Big Ten: Nebraska Cornhuskers

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis was 29-years-old when he received his first full-time coaching job in 2007, following Bo Pelini here from LSU.

Three years ago, Papuchis earned a promotion to defensive coordinator.

 The coach and his wife, Billie, are parents to four children, all born during their time in Lincoln, the youngest three days before the Huskers’ season-opener in August.

"My family, all they know is Nebraska,” said Papuchis, who will coach his last game at Nebraska on Saturday against USC in the National University Holiday Bowl (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). “One way or another, that’s coming to an end Saturday night. So if it’s going to come down to an ending, it might as well end on a good note.”

New Nebraska coach Mike Riley, introduced Dec. 5, has announced plans to retain secondary coach Charlton Warren. The remaining holdovers from the staff assembled by Pelini, who was fired on Nov. 30, are likely left to coach this week and leave.

Pelini is now the head coach at FCS-level Youngstown State.

The NCAA granted Nebraska a waiver that allows the old staff – under contract through January 2016 -- to run practices this month. Meanwhile, Riley’s hires, headquartered one floor above the football offices at Memorial Stadium, went to work on recruiting.

Difficult circumstances, for sure, said interim coach Barney Cotton, who worked with Pelini at Nebraska for the past seven seasons and in 2003 as the duo served under former coach Frank Solich as coordinators.

“I wish I could make it all go away,” Cotton said of the often-painful transition.

Cotton has accepted a position as offensive coordinator for new UNLV coach Tony Sanchez. Nebraska offensive line coach John Garrison is also headed to Las Vegas.

Papuchis is still looking, along with offensive coordinator Tim Beck. The remainder of the staff includes Rick Kaczenski (defensive line), Ross Els (linebackers), Ron Brown (running backs) and Rich Fisher (receivers).

“It’s been unique to say the least,” Beck said last week. “But I’m alive, and I get a chance to get out here and coach. I just coach. I enjoy it. I enjoy the kids. It’s what I do, and it’s all I know.”

In addition to Warren, Riley hired four assistants from his former school, Oregon State – defensive coordinator Mark Banker, linebackers coach Trent Bray, special teams coach Bruce Read and offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh.

The new head coach watched the Huskers practice in Lincoln, and he said he’ll be an interested observer during the Holiday Bowl.

Meanwhile, the old staff is tasked to keep the Huskers focused for this game.

“The thing that I’ve tried to emphasize with the players,” Papuchis said, “in their career, they’ll only get four opportunities at the most to play in a bowl game. And every one of those opportunities, you’ve got to maximize and cherish.

“Despite all the things that are surrounding the program and however they felt about the transition, this is about them. The kids sometimes get lost in all the discussion.”

Papuchis, now 36, has tried to focus entirely this month on preparing Nebraska to face the 24th-ranked Trojans.

“I don’t ever want to cheat our players and cheat this program,” he said.

“At the same time, obviously, I’ve got four little ones and a family to take care of, so I’m trying to do the best I can as far as balancing what’s going to come after [Saturday] and what is taking place.”

Beck said he’s leaving Nebraska with no regrets.

“I think we did it with class,” the offensive coordinator said, “and I think we did it with humility, integrity. We are who we were from the beginning to the end. We’ve never changed. We’ve believed in each other and worked hard doing it.”

At Nebraska, Beck, the school’s highest-paid assistant at $700,000, and Papuchis worked in a spotlight that shone more brightly than on the position coaches. More of the same is likely on tap for Saturday, the first game for both without Pelini since 2007.

Papuchis said he’s “confident” about his future. And in this final game at Nebraska, he said, “there’s no real reason to be conservative.”

“I don’t mind saying this at all,” Papuchis said. “I look at this as an opportunity -- another chance to build on a résumé, to play a great team. And hopefully we have a good defensive showing, and that will help going forward.”
LINCOLN, Neb. -- There are two distinctly different ways to look at the mindset of Nebraska’s players as they get ready for the National University Holiday Bowl on Saturday against USC.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsAmeer Abdullah and the Huskers look to end their season with a win over USC.
 The Huskers, who leave Tuesday for San Diego, have endured a tumultuous month -- from the firing of coach Bo Pelini on Nov. 30, two days after their overtime win at Iowa, to the deconstruction of his old staff as new coach Mike Riley hired his own assistants.

There was also the public reveal last week, presumably initiated by someone among them, of a volatile audiotape from Pelini’s final meeting on Dec. 2 with the players.

How, after all of that, can the Huskers be ready to play a football game? It’s a question for which they offer few deep answers. The past is behind them, quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. said.

“I’m focused on our staff,” he said, “these players and getting ready for USC.”

From the alternate perspective, the events of the past three weeks may have galvanized the Huskers.

As Armstrong suggests, they are driven to play well for interim coach Barney Cotton and the other eight assistant coaches, seven of whom likely will not remain at Nebraska after this week.

Riley plans to keep only secondary coach Charlton Warren.

Essentially, this is the last chance for the Huskers to work with the coaches who recruited them. It’s a motivating factor.

So is the desire to show well in front of Riley. The former Oregon State coach has watched from afar as Nebraska practiced this month and figures to use the Holiday Bowl as another chance to start evaluating his 2015 roster.

Mainly, though, they want to end this season well for each other.

“The things we’ve faced over the month, we’ve put them behind us,” safety Nate Gerry said. “We’ve kind of realized that Saturday is the last time we’ve got together, and we’re just going to use our energy to go out there and play well for each other -- not really worry about anything.

“Play for the guys who brought you to Nebraska. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to give it all I’ve got, like I know they’re going to do for me.”

If you get past the forest of subplots, an interesting matchup awaits.

Nebraska, 9-3 and winless in four games against the Trojans – most recently a 49-31 home loss in 2007 – has a chance to finish with its best record since 2003, incidentally the season after which coach Frank Solich and his first-year defensive coordinator, Pelini, were fired.

And parts of this game, to be telecast at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN, look especially appetizing.

The Huskers the lead the nation in opponent completion rate at 47.5 percent; USC is No. 1 in completion percentage at 70.1. Nebraska ranks 10th in yards per opponent pass play and ninth in third-down conversion rate allowed; the Trojans rank 18th and fourth in the respective offensive categories.

Safe to say, though, Nebraska has not faced a foe like USC. Michigan State, the most productive passing offense among the Huskers’ 12 opponents, ranks 38th nationally.

“It will be interesting to see what happens,” defensive end Greg McMullen told reporters last week. “That could probably benefit us by them throwing a whole lot.”

McMullen said he thinks the Nebraska defensive line can pressure USC quarterback Cody Kessler.

Likely, it depends somewhat on the effectiveness of fellow end Randy Gregory. The junior, an elite NFL prospect, missed the season finale. He battled injuries most of the season and returned to practice Friday in Lincoln.

Nebraska also faces injuries on the offensive line. At center, Mark Pelini and top backup Ryne Reeves are out, as is Zach Sterup at right tackle.

“We’ve got to make sure we win our one-on-ones,” Armstrong said. “They play a lot of man – make you beat them on the outside. And they’ve got a great, physical defensive line.”

No matter the individual battles, for Nebraska, the Holiday Bowl, after four practices this week in California, will boil down to a question: Can the Huskers find the right mindset?

“It’s not about how I want to end,” said senior I-back Ameer Abdullah, allowed extra time to heal from a knee injury that slowed him in November. “It’s about how we should end things.”

Big Ten bowl predictions

December, 19, 2014
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The song is right: Bowl season is the most wonderful time of the year. Bowl season will also determine the overall champion of the season picks. Austin Ward leads the way right now, but it's still a wide-open race.

 

Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl



Why Illinois will win: There has been a noticeable change in the Illini down the stretch, and Tim Beckman’s players appeared to have fully bought in to his message as they fought back to qualify for a bowl game. Across the board, this looks like the most favorable matchup for any Big Ten team, and with a motivated team playing its best football when it mattered most, expect Illinois to come away with a trophy. Illinois 31, Louisiana Tech 24. -- Austin Ward

Why Louisiana Tech will win: I suppose I should believe more in Illinois after it finished the season strong, and Louisiana Tech has some bad losses on its schedule (Northwestern State and Old Dominion … oy). But I still have a wait-and-see attitude with this Illini defense, and the one thing the Bulldogs can do is score points. They averaged 37.5 points per game this season, and I think they'll win a shootout against a group of players not accustomed to the bowl stage. Louisiana Tech 38, Illinois 35. -- Brian Bennett

 

Quick Lane Bowl



Why Rutgers will win: Rutgers has already played four of the nation's top 10 defenses and a half-dozen of the top 25 rushing attacks. So, even with dual-threat quarterback Marquise Williams, North Carolina isn'’t going to throw anything at Rutgers it hasn’t already seen. The Tar Heels have one of the worst defenses in the country -- only 10 have allowed more yards -- so Rutgers shouldn’t have a problem scoring. The issue here is Rutgers' defense, but, again, Rutgers has fared OK there against middle-of-the-road teams, and that's exactly what UNC is.
Rutgers 38, North Carolina 31. -- Josh Moyer

 

New Era Pinstripe Bowl



Why Boston College will win: It's fitting this bowl is played in Yankee Stadium because the final score might look like it belongs to a baseball game. Both teams have top-five rushing defenses and middling offensive production. Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy, a former Florida Gator who transferred before this season, has been the X factor this season that helped BC beat USC and stick within a field goal of Florida State. Murphy does most of his damage on the ground, and that plays in Penn State's favor. But if he can break one or two big plays, that should be enough for a close win. Boston College 10, Penn State 6. -- Dan Murphy

Why Penn State will win: Let’s be honest: The Nittany Lions offense is lousy, and the special teams (outside of Sam Ficken) are almost just as bad. But I'm going with Penn State for the same reason it made a bowl game in the first place: defense. Only four teams in the FBS threw for fewer yards than Boston College, and no team defended the run better than Penn State. That works right into the strengths of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. Plus, the Nittany Lions will be motivated in their first bowl appearance since 2011. Underestimate this team at your own peril; it ended the plast two seasons with even bigger upsets.
Penn State 16, Boston College 13. -- Josh Moyer

 

National University Holiday Bowl



Why USC will win: Because the Trojans have more offensive firepower than any team to face Nebraska this season -- and the Huskers have surrendered 475 yards per game to Miami, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Minnesota. USC, with quarterback Cody Kessler, running back Buck Allen and receiver Nelson Agholor, will torment a Nebraska team that might feel a bit lost without deposed coach Bo Pelini. The Huskers, organizationally, figure to struggle after a tumultuous month. They're stuck in turmoil as USC looks to build off a strong finish to the regular season in a win over Notre Dame. USC 38, Nebraska 24. -- Mitch Sherman

 

Foster Farms Bowl



Why Stanford will win: This is a virtual home game for the Cardinal in nearby Santa Clara, California, while the Terrapins have to travel all the way across the country. Stanford struggled earlier in the season but seemed to find its footing late, beating UCLA by 21 points in the regular-season finale. Maryland has been unpredictable most of the season and has enough big-play ability to pull off an upset. But it's a tall order. Stanford 24, Maryland 17. -- Brian Bennett

 

Outback Bowl



Why Wisconsin will win: It's been a topsy-turvy three weeks for the Badgers, between losing 59-0 in the Big Ten title game and then losing their head coach, but this group isn't one to just lie down, and I can't envision Melvin Gordon taking it easy in the last game of his college career. How you view this game is basically a reflection of how you view that Big Ten championship -- and I see that as an anomaly. It won't happen again against Auburn. I still think Wisconsin has a great defense. I still think this offensive line can overpower Auburn. And I still think these players want to win one for Barry Alvarez. Auburn has an average defense and a great offense, but the Badgers win a close one in the end. Wisconsin 31, Auburn 28. -- Josh Moyer

Why Auburn will win: You can bet Auburn coach Gus Malzahn watched the Big Ten championship game with a big smile on his face. Ohio State had its way with Wisconsin's supposedly elite defense despite using a quarterback making his first career start with only one week to prepare. Auburn has as much, or more, offensive talent and speed as Ohio State, and it has a veteran quarterback in Nick Marshall. The Tigers' shaky defense could struggle with Gordon, Wisconsin's All-America running back, but it should be able to outscore the Badgers. Wisconsin can't match up with Sammie Coates in the back end and could struggle with Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne on the perimeter. Auburn 35, Wisconsin 24. -- Adam Rittenberg

 

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic



Why Michigan State will win: The fearsome Spartans defense has already allowed more than 40 points twice this season. There's a decent chance it will happen a third time against Baylor, the country's No. 1 offense, but Michigan State is no slouch on offense, either, and should be able to keep pace. While Baylor uses a breakneck tempo to get its advantage, the Spartans rely more on their instinct to grind opponents down. If Michigan State can control the pace of the game and get a couple of stops, it should be able to avoid falling to 0-3 against top-10 opponents this season. Michigan State 45, Baylor 42. -- Dan Murphy

Why Baylor will win: Michigan State faced two ranked teams this season and lost both games in unflattering fashion. Oregon and Ohio State hung 46 and 49 points, respectively, on the Spartans as Michigan State's offense just couldn't keep up. The problem for Mark Dantonio's squad? Baylor’s offense is even better. The Bears are ranked No. 1 in the country in scoring and yards, so the "No-Fly Zone" could have as much a hard time stopping Bryce Petty as it did Marcus Mariota. The Spartans are a good team, but I just don't like this matchup for them. MSU starts off strong but Baylor pulls away in the second half.
Baylor 45, Michigan State 35. -- Josh Moyer

 

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl



Why Minnesota will win: The SEC East champions were already given fits by a Big Ten team, and Indiana won only a single conference game after knocking off Missouri on the road. Minnesota, with its power rushing attack, aggressive defense and solid leadership from the coaching staff, was better than the Hoosiers in virtually every way this season. Plus, it will be fired up to end the season on a high note with a fan base excited for the destination. The Gophers claim more hardware here. Minnesota 27, Missouri 20. -- Austin Ward

 

Why Missouri will win: All the Gophers have to do is follow Indiana's game plan from the Hoosiers' 31-27 upset in Columbia, Missouri, back in September, right? It might not be that easy. While the Tigers benefited from playing in the terrible SEC East, Missouri did improve as the season went along and has a strong rush defense that allowed just 3.5 yards per carry. That means Mitch Leidner will likely have to make some plays -- and avoid the fierce pass rush of Shane Ray. Minnesota has an excellent shot here, but I like Missouri in a close one.
Missouri 27, Minnesota 24. -- Brian Bennett

 

Taxslayer Bowl



Why Tennessee will win: Bowl games are often about motivation and momentum, and Tennessee trumps Iowa in both areas. The Vols are that incredibly young, talented team that should benefit more than most from bowl practices and the chance to punctuate this season before a 2015 campaign that will carry much higher expectations. Iowa has a good track record in bowls but comes in on a down note after a very disappointing regular season. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs sparked Tennessee down the stretch and should give Iowa's defense trouble. Tennessee's defense should pressure Iowa's quarterbacks into mistakes.
Tennessee 24, Iowa 17. -- Adam Rittenberg

 

Allstate Sugar Bowl



Why Ohio State will win: Urban Meyer doesn't need to call on his psychological tricks for an underdog team all that often, though the Ohio State coach did already have a couple occasions to do so this year. Look at what happened to Michigan State and Wisconsin when the Buckeyes felt slighted and Meyer pushed their buttons to bring out their best. Certainly, No. 1 Alabama is the ultimate test and is favored for a reason, but Ohio State has the personnel to match up with the SEC champions, and the Buckeyes have one more chance to shock everyone in what has been already been a stunning season. Ohio State 31, Alabama 30. -- Austin Ward

Why Alabama will win: Have you watched the Crimson Tide? They have the best talent nationally and possibly the best coaching. Ohio State is not too bad itself, with a young and fast-improving stable under Meyer, but Alabama is several steps ahead and tested against a daunting schedule in the SEC West. If it boils down to playmakers, the Buckeyes will be at a disadvantage for the first time this season -- perhaps a big disadvantage. Ohio State simply can't match Blake Sims, Amari Cooper and the Bama backs with a third-string quarterback in Cardale Jones and weapons elsewhere whose athleticism won't surprise the Alabama defense.
Alabama 31, Ohio State 17. -- Mitch Sherman

Our records:
1. Austin Ward: 88-25 (.779)
T-2. Brian Bennett: 85-28 (.752)
T-2. Mitch Sherman: 85-28 (.752)
4. Dan Murphy: 57-19 (.750)
5. Adam Rittenberg: 83-30 (.735)
6. Josh Moyer: 82-31 (.726)

Big Ten morning links

December, 19, 2014
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Bowl season is a tricky time for coaches to motivate players.

“You can grind guys up if you occupy them too much mentally,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said this week.

Read more from Fitzgerald and others Friday on ESPN.com about motivation in bowl season. His Wildcats, sitting home this month, would trade places with any of the 10 Big Ten bowl teams. And with that wonderful time of year to start on Saturday -- the first Big Ten bowl game is still a week away -- it makes sense to look at the factors motivating conference teams.

Here’s a ranking of Big Ten teams with the most for which to play in the postseason:

Ohio State (Allstate Sugar Bowl, vs. Alabama, Jan. 1): A clear leader in this category as the Big Ten representative in the College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes carry the weight of the league on their shoulders. What else is new? Ohio State is flagship program of the Big Ten under Urban Meyer, who had a lot to say Thursday about his team's daunting task against the Crimson Tide.

Michigan State (Goodyear Cotton Bowl, vs. Baylor, Jan. 1): The Spartans lost to a pair of playoff teams, yet they're largely forgotten nationally. A business trip to Texas to face Baylor, the next best thing to a playoff opponent, offers a chance for MSU to finish on a high note nearly equal last year's Rose Bowl win.

Minnesota (Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, vs. Missouri, Jan. 1): A victory in Orlando would give the Golden Gophers a nine-win season for the first time since 2003 and the second time in more than a century, and it would represent the school's best two-year run in over 50 years. It won't come easy against the two-time SEC East champ. The Gophers must run the ball effectively, their bread and butter, now and in the future.

Penn State (New Era Pinstripe Bowl, vs. Boston College, Dec. 27): The Nittany Lions, exposed in the second half of this season for a lack of overall talent, can end on a high note in this much-awaited return to the postseason after a two-year bowl ban. A visit to New York against a regional recruiting rival heightens the stakes.

Rutgers (Quick Lane Bowl, vs. North Carolina, Dec. 26): The Scarlet Knights exceeded expectations to make it this far. After an inspiring comeback win over fellow Big Ten newcomer Maryland to close the regular season, confidence is high, though the uncertain injury status of star receiver Leonte Carroo threatens to put a damper on the excitement around this bowl trip.

Wisconsin (Outback Bowl, vs. Auburn, Jan. 1): Motivated by the embarrassment of a 59-point loss in the Big Ten title game, the Badgers got knocked down another step by the surprise departure of Gary Andersen. But the return of Paul Chryst has boosted the spirits of players, who will look to impress their new coach as he observes in Tampa. Against Auburn's multi-faceted offense, Wisconsin must use everything at its disposal, including QB Tanner McEvoy on the defensive side.

Nebraska (National University Holiday Bowl, vs. USC, Dec. 27): The Cornhuskers are also playing to catch the eye of a new coach, as Mike Riley figures to watch closely. Riley's new staff will start fresh though, so what happens in San Diego stays in San Diego. Still, Nebraska players, amid a dramatic exit from their former coach that has sparked more debate, want to provide a fond farewell for their old staff of assistant coaches.

Illinois (Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, vs. Louisiana Tech, Dec. 26): With victories over Penn State and Northwestern to get bowl eligible, Illinois has won simply by making it this far. No marquee opponent awaits, and Dallas isn't exactly a winter paradise, though maybe the man of the hour, QB Reilly O'Toole, can rally the Fighting Illini once again.

Maryland (Foster Farms Bowl, vs. Stanford, Dec. 30): Did the Terrapins run out of gas in the second half against Rutgers? It was a long season, packed with several highlights, in Maryland's first season of Big Ten play. But a visit to face Stanford, which is coming off four consecutive major bowls, near its home turf, looks like another significant challenge for Randy Edsall's team.

Iowa (TaxSlayer Bowl, vs. Tennesssee, Jan. 2): The Hawkeyes need someone to step up, a habitual practice in the postseason, or they face a dull ending to a disappointing season that set up well in Iowa City.

Around the rest of the league:

Big Ten morning links

December, 18, 2014
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Live football has almost returned. Until it arrives again, take a few spins on the coaching carousel.

The Wisconsin Way: Continuity should be back at Wisconsin, and the program made it clear that it won’t be compromising anything it proudly stands for to keep it. By sticking inside the family on Wednesday and officially bringing Paul Chryst back home, the Badgers have somebody who knows exactly what the job entails and a coach who almost certainly won’t be making a lateral move at any point in the future. Maybe the Badgers will start spending more money on assistants down the road, so there’s some flexibility there in regards to an issue that turned off Bret Bielema. But in terms of knowing the kind of recruits it can expect to land and clearly laying out the academic requirements moving forward, not to mention bringing in an existing relationship with the university and the boss, Chryst couldn’t be any better suited to provide stability for Wisconsin after a rough stretch of losing Bielema and then Gary Andersen after two short years.

Down to one: Wisconsin moving quickly leaves only Michigan active on the job market, and while there’s no telling when that search will end, it is effectively the only one that still has a chance of connecting on a true home-run hire. No offense to Chryst or new Nebraska coach Mike Riley, because those were smart, sensible hires that made perfect sense for each program -- but they certainly don’t qualify as splashy or scream that championships are on the way. If Les Miles is definitively out of the picture, it really seems as though Jim Harbaugh is going to have to come through for the Wolverines once his commitments to San Francisco are over at the end of the NFL season. And it seems like Michigan is fully committed to doing whatever it takes to deliver him. Maybe there’s another huge name secretly looming out there for Michigan, but if there was, wouldn’t there have been some indication of that by now? The Big Ten is down to one job, and there really only seems to be one guy who should claim it.

Coordinator corner: Just below those headline vacancies leading Big Ten programs, the chance to replace Tom Herman as Ohio State’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator will be up there as a highly-coveted position this offseason as the coaching carousel spins. The odds are strong that Ed Warinner will receive something of a promotion from his co-coordinator duties and take on more responsibility as a play-caller, though he was already somewhat active in that regard in his current role. Warinner not only deserves a raise for the incredible job he’s done with the Ohio State offensive line, he has earned more credit than he currently receives for that work, which is perhaps why he hasn’t landed an opportunity to lead his own program yet despite a couple interviews over the last two years. The Buckeyes are actually fortunate that they don’t have to replace both Herman and Warinner simultaneously, but either way there will be no shortage of candidates lining up for the shot to potentially work with J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller at quarterback.

East Division
West Division
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Did you really expect Bo Pelini to go quietly?

The former Nebraska coach, in audio obtained by the Omaha World-Herald, brashly criticized Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst during a meeting Pelini held with his ex-players at a Lincoln high school Dec. 2, two days after he was fired. The university shot back on Wednesday.

Pelini, in a 30-minute talk with his former players, according to the newspaper report, offered support for the players. Much of his talk, though, focused on Eichorst and the difficult environment he fostered at Nebraska, according to the coach.

“There were agendas, and that goes all the way over to the chancellor's office,” Pelini said, according to the World-Herald. “And between the AD and the chancellor and they want their own guy in here, go ahead. Good luck to ya.”

Pelini was introduced Wednesday as the coach at Youngstown State.

[+] EnlargePelini
AP Photo/Nati HarnikBo Pelini, introduced as the new head coach at Youngstown State on Wednesday, told his former Nebraska players of a cold relationship between himself and athletic director Shawn Eichorst, according to an Omaha World-Herald report.
Nebraska announced the hire of Mike Riley from Oregon State on Dec. 4. Pelini’s former assistant coaches have remained in Lincoln to coach the Huskers through the Dec. 27 National University Holiday Bowl. Secondary coach Charlton Warren has accepted a position on Riley’s staff, according to several recruits he has contacted.

Pelini’s profanity-laced comments to the players reveal a significant rift between the coach at the athletic director.

And, let’s be honest, that’s no surprise. The support of Eichorst and chancellor Harvey Perlman appeared to waver in September 2013 after the release of a two-year-old audio tape in which Pelini criticized Nebraska fans.

Eichorst offered a statement of support for Pelini two days after the audio tape was released by Deadspin, though their relationship was always suspected to be icy.

Pelini’s comments in the latest audio leak confirmed the suspicion. He detailed for his former players how Eichorst fired him on Nov. 30, less than 48 hours after Nebraska beat Iowa in overtime to finish the regular season at 9-3.

"A guy like [Eichorst] who has no integrity; he doesn’t even understand what a core value is," Pelini said in the new audio obtained by the Omaha newspaper. "And he hasn’t understood it from the day he got here. I saw it when I first met with the guy.

"To have core values means you have to be about something, you have to represent something, you have to have something that is important to you. He is a f---ing lawyer who makes policies. That’s all he’s done since he’s been here is hire people and make policies to cover his own ass."

Nebraska responded Wednesday with a strongly worded statement, noting that it could not authenticate the Pelini remarks:

"If these comments were, indeed, spoken by Mr. Pelini, we are extremely disappointed," the statement read, "but it only reaffirms the decision that he should no longer be a leader of young men at Nebraska. His habitual use of inappropriate language and his personal and professional attacks on administrators are antithetical to the values of our university.

"His behavior is consistent with a pattern of unprofessional, disrespectful behavior directed by Mr. Pelini toward the passionate fans of Nebraska, employees of the university and, most concerning, our student-athletes. This behavior is not tolerated at the University of Nebraska and, among many other concerns, played a role in his dismissal.

Eichorst
Eichorst
"Any assertion that the campus or athletics administration was not supportive of our student-athletes and our football program are flat-out false and are contradicted by the facts."

Eichorst, who took over for Tom Osborne at Nebraska in January 2013, keeps a low profile in the media and even within his department -– a leadership style with which Pelini disagreed.

"I didn't really have any relationship with the AD,” Pelini reportedly told the players, according to the World-Herald. "The guy, you guys saw him [Sunday], the guy is a total p---y. I mean, he is, and he's a total c--t.”

Pelini told the players his job was often a struggle.

"There were a lot of nights that I would just go home and sit on the bed and sit there and think, 'What the f--- am I doing?' Is this worth it? I felt like it was taking years off my life."

In the Nov. 30 meeting, the athletic director disagreed with Pelini’s assertion that Eichorst had not supported the coach and his program, Pelini told the players.

"I said, 'Hey bud, you can't support someone under a f---ing rock," Pelini said. "I said to do your job at this level, in a place like this, you gotta be a grown-ass f---ing man ... to lead something. I said you can't lead anything under a f---ing rock. I said you don't spend any time with us. Our players don't even know who you are. That isn't leadership."

Pelini obviously never intended for his latest comments to go public, but the coach ought to have known –- after the leak last year -– that nothing he says is entirely private.

Some of what Pelini said, for sure, emerged from the frustration of his firing.

Not open for debate is that Pelini and Eichorst were oil and water. Clearly, Eichorst’s leadership style works for some and not for others. Eichorst was thrust on Pelini two years ago. Cut from different cloths, they had little chance to make it work.

Importantly for Nebraska, the athletic director and his new coach, Riley, seem to be a much better fit. Time will tell if he shares any of the experiences that angered Pelini. And as we know now, there were many.

This final, ugly chapter in Pelini’s career at Nebraska verifies what we already knew: It was time -– probably past time -– for their breakup.

Nebraska Cornhuskers season review

December, 17, 2014
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Our team-by-team review of the Big Ten season continues with Nebraska:

Overview: The seventh season under Bo Pelini unfolded with less drama than many of the previous six. Still, it wasn’t enough to save the coach’s job. He was fired two days after Nebraska won a 37-34 overtime thriller at Iowa to cap another nine-win season. The charge? Pelini didn’t win the games that mattered. It’s easy, then, to look straight at Nov. 15, when the Huskers were embarrassed at Wisconsin, and Oct. 4, when Michigan State held off a late Nebraska flurry in East Lansing, Michigan. Nebraska also lost for a second straight year to Minnesota. Highlights included a 5-0 start that featured a resounding win over Miami in a game that stirred old echoes; a dominant second half at unpredictable Northwestern; and the trip to Iowa, where the Huskers trailed by 17 points midway through the third quarter.

Offensive MVP: It’s senior I-back Ameer Abdullah. While quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. deserves consideration for his play in leading Nebraska to comeback victories on the road against Iowa and Northwestern and nice overall numbers, Abdullah was the Huskers’ heartbeat. He topped 200 yards four times in the first eight games before a knee injury on Nov. 1 derailed his finish. Abdullah still managed to rush for 273 yards in the last three games and reached 1,523 yards for the season with 18 touchdowns. But the Huskers struggled offensively in that final stretch alongside their star senior. At his best, he was a sight to behold and was arguably the nation’s best running back, saving Nebraska from overtime against FCS McNeese State with a spectacular 58-yard reception in the final minute.

Defensive MVP: Sophomore safety Nate Gerry. Nebraska received important contributions from linebacker Zaire Anderson, tackle Maliek Collins and end Randy Gregory, an elite talent who battled injuries, but Gerry most consistently made the important plays. He led the team with five interceptions and collected 85 tackles, trailing only Anderson. Gerry also made seven stops behind the line of scrimmage, added three pass breakups, three quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery. A linebacker in his first season at Nebraska in 2013, he helped solidify a secondary under first-year coach Charlton Warren that suffered the preseason losses of LeRoy Alexander and Charles Jackson.
Every day this week, before the bowl season kicks off, our Big Ten panel of experts will be weighing in on different topics related to the regular season.

Our second question of the week: Besides Melvin Gordon and his 408-yard rushing game, who had the top individual performance in the Big Ten?

Brian Bennett: J.T. Barrett's five TDs vs. Michigan State

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsA clutch performance by J.T. Barrett on Saturday night helped keep Ohio State's playoff hopes alive.
Barrett was terrific in so many games for the Buckeyes this season but never more so than in the biggest conference game of the season. Going on the road in a hostile environment against a Top 10 opponent, Barrett shredded Michigan State's vaunted defense for 300 passing yards, tossing three touchdown passes and no interceptions, and he also ran for 86 yards and two scores. That put Barrett firmly in the thick of the Heisman discussion and vaulted Ohio State toward its eventual spot in the playoff.

Josh Moyer: Tevin Coleman's 307 rushing yards vs. Rutgers

My pick didn't break a school record in this game -- or even win, for that matter. But he still put on a tremendous display after running for a season-low 71 yards the week before, against Penn State. Eight of Coleman's carries went for 10 yards or more, and he also had rushing attempts of 67 and 68 yards. His final numbers: 32 carries, 307 yards, 1 TD, 9.6 yards per carry. His performance was overshadowed by having it fall on the same day as Gordon's 408-yard game. But that didn't make it any less impressive.

Dan Murphy: Barrett's 389 total yards (200 passing, 189 rushing) and 4 TDs vs. Minnesota

Barrett saved his best performance of the season for one of the Buckeyes’ closest games. He scored all four of his team’s touchdowns in a 31-24 win against an underrated Minnesota defense. Barrett ran for a school-record 189 yards, which included a record-setting 86-yard touchdown run on a bitterly cold day. He also threw three touchdowns passes (each at least 22 yards long) to reach yet another milestone. The final throw broke Braxton Miller’s mark for most touchdowns by an Ohio State player in a single season. Coach Urban Meyer said after the game that the win at Minnesota provided “a very clear picture of who [Barrett] is now.”

Mitch Sherman: Ameer Abdullah's powerful statement vs. Miami

Before Gordon shredded the record books and Coleman raced past 2,000 yards, Abdullah enjoyed the best start to the season of the league's runners. And his crown jewel of a game came Sept. 20 in Nebraska's 41-31 win over Miami on an emotionally charged night at Memorial Stadium. Abdullah was unyielding, rushing 35 times for 229 yards and three scores. More than the stats, the senior displayed his determination, repeatedly carrying defenders. On not one of those 35 runs did he take a rest. In the aftermath, coach Bo Pelini said Abdullah ran like a "man possessed." No one who saw his performance argued.

Austin Ward: Jalin Marshall's four second-half TDs vs. Indiana

Maybe it wasn’t a relentless onslaught like the Melvin Gordon Show, but for pure explosion and frightening production in a limited window, there might not have been a more jaw-dropping display than the one Marshall crammed into less than a quarter of action against Indiana. Ohio State was dealing with a legitimate upset threat late in the third quarter when the redshirt freshman dynamo fielded a punt and darted 54 yards for a go-ahead score that eased some of the pressure. But that was merely a prelude for a ruthless closing stretch that would include three more touchdowns all through the air that almost single-handedly fought off the Hoosiers and kept the Buckeyes in position to qualify for the College Football Playoff.

Adam Rittenberg: Barrett's five TDs vs. Michigan State

I'm all for variety but I just kept coming back to Barrett's game against Michigan State. He's on the road in a building where the Spartans almost never lose under Mark Dantonio. He's making only his third career road start (Navy was a neutral-site game). And he absolutely carves up the "No Fly Zone" secondary for 300 passing yards and three touchdowns, and he added 86 rushing yards and two more scores. I can't think of a better performance by a freshman quarterback in the Big Ten in recent years.
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Bo Pelini is going home. What a stunner. Yet it makes perfect sense.

Nebraska’s coach of the past seven years likely could have held out for a bigger job than Youngstown State. Pelini went 67-27 in Lincoln and won nine games every season -- the first coach at a Power 5 program fired for on-field performance after such a victorious run.

He owns experience as an NFL assistant and as a successful coordinator at LSU and Oklahoma. More dominoes are set to fall this year. Surely, another brand-name program, perhaps motivated by the union last week of Gus Malzahn and Will Muschamp at Auburn, would have extended Pelini an offer before the room went quiet in the 2014-15 version of musical coaching chairs.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsBo Pelini might have found the right fit at Youngstown State.
But Pelini was content with Youngstown State, a traditional FCS power with a 20,630-seat stadium and a legend in the president’s office.

The prospect of working near Jim Tressel likely appealed to Pelini. Tressel won four Division I-AA crowns at YSU from 1986 to 2000 before he left for Ohio State and returned this year to run his old university.

Pelini was comfortable, after all, alongside Tom Osborne at Nebraska. Osborne, who won three national titles in Lincoln, hired Pelini in 2007. They worked in a building named after the former coach. And it never appeared to bother Bo.

Not much bothered him, in fact, about coaching. He was at his best in Lincoln on the practice field and the sideline. Sure, he lost his cool once in a while, but that’s just Pelini. He never wondered how to act on Saturday.

Sunday through Friday could give him trouble. The anti-Pelini crowd argued that he operated more like a coordinator than a CEO.

Last month, two days after Wisconsin gouged Nebraska for 59 points and 581 rushing yards, Pelini failed to explain, now somewhat famously, his postgame comment that he didn’t look at the “big picture” in performing his job.

There was an easy answer waiting for him. A time existed for big-picture talk, he could have said. In the wake of a five-touchdown loss, he needed to focus on his players and how to fix their lapses. But he didn’t find the words, just like the answers to other big-picture questions avoided him in his time at the school.

Pelini grew to accept his role as the face of the corporation that is Nebraska football. But was he ever comfortable with it?

Maybe in this final year, yes, though it was too late to reverse some of the habits and stagnation that ultimately led to his ouster.

Pelini will be paid $150,000 a month by Nebraska through February 2019, minus his YSU earnings.

Yes, he could have waited for a more prestigious job. But Youngstown State offers a chance for him to get comfortable in a hurry. He grew up there. He is a product of the region’s blue-collar vibe -- a favorite son who remained charitable to the community, like many others who made it big out of the northeast Ohio coaching cradle.

Youngstown is a fighter’s town. Ray Mancini and Kelly Pavlik are rooted in its history. The city, with a population that has dwindled to 65,000, has refused to go down in the face of adversity.

That is Pelini. In Youngstown, he will face a fraction of the media attention to which he’s accustomed. Many of the distractions in place at a Big Ten school just don’t exist in Youngstown. The expectations remain high -- and Pelini never had trouble with expectations.

It was the peripheral challenges that bothered him. In Youngstown, he can focus on coaching, relationships and the fundamentals of football.

He ought to thrive at home.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
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We are almost in the home stretch on our way to signing day, so coaches are pushing it into overdrive to finish out their recruiting classes.

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

Big Ten morning links

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
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Good morning, Big Ten fans. Only four more days until college football résumés ...

1. Ohio State OC Tom Herman a good fit for Houston: He's currently in negotiations with Houston to be its next head coach, according to The Associated Press. And, if the Cougars sign him in the end, they're getting a good one. He worked a lot of magic with Ohio State's quarterback situation, and Houston could use a little of that after sophomore John O'Korn took a step back and lost his job after a terrific freshman campaign. Herman would have two young quarterbacks to work with -- O'Korn and Greg Ward Jr. -- and he'd inherit a talented team that simply underperformed this season. Herman has proven enough; he's undoubtedly ready to move up the ranks. Ohio State fans should be sad to see him go but, at the age of 39, you knew he couldn't stay around forever. As the winner of the Broyles Award, which goes to the nation's top assistant, he was just too talented stay a coordinator much longer.

2. Indiana one of two leading schools for UAB running back: In case you need to catch up here, UAB running back Jordan Howard is looking for a new home after his program folded. And he's quite the coveted sophomore, considering he's No. 7 nationally with 1,587 rushing yards. As ESPN.com's Jeremy Crabtree reported, Howard has Indiana and Notre Dame leading the way right now. He visited both schools, has no other visits planned and wants to decide where to transfer within about the next three weeks. In other words, it sure looks as if Howard is down to the Irish and the Hoosiers.

It's a bit of a surprise the Alabama native is looking to move up North, but it could work out well for Indiana. Tevin Coleman is expected to declare early for the NFL draft, and the Hoosiers are looking for a replacement. Playing time is something IU could offer, and it doesn't hurt that UAB wideout Marqui Hawkins already chose Indiana. Plus, as Howard told me a little over a week ago, he has some family in the Fort Wayne, Indina, area. If IU can reel him in, he would instantly become one of the most intriguing Big Ten running backs of the 2015 season. He's definitely a player you should be keeping an eye on.

3. $12 million worth of football building renovations at Penn State: OK, so $12 million isn't nearly as much of a head-turner as Maryland's $155 million facility. But we're talking about strictly football here, and $8 million is dedicated to just “branding and graphic upgrades.” As StateCollege.com reported, one of the plans is to integrate video, sound and lighting to “create a ‘Wow' factor in all areas of the building.” Among the renovations? An “experience room,” which is supposed to immerse recruits into a digital, first-person view of game day. Digital locker room name plates are among the suggested concepts, as this renovation is trying to take PSU more into the 21st century. The funds aren't as much as other B1G schools' recent renovations, but PSU doesn't need to alter as much, either. The facilities are already pretty good.

East Division
  • The departure of offensive coordinator Tom Herman won't derail Ohio State, writes The Columbus Dispatch's Rob Oller.
  • Five quick talking points on Michigan State, from Baylor fans buying up MSU's Cotton Bowl tickets to the next career move for defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.
  • Rutgers freshman CB Dre Boggs has played in nine games already this season, but he has higher expectations for himself.
West Division
  • Paul Chryst, who's poised to succeed Gary Andersen at Wisconsin, declined to say Monday that he'll remain with Pitt.

Roundtable: Season's best B1G games

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
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Every day this week, before the bowl season kicks off, our Big Ten panel of experts will be weighing in on different topics related to the regular season.

Our first question of the week: What was the best game of the season?

Brian Bennett: It didn't have a lot of meaning for the rest of the season, but Northwestern's 43-40 overtime win at Notre Dame was as entertaining a game as you could find. The Wildcats, coming off four straight losses in which they had scored a total of 50 points, somehow rallied from 11 points down in the fourth quarter on the road in South Bend. Jack Mitchell drilled a 45-yard field goal with 10 seconds left to tie it and then hit a 41-yarder in the first overtime to give Northwestern a win that ranked alongside their 1995 upset of the Irish in terms of pure shock value.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott, Adrian Amos, Marcus Allen
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarEzekiel Elliott and Ohio State fought past Penn State in double overtime in one of 2014's most memorable Big Ten games.
Austin Ward: Penn State and Ohio State crammed just about every possible kind of intrigue into the double-overtime thriller in October. There was the first stern test on the road for Ohio State freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett against an elite defense and hostile crowd, and on top of that he had to overcome a knee injury in the second half. There were controversial calls, the drama made for compelling action late in regulation, and the Buckeyes would have their College Football Playoff hopes legitimately on the ropes trailing in the first overtime. The win even was clinched with a signature moment, with Joey Bosa bulldozing into the backfield for a walk-off sack that capped a memorable battle that stood out as the most entertaining in the Big Ten this season.

Adam Rittenberg: Neither Minnesota nor Nebraska won the Big Ten West Division this year, but the teams delivered an entertaining game Nov. 22 in Lincoln. The game had a bit of everything: long pass plays, tough running, a key injury to Minnesota's David Cobb and a huge special teams play from Nebraska's Nate Gerry, who returned a blocked field-goal attempt 85 yards for a touchdown. Minnesota hung around and rallied in the second half behind Mitch Leidner, and Nebraska's late push fell short as De'Mornay Pierson-El fumbled near the Gophers goal line. Minnesota held on for a 28-24 win in what proved to be the final home game for Nebraska coach Bo Pelini.

Josh Moyer: Indiana's 31-27 upset over eventual SEC-East champ Missouri still resonates the most with me. The Hoosiers came in as a two-touchdown underdog to the then-No. 18 Tigers, and all of us predicted another IU loss. Why wouldn't we? Indiana had lost its last 18 games against ranked opponents (dating to 2006), and it last beat a top-18 opponent on the road in 1941. So all signs pointed to a Mizzou win, especially when it took a 27-24 lead with a little more than two minutes left in the game. But IU quarterback Nate Sudfeld wouldn't be denied; he engineered a six-play, 75-yard game-winning touchdown drive. Just 22 seconds remained following the score. After a rough Week 2 in the Big Ten, no one expected this kind of game in Week 4.

Dan Murphy: Maybe it wasn't the most competitive, but Wisconsin's 59-24 win over Nebraska on Nov. 15 will go down as the most memorable game in the Big Ten this season. That game, a battle for control of the West Division, sent the two teams in opposite directions to finish the year. The Huskers' loss on a big stage probably sealed Pelini's fate in Lincoln and started a domino effect that will significantly shuffle the league's coaches. The record-setting performance by Melvin Gordon punched his ticket to the Heisman Trophy ceremony. His 408-yard mark stood for only one week, but the images of him galloping untouched through Nebraska's defense and the falling snow will have a much longer shelf life.

Mitch Sherman: Let’s not forget the Big Ten newcomers. Maryland and Rutgers largely fared better than expected in challenging situations as they prepared for unfamiliar foes every week. And when they met on Nov. 29 in College Park, the seeds for a new rivalry were planted. Rutgers completed the largest comeback in school history to win 41-38 on Kyle Federico’s 25-yard field goal with six minutes to play. The game featured nearly 1,000 total yards, just five punts and two turnovers, excellent red zone- and third-down efficiency. In other words, it wasn’t a sloppy mess. The Scarlet Knights trailed 35-10 late in the second quarter when a Maryland roughing-the-punter penalty extended a TD drive that sparked the rally. If this was just a start, we’re all excited to see where this series can go.

ESPN's Big Ten all-freshman team

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
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The Big Ten doesn't put out an all-freshman team. But we do. Here are our picks for the top first-year players in the league in 2014:

Offense

QB: J.T. Barrett, Ohio State: Well, duh.

RB: Justin Jackson, Northwestern: In the year of the running back in the Big Ten, Jackson somewhat quietly produced 1,187 yards and 10 touchdowns as a true freshman.

RB: Curtis Samuel, Ohio State: He added to the Buckeyes' ridiculous array of skill players, running for 386 yards and six scores. Looks like a future star.

WR: Mike Dudek, Illinois: In another season, one in which a guy like Barrett doesn't put up mind-boggling stats, Dudek would have been the freshman of the year in the league. He should surpass 1,000 yards receiving in the Fighting Illini's bowl game.

WR: DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State: Though the Nittany Lions' offense struggled, Hamilton caught more passes (75) than any other Big Ten player and finished with 848 yards in the regular season.

WR/RB: Jalin Marshall, Ohio State: A versatile, speedy weapon who could come out of the backfield or fly into it, Marshall scored seven touchdowns on offense and one on punt returns. He's also the team's backup quarterback right now.

OL: Mason Cole, Michigan: The first Wolverine ever to start the opener at left tackle as a true freshman, Cole stayed there all season and showed a lot of promise with his excellent footwork and instincts.

OL: Brian Allen, Michigan State: The true freshman and brother of All-Big Ten center Jack Allen appeared in all 12 games, with one start at left guard.

OL: Billy Price, Ohio State: The redshirt freshman has started all 13 games as a guard for the Buckeyes.

OL: Andrew Nelson, Penn State: The Nittany Lions had their issues on the offensive line, but Nelson started every game at tackle -- including twice at left tackle -- and has a bright future.

OL: Christian DiLauro, Illinois: He filled in as the starting right tackle in the second half of the season for the Illini and helped them rally their way to a bowl game.

Defense

DL: Kemoko Turay, Rutgers: After a torrid start, the pass rushing specialist finished with 7.5 sacks. He also blocked a field goal against Michigan to preserve that victory.

DL: Malik McDowell, Michigan State: The blue-chip recruit whose signing day saga made headlines showed his talent by playing in all 12 games and recording 3.5 tackles for loss.

DL: Steven Richardson, Minnesota: Thrust into a starting role after the first week because of injuries, the true freshman more than held his own by finishing with 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.

LB: Darron Lee, Ohio State: After taking a medical redshirt last year, Lee emerged as one of the Buckeyes' top defensive playmakers, recording 66 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and a pair of fumble recoveries, one of which he scored on.

LB: Ja'Whan Bentley, Purdue: The Boilermakers' linebacker position has been a problem for the past few years, but Bentley is part of the solution. He was Purdue's second-leading tackler on the season with 76 stops, adding an interception and three fumble recoveries.

LB: Anthony Walker, Northwestern: In his first start against Penn State, Walker returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown. He also had a pick in the win at Notre Dame and led the Wildcats with nine tackles for loss.

LB: Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State: Playing mostly in a reserve role, McMillan had an immediate impact on the Buckeyes. The former stud recruit recorded 50 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception.

DB: Eli Apple, Ohio State: It's scary how many star freshmen the Buckeyes have. Apple is another, as he had 41 tackles, including 5.5 for loss, and a pair of interceptions.

DB: Montae Nicholson, Michigan State: The true freshman played in every game and had three starts in the Spartans' "No Fly Zone." He had 30 tackles and a pair of fumble recoveries.

DB: Godwin Igwebuike, Northwestern: He made waves in the Wildcats' upset win over Wisconsin by grabbing three interceptions. He started five times at safety and finished with 51 tackles.

DB: Marcus Allen, Penn State: He started Penn State's final six games at safety after Ryan Keiser got hurt, and the Nittany Lions' defense didn't miss a beat. He was third on the team in tackles with 52.

Specialists

K: Rafael Gaglianone, Wisconsin: The effusive Brazilian with the strong leg went 17-for-20 on field goals, including 2-of-3 from beyond 50 yards.

P: Daniel Pasquariello, Penn State: His 37.7-yards per punt average was nothing to write home about -- except the Australian probably does write home a lot. He improved down the stretch to solidify the Nittany Lions' punt team.

Returner: De'Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska: He was third in the FBS in punt-return average (17.8) and scored three touchdowns, including a memorable one in the comeback win at Iowa.

Big Ten morning links

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
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Miss college football? Bowl games begin this weekend. Giddy up.

1. Wisconsin can't officially offer its vacant head coaching job to anyone until Wednesday, but all signs still point to Paul Chryst being the guy despite chatter about him being interested in staying at Pitt and athletic director Barry Alvarez talking to Greg Schiano.

The focus now is on hiring assistants, and Jeff Potrykus writes that keeping defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is a possibility. If so, that would be a major coup, as Aranda is one of the brightest young defensive minds in the game and is loyal to Gary Andersen. Potrykus also reports that former Wisconsin assistant Joe Rudolph could return to Madison along with Chryst.

2. The Michigan search continues, and the longer this goes on the more you have to think the Wolverines must believe they have a shot at Jim Harbaugh. There's a potential interesting twist to this saga, however, as there are reports the Miami Dolphins could fire coach Joe Philbin and take a run at Harbaugh.

Of course, the Dolphins are owned by Stephen Ross, who is arguably Michigan's most well-known booster. He would naturally be involved in putting together a lucrative package to bring Harbaugh to Ann Arbor. I can't imagine Ross would trap door his alma mater in order to bring Harbaugh to Miami, so if there's more to this pursuit than it indicates that Harbaugh truly is interested in leaving the NFL ranks right now.

3. The Columbus Dispatch's Bill Rabinowitz reports that the Ohio State parents association has written a letter to the Big Ten asking for financial assistance to travel to the Buckeyes' semifinal game against Alabama in New Orleans.

Each family can be reimbursed $800 out of the school's student-assistance fund, but that's still not enough to cover all the travel costs. And things only get more expensive if Ohio State wins and moves on to the national title game in Texas.

Star defensive tackle Michael Bennett's mother, Connie, called it "reprehensible" that players' families aren't helped more when it comes to traveling to watch their sons play.

"They're making hand-over-fist dollars on our guys, the guys take all of the risk for the entertainment dollars and they ignore their families altogether," she said, according to Dispatch story.

The playoff is a great thing for the sport, but how fans and especially families were going to be able to get to those games has always been a major unanswered question. Neither the Big Ten nor NCAA can change that right now, but given the new autonomy measures the Power 5 conferences have been granted, this needs to become a priority. The playoff will generate an enormous pile of money, and a small part of that should go toward making sure participating players' parents are in the stands.

West Division
East Division
Earlier today, we presented our ESPN.com 2014 All-Big Ten team. We took a stab at a preseason All-Big Ten team back in August, based largely on players' previous track records.

So how'd we do?

Of our 26 preseason selections, only eight made it to our final All-Big Ten team. But we weren't far off with some of those we missed, such as Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Randy Gregory, Michigan State's Connor Cook and Kurtis Drummond and Ohio State's Michael Bennett. All of those guys would be on our second team if we did one, and several had good arguments to be included on the first team.

Our biggest misses were at receiver, where we pegged Indiana's Shane Wynn, Maryland's Stefon Diggs and Michigan's Devin Funchess as our preseason picks (using Funchess as a third receiver/tight end type). All are very talented players but didn't quite live up to expectations for various reasons -- Wynn because of the Hoosiers' quarterback situation, Diggs because of an injury and Funchess because of perhaps the general malaise of the Maize and Blue offense.

We got three of the five offensive linemen right, and a fourth -- Wisconsin right tackle Rob Havenstein -- just missed our postseason team. None of us saw Ohio State's J.T. Barrett earning the quarterback spot with his outstanding play. Of course, neither did anyone else.

Speaking of Barrett, the Braxton Miller injury that elevated him to starting quarterback for the Buckeyes was the single biggest reason that none of us picked Ohio State to win the Big Ten in the preseason. All five of us at the time (Dan Murphy hadn't come aboard yet -- lucky him) went with Michigan State, though Mitch Sherman, Austin Ward and myself did correctly forecast the Buckeyes to go 11-1 in the regular season. We just had them losing in East Lansing. Whoops.

Austin, Mitch and I were also correct in picking Wisconsin to win the West Division, while Josh Moyer went with Nebraska and Adam Rittenberg cast his lot with Iowa. The teams we were most wrong on? Rutgers (7-5), which none of us predicted for more than four wins, and Michigan (5-7), whom we all saw with at least a winning record (and two of us picked to go 9-3).

Our fearless predictions weren't much better. I did say Minnesota would win back either the Little Brown Jug or the Paul Bunyan Axe, and the Gophers did beat Michigan. Adam came close on his call of Tevin Coleman leading the league in rushing. Let's not talk about the others.

I'm pretty proud of the fact that I was the only one to correctly predict Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Ohio State's Joey Bosa would win Big Ten offensive and defensive players of the year. But given the state of the rest of our predictions (and the fact that I picked the Badgers to win in Indy last week) I'm not going to crow too loudly. Preseason picks are fun, but there's a reason they play the season.

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