Michigan Wolverines: Jake Rudock

Big Ten's lunch links

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
12:00
PM ET
Eyes closed, head first, can't lose.
The last two seasons have shown that two-quarterback systems can work in the Big Ten.

Northwestern recorded 10 wins in 2012 while rotating Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian. Indiana led the Big Ten and ranked ninth nationally in total offense last fall while alternating between Tre Roberson and Nate Sudfeld.

[+] EnlargeJoey Bosa, Connor Cook
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesAfter taking over the quarterback job in Week 5, Connor Cook led the Spartans to 10 consecutive wins.
Given the recent success, my next statement might surprise you: Every Big Ten team would be best served picking one quarterback and sticking with him in 2014. That includes Indiana and Northwestern.

Quarterback rotations can be successful in the short term, but they are rarely sustainable or desirable. We saw this at Northwestern last fall, as the Wildcats never established a consistent offensive rhythm and operated with a reduced playbook, in part because of injuries but also because the unit lacked a clear identity. Northwestern finished 10th in the league in scoring.

Minnesota alternated between quarterbacks Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner during several games, including the Texas Bowl against Syracuse. Although the Gophers had a nice surge during Big Ten play and recorded eight wins, they also finished 11th in the league in scoring and last in passing.

Nebraska had some success using two quarterbacks (Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Ron Kellogg III) last season but did so out of necessity following Taylor Martinez's injury. The Huskers also struggled to pass the ball, finishing 11th in the league.

The strongest argument for picking a quarterback and sticking with him comes from the Big Ten's best team in 2013. Michigan State's offense was a train wreck in non-league play as the Spartans used three quarterbacks. After a Week 4 loss to Notre Dame, the coaches decided Connor Cook would be their guy. You all know what happened next, but what struck me was Cook's mindset at the time.

"We went through spring ball competition and fall camp competition, it was the most stressed out I've ever been in my entire life just trying to be the quarterback," Cook said last month before the Rose Bowl. "After I got the starting job and started a couple of games, the stress went away and it turned to focus, me being focused and knowing they're not going to use other quarterbacks in the game and not stress too much that go if I make a bad play I'm going to be pulled.

"That's when the stress went out the window."

Players like Northwestern's Siemian and Indiana's Roberson and Sudfeld are more accustomed to sharing time than Cook was, but each of them, like any quarterback, would rather be the clear-cut starter.

Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase is another good example of a player who benefited from an unambiguous role. He struggled from the middle of the 2011 season through all of 2012, raising the possibility of a rotation last season. Instead, Scheelhaase started every game and led the Big Ten in passing (3,272 yards).

[+] EnlargeTommy Armstrong Jr.
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsAfter playing well in place of Taylor Martinez, sophomore signal-caller Tommy Armstrong Jr. is the favorite to start for the Cornhuskers in 2014.
I'm all for competition at quarterback, and the Big Ten will feature plenty of it this spring and summer. Only five quarterbacks -- Ohio State's Braxton Miller, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg, Michigan State's Cook, Iowa's Jake Rudock and Michigan's Devin Gardner -- can feel pretty secure about their starting roles. Gardner has been mentioned as a possible rotation candidate with Shane Morris -- some Michigan fans wouldn't mind seeing Gardner line up at wide receiver, a position of need -- but I'd be surprised if Morris leapfrogs the senior.

I'm also OK with teams employing change-up quarterbacks for a package of plays, be it the Wildcat or something else. Michigan State could be a candidate for this in 2014 with dynamic redshirt freshman Damion Terry possibly spelling Cook from time to time.

The first few games also provide a platform to use multiple quarterbacks in settings that can't be replicated on the practice field. Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel often did this with his younger quarterbacks, giving them a first-half series or two. It makes sense. But by Week 4, roles must be identified.

The offseason is full of Big Ten quarterback questions:

  • Will Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt take the reins at Illinois?
  • How will Gardner and Hackenberg fare with new offensive coordinators?
  • After Nelson's transfer, who emerges at Minnesota among Leidner, Chris Streveler and possibly a young quarterback such as Dimonic McKinzy?
  • Nebraska's Armstrong went 6-1 as a freshman starter, but can he hold off Johnny Stanton?
  • Can Gary Nova retain his job at Rutgers?
  • Will Danny Etling keep the top job at Purdue, or will Austin Appleby and possibly early enrollee David Blough enter the mix?
  • How does Siemian bounce back at Northwestern, and do the Wildcats look at Matt Alviti and Zack Oliver?
  • Will either Roberson or Sudfeld finally separate himself at IU?

Ultimately, these questions must be answered. The teams that avoid prolonged rotations should be better off for it.

Final Big Ten Power Rankings

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
1:00
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Before we close the book on the 2013 season, here's the final version of the Big Ten power rankings. Bowl performances were factored in, as well as how teams finished the season, although there aren't too many changes from the previous version of the power rankings.

Let's get started ...

1. Michigan State (13-1, previously: 1): The Spartans rallied to beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO to record their team-record 13th victory. Thanks to stifling defense and improved quarterback play, Michigan State had its best season since the mid-1960s. The Spartans return QB Connor Cook and most of the skill players on offense, but must replace a lot of production on defense.

2. Ohio State (12-2, previously: 2): After winning 24 consecutive games to open the Urban Meyer era, Ohio State dropped consecutive games on big stages. The Buckeyes' defense couldn't slow down Clemson's pass game in the Discover Orange Bowl, and turnovers doomed Ohio State in the second half. Meyer's defensive staff will have a different look with new assistants Chris Ash and Larry Johnson.

3. Wisconsin (9-4, previously: 3): Like Ohio State, Wisconsin ended its season with a thud and a sloppy bowl performance against South Carolina. The Badgers received big performances from running backs Melvin Gordon and James White but couldn't stop South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw or hang on to the football.

4. Nebraska (9-4, previously: 6): All roads lead to 9-4 for Bo Pelini's team, but the Huskers are much happier to be there after an upset victory over Georgia in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl. An improved defense did a nice job of keeping the Bulldogs out of the end zone, and seniors such as wide receiver Quincy Enunwa stepped up in their final college game.

5. Iowa (8-5, previously: 4): A stout Hawkeyes defense kept the team in the Outback Bowl, but the offense never truly got going and lost starting quarterback Jake Rudock to injury. Iowa had its chances for a quality bowl win, but has to settle for a strong regular-season improvement and raised expectations entering the 2014 season.

6. Penn State (7-5, previously: 7): An impressive victory at Wisconsin marked the final game of the Bill O'Brien era. New coach James Franklin has brought a lot of enthusiasm to Happy Valley and should sparkle on the recruiting trail. His management of talented quarterback Christian Hackenberg and an undermanned defense will loom large this fall.

7. Minnesota (8-5, previously: 5): The Gophers had by far the most favorable bowl matchup but didn't reach the end zone for more than three quarters against Syracuse. Although a special-teams play ultimately doomed Minnesota, the Gophers' inability to establish a better passing game was a key element in a very disappointing loss. Minnesota should expect more in 2014.

8. Michigan (7-6, previously: 8): You knew it would be tough for Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl when quarterback Devin Gardner hobbled off of the plane on crutches. But the Wolverines never gave themselves a chance in the game, caving defensively against Kansas State's Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett. A blowout loss ended Michigan's highly disappointing season and marked the end for offensive coordinator Al Borges. Can coach Brady Hoke get things turned around in 2014?

9. Northwestern (5-7, previously: 9): Northwestern is awaiting confirmation that running back Venric Mark can return for a fifth season, and should get it in the next few weeks. Mark will help an offense that never truly got on track last fall and might need to be more of a pass-first unit if Trevor Siemian remains the starting quarterback. The defense returns nine starters.

