Big Ten: Nebraska Cornhuskers
Why Indiana will win: This season Michigan's offense is averaging 1.16 touchdowns per game against Power 5 conference competition. Hoosiers RB Tevin Coleman is averaging 1.25 touchdowns per game against Power 5 competition. Big plays from Coleman and IU receiver Shane Wynn will be the difference. The Wolverines' run defense has been strong this year, but not against marquee running backs. David Cobb ran for 183 yards in Minnesota's win at the Big House, and Jeremy Langford finished with 177 last week. Coleman will do the same, and Michigan's offense doesn't have enough horsepower to keep up. ... Indiana 27, Michigan 23 -- Dan Murphy
Why Michigan will win: Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for the Wolverines, this week happened, with the controversies surrounding Joe Bolden’s spearing of the Spartan Stadium turf and Dave Brandon’s alleged angry email exchanges with fans. Yes, it got worse. Michigan has been dodging disasters for nearly two months now. At some point, it’s got to get better in Ann Arbor, right? This is the week, as Indiana brings its downtrodden defense to the Big House, for Devin Gardner and the U-M offense to get healthy, even if temporarily. What about Tevin Coleman and the Hoosiers’ offense? Yeah, that’s a concern, but the Wolverines have been strong against the rush, allowing 3.1 yards per carry to rank second in the Big Ten. ... Michigan 34, Indiana 24 -- Mitch Sherman
Why Maryland will win: Penn State is primed for a letdown game after an emotionally exhausting overtime loss at home. The Terps didn't inspire much confidence last week in their loss to Wisconsin, but they've been hot and cold all season. Maryland's run defense has been miserable (110th nationally), which should make for a good matchup with Penn State's woeful offensive line. The Nittany Lions' defense should keep this a low-scoring game. Expect a lot of action for the field goal kickers, and Maryland's Brad Craddock is the best in the Big Ten in that department. ... Maryland 19, Penn State 17 -- Dan Murphy
Why Penn State will win: Penn State will have to bounce back from an emotional overtime loss to Ohio State, but the Nittany Lions' defense proved it was one of the league's very best vs. the Buckeyes. Meanwhile, schizophrenic Maryland nearly got shut out at Wisconsin. The Terps won't have any easier time moving the ball in Beaver Stadium, and Christian Hackenberg will do just enough for Penn State to improve to 36-1-1 all-time in this "rivalry." ... Penn State 17, Maryland 14 -- Brian Bennett
Why Iowa will win: Let's take a three-point look at Northwestern's offense: QB Trevor Siemian has been so inconsistent this season that he's ranked behind both Devin Gardner and Tanner McEvoy in passing efficiency. Northwestern RB Justin Jackson is good, but the Wildcats have managed to average more than four yards a carry in only one game. And only 19 offenses in the nation are averaging fewer points per game (20.9). Add that all together, and you get a struggling offense that Iowa should take advantage of. The Hawkeyes aren't a one-dimensional offense, so this shouldn't be a repeat of the Wisconsin game. It should be close, but the Hawkeyes win in the end. ... Iowa 24, Northwestern 20 -- Josh Moyer
Why Northwestern will win: Iowa and Northwestern both have had disappointing seasons to date. Both come off of bye weeks and both look to finish strong. The vibe around Iowa is more concerning. Other than the Indiana game, when has Iowa actually looked good? Northwestern at least has solid wins against Penn State and Wisconsin. The Wildcats have a better defense and should be able to run against Iowa with Justin Jackson. Iowa has more offensive firepower, but can the Hawkeyes deliver in a critical game? These are typically close contests, and Northwestern comes out on top this time. ... Northwestern 23, Iowa 21 -- Adam Rittenberg
Ohio State 49, Illinois 21: If the Buckeyes can grab a comfortable edge, look for Urban Meyer to rest J.T. Barrett, nursing a knee sprain, in advance of the season-defining trip next week to Michigan State. Though the Illini are riding high after an upset victory over Minnesota, Ohio State and its defensive front pose a new kind of challenge.
Wisconsin 45, Rutgers 14: With or without Gary Nova, the Scarlet Knights are feeling the effects of trips over the past two weeks to Ohio State and Nebraska. And Rutgers is getting the Badgers at a bad time, right as Wisconsin finds itself offensively behind rejuvenated QB Joel Stave and the relentless Melvin Gordon.
Nebraska 52, Purdue 28: Lots of points in Lincoln, but look for the Huskers to control this from the start. Purdue has made huge strides offensively behind Austin Appleby, but its defense still lacks the playmakers to slow Ameer Abdullah. Another big day, too, for Kenny Bell, set to break Johnny Rodgers’ career receiving-yardage record at Nebraska.
1. Mitch Sherman: 66-14 (.825)
2. Brian Bennett: 64-16 (.800)
3. Austin Ward: 63-17 (.786)
4. Adam Rittenberg: 62-18 (.775)
5. Josh Moyer: 60-20 (.750)
6. Dan Murphy: 32-11 (.744)
1. Conversation starter: The College Football Playoff rankings are going to change, that much is certain. But as a starting point, the first-ever edition is pretty useful for gauging where the Big Ten sits and what it must do hitting the homestretch over the final month of the regular season. The heavy lifting mostly applies to Nebraska and Ohio State, and the spots those programs hold at Nos. 15 and 16 might have revealed more about the thinking of the selection committee than just about anything else on Tuesday. For starters, at this point, it's hard to argue that the Huskers didn't deserve the higher ranking since their lone loss was at Michigan State and they own a reasonably attractive win over Miami. The loss to Virginia Tech is currently weighing down the Buckeyes, and despite how hard-fought the victory was at Penn State against its stout defense, there isn't much else on the resume right now worth getting too excited over for the committee. But it's important to keep in mind that even with all those teams standing between Nebraska and Ohio State and a playoff berth, there is a lot of football left to play -- and if either of them can win out, it still seems likely that a one-loss Big Ten champ is going to climb enough rungs to get into the field. Only one of those teams can do it since they would face off in the conference title game, but the Big Ten as a league remains very much alive in the race for the national crown.
2. Bucking up: J.T. Barrett isn't completely healthy yet on his sprained knee, but the Ohio State quarterback made it clear after practice on Wednesday that he was on track to play on Saturday night against Illinois. Considering what's looming for the Buckeyes on Nov. 8 at Michigan State, though, it might be best for Urban Meyer to get him out of the game as early as possible to make sure he's in one piece for such a critical matchup with both the Big Ten and national-title implications. Like any week, nothing can be taken for granted, and Illinois has put together some decent game plans on defense and is coming off an upset win over Minnesota. But if the Illini do live up to their billing as the worst total defense in the league in the Horseshoe this weekend, Meyer would be wise not to leave Barrett on the field into the fourth quarter behind backup offensive linemen in an effort to get him extra reps like he did two weeks ago against Rutgers. The stakes are too high, and Michigan State is more than capable of beating the Buckeyes again even if they're at full strength.
3. Under-the-radar matchup: Basically from here on out, the West will have a matchup every week that could serve as an elimination game for the division title. The undercard for a heavyweight November starts with Northwestern visiting Iowa, which isn't exactly a showdown between leading contenders but will nevertheless leave one team in the race and essentially knock the other out. The Hawkeyes have had an extra week to address the issues that popped up in a loss at Maryland that cut down on their margin for error in the rough-and-tumble West. Playing at home will also be an advantage for Kirk Ferentz and his club. Northwestern has been something of a wildcard, though, and it already has gone on the road and come home with a surprising victory after taking apart Penn State in late September. The Wildcats do have two losses in the league already, and they don't have much going for them in a theoretical tiebreaker should they win out. But they're not all that different than the Hawkeyes at this point -- and the loser on Saturday will effectively be out of the race.
- Jabrill Peppers has obviously not had the season anybody envisioned for Michigan, and Brady Hoke admitted the freshman is frustrated.
- Mark Dantonio is only focused on taking care of business with Michigan State after the first rankings were unveiled.
- Thanks to an injury to veteran safety Ryan Keiser, Penn State will take the redshirt off Troy Apke.
- Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova took another step forward, but his status remains unclear for this week's game against Wisconsin.
- Maryland started its preparation for Penn State in the summer by breaking down Vanderbilt film, looking for ways to get pressure on Christian Hackenberg.
- J.T. Barrett left no doubt about his intentions this week for Ohio State.
- Word continues to spread about Indiana running back Tevin Coleman.
- Nebraska has received a boost for its offensive line off the bench.
- Where does Minnesota's loss at Illinois rank among the most deflating for the program over the last 15 years?
- Reilly O'Toole remembers vividly the noise at Ohio Stadium two seasons ago. The Illinois quarterback will actually have a chance to play in front of that crowd this time.
- Wisconsin has already had success in the past recruiting New Jersey. Putting on a good show at Rutgers might open up a few more doors.
- Iowa is fed up with poor tackling, and it has made cleaning it up a priority this week.
- Statistically, Northwestern has plenty in common with Iowa.
- Raheem Mostert is running down a record at Purdue.
Brian Bennett: An excellent question. On the surface, it would seem like a one-loss Pac-12 champion Ducks team would help Michigan State's cause. But I as I wrote in the previous answer, there could be a lot of jockeying among one-loss teams for perhaps only one or two playoff spots. I actually think the Spartans are better off if Oregon loses another game (but just one) and goes on to win the Pac-12. Michigan State will still get credit for going to Eugene despite the loss, but the Pac-12 would be essentially out of the running. Heck, the coaches' poll already has Michigan State ranked ahead of Oregon. If only those guys watched some games ...
@BennettESPN What's better for MSU: Oregon wins out & stays ranked ahead, or Oregon loses one more & drops below MSU but hurts MSU's resume?- Jeff Brennemonster (@brennemania) October 29, 2014
Brian Bennett: It was a mild surprise seeing Nebraska ranked one spot ahead of Ohio State, but it was also completely understandable. The Huskers' résumé is just as good if not better than the Buckeyes', and their lone loss (at Michigan State) is infinitely better than Ohio State's loss at home to 4-4 Virginia Tech. This would probably be a good time to review bowl tie-ins and procedures in case the Big Ten champion does not get into the playoff. The league winner would then go to either the Cotton, Peach or Fiesta Bowl. Those bowl matchups will be decided by the playoff selection committee. The Big Ten champion is not eligible to play in the Orange Bowl, though that game could feature a Big Ten non-champion if it is ranked higher than SEC non-playoff teams or Notre Dame -- which seems unlikely given the glut of top 10 SEC teams. Nebraska almost certainly needs to win the conference to be ranked high enough to qualify for one of the marquee non-playoff bowls. I still think the Huskers are the best team in the West Division, though trips to Wisconsin and Iowa won't be easy. If Nebraska doesn't win the Big Ten, I would bet on the Bo Pelini's team ending up in the Holiday Bowl, because the league's new bowl guidelines are aimed at avoiding repeat destinations, and Big Red has gone to Florida three straight years. Kameron from Glen Ellyn, Ill. writes: I agree both Ameer Abdullah and Melvin Gordon are deserving of making it to NYC. I am biased as a Husker fan but Abdullah's blemish against MSU I feel is better than Gordon's against an inferior opponent like WIU where he had 38 yards. I would think voters would view that as worse than the MSU game for Abdullah. Your thoughts?
@BennettESPN As a husker fan I was ecstatic to see that Nebraska was 15 how do you feel about a possibility of one of the "bcs" bowls for us- Brandon Williamson (@Husker_bran) October 29, 2014
Brian Bennett: If you're going to have a bad day during a Heisman campaign, it's better to do it in a blowout game against a no-name opponent than to in a loss during your biggest game of the season on national TV. Gordon also was coming off a hip flexor injury against LSU when he had the subpar game against Western Illinois. Abdullah was not able to carry his team to victory or get much of anything going at Michigan State.
But let's acknowledge that we're splitting hairs here. Both players are having incredible seasons, and both are more than worthy of a trip to New York City as Heisman finalists. As is, for that matter, Indiana's Tevin Coleman. Recent history suggests, however, that it will be tough for more than one running back to make it there.
We're tracking the offensive and defensive player of the year races every week. And this week's bonus category is offensive lineman of the year.
Here we go:
Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year
1. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (five first-place votes): Abdullah had been overtaken in our poll by Melvin Gordon in recent weeks, but he's back on top after he broke the Nebraska record for all-purpose yards versus Rutgers. This race should last all year.
2. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (one first-place vote): Gordon did nothing wrong in running for 122 yards and three scores against Maryland last week. It's just that his competition is steep.
3. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: He and the Hoosiers were off last week. He will try to keep his streak of 100-yard games going at Michigan on Saturday.
4 . Michigan State WR Tony Lippett: He had his fourth straight 100-yard day and sixth of the season against Michigan, while recording his Big Ten-best ninth touchdown catch.
5. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: The Buckeyes freshman didn't have his best day at Penn State. But battling through a knee injury and leading the team to two scores in overtime was very impressive.
Also receiving votes: Minnesota RB David Cobb
Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year
1. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa (six first-place votes): He came up with the walk-off sack at Penn State and won his first Big Ten defensive player of the week award. It likely won't be his last.
2. Penn State LB Mike Hull: Inexplicably left off the Butkus Award semifinalist list, Hull leads the Big Ten in tackles and was sensational against Penn State with 19 stops.
3. Nebraska DE Randy Gregory: Despite missing some time earlier this year, he still has 5.5 sacks and is a holy terror to block.
4. Iowa DE Drew Ott: With the Hawkeyes off, Ott fell out of the Big Ten sacks lead. But he still has seven in as many games
5. Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun: He was a little quiet early in the season, but the defending Big Ten defensive lineman of the year has come on strong of late and has six sacks on the season.
Also receiving votes: Penn State DT Anthony Zettel; Wisconsin LB Derek Landisch; Maryland CB William Likely.
Rimington–Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year
1. Michigan State LT Jack Conklin (six first-place votes): We unanimously agrees that the Spartans sophomore, who had no other Division I scholarship offers out of high school, is the Big Ten's best offensive lineman so far this year. What a great story.
2. Ohio State LT Taylor Decker: The Buckeyes' O-line has made great improvement since early in the season, and Decker is the anchor at left tackle. That's why he is somewhat surprisingly ahead of ...
3. Iowa LT Brandon Scherff: The Hawkeyes senior probably still will be an early first-round draft pick, and he made the ESPN midseason All-American team. But he and the Iowa line have been disappointing, especially last time out against Maryland.
Three Big Ten teams remain in the playoff mix. Let's take a look at how things stand for them:
Record: 7-1 (4-0)
Next big obstacle: Nov. 8 vs. Ohio State
Reason for optimism: The Spartans have won 14 straight games against Big Ten opponents, and their toughest remaining game -- against Ohio State on Nov. 8 -- will be in East Lansing. Plus, their lone loss of the season was at Oregon, which was understandable. They remain the favorites to win the Big Ten and could easily move up as others lose.
Cause for concern: This year's defense has been more susceptible to the big play than defense in recent seasons, and Mark Dantonio's team has yet to play its A-game against a good opponent for four full quarters. The margin of the Oregon loss -- 19 points -- is a black mark, and the Spartans could suffer from the Big Ten's weak perception.
Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: Michigan State wants Ohio State to beat Illinois so the matchup against the Buckeyes is a marquee one. The Spartans need Oregon to beat Stanford and continue winning. They would also benefit from a Florida State loss at Louisville, a Notre Dame loss to Navy and more chaos in the SEC West.
Record: 7-1 (3-1)
Next big obstacle: Nov. 15 at Wisconsin
Reason for optimism: The Huskers are still lurking in the Big Ten race and could avenge their lone loss -- on the road by five points to Michigan State -- in the Big Ten championship game. They have an easier path to Indianapolis through the Big Ten West and have one of the nation's best players in running back Ameer Abdullah.
Cause for concern: Nebraska's best victory of the season came against a 5-3 Miami team, which just might not be good enough. The Huskers have been inconsistent at times and still have road tests at Wisconsin and Iowa. In their lone marquee game, they trailed Michigan State 27-3 in the fourth quarter before a furious comeback. They also don't have any ranked teams left on the schedule, though that could change if they make the Big Ten title game.
Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: Nebraska still needs a lot of help to move up 11 spots (at least). The Cornhuskers should definitely root for Florida State to lose and will want TCU to go down to West Virginia to weaken the case for both the ACC and Big 12 champ. Losses by Notre Dame, Oregon and chaos in the SEC West are needed. Nebraska also wants Wisconsin and Iowa to keep winning to make those games look more important and for Miami to finish strong.
Record: 6-1 (3-0)
Next big obstacle: Nov. 8 at Michigan State
Reason for optimism: The Buckeyes have steadily improved since a Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech, and quarterback J.T. Barrett has developed into a reliable playmaker. If the Buckeyes win in East Lansing in two weeks, they should have relatively smooth sailing to the Big Ten championship game. The selection committee will respect Urban Meyer's track record and Ohio State's talent.
Cause for concern: That loss to Virginia Tech -- by two touchdowns, at home -- could be hard to overcome, especially because the Hokies are just 4-4. Other than Michigan State, there's no real opportunity for a statement win. And the Buckeyes barely survived the past week at Penn State, which suggests their offensive improvement might have been built on the back of a weak schedule.
Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: The Buckeyes need all the same carnage Nebraska is hoping for, but at least they could get a significant boost by winning at Michigan State. They'll also want the Huskers to win out and hope to play them in Indianapolis.
Last week, we projected Maryland to the Holiday Bowl based on merit, while noting that the Terrapins would have to prove themselves again at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin ended up mauling Maryland, so the Badgers move up the projections. Remember: the Big Ten is taking greater control over bowl pairings this season, so the teams that have earned it on the field, not necessarily those with the largest fan bases, will land in the higher-profile games.
We had a brief discussion about projecting Michigan State or Ohio State to the playoff, but a few more things need to break the Big Ten's way. There's a good chance the winner of the Nov. 8 showdown at Spartan Stadium moves up a rung, but we're not ready to pull the trigger.
We also discussed whether to project Illinois to its first bowl game under coach Tim Beckman after a big home win against Minnesota. The Illini only need two more wins, but we need to see a little more.
Maryland and Rutgers move down after losses. Penn State, meanwhile, actually moves up after taking Ohio State to the brink before falling in two overtimes.
Here are the latest 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: Minnesota
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Maryland
San Francisco: Rutgers
New Era Pinstripe: Penn State
Quick Lane: Iowa
Heart of Dallas: Northwestern
By the way, if you’re not following us on Twitter, what are you waiting for? Follow along at @ESPNRittenberg, @BennettESPN, @ESPNJoshMoyer, @DanMurphyESPN, @MitchSherman and @AWardESPN.
Dantonio says he won't watch playoff-poll unveil tonight. How about OSU-Illinois on Saturday? "That one will get my attention."— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) October 28, 2014
More Franklin on Hull: "I've been coaching 20 years ... and I'm just telling you, not many guys like this out there, in college or NFL."— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) October 28, 2014
Will Bo Pelini talk to his team about the rankings. "No. ... other than to ignore them." Catch the CFP Fever, Huskers!— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) October 28, 2014
The No. 1 reason for Purdue's improvement, according to Pelini? "Coaching."— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) October 28, 2014
Tim Beckman spent a year and a half coaching under Jim Tressel: Says "sometimes I want to kick myself in the butt for not staying longer."— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) October 28, 2014
And we get our weekly reminder that Minnesota doesn't want to take David Cobb off the field. "There's still a lot of tread on those tires."— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) October 28, 2014
Ferentz on B1G West race: "If you look at it, probably nobody is out of it right now."— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) October 28, 2014
The College Football Playoff selection committee will issue its first-ever set of rankings Tuesday night.
It's an exciting time for fans and the signal of a bold new beginning for the sport. Many will be glued to their TV sets for the unveiling of the Top 25.
But in terms of appointment viewing for the three Big Ten figures who have the most to gain or lose tonight, this show might as well be a rerun of "New Girl."
On Tuesday's Big Ten coaches' teleconference, I asked Nebraska's Bo Pelini, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and Ohio State's Urban Meyer -- all of whom should see their teams ranked in the top 20 -- how much attention they'd pay to the rankings release. All three said they didn't even plan on watching the show.
"I think you'll notice it, but I think our focus has got to be on our next football game," said Dantonio, whose team has a bye this week before hosting Ohio State. "That will be where the challenge is. I think this is the starting point for everything from a media perspective. I'm really not quite sure how it will even work."
"I'm sure I'll hear about it, but I've got other things on my mind than what that vote is today," Pelini said. "It's not something that affects me."
"I'm sure I'll look at them tomorrow morning," Meyer said. "We're practicing and it's a heavy game plan night. So I know I won't watch it, though I'm aware it's going to happen."
Playoff talk has dominated college football since the end of last season. But even though there are two men with major Big Ten ties on the committee -- Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez and former Nebraska coach/athletic director Tom Osborne -- the coaches all said they were unfamiliar with how the process will work.
Pelini even said he's had no conversations with Osborne about the playoff selection in the past year. I asked him if he'd address the playoff rankings with his team.
"No," he said. "Other than to ignore them."
None of the coaches expected to learn much from the rankings, either, though the committee could tip its hand on which areas -- like strength of schedule, good wins vs. bad losses -- it prioritizes.
"I haven't followed it that much," Meyer said. "I don't know if it's much different than the old BCS system when the BCS rankings came out. The only thing I look at it as, it's four teams instead of two. I really don't understand the whole dynamics."
"I think it's just another poll," Dantonio said. "I'm sure they have their methodology. It will be interesting to watch as it goes through. [But] we need to try and live in the present."
Tonight's show should attract a lot of interested college football fans. But not so many Big Ten coaches, apparently.
"I didn't know the rankings were tonight and will not watch them," Penn State's James Franklin said. "But I am curious about how the whole thing will play out. I will follow it from a distance in my free time."
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Midway through the fourth quarter of Nebraska’s victory over Rutgers on Saturday, Ameer Abdullah appeared on the HuskerVision screens inside Memorial Stadium. As his school record of 341 all-purpose yards was announced to the crowd, the senior I-back stood steely-faced, staring ahead, seemingly oblivious to the moment.
Earlier, in the midst of his 225-yard rushing effort, Abdullah, while waiting for his next opportunity, clutched a football on the sideline. Teammates mingled or sat on the bench, but Abdullah just held that ball in a locked position near his chest and kept his body in motion, a drill -- designed for practice -- that running backs coach Ron Brown encourages.
Eight games into his final season at Nebraska, Abdullah leads the nation in rushing yardage. He’s second in touchdowns. With four 200-yard rushing performances, he’s on track to top 2,000 yards in the 13th game of the season, whether that’s in Indianapolis Dec. 6 or at a bowl site.
He just passed Anthony Thompson and Archie Griffin to take the No. 2 spot on the Big Ten’s career all-purpose yardage list. With a couple more games like Saturday, in which he returned a kickoff 76 yards and caught two passes, Abdullah will pass Ron Dayne, who totaled 7,429 all-purpose yards, as the league’s all-time leader.
Not a chance.
“He’ll be able to look back on this with a lot of pride,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “It’s pretty special.”
Abdullah said he needs to keep his head down. Literally.
“You can’t get caught up in that right now,” he said, “because that’s not what is important. What’s important is tomorrow.”
Brown compared the past three months for Abdullah to a walk through the jungle. The deeper into the season he gets, the thicker the brush and the more difficult it becomes for him to see if, for even a minute, he loses focus.
“He’s just pulling things out of the way to get to the destination,” Brown said. “He realizes this is part of the jungle. He’s trying to keep his eyes on the prize.
“If you lose your senses, you can get discombobulated and go find a place to melt down somewhere.”
Last month, as Nebraska ramped up its promotion of Abdullah for the Heisman Trophy and other awards, the Alabama native largely shut down his availability to the media.
If an activity is not sharpening his focus, Abdullah prioritizes other things.
“He doesn’t have to think about that stuff,” Brown said.
Abdullah granted an extended interview Saturday, continuing to deflect attention even as he fielded questions about his own record-setting performance.
He sits 555 yards from breaking Nebraska's career rushing mark of 4,780 yards, set in three seasons by Heisman winner Mike Rozier. That record has long been considered unattainable at the school known for its legacy of I-backs.
Despite the appearance, Abdullah said he recognizes the significance of his achievements this fall.
“They're definitely memories,” he said. “Every time I step on the field, whether it's practice or a game, I'm always creating memories here. I'm always going to remember coming here and playing for this great university. Not many people are blessed with that opportunity. Definitely, it’s an honor."
His array of spectacular runs, in a way, creates a difficult situation for Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck.
For instance, on Saturday, Abdullah scored on consecutive touches of 53 and 48 yards as he buckled the knees of Rutgers defenders on both plays. The back-to-back drives unlocked a 7-7 tie early in the second quarter and had the stadium abuzz about Abdullah’s next chance.
But on the ensuing possession, Beck called three pass plays. The first two fell incomplete. Rutgers cornerback Anthony Cioffi intercepted Tommy Armstrong Jr. on the third.
Collectively, more than 90,000 people in attendance groaned. Why didn't Beck call the number of his best player?
“You can’t always just hand the ball to Ameer,” Beck said. “Everyone is going to know. You can’t just do that.”
Oh, the problems of coaching a Heisman candidate.
“Coach Beck understands getting the ball in the playmakers’ hands and spacing is really important,” Abdullah said. “We have to utilize all of our skilled players. We don’t want to just make this offense one-dimensional.”
Through it all, Abdullah keeps his head down, navigating the jungle. As for any discussion about his place among other great running backs -- this season or historically -- Pelini said Abdullah belongs in the discussion.
“I mean, just watch the film,” the coach said. “That’s all you’ve got to do.”
Our crew of Big Ten reporters will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which one is right.
Today's Take Two topic is: Which of the Big Ten's two top Heisman Trophy contenders -- Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah or Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon -- has a better chance of getting to New York in December as a Heisman finalist?
Both guys are extremely deserving, and if the Heisman vote was taken today and there was any justice, they'd both be finalists. That's how great their seasons have been.
However, given the glut of candidates at quarterback, it's more likely that only one Big Ten running back will make it to the Downtown Athletic Club. And I have to give the slight edge to Gordon.
Abdullah is rising in Heisman straw polls after another huge day against Rutgers last week. But he has one major stain on his résumé: that 24-carry, 45-yard performance in the Huskers' biggest game to date, the loss at Michigan State. Gordon also had an off day, but it came against Western Illinois when nobody was watching, and he had an injury as his excuse.
Voters may hold Gordon's second-half disappearing act versus LSU against him. But he also had 140 yards on 16 carries in that game, and as LSU continues to improve -- just look at what the Tigers' defense did to Ole Miss last week -- that showing will actually look better and better. The Gordon vs. Abdullah debate will likely come down to their Nov. 15 showdown in Madison. It helps that Gordon will be at home for that game. I think the Badgers star finishes slightly ahead of Abdullah in an extremely close call, and Gordon gets to New York.
I could not agree more that both backs belong in any conversation regarding the top player in college football. But for fans of Big Ten teams still unsure how to gauge Nebraska players in historical context, consider that Abdullah last week passed Anthony Thompson, the former Indiana great, and two-time Ohio State Heisman winner Archie Griffin in career all-purpose yardage.
And this season has been Abdullah's best yet, with four of his five career 200-yard rushing performances -- and at least five games to play. Abdullah leads the nation in rushing yardage. He's second in rushing touchdowns. He's on pace to exceed 2,000 yards this season (even if the Huskers don't qualify for the Big Ten title game) and surpass Heisman winner Mike Rozier as the Huskers' all-time leading rusher.
More than that, Abdullah does everything for Nebraska, returning kickoffs and taking snaps from the Wildcat formation. Last week against Rutgers, he split wide to catch a pass and grabbed another as the slot receiver.
He's also the Huskers' unquestioned leader, setting a constant example for teammates. It's part of his greatness and a trait that deserves notice from Heisman voters in the wake of the questionable decisions made regularly by the past two winners of the award.
As for the Michigan State game, yes, it is his one blemish, though Abdullah helped Nebraska get a shot to win at the end, and his poor numbers in that game are largely attributable to inept blocking and a game plan that went awry quickly in East Lansing.
1. Iowa transfer?: It appears as if freshman wideout Derrick Willies might have played his last game for the Hawkeyes. He posted a cryptic message on his Instagram Monday night that read, "It's been real Iowa, things are just moving on to a different chapter in the story..." A Hawkeyes spokesman told the Des Moines Register that any roster updates would be addressed by coach Kirk Ferentz on Tuesday. Willies was not listed on the team's Monday depth chart.
2. Hoke domino effect: Brady Hoke says no one's talked to him about his job status, and that kind of uncertainty is not what you want to hear when it comes to recruiting. As a result, ESPN 300 DB Garrett Taylor decommitted from the Wolverines on Monday. And U-M will be lucky if he's the last recruit to decommit. Oft-given advice is for a player to commit to a school, not a coach, but it rarely seems to work out that way. Michigan is down to nine commitments right now.
3. No Nova?: Rutgers senior QB Gary Nova is listed as "questionable" for Saturday's game against Wisconsin, which means redshirt freshman Chris Laviano could be in line for his first career start. Laviano could push Nova for time, regardless, as he outplayed Nova in the Nebraska game and even led his team with 54 rushing yards. But I'm more in line with the thinking of NJ.com's Dan Duggan: If Nova is medically cleared, he should play. A one-game sample size isn't enough to vault Laviano over Nova, who's been pretty good this year. Nova still gives the Scarlet Knights their best chance to win.
- Michigan State's quest for respect is about to go national.
- Urban Meyer is focusing on the positives after a close win.
- The chance for pride in Michigan's season vanished on Saturday, writes the Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder.
- A 10-hour time-lapse of Penn State's entire "White Out."
- Indiana coach Kevin Wilson wants third-string QB-turned-starter Zander Diamont to do his talking on the field.
- Rutgers backup QB Chris Laviano is ready if Gary Nova can't go Saturday.
- The good and bad from Maryland's loss to Wisconsin.
- November will be Iowa's true measuring stick, according to the Des Moines Register's Rick Brown.
- Nebraska is feeling "fresh" at this point in the season, and it's hoping that pays off in November.
- Purdue freshman Ja'Whaun Bentley has found a home at middle linebacker.
- Wisconsin is clawing its way out of a Big Ten hole.
- Jerry Kill is trying to heal the Gophers' psyche for the home stretch.
- Is slow progress enough for Tim Beckman to return to Illinois next season?
- Northwestern LB Collin Ellis remains sidelined by a concussion.
The College Football Playoff rankings are coming out. Cue the Big Ten cries and anger. The 12-member playoff committee is meeting in Dallas -- so exciting -- and set to release on Tuesday its first list of 25 teams, the top four of which will eventually create matchups for our New Year’s Day semifinals. Let me remove some of the suspense for you: The Big Ten is going to be on the outside looking in. Michigan State figures to fit into the top 10, with Ohio State and Nebraska among the top 20. If you have a short memory, here’s what happened on Sept. 6. It looms large in the lack of respect this league receives nationally. All is not lost, though, as SEC and Pac-12 and Big 12 teams continue to knock each other from the top. Six weeks remain for one of the Big Ten’s top three teams to climb toward the top. It could happen.
What will happen next at Michigan? Just when you thought the season couldn’t get any worse for Brady Hoke and his team, Saturday happened. Not the 35-11 loss at Michigan State. That was expected. And hey, the Wolverines rushed for 61 yards -- 109 better than a year ago. But before the game, Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden drove a stake through the turf at Spartan Stadium. Not a good idea. Later, the Michigan Daily, the U-M student newspaper, gave up on the game. Ouch. So have the fans, especially the students, given up on the Wolverines? It will be interesting to see what happens in the seats at the Big House on Saturday as Indiana visits.
The Rutgers quarterback situation. The Scarlet Knights ranked as the top feel good story in the first half of the Big Ten season. Commonly picked to finish last in the East Division and miss a bowl game, Rutgers raced to a 5-1 start behind a solid defense and revitalized quarterback Gary Nova. But on Saturday at Nebraska, Nova went down with a knee injury late in the the first half as Rutgers -- instructed by coach Kyle Flood -- aggressively tried to drive the entire field, down 21-7 with one minute to play. Redshirt freshman Chris Laviano took over as Nova missed the second half. His status is uncertain for Saturday at home against Wisconsin. The rest of this season for Rutgers goes as Nova goes. It could win two more games and even push the Badgers if Nova is healthy. Without Nova, a crash-and-burn scenario is possible. Don't book the bowl trip yet.
On Wisconsin. Just like that, the Badgers are back. Sure, that loss at Northwestern still stings. But Wisconsin looked like a re-energized group in dispatching Maryland 52-7 on Saturday. And now, it’s got trips to Rutgers and Purdue before a big game in Madison on Nov. 15 against Nebraska opens the crucial three-game finish. It’s all out there for Gary Andersen’s team. With Melvin Gordon running the football and the quarterback situation apparently resolved, the Badgers are rounding into the team that ought to strike fear into the rest of the West -- and might just serve as the division’s best shot to beat Michigan State or Ohio State in Indianapolis.
The Under the Radar Bowl in Iowa City. Iowa and Northwestern sat out in Week 9, giving our short memories just enough time to forget about them. Not long ago, the Hawkeyes and Wildcats were contenders in the West. Then Iowa lost at Maryland, and Northwestern fell apart in the second half against Nebraska. The winner of this game remains in the mix, especially if it’s Iowa, which visits vulnerable Minnesota next week and gets Wisconsin and Nebraska at home to finish. But beware of Northwestern. It has won six of the past nine games in this series.
Rutgers and Maryland both got off to nice starts in their first season in the Big Ten. But reality is beginning to set in for both programs.
The Scarlet Knights beat Michigan and the Terrapins notched a solid victory over Iowa earlier this season. So both teams have been more than competitive and should go bowling. Yet hanging with the Big Ten's best teams in the league's toughest environments is another story entirely.
Rutgers fell to Nebraska 42-24 on Saturday in Lincoln, a week after losing 56-17 at Ohio State. Maryland got hammered by Wisconsin 52-7 in Madison and lost 52-24 earlier this season to Ohio State at home. The Terps were outgained by a total of 575 yards in those two blowout defeats, while the Scarlet Knights gave up 616 rushing yards to Ohio State and Nebraska.
Many Big Ten teams would suffer the same fates in those stadiums and against those opponents, so this is not really a knock on the newbies. It's just a reminder that while both Maryland and Rutgers are far from Big Ten bottom-feeders, they're not all that close to the cream of the crop, either. And both still have to play Michigan State.
Team of the week: Illinois. Like many others, we have given Tim Beckman a hard time. But he has always struck me as a decent guy who really cares about his players, and his joy for them was evident after the Illini upset Minnesota on Saturday. It was the program's first Big Ten home win since October 2011, incredibly. As bad as things have seemed in Champaign this season, especially after the home loss to Purdue, Illinois is still 4-4. A bowl game -- and another year for Beckman -- is still in play.
Biggest play: V'Angelo Bentley's 12-yard fumble return with 6:33 left provided the winning score for Illinois. It was sad to see David Cobb cough up such a big mistake since he's had an amazing season and has carried Minnesota's offense on his back, including on Saturday.
Coolest play: Never sleep on the punter. Well done, Wisconsin's Drew Meyer.
Worst play: Uh, not so well done, Devin Gardner.
Big Man on Campus (offense): Ameer Abdullah set a Nebraska record with 341 all-purpose yards. I think he blew up all the red balloons before the game, too. We're running out of superlatives for this guy.
Big Man on Campus (defense): Several Penn State defensive players were great, including Mike Hull and Anthony Zettel. But when the game was on the line in State College, guess who came through? No, don't just shrug. Take a bow, Joey Bosa.
Cameron Johnston averaged 45 yards on six punts and had four of them downed inside the 20, including a pair inside the Penn State 10-yard line in the fourth quarter.
Biggest faceplant: Minnesota was angling toward a 7-1 start and starting to gain some national respect before it lost to an Illinois team that had lost 24 of its previous 25 Big Ten games. For a second straight week, the Gophers fell behind early, and it's not a team built to play that way. With the closing foursome of Iowa, Ohio State, at Nebraska and at Wisconsin still left, Jerry Kill's team needs to regroup quickly or risk losing some serious steam.
Dumbest stake-plant: Well, duh. If you're keeping track, Michigan's ratio of wins to public apologies this season stands at 3-to-2. What a bizarre year in Ann Arbor.
Fun with numbers: Budget some extra time if you're going to Beaver Stadium for a league matchup. Five of Penn State's last seven Big Ten home games have gone into overtime. ... Michigan's fourth-quarter touchdown against Michigan State was its first versus the Spartans in 186:08 of game action, dating back to the fourth quarter of the 2011 game. ... Abdullah now ranks second in Big Ten history with 6,604 career all-purpose yards. He needs 825 more to break Ron Dayne's record, and with four more regular-season games plus a bowl (and a possible Big Ten title game) he should get there. ... Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon has five games with at least three rushing scores over the past two seasons, the most among all Power 5 conference players. His 15 touchdowns in his last five games ties Billy Marek (1974) for the school record for most scores in a five-game stretch.
We're just two years removed from a very poor year by the league officials. And on Saturday night, the crew working the Ohio State-Penn State game was involved with several head-scratching -- and at times, just plain botched -- calls. "Clownish" is how PennLive.com's David Jones described the refereeing in State College, and it's hard to argue against that wording.
For years, fans have long accused the league of protecting its brand-name teams and have theorized that those schools get the benefit of the whistle. That's a bit too much tinfoil-on-the-head, conspiracy-mongering for me. After all, Michigan lost at Rutgers earlier this season in part because of a bad call on a Wolverines' pass that should have been ruled a completion.
But it's also true Ohio State got some breaks in its overtime win Saturday, most notably on the interception by Vonn Bell that actually hit the ground and on a field goal that came clearly after the play clock had expired. James Franklin had to hold himself back from saying what he really thought about those calls.
ESPN.com asked the league to clarify what happened on the Bell interception, after the officials told a pool reporter Saturday night that there were technical difficulties on the replay. The Big Ten's response:
"[T]he video feed to the replay booth was tested and confirmed on Friday and prior to the game on Saturday, but at the start of the game, the booth was no longer receiving all available feeds. The technician in the booth followed procedure by contacting the production truck, which immediately began working on the issue. Due to these technical difficulties, only one isolated shot from the overhead camera was available and the view did not provide sufficient information to reverse the call. As a result, the play stood as called. The production truck rectified the technical issues shortly thereafter, and the replay booth had access to multiple feeds for the remainder of the game."
And the league office also responded about the no delay-of-game penalty before that field goal:
"In this case, a breakdown in officiating mechanics occurred and the crew failed to properly monitor the play clock. There is flexibility for a slight delay between the play clock and the snap of the ball, but in this case, the timing far exceeded the tolerance for normal play clock procedures. The proper ruling should have been a five-yard penalty for delay of game. This is not a reviewable play."
It's good that the Big Ten provided some explanations here and that the league admitted a failure on the missed delay-of-game. That may not be enough for some fans who find it convenient those breakdowns happened to help one of the conference's remaining playoff contenders.
I don't believe there's a conspiracy in play. But I do believe the Big Ten needs to continue to demand better from its officiating, because it was far from acceptable on Saturday night.
- Mark Dantonio and Brady Hoke are all good after Hoke apologized for the stake incident (And for the love of all that is holy, can we stop putting -gate on the end of everything? Watergate was 40 years ago. At least save it for actual coverups and not every single minor controversy. End rant.)
- Michigan State owns Michigan, Mitch Albom writes. The Spartans should ignore Michigan's brazen stupidity, Graham Couch writes.
- Joey Bosa put the finishing touches on Ohio State's victory at Penn State. The Buckeyes are still looking up to Michigan State, says Ari Wasserman.
- It was a rough day all around in Madison for Maryland.
- Initial tests on Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova's knee are positive, but his status remains up in the air.
- James Franklin wore his heart on his sleeve after the Ohio State loss. Even in defeat, the Nittany Lions turned in a historic defensive effort.
- Illinois can celebrate after a hard-fought win.
- The loss to the Illini feels too familiar for Minnesota fans.
- Iowa's Reggie Spearman got suspended after an arrest. November will be the Hawkeyes' true measuring stick.
- Ameer Abdullah made Saturday's game against Rutgers one to remember. Kenny Bell set a record and is trying to savor every bit of his senior season.
- Wisconsin's defense proved it can carry the day.
Finally: RIP, Oscar Taveras. Incredibly sad.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
12:00 PM ET Northwestern Iowa 12:00 PM ET Maryland Penn State 12:00 PM ET Wisconsin Rutgers 3:30 PM ET Purdue 15 Nebraska 3:30 PM ET Indiana Michigan 8:00 PM ET Illinois 16 Ohio State