to be an overhaul. I think it’s our execution, the little things that we need to do. And again, that starts here,” Hoke said, pointing to himself.

What is certain is the Wolverines are in need of a change. Michigan has lost seven of its past 11 games and three of its past four against FBS competition at Michigan Stadium. The program has trended steadily backward since its overtime victory over Virginia Tech at the Sugar Bowl in Hoke’s first season.

Michigan scheduled this home-and-home series with Utah the summer after that BCS victory. The fact that the Wolverines offered Utah $1 million to travel to Ann Arbor, the type of carrot big-time programs typically use to lure sacrificial lambs into their stadiums, speaks volumes about how much has changed since then. Hoke’s team is 17-13 in the past three years.

“I don’t know if I have all the answers,” center Jack Miller said.

Doubt that anyone has the answers -- at least those outside the walls of Michigan’s locker room -- must be creeping in.

Hoke hasn’t lost control, or hope, yet. It’s still September, after all. He reminded his players after the game of the 1998 Michigan team he helped coach to a share of the Big Ten title after it lost its first two games.

Michigan has eight games remaining against teams from the Big Ten, a league that did a lot to bolster its reputation Saturday after two rocky weeks in nonconference play. Even an imperfect run through conference play -- perhaps capped with a win over rival Ohio State -- could be enough to inspire optimism for the future.

Hoke can still salvage the job he called his dream destination before it ever opened to him, but he’ll be fighting an uphill battle from here. Michigan has been sufficiently warned: The storm is coming.
It's an indelible image in college football history: Desmond Howard striking the Heisman pose after returning a punt for a touchdown in Michigan's 1991 win against Ohio State.

Well, this one wasn't so sweet for Wolverines fans. In Saturday's game at Michigan Stadium, Utah's Kaelin Clay returned a punt 66 yards for a touchdown and struck a Heisman pose in almost the exact same spot as Howard 23 years ago.

video

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 4

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
8:00
AM ET
The chances to bolster the leaguewide résumé are running low, and the Big Ten already has squandered almost all of them. Can it turn things around today before conference action picks up in earnest next week? Or is more of the same from the past couple of Saturdays on tap starting at noon?

There's only one way to find out, and here’s the blueprint for following all the action (all times Eastern):

Noon games

[+] EnlargeJames Conner
Gregory J. Fisher/USA TODAY SportsIowa's schedule doesn't get any easier, as it comes off the loss to Iowa State with a tough matchup at Pittsburgh.
Iowa (2-1) at Pittsburgh (3-0), ESPNU: So much for that supposedly easy schedule. The Hawkeyes have strangely been unable to run the football, which made their conservative play calling a problem in last week’s loss to Iowa State. The Panthers are more talented and Iowa must travel to play them, which could present a real test for coach Kirk Ferentz.

Eastern Michigan (1-2) at No. 11 Michigan State (1-1), BTN: The Spartans had some extra time to regroup after the loss at Oregon, and that doesn’t bode well heading into the last two weeks of nonconference action for their opponents. First up is Eastern Michigan, which will have its hands full with Connor Cook and what so far seems to be a much more dangerous offense for the reigning conference champs.

Western Illinois (2-1) at Northwestern (0-2), ESPNews: The bye week was definitely not a time to rest for the Wildcats or Pat Fitzgerald, who certainly wasn’t expecting to be in this early hole as the nightmare year for the program continued with two early losses. If Northwestern didn’t find some answers ahead of the visit from Western Illinois, there’s not much left to look forward to this fall.

Southern Illinois (3-0) at Purdue (1-2), BTN: There were signs of life from the Boilermakers in the loss against Notre Dame, though in the end they didn’t have the talent to hang around for four quarters. Purdue’s non-Big Ten slate wraps up this weekend, and it could surely use a confidence boost before hosting Iowa next weekend.

Bowling Green (2-1) at No. 19 Wisconsin (1-1), ESPN2: The Badgers are still something of a mystery at this point thanks to an off date last week following a relatively uneventful win over FCS-member Western Illinois. The Falcons already have a win over a Big Ten team and can wear defenses out with their up-tempo attack, which might make this a good time for Melvin Gordon and the Wisconsin running game to get rolling.

Maryland (2-1) at Syracuse (2-0), 12:30 p.m., GamePlan: This matchup might be better suited for the hardwood, but the Terrapins and Orange could put on a pretty good show in pads at the Carrier Dome. Maryland has proved capable of putting up points in bunches while Syracuse relies on its defense, leaving an intriguing contrast of styles before Randy Edsall’s team dives into its first Big Ten action.

Midafternoon games

Utah (2-0) at Michigan (2-1), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2 mirror: Brady Hoke usually takes care of business at the Big House, but this could be a difficult matchup with Utah scoring at least 56 points in each of its first two games. If this turns into a shootout, the Wolverines and quarterback Devin Gardner will have to protect the football much better than they have so far this season to build some momentum for Minnesota’s visit next week.

Rutgers (2-1) at Navy (2-1), 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network: Even in a losing effort, the Scarlet Knights impressed in their Big Ten debut last week against Penn State. Rutgers can create problems with its stout defense and nearly won last week despite getting almost no offensive help, though Navy could easily pose problems with its tricky triple-option rushing attack.

Massachusetts (0-3) at Penn State (3-0), 4 p.m., BTN: The wins may not be all that overpowering, but the Nittany Lions are undefeated -- and for now, that’s enough to make them contenders in both the Big Ten and nationally until the outcomes change. Christian Hackenberg should have some chances to add to his résumé again this week as he faces a UMass defense allowing 35 points per game.

San Jose State (1-1) at Minnesota (2-1), 4 p.m., BTN: Uncertainty continues to swirl around the quarterback position for the Gophers, but whether or not Mitch Leidner plays again this week, the rushing game figures to be front and center. The two programs met last season, and Minnesota exploded for 353 rushing yards and won easily while completing just five passes.

Texas State (1-1) at Illinois (2-1), 4 p.m., ESPNews: The Illini and their high-powered offense hit a stumbling block last week at Washington, but they’re back home again Saturday afternoon and looking to unleash Wes Lunt again through the air. If Illinois is serious about making a push for bowl eligibility this season, this is a game the Illini can’t afford to overlook with a trip to Nebraska looming.

Indiana (1-1) at No. 18 Missouri (3-0), 4 p.m., SEC Network: Bowl projections for the Hoosiers almost certainly banked on a victory last week at Bowling Green, but that one slipped away and Kevin Wilson’s program now is a bit behind schedule in the win column. A soft defense continues to plague Indiana, and that could be an issue against a Missouri offense that has scored at least 38 points in each of its three wins so far.

Night game

Miami (2-1) at No. 24 Nebraska (3-0), 8 p.m., ESPN2: The latest polls might not reflect it, but this is still a prestigious matchup packed with historical significance. Having already lost and coming in unranked, the Hurricanes aren’t as close to competing for college football’s top prize as the Huskers. But if Bo Pelini and his team can knock off Miami to stay unbeaten, that might be a victory that resonates as the season progresses.

Bye week

Ohio State

Required reading
The time is running out to make a splash outside of the Big Ten, a league that collectively has been having a hard time keeping its head above water so far this season.

Some have obviously had it better than others, particularly since Nebraska and Penn State both have spotless records. But the ghastly overall mark for the league in matchups with Power-5 members has left a few teams facing critical must-win games in the middle of September, either for the sake of playoff contention, a push for a bowl bid, or just to show any signs of life at all.

Heading into Week Four, the Big Ten blog crew takes a look at which program needs a victory the most -- and there were plenty of options.

Adam Rittenberg: Iowa

It's still fairly early in the 2014 season, but Iowa has yet to play a good game. The Hawkeyes were fortunate to beat Northern Iowa and extremely fortunate to beat Ball State before falling last week to Iowa State. The run game struggles are utterly baffling, and it's critical Iowa gets Mark Weisman, Jordan Canzeri and Co. going against a Pittsburgh team that ranks ninth nationally against the run. A Hawkeyes defensive line pegged to be the team's strength must step up against James Conner. This game has no bearing on whether Iowa wins the Big Ten West Division, as I predicted before the season. But Iowa has looked nothing like a league title contender, and something needs to shift in a hurry.

Austin Ward: Indiana

The Hoosiers have already fallen behind the projected win schedule that would send them back to the postseason, so even at this early stage they’ll likely need to pull an upset to get back on track. So Indiana has a pressing need, but it probably also has the longest odds of getting a victory as it heads to Missouri. The problem that has plagued Kevin Wilson’s program again popped up in the shootout loss to Bowling Green, and that’s troubling given all the offseason talk about making defensive adjustments and improvements to complement the high-powered offense. The combination of tailback Tevin Coleman and quarterback Nate Sudfeld makes Indiana a dangerous opponent for anybody -- even the reigning SEC East champions. But without a few stops against the Tigers, the Hoosiers could find themselves in a hole before conference play even starts.

Josh Moyer: Rutgers

Believe it or not, a lot is on the line for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are coming off an incredibly emotional loss after they played in front of the biggest crowd in school history in a game in which an RU player said “could change New Jersey and Rutgers football forever” -- if Rutgers won. The Knights can’t afford another letdown, or else they could very well see a Northwestern-like fall with their tough schedule. Not only do they have the East Division to contend with, but they also face Nebraska and Wisconsin. In other words, after Tulane next week, it’s not going to get any easier. Rutgers needs a confidence boost before the schedule gets harder, and a win against Navy could be just what it needs.

Dan Murphy: Nebraska

Not all is lost for the Cornhuskers if they don’t hold off a fast Miami team, but no team can do as much to help themselves and the Big Ten as a whole as Nebraska can Saturday night. Bo Pelini’s group is one of two undefeated teams left in the league. Get past Miami and Nebraska should be in good shape for a 10-win season. A victory against an out-of-conference opponent with some brand-name cache will help the Big Ten save a little bit of face in its last real chance to do so. That could help the Huskers if they make a run toward the College Football Playoff, or it could help the overall resume for whatever Big Ten team knocks them off to win the conference title.

Mitch Sherman: Michigan

The Wolverines are closing in on the one-year anniversary of their 42-13 win over Minnesota. Why is that significant? It’s the last victory about which Michigan could actually feel good about. Since, Michigan is 4-7. Its two wins this season reveal next to nothing about the ability of Brady Hoke’s team to play to always lofty expectations. In its lone chance to build momentum this season, Michigan laid an egg against Notre Dame. The Wolverines need to beat Utah like the human body needs food. Their players need it. Their coaches need it. Their fans need it. A win would surpass in prestige any that a Big Ten team has achieved this season. A loss could send the Wolverines into a spiral -- just in time for the big meeting with Minnesota.

Utah matchup special for Michigan's Mone

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
12:00
PM ET
There will be several familiar faces in Michigan Stadium Saturday afternoon for freshman defensive tackle Bryan Mone when his Wolverines host Utah. The Salt Lake City product will get a chance to square off with former high school teammates and friends, but he is most looking forward to seeing his parents on their first trip to his new home.

Homesickness is a common ailment among freshmen football players across the country, but it hit Mone harder than most. Making the 1,600-mile move east to Ann Arbor was a difficult decision. Not only was he leaving behind his tight-knit Tongan family, but he was also leaving them with the heavy responsibilities he shouldered for many years.

Since the start of junior high Mone has been largely in charge of caring for his older brother Filimone, who was born in Tonga with health problems that have prevented him from walking, talking or fending for himself. Bryan, seven years his brother’s junior, hustled home from football practice throughout high school to feed Filimone, change his diapers and help move him around the house. The family jokes that Mone’s first foray into weight training was lifting his brother.

[+] EnlargeBryan Mone
Courtesy of IntersportMichigan freshman Bryan Mone on family: "We come from nothing, and they're my motivation."
"I had to grow up faster than other kids," he said. "It's a blessing. I say it's a blessing."

The family moved from Tonga to California to Utah in search of the resources they needed to help Filimone. The silver lining for Mone was finding football. He landed at Highland High School in Salt Lake City, a school that has produced a handful of NFL draft picks including five-time Pro Bowler and fellow Tongan Haloti Ngata. Two other Highland alums -- Utah starting defensive end Nate Orchard and Michigan fullback Sione Houma -- will be on the field Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who coached Ngata during his time with the Baltimore Ravens, tells Mone he sees similarities between the two players. The 6-foot-4, 312-pound Mone has played all three games and has made four tackles so far for the Wolverines. He has helped to add a new element of depth to the front lines of a top 10 defense that is allowing an average of 80 rushing yards per game this season.

"The sky is the limit for him," Mattison said. "You don’t think he’s the youngest of all of them. He just got out of high school, and all the sudden he’s here starting or playing a lot for the University of Michigan."

Mone finished his high school career as the top-rated prospect in Utah. He chose to pass up scholarship offers to stay close to Filimone and the rest of his family because he thought Michigan gave him a chance to help them more in the long run.

"We come from nothing, and they're my motivation," Mone said. "At first I was planning to stay home, but I trust the coaches here. Academic-wise, I knew I'd be able to get something."

A promising future didn’t make the transition to life away from home any easier. The self-proclaimed "mama’s boy" enrolled a semester early at Michigan and struggled to deal with the distance at first. He called often to make sure his family was managing to take care of Filimone without him, and so that his brother could hear his voice.

"(Filimone) does understand his surroundings and his atmosphere. He can sense it. It did get him down a little bit," said Latu Lauhingoa, Mone's older sister who has helped pick up some of his caretaking responsibilities. "Every time Bryan calls, he wants to talk where Filimone can hear. We would just put the phone to his ear and, oh my gosh, would he smile."

Mone leaned on Houma, his current and former teammate, for support during the spring semester. He also started to develop close relationships with his fellow defensive linemen. Coaches and veterans of that unit say they have bonded more this year than in any previous seasons. Mone called them his new family. When asked if he had any particular mentors that have helped him get settled on the field, he rattled off the names of 10 fellow linemen before taking a breath.

The defensive line was heralded this offseason as a strength that would need to be an anchor of this Michigan team if it was going to rebound from a 7-6 season a year ago. The final decorating touch to their position group meeting room, which was renovated in the spring along with the rest of Schembechler Hall, is a sign that assistant coach Mark Smith hung this summer. He made all of the players sign it as an oath of sorts when they returned for fall camp in August. It reads: "I am committed to my brothers."

Among a group that universally agrees it has grown closer in the past year, no one understands that concept of commitment quite like Mone.

Big Ten's top recruiting visits 

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
10:00
AM ET
There aren’t many big, exciting home games for the Big Ten this week, but the few that are playing at home are making the most of it. Nebraska, Illinois and Michigan will all have big recruiting visitors for their game.

Here is a look at who is visiting and why they’re important.

Big Ten morning links

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
8:00
AM ET
Let's take a look at some of the more interesting quarterback situations this week ...

1. Will the real Gary Nova please stand up?: The Rutgers quarterback has reached a turning point. Again. In 2013, he started off hot with 13 touchdowns to four picks through the first five games – and finished the rest of the season with five TDs to 10 interceptions. In 2012, he started off hot with 15 TDs to three picks through the first seven games – and finished the rest of the season with seven touchdowns to 13 interceptions. It seems as if that leash gets shorter and shorter ever year. Because, this season, he started off well the first two games – with six TDs to one pick – before throwing five interceptions and no touchdowns against Penn State. Throughout his career, Nova has been the model for inconsistency. And this is his final year; this is his final turning point. NJ.com’s Steve Politi wrote this past week that Kyle Flood risks losing the team if keeps starting Nova. Well, Nova is starting again. If he can’t rebound this week, then it’s about time Nova sees the bench. It’s boom or bust for Nova this week. We’ll see whether he can actually bounce back now that he’s a veteran.

2. Weird Wiscy QB situation: So, Joel Stave still has the “yips,” and Tanner McEvoy is still the starter. Regardless, we really don’t know what to expect from McEvoy yet. McEvoy looked as if he rebounded from an awful, awful opener by going 23-of-28 last Saturday. But that was against FCS team Western Illinois -- and the Badgers led by a score of just 9-3 at halftime. Western Illinois dared Wisconsin to pass by stacking the box and, yes, McEvoy fared well there. But I’m not convinced. And you shouldn’t be either. Bowling Green is a better team than the Leathernecks, and this game should help prove what contest for McEvoy was an anomaly: The first against LSU, where he went 8-of-24, or the second one. Teams are going to keep daring Wisconsin to pass, and 23-of-28 performances likely aren’t going to be the norm for this quarterback. We’ll see.

3. Purdue’s Danny Etling deserved the start: Remember last season when Purdue’s depressed crowd rose to its feet when Etling entered a game for the first time, despite trailing 27-7 against Northern Illinois? Well, needless to say, that excitement’s since been a bit tempered. Etling didn’t look so great against Central Michigan two weeks ago, and his job was in jeopardy last week. Darrell Hazell stuck with him against Notre Dame, and Etling looked good in the first half. This isn’t breaking news: Purdue is not a good team. But I’m inclined to believe that Etling’s performance against Notre Dame was the norm, as opposed to CMU. Etling has grown a lot since his true freshman season, and teammates raved about the good decisions he was making in the spring -- as opposed to practice a few months before. Etling is a talented quarterback without much talent around him. Like it or not, he gives the Boilermakers the best chance to win … even if that “win” ceiling stands at about four right now.

Now, on to the links ...

East Division
West Division
  • Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong said he'd give his play so far this season a grade of a "C."
  • Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian said he wants to play Saturday but, ultimately, it's "up to the trainers."

Butt's return provides options for Michigan

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
12:00
PM ET
Michigan sophomore Jake Butt saw teammate Dennis Norfleet running toward him pointing to the sky and decided to break doctor’s orders. Butt, having just caught his third career touchdown pass last Saturday afternoon, met his fellow receiver in mid-air at the goal line with a flying chest bump. He thought he had earned a brief celebration after all.

"I knew I wasn’t supposed to, but yeah, I did," he said. "It’s not like I have big hops anyways. It was a baby jump."

[+] EnlargeJake Butt
AP Photo/Tony DingJake Butt's touchdown catch Saturday against Miami (Ohio) was the third of his career.
Six and a half months after surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee, Butt found himself back in the end zone. His second of three catches so far this season was good for a walk-in 29-yard score against Miami (Ohio). Team doctors told Butt to avoid any unnecessary risks while his joint rounds back into shape, but he couldn’t help but get airborne to enjoy the moment.

Pushing limits helped put Butt on the field sooner than expected, even in a new era of knee rehab that has turned once-dreaded ACL injuries into surmountable obstacles. The 6-foot-6, 249-pound tight end is still working his way to full health, but his return comes at an opportune time for the Wolverines. Without star receiver Devin Funchess, whose status remains a mystery after missing last week with an apparent leg injury, Michigan’s offense is searching for new options in the passing game.

"We may play more tight ends. It just depends on what we want to do," head coach Brady Hoke said when asked about contingency plans if Funchess can’t play in a key non-conference game with Utah this weekend. "... I think again, you go back to the tight end position with getting guys ready for different personnel groups, I think that’s a positive."

Hoke said Butt’s versatility opens parts of the playbook Michigan wouldn’t be able to use if he remained on the sidelines. He expects the sophomore’s impact to grow in the coming weeks as he ramps up to full speed and loses the restrictive play count the Wolverines have set for him.

Butt made the ESPN.com All-Big Ten freshman team last season after catching 20 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns. The coaching staff considered him a big part of the offensive game plan for this season, even after he hurt his knee in early February.

At the time, the Wolverines didn’t expect to have the sophomore in their lineup until the team started Big Ten play in late September. Butt had other ideas. His maternal grandfather, Bob Lally, won two national championships for Notre Dame under Frank Leahy in the 1940s, and Butt was determined to play on the same field as one of his childhood idols before Michigan’s series with the Irish expired. He set a goal the day after he was injured to play in South Bend the second week of the season. Though he took only four snaps in that game, he reached it.

"Jake was committed to getting on that field for his Papa. That was a big deal for him," said Rob Butt, Jake’s father, who attributes the fast recovery to hard work, a positive attitude, and a knack for mending quickly.

Butt broke a bone in his foot in fifth grade and shocked doctors when X-rays showed it was completely healed a little more than two weeks later. That was about the time he started scouring the Internet for ways to become a better receiver. Butt cut tennis balls in half and taped them to his palms to force himself to catch with his fingertips when his dad threw him passes in the backyard. His reputation for working hard followed him through an all-state high school career in Ohio.

The same attitude led Butt to impatiently grind away at whatever the Michigan training staff allowed him to do during the past six months. He set up camp in the trainer’s office, receiving treatment while he ate or studied or did just about anything else. After rehab sessions, he went home and repeated the drills on his own in his apartment.

"When he got hurt he said I’m going to have the quickest ACL recovery in history," offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. "When you know the kid, nothing would surprise you. Each and every day we’re trying to give him a little bit more. He’s a phenomenal football player."

Butt’s ability to create matchup issues for opposing defenses will make him a key piece in Nussmeier’s offense, especially if Funchess needs more time to return to the lineup. He took a big step forward last weekend with three catches for 59 yards and his touchdown. That return to the box score happened sooner than anticipated for just about everyone except himself.

"I hold myself to a high standard," he said. "Once they called that play, I knew I was going to get into the end zone."

Big Ten Week 4 predictions

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
9:00
AM ET
Week 4 features a new voice in the predictions mix as our new Big Ten reporter Dan Murphy jumps into the fray. It also features a handful of games our writers disagree on, including games involving programs that desperately need to rebound with a win this week.

 

Why Iowa will win: Call me a contrarian if you'd like (I've been called much worse), but Iowa seems to rise up at the unlikeliest of times. Pitt has looked way better than the Hawkeyes this season. The Panthers can run the ball (James Conner has 544 rush yards and eight touchdowns), while Iowa can't (393 rush yards, four touchdowns). Panthers coach Paul Chryst, the former Wisconsin assistant, knows the Hawkeyes well. So of course I'm going with Iowa, which will discover its run game and force two second-half turnovers to rally for the win. Iowa 21, Pitt 20 -- Adam Rittenberg

Why Pitt will win: Adam did a pretty good job of making my argument for me. This game hinges on who wins the battle between Iowa’s front seven and the Panthers’ running game. Conner's 214 rushing yards against Boston College in a 30-20 win look a lot more impressive this week after the Eagles held USC's entire offense to 20 rushing yards. Pitt also has some good experience in the secondary (CB Lafayette Pitts and S Ray Vinopal) that could put a dent in the strong completion percentage Jake Rudock has put together thus far. Pitt 27, Iowa 17 -- Dan Murphy

 

Why Syracuse will win: Beating MAC teams isn't easy, as the Big Ten can attest. Well, Syracuse went on the road last week and crushed Central Michigan, one of the better MAC squads, by 37 points, looking nothing like the team that was extremely fortunate to get by Villanova in its opener. The Orange are a different offense with quarterback Terrel Hunt at the helm, and they're stout in defending the run (opponents average just 2.7 yards against them). Maryland makes too many mistakes to get this win on the road. Syracuse 28, Maryland 24 -- Adam Rittenberg

Why Maryland will win: Maryland has shown an explosiveness on offense and special teams, but the Terrapins have lacked consistency. They will need to avoid the turnovers and wild mood swings on the road at Syracuse. Former Orange quarterback Randy Edsall's team has enough playmakers to get the job done. Maryland 31, Syracuse 27 -- Brian Bennett

 

Why Utah will win: Unless Brady Hoke’s unwillingness to talk about injuries is based around a desire to spring a surprise by unleashing a healthy secondary on the Utes, the Wolverines could have their hands full with Travis Wilson, the nation’s No. 2 quarterback in terms of passing efficiency. The jury is still out on Michigan’s offense as well, particularly since it was shut out at Notre Dame, its only true test so far, and has shown signs that issues protecting the football haven’t been solved. That’s not a good combination against a program that appears to be on the rebound and actually has prior experience winning at the Big House under Kyle Whittingham. Utah 34, Michigan 27 -- Austin Ward

Why Michigan will win: Utah is good, but it's no Notre Dame. The Utes' success so far this season has come against two lowly opponents -- Idaho State and Fresno State -- so they might be getting a little bit more credit than they deserve. Devin Gardner is a wild card, but I can't see him committing another four turnovers, at least not in the Big House. Michigan 31, Utah 28 -- Josh Moyer

 

Why Rutgers will win: Rutgers is actually an underdog against Navy, and this game has serious letdown potential after the Scarlet Knights got sky high for Penn State. Yet the Scarlet Knights have been very good against the run and have the defensive front to disrupt the Navy option. That will be enough to pull it out -- provided Gary Nova doesn't throw another five interceptions. Rutgers 24, Navy 21 -- Brian Bennett

Why Navy will win: The Scarlet Knights said there would be no letdown after the loss last week to Penn State. But Rutgers invested so much energy in the program’s first meeting in nearly two decades with the Nittany Lions that, yes, there will be a letdown. And be sure of this, Navy requires Rutgers’ full attention. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds is expected back from injury on Saturday to lead the nation’s No. 1-ranked rushing offense, which averages more than 400 yards. Rutgers looks equipped up front to defend the triple option with Darius Hamilton and a solid line, but Navy’s offensive efficiency will prove too much to overcome. It has won eight straight true home games dating to 2012. Make it nine. Navy 31, Rutgers 21 -- Mitch Sherman

Unanimous decisions

Illinois over Texas State, 38-21: The Illini running game finally emerges and opens things up for Wes Lunt to have a big second half in Champaign.

Missouri over Indiana, 42-27: The Hoosiers couldn’t help the Big Ten’s nonconference record against the MAC’s Bowling Green last week. They aren’t likely to turn that around against an undefeated SEC opponent.

Michigan State over Eastern Michigan, 52-3: Former Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden's last crack at the Big Ten doesn't go any better than the first time around. Mark Dantonio calls off his dogs after halftime to keep this one from getting uglier than it could.

Minnesota over San Jose State, 27-13: David Cobb and the Gophers show they are still headed in a good direction despite a disappointing showing against TCU last Saturday.

Nebraska over Miami, 34-31: The Canes have the talent to make it close, but they don’t have the quarterback to steal a game from a big-time opponent on the road yet.

Northwestern over Western Illinois, 24-10: Pat Fitzgerald keeps it simple and forces his team to play the bully role while trying to develop a new toughness in Evanston.

Penn State over UMass, 44-14: The Christian Hackenberg hype machine continues its crescendo toward a primetime matchup in the Big House in early October.

Purdue over Southern Illinois, 28-20: The Salukis put up a fight, but Danny Etling builds on a strong performance against Notre Dame to pull the Boilermakers to 2-2.

Wisconsin over Bowling Green, 33-7: Bowling Green won’t be able to sneak up on a well-rested Badgers team at Camp Randall Stadium.

Our records:

Mitch Sherman: 31-6
Adam Rittenberg: 29-8
Austin Ward: 29-8
Brian Bennett: 28-9
Josh Moyer: 27-10

Big Ten morning links

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
8:00
AM ET
Hitting on the hottest topics in the Big Ten before sweeping through the league ahead of another critical non-conference Saturday.

1. Minnesota's QB quandary: There's not exactly a controversy under center, since the Gophers have made it quite clear that Mitch Leidner is the top option to lead the offense. But for the second week in a row, there have been questions about his health, and therein lies the uncertainty that could turn this into a more pressing issue for Jerry Kill. The Minnesota coach pegged Leidner at 100 percent on his injured knee last week, but Saturday something else popped up with his foot -- though Kill shot down reports of a broken bone and seemed puzzled by where they came from. Backup Chris Streveler has appeared in all three games and was needed to finish the last two, and at some point if he keeps handling himself well and if Leidner's bumps and bruises remain a weekly topic of conversation, perhaps the Gophers may find themselves in the midst of a real controversy. This week it probably won't matter given the way Minnesota ran the ball all over San Jose State last year. But Michigan is looming next week, and the Gophers would likely be better off if they didn't have to keep answering questions about their starting quarterback.

2. Waiting game for Buckeyes: From the outside, the case seems pretty open and shut regarding Noah Spence's latest failed drug test and what figures to be permanent ineligibility for the All-Big Ten defensive end. But there hasn't yet been an official verdict handed down, so Ohio State coach Urban Meyer confirmed after practice Wednesday night that Spence was still practicing with the team while "doing things to get healthy." Given what would seem to be a long-shot appeal combined with the serious tone from the Spence family when they addressed a "medical illness" to the Columbus Dispatch last week, it is somewhat surprising that the star junior would be back on the field at all right now while each of those separate, but related, issues are sorted out. Meyer stressed that Ohio State was doing what it could to support him, and if Spence is eventually cleared for a return, everybody involved would surely want him ready to play again. So unless or until the Big Ten tells him otherwise, Spence is still working out with the Buckeyes and waiting for the next update on his status.

3. Heat is on Hawkeyes: The running game is struggling. The kicking game looked like a fire drill even when the field-goal unit hit a clutch attempt last weekend. Kirk Ferentz is under fire with his clock management skills being questioned. And after dealing with all that in the aftermath of the loss to Iowa State, the Hawkeyes have to hit the road to play unbeaten Pittsburgh before diving into conference play. Maybe Iowa could actually use that traveling time to bond and rally against the odds that seem to be stacking up against the program, because it's pretty clear the team needs a spark. The Hawkeyes were a trendy dark horse pick to win the West, and no matter what happens at Pitt it should be fine next week at home to open conference play against Purdue. But it's time for them to show they really have what it takes to contend this fall.

East Division
  • Brady Hoke explained the reasoning behind his unwillingness to address injuries.
  • Michigan State right guard Connor Kruse could be back in the lineup as early as next week.
  • Keys for Penn State as it looks to move to 4-0 to open the season.
  • The secondary has been key for Rutgers defensively so far this season, and it will need its safeties to play a big role against Navy.
  • Fixing problems on third down has been a top priority for Maryland this week.
  • Indiana receiver J-Shun Harris II is developing into another weapon for the uptempo offense.
  • Just more than a year after believing his football career might be over, Donovan Munger is providing depth at defensive tackle for Ohio State.
West Division
  • Danny Etling knows how to prepare. The Purdue quarterback might be overdoing it though.
  • Nebraska defensive backs are preparing for "the fastest receivers" they've ever gone against.
  • It doesn't appear Pat Fitzgerald is easing off the intensity at all coming off the bye week and as kickoff draws closer.
  • Injuries are dominating the headlines at Minnesota, but the offensive line is coordinator Matt Limegrover's biggest concern.
  • A look at the Texas State defense, which has some athletes who can provide a test for the Illinois offense.
  • Pressing questions for Wisconsin as it gets back to work against Bowling Green.
  • Iowa linebacker Quinton Alston said the Hawkeyes needed a "kick in the butt" after losing to Iowa State.

Big Ten awards race tracker: Week 3

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
2:00
PM ET
Three weeks' worth of games are in the book. That's not enough to decide the individual award races in the Big Ten, but it won't stop us from figuring out where those races stand.

Our Big Ten reporters are voting weekly on the races, with players receiving five points for a first-place vote, four for a second-place nod, etc. Also, we try hard to base these standings on 2014 season results only, not any preconceived notions or a player's previous track records.

Here's how things shake out:

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (Five first-place votes): Abdullah gets the unanimous nod on offense as he continues to power up the Huskers attack.

2. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: He has become the master of the two-minute drive, and he leads the Big Ten in passing.

3. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: He leads the Big Ten in rushing yards (437) and rushing touchdowns (five) despite having played just two games. He's averaging 9.3 yards per carry.

4. Michigan State QB Connor Cook: His completion rate is over 68 percent, and Cook can build on his stats against Eastern Michigan and Wyoming the next two weeks.

5. Illinois QB Wes Lunt: He wasn't able to summon late-game magic at Washington in Week 3 but still is among the league's top passers.

Also receiving votes: Michigan RB Derrick Green; Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon; Minnesota RB David Cobb; Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong Jr.

Nagurski Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel (5): Another unanimous pick, Zettel has been a monster in the early going for the Lions. He leads the Big Ten in tackles for loss, with seven, to go along with three sacks.

2. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa: He's tied for the league lead with two forced fumbles, in addition to 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

3. Iowa DT Louis Trinca-Pasat: His strong start to the season continues, as he has four tackles for loss along Iowa's strong defensive front.

4. Wisconsin S Michael Caputo: He and the Badgers were off last week but should get a test from Bowling Green's fast-paced offense.

Also receiving votes: Penn State LB Mike Hull; Rutgers DE Kemoko Turay; Minnesota LB Damien Wilson; Michigan State DE Marcus Rush; Ohio State LB Joshua Perry.

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

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
11:15
AM ET
video
Penn State picked up some good news from the NCAA, which resulted in more positive news on the recruiting trail this weekend. Ohio State solidified its spot in a top target's list, and a few new offers were extended this week.

Here is a look at the latest happenings on the recruiting trail within the Big Ten.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES