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
PM CT
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
AM CT


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
PM CT


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.

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 12

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
10:00
AM CT
Bundle up if you're going to a Big Ten game this weekend. Temperatures could be in the 20s or lower in some places, and there's possibilities for snow. Remember: Layers.

If you're just watching the Week 12 games from someplace warm, then A) you're smart and B) here's what you need to know about today's lineup (all times ET):

Noon

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJ.T. Barrett and Ohio State can't afford to have a letdown against Minnesota on Saturday.
No. 8 Ohio State (8-1, 5-0 Big Ten) at No. 25 Minnesota (7-2, 4-1), ABC: Can the Golden Gophers pull off the big upset at home? The cold weather might help slow down the Buckeyes' surging offense, but Minnesota will have to play a nearly perfect game. Ohio State could be battling a letdown factor after the win at Michigan State, but it can't afford to get distracted given its place in the playoff chase.

Iowa (6-3, 3-1) at Illinois (4-5, 1-4), Big Ten Network: The maddeningly inconsistent Hawkeyes look to bounce back from that 51-14 thrashing in Minneapolis last week; remember, they can still win the Big Ten West by winning out and having the Gophers lose twice more. The Fighting Illini are just hoping to get closer to bowl eligibility and possibly preserving Tim Beckman's job. Having Wes Lunt back at quarterback this week should help.

Temple (5-4, 3-3 American) at Penn State (5-4, 2-4), ESPN2: The Owls will try to beat the Nittany Lions for the first time since 1941 and for the first time ever in State College. Penn State hopes to clinch bowl eligibility and use that get-out-of-jail card from the NCAA. Don't expect a lot of points from either side in this one.

3:30 p.m.

No. 16 Nebraska (8-1, 4-1) at No. 20 Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1), ABC: This is much more than Ameer Abdullah vs. Melvin Gordon, though that showdown between the two marquee backs could be great if Abdullah is healthy. The winner will remain in great shape in the West Division race, while the loser will need a lot of help. Wisconsin has the home-field advantage, but the Cornhuskers will be by far the best team the Badgers have played since the season-opening loss to LSU.

Northwestern (3-6, 2-4) at No. 18 Notre Dame (7-2), NBC: The Wildcats have been looking forward to this game for a long time, but they'd hoped to be in better shape for it. Northwestern has lost four straight and is averaging just 12.5 points per game in that span. The Fighting Irish aren't scheduled to play another Big Ten team until September 2016, when they'll face Michigan State.

Indiana (3-6, 0-5) at Rutgers (5-4, 1-4), BTN: This is the first-ever meeting between these two teams, and no one is exactly clamoring for it right now. The Hoosiers have lost five straight against Power 5 opponents since beating Missouri and have virtually no offense to speak of. Rutgers has lost three straight and was outscored by 94 points in that span but should clinch bowl eligibility here.

8 p.m.

No. 12 Michigan State (7-2, 4-1) at Maryland (6-3, 3-2), BTN: How will the Spartans respond to the Ohio State loss? Will they come out swinging or still be smarting over the loss of their playoff (and most likely Big Ten title) hopes? Maryland has enough big-play ability to make this interesting, even without Stefon Diggs.

Bye: Michigan, Purdue

Required reading

Week 12 predictions | Bold calls

Nineteen years later, Northwestern looks to shock Irish again

Melvin Gordon's Heisman moment

Ameer Abdullah gets another shot to beat the odds

Gophers dance into November relevancy

Explosive plays expose cracks in Michigan State's defense

Buckeyes trust Jalin Marshall to do it all

Indiana's Tevin Coleman defies the odds

Take Two: Big Ten's best defense

Awards race tracker

Big Ten morning links

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
7:00
AM CT
Let’s put a bow on the buildup to Week 12 in the Big Ten.

Fan talk: Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has a few concerns about the fan reaction around East Lansing to Ohio State’s victory over MSU last week. Dantonio offered a little pep talk for fans of the Spartans Thursday night during his radio show, saying, “We can still have the best team in the Big Ten Conference just by winning out and winning our bowl game and being the highest ranked.” That’s an interesting spin. Michigan State, barring a meltdown this month by the Buckeyes, is not going to win the league. And it’s not going to be remembered as the Big Ten’s best in 2014. But hey, it says something about how far Michigan State has come that anything less than a championship is considered a disappointment. And if anyone at MSU is struggling to move on, they’ve got company Saturday as the Spartans visit Maryland. Seems the Terps are just now moving past the craziness of their victory two weeks ago over Penn State. Should make for an interesting matchup in College Park -- assuming enough players from both teams are in the right frame of mind.

Moving up: Tom Dienhart of the Big Ten Network is buying J.T. Barrett as the MVP of the Big Ten after the freshman quarterback dissected Michigan State last week on the road in the league’s regular-season game of the year. And I agree. I cast the lone first-place vote in our weekly awards tracker for Barrett as offensive player of the year, disagreeing with popular choice Melvin Gordon. It’s not that I think Barrett is better than the senior Gordon -- not yet, at least -- but his impact as a quarterback is more significant. What’s the difference for the Buckeyes between the team that lost to Virginia Tech on Sept. 13 and the group that looks as dangerous today as any outfit nationally? Primarily, it’s the development and maturation of Barrett. His stats are nice, but Barrett’s impact goes beyond the numbers. He’s leading the Buckeyes like only a quarterback can do, and if he keeps it up, I suspect the others will come around to my way of thinking in the player of the year race.

No update: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini continued to play it coy on the status of I-back Ameer Abdullah after the Huskers’ final practice of the week in Lincoln on Thursday. And why not? No reason exists for Pelini, who surely knows more than he's saying about Abdullah's left knee -- injured Nov. 1 in the Huskers' win over Purdue -- to offer any information to Wisconsin. Pelini, asked about Abdullah on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, has responded with a series of polite but brief answers. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck and Abdullah's teammates said little more in interviews this week. And in assessing what any of them did say, it's impossible to know what to believe. Looks like we'll all have to wait until the first quarter on Saturday to see for ourselves.

Around the rest of the league:

East Division
West Division
As all great upsets go, this one started with a pregame speech that has only grown with time.

Gary Barnett's Northwestern team was a four-touchdown underdog as it entered Notre Dame Stadium for its 1995 opener. He knew his players could have a better season than most were expecting, but he doubled-down on them before taking the field, ordering them to act like they have been there when they win.

No carrying the coach off the field. No Gatorade shower. When they win, not if.

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPat Fitzgerald has a win over Notre Dame as a Northwestern player. On Saturday, he'll try to nab one as the Wildcats' head coach.
"I was just trying to build confidence in our team," Barnett told ESPN.com. "I was telling them that we all know we're going to win, and when we do win let's not act like this is the biggest win of the century; let's just act like we're used to doing this thing, and everybody needs to get used to us doing this sort of thing, and that's the message we'll send."

Did they ever. Nostalgia has been in the air this week as the Wildcats resume their rivalry Saturday with the Irish, the schools' first meeting on the gridiron since that fateful Sept. 2 matchup 19 years ago. The 17-15 stunner that propelled Northwestern to a Big Ten title that season is arguably the greatest Wildcats victory of them all, and one of its engineers will take center stage this weekend on that same visiting sideline in South Bend, Indiana.

"Contrary maybe to popular belief, I think we think that about every game," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, a linebacker on that 1995 team, said of Barnett's expectation to win. "Otherwise I don't know why you compete."

Fitzgerald recorded 11 tackles in that win, en route to the first of consecutive consensus All-America honors. An Orland Park, Illinois, native, Fitzgerald, naturally, grew up a fan of the Irish.

"I'm Catholic from the South Side -- you didn't have a choice," he cracked. "Absolutely. And then we had a great player from my high school, Jeff Alm, play. Unfortunately he's passed away, but Jeff was a great player at Notre Dame. He was an All-American. So he'd come back and work out, things of that nature, at Sandburg [High]."

How and why Fitzgerald did not end up in South Bend remains somewhat of a mystery, with the ninth-year Northwestern coach saying this week that he had attended a camp, but that he never took an official visit.

Notre Dame's loss ended up being Northwestern's gain, with Barnett just happy to land the prized linebacker regardless of how he fell into his lap.

"I think all along he wanted to go to Notre Dame and he was putting off committing to us, waiting to hear from Notre Dame, if they were going to offer him," Barnett said. "He was one of our last commitments, actually. So I'm not sure, he'll have to tell you how that all went down. And I didn't really care. We were recruiting him, we didn't care if Notre Dame turned him down or whatever. We wanted him on our football team, so we were fortunate that whatever happened, happened."

Barnett gets a kick out of how everything will have come full-circle for Fitzgerald this weekend. He recalled telling his assistants during training camp of Fitzgerald's sophomore year in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that they would be jockeying to hire Fitzgerald as an assistant if any of them ever took head coaching jobs down the line.

Ninth-ranked Notre Dame proved to be the first of several heavyweights Northwestern would take down in 1995, as the Wildcats won at No. 7 Michigan and beat No. 12 Penn State before falling to No. 17 USC in the Rose Bowl. Barnett looks at that campaign -- and, by extension, that Notre Dame game -- as the launching point for the past two decades of Northwestern football, as the program has gone from a conference bottom-feeder to one that went on to share two more Big Ten titles, and one that has reached five bowl games under Fitzgerald.

A loss at 7-2 Notre Dame on Saturday would make it consecutive seasons without a bowl for Northwestern. Still, bigger upsets have happened, as everyone from these teams' last meeting knows.

That 1995 tilt ended up being decided, in large part, on Irish quarterback Ron Powlus tripping during a two-point conversion. Two months before the game, sophomore defensive back Marcel Price was fatally shot while home in Nashville. His memory stuck with the Wildcats throughout their historic run.

"I remembered watching Powlus go back and slip, and somebody on the sideline said, 'Marcel made that tackle,'" Barnett said. "I think after we look back, it certainly is a big play. But at the time I don't recall thinking other than we just maintained our lead. That's what you're thinking at the time, and what do you do next."

Big Ten morning links

November, 12, 2014
Nov 12
7:00
AM CT
We missed Veterans' Day by about eight hours, but I think we've got time for one more pride-swelling story of patriotism to tee up the links this morning.

1.Many football teams like to carry American flags with them on to the field on Saturdays. Few players have been more deserving flag bearers than Tom Hruby. The Northwestern junior is a 32-year-old active Navy SEAL. The father of three, who lives in a dorm room during the week, made his college football debut Saturday on the Wildcats' kickoff team against Michigan. Hruby talked to his teammates about being a veteran Tuesday morning after practice, which Pat Fitzgerald called "one of the most special moments" he's had as a college coach. It's hard to imagine these types of stories ever growing old.

2. Welcome to the Top 25, Minnesota. The Gophers (7-2) are the fifth Big Ten team to join the College Football Playoff rankings this week. At No. 25, they find themselves almost as tangled up in playoff implications as any team in the nation this week. On Saturday, Minnesota hosts No. 8 Ohio State, the Big Ten's best remaining hope to land a spot in the playoff this season. A Gophers' win would severely damage the league's chance for a playoff bid.

One team that certainly will be cheering for Jerry Kill this weekend is TCU. The fourth-ranked Horned Frogs are ranked higher than Baylor (despite losing to the Bears, 61-58) because of a better nonconference schedule. A Minnesota win this weekend would make TCU's defeat of the Gophers in September an even stronger bargaining chip at the playoff table.

3. It's been a truly rotten year for quarterbacks at Indiana. Along with losing starter Nate Sudfeld and back-up Chris Covington to injuries, the Hoosiers also lost two others to transfers earlier in the year. One of them, Tre Roberson, has scored 22 touchdowns and totaled more than 2,100 yards of offense at Illinois State. Meanwhile, true freshman Zander Diamont has struggled to pilot the offense in a recent 0-3 stretch in which the Hoosiers have scored only three offensive touchdowns. Penn State didn't allow the Hoosiers' offense any points on Saturday, then kicked them in the teeth once more on the way out door -- a few days after the game Indiana's top quarterback recruit, three-star Tommy Stevens, switched his commitment to the Nittany Lions. That makes quarterback loss No. 5 this season.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the Big Ten...

East Division
West Division

Big Ten bowl projections: Week 11

November, 11, 2014
Nov 11
8:10
PM CT
Ohio State reclaimed the Big Ten throne Saturday night at Spartan Stadium.

About 69 hours later, the Buckeyes officially occupy the top spot in the Big Ten bowl projections. Ohio State is our pick to win the Big Ten. Will that equate to a spot in the College Football Playoff? Right now we think it will not, but crazy things happen this time of year.

Michigan State moves down to the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, where it last played after the 2010 season. We think there's a decent chance the Spartans wind up in a New Year's Six game, but they need to finish strong and hope some others falter.

Minnesota moves up to the Music City Bowl after thumping rival Iowa, which tumbles from the Citrus all the way to the Pinstripe Bowl in New York. Iowa still has opportunities to rise as it hosts both Wisconsin and Nebraska to finish the season, but this is an underachieving, unpredictable team right now. We can't slot the Hawkeyes any higher.

The shuffle at the top moves Rutgers out of the Big Ten bowl tie-ins, but we expect the Scarlet Knights to secure an at-large spot. They need one more win and should get it Saturday when they host last-place Indiana.

Penn State and Michigan also both need one win to become bowl eligible, but the Nittany Lions have an easier road (Temple, Illinois, Michigan State) and one more game than the Wolverines (Maryland, Ohio State). For now, Penn State is in and Michigan is out.

Illinois could take a big step toward bowl eligibility -- and securing coach Tim Beckman's future for another year -- by upsetting Iowa on Saturday in Champaign, Illinois. The Fighting Illini have three winnable games left (Iowa, Penn State, Northwestern) but need two, which equals Beckman's Big Ten win total to this point.

Here are this week's projections ...

Chick-fil-A Peach/Goodyear Cotton/VIZIO Fiesta: Ohio State
Citrus: Michigan State
Outback: Wisconsin
National University Holiday: Nebraska
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Minnesota
San Francisco: Maryland
New Era Pinstripe: Iowa
Quick Lane: Penn State
At-large: Rutgers

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