10. Indiana (5-7, previously: 10): It took a little longer than expected, but coach Kevin Wilson fired defensive coordinator Doug Mallory last week as Indiana again will try to upgrade a perennially porous unit. The Hoosiers will be more experienced throughout the roster this fall, but the defense must change the script under new leadership as they enter the brutal East Division.

11. Illinois (4-8, previously: 11): While Wilson made a change at defensive coordinator, coach Tim Beckman is sticking with Tim Banks and the rest of his staff for a pivotal 2014 season. Like Indiana, Illinois will be more experienced on defense but must replace Nathan Scheelhaase at quarterback. A favorable schedule gives Illinois a chance to make a bowl game.

12. Purdue (1-11, previously: 12): No Big Ten team is more excited to start working this offseason than the Boilers, who are rebuilding through the quarterback spot with Danny Etling and early enrollee David Blough, who officially arrived this week. Purdue must improve along both lines and replace veteran defenders such as cornerback Ricardo Allen and tackle Bruce Gaston Jr.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
5:00
PM ET
Hey, everybody, I'm back in my usual Wednesday slot now that the holidays are over. Answering your emails always feels like a holiday, however. Let's get to it:

Pat from Iowa writes: With the new playoff system in place next year, will it help or hurt the Big Ten?

Brian Bennett: It's a good question, and I suppose it depends on how you look at things. The BCS was actually pretty good to the Big Ten as far as getting teams into the major bowls. The league had two BCS teams this year as it did for most of the BCS era, thanks in large part to the schools' massive fan bases and attractiveness to bowls.

We're about to experience a sea change, no doubt. I believe that every other game outside of the four-team playoff will lose relevance, with the possible exception of the Rose Bowl. But even the Rose won't be quite as special as it has been to the Big Ten. Say the College Football Playoff were in place this year, the Rose wasn't a semifinal and you were a Michigan State fan. Would you have been as excited to go to Pasadena, knowing your team got squeezed out of playing for the national title? I don't think so.

The flip side of that coin is the playoff will help the Big Ten have a better chance to compete for a national championship, something the league has not done since the 2007 season. The Spartans would have had a great shot at making the four-team field this season, and undefeated or highly-ranked Big Ten champions will always be right in the mix. It's really up to the conference to make sure it consistently places teams in the Playoff, and then to perform well once there. Ridicule will await any of the five major conferences that repeatedly miss out on the four-team event.

Alex from Cincinnati writes: Hey, Bennett, thanks for your good work. Orange Bowl: from what I saw the game could have ended either way, but Clemson happened to be up when the clock expired. Now the B1G narrative for the next 9 months will be vastly different than if Ohio State had pulled out the victory. Do you agree that we're often too quick to either anoint or admonish certain teams and conferences, when in reality there is quite a lot of parity at the top?

Brian Bennett: Thanks for the kind words, Alex, and I agree with you that the margin between winning and losing at the very top level is very small. Just ask Auburn. The Big Ten, save for Michigan, was highly competitive in most of its bowls this year and came close to winning six of the seven.

But for the second straight year, the Big Ten finished 2-5 in bowls. A few teams, like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio State, actually entered their games as favorites but failed to deliver. Ultimately, they keep score for a reason, and it has become a trend for the league to end up on the short end of the scoreboard in recent postseasons. I really don't think the gap between the Big Ten and other leagues like the SEC is that large, as shown by the three Jan. 1 bowls in Florida. But it's a tougher argument to make without using victories as evidence.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyQuarterback Braxton Miller, who was banged up with shoulder and rib injuries, and the Buckeyes lost their final two games of the season.
Tom from DC writes: Hey, Brian! Can you explain why Braxton Miller was still in the game? The guy was injured to the point that his play was compromised. During those last few series, I kept yelling at the TV for Kenny Guiton. Miller is great, but he clearly wasn't firing on all cylinders. Despite that, he was still given designed runs and big throws ... WHY? I cringed every time. Despite all the mistakes, the biggest one, I think, was letting a severely injured QB play, while a stellar backup was fresh and ready to roll. Miller is a team player -- he would have understood if he was benched for Guiton due to injuries.

Brian Bennett: That's a fair and understandable question, Tom. I can tell you that offensive coordinator Tom Herman was asked if he ever considered putting Guiton in, and he quickly responded no. Asked if there was ever a conversation about it, Herman said the conversation went like this: If Miller can walk, he can play. So that shows you that Ohio State was firmly tying its sail to Miller just about under any circumstance. It makes sense, as Miller is the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year and a guy who has proven throughout his career that he makes big plays in the clutch.

But I also agree with you that Miller's passing was compromised by his shoulder and rib injuries, and that all those hits might have contributed to the final interception. And I think Ohio State relied too much on Miller in the final two games while forgetting about Carlos Hyde in the fourth quarter.

Josh in an empty office building writes: Hey B-ri, do you think the Spartans will struggle with complacency next year? They no longer have to prove themselves, and may be over-confident going into next year's Big Ten schedule.

Brian Bennett: If Michigan State is complacent, then it will be in for a long day in Week 3 at Oregon. I'd be more worried about the offseason practices and whether the Spartans rest on their laurels a bit. But the good thing is this program has always played with a bit of a chip on its shoulders under Mark Dantonio, and the staff has been around these players so long that it should be able to spot and eliminate any complacency right away. It also helps that several jobs will be open on defense, and competition usually fosters intensity. You always wonder how a team will handle a new level of success, but the fact that several players and coaches have already mentioned competing for a national title next year indicates that they are still striving upward.

Nathan from San Antonio, Texas, writes: Can you give us one final rundown of the new bowl tie-ins for the Big Ten next year? I know there were talks to add the Music City Bowl and Car Care Bowl, were those made official and are there still some bowls that could be a Big Ten tie-in next year?

Brian Bennett: Sure thing, Nathan. Let's start at the top. The Rose Bowl remains the main tie-in for the Big Ten, but the Rose will be a semifinal game next year. So unless a Big Ten team makes it to the Playoff, the conference may not have a team in the Rose in 2014. The league also shares a spot in the Orange Bowl with the SEC and Notre Dame; if the 2014 Big Ten champ fails to make the four-team playoff, it could wind up in Miami.

The rest of the lineup goes like this:

Capital One
Outback
Holiday
Music City/Gator*
Kraft Fight Hunger
Pinstripe
Detroit
Heart of Dallas/Armed Forces*

*- Rotating.

Remember, too, that the selection process will be based on tiers of teams, with heavy input from the Big Ten office in order to create fresh and attractive matchups.

Indra from San Antonio, writes: Hey, Brian, even though it's in the past now and what's done is done me and the handful of other UM fans down here in S.A. are really curious why Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith didn't get any carries in the Wings Bowl. I still doubt the outcome would have been different but it would have given them some much needed playing time/experience as it did for Shane Morris. Why do you think Coach Hoke opted to not utilize them?

Brian Bennett: I admit I was a bit baffled by that game plan, Indra. I thought Green had established himself as Michigan's best running option late in the season, and yet he received one carry -- one! -- for five yards against Kansas State. Smith saw four carries for seven yards. I get that the Wolverines' offensive line was a mess and that their best chance might have been to throw the ball more. But given that it was Morris' first start and that Justice Hayes came out of virtually nowhere to get four touches, I can't say that I have any idea what was going on with Al Borges' plan. It's safe to say that plan needs a thorough review and reworking this offseason.

Dave from Iowa writes: Does Jake Rudock get the starting nod for Iowa? Or would he get a leg up in a QB competition? Seems like C.J. Beathard has a stronger arm. Will Beathard get a shot?

Brian Bennett: Beathard said after the game that it was his understanding that he'll be given a shot to compete for the starting job in the spring. But Rudock is still the guy who beat out Beathard last offseason and started all 13 games for the Hawkeyes this season. Was Rudock great? No, but I thought he played very well at times. He's got a huge experience edge. Beathard will probably have to really outplay Rudock this offseason to actually unseat him, as Kirk Ferentz is not exactly known for making drastic changes.

Drew from Lincoln writes: Love the Big Ten blog, but I'm kind of confused about something. Can we finally put an end to the infatuation with Ohio State and Michigan? I'm not talking about publicity. A large fan base ensures publicity. I get that. I'm talking about the hype. Ohio State let down a lot of people in their last two games, and Michigan habitually underachieves and is way too inconsistent. Yet, Michigan State just finished the most successful season in the Big Ten since 2002, and it seems Wisconsin and Nebraska are just as competitive every year. Despite that, I'm sure Michigan and Ohio State will clean up recruiting again this offseason, and the hype will begin anew.

Brian Bennett: I get where you're coming from Drew, though I think there was less hype from Adam and me about Michigan and Ohio State's supposed "dominance" than there was from other corners. I didn't pick Michigan to win the Legends Division in 2013, for example. It's also true that Ohio State and Michigan remain the Big Ten's two most recognizable brands, for historic, financial and a whole host of other reasons. Because of that, those two teams are always going to receive a lot of attention, and if you're someone who really gets into recruiting -- in other words, someone very unlike me -- then you'll understand all the accolades those two teams will get around signing day.

The "hype," as you put it, is still very much deserved for Ohio State. Sure, the Buckeyes lost their final two games this year, but they went 24-0 before that and are still the gold standard for this conference for what they've done over the years. Michigan is the program that has vastly disappointed and has in many ways hurt the entire Big Ten by not living up to its own expectations. We're always going to talk and write a lot about these two teams because of their importance to the league. That said, if in 2014 you ever catch me writing that those two schools are going to pull away from the rest of the Big Ten, you have permission to flog me.

Jordan M. from Greenville, S.C., writes: I thought you said Ohio State was gonna win the Orange Bowl? Look how that turned out. Go Tigers!

Brian Bennett: Boy, I got a lot of grief from Clemson fans over my "Ten reasons Ohio State will win the Orange Bowl" post. To clarify, I was assigned to write that post, as every blogger was assigned to write one for BCS bowl teams in his or her conference. I tried to have a little fun with it and jabbed the ACC and Clemson a little. What good is sports without a little trash talk? I also said Woody Hayes would reach down from the afterlife and trip a Tigers player, so that tells you how serious I was. Let me remind Clemson fans that I visited your town in November and wrote nice things about you. Met a lot of friendly folks down there. And my official prediction was Clemson 38, Ohio State 35. I'd say that worked out pretty well for me.

Big Ten lunch links

December, 26, 2013
12/26/13
12:00
PM ET
There are no more presents under the tree. Hopefully these links can fill the void.
  • Michigan State will be without star linebacker Max Bullough after the program suspended the senior for the Rose Bowl, ending a decorated career and leaving a hole in the middle of the elite defense.
  • Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan defended himself against accusations that he attacked an Ohio State fan last month after a loss in The Game.
  • Devin Gardner is still not practicing for the Wolverines, making it even more likely that Shane Morris will be the starting quarterback in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
  • Leading Minnesota to a surprising season was a team effort by the coaching staff, and Jerry Kill's wife, Rebecca, offers an insider's account of what was behind it all.
  • Nebraska asks a lot of its nickelback, and a senior filling that role is in turn asking a lot of the younger players on the team around him as Ciante Evans sees his career wind down.
  • After another successful year and with salaries going up around the country, Urban Meyer could be in line for a raise with Ohio State.
  • Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano denied a report that he had his eye on the Penn State job should Bill O'Brien decide to leave the program.
  • Reggie Love made the tough decision to redshirt as a sophomore, and the Wisconsin wide receiver is expecting it to pay off down the road.
  • The trip to Florida is a homecoming for Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock.
  • Inside Northwestern takes a look into the future and speculates on if a true freshman could provide an instant lift for the Wildcats next season.

Big Ten predictions: Week 14

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
9:00
AM ET
Is it rivalry week already? Indeed it is. Where did this season go?

There's no drama in the Big Ten division races as Ohio State and Michigan State have secured spots in the league championship game next week. But the season-long predictions race is all square entering Week 14. The winner buys dinner in Indy before the title game. It's white-knuckle time.

Here we go …

Friday

IOWA (7-4, 4-3) at NEBRASKA (8-3, 5-2)

Brian Bennett: This could be a black-and-blue Friday as two teams that love to run could make this a physical, low-scoring game. I think Nebraska has a bit too much speed for the Hawkeyes, and it's hard to bet against the Huskers, given how they keep pulling out victories in tight games. Nebraska grabs the lead early on an Ameer Abdullah run and holds on late when Stanley Jean-Baptiste picks off Jake Rudock. … Nebraska 21, Iowa 17


Adam Rittenberg: Our first game might be the toughest to predict. Both defenses perform well and turn this into a field-goal fest. Iowa takes the lead in the third quarter on a Rudock touchdown pass, but Abdullah won't be denied in what could be his final game as a Husker. Abdullah rushes for 130 yards and a score, mostly in the second half, as Nebraska rallies once again for a win. … Nebraska 19, Iowa 16

Saturday

MINNESOTA (8-3, 4-3) at MICHIGAN STATE (10-1, 7-0)

Rittenberg: Minnesota's offense failed to score last week and will have another tough game against the nation's No. 1 defense. Spartans running back Jeremy Langford rushes for two more touchdowns as Michigan State uses another big fourth quarter to strengthen its chances for a BCS bowl bid, no matter how things turn out in Indy. … Michigan State 24, Minnesota 10

Bennett: Minnesota really has trouble throwing the ball. That will equal problems against the nation's No. 1 defense. The Gophers' defense gums things up enough to keep the score within reach, but Connor Cook connects on a pair of touchdown passes and the Spartans' defense does the rest. … Michigan State 17, Minnesota 6

OHIO STATE (11-0, 7-0) at MICHIGAN (7-4, 2-4)

Bennett: The Game isn't much of one this year. Even at home, Michigan just doesn't have enough offensive ability to hang with Ohio State. The Wolverines' defense puts up a valiant effort and slows down Carlos Hyde, but Braxton Miller converts several key third downs and throws three touchdown passes. … Ohio State 35, Michigan 14


Rittenberg: Rivalry games can spark surprises at times, but Ohio State is so much better than Michigan and has much more on the line. Plus, the Buckeyes' defensive line is rapidly improving and will become the latest group to infiltrate Michigan's backfield. Miller puts himself back on the Heisman radar with three touchdowns (two pass, one rush), and the Buckeyes record a second-half pick-six against Devin Gardner and rout Michigan. … Ohio State 42, Michigan 13

PURDUE (1-10, 0-7) at INDIANA (4-7, 2-5)

Rittenberg: Ah, the Bucket game. I thought Indiana would be playing for a bowl berth, but it's not to be. The Hoosiers still should have little trouble putting up points against Purdue. Wide receivers Cody Latimer and Shane Wynn combine for three touchdowns as Indiana holds off a nice rally led by Danny Etling (250 pass yards, 2 TDs). … Indiana 38, Purdue 28

Bennett: The Hoosiers are much better than the Boilermakers, but both will be staying home for the holidays. With nothing but pride at stake, Indiana lets it fly on offense and works out some frustration on its rivals by putting up 550 yards. … Indiana 51, Purdue 24


PENN STATE (6-5, 3-4) at WISCONSIN (9-2, 6-1)

Bennett: A wildly accomplished group of Wisconsin seniors will go out on a high note and give BCS bowls one more thing to think about. The Badgers smash the school record for rushing early and keep piling it up as both James White and Melvin Gordon gain more than 100 yards together again. Allen Robinson has a nice Penn State sendoff, but Sojourn Shelton comes up with an interception in the second half. … Wisconsin 38, Penn State 14


Rittenberg: Wisconsin is inching closer to a BCS at-large berth, and Penn State has been really bad on the road. This one gets ugly, folks, as White rushes for 200 yards and two scores on senior day and Gordon breaks off a 65-yard touchdown run. The Lions move the ball decently early before Wisconsin's defense adjusts and buckles down. … Wisconsin 45, Penn State 17

NORTHWESTERN (4-7, 0-7) at ILLINOIS (4-7, 1-6)

Rittenberg: There's only one way for this miserable Northwestern season to end. If the Wildcats had a healthy Kain Colter and some explosiveness at running back, I might pick the Purple. But Illinois' offense has it rolling right now, and the Illini will strike with big plays to Steve Hull (!) and Josh Ferguson, rallying in the second half. Northwestern will have one final chance to win but falls when a fourth-down option to Mike Trumpy falls a yard short. … Illinois 24, Northwestern 20

Bennett: Fitting that the season picks contest should come down to a game involving Northwestern, a team that has cost both of us some wins this season. It makes perfect sense to pick Illinois, which shed the Big Ten losing streak monkey off its back last week and has to be feeling better about itself than the Wildcats, who just want the season to end. But I can't reconcile that this Northwestern team will (A) actually finish 0-8 in league play or (B) lose to a team it beat 50-14 last year. So to the likely detriment of my wallet, I'll side with the purple here and say Trevor Siemian helps the Wildcats exploit the Illini defense, and Jeff Budzien wins it at the end. … Northwestern 27, Illinois 24


Those are our picks. Now it's time to hear from one of you. As a reminder, throughout the season, we'll choose one fan/loyal blog reader each week to try his or her hand at outsmarting us. There's nothing but pride and some extremely limited fame at stake. We have one game left to pick -- the Big Ten championship -- before the bowls, so if you're interested in participating, contact us here and here. Include your full name (real names, please), hometown and a brief description of why you should be that week's guest picker. Please also include "GUEST PICKS" in all caps somewhere in your email so we can find it easily.

This week's guest is Jarrod Reese from Sioux City, Iowa. Jarrod, the floor is yours. …
I live in Sioux City, right on the border of Nebraska and South Dakota. I'm a lifelong Hawkeyes fan and have had to endure the taunts from the Huskers faithful the last two years. I think we can finally do it this year (I need the bragging rights). As a bonus, I just got engaged last Thursday. How about a nice engagement gift from my favorite B1G Blog?

You got it, Jarrod, and congrats on the engagement. We're sending you a gift.

Here are Jarrod's Week 14 picks:

Iowa 23, Nebraska 17
Michigan State 28, Minnesota 6
Ohio State 52, Michigan 17
Wisconsin 35, Penn State 13
Indiana 45, Purdue 17
Northwestern 17, Illinois 14

SEASON RECORDS

Brian Bennett: 76-14
Adam Rittenberg: 76-14
Guest pickers: 70-20
There's only one debate in the Power Rankings: Who's No. 2?

All the top teams held serve in Week 13, and the Big Ten championship matchup is set for Ohio State and Michigan State to meet Dec. 7 in Indianapolis. The Buckeyes remain atop the league, but which team comes next: Wisconsin or Michigan State?

Although most polls have Michigan State ahead of Wisconsin, we've been keeping the Badgers at No. 2. It's extremely close between the two, and it's too bad the Spartans and Badgers won't face one another this season, especially given their recent history.

We're actually split on the No. 2 spot. Brian is keeping Wisconsin ahead of MSU on his ESPN.com power rankings ballot, while Adam has flipped the two this week, noting Michigan State's superior quarterback and special-teams play.

A second-place tie doesn't really work in the Big Ten rankings, so Wisconsin remains at No. 2 by the slimmest of margins.

Elsewhere, Iowa and Minnesota trade places, and so do Illinois and Northwestern.

Here's one last look at the Week 12 rankings.

Now, for the newest rundown …

1. Ohio State (11-0, 7-0; last week: 1): Another easy afternoon at The Shoe for Urban Meyer's Buckeyes, who set a program record with their 23rd consecutive victory. Quarterback Braxton Miller (144 rush yards, 160 pass yards, 4 TDs) and running back Carlos Hyde (117 rush yards, two TDs) both hurt Indiana early and often, and linebacker Ryan Shazier (20 tackles) sparked a stout defensive effort. Ohio State is very much in the national-title hunt as it prepares to visit rival Michigan this week.

2. Wisconsin (9-2, 6-1; last week: 2): A BCS at-large appearance looks likelier for the Badgers, who won their fifth consecutive game Saturday and their 10th straight against Minnesota. The running backs might grab the spotlight, but it's time Wisconsin's defense received some credit for an exceptional season. Linebacker Chris Borland led the way Saturday with his NCAA record-tying 14th career forced fumble and two fumble recoveries, as the Badgers shut out Minnesota's offense. Wisconsin finishes the regular season against Penn State at Camp Randall Stadium.

3. Michigan State (10-1, 7-0; last week: 3): Quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford continue to sparkle in Big Ten play, as both men performed well in a win at Northwestern. The defense surrendered 224 yards but shut out Northwestern in the second half and recorded two takeaways. Michigan State is headed back to Indianapolis for the second time in three seasons to face Ohio State on Dec. 7. Can't wait.

4. Iowa (7-4, 4-3; last week: 5): Thanks to linebacker Anthony Hitchens and a much-improved defense, Iowa overcame four turnovers to rally past Michigan. Quarterback Jack Rudock (two TDs, three INTs) had an erratic day, but Iowa dominated the second half, erasing a 21-7 deficit to win 24-21. The Hawkeyes will be going to a decent bowl game, and they have a chance for a very nice finish if they can beat Nebraska on the road this Friday.

5. Minnesota (8-3, 4-3; last week: 4): The Gophers are modeling themselves after Wisconsin, which is good, but they're simply not there yet. Minnesota's flaws on offense, especially at wide receiver, showed up Saturday as the Gophers scored no offensive points on their home field. The defense kept the game relatively close, but Minnesota never seriously challenged Wisconsin in the second half. Things don't get any easier this week, when the Gophers visit Michigan State.

6. Nebraska (8-3, 5-2; last week: 6): A horrendous personal-foul call didn't doom the Huskers, who found a way to beat Penn State in overtime and showed some grit along the way. Running back Ameer Abdullah had his typical brilliant game, and quarterback Ron Kellogg III did a nice job in relief of Tommy Armstrong Jr. Kicker Pat Smith stepped up in the clutch as Nebraska won for the third time in four games. The Huskers host Iowa on Black Friday.

7. Michigan (7-4, 3-4; last week: 7): We'd normally move Michigan lower, but there's no place to put the Wolverines because Penn State and Indiana both lost, too. Linebacker Jake Ryan and the defense came to play at Iowa, forcing four turnovers and converting one into points. But the offense remains embarrassingly bad, especially in the run game. Michigan finished with 10 first downs, 60 rush yards and 158 total yards as the heat continues to rise on coordinator Al Borges. Things will likely get worse this week, when Ohio State storms into the Big House.

8. Penn State (6-5, 3-4; last week: 8): This time, Penn State had no late-game heroics because special-teams miscues and other problems resulted in an overtime loss on senior day. The Lions received a big performance from running back Zach Zwinak (149 rush yards) and quarterback Christian Hackenberg accounted for three touchdowns, but the team's limitations in all three phases showed up in the loss. Penn State ends the season with a trip to Wisconsin, which likely won't be pretty.

9. Indiana (4-7, 2-5; last week 9): The lingering defensive issues are there, but Indiana has a new problem: The offense isn't showing up. IU once again felt the absence of injured running back Tevin Coleman against Ohio State, recording just 122 rushing yards. Indiana actually had more first downs than the Buckeyes (24 to 22) but didn't score for three and a half quarters and couldn't stop Ohio State's big-play offense. Kevin Wilson's team finishes the season against Purdue at home.

10. Illinois (4-7, 1-6; last week: 11): Tim Beckman and his Illini players can finally stop talking about The Streak, as Illinois won a Big Ten game for the first time in 777 days (Oct. 8, 2011). There was some typical sloppiness, and the defense struggled early, but Illinois made enough plays down the stretch to get out of Purdue with a four-point win. The Nathan Scheelhaase-Steve Hull connection produced 169 yards and two touchdowns as the close friends are ending their careers on a good note.

11. Northwestern (4-7, 0-7; last week: 10): The unthinkable has happened, the worst-case scenario amazingly eclipsed: Northwestern's bowl streak is over at five seasons after a 4-0 start and a fourth-quarter lead against Ohio State on Oct. 5. The Wildcats actually moved the ball well against Michigan State but repeatedly stalled in plus territory and took no risks despite a winless mark in Big Ten play. Northwestern has its longest losing streak since 1998, and Pat Fitzgerald has some serious work to do in the offseason, which will begin next week.

12. Purdue (1-10, 0-7; last week: 12): Darrell Hazell is looking for any sign of progress and saw some against Illinois, as the Boilers played their first competitive game in the Big Ten. Purdue finally ran the ball a little, as Akeem Hunt eclipsed 100 yards on the ground, and the defense forced four turnovers. Ultimately, Purdue couldn't do enough offensively or slow down Illinois' pass game. The Boilers wrap up the season this week with the Bucket game in Bloomington, Ind.

Big Ten lunch links

November, 4, 2013
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Let's take a quick spin around the league …

Diving into the stats: Michigan-MSU

November, 4, 2013
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The Michigan football team has turned its attention to Nebraska, but for many people, that loss to Michigan State is going to hurt for a long time. So, let’s examine exactly why it’s going to hurt.

How bad was it?

Obviously a 29-6 loss is pretty disheartening, especially considering the Wolverines had two weeks to prepare for this game. The -48 rushing yards have been mentioned numerous times, as they should. However, considering how Michigan says it relies upon the run game to open up the passing game, the Wolverines showed they didn’t need the run game to open up the airways against the Spartans.

Quarterback Devin Gardner managed to do quite well there, though the Wolverines failed to reach the end zone. The redshirt junior threw for 210 yards, which is the second best any QB has done against the Spartans this season (Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock threw for 241 yards).

But the rest of Michigan’s stats fell way short of the Spartan defense’s averages this season (or in the case of sacks, greatly exceeded them). Numbers can’t always tell the whole story, but these paint a pretty accurate picture.

MSU defense average | Michigan vs. MSU
  • Yards per game: 210.2 | 168
  • Rushing yards: 43.4 | -48
  • Yards per rush: 1.6 | -1.7
  • Passing yards: 166.8 | 216
  • Yards per attempt: 4.9 | 7.2
  • Points scored: 11.6 | 6
  • Sacks per game: 2.8 | 7
Gardner’s passing

Gardner completed 14 of 27 passes with one interception. The biggest surprise in the Wolverines’ passing game was redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson. He hadn’t caught more than a single pass since the Minnesota game (Oct. 5), but Chesson recorded three key catches for a team-high 82 yards. His average of 27.3 yards per catch made him the day’s most efficient receiver.

Jeremy Gallon continues to be Gardner’s security blanket as showcased by the fact that on three separate occasions on the game’s opening drive, Gardner went to Gallon. He finished the day with five receptions for 67 yards (13.4 yards per catch) and Devin Funchess, who spent most of the latter parts of the game with his hand on the ground, recorded six catches for 65 yards (10.8 yards per catch).

Of Gardner’s 13 incompletions, five each were targeted to Funchess and Gallon, one was thrown to Jeremy Jackson and two were thrown away. But the fact that Funchess was targeted as much (and probably could’ve been targeted even more) against the Spartans as Gallon shows his drastic improvement in the short time span that he has played wide receiver.

Down and distance

The Wolverines put themselves in some pretty terrible situations on the field due to some silly penalties, the seven sacks and their inability to get offensive momentum.

In fact, statistically, the Wolverines would’ve been better off to just forgo the first two downs in order to get a third-and-10. That would’ve put them in a better spot than Michigan did on its usual first and second downs against the Spartans.

Michigan’s averages: second-and-10, third-and-11, fourth-and-18.

Slow and steady wins the rivalry

Since 2004, Michigan scored fewer points against the Spartans than it did in the previous season. And, since Michigan State hired Mark Dantonio, the Wolverines’ scoring total has dropped 22 points and the Spartans have owned a 5-2 record against Michigan.

2013: 6 points (MSU wins, 29-6)
2012: 12 points (Michigan wins, 12-10)
2011: 14 points (MSU wins, 28-14)
2010: 17 points (MSU wins, 34-17)
2009: 20 points (MSU wins, 26-20)
2008: 21 points (MSU wins, 35-21)
2007: 28 points (Michigan wins, 28-24)
2006: 31 points (Michigan wins, 31-13)
2005: 34 points (Michigan wins, 34-31)
2004: 45 points (Michigan wins, 45-37)

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 10

November, 4, 2013
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We have true separation in the Big Ten, and not just with Ohio State at the No. 1 spot. Although the Buckeyes remain the league's kingpin, both Wisconsin and Michigan State also belong in the Big Ten's upper crust.

The big debate in these rankings concerns the No. 2 spot, which Wisconsin has occupied for several weeks. The Badgers handled Iowa on the road and delivered a salty defensive performance even without superstar linebacker Chris Borland. Michigan State smothered Michigan, complementing a dominant defense with timely passes from Connor Cook. Both teams have won at Iowa and at Illinois. Michigan State has the best win between the bunch but has played the easier schedule.

For now, we're keeping Wisconsin at No. 2. We realize we're in the minority there, but Wisconsin hasn't done much to move down since the Northwestern game. It's too bad the Badgers and Spartans can't play this season to decide the second spot.

Elsewhere, Nebraska avoids another drop thanks to its Hail Mary against sad-sack Northwestern. We debated whether to move Minnesota higher, and we will if the Gophers keep winning. Iowa falls down a few spots, and the bottom of the rankings remains unchanged.

Here's one last look at the Week 9 rankings.

Now, the new rundown ...

1. Ohio State (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten; last week: 1): Ross-Ade Stadium is no longer a graveyard for the Buckeyes, who buried Purdue in a matter of minutes Saturday. Ohio State scored 28 first-quarter points and 42 in the first half, as the tight ends got involved, quarterbacks Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton both had jump-pass touchdowns and the defense blanked Purdue. Whether style points matter, Ohio State is finally getting them. The Buckeyes are off this week before visiting Illinois on Nov. 16.

2. Wisconsin (6-2, 4-1; last week: 2): The offense struggled and top defender Borland watched from the sideline with a hamstring injury, but Wisconsin found a way to beat Iowa. Marcus Trotter was fabulous filling in for Borland, as the Badgers' defense repeatedly turned Iowa away in plus territory. Running back James White came alive late as Wisconsin pulled away. The Badgers will need a stronger performance this week as they step out of league play against a good BYU squad.

3. Michigan State (8-1, 5-0; last week: 3): Not only did the Spartans reclaim their superiority against in-state rival Michigan, but they looked like a worthy competitor for Ohio State in a potential Big Ten championship game matchup. If Nebraska falls this week at Michigan, MSU would have a two-game lead on the rest of the division with three weeks to go. An elite defense had its best performance under Pat Narduzzi, as end Shilique Calhoun and linebackers Denicos Allen and Ed Davis combined for seven sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Cook made some impressive throws as the Spartans pounded Michigan. They'll have some extra time to celebrate during an open week before visiting Nebraska on Nov. 16.

4. Nebraska (6-2, 3-1; last week: 7): One play makes all the difference between another Power Rankings drop for Big Red and a three-spot gain. Nebraska had defensive problems early and turnover problems late against Northwestern, but the Huskers never gave up and won a game on a Hail Mary to Jordan Westerkamp for the first time in team history. Credit running back Ameer Abdullah for keeping a potentially splintering team together. The young defense also shut down Northwestern's offense in the second half. Nebraska must beat Michigan on the road this week to stay in the Legends Division race.

5. Michigan (6-2, 2-2; last week: 4): That Notre Dame win feels like years ago as Michigan's warts were exposed in Saturday's loss at Michigan State. The Wolverines are either too young or simply not tough enough, as they were pushed around the field at Spartan Stadium. Michigan had a program-low rushing total (minus-48 yards) and couldn't protect quarterback Devin Gardner. The program's Big Ten championship drought almost certainly will reach nine years, and it's fair to question where things are really headed under third-year coach Brady Hoke. At least Michigan returns home, where it has never lost under Hoke, to face Nebraska this week.

6. Minnesota (7-2, 3-2; last week: 6): The Minnesota mojo continues, thanks in large part to an inexcusable crunch-time blunder by Indiana. Minnesota blew a 22-point third-quarter lead but rallied behind Philip Nelson, who established himself as the team's offensive leader with 298 pass yards and four touchdowns. It was a rough second half for the defense, but linebacker Aaron Hill came up with the decisive play late as the Gophers got out of Bloomington with their third consecutive league win. Minnesota is a factor in the Legends Division race but must keep winning this week against Penn State.

7. Iowa (5-4, 2-3; last week: 5): Sure, the Hawkeyes are improved this season, but some of the same maddening offensive traits remain, like being unable to finish drives. Iowa should have been up at halftime rather than down 7-6 to Wisconsin, and although quarterback Jake Rudock's injury impacted the game, the Hawkeyes' second-half struggles on offense are nothing new. The defense is good enough to get Iowa a few more wins, but can the offense start scoring? Iowa visits Purdue this week.

8. Penn State (5-3, 2-2; last week: 8): It isn't always pretty with Penn State, but the Lions don't quit, especially on their home field. Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg once again rallied his team from a late deficit and stepped up in overtime as Penn State avoided what would have been a bad loss to Illinois. Bill Belton established himself as the team's top running back with 201 yards and a touchdown. The defense remains far too vulnerable to big passing plays. Penn State will need to be better on both sides of the ball this week as it visits surging Minnesota.

9. Indiana (3-5, 1-3; last week: 9): Coach Kevin Wilson's crew doesn't quit, but the Hoosiers still don't know how to win. They were 9 yards away from completing a huge second-half comeback against Minnesota and moving a step closer to bowl eligibility. At worst, they were in position to send the game to overtime. Instead, everything fell apart on a dropped backward pass to Tevin Coleman, who had a big game (108 rush yards, TD). The quarterback race took another turn with Nate Sudfeld outplaying Tre Roberson, and the defense had a wildly inconsistent performance. Indiana hosts Illinois this week but will need a road win at Ohio State or Wisconsin to become bowl eligible.

10. Northwestern (4-5, 0-5; last week: 10): The former Cardiac Cats are only giving their fans heartache at this point as they've forgotten how to perform in the clutch. Northwestern had another golden opportunity for a road win, but let it slip away when it couldn't finish off Nebraska on either side of the ball, leading to the Hail Mary touchdown to Jordan Westerkamp. Injuries continue to mount in a snakebitten season for the Wildcats, who likely won't make a bowl. Northwestern has an off week to regroup before hosting Michigan on Nov. 16.

11. Illinois (3-5, 0-4; last week: 11): The Big Ten losing streak has reached 18 games, and arguably no defeat stung more than Saturday's at Penn State. Illinois wasted opportunities early, took the lead late and still couldn't hold on for a victory. Tim Beckman's team performed better than expected and can take some positives from its performance in Happy Valley, but there's still too much inconsistency on both sides of the ball, as the defense allowed 250 rush yards. Illinois visits Indiana this week.

12. Purdue (1-7, 0-4; last week: 12): The misery continues for Darrell Hazell's crew, which is on its way to its worst season since 1993 (1-10) and might be one of the worst squads in recent Big Ten memory. Young quarterback Danny Etling had another rough outing as Purdue never challenged Ohio State and had no answers for the Buckeyes' offense. Purdue has been shut out in consecutive games and has scored just 17 points in four Big Ten contests. The remaining schedule is a little more favorable, but Purdue has to show something positive by season's end.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

October, 30, 2013
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Craig from Braintree, Mass., writes: You used the term "signature win" for the the Gophers. How do we know if that win over Nebraska was a signature win? We don't know if it was until the program changes levels. If the Gophers lose their remaining games this year, will it be a signature win? If they finish in the top 25 this year but don't make a bowl game next year, was it really a signature win? It comes down to 'what is a "signature win"' (sort of like what is an MVP).

Brian Bennett: Don't overthink this one, Craig. Beating Nebraska -- for the first time since 1960, no less -- is absolutely a signature win for this coaching staff at Minnesota. Here's what Jerry Kill said this summer:

"We play three or four rival games. We need to get one of those, maybe do it with a [last-minute] field goal. Everywhere I've been, we've had kind of a signature game where it flipped and we really got going for the program. ... That's where we're at in Minnesota right now. We need to find one of those."

Remember that the Gophers' Big Ten wins in the Kill era before last week were against a mediocre Iowa team, Purdue and Illinois (twice). Whether Nebraska turns out to be a great team this year is besides the point, because the Huskers are a marquee name. And Minnesota didn't even need to win on a late field goal, as it beat Nebraska by double-digits.


Husker from Wayzata writes: Saw your response about Bo Pelini in the Take Two. Agree with most of it, but worst/most deflating loss of his tenure is still 2009 at home to Iowa State. Personally, I'd classify the performance against MN as the very predictable overlooking an opponent and not taking a game seriously coming off of a longer layoff. Think 2008 Colorado/2009 Texas Tech/2010 Texas/2012 Northwestern.

Brian Bennett: The Iowa State loss was truly a bad one and the first one I thought of over the weekend. But that Nebraska team also finished with 10 wins and nearly beat Texas in the Big 12 title game (Iowa State went on to finish 7-6 and, ironically, beat Minnesota in a bowl). In other words, the 2009 loss was a key setback but not a crippling one for a very good Huskers team. The Minnesota loss feels like it could be a turning point in Pelini's tenure, unless Nebraska can come up with a strong November showing. We shall see.

Alex from Harrisburg, Pa., writes: How concerned should we be with PSU's defense moving forward? And I mean not just for this season but the duration of Bill O'Brien's tenure. I was concerned when Bill was hired that this was clearly an offensive hiring and was not too excited about Ted Roof, but at least last season's defense performed admirably. While I'm not against having a more exciting and competent offense, I feel that Penn State had always had a basis on defense (which is why we're known as Linebacker U). Looking at this season and even with the recruiting focus it is clear that there is a focus on the offensive side of the football. What are your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: It's an interesting question, and one you always have to wonder about when an offensive-minded guy is the head coach. I also believe the scholarship situation is a real problem here. I think it's easier to build an offense without tremendous depth, since one or two stars at key positions can make a big difference, than it is on defense, especially in today's offense-first world. (Ask Kevin Wilson at Indiana how that's going). It's pretty obvious to me that Penn State is light on speed and difference-makers on defense and really misses the outstanding group of seniors it had on that side of the ball last year.

With all that said, it's still shocking to see the Nittany Lions give up 147 points in three games, even if it came against three of the best offensive teams in the Big Ten. I'm not terribly worried about the long-term defensive prognosis under O'Brien, because he's a smart enough coach to figure that out once he gets to play with a full deck. But in the short term while the sanctions are still being felt, defense could remain an issue.

Mark from Arizona writes: Where has Mark Weisman been in the 2nd halves lately? Against Ohio State, he dominated the rushing game. Because of that, Iowa dominated the clock. Because of that, the Buckeyes offense couldnt get in sync. Then the 2nd half comes and Weisman disappears and Iowa starts throwing the ball. They fixed what was working in the first half and lost the 2nd half. If they kept pounding away like they did, I think Iowa would have won the game. Then comes Northwestern. Same thing. Iowa ran Weisman in the first, dominated in all phases, and then did the disappearing act with him and nearly lost. This is poor coaching.

Brian Bennett: I don't think it's poor coaching as much as it is game situations and adjustments by the other teams.

Let's look at the Ohio State game. Iowa had only two possessions in the third quarter. On its first one, Weisman opened the drive with a 12-yard run and then had a four-yard carry. But two plays later, the Buckeyes stuffed Damon Bullock on first down. When it's second-and-nine, that's a passing down. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, they threw two straight incompletions and had to punt.

The following drive began with a holding penalty, and then Jake Rudock threw an 85-yard touchdown pass to Jake Duzey. I think you'd agree that was a good play call. Weisman did not get a carry in the fourth quarter, but Iowa trailed by a touchdown on the road and probably felt it needed to make something happen in the passing game.

In the Northwestern game, the Hawkeyes' best drive of the game came on its first possession, similar to the week before. Weisman ran for 32 yards on that drive, and Iowa scored a touchdown. But Northwestern shut the running game down after that; Iowa would not reach the end zone again until overtime; in fact, after rushing for 68 yards on the opening drive, the Hawkeyes would finish with just 136 rushing yards.

I would like to see Iowa stick with Weisman a little longer, because he tends to wear down opponents late in games. But it's hard to run when opponents are loading the box or if you're trailing in a game that doesn't feature many possessions.

John from Northern Michigan writes: Compare and contrast the last games played by Wisconsin and Sparty, the entire games. Oh, just happens to be common opponent. Too bad that isn't a protected rivalry.

Brian Bennett: Michigan State beat Illinois 42-3, one week after Wisconsin won in Champaign by a 56-32 margin. I'm not sure how instructive the comparative scoring is here. The Spartans led only 7-3 late in the first half before completely taking over, while the Badgers were up 42-17 at one point and probably could have scored 70 if they really wanted. They also didn't have their best defensive player, Chris Borland, for most of the game. What those two outcomes told me was that Illinois is simply overmatched against the best teams in the conference. Wisconsin's a little stronger offensively, while Michigan State is better defensively. I have both those teams ranked No.s 2 and 3 in the Big Ten right now. I would love to see them play this year, but barring a completely unexpected Ohio State meltdown, it's not going to happen.

Tommy from Savannah, Ga., writes: Brian, I can't help but wonder what the impact would have been if Vanderbilt wouldn't have pulled out of this year's game with Ohio State. Let's imagine Ohio State beats the Commodores by two touchdowns. Would this have had any effect on their perceived strength of schedule?

Brian Bennett: My answer: not much. Vanderbilt is 4-4 overall and 1-4 in the SEC, with its best victory coming over an injury-ravaged Georgia. Beating the Commodores would have helped Ohio State's strength of schedule a little, but it wouldn't have added much to the Buckeyes' case. They would still be behind Alabama, Oregon and Florida State in the pecking order. I'm not sure there are many teams out there Ohio State could have scheduled on short notice that would have changed that.

T.J. from Ashland, Wis., writes: Hey Brian, just wanted to let you know that I enjoy your Blog and have always enjoyed your wit, more this year than any other year I can remember...because...NO ONE ELSE IS TALKING ABOUT THE B1G!!! I've caught three different college football shows on ESPN, and not once was any B1G team mentioned. Outside of the BTN, do you remember a year like this, where it's obvious that there is zero interest in the B1G? Concerns? How long could this continue?

Brian Bennett: Well, it's not terribly different than last year, and at least this season the Big Ten has a legitimate national title contender since Ohio State is eligible for postseason. But the Buckeyes' status is pretty static, and nobody else is making any noise in the BCS picture right now, which means that the league is fairly irrelevant on the national scene. Same goes in many ways for the Big 12, which has Baylor but not a whole lot else. It also means there aren't many games that create a buzz across the country. For example, the Michigan-Michigan State game this weekend has all the makings of a classic. But when it's No. 21 vs. No. 22, it just doesn't get people talking as much.

This is a problem, and it's why we have written and said on numerous occasions that the Big Ten needs to develop depth at the top of the league beyond Ohio State. When an SEC team has a bad season, the conference usually has several others who can pick up the slack. The Big Ten needs somebody else, whether it's Michigan State, Michigan or Wisconsin, to go on a run and give the league another prominent team besides the Buckeyes.

Vincent R. from Columbus, Ohio, writes: After watching Braxton Miller against Penn State, I saw something in him that I saw in a player most Ohio State fans will remember: Troy Smith. As Braxton was squirming his way out of potential sack after potential sack, I began to see the drive in Braxton that I hadn't seen out of an Ohio State offensive player since the last Heisman Trophy winner. To top that off, after making these great dodges in the pocket, he had the presence in mind, just like Smith, to look down field and see the open man. Bearing this in mind, that Braxton looks as good now as Smith did his senior year, could Braxton Miller win the Heisman next year?

Brian Bennett: It would be interesting to see where Miller would be in this season's Heisman race had he not gotten hurt early. He'd probably be behind Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, but maybe not too far behind. Miller has been terrific in Big Ten play, and he has his completion rate up to over 70 percent. Assuming he returns for his senior year, which at this point looks like the right call, he'll be a leading Heisman contender in 2014. The reason to exercise caution on that, however, is the fact that the Buckeyes will lose four senior starting offensive linemen. There's also a better-than-decent chance that Miller could have a new offensive coordinator, since Tom Herman should be a hot name in the offseason for head coaching gigs.

Jim K. from New Cumberland, Pa., writes: Brian, seriously you think that PSU is going to put up 48 points on Ohio State,. NO way! I agree Ohio State's defense is not as good as usual but they won't give up that at the 'Shoe.

Brian Bennett: I have run some readers' terrible Friday predictions the following week in the mailbag this year. So it's only fair for me to include an email about my own awful score call in the Penn State-Ohio State game. At least I got the winning team right, which is all that matters in my contest with Adam for a St. Elmo's dinner.

Big Ten weekend rewind: Week 9

October, 28, 2013
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You know the old adage about offense selling tickets and defense winning championships? Forget about it.

If that were true, how could you explain that four of the top five scoring teams in the country are Baylor, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State? And that all four are undefeated, ranked in the top five in the major polls and in the BCS title chase? (No. 4 on that list, by the way, is Texas A&M, which has a reigning Heisman Trophy winner and is 12th in the BCS standings). Even Alabama is averaging 41.2 points per game, 13th best in FBS.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsUrban Meyer and Ohio State were on the offensive against Penn State.
The only team in the Top 25 nationally in points per game that doesn't have a winning record? Indiana, which is tied for eighth at 42.4 PPG -- but also is No. 119 in total defense.

You've got to score a lot to win big in college football these days, and you've got to do the same to stand out in the BCS crowd. So no wonder Urban Meyer and Ohio State put their foot on the gas pedal Saturday against Penn State, scoring 42 points in the first half en route to a 63-14 rout.

The Buckeyes' 686 total yards were their most ever against a Big Ten opponent. Meyer, in classic step-on-your-neck fashion, challenged a spot on a Penn State fourth-down play late in the third quarter. Ohio State led 56-7 at the time -- and got the call reversal to go its way. Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien just stared ahead for several seconds when a a reporter later asked about that challenge, then declined to comment. But O'Brien did say of the game, "We'll remember some things."

Still, it's hard to blame the Buckeyes for doing everything they could to put up an impressive score after they've heard about their lack of style points all year long. The scary thing for the rest of the Big Ten is that Ohio State and Braxton Miller appear to be just now finding their stride on offense. Yes, that's a funny thing to say for a team scoring 47.2 points per contest and that has seven 50-point games since 2012, or one more than the program managed in the entire Jim Tressel era. But it's true.

This is an offense that appears to be steamrolling toward a championship. Wouldn't it be fun if Michigan State's equally dominating defense got a chance to test that old adage in Indianapolis?

Take that and rewind it back:

Team of the week: For the second straight week, it's Minnesota. Of course it is, after the Gophers knocked off Nebraska for the first time since 1960, got their signature Big Ten win and clinched bowl eligibility. What the team has been doing while head coach Jerry Kill is on a leave of absence is incredible.

Worst hangover: There have been some ugly losses in the Bo Pelini era at Nebraska, but maybe none as dispiriting as Saturday's defeat at Minnesota. The 9-7 home loss to Iowa State might be the only one to trump it. Tommie Frazier, who publicly criticized Pelini and his staff after the UCLA debacle, tweeted out "Do I need to say anymore?" right after the game ended. It will be another uncomfortable week in Lincoln.

Best play: Facing third-and-7 from the Northwestern 8-yard line in overtime, Iowa's Jake Rudock dropped back to pass and almost immediately had blitzing safety Ibraheim Campbell in his grille. When Rudock released the ball, it looked in live action as though he was merely throwing it away. Instead, the ball sailed perfectly to tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz for the touchdown that proved to be the game winner.

[+] EnlargeConnor Cook
Pat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsConnor Cook won't soon forget Saturday's win.
Craziest play: Speaking of surprising touchdown passes, Connor Cook must be living right. The Michigan State quarterback scrambled to his right late in the first half on a third-and-25 from the Illinois 29-yard line. He then threw toward the end zone into double coverage, and a pair of Illini defensive backs, Jaylen Dunlap and Eaton Spence, were in front of Bennie Fowler for the underthrown pass, and Dunlap tipped it twice before it fell in the hands of Fowler for a TD. The score was 7-3 before that play, and it was the start of 35 unanswered points for Michigan State. “I was a little afraid," Cook said of his throw. But he finished with just one incompletion in 16 attempts.

Big Man on Campus (Offense): Braxton Miller is getting hot. Scorching hot, in fact. He went 18-of-24 for 252 yards and three touchdowns through the air while rushing for 68 yards and two scores in the 63-14 trouncing of Penn State. If he plays like that, nobody in this league is beating the Buckeyes.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Iowa linebacker Anthony Hitchens had nine tackles, a sack and a key forced fumble in the win over Northwestern.

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): His team lost, but Pat Smith did all he could for Nebraska. Smith went 3-for-3 on field goals, connecting from 37, 42 and 45 yards on a windy day. Say this for the Huskers: They keep churning out excellent kickers.

Got a plane to catch? This might be the craziest number of the week: 2:50. That's how long the Northwestern-Iowa game lasted. Yes, the two teams somehow managed to play an overtime game in less than three hours, or about the time it takes for two David Ortiz at-bats. Of course, it might have taken a bit longer had Pat Fitzgerald elected to use his timeouts at the end of the game.

After a Mike Trumpy fumble, Iowa took over at midfield with 3:14 remaining. The Hawkeyes struck on an 18-yard Fiedorowicz pass reception to get near field goal range and then started going conservative as the clock drained. Fitzgerald, who had two timeouts in his pocket, did not call either of them to save some potential time for the Northwestern offense. He finally called one after Iowa had used its own timeout on fourth-and-11 with 15 seconds left. The Wildcats then intercepted the pass but had no time to do anything but take a knee.

Fitzgerald said later that he thought the wind would make it tough on Iowa to kick a field goal and that "we were playing to win the game." It sure seemed instead that he was playing for overtime, and we saw in the Michigan game that playing not to lose often leads to exactly the thing you're trying to avoid.
Northwestern has made its exit from the Big Ten's top half and shows no signs of returning. Now it's Nebraska's turn to be shown the door. Meanwhile, we welcome an unexpected visitor in Minnesota to the top half of the power rankings.

Minnesota's historic upset of Nebraska provided the major shake-up in this week's rundown. The Gophers, who were No. 11 two weeks ago, have turned around their season with upset wins against both Northwestern and Nebraska. They've guaranteed a second consecutive bowl appearance and can make some noise in the Legends Division down the stretch. Iowa also looks like it will be going back to the postseason after an overtime win against Northwestern.

Michigan State moves up to No. 3 after pulling away from Illinois in Champaign, while Iowa moves up after its overtime win against slumping Northwestern. Penn State's historically bad night at Ohio State bumps the Lions down a few pegs.

Let's take one last look at the Week 8 rankings.

Now, for the fresh rundown:

1. Ohio State (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten; last week: 1): There was no need for a second-half surge as Ohio State throttled Penn State from the get-go, picking up an easy win and the style points it has looked for in Big Ten play. After his near benching at Northwestern, quarterback Braxton Miller has performed like a Heisman Trophy candidate, picking apart Penn State's defense for 252 passing yards and three touchdowns. Ohio State racked up its highest-ever yardage total (686) against a Big Ten foe. The Buckeyes' defense recorded three takeaways. Ohio State now visits Purdue, a recent trouble spot.

2. Wisconsin (5-2, 3-1; last week: 2): The nation continues to sleep on the Badgers, but at some point the credit will come if Gary Andersen's crew continues to win. Wisconsin's second open week came at a good time as star linebacker Chris Borland had some extra time to heal from a hamstring injury. Borland should be good to go for this week's trip to Iowa, as Wisconsin reunites with its longtime rival for the first time since 2010. Andersen likes the way quarterback Joel Stave is progressing, and this week's game should provide a nice gauge.

3. Michigan State (7-1, 4-0; last week: 4): After a one-year hiatus, Michigan State is back in the Big Ten title race. The Spartans are the only Legends Division team without a Big Ten defeat and can take a huge step toward Indianapolis by beating rival Michigan this week. Quarterback Connor Cook and the offense got on track against Illinois, racking up 42 points and 477 total yards. When Cook is in rhythm, Jeremy Langford finds running room and the offensive line controls play, Michigan State is tough to beat. But the challenges will get tougher now.

4. Michigan (6-1, 2-1; last week: 5): Who are these Wolverines? The young, talented group that beat Notre Dame in September or the shaky, flawed squad that hasn't looked very impressive since Sept. 7? We'll finally get some real answers as Michigan begins a challenging November stretch this week at Michigan State. Devin Gardner and the offense scored at will against Indiana but face an exponentially tougher challenge against the Spartans' nationally elite defense. A second Big Ten loss would make it tough for Michigan to reach Indianapolis, given the remaining schedule.

5. Iowa (5-3, 2-2; last week: 7): After struggling against Northwestern's Kain Colter last year, Iowa's defense stepped up in a big way, shutting out the Wildcats for a half and recording six sacks, its highest total since the 2008 season. The linebacking corps was terrific, and so was Drew Ott. Quarterback Jake Rudock wasn't great but made the big throw when it counted to C.J. Fiedorowicz in overtime. Iowa is a win away from becoming bowl eligible as rival Wisconsin comes to Kinnick Stadium this week. The Hawkeyes get the edge against Minnesota for the five spot after dominating the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium.

[+] EnlargeNebraska vs Minnesota
Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsMinnesota's upset of Nebraska moved the Gophers up two spots and dropped the Huskers four spots.
6. