Big Ten: Northwestern Wildcats
1. Ohio State won but may lose ground: If "game control" is as important as College Football Playoff selection committee chairman Jeff Long said last week, Ohio State should find itself in a spot of bother come Tuesday night. The No. 6 Buckeyes led Indiana just 14-13 at halftime and trailed deep into the third quarter before pulling out a 42-27 win. And remember that these Hoosiers are winless in Big Ten play and now just 3-8 overall. A letdown after winning on the road against Michigan State and Minnesota could have been expected, but Urban Meyer's team needs all the positive impressions it can create. It wouldn't be surprising to see Ohio State slip in next week's poll, just as TCU did after a shaky win over Kansas. On the plus side, the Buckeyes clinched a spot in the Big Ten championship game and will have a chance to add a quality win there. If all else fails, Meyer & Co. should just remind everybody that Indiana did beat Missouri -- or that Florida State barely wins every week.
3. Land of Lincoln game holds intrigue: If we had told you a few weeks ago that the season finale between Illinois and Northwestern would be really interesting, you probably would have laughed. But the Wildcats have gotten hot at the right time, upsetting Notre Dame in overtime last week and cruising past Purdue 38-14 on Saturday to get to five wins. Illinois, meanwhile, edged Penn State on a late field goal 16-14 for its fifth victory. So the Land of Lincoln Trophy game in Evanston will be a bowl play-in game for both sides. And it might just decide whether Tim Beckman keeps his job for another year in Champaign. Neither team's projected starting quarterback may play a huge role, as Northwestern's Trevor Siemian injured his leg against Purdue and Reilly O'Toole came in for an ineffective and perhaps-still-a-bit-gimpy Wes Lunt in the Illini's win.
4. Michigan State belongs in a major bowl: Instead of sulking after the home loss to Ohio State, the Spartans have taken out their frustrations on the Big Ten's newbies. After a 37-15 win at Maryland last week, Michigan State romped past Rutgers 45-3 on Saturday. Mark Dantonio had some fun on Senior Day, starting Tony Lippett on offense and defense, calling for a fake field goal while ahead 35-0 and giving offensive lineman Connor Kruse a carry. It's clear that the No. 11 Spartans are still one of the top teams in the country, with their only losses coming to potential playoff teams. They deserve to make one of the major bowls outside the playoff -- the Fiesta, perhaps? -- and get a shot against an outstanding opponent from a major conference. If they play like they have the past couple of weeks, they'll have a great chance to win a big bowl, too.
5. Maryland is having a nice first Big Ten season: Winning at Penn State and 23-16 on Saturday at Michigan is a pretty nice way to introduce yourself to the league, even if those two programs are at near historic low points. Randy Edsall's Terrapins can post an 8-4 record by beating Rutgers at home next week. Their only losses would be to three of the league's top teams -- Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State -- and a close call at home against West Virginia. They also beat Iowa and weren't quite as hapless in big games as fellow newcomer Rutgers, which was outscored 180-43 in its four games against ranked Big Ten opponents. Maryland still has to finish it off this week, but a third-place showing in the Big Ten East and an eight-win season would make for a very solid conference debut.
Here's a look at what's on tap Saturday (all times ET):
Rutgers (6-4, 2-4) at No. 11 Michigan State (8-2, 5-1), Big Ten Network: League championship dreams are all but over for the Spartans, but they can still win 10 games and get to a major bowl. The Scarlet Knights are looking to score an upset over one of the upper-tier teams in the league, but they're going bowling regardless.
Indiana (3, 7, 0-6) at No. 6 Ohio State (9-1, 6-0), BTN: The Buckeyes are around a five-touchdown favorite, and understandably so. This one might be about style points for the selection committee, and not much else.
Northwestern (4-6, 2-4) at Purdue (3-7, 1-5), ESPNU: After a surprising upset in South Bend, the Wildcats now have a bowl game in sight if they can win this one and close out the season against Illinois. But Purdue had a week off to prepare, and Northwestern has had a habit of playing up or down to its competition.
Penn State (6-4, 2-4) at Illinois (4-6, 1-5), ESPN2: Tim Beckman's last stand? The Illini have to win here to have any hope of getting to a bowl game and potentially saving their coach's job. Christian Hackenberg is scuffling for Penn State, but is Illinois' defense enough to lift his doldrums?
No. 16 Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1) at Iowa (7-3, 4-2), ABC/ESPN2: The Heartland Trophy game has enormous West Division implications. If Wisconsin wins, it can do no worse than tie for the division title and could clinch a spot in Indianapolis with a Minnesota loss. Melvin Gordon, who originally committed to Iowa, will look to add to his Heisman Trophy credentials after his 408-yard day last weekend.
Maryland (6-4, 3-3) at Michigan (5-5, 3-3), BTN: Can Brady Hoke lead Michigan to a bowl game? He'll almost certainly have to win this one to do so, since the Wolverines' finale is in Columbus. Maryland already has wins over Penn State and Iowa, and would solidify a nice first season in the Big Ten by winning in the Big House.
Week 13 predictions | Bold calls
Ohio State offensive line again rises from the ashes
J.T. Barrett speeds toward Heisman race
Minnesota, Nebraska fight to move forward
Revised image suits Michigan's Jake Ryan
Rutgers not satisfied with bowl eligibility
'Chevy Bad Boys' power Wisconsin's No. 1 D
The cold truth: Embrace the B1G weather
Big Ten's second act worth watching
West Division title scenarios
"Dilly Bar Dan" enjoys his brush with fame
Awards race tracker
Urban Meyer’s team deserves the attention.
Yes, it has more talent on the bench than most Big Ten teams feature in their starting lineups. But OSU rise behind freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett rates as a truly unexpected story of national significance.
Take a moment, though, as Michigan State honors 18 seniors on Saturday, to appreciate the legacy of Spartans like Jeremy Langford, Tony Lippett and Taiwan Jones.
It’s shame that their careers are closing on something of an anticlimactic note.
They’ve anchored the most consistent and most winning program in the conference over the past four years and traveled various paths, as Matt Charboneau of the Detroit News writes, to earn a shot to equal the 2013 senior class as the best in school history.
If they beat Rutgers on Saturday, Penn State next week and notch a win in a bowl game -- perhaps among the New Year’s Six -- the MSU seniors would finish 42-12.
These seniors have already won two Big Ten crowns and three bowl games, including the Rose Bowl last season. The News article shows that Michigan State's senior classes since 2010 have posted the five highest win totals in program history. It’s an incredible accomplishment. And all but Jones, who did not redshirt, have been there in East Lansing with each class.
They deserve a share of the spotlight this month.
Staying with the Spartans, coach Mark Dantonio made an interesting comment Thursday on his radio show about quarterback Connor Cook as a future team captain. That would, of course, only happen if Cook returns next season for his senior year.
Cook is considered a potential early-round selection if he declares for the NFL draft. No Big Ten quarterback has been selected in the first round since Kerry Collins in 1995.
Cook could end the drought.
MSU junior defensive end Shilique Calhoun also faces a decision. Calhoun, ranked on Mel Kiper's 25-player Big Board, said this week that he had not reached a decision.
"My primary focus is this season," Calhoun told MLive.com, "and this season isn't over yet. I'm just trying to do great things to help my team win."
These decisions figure to factor heavily in the bid of the Spartans' senior class of 2015 to match the accomplishments of the five that came before it.
As Gordon has nearly pulled even with leader Marcus Mariota in the Heisman Watch and Barrett continues to surface in conversation for out the award, what could it mean for the Big Ten to send two finalists to New York for the ceremony?
It wouldn't exactly change the suffering national perception of the league, but it couldn't hurt, what with the Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC unlikely to produce more than one finalist apiece.
Only the SEC, with Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, can match the Big Ten with two potential finalists.
Just as important, when Gordon and Barrett play during this stretch run of the season, it's a must-see TV event.
Wisconsin and Gordon, after his 408-yard explosion against Nebraska, visit Iowa (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) on Saturday. And the Hawkeyes are taking notice.
Barrett stays home to face Indiana. That could get out of hand.
Around the rest of the league:
- Rutgers is preparing for the late-November elements at Spartan Stadium.
- Brady Hoke says he's seen a lot of growth in his team this year at Michigan.
- Maryland receiver Stefon Diggs will not play before the Terps' bowl game.
- This Penn State defense is earning its place in school history.
- Nebraska needs a strong performance from its secondary in run support against Minnesota.
- Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner looks to bounce back after a rough game against Ohio State.
- Immaturity has plagued Northwestern, says Pat Fitzgerald.
- Place-kicker Paul Griggs is a bright spot for Purdue.
- Purdue defender Earnest Thomas III has grown into a leader.
Why Minnesota will win: There’s no letup coming for the Blackshirts, who were historically carved up by Melvin Gordon last week and must turn right around and face the Gophers' David Cobb and another productive rushing attack, with flickering hopes of winning the West Division hanging in the balance for both teams. Ameer Abdullah doesn’t look quite back to full speed on his injured knee, and the Gophers are perhaps underrated for their defensive ability when they’re dialed in and aggressive, which could make it tough for the Huskers if the star rusher is limited again. Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner has been inconsistent this season, but this seems like a good opportunity for him to bounce back in the play-action passing game with the Huskers trying to avoid another soft performance on the ground. ... Minnesota 27, Nebraska 24 -- Austin Ward
Why Nebraska will win: Melvin Gordon had his way with the Huskers last week, but Minnesota’s David Cobb -- who’s accounted for more than 40 percent of the offense -- is a different kind of runner. Most of Gordon’s yards came with speed outside the tackles; most of Cobb’s will come from power between the tackles. Nebraska shouldn’t allow half as many big offensive plays this weekend, and the Huskers’ offense clearly has the edge here. Bo Pelini’s squad averages 8.8 more points per game, the offense gains an average of 100 more yards a game, and Ameer Abdullah is one week healthier. Minnesota won’t be able to keep up. ... Nebraska 34, Minnesota 24 -- Josh Moyer
Why Michigan wins: It's the last home game for Michigan seniors such as linebacker Jake Ryan and quarterback Devin Gardner and possibly the last for coach Brady Hoke. The Wolverines will ride their defense and limit mistakes on offense to outlast a Maryland team that has been tough to figure out week-to-week. It's a field-goal fest early on, but Michigan records a defensive touchdown in the third quarter and holds off a Terrapins rally to get bowl-eligible. ... Michigan 19, Maryland 16 -- Adam Rittenberg
Why Maryland wins: Maryland has been a puzzle this season, but my bet is Randy Edsall fits the right pieces together Saturday at Michigan. The Terps are at their best when airing out the deep ball on offense (even without Stefon Diggs). If Michigan can't get a decent pass rush in the absence of Frank Clark, C.J. Brown should have enough time to connect with his receivers on a couple bombs. Michigan's seniors will pour their hearts onto the field for a final time at the Big House, but in close games, Maryland kicker Brad Craddock has been a difference-maker for the Terps. He plays the heartbreaker role again in Ann Arbor. ... Maryland 24, Michigan 21 -- Dan Murphy
Why Northwestern will win: It's a risk picking the Wildcats here because they only seem to play well against top-20 teams. But I've got to believe Pat Fitzgerald's team built some confidence in that upset at Notre Dame, and certainly that was the best Trevor Siemian has looked all year. Purdue has some big-play ability that will give Northwestern trouble, but the Wildcats now have a realistic shot at a bowl and should play with all-out effort with that in mind. ... Northwestern 24, Purdue 21 -- Brian Bennett
Why Purdue wins: Northwestern has shown great fight in coming back from the dead twice this year. Its most remarkable achievement -- slightly ahead of the home victory over Wisconsin last month -- came Saturday with a road win at Notre Dame. But I just don’t trust the Wildcats, who are dreaming of a bowl game. Remember, this is a team that lost by 41 at Iowa three weeks ago. Purdue is playing without pressure. Sure, it has struggled down the stretch, but Austin Appleby is capable of a strong performance against a mediocre defense. If you want my real strategy in pick the Boilermakers, look no further than the calendar. Since 1947, Purdue is unbeaten in nine games on Nov. 22. ... Purdue 35, Northwestern 31 -- Josh Moyer
Ohio State 59, Indiana 10: Shield your eyes from this one, folks. The league's best team and top offense take aim at the winless-in-conference Hoosiers at home and with a need to impress. It's going to get ugly early and stay that way.
Michigan State 42, Rutgers 21: The Scarlet Knights got bowl eligible last week but weren't terribly impressive against Indiana. Meanwhile, the Spartans regained their mojo at Maryland and should have an easy time dissecting a very leaky Scarlet Knights defense. Jeremy Langford will close out his home career in style on senior day with 175 rushing yards.
Penn State 17, Illinois 13: Odds are the Nittany Lions aren't going to blow any Big Ten opponents away because of their limited offense. But their defense has been one of the best in college football, and Anthony Zettel and Mike Hull will consume the Illini offensive line. A pick-six helps Penn State escape Champaign with win No. 7.
Wisconsin 31, Iowa 24: The Badgers won't have as easy a time running the ball as they did against Nebraska last week (historically speaking, that would be almost impossible). But Melvin Gordon isn't going to slow down now that he has a Heisman Trophy in his sights. Iowa will hang around all day, but Wisconsin's defense will make the necessary stops to pull another step closer to the West Division title.
T-1. Mitch Sherman: 78-20 (.796)
T-1. Austin Ward: 78-20 (.796)
3. Dan Murphy: 47-14 (.787)
4. Brian Bennett: 77-21 (.786)
T-5. Adam Rittenberg: 73-25 (.745)
T-5. Josh Moyer: 73-25 (.745)
The Big Ten is definitely making the trade worth it.
1. Boiling down the Broyles: The guys on the field jockeying for individual awards deserve the attention, and their coaches are always quick to deflect any praise back to the players doing the work in pads. But it's time to take a minute and give a little credit to the assistants in headsets, either on the sidelines or in the booth, because the Big Ten might have the deepest pool of candidate for the coveted but often overlooked Broyles Award for the country's top assistant. The list is longer than three names in the league, of course, but Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop would all be deserving winners for the incredible work they've done this season. The guys on the defensive side of the ball have put together units that both rank in the top three in the nation in total defense, with the Badgers currently No. 1. That gives Aranda a slight edge over Shoop, but it's a tougher call against Herman, who not only has Ohio State leading the Big Ten in scoring again, but as the quarterbacks coach, is also responsible for the rapid rise of redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. If both teams stay on track for a collision in the Big Ten title game, maybe they can settle the matter once and for all in Indianapolis.
2. B1G love: The first time could have been written off as a fluke, but the College Football Playoff selection committee proved it truly respects the depth at the top of the Big Ten this week with five teams ranked among its Top 25. It would have been easy to write off No. 25 Minnesota following a home loss or to drop Nebraska out entirely after getting crushed by Wisconsin. But just like Michigan State last week, the way the committee has reacted to losses in the conference reflects how highly it thinks of the Big Ten despite those early missteps to start the year. The Huskers and Gophers square off Saturday in what will definitely serve as an elimination game in the West Division and will probably wind up being a loser-leaves-town matchup for the committee, which would drop the Big Ten down to four teams in its poll. But considering how that compares with the ACC or Big 12, the committee still clearly isn't buying the supposed demise of the Big Ten.
3. Under-the-radar matchup: Michigan has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons essentially all season long, and this week has been no exception with the troubling off-the-field issues with defensive lineman Frank Clark and his subsequent dismissal. The Wolverines may even be in a hurry to get the year over with and move on. Even with all their problems on the field, they are in position to qualify for the postseason and go out on a high note as Brady Hoke's tenure likely draws to a close. The odds are going to be stacked against them in a major way next week against Ohio State, but the Wolverines have home-field advantage, an underrated defense and potentially no shortage of motivation with Maryland coming to the Big House -- and if the chance to earn a trip to a bowl game doesn't bring out the best in Hoke's club, there's really no reason to even consider it a possibility he could return for another year.
- Brady Hoke has spoken with Frank Clark, but the Michigan coach is keeping the details private.
- Michigan State is still looking for a "statement" victory.
- Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett admits it's a little "crazy" to think about being in the Heisman Trophy conversation.
- Janarion Grant is once again making an impact for Rutgers.
- Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs is unlikely to play this week due to injury.
- After four weeks away, Penn State safety Ryan Keiser was back in a team meeting on Wednesday.
- Kevin Wilson is making a sales pitch to keep star running back Tevin Coleman at Indiana.
- What in the world happened to Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon against Western Illinois? A look at the scheme that slowed down a Heisman hopeful.
- Jordan Westerkamp isn't counting the number of times he's targeted in the Nebraska offense.
- Taking stock of Darrell Hazell's rebuilding job at Purdue as the season winds down.
- Snubbed as a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award, Minnesota's Jerry Kill is expecting that to add fuel to David Cobb's fire.
- Does Illinois have a shot to spring an upset over Penn State? Not according to this comparison of personnel.
- Has Northwestern finally found a No. 1 wide receiver?
- Mark Weisman isn't going to win many head-to-head comparisons with Gordon, but the tenacious Iowa running back has a chance at least beat the Badgers on the field.
Brian Bennett: The closer you are to the fire, the hotter the flames. No doubt, in Lincoln and throughout the state of Nebraska, the reaction is louder and more over the top whenever the Huskers suffer a loss, especially one as ugly as last week's at Wisconsin. This is true anywhere, but even more so for such a passionate fan base. It's no wonder many Nebraska fans feel like the sky is falling after repeated blowout losses in the Bo Pelini.
@BennettESPN At presser this week Pelini said Nebraska's reputation is better nationally than locally. Accurate statement?— Michael Blum (@MichaelBlum3) November 19, 2014
But is the program's reputation really much better nationally? I think most observers outside the fan inner circle view the Huskers as a team that continually wins nine or 10 games under Pelini yet cannot get over the hump toward true greatness. It's a program that has plateaued at very good, and there are a lot worse places to be, for sure. Yet the championships just aren't there and don't seem to be coming soon.
I think most reasonable Huskers fans would agree with that assessment.
Brian Bennett: It's a great question, and it's one we might not know the answer to until Dec. 7. A lot will come down to just how much the committee values conference championships. All along, that has been touted as an important factor, and it's one that Mississippi State will not be able to procure. TCU could be looking at a split conference title with Baylor, a team it lost to, and will not have a conference title game to improve its resume.
@BennettESPN if Ohio State wins out do they jump TCU and Mississippi State?— David Turkeyfinger (@flaveydavie) November 19, 2014
Meanwhile, Ohio State should glide into the Big Ten title game and could potentially play a top-10 Wisconsin team in Indianapolis. So I'm starting to feel a lot better about the Buckeyes' chances. And remember that TCU still has to go to Texas, which is starting to figure things out under Charlie Strong, and Mississippi State has to win the Egg Bowl on the road at Ole Miss. Things might just sort themselves out.
Remember that only one team has slowed down Melvin Gordon all year long: Western Illinois, which obviously must have the best rush defense ever invented. Every Wisconsin opponent has made Gordon the focus of its game plan, yet he keeps leaving them choking on his chem trails.
I doubt Iowa will break down in its fundamentals as much as Nebraska did last week, and its two big defensive tackles -- Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat -- can help gum things up inside. But that only means it's more likely Gordon will bounce it to the outside, where he's at his most dangerous.
Some reason for hope: Gordon had only 62 yards on 17 carries last year in Iowa City, though James White did run for 132 and two scores. Of course, Iowa also has given up 219 yards to Indiana's Tevin Coleman and 155 to Pitt's James Conner this year. I don't think you stop Gordon right now so much as you try to limit his ridiculousness. Like maybe under 400 yards this time.
Alien Spartan from Novi, Michigan, writes: Brian, I can't help thinking we have the best coach in the B1G. I mean that sincerely. It doesn't matter who wins it this year. Mark Dantonio embodies the best of the best and I'm sure his legacy will speak to that. You have been closer to him than I may ever hope to be. So here's my question. How long do you think he remains head coach? Does he hang on to make the playoff? What are his goals?
Brian Bennett: I don't see Dantonio leaving East Lansing anytime soon. Athletic director Mark Hollis has done a phenomenal job of making the Spartans a family-like atmosphere where coaches like Dantonio and Tom Izzo want to be lifers. Dantonio will turn 59 next March and -- despite some earlier health issues -- appears to be in great shape. Who knows exactly how long he'll want to coach, but I get the feeling the Rose Bowl title has made him hungry for more and to get the program to the final level where it's a national title contender. His consistency has been amazing, and Michigan State fans are lucky to have him around.
Brian Bennett: Northwestern would have the "hot team" thing going, as it would have won its final three games if it gets to six wins. The Wildcats would no doubt be one of the weirder bowl teams in recent memory but would have those two marquee wins you mentioned. Pat Fitzgerald's team probably wouldn't be in line for one of the top-tier bowls -- its lack of a huge fan base will always be an albatross in such things -- but would be intriguing for the lower-tier ones. And the Cats would have to hope to face a very good opponent, because that's when they somehow seems to play their best this season.
@BennettESPN a 6 win NU team would only have 5 FBS wins, but one over Wiscy and one over ND. Are they an appealing bowl team?— TrickOrTreaTJ (@Cyan220) November 19, 2014
Ohio State maintained its No. 1 spot and will be heading at least for a New Year's Six bowl game. Another Buckeyes win or two, coupled with some surprises outside the Big Ten, and Urban Meyer's team would be projected for the College Football Playoff.
We also considered projecting Michigan State to a New Year's Six bowl. If the Spartans finish strong at 10-2 and have losses only to two potential playoff teams -- Oregon and Ohio State -- they'll have a strong case to go somewhere like Arizona or Atlanta. For now, they're headed to Orlando for the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl.
Wisconsin also is coming on strong, but it would be hard for the Badgers to reach a New Year's Six bowl unless they beat Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.
Nebraska is an intriguing candidate. The Big Ten seemingly would like the Huskers to go to a non-Florida bowl after three consecutive trips to the Sunshine State. But the Holiday Bowl, the next obvious choice for the Huskers, might prefer a team like Iowa that hasn't been to the San Diego game since 1991. For now, we have Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, where it made consecutive appearances in 2009 and 2010.
The Big Ten's bowl pool is expanding, as Penn State and Rutgers both qualified for the postseason and cemented spots in the projections. We like Michigan to earn its sixth win against Maryland on Saturday and to make the short trip to Detroit for its bowl game.
Northwestern has moved back into the projections after a where-did-that-come-from win against Notre Dame. The Wildcats still must beat Purdue and Illinois to become bowl-eligible, hardly a guarantee for an up-and-down team. But we see Pat Fitzgerald's squad getting it done.
Also, our sincere apologies to the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl, which will have a Big Ten team this year and has entered the rundown.
Here are the latest projections, which now include 11 teams from the Big Ten ...
Chick-fil-A Peach/Goodyear Cotton/VIZIO Fiesta: Ohio State
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus: Michigan State
National University Holiday: Nebraska
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Minnesota
San Francisco: Iowa
New Era Pinstripe: Penn State
Quick Lane: Michigan
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas: Maryland
1. Record-setting rushing Saturday: No, not last Saturday. This Saturday. Three Big Ten running backs could break their respective schools' single-season rushing records -- all within hours of one another. Minnesota's David Cobb needs just 115 yards, Indiana's Tevin Coleman is just 128 yards shy, and Melvin Gordon needs to follow up his incredible effort against Nebraska with just 201 yards. Barring the unforeseen, all these records will fall this season. And it's incredible to think they could all fall within three or four hours of one another, and all on Game 11.
The longest-standing record is over at Indiana, where Vaughn Dunbar set the mark of 1,805 yards back in 1991. The shortest? Minnesota, where Laurence Maroney had 1,464 yards in 2005. (Wisconsin's Ron Dayne set the record of 2,109 yards in 1996.) This is one rare crop of Big Ten running backs, and it'd be even rarer to watch all three of these rushing records fall in one day. Don't blink Saturday.
2. Tim Beckman Quotables: He's had quite a few this season, but let's address his most recent from Monday's news conference, or as the media like to call it “Comedy Hour.” The Illinois head coach said, straight-faced, “We've played an incredible schedule.” There's just one small problem with that excuse, as the Chicago Sun-Times notes: The Sagarin index ranks Illinois' slate as the 96th -toughest in the nation and as the weakest among the 14 Big Ten teams. But, hey, those weak opponents are just a couple of plays away from being ranked higher ...
3. And the most underrated B1G offensive player is …: My vote would have to go to Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford. In any other year, he'd be singled out for his solid performance. But not in a year with the B1G's fantastic four of Abdullah, Cobb, Coleman and Gordon. Langford is No. 19 in the nation in rushing yards per game (111.6), and he's put up solid stats without simply pounding the cupcakes. He barely saw time against Jacksonville State and Eastern Michigan, but he gained at least 100 yards in every Big Ten game. He has 1,116 yards and 15 TDs so far this season -- and he's had 11 TDs in just the last four games. He's averaging more than a half-yard extra per carry compared to last season, and he's been a huge contributor to MSU's offense. He doesn't get the attention he deserves, because it just so happens to be the Year of the running back in the conference.
Now on to the links …
- Ohio State is preaching patience when it comes to fumbles.
- Michigan State's senior class represents the Spartans perfectly.
- Mario Ojemudia is taking over for Michigan defensive lineman Frank Clark, who was kicked off the team.
- Penn State's bowl benefits start with extra practices.
- Rutgers wide receiver Leonte Carroo wasn't surprised by his Biletnikoff Award snub.
- Indiana quarterback Zander Diamont is showing marked improvement since his season debut.
- Maryland receiver Juwann Winfree is suspended for two weeks for violating the student athlete code of conduct.
- Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon is rushing into Heisman contention.
- Bo Pelini says that Nebraska is "on the right track."
- The Big Ten championship is still within reach for Minnesota -- if it shows discipline.
- Northwestern had its ... Best. Day. Ever.
- Iowa's rush defense will obviously be critical this week, with Wisconsin on the horizon.
- Illinois coach Tim Beckman is shooting for a seven-win season.
- Ten questions for Purdue as it gets ready to face Northwestern.
Eyes on Ohio State: After consecutive road games against ranked opponents, the Buckeyes are facing what figures to be an eye-test-only affair against 3-7 Indiana as they return to the Horseshoe for the final two games of the regular season. Wrapping up the East Division seems inevitable at this point, but Ohio State still figures to have a couple teams standing in its way of the four-team field for the College Football Playoff despite strengthening its resume with wins at Michigan State and Minnesota. Urban Meyer’s team left some style points in the snow against the Gophers, and odds are the Ohio State coach will keep his foot on the gas pedal against the Hoosiers.
RSVP for NYC: If Melvin Gordon’s unforgettable, record-setting performance didn’t earn the Wisconsin running back at least an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony, then the award probably just shouldn’t be given out this season. And if there are still any doubters left for J.T. Barrett at this point after going on the road and carving up Minnesota both on the ground and through the air in snowy conditions, there’s probably nothing that could ever convince them to come around on the Ohio State quarterback. Both guys have a chance to solidify campaigns that have hit high gear in the final month of the regular season. Gordon can keep the Badgers' resurgence rolling with another productive outing and Barrett can continue to bolster a resume that is looking pretty ridiculous for a redshirt freshman. Watching those two work is appointment viewing.
Bowling for Brady: With an extra week to prepare and maybe just a little less scrutiny lately after a couple victories before a bye week, Brady Hoke’s best shot at earning a trip to the postseason for Michigan before his likely exit comes this week at home against Maryland. There will be the usual cliches about throwing out the records when the Wolverines travel to Ohio State for The Game, but beating the Terrapins at home is the obviously easier path for Hoke to get the six wins needed to get the program to a bowl. Whether he would get a chance to stick around and participate in that game is a debate for another day, but if Michigan can protect the football and get another solid defensive outing, it has enough talent to knock off Maryland.
Final push: Surprisingly, there’s also another Big Ten program that could overcome some shaky moments this season and find itself back in a bowl game with a strong finish. Northwestern already had its back against the wall, but its stunning win at Notre Dame kept postseason hopes alive and might provide a jolt of momentum with a couple of winnable matchups remaining. There is still no room for error and Purdue is an improved outfit in Darrell Hazell’s second season, but if Northwestern can claim another road victory this week, it would surely be favored the following week to beat Illinois at home and pull off another shocker -- punching a ticket for an extra game.
It hasn’t been pretty for the Nittany Lions during the second half of the season, but reaching the postseason in the first chance they have had since the Jerry Sandusky sanctions is a notable accomplishment. Likewise, Rutgers hasn’t blown any one’s hair back lately, but the Scarlet Knights have outperformed preseason expectations and are bowl bound in their inaugural Big Ten season.
As many as 11 of the conference’s 14 teams have a chance to get to the six-win mark before the season is over. Michigan can put the league in double digits with a win against Maryland at the Big House this weekend. Northwestern suddenly has postseason hope after upsetting Notre Dame in overtime. Pat Fitzgerald’s team can get to six with wins against Purdue and Illinois in its final two games. The Illini could also back into a couple extra weeks of practice (and perhaps save Tim Beckman's job) if they beat Penn State and then Northwestern in the regular-season finale.
Higher up the food chain in the Big Ten, the postseason pictured continued to flicker toward clarity. Ohio State cleared its biggest remaining hurdle on its way to Indianapolis by beating Minnesota. Wisconsin is in the driver’s seat for the West Division title. Iowa and Minnesota are capable of derailing the Badgers, but after what Melvin Gordon did this Saturday, the Hawkeyes and Gophers might need to send their defenses on to the field together to slow him down. That brings us to ...
Team of the Week: Wisconsin’s 59-24 win against Nebraska showed it could barrel through a quality opponent as effectively as it ran through the bottom half of the conference. Gordon deservedly dominated headlines around the country with his FBS record-setting 408 yards, and it only took 25 carries to get there. It would be a mistake not to shed a little light on the Wisconsin defense’s day as well. The Badgers held the Nebraska offense to 180 total yards. If not for some help from Wisconsin turnovers, the Huskers probably would have come up well short of 24 points.
Biggest play: The first big play on Saturday remained the biggest when the weekend wrapped up. J.T. Barrett gave Ohio State a 7-0 lead in the first five minutes of its win against Minnesota with an 86-yard rushing touchdown. The Buckeyes quarterback isn’t considered as good of an athlete as the guy he replaced, but he looked pretty quick while leaving a trail of yellow jerseys behind on what proved to be an important score in a game that was decided by seven points.
Big Man on Campus(Offense): Gordon is the obvious choice here, but the "Big Men" in front of him deserve a lot of the credit. On more than a quarter of his carries (seven of 25), Gordon ran 20 yards downfield before he was touched by a Nebraska defender. Those holes came courtesy of Tyler Marz, Dallas Lewallen, Dan Voltz, Kyle Costigan and Rob Havenstein. When Gordon left the game, that crew kept plowing through the snow to lead the Badgers to a total of 581 rushing yards. Wisconsin ranks third nationally in rushing yards per game and is tied for fourth in sacks allowed. When Gordon gets his invite to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony he should be sure to ask for tickets for five of his closest friends.
Big Man on Campus(Defense): Michigan State rolled through Maryland with a decisive win, but it could have been worse if not for Terps’ linebacker Cole Farrand. The senior made 18 tackles, 14 of them solo efforts, and broke up two passes in the 37-15 loss. He played a big role in holding the Spartans to one touchdown on their four trips inside the red zone, which kept Saturday night’s game competitive -- on the scoreboard at least -- until the end of the third quarter.
Big Man on Campus(Special Teams): A starter in the outfield for Northwestern’s baseball team, Jack Mitchell got the biggest walk-off of his life while kicking the winning field goal for the Wildcats in South Bend this weekend. Mitchell hit four of his five attempts in a 43-40 overtime upset of Notre Dame. He tied the game from 45 yards out with 19 seconds remaining and hit a 41-yarder in overtime to seal the victory.
Biggest face-plant: Nebraska led by two touchdowns on the road before stumbling into a face-down snow angel at Wisconsin. The Badgers’ rushing attack helped pop the wheels off of the Cornhuskers' game and possibly their season. Bo Pelini’s program continues to smash its head into the ceiling that separates good from great in college football. With competitive games remaining against Minnesota and Iowa, Pelini needs a strong finish to keep the Husker faithful from revolting.
Facts and numbers to know: Barrett’s 86-yards touchdown run was the longest ever by an Ohio State quarterback. He also passed the school record Braxton Miller set last season with 38 total touchdowns ... Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford has 11 touchdowns in his past four games, which matches the entire Penn State offense’s total for the 2014 season ... Michigan State won the turnover battle, 4-0, in College Park and now has the best turnover margin (plus-18) in the nation ... The 12 Big Ten teams that played Saturday combined for 30 turnovers. Seven teams had at least three giveaways, but four of them (Wisconsin, Northwestern, Ohio State and Penn State) won games anyway.
1. Melvin Gordon's historic day stole all the headlines in Wisconsin's 59-24 demolishing of Nebraska, and rightly so. But the game also raised another important question: How many more times can the Cornhuskers get embarrassed in a big game under Bo Pelini?
It seems to happen at least once or twice a year, usually on the road (and Nebraska has given up 129 points in its last two games vs. Wisconsin). The type of meltdown we saw Saturday wasn't supposed to happen this year, as Pelini looked to have one of his best defenses in recent years. Yet the Huskers were getting steamrolled as if it were the 2012 Big Ten title game all over again.
Take it away, Tom Shatel:
"There are no more words. There are no more excuses. There’s only a Nebraska football program that can’t stop spinning its wheels, keeps driving itself into the same ditch.
Bo Pelini was supposed to be the tow truck. But seven years later, NU is still stuck, maybe more than ever. And it’s obvious Pelini doesn’t know how to get it out."
It's not much of a stretch to envision Nebraska winning its final two games (Minnesota this week, at Iowa on Black Friday) to finish 10-2. That's in no way a fireable offense. But another season will pass without a conference championship in Lincoln, and as Shatel writes, "the definition of insanity would be to do this another year and expect different results."
Pelini's program should be past this by now, Steven M. Sipple writes.
2. Ohio State’s offense has been nearly unstoppable for the past couple of months, save for a slog against Penn State’s remarkable defense. Urban Meyer’s attack has one potential Achilles’ heel, however: turnovers.
Minnesota was able to keep things close on Saturday in large part because of three Buckeyes giveaways, including two by Jalin Marshall. Ohio State also came close to digging itself a huge hole at Michigan State two weeks ago with two early turnovers.
Meyer said he doesn't bench players who make mistakes, but that the problem has to be fixed or eventually they stop playing.
"We're going to grind them, big time," he said Saturday. "I've got to evaluate that. You don't just keep going."
Ball security probably won’t be a major issue in the Buckeyes’ final two-regular season games, against Indiana and Michigan at home. But living dangerously like that could become a problem in the Big Ten championship game or in whatever postseason destination – a playoff semifinal, perhaps? – awaits them.
3. The Indiana-Rutgers game didn't garner much attention on Saturday, for obvious reasons. It also got overshadowed by Gordon's performance and the Northwestern upset of Notre Dame happening at the same time.
But the Scarlet Knights did win to become bowl-eligible, and they might have saved Kyle Flood's job for another year in the process, Steve Politi writes. With games remaining at Michigan State and at Maryland, Rutgers might not finish better than 6-6. Still, given the murderous schedule laid in front of the team in its first year of Big Ten play, getting to the postseason is still an accomplishment. And there are a few other Big Ten teams who would like to have six wins in the bank already.
- Michigan's Frank Clark was arrested on domestic violence charges.
- Ohio State was just good enough.
- Penn State's defense has truly become ferocious.
- Michigan State got back to playing its brand of football.
- The story of his career: Indiana's Tevin Coleman ran for 307 yards and still got overshadowed.
- The good and the bad from Maryland's loss to Michigan State.
- It was a game for the ages by Melvin Gordon.
- The biggest difference between Minnesota and Ohio State? The quarterbacks. The Gophers showed some resolve.
- Iowa finally started finishing at Illinois and will hope that carries over to its final two games.
- There were too few bright spots for the Illini or Tim Beckman.
- Nearly 20 years later, Northwestern pulled off another upset in South Bend.
And finally, here's how you celebrate when you lead Penn State back to a bowl, apparently.
And yet after Northwestern pulled off another South Bend shocker, this one a 43-40 overtime victory that extended Notre Dame's late-season misery while resuscitating its own campaign, Pat Fitzgerald had a confession to make.
"I think it's much more enjoyable today," the ninth-year Wildcats coach said.
No trophies or bowl games were clinched this time around, but a 4-6 team now finds itself in position to extend its season to a bowl game after pulling off the improbable here once again.
"[I] talked to them on Tuesday about a playoff mentality going back to high school: You get to November, the weather gets nasty, and that's when champions are crowned," Fitzgerald said. "We're not going to win a Big Ten championship, we understand that. We can still achieve our goals, but we have to have our back against the wall, playoff-type mentality and win and advance. We've advanced to another week to keep this team alive for postseason play."
Northwestern football, he said, is in a totally different place now than it was the last time these Cats took the field here. All-Americans like himself -- All-Americans who grew up on Chicago's South Side bleeding blue and gold, yet somehow ended up in Evanston -- undertook a massive culture change, one that led to three Big Ten titles, and one that now sheds the weight of a season that had been cast in a negative light.
Fitzgerald can thank himself for that, too, as the man just a few weeks shy of his 40th birthday can get Northwestern to its sixth bowl game in its past seven seasons with just two more wins, over Purdue and Illinois.
Those might look like child's play compared to what his players pulled off here on the third Saturday of November, sizing up an Irish team just a week removed from the College Football Playoff picture and delivering it another gut punch.
There was a blocked extra-point try on Notre Dame's second touchdown, which Nick VanHoose returned all the way and made what should have been a 14-7 game a 13-9 one.
There was the fallout of those Irish special-teams miscues: Coach Brian Kelly's questionable decision to go for two after the Irish's final touchdown, an incomplete pass that kept it a 40-29 Irish lead instead of putting Northwestern in a position where it would have to score two touchdowns.
Then, of course, there was the fumble -- the fourth, final and most costly Irish turnover, this from sure-handed captain Cam McDaniel, which gave Northwestern the ball back with a three-point deficit and 1 minute, 28 seconds to work with.
"They're giving us a shot, guys," Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian said in the huddle. "Just let it rip."
Jack Mitchell's 45-yard field goal sent the game to overtime. His 41-yard kick -- which came after another Irish special-teams miscue, a missed 42-yard try in overtime -- set off a party nearly two decades in the making for the large contingent dressed in purple.
Said running back Justin Jackson, who could not bear to watch the game-winning kick: "First of all, that fumble was unbelievable, how we got that ball back. And then the drive, the field goal, and then for them to miss the field goal and for us to make a field goal -- it's a storybook ending to a crazy game. So it was really fun."
Fun for cornerback Matthew Harris, who was on the ledge of the stands celebrating with traveling fans long after the team had sung the alma mater. Fun for those traveling fans -- one of whom waved a purple T-shirt bearing a Chicago Sun-Times cover from 1995 that read: NU 17, ND 15. And fun for the man who had 11 tackles in that '95 meeting and sold this group on the belief that lightning could strike twice.
Fitzgerald held Siemian in a long embrace after the game. He made references to iPhones and Instagrams, luxuries and pitfalls of today's youth that will grant his players more attention than he ever received. He mentioned conversations with Ara Parseghian, the legendary former Northwestern and Notre Dame coach with whom he speaks regularly. He said boardrooms across Fortune 500 companies will feature more purple than usual Monday, as proud alumni revel in another victory at Notre Dame.
Nineteen years later, and here Fitzgerald was in a familiar position, at home once again after winning over a few more non-believers.
"I wouldn't want to play for anybody else in the country," Siemian said. "He's awesome. That's it. I just wouldn't want to play for anybody else."
If you're just watching the Week 12 games from someplace warm, then A) you're smart and B) here's what you need to know about today's lineup (all times ET):
Iowa (6-3, 3-1) at Illinois (4-5, 1-4), Big Ten Network: The maddeningly inconsistent Hawkeyes look to bounce back from that 51-14 thrashing in Minneapolis last week; remember, they can still win the Big Ten West by winning out and having the Gophers lose twice more. The Fighting Illini are just hoping to get closer to bowl eligibility and possibly preserving Tim Beckman's job. Having Wes Lunt back at quarterback this week should help.
Temple (5-4, 3-3 American) at Penn State (5-4, 2-4), ESPN2: The Owls will try to beat the Nittany Lions for the first time since 1941 and for the first time ever in State College. Penn State hopes to clinch bowl eligibility and use that get-out-of-jail card from the NCAA. Don't expect a lot of points from either side in this one.
No. 16 Nebraska (8-1, 4-1) at No. 20 Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1), ABC: This is much more than Ameer Abdullah vs. Melvin Gordon, though that showdown between the two marquee backs could be great if Abdullah is healthy. The winner will remain in great shape in the West Division race, while the loser will need a lot of help. Wisconsin has the home-field advantage, but the Cornhuskers will be by far the best team the Badgers have played since the season-opening loss to LSU.
Northwestern (3-6, 2-4) at No. 18 Notre Dame (7-2), NBC: The Wildcats have been looking forward to this game for a long time, but they'd hoped to be in better shape for it. Northwestern has lost four straight and is averaging just 12.5 points per game in that span. The Fighting Irish aren't scheduled to play another Big Ten team until September 2016, when they'll face Michigan State.
Indiana (3-6, 0-5) at Rutgers (5-4, 1-4), BTN: This is the first-ever meeting between these two teams, and no one is exactly clamoring for it right now. The Hoosiers have lost five straight against Power 5 opponents since beating Missouri and have virtually no offense to speak of. Rutgers has lost three straight and was outscored by 94 points in that span but should clinch bowl eligibility here.
No. 12 Michigan State (7-2, 4-1) at Maryland (6-3, 3-2), BTN: How will the Spartans respond to the Ohio State loss? Will they come out swinging or still be smarting over the loss of their playoff (and most likely Big Ten title) hopes? Maryland has enough big-play ability to make this interesting, even without Stefon Diggs.
Bye: Michigan, Purdue
Week 12 predictions | Bold calls
Nineteen years later, Northwestern looks to shock Irish again
Melvin Gordon's Heisman moment
Ameer Abdullah gets another shot to beat the odds
Gophers dance into November relevancy
Explosive plays expose cracks in Michigan State's defense
Buckeyes trust Jalin Marshall to do it all
Indiana's Tevin Coleman defies the odds
Take Two: Big Ten's best defense
Awards race tracker
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Penn State 14 Illinois 16 Final Indiana 27 6 Ohio State 42 Final 25 Minnesota 28 23 Nebraska 24 Final Northwestern 38 Purdue 14 Final Rutgers 3 11 Michigan State 45 Final 16 Wisconsin 26 Iowa 24 Final Maryland 23 Michigan 16