Big Ten bowl projections: Week 13

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
8:00
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It's the penultimate version of the bowl projections, and we have some news at the top. Sorry, Buckeyes fans, we're not projecting the Scarlet and Gray to the College Football Playoff -- not yet, at least.

As we did for a portion of the season, we're projecting two Big Ten teams to New Year's Six bowls, as we now believe Michigan State will finish high enough for selection. The Spartans should get to 10-2 this weekend against Penn State, their only setbacks coming against playoff hopefuls Oregon and Ohio State. There's a possibility they would qualify for the Capital One Orange Bowl if they're ranked higher than the highest available SEC team. If so, the Big Ten would not have a team in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

This possibility would increase if Arkansas beats Missouri on Saturday, sending Georgia to the SEC championship game. Georgia is ahead of Michigan State in the College Football Playoff rankings, but a loss, either this week against Georgia Tech or in the SEC title game, likely would drop the Bulldogs behind Michigan State.

For now, we're keeping Michigan State out of the Orange and sending Wisconsin to the Citrus.

The Buckeyes still need some help to reach the playoff. Charlie Strong, a former Urban Meyer aide, can help his old boss Thursday when his Texas squad hosts TCU.

There are also some moves at the bottom of the projections. Michigan's loss to Maryland takes the Wolverines out of the postseason picture, as none of us expects them to win The Game at The Shoe.

The Big Ten has nine bowl-eligible teams, and there will be a 10th as Northwestern and Illinois, both 5-6, play Saturday at Ryan Field. Although the Wildcats will be without starting quarterback Trevor Siemian, we project them to win and reach the six-win threshold.

Nebraska's slide on the field means a slide in the projections, as we now have the Huskers headed to the Music City Bowl. Minnesota moves up to the Outback after its big win in Lincoln, and Maryland bumps up to the Foster Farms Bowl in the Bay Area as it positions itself for a somewhat surprising 8-4 season.

Both Penn State and Rutgers are limping toward the finish and likely will finish the regular season at 6-6. The Lions seem like a good bet to reach New York City for their postseason return, while Rutgers could be headed to Motown.

Enough jabbering. Here are the latest projections ...

Chick-fil-A Peach/Goodyear Cotton/VIZIO Fiesta: Ohio State
Chick-fil-A Peach/Goodyear Cotton/VIZIO Fiesta: Michigan State
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus: Wisconsin
Outback: Minnesota
National University Holiday: Iowa
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Nebraska
Foster Farms: Maryland
New Era Pinstripe: Penn State
Quick Lane: Rutgers
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas: Northwestern

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 13

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
2:00
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video
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Louisville pulled off the upset in its first-ever meeting with Notre Dame, escaping Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium with a 31-28 win to improve to 8-3 and send the Irish to 7-4. Here's how it went down:

How the game was won: After Louisville's John Wallace missed a 37-yard field goal with 5:03 left, Notre Dame marched 65 yards on 11 plays, setting up Kyle Brindza's potential game-tying 32-yard field goal attempt, which sailed wide right with 51 seconds left.

Game ball goes to: Brandon Radcliff was a force to be reckoned with for Notre Dame's defense, carrying it 17 times for 136 yards and a touchdown. Kudos to true freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon, too, as he added 35 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns while completing 8 of 21 passes for 180 yards and one touchdown.

What it means: Louisville still has an outside shot at the Discover Orange Bowl, depending on how the final selection committee rankings shake out. The No. 24 Cardinals will need Florida State to make the College Football Playoff — which includes Georgia Tech losing in the ACC title game — and will need to win out and hold off Clemson, which is ranked No. 22 as it readies for rival South Carolina next week. Notre Dame has now dropped four of five after a promising 6-0 start and remains searching for answers as to how it all came crashing down so fast.

What's next: It's rivalry week for both of these teams, as Notre Dame travels to USC for the regular-season finale, while Louisville closes its regular season at home against in-state nemesis Kentucky. Can the Irish stop the bleeding? Can the Cardinals keep the good times going after a standout Year 1 in the ACC?

Video: Northwestern 38, Purdue 14

November, 22, 2014
Nov 22
4:16
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video
Kelly Stouffer and Anish Shroff break down Northwestern's 38-14 win against Purdue.

Video: Illinois 16, Penn State 14

November, 22, 2014
Nov 22
4:12
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video

Quarterback Reilly O'Toole came off the bench to help spark Illinois in its 16-14 come-from-behind win over Penn State on Saturday.

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 13

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
10:00
AM CT
It's the second-to-last week of the season, and it's the first time all year that all 14 Big Ten teams are in action against one another in conference play. (Still hate you, double bye.) And there are no night games, so you'll have to be on top of your remote control game in the early afternoon.

Here's a look at what's on tap Saturday (all times ET):

Noon

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMelvin Gordon and Wisconsin are looking to punch their tickets to Indianapolis in Iowa.
No. 25 Minnesota (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten) at No. 23 Nebraska (8-2, 4-2), ESPN: The Gophers can win the Big Ten West by winning their final two games. But first they'll have to get through a Nebraska team that should be fighting mad after last week's embarrassment in Madison. Bo Pelini said this week that Ameer Abdullah might not be 100 percent the rest of the year.

Rutgers (6-4, 2-4) at No. 11 Michigan State (8-2, 5-1), Big Ten Network: League championship dreams are all but over for the Spartans, but they can still win 10 games and get to a major bowl. The Scarlet Knights are looking to score an upset over one of the upper-tier teams in the league, but they're going bowling regardless.

Indiana (3, 7, 0-6) at No. 6 Ohio State (9-1, 6-0), BTN: The Buckeyes are around a five-touchdown favorite, and understandably so. This one might be about style points for the selection committee, and not much else.

Northwestern (4-6, 2-4) at Purdue (3-7, 1-5), ESPNU: After a surprising upset in South Bend, the Wildcats now have a bowl game in sight if they can win this one and close out the season against Illinois. But Purdue had a week off to prepare, and Northwestern has had a habit of playing up or down to its competition.

Penn State (6-4, 2-4) at Illinois (4-6, 1-5), ESPN2: Tim Beckman's last stand? The Illini have to win here to have any hope of getting to a bowl game and potentially saving their coach's job. Christian Hackenberg is scuffling for Penn State, but is Illinois' defense enough to lift his doldrums?

3:30 p.m.

No. 16 Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1) at Iowa (7-3, 4-2), ABC/ESPN2: The Heartland Trophy game has enormous West Division implications. If Wisconsin wins, it can do no worse than tie for the division title and could clinch a spot in Indianapolis with a Minnesota loss. Melvin Gordon, who originally committed to Iowa, will look to add to his Heisman Trophy credentials after his 408-yard day last weekend.

Maryland (6-4, 3-3) at Michigan (5-5, 3-3), BTN: Can Brady Hoke lead Michigan to a bowl game? He'll almost certainly have to win this one to do so, since the Wolverines' finale is in Columbus. Maryland already has wins over Penn State and Iowa, and would solidify a nice first season in the Big Ten by winning in the Big House.

Required reading
Week 13 predictions | Bold calls

Ohio State offensive line again rises from the ashes

J.T. Barrett speeds toward Heisman race

Minnesota, Nebraska fight to move forward

Revised image suits Michigan's Jake Ryan

Rutgers not satisfied with bowl eligibility

The cold truth: Embrace the B1G weather

Big Ten's second act worth watching

West Division title scenarios

"Dilly Bar Dan" enjoys his brush with fame

Bowl projections

Awards race tracker

Kelly, Irish push through rare slump

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
1:00
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly will coach his 63rd game at Notre Dame on Saturday, which is remarkable for the simple fact that the three men in his chair before him never made it this far.

Not Charlie Weis (62 games). Not Tyrone Willingham (36). Not Bob Davie (60).

No, the last time a Fighting Irish coach took the field for Game 63 of his tenure came Sept. 21, 1991, when Lou Holtz's squad rolled over Michigan State, 49-10. So much has changed since then. And yet so little has changed, too.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsAfter some recent struggles, Brian Kelly's Irish look to finish the season strong.
 A win this weekend over Louisville would make Kelly the first Notre Dame coach to start his tenure with five straight seasons of eight-plus wins. No Irish coach has done that during any five-year stretch since 1987-93, a run that saw Holtz coach the program to its last national title.

Notre Dame will go yet another season without a title in 2014, a drought that now stretches 26 years, and a goal that probably looked like a distant dream this past weekend as the Irish fell to Northwestern for loss No. 3 on the year.

Of course, as recently as two weeks ago, before losing at Arizona State, the Irish were right in the thick of things. A month ago they looked ready to break through that title ceiling, unbeaten as they took defending champion Florida State down to the final seconds in a loss.

Reconciling the fall from grace has been a maddening task for the Irish as they enter Senior Day against the Cardinals.

"I think college football is such that it comes down to a couple of plays and a fine line," Kelly said. "And that's why it's so critical that when you turn the ball over like we do, and when we turn it over, it's critical. I mean it's catastrophic turnovers."

Of course, the frustration that comes with a three-loss season is a far cry from what those seniors experienced upon entering Notre Dame at the ground level of the Kelly era.

"I think definitely from freshman year to now, we definitely turned the program around," said offensive tackle Christian Lombard, who, like Kelly arrived to the Irish for the 2010 season. "It's a winning program now, and we expect to win every game. We expect to win every game at home, we expect to be right there with teams, it's just the way it is around here now. It's one of those institutions [like] it was back in the day, so we're all really proud of that."

Added end Justin Utupo, a fellow redshirt senior: "We're obviously the first class that was brought in and [the coaches] looked at us to help build what they were trying -- this winning culture. I was here from the start. I've seen when we were bad. I've seen when we were really good."

Holtz said Kelly has been able to implement such expectations because of his vision and because of his plan to execute that vision. It comes from the benefit of being a head coach at three other stops beforehand, a luxury Holtz was afforded as well, having been in the big seat at five different college and pro stops before taking the Notre Dame job.

Kelly's last three coordinators at Notre Dame earned head-coaching jobs elsewhere. Last year's Irish team had eight players drafted, the program's most in a single draft in 20 years. That the Irish started 6-0 without them -- and without four players lost to academic suspensions two weeks before the season -- speaks to what is in place. That three losses in their past four games has sparked a world-is-ending feeling around the fanbase speaks to the climb left to be done.

 "He's got a young football team this year," Holtz said of Kelly. "And I think next year may be his best football team."

Depending on one's preferred math, the Irish could be returning 20 starters in 2015. And that does not include the potential return of several of their currently suspended players.

That could make this final stretch all the more important for the near-term future of a program that is toeing the line between a 7-6 and a 10-3 campaign this year, a program soon-to-be filled with a new cast of characters that had little part of that 12-1 run to the national title game two years ago.

"They understand that there are some tough times," Kelly said. "But, relatively speaking, I remind them of some tough times, that we were here just a few years ago, when we were 4-5. Those are tough times. Those are difficult times. This pales in comparison. You're now in a winning environment. And you've won a lot of football games. Our seniors win on Saturday, that would be 182 in the last 20 games at home. So keep it in perspective."

Holtz, who lasted 132 games on the Notre Dame sideline, is doing just that when it comes to the man currently in charge.

"I hope Brian Kelly reaches the next 63," he said.

Big Ten Week 13 predictions

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
9:00
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Why Minnesota will win: There’s no letup coming for the Blackshirts, who were historically carved up by Melvin Gordon last week and must turn right around and face the Gophers' David Cobb and another productive rushing attack, with flickering hopes of winning the West Division hanging in the balance for both teams. Ameer Abdullah doesn’t look quite back to full speed on his injured knee, and the Gophers are perhaps underrated for their defensive ability when they’re dialed in and aggressive, which could make it tough for the Huskers if the star rusher is limited again. Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner has been inconsistent this season, but this seems like a good opportunity for him to bounce back in the play-action passing game with the Huskers trying to avoid another soft performance on the ground. ... Minnesota 27, Nebraska 24 -- Austin Ward

Why Nebraska will win: Melvin Gordon had his way with the Huskers last week, but Minnesota’s David Cobb -- who’s accounted for more than 40 percent of the offense -- is a different kind of runner. Most of Gordon’s yards came with speed outside the tackles; most of Cobb’s will come from power between the tackles. Nebraska shouldn’t allow half as many big offensive plays this weekend, and the Huskers’ offense clearly has the edge here. Bo Pelini’s squad averages 8.8 more points per game, the offense gains an average of 100 more yards a game, and Ameer Abdullah is one week healthier. Minnesota won’t be able to keep up. ... Nebraska 34, Minnesota 24 -- Josh Moyer



Why Michigan wins: It's the last home game for Michigan seniors such as linebacker Jake Ryan and quarterback Devin Gardner and possibly the last for coach Brady Hoke. The Wolverines will ride their defense and limit mistakes on offense to outlast a Maryland team that has been tough to figure out week-to-week. It's a field-goal fest early on, but Michigan records a defensive touchdown in the third quarter and holds off a Terrapins rally to get bowl-eligible. ... Michigan 19, Maryland 16 -- Adam Rittenberg

Why Maryland wins: Maryland has been a puzzle this season, but my bet is Randy Edsall fits the right pieces together Saturday at Michigan. The Terps are at their best when airing out the deep ball on offense (even without Stefon Diggs). If Michigan can't get a decent pass rush in the absence of Frank Clark, C.J. Brown should have enough time to connect with his receivers on a couple bombs. Michigan's seniors will pour their hearts onto the field for a final time at the Big House, but in close games, Maryland kicker Brad Craddock has been a difference-maker for the Terps. He plays the heartbreaker role again in Ann Arbor. ... Maryland 24, Michigan 21 -- Dan Murphy



Why Northwestern will win: It's a risk picking the Wildcats here because they only seem to play well against top-20 teams. But I've got to believe Pat Fitzgerald's team built some confidence in that upset at Notre Dame, and certainly that was the best Trevor Siemian has looked all year. Purdue has some big-play ability that will give Northwestern trouble, but the Wildcats now have a realistic shot at a bowl and should play with all-out effort with that in mind. ... Northwestern 24, Purdue 21 -- Brian Bennett

Why Purdue wins: Northwestern has shown great fight in coming back from the dead twice this year. Its most remarkable achievement -- slightly ahead of the home victory over Wisconsin last month -- came Saturday with a road win at Notre Dame. But I just don’t trust the Wildcats, who are dreaming of a bowl game. Remember, this is a team that lost by 41 at Iowa three weeks ago. Purdue is playing without pressure. Sure, it has struggled down the stretch, but Austin Appleby is capable of a strong performance against a mediocre defense. If you want my real strategy in pick the Boilermakers, look no further than the calendar. Since 1947, Purdue is unbeaten in nine games on Nov. 22. ... Purdue 35, Northwestern 31 -- Josh Moyer

Unanimous decisions

Ohio State 59, Indiana 10: Shield your eyes from this one, folks. The league's best team and top offense take aim at the winless-in-conference Hoosiers at home and with a need to impress. It's going to get ugly early and stay that way.

Michigan State 42, Rutgers 21: The Scarlet Knights got bowl eligible last week but weren't terribly impressive against Indiana. Meanwhile, the Spartans regained their mojo at Maryland and should have an easy time dissecting a very leaky Scarlet Knights defense. Jeremy Langford will close out his home career in style on senior day with 175 rushing yards.

Penn State 17, Illinois 13: Odds are the Nittany Lions aren't going to blow any Big Ten opponents away because of their limited offense. But their defense has been one of the best in college football, and Anthony Zettel and Mike Hull will consume the Illini offensive line. A pick-six helps Penn State escape Champaign with win No. 7.

Wisconsin 31, Iowa 24: The Badgers won't have as easy a time running the ball as they did against Nebraska last week (historically speaking, that would be almost impossible). But Melvin Gordon isn't going to slow down now that he has a Heisman Trophy in his sights. Iowa will hang around all day, but Wisconsin's defense will make the necessary stops to pull another step closer to the West Division title.

Our records:
T-1. Mitch Sherman: 78-20 (.796)
T-1. Austin Ward: 78-20 (.796)
3. Dan Murphy: 47-14 (.787)
4. Brian Bennett: 77-21 (.786)
T-5. Adam Rittenberg: 73-25 (.745)
T-5. Josh Moyer: 73-25 (.745)

Big Ten morning links

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
7:00
AM CT
It's cold in Big Ten country.

1. Several of the country's football conferences dabble in cold temperatures, but none face the elements quite like the Big Ten. The league's two biggest games last week were snow-covered events. Temperatures dipped into the mid-teens Tuesday night in six of the seven cities that will host Big Ten games this Saturday. As the season's first arctic blast visits the northern half of the country, it's time we consider weather as a playoff committee consideration.

After his team beat Minnesota by a touchdown in freezing temperatures, Urban Meyer challenged any playoff contender to visit Minneapolis in November and fare as well. If the selection committee is going to consider injuries and hot streaks and other factors the BCS computers of yore didn't, shouldn't bad weather be on that list as well? Rain storms, lightning delays and bitter cold days can affect games. Not every team has to deal with the elements. If we're going to credit teams for whom they play, it makes sense to do the same for where they play.

2. Ohio State moved up two spots in this week's College Football Playoff rankings to No. 6, jumping an idle Baylor team and Arizona State, which lost to Oregon State. The Buckeyes are in a good position now if they win the Big Ten championship, but there's a growing consensus that Wisconsin won't make that easy if both teams wind up in Indianapolis next month. If the Badgers continue their recent success, they'll provide an interesting test case for the selection committee when picking the New Year's Day bowls or potentially even the playoff teams. Wisconsin has two damning losses on their schedule, but appear to be a different team in November. Will the committee judge them more on their body of work or the way they're playing now?

3. And now for a different kind of semifinalist, the Biletnikoff and Mackey Award, given to the nation's best wide receiver and tight end, respectively, released their lists of semifinalists this week. We were reminded there aren't many pass-catching stars in the Big Ten. Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams -- who is tied for the national lead with seven receiving touchdowns -- was the only conference player to make either list. Michigan State's Tony Lippett has the stats to stack up with his counterparts from other leagues, but doesn't carry the same national profile.

Some of the lack of attention in the passing game is, of course, a result of an unprecedented year of dominant running backs in the Big Ten. The Doak Walker committee releases its semifinalist group late Wednesday morning. As many as five Big Ten backs -- Gordon, Ameer Abdullah, Tevin Coleman, David Cobb and Jeremy Langford -- have a legitimate claim to be on that list.

East Division

Urban Meyer avoided several attempts to stump for a playoff spot at Ohio State during a news conference this week.

Michigan State is in good shape to play on New Year's Day after moving up another spot in the playoff rankings.

Brady Hoke doesn't regret giving Frank Clark a second chance at Michigan despite Clark's failure to make good on it.

A new documentary attempts to sift through the nuance of the Sandusky scandal and all it affected in Happy Valley.

Rutgers is bowl eligible. Where are the Scarlet Knights most likely to be spending their postseason?

Despite the losses, Indiana fans should enjoy Tevin Coleman's special season while he's still around.

Maryland submitted plans this week to build a $155 million indoor practice facility.

West Division

Melvin Gordon isn't the first member of this Badgers team to set a rushing record at Camp Randall Stadium.

There are more questions than answers for Nebraska after a tough loss last weekend.

Jerry Kill likes where his team is sitting as it heads into the final two weeks of the regular season.

Wide receiver Derrick Willies wants back in at Iowa, but he'll have to wait for Kirk Ferentz to decide.

With a bowl berth on the line, Northwestern players are fighting to keep their football family alive.

Purdue's Raheem Mostert is a cold-weather convert as his career in West Lafayette winds to a close.

Illinois fans think Will Muschamp can be their savior as a defensive coordinator. Wishful thinking?

Big Ten to host 2016 Midwest Regional at United Center

November, 17, 2014
Nov 17
3:34
PM CT
The 2016 NCAA men's basketball Midwest Regional will be held at the United Center, the NCAA announced on Monday.

The Big Ten Conference, the official host of the event, was awarded its first NCAA men's basketball regional after managing earlier rounds on four previous occasions -- 1998, 2002, 2007 and 2011.

"The Big Ten is excited to once again host some of the nation's best college basketball teams for the 2016 regional of the NCAA Tournament," said Brad Traviolia, Big Ten Deputy Commissioner, CFO/COO. "We are pleased to continue our partnership with the Chicago Sports Commission and the United Center and look forward to bringing this great event to the city of Chicago for the fifth time."

The NCAA already committed to hosting two other events in Chicago in upcoming years -- the 2017 Division I men's hockey "Frozen Four" at the United Center and the 2018 National Collegiate men's gymnastics championship at UIC Pavilion.

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
2:00
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Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
8:00
AM CT
Handing out some sticky hardware for the Big Ten’s best performances on Saturday.

Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: In three quarters worth of work, Gordon ran for more yards (408) than the country’s worst rushing team (Wake Forest) has picked up all year. Had he played the fourth quarter he probably would have topped Washington State (436) as well. He fumbled twice early in the game, but setting a new FBS record for yards in a single game while scoring four touchdowns will make it easy to forget those mistakes. The Badgers’ entire offensive line probably deserves stickers, too. Gordon will have to share.

Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: You’ve got to feel for Coleman, who ran for a head-turning 307 yards against Rutgers but was overshadowed by Gordon’s big day. Coleman carried 32 times and added a 67-yard score. Not only did Gordon steal his thunder, but the Hoosiers also lost their chance at bowl eligibility. Coleman’s only consolation prize is a well-earned helmet sticker.

Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: The rookie has taken up permanent residence on this list. He ran for 189 yards in a win at snowy Minnesota, including an 86-yard touchdown sprint. He also threw for three scores, which brings his season total to 38 touchdowns -- an Ohio State single-season record.

Minnesota DB Briean Boddy-Calhoun: An interception and a forced fumble courtesy of Boddy-Calhoun helped the Gophers keep pace with Ohio State during the first half. The redshirt junior returned Barrett’s one mistake 56 yards to set up Minnesota’s first touchdown. His fumbled robbed the Buckeyes of a touchdowns shortly after.

Illinois WR Mike Dudek: Dudek remains as a rare bright spot for the Illinois football program this fall. The freshman caught six passes for 80 yards and both of the Illini’s touchdowns in a 30-14 loss to Iowa. His first catch on a fade route was a reminder of the bright future ahead of him during the next few years.

Northwestern K Jack Mitchell: The hero of Northwestern’s upset at Notre Dame hit game-tying and game-winning kicks in less than ideal conditions. Mitchell, who came to Northwestern as a baseball player and started 21 games in the outfield last spring, hit a 45-yard field goal with 20 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. He iced the victory with a 41-yarder to finish his day 4-for-5.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- His hair was a little thinner. The outside temperature was a lot lower. He was the one reining in his exuberant players this time around, not the one whom, he would say later Saturday, did not "have a clue" what was going on 19 years ago.

And yet after Northwestern pulled off another South Bend shocker, this one a 43-40 overtime victory that extended Notre Dame's late-season misery while resuscitating its own campaign, Pat Fitzgerald had a confession to make.

"I think it's much more enjoyable today," the ninth-year Wildcats coach said.

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesPat Fitzgerald's Wildcats pulled off another big win over the Irish on Saturday.
 He had entered the postgame press conference later than normal, the rare visiting coach who got to speak last in this building. Fitzgerald and Northwestern had waited 19 years for another shot at Notre Dame, its like-minded rival some 100 miles east. They came here in 1995 to open the season -- sun-baked, four-touchdown underdogs who would go on to do the unthinkable, recording the first of many upsets en route to a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl trip.

No trophies or bowl games were clinched this time around, but a 4-6 team now finds itself in position to extend its season to a bowl game after pulling off the improbable here once again.

"[I] talked to them on Tuesday about a playoff mentality going back to high school: You get to November, the weather gets nasty, and that's when champions are crowned," Fitzgerald said. "We're not going to win a Big Ten championship, we understand that. We can still achieve our goals, but we have to have our back against the wall, playoff-type mentality and win and advance. We've advanced to another week to keep this team alive for postseason play."

Northwestern football, he said, is in a totally different place now than it was the last time these Cats took the field here. All-Americans like himself -- All-Americans who grew up on Chicago's South Side bleeding blue and gold, yet somehow ended up in Evanston -- undertook a massive culture change, one that led to three Big Ten titles, and one that now sheds the weight of a season that had been cast in a negative light.

Fitzgerald can thank himself for that, too, as the man just a few weeks shy of his 40th birthday can get Northwestern to its sixth bowl game in its past seven seasons with just two more wins, over Purdue and Illinois.

Those might look like child's play compared to what his players pulled off here on the third Saturday of November, sizing up an Irish team just a week removed from the College Football Playoff picture and delivering it another gut punch.

There was a blocked extra-point try on Notre Dame's second touchdown, which Nick VanHoose returned all the way and made what should have been a 14-7 game a 13-9 one.

There was the fallout of those Irish special-teams miscues: Coach Brian Kelly's questionable decision to go for two after the Irish's final touchdown, an incomplete pass that kept it a 40-29 Irish lead instead of putting Northwestern in a position where it would have to score two touchdowns.

Then, of course, there was the fumble -- the fourth, final and most costly Irish turnover, this from sure-handed captain Cam McDaniel, which gave Northwestern the ball back with a three-point deficit and 1 minute, 28 seconds to work with.

"They're giving us a shot, guys," Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian said in the huddle. "Just let it rip."

Jack Mitchell's 45-yard field goal sent the game to overtime. His 41-yard kick -- which came after another Irish special-teams miscue, a missed 42-yard try in overtime -- set off a party nearly two decades in the making for the large contingent dressed in purple.

Said running back Justin Jackson, who could not bear to watch the game-winning kick: "First of all, that fumble was unbelievable, how we got that ball back. And then the drive, the field goal, and then for them to miss the field goal and for us to make a field goal -- it's a storybook ending to a crazy game. So it was really fun."

Fun for cornerback Matthew Harris, who was on the ledge of the stands celebrating with traveling fans long after the team had sung the alma mater. Fun for those traveling fans -- one of whom waved a purple T-shirt bearing a Chicago Sun-Times cover from 1995 that read: NU 17, ND 15. And fun for the man who had 11 tackles in that '95 meeting and sold this group on the belief that lightning could strike twice.

Fitzgerald held Siemian in a long embrace after the game. He made references to iPhones and Instagrams, luxuries and pitfalls of today's youth that will grant his players more attention than he ever received. He mentioned conversations with Ara Parseghian, the legendary former Northwestern and Notre Dame coach with whom he speaks regularly. He said boardrooms across Fortune 500 companies will feature more purple than usual Monday, as proud alumni revel in another victory at Notre Dame.

Nineteen years later, and here Fitzgerald was in a familiar position, at home once again after winning over a few more non-believers.

"I wouldn't want to play for anybody else in the country," Siemian said. "He's awesome. That's it. I just wouldn't want to play for anybody else."

What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
12:13
AM CT
Five observations from Saturday’s games around the Big Ten:

1. Wisconsin is the team to beat in the Big Ten West. The Badgers might have stumbled early this season, but they proved in their 59-24 win over Nebraska on Saturday that their recent offensive dominance wasn’t just a matter of picking on the little guys. Wisconsin is averaging 44 points per game in its current five-game win streak, after hanging 59 on Nebraska. Dave Aranda’s defense also acquitted itself as an elite unit. The Cornhuskers managed only 180 total yards, and all four of their scoring drives started in Wisconsin territory. A trip to Iowa and a season finale against Minnesota are far from “gimmes,” but right now, it would be a surprise if anyone other than Wisconsin and Ohio State met in the Big Ten title game.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltJ.T. Barrett dashed through the Minnesota snow for 189 yards and a touchdown to keep No. 8 Ohio State's playoff hopes alive.
2. The Big Ten should be well represented at the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Melvin Gordon’s 408-yard performance in the snow -- in three quarters, nonetheless -- will be the stuff of legend in Wisconsin for a long time. It almost certainly punched his ticket to New York City as a Heisman finalist. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett also deserves to be a serious candidate for the award. He ran for 189 yards on another snow-covered field in Minnesota, threw three touchdown passes and continued to march his Buckeyes toward a division title and a shot at a coveted playoff spot with a 31-24 win. He and Gordon both deserve to be finalists, which would probably leave the supposedly talent-deprived Big Ten with more players at the ceremony than any other conference.

3. Christian Hackenberg isn’t comfortable in Penn State’s offense. Opposing coaches and defenders have been nearly unanimous in anointing the sophomore quarterback a future pro. He hasn’t looked like the part recently for the Nittany Lions, and you can’t point to a poor offensive line as an excuse this week. He was 12-for-26 with two interceptions and missed a few wide open receivers in a 30-13 win over Temple on Saturday, despite getting good protection. Hackenberg has now thrown 12 interceptions and only seven touchdowns this season. He came to Happy Valley to play in Bill O’Brien’s pro-style offense and so far has clashed with the scheme James Franklin is trying to install. He and Franklin need to get on the same page if the Penn State offense is going to improve in the future.

4. Michigan State’s defense is still dangerous. The Spartan Dawgs responded well after giving up 49 -- tied for the most points the program has allowed since Mark Dantonio arrived -- a week ago in the loss to Ohio State. Michigan State held a hot-and-cold Maryland offense to 6 rushing yards and only one touchdown while the game was still in doubt in a 37-15 win. Safety R.J. Williamson had a pick-six, and Kurtis Drummond set up a field goal with another interception on the Terrapins' opening drive. On a night when Michigan State’s offense wasn’t quite as explosive as it has been for most of the season, the defense proved it can still be relied on to deliver a good performance.

5. Expect the unexpected in November. Chaos might be the one constant in college football, and the Big Ten wasn’t immune to it this weekend. Northwestern helped give the league its first win over Notre Dame in 2014 by outlasting the Fighting Irish in a sloppy 43-40 overtime win. The Cats, 17.5-point underdogs Saturday, have had an inexplicably up-and-down season. They beat Notre Dame and Wisconsin but have had some ugly losses. A week before putting up 43 on the road, Northwestern’s offense mustered only nine points in a one-point loss to Michigan. Despite erratic play, Pat Fitzgerald has his team within reach of a bowl game if it can beat Purdue and Illinois to finish the season. Nine Big Ten teams already have enough wins to make it to the postseason, with the Wildcats, Michigan and Illinois all still alive.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Northwestern came back from an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit to shock No. 18 Notre Dame on Saturday 43-40 and bring back memories of these teams’ latest meeting here, a Wildcats upset in 1995. Here’s how it went down:

How the game was won: With Notre Dame up three and looking to run out the clock, Cam McDaniel fumbled at the Northwestern 28 with 1:28 left. Northwestern drove into field goal range, and Jack Mitchell kicked a 45-yarder to send the game to overtime. Mitchell then hit a 41-yard field goal in overtime to win it after Kyle Brindza missed from 42.

Gameball goes to: Trevor Siemian played his behind off all game for Northwestern, overcame seemingly countless drops from his receivers and led the fourth-quarter surge. He finished 30-of-48 passing for 284 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions and added 32 rushing yards and another score on the ground.

What it means: Northwestern has a chance to extend its season now. The Wildcats improved to 4-6 and have a shot at bowl eligibility if they win out. Notre Dame has now lost three of its past four games after a 6-0 start that had the Irish in the thick of the playoff conversation a month ago.

What’s next: Northwestern goes to Purdue before hosting Illinois; that's a great chance for the Wildcats to get bowl eligible. Notre Dame hosts Louisville and its nasty defense on Senior Day before traveling to rival USC.

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