Big Ten: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Big Ten bowl projections: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
8:00
PM ET
The major development in this week's bowl projections isn't that the Big Ten suddenly looks poised for a breakthrough postseason. If anything, things went from bad to worse for the league in Week 3 with a 3-6 record in nonconference games.

So what changed? Penn State is back. For good.

Not only did the Lions improve to 3-0 under new coach James Franklin, but they learned Monday that they once again are eligible for bowl games after two seasons of sanctions. So for the first time since the 2011 season, Penn State appears in the bowl projections. While the Lions have a lot to fix, especially on offense, they're a young, talented team that should improve throughout the season. They've posted two of the better wins (UCF and Rutgers) of any Big Ten team so far, and we like their potential to keep racking up W's.

Penn State is slotted for the Capital One Bowl, which knocks several teams down a peg. There's some shuffling at the bottom of the projections as Minnesota tumbles following its blowout loss at TCU, and Indiana falls out of the rankings entirely after an all-too-familiar-looking defeat at Bowling Green.

We continue to keep two teams in the major bowls as Ohio State rebounded nicely from the Virginia Tech loss to crush Kent State.

To the projections ...

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

Video: TCU 30, Minnesota 7

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
8:34
PM ET
video Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson connected for two touchdowns to spark TCU's 30-7 victory over Minnesota.

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 3

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

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

Noon games

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

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

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

Mid-afternoon games

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

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

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

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

Night games

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

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

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

Week 3 byes: Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin

Required reading

Tracking our B1G fantasy teams: Week 3

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

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

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

And your overall standings so far:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moyer adds Michigan kickers and drops Michigan State WR Tony Lippett

Bennett adds Michigan defense and drops Rutgers defense

Rittenberg adds Iowa defense and drops Minnesota defense

Moyer takes Penn State defense and drops Michigan State defense

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

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

Massive Attack (Ward)

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

Legendary Leaders (Bennett)

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

Coal Crackers (Moyer)

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

Sherman Tanks (Sherman)

Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg
Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner
Michigan RB Derrick Green
Penn State RB Zach Zwinak
Penn State WR DaeSean Hamilton
Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo
Penn State kickers
Nebraska defense
Bench: Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford (on bye)
Gary Patterson, Jerry KillUSA TODAY SportsLongtime friends Gary Patterson, left, and Jerry Kill will face each other as head coaches Saturday.
The 7-11. That is what Dennis Franchione's wife, Kim, calls the football office because of time coaches arrive and depart.

But when Franchione had two young Kansans on his staff at NAIA Pittsburg State in the late 1980s, the office might as well have been called the 5-1. Jerry Kill and Gary Patterson typically put in those types of hours.

"I used to tell them to go home," Franchione, now Texas State's coach, told ESPN.com this week. "They were there early and stayed late, longer than anybody. You knew they were going to be successful because of the way they approached it."

Work ethic fueled both Kill, Pittsburg State's defensive coordinator from 1985-87, and Patterson, who replaced Kill in 1988. Both had grown up in small towns: Patterson in Rozel, northeast of Dodge City; Kill in Cheney, west of Wichita. Both played linebacker in college (Kill played for Franchione at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas).

About the only difference: Patterson stuck with defense, while Kill switched to offense before entering the head-coaching ranks.

They became friends and have remained close for more than a quarter-century. Kill was Patterson's best man at his wedding. Until recently, they spent every year swapping football ideas.

"We came up the hard way," Kill said this week. "We worked hard to get where we're at. It's why we've been good friends."

Kill laughed.

"There aren't very many people from two small towns in Kansas to be where we're at. We come from common folk."

Both have accomplished uncommon things and now lead Power 5 programs that meet Saturday in Fort Worth, Texas. Patterson, who guided TCU to an undefeated season and a Rose Bowl championship in 2010, is in his 15th season as the Horned Frogs coach. Kill has helped Minnesota to consecutive bowl appearances.

"Both of us are highly competitive," Patterson said, "so this week is difficult."

The friends wish they weren't meeting this way. They might rather take on Oregon and Florida State than stand on opposite sidelines at Amon G. Carter Stadium.

In May 2013, when Patterson heard rumors about a home-and-home series with Minnesota, he immediately called Kill.

"You know anything about that?" he asked.

"Nope, we're not playing you," Kill replied. "No way that's happening."

The coaches soon learned their friendship wouldn't stop their bosses from a nice schedule addition. TCU will return the game next September when they open the 2015 season on a Thursday night in Minneapolis.

"It's not something you want to do," Kill said, "but you know what? Ain’t changing that. It's happened, so go play."

Part of the reluctance is how much time Kill, Patterson and their staffs have spent together over the years. Tracy Claeys, Kill's longtime defensive coordinator and fellow small-town Kansan (Clay Center), has made almost annual pilgrimages to TCU to study with Patterson.

When Claeys first become a coordinator, while working for Kill at Emporia State, he attended 10 of TCU's 15 spring practices.

