Big Ten: Nebraska Cornhuskers
Good morning. A few thoughts before we get to the links:
1. Quarterback J.T. Barrett is receiving loads of attention as Ohio State continues its incredible offensive surge. And rightly so, because Barrett's numbers (20 total touchdowns, five interceptions, 65.2 percent completion rate) are astounding. He has the highest ESPN QBR score in the country since Sept. 6, the date of the Buckeyes' loss to Virginia Tech.
But let's not forget the improvement of Ohio State's offensive line. The young group with four new starters looked like a liability in the first couple of games. Since then, it has become a source of strength. The Buckeyes allowed no sacks on Saturday against Rutgers, whose defense came into the game leading the Big Ten in that category. The Scarlet Knights only had two tackles for loss and just one quarterback hurry. Ed Warriner's group showed similar dominance against Maryland, whose defensive front caused Iowa's offensive line all kinds of problems on Saturday.
Urban Meyer had his players give the assistant coaches a standing ovation after the Rutgers win. It's hard to tell just how good the Buckeyes are right now, Bob Hunter writes. But they look pretty darn good.
2. As great as Ameer Abdullah is, I thought Nebraska needed one more weapon to take its offense to a truly elite level. The Huskers might have found that extra option on Saturday at Northwestern.
De'Mornay Pierson-El, who to this point had done most of his damage on punt returns, had three catches and even threw a touchdown pass to Tommy Armstrong Jr., evoking memories of a famous trick play from Nebraska's past. The speedy true freshman gives Armstrong another target along with Kenny Bell and Jordan Westerkamp. The Huskers were dominant offensively in the second half against a pretty good Northwestern defense, and Pierson-El was a big reason why.
"De’Mornay and Ameer and Kenny, when does it end?” offensive coordinator Tim Beck told the Omaha World-Herald. “You want those guys on the field, because now you've got to guard them all.”
3. Indiana just can't seem to sustain any kind of positive momentum. The Hoosiers were a trendy pick to make a bowl this season, especially after winning at Missouri on Sept. 20.
But since then, Kevin Wilson's team has gone just 1-3 (with the lone win over North Texas). And as IU showed in Saturday's 56-17 loss to Michigan State, it's highly doubtful that there is another win left on the schedule.
True freshman quarterback Zander Diamont clearly isn't ready, as his 5-for-15, 11-yard performance vs. the Spartans confirmed. He should be redshirting, but season-ending injuries to Nate Sudfeld and Chris Covington thrust him into action. Even with Tevin Coleman having a season for the ages, the Hoosiers don't have much of a chance without a passing attack and with a defense that can't win Big Ten games on its own. There's much to like about the young talent Wilson has brought to Bloomington, but Indiana continues to be stuck in program quicksand. The last five games will test the resolve of Wilson and his players.
- Everything was ravaged for Iowa at Maryland, as the Hawkeyes threw the ball 56 (!) times. “Things we are known for doing when we play well, I can’t think of one of those things we did today,” Kirk Ferentz said.
- Minnesota simply found a way to beat Purdue.
- The game -- and likely the division hopes -- got away from Northwestern in the second half.
- Purdue was oh-so-close at Minnesota but came up short.
- Illinois finds itself in a familiar pickle.
- Wisconsin's Derek Watt and Warren Herring are spending unwanted time together -- in the training room.
- Michigan State has the look of a playoff team, Shawn Windsor writes.
- Rutgers was humbled in the Horseshoe but can't let the blowout loss define its season.
- Maryland's playmakers emerged at just the right time.
- Does big-money donor Stephen Ross hold the key to Dave Brandon's fate at Michigan?
- Questions facing Penn State for the second half.
Ohio State's band put on another amazing halftime show. Rock out to it. The Pinball Wizard part is my favorite.
Three Big Ten teams (Michigan State, Minnesota and Nebraska) have reached the six-win threshold, ensuring bowl placement for this year. Four other squads -- Ohio State, Maryland, Rutgers and Iowa -- are one win away.
The projections don't change much this week after a Saturday where things more or less went according to plan. One debate among the Big Ten reporting team was whether to remove Northwestern, which lost its second consecutive game and continued to struggle offensively. Yet with four winnable Big Ten games left -- Iowa (road), Michigan (home), Purdue (road) and Illinois (home) -- we think Pat Fitzgerald's team can finish well.
Another factor is the Big Ten taking more control of the game assignments this year, rather than leaving it up to the bowls, who often prioritize brand name and size of fan base over on-field results. The league wants better, fresher matchups and no repeat appearances, if at all possible.
Would the Holiday Bowl rather have Wisconsin than Maryland? No doubt. But Maryland has earned its way into the Holiday Bowl slot on the field, so we're giving the Terrapins the nod. Fortunately, Wisconsin and Maryland can settle things on the field this week in Madison.
Should Michigan State or Ohio State be projected into the College Football Playoff? Not yet. But the winner of their Nov. 8 showdown at Spartan Stadium could move into elite company.
Iowa takes a tumble after its loss in College Park. The Hawkeyes have to take care of business at home in November to move up again.
OK, enough rambling. The projections ...
Chick-fil-A Peach/AT&T Cotton/Fiesta/Capital One Orange: Michigan State
Chick-fil-A Peach/AT&T Cotton/Fiesta/Capital One Orange: Ohio State
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus: Nebraska
National University Holiday: Maryland
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Wisconsin
San Francisco: Rutgers
New Era Pinstripe: Iowa
Quick Lane: Penn State
Heart of Dallas: Northwestern
And in case you're not following us on Twitter yet (seriously?), check out:@ESPNRittenberg, @BennettESPN, @ESPNJoshMoyer, @DanMurphyESPN, @MitchSherman and @AWardESPN.
You can't spell 'Zoolander' without Zander. IU's starting QB today used to do some modeling. pic.twitter.com/VLiqVmvvSl— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) October 18, 2014
I never would've thought that one day my game would be televised on ABC prime time. What a blessing.... Thank you =O=O=O JESUS— Steven Longa (@StrongaLonga3) October 18, 2014
Rutgers may chop wood, but the Buckeyes are just a buzzsaw right now.— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) October 18, 2014
Armstrong says that's one small step for man, one giant leap for a Cornhusker— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) October 19, 2014
ARMSTRONG JUST WENT TO THE MOON sorry— Fake Bo Pelini (@FauxPelini) October 19, 2014
Happy for @AAppleby12. Most QBs in his position - lose two competitions - would take the first transfer train out of town. He stayed.— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) October 18, 2014
This is Abdullah time. He goes 1,000 yards -- the first Nebraska back ever to do that in three seasons. Incredible accomplishment.— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) October 19, 2014
Baylor loses. Oklahoma loses. Big Ten's chances of landing a team in the playoff got a lot better this afternoon.— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) October 18, 2014
Minnesota RB David Cobb: The Gophers’ senior had 14 carries for 76 yards before the end of the first quarter. Minnesota’s human perpetual motion machined finished Saturday’s back-and-forth battle with 194 yards and a touchdown on 35 touches. His early pounding also helped set up several big play-action completions for the Gopher offense.
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: Four touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter to pull away from Northwestern in a 38-17 win, gets Abdullah another sticker to add to his well-decorated helmet. He had 146 rushing yards, which makes him the first player in Cornhusker history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in three seasons. He’s the third Big Ten back to get past four digits in the rushing column this season.
Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: The rookie is now the full-fledged leader of an impressive Ohio State offense. He accounted for five touchdowns (three passing and two rushing) while hanging 56 points on Rutgers. He threw for 261 yards and ran for 107 more without making any costly mistakes.
Minnesota DB Cedric Thompson: Thompson bookended Saturday’s 39-38 victory with a pair of momentum-swinging interceptions. He picked off Purdue’s Austin Appleby on the first play of the game and brought it back to the 2-yard line. He clinched the game with a very athletic catch at midfield with 2:31 left on the clock.
Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford: The Spartans put together a definitive 56-17 win over Indiana with a team effort on offense. Tony Lippett had 123 yards receiving and a couple highlight catches. Nick Hill led the team with 178 rushing yards -- 76 of which came on a garbage time touchdown. But Langford stood above them with his three rushing scores. The first two came when the game was still in doubt and the third was a fourth quarter knockout punch that helped the Spartans kick their recent trend of not slamming the door after they build a lead.
1. Ohio State and Michigan State are widening the gap over the rest of the league. The Spartans and Buckeyes continued their march toward Nov. 8 in East Lansing with resounding wins by identical scores of 56-17 over Indiana and Rutgers, respectively. The Buckeyes topped 50 points in four consecutive games for the first time in school history and dealt the Scarlet Knights their worst loss in 12 years with an introduction to the big-time side of Big Ten football. MSU was slow at the start, as Indiana’s Shane Wynn and Tevin Coleman scored on long runs, but Michigan State blanked the Hoosiers in the second half. Just as importantly, both Big Ten powers climbed closer to consideration for the College Football Playoff as two top-10 unbeatens went down.
3. Minnesota might never win pretty, but it almost always wins. The Golden Gophers beat Purdue 39-38 behind two interceptions of Austin Appleby by safety Cedric Thompson, including the game-clincher with 2:28 to play. Minnesota is 3-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1990. It was a typical Gopher effort, with 194 rushing yards from David Cobb and just nine completions from quarterback Mitch Leidner, who threw two touchdowns. Give credit to fast-improving Purdue, for sure, but this game deviated from Minnesota form only in that the Gophers trailed at halftime -- they earned the first win in 23 such occasions under Jerry Kill -- and needed a 52-yard field goal by Ryan Santoso for the decisive points with 4:59 left.
4. In spite of Minnesota’s start, Nebraska still looks like the best in the West. The Huskers beat Northwestern 38-17 at Ryan Field and outscored the Wildcats 24-0 in the second half to move to 6-1. Barring an upset win in Lincoln by Rutgers or Purdue over the next two weeks, Nebraska will be 8-1 on Nov. 15 when Bo Pelini’s team travels to Wisconsin for a final stretch that includes Minnesota and Iowa. In bouncing back from a loss to Michigan State, Nebraska displayed new depth at the line of scrimmage against Northwestern and found new ways to feature spark-plug freshman De'Mornay Pierson-El, who threw a touchdown pass to QB Tommy Armstrong Jr.
5. It might be November (if even then) before we understand Maryland and Iowa. The Terrapins overcame a slow start to beat the Hawkeyes 38-31. Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown returned from a back injury, suffered in the second half, and receiver Stefon Diggs and cornerback Will Likely contributed their usual big plays. But is Maryland really a threat to get to nine wins and a New Year’s Day bowl? Maybe, in the watered-down Big Ten. What about Iowa, still a player in the West Division with its favorable schedule but unable to break through in a winnable game Saturday? Just as the Hawkeyes’ offense appears to have gained speed, the defense took a step back in College Park.
The Big Ten's West Division is still as muddled as ever, Rutgers is searching for more respect, and several teams still aren’t secure at quarterback. This week's games could help make the overall conference picture a bit clearer, but plenty of time – and storylines – remain. Here’s a look at Saturday’s games and what to expect (all times Eastern):
Iowa (5-1) at Maryland (4-2), ESPN2: The Terrapins have had a week to rest, and they’ll need it against a tough Hawkeyes team. Iowa scored an uncharacteristic 45 points last week, and Maryland’s defense is giving up more yards – but fewer points – than the Hawkeyes’ last opponent, Indiana. This is an interesting matchup for a lot of reasons. Not only is Iowa trying to remain atop the West, but we could possibly see four quarterbacks. Kirk Ferentz still wants to play both Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard, while Randy Edsall won’t hesitate to pull C.J. Brown for Caleb Rowe if Brown struggles the way he did against Ohio State.
Purdue (3-4) at Minnesota (5-1), BTN: The Boilermakers shocked the Big Ten last week by hanging 31 points on Michigan State -- and that wasn’t lost on Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, who praised Purdue’s offensive line. With Austin Appleby now playing well at quarterback, this isn’t the “gimme” game it appeared to be a few weeks ago. Regardless, Purdue’s run defense is still lacking, and that’s not good news against Minnesota. David Cobb is rushing for more than 136 yards per game, and he’s one of the more underrated players in the Big Ten. He isn’t just the spark in this offense, he’s the engine – and he’ll again be key to the Gophers’ success. If Minnesota keeps winning, voters in both polls won’t be able to ignore this team for much longer.
Rutgers (5-1) at No. 13 Ohio State (4-1), ABC/ESPN2: Rutgers is the surprise team in the Big Ten right now, but there would be no bigger surprise than if it were able to knock off the Buckeyes at the Horseshoe. Quarterback J.T. Barrett is rolling, running back Ezekiel Elliott is solid and the Scarlet Knights’ defense will be tested, B1G time. Ohio State holds the advantage in scoring defense, total defense, pass defense, scoring offense, passing offense and rushing offense. Rutgers has embraced its underdog role so far this season, and it’s a big underdog in this one.
No. 19 Nebraska (5-1) at Northwestern (3-3), BTN: The Wildcats have faced three one-dimensional offenses in a row, but that ends with the Cornhuskers. Not only does Nebraska have one of the nation’s best running backs in Ameer Abdullah, but quarterback Tommy Armstrong is also fourth in the Big Ten in both passing yards per game and pass efficiency. This is the highest-rated offense (No. 10 in total offense) that the Wildcats have faced all season. Nebraska’s defense isn’t too bad, either, and Trevor Siemian will have to be on top of his game for Northwestern to stand a chance.
- Week 8 predictions
- Big Ten: What to watch in the second half
- Rutgers' Kemoko Turay is turning heads
- B1G RBs on pace for historic season
- Buckeyes have seen best, worst of Rutgers QB Gary Nova
- B1G's wild, wild West needs a Wyatt Earp
- J.T. Barrett getting it 'right' in running game
- Our midseason All-Big Ten team
- Roundtable: Highlights from the season's first half
- Roundtable: Lowlights from the season's first half
Berringer was 17 months older than me. The few times I interviewed him for the school newspaper, I thought he seemed much older than that, probably because he somehow stayed above the fray -- especially late in his career as a quarterback that happened to coincide with the most controversial and successful period in Nebraska football history.
Because of my own youth and lack of awareness, I failed at the time to recognize the impact of Berringer on people in Nebraska.
I saw him as just another guy with a good story. That is, until April 20, 1996, two days after Berringer died when the small plane he piloted crashed in a field north of Lincoln.
At Nebraska’s spring game, instead of celebrating consecutive national championships or another batch of Cornhuskers drafted into the NFL -- Berringer likely would have been among them -- the school and state mourned its fallen hero by playing a video tribute on the big screens.
Sports are often emotional. But not like that. That was not about sports. The stadium went completely silent. It remains the only time I’ve shed tears while sitting in a press box. I was far from alone.
The Big Ten Network documentary, “Unbeaten,” a 54-minute production on the life and death of Berringer, set to premier after the Nebraska-Northwestern game on Saturday, will similarly stir emotions for those who remember Berringer, and it will educate a generation of fans too young to have watched him play.
This fall marks the 20-year anniversary of his greatest football achievement, leading Nebraska to eight wins in place of injured star Tommie Frazier.
The documentary, directed by Matthew Engel and Kevin Shaw with Bill Friedman, BTN coordinating producer for original programming, hits all the right notes on Berringer.
It features no narration, only sound from a diverse lineup of former Berringer teammates and testimony from others, including Nebraska assistant Ron Brown, who recruited Berringer to Lincoln, and Kyle Orton, who has worn No. 18 since high school as a tribute to the QB.
An archived Berringer interview away from the field is particularly haunting. Forgotten audio from Keith Jackson lends important historical perspective.
“We wanted Brook to have a voice,” Engel said.
For Nebraska fans, the first half of the film largely serves as review of the 1994 and ’95 seasons, with impressive insight into the complicated dynamic of the Frazier-Berringer relationship. The final 25 minutes includes powerful reporting on the plane crash and its aftermath, poignant footage and a final sequence certain to move viewers like that April Saturday 18 years ago in Lincoln.
“He’s a guy who represents all that’s good about a college football player,” Friedman said. “He was a symbol of how Nebraskans want their football to be portrayed.”
Berringer’s impact is lasting, memorialized with a statue of the quarterback in uniform with his coach, Tom Osborne, that stands outside the entrance Nebraska’s athletic offices on the north side of Memorial Stadium.
Shaw said he visited Lincoln prior to documenting Berringer and saw the statue without knowing its significance. In learning about Berringer and remembering the statue, Shaw said, it was a “wow moment.”
“It was like, that’s that guy,” he said.
With “Unbeaten,” BTN succeeded in creating a film that will touch Nebraskans and teach others across the Big Ten about a quarterback who’s worth remembering for another 20 years and beyond.
Let’s go around the league:
- Michigan State's defense prepares for anything and everything against Indiana.
- Is Zander Diamont the answer for Indiana?
- Rutgers coach Kyle Flood talks to his team about ebola as the Scarlet Knights prepare to travel.
- Backup running back Rod Smith enjoys a breakout season for Ohio State.
- Iowa presents a new set of challenges for the Maryland defense.
- Survival mode is here for Penn State, writes David Jones.
- Michigan's Board of Regents plans a extensive review of athletic director Dave Brandon.
- Northwestern's defensive line prepares for another top Big Ten running back.
- A look back at the Nebraska Hail Mary that beat Northwestern a year ago.
- Purdue quarterback Austin Appleby on facing Minnesota.
- Officials at Minnesota are among those searching for answers about poor student attendance at football games.
- Iowa cornerback Desmond King looks forward to facing Maryland receiver Stefon Diggs.
- Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon says he's hoping for a positive resolution to the autograph controversies surrounding Florida State QB Jameis Winston and Georgia running back Todd Gurley.
- An examination of the recruiting successes and failures under coach Tim Beckman.
As a result, each of us decided to highlight one deserving player who didn't make the team. Maybe he was just overshadowed by better players, maybe he was injured or maybe his inconsistency gave us pause. So here are our honorable mentions, the players who were close to making the cut and could very well make our end-of-season All-Big Ten team:
Cornerback was the toughest position to decipher, and a lot of deserving players didn't make it. Waynes is asked to do a lot as Michigan State's boundary corner. He's often left alone on an island against the other teams' top weapons. That's a job he usually does very well, though there have been some breakdowns this season, notably against Oregon. The No Fly Zone is allowing more visitors than in the past, as the Spartans rank just eighth in the Big Ten in pass defense. But Waynes also had a game-clinching interception against Nebraska. So it was a tough call leaving him off, though I suspect he may work his way back at the end of the season
Austin Ward: Minnesota TE Maxx Williams
Lack of separation between Ameer Abdullah, Tevin Coleman and Melvin Gordon made it easy to just load up the All-Big Ten backfield and ditch a traditional offensive lineup. But getting rid of a spot for tight ends unfortunately left Williams out of the picture, and yet another talented tailback in Minnesota’s David Cobb would be among the first to talk about the value of having a big, physical presence blocking at that position to help out a rushing attack. As limited as the passing game may be for the Gophers, Williams has also been an asset there with 12 catches and three touchdowns. Assuming a more familiar-looking roster is settled on at the end of the season, expect to see Williams on it.
Adam Rittenberg: Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo
The Big Ten once again lacks depth at wide receiver, but Carroo has been a major bright spot for Rutgers' transformed passing attack. Carroo carried over his touchdowns trend from 2013 and is tied for second in the league this season with five scoring grabs while ranking third in receiving yards (91.3 per game). Although Penn State's DaeSean Hamilton had a better start, Carroo seems to be surging after a three-touchdown performance Sept. 27 against Tulane. Of his 29 catches this season, 21 have gone for either first downs or touchdowns. He also blocked a punt against Penn State and is a big reason why quarterback Gary Nova stretches the field so well. You can definitely make a case for Carroo over Hamilton on the team.
Josh Moyer: Nebraska DE Randy Gregory
Gregory is one of the best players the Big Ten has to offer, but an injury in the opener put a damper on his odds for the midseason team. He played in just the first series against Florida Atlantic, missed the next game and finished with just three tackles against Fresno State when he wasn't yet 100 percent. Even when you take all that into account, he's still among the conference leaders in sacks (4.5). That speaks to his ability; he makes the kind of plays that opposing quarterbacks don't forget. He's only had two great games so far, but there's plenty of season left. It would surprise absolutely no one if he made our end-of-season All-Big Ten team.
Mitch Sherman: Iowa DT Louis Trinca-Pasat
Much of the attention on the interior of Iowa’s defensive line is directed at Carl Davis. And rightfully so; Davis is a handful. But fellow tackle Trinca-Pasat has benefited more than anyone -- enough to earn consideration over Davis for a spot on the midseason team. Trinca-Pasat leads Big Ten linemen with 39 tackles, and his 5.5 tackles for loss rank 16th in the league. A third-year starter, the 6-foot-3, 290-pound senior had a huge game in the early nailbiter against Northern Iowa, and he has generally created a way to impact every game alongside Davis, forming one of the Big Ten’s best interior duos.
Dan Murphy: Michigan State CB Trae Waynes
The Spartans ask so much more of their cornerbacks than most teams that's it not entirely fair to judge them on the same criteria as their peers. Waynes is constantly on his own in coverage, which means his minor slip-ups are magnified. He's broken up three passes this season and intercepted two others, including a game-clinching pick in the final minute against Nebraska. For as much as he allows his teammates to do on defense, he probably deserves a closer look.
It would probably a good idea, though, if the Huskers expect it.
Last time out for Nebraska, it failed to score in the first 38 minutes of clock time and didn’t reach the end zone against Michigan State until 12 minutes remained in a 27-22 loss at Spartan Stadium. Michigan State defenders, it turned out, held a grudge over seemingly innocuous comments from the Huskers about their past successes in running the ball against the Spartans.
Michigan State held the Huskers to 47 rushing yards, a low in seven seasons under coach Bo Pelini.
Well, don’t look now, but the Wildcats, who host No. 19 Nebraska at 7:30 p.m. ET, might have more reason than even the Spartans to play with a chip on their shoulders.
Nebraska beat Northwestern 27-24 last year in Lincoln on the memorable Ron Kellogg III-to-Jordan Westerkamp Hail Mary as time expired.
A year before, the Huskers stormed back from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 29-28 at Ryan Field.
So who has the mental edge on Saturday?
Davie said he hoped for a more comfortable victory at Northwestern on Saturday.
History indicates he ought to be happy with any victory. Since Nebraska joined the Big Ten, the three games between the Huskers and Wildcats have been decided by a total of seven points. Northwestern beat the Huskers 28-25 in Lincoln in 2011, helping provide motivation for Nebraska two years ago before the comeback win on the road.
The tables are now turned.
“There were kind of some strange games, to say the least,” Pelini said. “We shot ourselves in the foot some. They’ve made some plays.
“They make you earn everything you get. That’s kind of their style.”
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said the Wildcats would not necessarily use the 2013 Hail Mary as a source of motivation.
“I think our motivation is on us,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve got to play the way that we’re capable of for four quarters. We’ve done that a handful of times, but not enough – not consistently enough.
“This year’s team is very different than last year’s, and every year is different. But it was a heck of a play by them and one of those games that is what it is.”
Each of the returning Wildcats who experienced that finish, he said, learned lessons that have helped. Northwestern studies two-minute defense more intensely. It made mistakes against Nebraska on the final play in rushing the passer and in allowing the football to get tipped toward Westerkamp in the end zone.
“We’re going to rush 12 if it happens again,” the coach told reporters on Monday.
You can see, the memory lingers – for the Wildcats, if not for Westerkamp.
“Obviously, people bring it up to me,” the Nebraska receiver said, “but I try to remain humble with it, like I said last year. It was a crazy play, but I don’t like looking back on it too much. I’m just looking forward to the next game.”
Perhaps, anyway, motivation gets too much credit. It wasn’t Michigan State’s motivation that caused Nebraska to execute poorly in East Lansing on Oct. 4.
Pelini said the Huskers drilled execution in their bye week before preparations began for Northwestern. Nebraska might have focused so much on scheme in the days before visiting Michigan State, Pelini said, that its fundamentals suffered.
Regardless, the Huskers should like their chances if they get back into a close game Saturday. Before the loss to Michigan State, Nebraska had won 10 consecutive games decided by seven points or fewer, best nationally.
Each of the past two meetings with Northwestern fit into that streak for the Huskers.
“The teams that last,” Pelini said, “and the teams that finish best are the teams that are mentally tough.”
Advice that could also apply to a team set to face a motivated opponent.
Why Iowa will win: Steer clear of this game in Vegas as both teams have been hard to pin down. But I liked Iowa's aggressive offensive approach last week against Indiana and see no reason why the Hawkeyes can't keep the pedal down against a Maryland defense that allows more than 450 yards per game. Iowa must shore up its run defense after last week, but there are no Tevin Colemans on the Terrapins roster. Close game, fun game, lots of points, but Iowa emerges with a win. ... Iowa 35, Maryland 31 -- Adam Rittenberg
Why Maryland will win: C.J. Brown is healthier, Maryland is at home, the Terps are scoring an average of more than five TDs a game, and they're coming off a bye. Add all that together, and I feel a little better going with Maryland over the Hawkeyes. Both teams have been inconsistent, but Iowa has crossed the 30-point barrier against an FBS team only once -- and that was last week against the nation's No. 89 scoring defense. Maryland's D isn't good, but it's better than Indiana. The Hawkeyes might not be able to keep up in the end. ... Maryland 31, Iowa 28. -- Josh Moyer
Why Minnesota will win: Purdue is rapidly improving and growing into the kind of physical team Darrell Hazell wants. But Minnesota already has that kind of team. The Gophers are surging thanks to strong defensive work, solid special teams and a shorten-the-game approach on offense. The Boilermakers' young defense will have trouble containing David Cobb and the Gophers will move to 6-1. ... Minnesota 27, Purdue 16 -- Brian Bennett
Why Purdue will win: It's time to sell high on the Gophers. Minnesota has pounded its way to a 5-1 record despite ranking 124th in passing offense. Purdue's offense under sophomore quarterback Austin Appleby has shown a new propensity for big plays. The Boilermakers hung 31 on Michigan State's stingy defense a week ago with the help of a much-improved offensive line. If Appleby can get going early, he might be able to force Minnesota out of its David Cobb comfort zone and sneak away with the Big Ten upset of the week. ... Purdue 31, Minnesota 27 -- Dan Murphy
Michigan State 45, Indiana 17: Already suspect on defense with one of the worst units in the Big Ten, the Hoosiers are going to have an even harder time hanging around in shootouts with quarterback Nate Sudfeld out for the season.
Nebraska 28, Northwestern 20: Ameer Abdullah and the Huskers have had a week to recharge the batteries after their late rally came up short against Michigan State, and they’ll be looking to send a message that the West Division still goes through them this season.
Ohio State 48, Rutgers 20: The odds of the Buckeyes actually being better offensively this season than the last two under Urban Meyer looked long about a month ago, but that young attack is gaining confidence and shattering records seemingly every week even without Braxton Miller at quarterback.
Mitch Sherman: 57-13 (.814)
Brian Bennett: 55-15 (.786)
Austin Ward: 55-15 (.786)
Adam Rittenberg: 54-16 (.771)
Dan Murphy: 25-8 (.758)
Josh Moyer: 51-19 (.729)
1. Quarterback quandary: Narrowing the field seemed like it could be a blessing in the summer, with Indiana coach Kevin Wilson quick to point out the benefits of no longer needing to juggle practice reps as much now that Nate Sudfeld was the last man standing in what was once a three-man battle. But there was an obvious downside that didn't receive nearly as much attention in July as perhaps it should have, and now that an injury has struck their starter, it's clear how much the transfers of Tre Roberson and Cameron Coffman hurt the Hoosiers. Roberson, experienced and proven in the Big Ten, is off putting up big numbers at Illinois State. Coffman is waiting for his chance to play for Wyoming while he sits out the season. And back at Indiana, the Hoosiers are scrambling to find somebody to put behind center this week with Michigan State's vaunted defense coming to town. The chance to focus on one guy and potentially unleash more of Sudfeld's ability was a nice silver lining, but it was apparently just a distraction from a huge storm cloud that was poised to wipe out Indiana's season.
2. Something special: There's any easy way to get Urban Meyer to gush about his team these days. All it takes is one mention of his kickoff coverage unit, and the Ohio State coach turns downright giddy by his standards. The Buckeyes have reason to be pleased with what they're getting on special teams lately, and they lead the Big Ten in net yardage on kickoffs thanks to a combination of well-positioned kicks, an aggressive scheme and a roster loaded up with speedy players willing to fly down the field and hit somebody. Meyer has always had a fondness for special teams, and he's fostered a competition for "starting positions" on the units that makes even first-teamers on offense and defense proud to contribute on punts and kickoffs. It may not draw much attention, but the Buckeyes are racking up some hidden yardage and subtly altering the field-position battle each week thanks in large part to Meyer's cover guys.
3. Best Bye: No program seems too thrilled with the double-bye schedule in place this season, but there appear to be obvious benefits for all four teams sitting out with an off date Saturday. Penn State's offensive line remains in disarray, and while it can't suddenly turn its inexperienced blockers into veterans, some extra reps and game-planning won't hurt heading into the stretch run that starts against Ohio State's tenacious defensive line next week. Wisconsin and Illinois both could use some time to work out kinks in the passing attack, with the former toying with a two-quarterback rotation and the latter trying to find the best option with Wes Lunt on the sideline. And after finally getting back in the win column, Brady Hoke might be able to take a deep breath at Michigan and enjoy at least a few moments of peace after a victory over the weekend. Out of all those options, maybe the Wolverines needed a bye the most -- unless the regents decide to stir the pot up again.
- Michigan may have another candidate emerging for a redshirt, but since it's an injury issue, all that Brady Hoke is providing is a hint.
- Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun might have a future as a professional wrestler if he keeps fine-tuning his suplexes on the field.
- Darius Hamilton rarely comes off the field for Rutgers now that he's emerged as a complete defensive lineman.
- Ohio State has been roaring out of the gates lately, and Urban Meyer made sure to thank his coaching staff for that positive development.
- Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown is ready to go again after the bye week.
- Penn State might be getting closer to having an experienced veteran back in action to help that suspect offensive line.
- Meet Zander Diamont, who has earned some glowing praise ahead of a likely start for Indiana.
- Kenny Bell is starting to feel right again and is hoping to give Nebraska a lift at wide receiver.
- Iowa has seven different players making a homecoming trip to Maryland this weekend, including safety Jordan Lomax.
- Wisconsin could be welcoming back some key contributors soon.
- Northwestern's success against Nebraska could be determined in the red zone.
- A closer look at Tim Beckman's recruiting classes at Illinois and how they are panning out.
- Minnesota senior wide receiver Isaac Fruechte has caught balls from four different quarterbacks during his career.
- Purdue might have finally found an offensive identity.
Three of the nation's top four tailbacks are from the conference, along with four of the top seven. The last time a season ended that way? Well, if we're being conservative, at least two decades. If we're not, more than half a century.
Since at least 1994, when the NCAA makes such stats available online, no other conference has boasted so many top runners in average rushing yards per game. And even if we use overall rushing yards from this database -- which admittedly isn't entirely accurate since bowl games aren't consistently counted -- no conference could say, since at least 1956, when the database starts, that it ended the season with so many top runners.
In other words, if the second half of this season is anything like the first, we could be in the midst of watching an incredibly rare conference-wide performance. The Big Ten may not have the greatest overall reputation right now, but no conference has more quality running backs. It doesn't matter whether you look at overall rushing yards or simply rushing yards per game, because the Big Ten's version of the Fantastic Four holds identical rankings in both categories.
Numbers like this just don't happen. The Big Ten is on pace to have a pair of 2,000-yard rushers right now. Granted, that seems a lot less likely for Indiana running back Tevin Coleman without his starting quarterback or a guaranteed bowl -- but Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah or Minnesota's David Cobb might have 14 total games to accomplish the feat. Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon is already on pace to reach it in 12.
Only three times in NCAA history has more than one running back crossed the 2,000-yard plateau in the same year. And only once -- in 2007 with Conference USA -- have two runners come from the same conference, Central Florida's Kevin Smith and Tulane's Matt Forte.
This is shaping up to be a special season for the B1G's quartet. Three -- Abdullah, Coleman, Gordon -- are receiving votes in ESPN's Heisman Watch, and no running back might be more important to his team than Cobb. The Minnesota bruiser is accounting for 46 percent of the Gophers' entire offense.
The Big Ten hasn't had a group of such productive backs since at least 2000, when three backs (Northwestern's Damien Anderson, Wisconsin's Michael Bennett, Michigan's Anthony Thomas) all finished within the top five in rushing yards per game. This might even rival the 1994 season in terms of talent when five B1G backs ranked within the top 10 nationally in total rushing yards -- and included the likes of Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter, Wisconsin's Terrell Fletcher and Ohio State's Eddie George.
There's still another half of the season left to be played, so there's no telling exactly how things will end up. But make sure to enjoy the rest of 2014 because, if the first six games were any indication, we won't see another group of Big Ten running backs like this for quite a while.
The nation's best group of running backs. The Big Ten has taken its share of lumps this season, and often rightfully so, but no league can claim a better trio of running backs than Indiana junior Tevin Coleman, Wisconsin junior Melvin Gordon and Nebraska senior Ameer Abdullah. Gordon and Coleman may join Abdullah in the NFL draft next spring. Each is a sight to savor, and for different reasons, but they share an ability to handle a heavy load of carries. Even among a deep group of backs in the league that includes David Cobb of Minnesota, Michigan State's Jeremy Langford and Ezekiel Elliott of Ohio State, the top three stand out, staying on pace to give the league its first threesome to average more than 140 rushing yards since 2000.
The Michigan mess. The first half of the season could not have gone much worse in Ann Arbor, featuring three September losses and the troubling ordeal that surrounded Shane Morris' head injury in a Sept. 27 loss to Minnesota. What will the second half bring? The Wolverines, after a bye week, play their final game of October with a bit of momentum gained from a 18-13 win against Penn State. But Michigan State awaits. Another loss would only turn up the heat on coach Brady Hoke, already facing intense scrutiny. Short of a miraculous turnaround, Hoke may not be able to save his job. Regardless, the final five games merit attention.
Ohio State's resurgence. The Buckeyes didn't go away, of course, but they slipped under the radar a bit in September after the two-touchdown loss to Virginia Tech. In the three games since, Urban Meyer's team has scored 168 points as freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett made major leaps. Ohio State, as it enters the second half, looks like a new kind of challenge altogether for its upcoming opponents. The biggest game, Nov. 8 at Michigan State, likely offers the Big Ten its only realistic shot land a team in the College Football Playoff. And while OSU didn't look worthy in early September, the selection committee may soon receive a new set of trends to ponder on Ohio State.
The West Division scramble. To enter Week 8, it's a jumbled mess, with Minnesota atop the heap. The Gophers look poised to stay in control into November, with upcoming games against Purdue and at Illinois. Things get dicey for Minnesota, though, next month with a finishing stretch against Iowa and Ohio State, followed by trips to Nebraska and Wisconsin. Northwestern, with one loss in the league, remains in a decent spot, as do the preseason division favorites, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska. As projected in August, the race may still come down to schedules. And the schedule, despite Minnesota's strong play and stumbles elsewhere, still favors the Badgers and Hawkeyes.
The path of Rutgers and Maryland. The Scarlet Knights, in particular, have made the transition to the Big Ten look easy this fall. For a group picked by many to finish last in the league, it's been a stunning start, fueled by a stingy defense and the strong play of quarterback Gary Nova. Rutgers is a failed defensive stand in the final minute from a perfect record. Maryland, too, has looked strong at times, particularly on offense. But the road is about to get much more difficult for the league's new members, starting on Saturday as the Scarlet Knights visit Ohio State and Maryland hosts Iowa. Rutgers' schedule is downright brutal over the next month, and it doesn't look much more inviting for the Terrapins. But they've already proved us wrong, so why not again?