Big Ten: Northwestern Wildcats

Big Ten morning links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Around the rest of the league:

Roundtable: Big Ten's biggest surprise

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
3:30
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Every day this week, before the bowl season kicks off, our Big Ten panel of experts will be weighing in on different topics related to the regular season.

Our fourth question of the week: What was the biggest surprise in the Big Ten this season?

Josh Moyer: We knew this running back class would be good -- but we didn’t know it would be this good. Four Big Ten backs are currently ranked within the top 11 nationally in rushing, the most since 2005, when five ranked within the top 11. The Big Ten also became the first conference since 2007 to feature a pair of 2,000-yard rushers in the same season. And then there’s that whole matter of being the first conference to ever sweep the list of Doak Walker finalists. It’s no surprise this group played well but, before the season, no one was saying how this could be the best group of B1G backs in at least 20 seasons. That’s where this group stands now; it’s exceeded every lofty expectation.

Brian Bennett: Without question, the biggest surprise in the Big Ten in 2014 was J.T. Barrett. After he had a rough game in Week 2 against Virginia Tech, it looked like Ohio State was really going to struggle replacing Braxton Miller at quarterback. Instead, Barrett pretty much turned into Superman after that. He broke all kinds of records, including the Big Ten record for touchdowns accounted for with 45, and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting despite not playing in the Big Ten championship game because of a broken ankle. Nobody knew much about Barrett going into the season. Absolutely no one could have predicted this kind of season for him.

[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesCardale Jones, in his first career start, led Ohio State to a stunningly dominant victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game.
Mitch Sherman: I see things on Barrett much like Brian. But at least the freshman had time to get acclimated – and he struggled at the outset. Cardale Jones had six days. Jones’ performance in the Big Ten title game rated as more of a shocker, I think, than even the showing of Miller’s replacement during the regular season. The third-stringer didn’t post the flashy number of an average Barrett game in Ohio State’s 59-0 hammering of Wisconsin, but just that Jones avoided mistakes and possessed the presence to lead a dominant victory over a good defense – don’t overlook that aspect – makes it remarkable. Both quarterbacks, of course, benefited from the pieces around them, The smoothness of their transitions into the starting lineup, though, makes you wonder what Urban Meyer and Tom Herman do differently than everyone else.

Austin Ward: Ohio State’s overall development. There is a perfect poster boy in Barrett, but he was far from the only inexperienced player thrown into the fire for a team that still believed it could win the Big Ten even as faith waned in August. Ohio State had to work in four new offensive linemen, and by the end of the year that group was probably the best in the league. The Buckeyes lost top wideout Philly Brown and workhorse tailback Carlos Hyde, and Michael Thomas and Ezekiel Elliott emerged without missing a step. The pass defense was atrocious even with two first-round draft picks on the field at the end of thr 2013 season, and one year later, the Buckeyes led the conference in interceptions. The rapid rise of essentially the entire roster into a contender in the College Football Playoff was stunning.

Dan Murphy: We can't all pick the Buckeyes. Instead, I'm going with Northwestern putting together two of the more improbable wins of the year despite an overall season that didn't meet expectations. The Wildcats were 17.5-point underdogs against the Notre Dame team they beat in overtime. The spread against Wisconsin was only eight points, but probably would've been much higher had those teams met later in the season. The Badgers and the Irish were both teams mentioned in playoff conversations at different points this year, and somehow they both lost to a team that was outgained offensively by the Leathernecks of Western Illinois. Pat Fitzgerald has as much job security as anyone in the Big Ten, but without those two shockers, the conversation would be around a 3-9 Northwestern team and it would have a much different tone.

Adam Rittenberg: In the spirit of variety, I'm going with Wisconsin's defense. Recent impressions resonate and Wisconsin left a very bad one in the Big Ten championship game against Ohio State, but it shouldn't overshadow a remarkable coaching job by both coordinator Dave Aranda and head coach Gary Andersen. Wisconsin's defense went through an extreme makeover after losing its entire front seven from 2013, including linebacker Chris Borland, the Big Ten's defensive player of the year. The Badgers amazingly didn't backslide and progressed, leading the FBS in fewest yards allowed in one stretch, and they currently rank fourth in yards allowed and 13th in points allowed. They received big performances from the "Chevy Bad Boys" at linebacker, Mike Caputo at safety and Warren Herring up front. Aranda and Andersen mixed coverages and effectively put more speed on the field. What looked like a liability in August soon became a team strength.

Big Ten morning links

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

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

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

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

East Division
West Division

Northwestern Wildcats season review

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
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Our week-long review of the 2014 season for each Big Ten program rolls on with the Northwestern Wildcats.

Overview: No team in the Big Ten had as many zeniths and nadirs as Northwestern during the 2014 season. The Wildcats beat two ranked opponents and still managed to miss a bowl game. The season got off to an embarrassing start when the offense, in a 24-7 win, was outgained by Western Illinois after losses to Cal and Northern Illinois. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald challenged his players' toughness and got a three-game winning streak, capped by knocking off West Division champ Wisconsin. Fitzgerald's team also upset heavily-favored Notre Dame in South Bend with an entertaining 43-40 overtime victory. In between those wins, Northwestern's offense failed to reach 20 points in any of its four consecutive losses to Big Ten opponents. Some talented freshmen on both sides of the ball provided reasons for optimism, but the season ended on another low note by losing to in-state rival Illinois with a bowl trip on the line for both teams.

Offensive MVP: Of the group of rookies who stepped into big roles this season in Evanston, Illinois, running back Justin Jackson was easily the most impressive. Jackson became the second freshman at Northwestern to top 1,000 yards and finished the season with 1,187 and a team-high 10 touchdowns. He also led the offense in putting up 43 points at Notre Dame. His 149 rushing yards in that game were the most the Irish gave up to any player this season.

Defensive MVP: Safety and co-captain Ibraheim Campbell coordinated the Wildcats' secondary in his fourth and final season as a starter. His three interceptions this season brought his career total to 11, which is third all-time at Northwestern. He also tied for the Big Ten lead in forced fumbles this year with four. One of those gave the offense a chance to tie Notre Dame in the final 90 seconds of the fourth quarter. He ended the season with 54 tackles despite missing four games due to an injury in the middle of the season. The Wildcats went 1-3 during that stretch.

Roundtable: Season's best B1G games

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
3:30
PM ET
Every day this week, before the bowl season kicks off, our Big Ten panel of experts will be weighing in on different topics related to the regular season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ESPN's Big Ten all-freshman team

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

Offense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specialists

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

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

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

Big Ten morning links

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
8:00
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Miss college football? Bowl games begin this weekend. Giddy up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Division
East Division

Big Ten morning links

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
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Wisconsin survived its first full day since way back in 2012 without a head coach, though the search to replace Gary Andersen -- set to to be introduced Friday at Oregon State -- appears set end quickly.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported Thursday night that the school is prepared to hire Pitt coach Paul Chryst, a former UW quarterback and offensive coordinator.

It’s a delicate situation, of course, for the Badgers, the uprooted assistant coaches and their families -- not to be taken lightly. But perhaps the most interesting byproduct of Andersen’s unexpected departure is the news that Barry Alvarez will coach Wisconsin in its bowl game. Again.

Alvarez, the 67-year-old athletic director and Hall of Fame former coach of 16 years in Madison, led the Badgers in the 2013 Rose Bowl, a six-point loss to Stanford, after Bret Bielema bolted to Arkansas.

Alvarez ought to just coach the Badgers in every bowl game. In fact, other legends should follow suit and rejoin their former programs on the sideline in the postseason. Surely, the NCAA would allow a special 10th coach. If not, just make them interns.

Let’s bring back Bobby Bowden, Lou Holtz, Mack Brown (too soon?), Don Nehlen, Lavell Edwards, Hayden Fry, Barry Switzer and, if Indiana can get to six wins, Bill Mallory.

Yes, I’m joking. Slightly more serious about this, though: Nebraska has an opening on its staff for the Holiday Bowl. How about Tom Osborne? If Alvarez can go from the College Football Playoff selection committee to the sideline, why not Osborne?

Yeah, he’s 77, served three stints in Congress, lost a gubernatorial primary in Nebraska -- did that really happen? -- and spent five years as athletic director since coaching his last game, a resounding win over Peyton Manning and Tennessee in the 1998 Orange Bowl.

But Osborne has perhaps never watched more college football than in this season. He must have some ideas on how the Huskers could surprise USC. One more fumblerooski up his sleeve.

What an experience it would be for Barney Cotton, long loyal to Nebraska, to have the ex-coach at his side. Cotton played under Osborne from 1975-78, then sent his three sons to Nebraska. It could also be a meaningful sendoff for Ron Brown, the Nebraska running backs coach who worked alongside Osborne in the legendary coach’s final 11 seasons.

Might help a bit with ticket sales, too, and inject a little spice into a game that means a great deal to several Huskers who want to honor their former coach, Bo Pelini, but realistically, little to the forward movement of the program.

Alvarez played linebacker for Bob Devaney on Nebraska teams of the 1960s that included Osborne as an offensive assistant. If Barry can do it, so can Tom.

Alas, it’s unrealistic. Osborne would likely never thrust himself into the spotlight in such a way. But just let me dream.

Thursday in Lake Buena Vista, Florida...

Lots of hardware

What a night on the Disney Boardwalk at the College Football Awards Show. The Big Ten had a good showing, as Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff won the Outland Trophy, presented to the nation's top interior lineman; Maryland's Brad Craddock took home the Lou Groza Award as the top place-kicker; and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon beat finalists Tevin Coleman of Indiana and Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska for the Doak Walker Award, given to the best running back.

Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright won the Bednarik Award, given to the best defensive player. Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa was among the finalists.

Also, Nebraska wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp won a vote for college football's play of the year for his behind-the-back catch in the season opener.

Around the league:

West Division
  • As expected, Gordon plans to leave after this season for the NFL.
  • Some confusion exists over Iowa's starting quarterback for the TaxSlayer Bowl.
  • A meeting with Missouri in the Citrus Bowl is a "big step" for Minnesota, according to coach Jerry Kill.
  • One of Purdue's recent football brings a French flavor, by way of a California junior college.
  • Northwestern needs to make changes, writes Teddy Greenstein, but will it happen?
  • The competition continues at Illinois during bowl practices.
East Division
  • Urban Meyer and Nick Saban have already met once in a playoff. They sat side by side Thursday and recalled the 2009 SEC championship game.
  • No surprise that Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess did not meet his own expectations this year.
  • The explanation of playoff committee chair Jeff Long on Mississippi State's final-week jump over Michigan State does not erase flaws in the process, writes Graham Couch.
  • Indiana lands UAB receiver Marqui Hawkins but misses a juco QB target.
  • Freshman quarterback Michael O'Connor is leaving Penn State.
  • Maryland coach Randy Edsall, in San Francisco on Thursday, to discuss the Terps' matchup with Stanford, says receiver Stefon Diggs will play in the Foster Farms Bowl.
  • The salary pool for Rutgers' assistant coaches ranks eighth in the Big Ten.

Watch B1G Show replay

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
6:00
PM ET
Join Big Ten reporters Brian Bennett, Josh Moyer, Dan Murphy and Mitch Sherman as they look at Ohio State's playoff chances, awards season, how Nebraska ran the perfect coaching search, the surprising departure of Gary Anderson at Wisconsin and much more.

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 15

December, 7, 2014
Dec 7
10:00
AM ET
Thought bowl projections were over? So did we. But we've got one more edition for you, hours before the selections become official. What fun for all.

As ESPN.com first reported this week, the Big Ten could have a bowl-eligible team miss a bowl. If a Big Ten team goes to the Capital One Orange Bowl, the league won't have a participant in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. And if only one other Big Ten team reaches a New Year's Six bowl, it will leave eight eligible teams for only seven spots. Since there are more bowl-eligible teams than spots, and all spots are contracted, there are no at-large selections this year.

Got all that?

Michigan State is virtually assured of an Orange Bowl berth, following Alabama's win against Missouri in the SEC championship. At No. 8, the Spartans should remain ahead of No. 10 Mississippi State in Sunday's rankings -- neither team played this week -- and therefore be the highest ranked non-champion from the Big Ten or SEC.

Big Ten champion Ohio State is the only other league squad heading for the big bowls -- either a Playoff semifinal or a New Year's Six game. After the Buckeyes' 59-0 spanking of Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship, we project Urban Meyer's squad to the Playoff. Boom.

That means one eligible Big Ten team is out of the bowls. Although Penn State and Illinois both are 6-6 and the Fighting Illini beat the Nittany Lions, there's no way PSU misses a bowl after being banned the past two years. Illinois, unfortunately, is the odd team out.

Wisconsin's horrific performance in the Big Ten title game drops the Badgers down to the Holiday Bowl, which really, really wants Gary Andersen's team. Minnesota heads to the Outback Bowl, while Nebraska likely would go to the Music City Bowl to avoid a repeat in Jacksonville.

Penn State in the Pinstripe has been a likelihood for weeks, and we have Rutgers going to Detroit and Maryland to Dallas.

Here are our final, final Big Ten bowl projections for the season:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual or Allstate Sugar Bowl): Ohio State
Capital One Orange: Michigan State
Outback: Minnesota
National University Holiday: Wisconsin
TaxSlayer Bowl/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Nebraska
Foster Farms: Iowa
New Era Pinstripe: Penn State
Quick Lane: Rutgers
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas: Maryland

Big Ten morning links

December, 4, 2014
Dec 4
8:00
AM ET
The silly season can wait. With the Big Ten title game just two short days away, and plenty of time when it’s over to talk about coaching searches, let’s focus on Wisconsin and Ohio State.

1. Heisman pose vs. The Shrug: The Big Ten’s top offensive player lines up opposite the league's top defender with a conference title on the line. Sure, the marquee lost a little bit of star power with the injury to the league’s top freshman, J.T. Barrett, but that won’t diminish the entertainment value of seeing Melvin Gordon collide with Joey Bosa. Gordon and Bosa, both freakish athletes, officially won Big Ten offensive and defensive player of the year awards on Tuesday night. With Barrett now out of the picture, the pressure is on Bosa to perform. The sophomore is going to have to be at his best to lead a defensive unit that has struggled some at stopping elite running backs -- and Wisconsin’s offensive line might be the best he’s faced all season. On the flip side, Gordon might be able to win over a few more Heisman voters if he can put together another vintage performance against a club with no shortage of talented defenders alongside Bosa.

2. Coaching connections: Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen worked for Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman joked about sleeping on the couch of Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda when they were in college together. In a profession that typically demands switching jobs and working with new faces for different programs throughout a career, it’s no surprise for there to be ties between Wisconsin and Ohio State. But there clearly won’t be many secrets with Andersen facing off against Meyer or Herman trying to outsmart his buddy Aranda. It could come down to which staff can come up with the best wrinkles, and it will almost certainly come down to whether the Badgers or Buckeyes are able to adjust on the fly in a high-pressure setting in Indianapolis. But more than just having some buddies on the other sideline, what should make Saturday night so fascinating is the impressive collection of some of the most respected names in coaching that Wisconsin and Ohio State have collected over the last couple seasons.

3. Bad blood?: Before the questions shifted to Michigan State as an unofficial secondary rival for Ohio State these days, Urban Meyer was getting them a year ago about Wisconsin. Considering the competitive games the programs have played recently and some of the high stakes that have accompanied those matchups, Meyer and the Buckeyes largely gave the Badgers the same treatment as the Spartans, with former center Corey Linsley calling it a “physical war.” For Meyer’s part, he downplayed any bad blood between the programs and then instead called it “intense respect,” while customarily refusing to refer to anybody other than Michigan as a rival for his program. But however it’s referred to, the series has been extremely entertaining recently, with the last three games all decided by 7 points or less, with one going to overtime and another decided in the closing seconds on a come-from-behind bomb from Braxton Miller in 2011. The Big Ten can only hope for another competitive classic between the two programs, particularly since there wasn’t one on the schedule during the regular season this year.

East Division
West Division

Watch: B1G Show (2 p.m. ET)

December, 3, 2014
Dec 3
5:30
PM ET
Join Big Ten reporters Brian Bennett, Dan Murphy, Mitch Sherman and Austin Ward as they breakdown the Big Ten championship game between Ohio State and Wisconsin, the coaching searches at Michigan and Nebraska and much more.

Big Ten morning links

December, 2, 2014
Dec 2
8:00
AM ET
Good morning, Big Ten fans. Looks as if we might be in store for an interesting day ...

1. Writing on the wall for Brady Hoke?: It sure seems that way. Our Dan Murphy reported that Hoke will meet with the athletic director at 2 p.m. Tuesday, which just so happens to come before a 3 p.m. meeting with the players. It’d definitely be odd if no decision was made to keep or fire Hoke by then. But, then again, stranger things have happened -- like a 5-7 season by Michigan, for instance. Stay tuned ... we could have an answer soon.

2. And the Big Ten Coach of the Year is ...: The conference will announce the winner of the McClain/Hayes-Schembechler Trophy on Tuesday night, and it’s really the only award up for debate. I picked Urban Meyer in the preseason -- really, the only good preseason pick I made -- and I think he deserves to win over Jerry Kill. The Buckeyes didn’t have 2013’s leading quarterback, running back or wideout, but their offense was still arguably the best in the conference. If Meyer doesn’t get the trophy this year, then Buckeyes fans are right: An Ohio State coach is never getting this award.

3. Wideout questions on the All-B1G team: Both the coaches and the media agreed Tony Lippett belonged on the first team -- that was a total no-brainer -- but there was no common ground to be found with the other picks here. The coaches liked Kenny Bell on the first team, with Stefon Diggs and Devin Funchess on the second team. The media preferred Leonte Carroo on the first, with Mike Dudek and DaeSean Hamilton on the second. Count me among the camp that especially thinks Carroo was snubbed by the coaches; the Rutgers wideout was second in B1G receiving yards (1,043) and second in receiving TDs (10). Surely, he deserved at least a second-team nod by the coaches. Give me Lippett and Carroo on the first team, Dudek on the second ... and I’ll let Diggs and Hamilton fight it out for the last spot.

Now, on to the links ...

Big Ten championship
East Division
  • Mark Dantonio has previously felt -- and overcome -- heat from Michigan State fans.
  • Sanctions helped to sink Penn State to 6-6, writes the Reading Eagle's Rich Scarcella.
West Division
  • Firing Pelini has fueled reflection for Iowa, which hasn't beaten an FBS program with a winning record this season.

Big Ten morning links

December, 1, 2014
Dec 1
8:00
AM ET
Barely an hour removed from a huge rivalry victory, the mixed emotions were playing out on the faces of Ohio State players as they streamed in to meet the media.

A teammate, a beloved brother, was only missing at that point, but it seemed difficult for some Buckeyes to smile too much or bask in the victory too long knowing that Kosta Karageorge still had not been found. His body was discovered on Sunday, but his tragic loss will only bring a different set of emotions for the Buckeyes to deal with in the coming days.

Perhaps nobody summed up the matter better than junior Taylor Decker, a friend of Karageorge's before the latter joined Ohio State as a walk-defensive lineman. And while his message that life and death matters are "a lot bigger than football" is simple, it's yet another reminder of the importance of maintaining perspective when it comes to the games we all love and the athletes that play them.

So before diving into championship week and the coaching carousel, the Big Ten reporters send their deepest condolences to the Karageorge family and all his friends.

***

1. Pelini's fond farewell? In the end, maybe Bo Pelini got exactly what he wanted after essentially daring Nebraska to fire him on multiple occasions. Confident in his record with the program over the last seven years and with all those nine-win seasons to point to when other jobs open up around the country, Pelini always seemed to know there would be options for him if the Huskers became too disenchanted with the consistency he was providing them -- even if it was coming up just short of being elite or winning championships. There has been obvious unease between the two parties over the last couple seasons, so while the discussion about who Shawn Eichorst will hire will justifiably dominate the conversation in the coming days, Pelini’s next move could be equally interesting to follow. To be clear, he is anything but a failed coach, even if he was just fired. And as he appears to have believed all along, there will be another opportunity for him soon.

2. Next domino: Whether or not the Nebraska move came as a surprise, the fact that it acted first in the coaching silly season definitely was a shocker. That probably doesn’t mean Michigan is having second thoughts about parting ways with Brady Hoke, though, especially after rival Ohio State had the pleasure of putting the finishing touches on a 5-7 season that was seemingly as much of a disaster off the field as on it. Making the announcement on Sunday as Nebraska did or perhaps pulling the trigger today won’t make that much difference since the Wolverines have almost certainly been reaching out to candidates behind the scenes for weeks to prepare for the inevitable, but it should be their turn to step in front of the cameras and microphones and pick apart Hoke’s tenure and look to the future soon.

3. On the field: There is still a game to be played in the Big Ten, of course, and it’s a pretty critical one even if it’s currently being somewhat overshadowed by coaching changes -- or the lack thereof at Illinois. The fractured ankle suffered by Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett takes a little of the shine off a matchup that was going to prominently feature the league’s two best offensive players in a primetime showdown with both conference and national-title implications, but both coaches were quick to offer reminders during Sunday’s teleconference that the game was always going to be decided by more than Barrett and Melvin Gordon. That might be easier for Gary Andersen to say right now since the Badgers still have their star, but Urban Meyer is already working to build a convincing case that the Buckeyes will be fine with Cardale Jones taking the snaps. The biggest reason: Jones will be walking into a much more experienced huddle than Barrett did to start the season, and that supporting cast should ease his transition. Obviously it’s his job to instill confidence in his team and make sure that Jones and the rest of the Buckeyes are ready to go regardless of the circumstances, but his message does make sense with the likes of Jalin Marshall, Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas and more all proven playmakers at this stage of the season.

East Division
  • Michigan players stood up for Brady Hoke after the loss to Ohio State on Saturday.
  • If Pat Narduzzi is a candidate at Nebraska, Mark Dantonio hasn't been made aware of it yet.
  • Can Cardale Jones take over the Ohio State offense as seamlessly as J.T. Barrett did earlier this season?
  • A closer look at a brilliant game-clinching play that was a decade in the making for Rutgers.
  • Ralph Friedgen was honored by Maryland as he returned with the visiting team Saturday, and he went home with a victory.
  • Penn State didn't end the regular season the way it wanted to, but there were some improvements to take note of heading into bowl preparations.
  • Closing the season with a dramatic finish to claim the Old Oaken Bucket brightened up a disappointing campaign for Indiana.
West Division
  • Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst wants to compete for championships, a point he made clear during his public evaluation of Bo Pelini.
  • Wisconsin bounced back from its upset loss to Northwestern and has a chance to add to its "storybook ending."
  • There aren't many high marks for Northwestern after losing to Illinois and failing to make a bowl game.
  • After earning a postseason appearance, Illinois coach Tim Beckman will return for another year.
  • Iowa athletic director Gary Barta indicated there have been no discussions about shaking up the coaching staff.
  • After leaning so heavily on being disciplined all season, Minnesota made too many mistakes with the division title on the line against Wisconsin.
  • Purdue played some decent defense, but its offense was once again an issue in a conference loss.

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Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
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Thursday, 1/1
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