"The way we we've played, [Patterson] probably wouldn't want me to say I've learned anything from him because we haven't played as well as he has," Claeys joked this week. "I've learned a tremendous amount from him and his staff."

Although TCU uses a 4-2-5 alignment and Minnesota operates from a 4-3, Claeys estimates that 90 percent of his defensive philosophy is drawn from Patterson's. Because of the games, Claeys' trips to TCU have been put on hold.

"I've missed that," he said.

Kill and Patterson nearly reunited on TCU's staff in 2001. Patterson had replaced Franchione as Frogs coach after serving as his defensive coordinator at both TCU and New Mexico. Kill, a head coach at two Division II programs, had the chance to become Patterson's offensive coordinator.

But after consulting with Franchione, he decided to remain a head coach and went to Southern Illinois.

"He's one of those guys I have the utmost respect for," Patterson said of Kill. "When we get done coaching, he’ll be a guy, along with his wife, we’ll go on trips and always stay in touch."

Franchione remains in close contact with both of his protégés. The first two scores he checks on Sundays are TCU's and Minnesota's.

He hopes to catch the start of Saturday's game before Texas State begins its final preparations to face Navy.

"They're what America's all about," Franchione said of Patterson and Kill. "They've done it the right way, they've done it with class, they're appreciative of everything. I don't think there's any part of them that doesn't remember being a [graduate assistant] and eating peanut butter and jelly."

Kill and Patterson haven't talked ball very often lately, but Kill knows what to expect Saturday from his friend, the "defensive genius." He's certain Patterson devoted part of spring ball to prepping for Minnesota, and an open date before the game likely didn't hurt.

"We're both cut from the same cloth," Kill said. "We go 100 miles an hour."

Watch: Big Ten live chat, 2 p.m. ET

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

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


Big Ten Week 3 predictions

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



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

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



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

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

Unanimous decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Ten morning links

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

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

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

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

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

Big Ten morning links

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

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

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

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

Now, onto the links ...

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

Conference call: Best of the B1G

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
3:15
PM ET
Despite all the prompting on the heels of last weekend's disasters around the league, the Big Ten coaches predictably kept their focus on the future instead of looking back at the past.

There were injuries to discuss, the repeal of the NCAA sanctions at Penn State and much, much more during the two-hour whip around the conference. Get caught up on the highlights right here, right now.

The Big Ten's path to the playoff

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

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

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

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

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

Big Ten morning links

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

To the links ...

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

B1G early look: Setting up Week 3

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
2:00
PM ET
The damage is done, and a truly forgettable weekend is in the books.

What can the Big Ten do to turn back the tide after falling flat in Week 2? There may not be much left that can truly change the perception of the league, but the conference better get geared up for Saturday to stop the bleeding with a handful of games that could be pretty revealing for some teams.

A quick look ahead:

1. Rutgers makes its real debut: The Scarlet Knights have been a pleasant surprise for the Big Ten through two weeks, though beating Howard didn't do much to prove they have what it takes to compete in the East Division right away this fall. A significant barometer is coming this weekend at what should be a rocking High Point Solutions Stadium against a regional rival and fellow unbeaten in Penn State. With one more win, Kyle Flood's team would serve notice that nobody should be taking Rutgers lightly moving forward -- and doing it against Penn State might be invaluable in recruiting.

2. Bounce-back chances: Michigan State has the weekend off to regroup and lick its wounds, but Michigan and Ohio State might actually prefer the opportunity to get back on the turf and erase the sting of painful losses to Notre Dame and Virginia Tech, respectively. The Wolverines were flat-out embarrassed by the Irish and were shut out for the first time since 1984, and they should be motivated to prove that's an aberration for the offense against Miami (Ohio). And the Buckeyes clearly could use a little lighter opposition after opening with Navy and the Hokies, a pair of opponents who didn't provide much chance for them to ease into things with so many new faces on offense.

3. Power 5 showdowns: None of the nonconference matchups on the docket have the national prestige or the perceived playoff implications of last week's games, but the Big Ten still has several chances to bolster its reputation against fellow Power 5 opponents. Iowa has struggled in both of its wins to start the season, but it is still undefeated ahead of its rivalry clash with Iowa State. Minnesota has a pair of victories as well, and its trip to TCU is not going to be a walk in the park. Illinois has survived without a loss through two weeks, but it also hits the road and faces a tall order at Washington. The Big Ten also has another shot at Irish, but Purdue is already reeling and Michigan obviously just came up woefully short with its crack at them last week.

4. Is Indiana a bowl team? After taking on FCS member Indiana State and then sitting out this past weekend with an early bye, it might as well still be preseason for Indiana. If the Hoosiers are going to take a step forward and get back into the postseason, winning outside the league against a team like Bowling Green is imperative in climbing toward bowl eligibility. While they were resting, the Falcons lost their starting quarterback to a hip injury, which certainly figures to be helpful for Indiana's revamped defense. Can they generate as much pressure from the defensive front and continue to run the ball as well as Tevin Coleman did in the opener? It's time to start answering questions again for Kevin Wilson.

5. What's up with the Huskers? The Nebraska offense wasn't going to keep setting records every week, but it looked like a completely different team on the field against McNeese State compared to the powerful outfit that steamrolled Florida Atlantic in the season opener. Ameer Abdullah's game-winning touchdown was an incredible effort and a memorable play, but if the Huskers can't find more consistency finding the end zone on the road against Fresno State, they might find themselves on upset alert yet again.

Weekend rewind: Big Ten

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
10:00
AM ET
Maybe you were like a lot of fans on Sunday around the Big Ten who don’t follow Minnesota or Rutgers: You had no reason to want to know what people were saying about your team.

You needed a break. So you went off the grid, perhaps turned to the NFL for a shoulder on which to cry.

But it’s Monday, and you’re back, ready to face the college football world. You missed Big Ten commish Jim Delany urging patience in the aftermath of a Saturday dumpster fire and ESPN Insider’s Playoff Predictor, suggesting that hope still exists for the league this year.

We all know that’s not what you want. You want answers. Why did it all go so badly in the Big Ten on Saturday? Again. Well, I’ve got nothing fancy for you, other than to say that the Big Ten needs better players and coaches and schemes.

The results of Saturday were symptomatic of a problem with no short-term fix. Painful as it may be, let’s review:

Team of the week: Here you go, Minnesota fans who believe the Gophers are regularly overlooked for the flashier, big-name programs. It’s substance over style with Jerry Kill’s group, which jumped to a 28-0 halftime lead over Middle Tennessee and required no drama in moving to 2-0 -- more than can be said for every other team in the league. The Gophers got just 67 passing yards from Mitch Leidner, but the running game was strong as usual, and the defense intercepted three passes.

Game of the week: Seventy-six points, four lead changes. Three fourth-quarter touchdowns by Illinois to earn a second straight come-from behind win. What’s not to love? Oh, yes it came at home against Western Kentucky, a week after the Illini roared back to beat Youngstown State. Nevertheless, Wes Lunt and the Illini are nothing if not resilient. Illinois trailed 27-21 early in the fourth quarter before Justin Hardee snagged a 62-yard TD. Taylor Barton then all but clinched it with a 77-yard interception return. Lunt, in his second start, threw for 456 yards.

Biggest play: Ameer Abdullah’s 58-yard touchdown reception in the final minute at Memorial Stadium allowed Nebraska to avoid overtime and possibly the biggest upset loss in school history against McNeese State of the Football Championship Subdivision. Abdullah caught a short pass in flat from Tommy Armstrong Jr. and broke five tackles en route to the end zone, providing the difference in the Huskers’ 31-24 victory.

Big Man on Campus (offense): Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock for his 9-of-11, cool-under-fire performance during the Hawkeyes’ marches to score two touchdowns in the final three minutes of a 17-13 win over Ball State.

Big Man on Campus (defense): Can we just give this to Virginia Tech’s ferocious pass rush against a hapless Ohio State pass-protection unit, which offered no chance for freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett to thrive? No? OK, then kudos to Penn State linebacker Mike Hull, who collected 11 tackles as the Nittany Lions held Akron to 69 rushing yards in a 21-3 win.

Big Man on Campus (special teams): Maryland fullback Kenny Goins, who blocked a South Florida punt in the end zone. Linebacker Avery Thompson recovered for the go-ahead touchdown in the Terrapins’ 24-17 win.

Biggest face plant: Tempting to go with Northwestern, which failed to score in the first half of the closest thing to a must-win game in Week 2, losing 23-15 to Northern Illinois. Or Purdue for continuing to be Purdue in a 38-17 loss to Central Michigan. But there’s no just denying Michigan. Come on, Michigan. The Wolverines were mauled by Notre Dame, 31-0. They rushed for 100 yards on 35 carries, committed four turnovers and generally made things way too easy for the Fighting Irish.

Numbers and facts to know: Michigan’s FBS-record streak of 365 straight without losing by shutout is over. The margin of victory was Notre Dame’s largest in series history. U-M quarterback Devin Gardner, who had not thrown an interception in his previous five games, was picked off three times to equal a career high. ... Ohio State lost its first home opener since 1978 and its first home game under Urban Meyer. Its 108 rushing yards were the fewest in a game under Meyer. ... Michigan State, in losing 46-27 at Oregon, allowed more points than in any game since Alabama scored 49 in the 2011 Capital One Bowl. ... Wisconsin won its 30th straight nonconference home game, 37-3 over Western Illinois. Melvin Gordon’s 38 rushing yards marked his lowest total over the past two seasons. ... Bo Pelini won his 60th game as coach at Nebraska, joining only Tom Osborne and Bob Devaney in school history.

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