Big Ten: Wisconsin Badgers

Roundtable: Favorite B1G moment

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
2:30
PM ET
Every day this week, before the bowl season kicks off, our Big Ten panel of experts weighed in on different topics related to the regular season.

Our final question of the week: What was your favorite Big Ten moment of the season?

Brian Bennett: Take a bow, Melvin

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
AP Photo/Morry GashNeither sleet nor snow could stop Melvin Gordon against Nebraska.
If there's one moment that I'll forever remember from the 2014 Big Ten season, it happened at Camp Randall Stadium on Nov. 15. That was the day Melvin Gordon went off the hinges, running for a then-record 408 yards vs. Nebraska. He averaged a ludicrous 16.3 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns in the most unstoppable individual performance you're ever likely to see. Best of all, Gordon capped his day with a 26-yard touchdown run that gave him the record on the final play of the third quarter. Snow had begun to fall, and Gordon sealed the record with a little bow in the back of the end zone. His record somehow lasted only one week, but the memories will persevere forever.

Josh Moyer: Penn State fans celebrating the end of the postseason ban

It wasn’t the most important Big Ten moment of the 2014 season, but it’s still one I’ve never quite seen before – and probably never will again. After the NCAA announced the elimination of the bowl ban, along with other sanction reductions, PSU fans spilled into the streets of downtown Happy Valley and celebrated as if they just knocked off the top team in the nation. Two years of anger and frustration gave way to unbridled joy. Thousands sprinted to different venues on campus and just chanted, screamed and sang. Some even crowd-surfed on mattresses at the last stop. I’ve seen big fan celebrations before, but never for something that happened off the field. It was quite a sight.

Mitch Sherman: Mark Dantonio's answer to the Michigan disrespect

The seeds were planted long before Oct. 25, but when Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden drove a stake into the turf at Spartan Stadium, Michigan State reached its boiling point. It's rare that we get to see the reserved Dantonio stick out his chest, but the Spartans punctuated a 35-11 win over U-M with a Jeremy Langford touchdown run in the final 30 seconds. That was a message in response not just to the pregame stake-planting but years of disrespect. "I felt like we needed to put a stake in them at that point," Dantonio said after the game, also referencing the "little brother stuff" that has long brewed in this series. It was a great subplot, of which Michigan coach Brady Hoke, fittingly, was "not fully aware."

Austin Ward: Anthony Schlegel's takedown of a fan on the field

Leaving the stands and running on the field is pointless, dumb and dangerous right from the start. In case anybody had overlooked that last part, Ohio State assistant and former linebacker Anthony Schlegel offered a reminder that would have made The Rock proud. After a student had the bright idea to step on the turf at the Horseshoe during a September game against Cincinnati, he compounded it by getting a bit too close to the Ohio State sideline, where Schlegel popped out to plant him in the ground with an unforgettable body slam. The lesson, as always, is to stay in the seats.

Dan Murphy: Michigan-Ohio State moment of sportsmanship

Maybe it's all this Christmas music that has me feeling sappy, but the moment that keeps coming to mind (other than Melvin Gordon's insane performance against Nebraska) was shortly after J.T. Barrett's season-ending injury against the Wolverines. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner made his way on to the field and offered some support to Barrett, who was still laid out on his back as trainers worked on his leg. At that point, it was the fourth quarter of a one-touchdown game between bitter rivals with a lot on the line -- a potential playoff berth for the Buckeyes and a last-ditch effort to save their coaching staff for the Wolverines. One of the worst moments of the year (Barrett's injury) was quickly followed by a great one. The quarterback's show of genuine solidarity was a reminder that these guys are human beings. Gardner fell short of expectations on the field this season, but it's far more appropriate that college football's lasting image of him will be that moment of sympathy.

Adam Rittenberg: Bust a move, Coach Kill

I'm tempted to go with Gordon in the snow against Nebraska, especially since I was there to witness history, but Jerry Kill gets my vote for his "old age" dance moves after Minnesota wins. Minnesota's rise under Kill has been one of the best Big Ten story lines in the past two seasons. Many wondered early in 2013 if Kill's coaching days soon would end because of his struggle with epilepsy, particularly seizures on game day. But the coach has his condition under control and continues to show why he's one of the best at getting the most out of his teams. You couldn't help but smile seeing Kill enjoy the wins by dancing in the locker room, surrounded by his joyous players. Those moments never get old.

Wisconsin Badgers season review

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
12:00
PM ET
Our week-long review of every Big Ten team's 2014 regular season comes to its conclusion now with a look at the Wisconsin Badgers:

Overview: There was a whole lot to like and a little bit to regret from the Badgers' '14 campaign. This team won 10 games and soared to the Big Ten West Division championship by winning its final seven regular-season contests. Along the way, running back Melvin Gordon set records by the bunches en route to winning the Doak Walker Award and finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting. The defense, despite replacing eight starters from a year ago, ranked at or near the top of the FBS statistically for most of the season. Now for the less positive: Wisconsin bobbled a chance to make a huge statement early, blowing a 17-point second-half lead against LSU in the opener. It lost a shocker to Northwestern that cemented its playoff also-ran status. The Big Ten title game turned into an embarrassing 59-0 rout by Ohio State. And then Gary Andersen left for Oregon State, marking the program's second coaching departure immediately after a Big Ten title game in three years. All in all, things were never boring around Madison this fall.

Offensive MVP: Who else but Gordon? The Big Ten's offensive player of the year has 2,336 rushing yards and 29 total touchdowns heading into the Outback Bowl against Auburn. Few will ever forget his epic 408-yard day against Nebraska. Every time Gordon touched the ball, you sensed something special might be about to happen.

Defensive MVP: For a long time this season, the Badgers' defense was a no-name unit, which was a reflection of both the lack of proven stars and how much everyone contributed to the overall effort. But the team's defenders gradually became more familiar, household names, especially at linebacker. All four starters there had excellent seasons, but Derek Landisch earned first team All-Big Ten honors and led the team with nine sacks and 16 tackles for loss. So he gets the slight nod here.

Big Ten bowl predictions

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
9:00
AM ET
The song is right: Bowl season is the most wonderful time of the year. Bowl season will also determine the overall champion of the season picks. Austin Ward leads the way right now, but it's still a wide-open race.

 

Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl



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

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

 

Quick Lane Bowl



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

 

New Era Pinstripe Bowl



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

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

 

National University Holiday Bowl



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

 

Foster Farms Bowl



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

 

Outback Bowl



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

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

 

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic



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

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

 

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl



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

 

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

 

Taxslayer Bowl



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

 

Allstate Sugar Bowl



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

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

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

Big Ten morning links

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
8:00
AM ET
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
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 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
8:00
AM ET
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
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Wisconsin knows exactly what it's getting in new head coach Paul Chryst, who played for the Badgers and served as an assistant for two different stints. And maybe more importantly, Chryst knows exactly what he's walking into with Wisconsin.

This is a guy who, as he told it in his news conference on Wednesday night, delivered newspapers as a kid to Camp Randall Stadium. If anyone understands the culture of Madison and the Badgers athletic program, it's Chryst. That should help him hit the ground running faster than many new coaches.

"You don't feel like you have to understand or learn the whole lay of the land," Chryst told ESPN.com in a phone interview. "We have our work cut out for us, and we look forward to rolling up the sleeves and getting to work.

"But you should be able to draw on some of the experiences we've had. I know a lot of the high school coaches and a lot of the people on campus, so hopefully that can kind of shorten the learning curve a little bit."

And it means that Chryst shouldn't be blindsided by some of the issues that have been blamed for Wisconsin unexpectedly losing its last two coaches -- Bret Bielema to Arkansas in 2012 and Gary Andersen to Oregon State earlier this month.

One of Bielema's chief complaints was the lack of competitive salaries for his assistants. Chryst was making a little more than $400,000 as offensive coordinator at Wisconsin in 2011 when he was hired as the head coach at Pitt. He hasn't officially hired any assistants yet with the Badgers but said he will meet with coaches on Thursday. Retaining current defensive coordinator Dave Aranda remains a distinct possibility.

"I'm really confident that we can put together a heck of a staff," he said. "There's no question in my mind that there is a commitment here, not just with the football improvements but throughout the whole athletic program. There's a true commitment.

"I don't know honestly if [the salary structure] has changed since I've been here. I just feel real confident about the support we have had and will have here."

Andersen was reportedly frustrated with Wisconsin's academic admissions standards that prevented him from bringing in certain recruits. Chryst said he's proud of his degree from the school and thinks the high standards should be viewed as an advantage.

"I think every place has its uniquenesses," he said. "I've got to learn and see what are the differences from when I was last back here. But there's been a history here for a long time that academics are important. I think recruiting is all about finding a fit, and I feel real confident that we're going to find guys that are great fits with this university."

And what of the rumors that athletic director and Hall of Fame coach Barry Alvarez casts too long of a shadow? Chryst coached under Alvarez once and then came back to join him for his final season. He views him as a mentor and vital sounding board.

"I learned a lot from Coach Alvarez," Chryst said. "One of the big reasons I came back in 2005 was him.

"He's a tremendous resource. He always shoots you straight and has had a lot of experiences you can draw on. And he also understands and knows who I am."

Chryst stopped short of calling Wisconsin his dream job or that it was even a destination job. "I think you've got to earn the right to stay that long," he said. But it was clear from his memories of Madison that the city and the school have a strong tug on him, and he said even many of his Pitt players understood why he had to make the move.

It remains to be seen whether Chryst's homecoming will turn out to be the fairy tale story it looks like. But one thing's clear: Both sides know exactly what they're getting.
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It used to be that Wisconsin was the picture of stability.

Barry Alvarez coached the Badgers from 1990 until 2005, and then the Hall of Famer's handpicked successor, Bret Bielema, kept the operation running smoothly while preserving the same style of play. But lately, change has become almost a constant in Madison, Wisconsin.

A fifth-year senior on next season's team will be playing for his third head coach (or fourth, if you count Alvarez stepping in to coach a bowl game -- twice). If that player is on the offensive side of the ball, he'll be working under his third different offensive coordinator. And if he's an offensive lineman, his head is probably spinning from all the turnover there.

That's a huge reason why bringing back Paul Chryst to succeed the shockingly departed Gary Andersen carries so much appeal for the Badgers. The belief is that Chryst -- who was born and raised in Madison, played quarterback for Wisconsin in the 1980s and was an assistant coach under both Alvarez and Bielema -- isn't just some short-timer like Andersen. He wouldn't jump at a midlevel SEC job like Bielema. He could be, if all goes well, a lifer.

The hiring of Chryst also indicates that Wisconsin itself isn't likely to change.

[+] EnlargePaul Chryst
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesWisconsin has struggled to find consistent play from its quarterbacks since Paul Chryst left for Pitt.
Bielema complained about the pay rates for his assistants, and the Badgers still rank just ninth in the Big Ten in total staff pay, according to the latest USA Today salary database. Andersen reportedly bristled at the school's admission standards, which are higher than many of the other programs in the conference. Wisconsin is not likely to lower its entry policies in the near future, nor should it if that's a core value for the university. There is nothing wrong with high standards, after all.

Thanks to his history in and around the program, Chryst is likely to know all of these things when he walks in the door. And he'll understand what it takes to work around some of those restrictions. There should be zero buyer's remorse, as seemed to be the case with Andersen when he bolted after just two seasons.

Just hiring a guy because he knows the place and isn't likely to leave right away, however, is rarely a good idea. If that's all this were, then Wisconsin could be trading one problem for another. But Chryst could also be the right guy at the right time for this job.

Forget his pedestrian 19-19 record at Pitt. He inherited a program whose revolving coaching door makes the Badgers' recent problems pale in comparison. Focus instead on his work from his previous stint in Madison, and how much Wisconsin could use that again.

In Chryst's final season as offensive coordinator, 2011, the Badgers set a dozen school records, including points per game (44.1) and total offense. The team averaged 39.2 points per game from 2009 to 2011. Chryst, who was also the quarterbacks coach, turned Scott Tolzien into a reliable starter and future pro and of course experienced his greatest success with Russell Wilson at the helm.

It's no coincidence that Wisconsin has struggled to find consistent play from its quarterbacks since Chryst left for Pitt, and that's one of the biggest areas that has held the team back from winning its most challenging games. The running attack and powerful offensive line should remain a constant going forward, but better performances under center could lift the program toward being more than just a Big Ten West Division power. Another Russell Wilson isn't likely to fall out of the sky, but it's way past time for Wisconsin -- which just got destroyed by a third-string quarterback in the Big Ten championship game -- to develop a respectable passing game.

If Chryst can convince current defensive coordinator Dave Aranda -- one of the brightest defensive young minds in football -- to stick around, along with bringing popular former Wisconsin assistant Joe Rudolph back with him from Pitt, then he would have the makings of an excellent coaching staff (and one that will need to be paid accordingly, by the way). Chryst is not a rah-rah guy who's going to light up the room in a news conference, but then neither was Andersen. His personality should mesh well with Alvarez and the long shadow he still casts from the athletic director's office.

Alvarez might have hired Chryst after Bielema left in December 2012 if Chryst had coached more than one season at Pitt by that point. Now he's handing the keys over to a guy he's liked and admired for years.

Wisconsin has averaged 9.7 wins per season over the past 10 years. It has won three Big Ten titles plus this year's West Division crown in the past five years. There aren't many reasons to overhaul the way things have been done in Madison. And maybe, just maybe, there won't be a need for more coaching changes again in the near future.
The motion W on Paul Chryst's hat and sweatshirt next fall won't stand for wandering eye. For that, Wisconsin fans can breath a sigh of relief.

It's humbling for a fan base to see a coach voluntarily leave its program. It's especially humbling to see it happen twice in the past three years. It's especially, especially humbling when coaches leave a winning, established program that is coming off appearances in the Big Ten championship game.

Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen clearly didn't see Wisconsin as a destination job. Bielema wanted to chase a championship in the nation's toughest conference at a program flush with resources. Andersen became fed up with Wisconsin's admissions office and the difficulty of getting his targeted players into school. Their eyes wandered and they left town.

Chryst is coming home to Madison, where he spent most of his childhood, his college years and part of his adult life as a Badgers assistant in 2002 and again from 2005-11. He intends to stay for a while. Those close to him say Wisconsin is his dream college job and that he would only leave to lead an NFL team. Coincidentally, Chryst did the reverse Gary Andersen, leaving Oregon State's offensive coordinator post for Wisconsin's after the 2004 season.

[+] EnlargePaul Chryst
Jason Redmond/Associated PressGetting Paul Chryst in the fold should close the revolving door at Wisconsin for a while.
Hiring a capable coach is Wisconsin's first priority here, and despite inheriting a mess in Pittsburgh from Todd Graham and yielding middling results, Chryst can deliver with the Badgers. But it's also important for the Badgers -- and the Big Ten -- to bring in coaches who want to stick around.

Let's not be delusional about the Big Ten or modern-day coaches. The days of Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Barry Alvarez, Hayden Fry, Joe Paterno and others who saw Big Ten programs as career endpoints likely are over. Kirk Ferentz is completing his 16th season at Iowa, while Pat Fitzgerald just finished his ninth at Northwestern and Mark Dantonio wraps up his eighth at Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. None seems to be in a hurry to leave on their own accord, but they're more the exceptions in today's game.

Expecting any coach to spend 15-20 years in one place isn't realistic. But the Big Ten also can't have coaches voluntarily leaving every season. A Big Ten coach has chosen to depart in each of the past three seasons: Bielema (2012), Penn State's Bill O'Brien (2013) and now Andersen. Of the three, only O'Brien left for a definitive step up, the NFL's Houston Texans.

Look at Big Ten basketball, which boasts elite coaches -- Michigan State's Tom Izzo, Wisconsin's Bo Ryan, Ohio State's Thad Matta and Michigan's John Beilein -- who view their jobs as destinations. That's what Big Ten football needs.

Chryst puts a stop in the revolving door at Wisconsin, and several of the Big Ten's top programs could be entering a period of coaching stability:

Nebraska: Whether Cornhuskers fans like the Mike Riley hire or not, Riley isn't going anywhere. He sees Nebraska as a last stop, and despite his age (61), he still has great energy for the job. His predecessor, Bo Pelini, didn't voluntarily leave Nebraska, but there were incessant rumors during his tenure about him looking at other jobs. Some think if Nebraska had won the 2012 Big Ten title game instead of Wisconsin, Pelini would have landed at Arkansas instead of Bielema.

Ohio State: Urban Meyer quickly has rebuilt Ohio State into a national power and a playoff contender for years to come. There's always some concern about Meyer's longevity at a job, but he's not mentioned for NFL positions and seems completely settled in Columbus. He might not coach the Buckeyes for 10-15 years, but he's seemingly not on the verge of an exit, either.

Penn State: Amid the excitement of his arrival, James Franklin repeatedly noted that Penn State had work to do with its roster deficiencies, which showed up throughout the fall. Franklin likely will see this process through, and, like Meyer in Ohio, he has roots in Pennsylvania. He has plenty of job security, and unless he becomes frustrated with the post-sanctions effects, won't be looking to leave.

Michigan is the wild card here, but the Wolverines should be seeking some stability in its next coach. After having just three coaches between 1969 and 2007, Michigan will have its third in eight seasons next fall. Jim Harbaugh is the home run hire for the Wolverines, but not if he returns to the NFL in two or three years. Michigan needs an elite coach who wants to stick around, and it shouldn't compromise either criteria. Brady Hoke would have stayed in Ann Arbor forever, but he wasn't getting it done on the field.

Stability doesn't automatically equal success. After a very disappointing regular season, Iowa's Ferentz finds himself in a category of long-tenured, mostly successful coaches -- Georgia's Mark Richt, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy -- who some want to see move on. Stability can become stale, but cycling through coaches every few years almost guarantees struggle.

Amazingly, Wisconsin has avoided a downturn despite its coaching turnover. Now it has a coach who can keep things rolling without constantly looking for the next best thing.

Michigan's impending hire should calm the Big Ten coaching carousel for a while. And with relative stability at the top programs, the league could be on the verge of a step forward.

Top sleeper commits: Big Ten 

December, 17, 2014
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Five-star and ESPN 300 prospects create the most buzz, but with more than a hundred FBS programs competing for talent it takes more than just those top-rated prospects to have success. Rosters are built largely with prospects who enter college with little fanfare, but their development and contributions are key. Every year we see prospects who flew under the radar but developed into some of their conference's top players.

Throughout our evaluations we come across many players who show promise and are great additions based on their upside for development and/or scheme fit.

Here are five commitments in the Big Ten who we feel are unheralded but additions worth keeping an eye on:

Watch: Melvin Gordon on this season, facing Auburn in the Outback Bowl

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
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video

Adam Rittenberg sits down with Doak Walker Award winner Melvin Gordon to discuss his success this season and his thoughts on facing Auburn in the Outback Bowl.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

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

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


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Big Ten morning links

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roundtable: Season's best B1G games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ESPN's Big Ten all-freshman team

December, 15, 2014
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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.

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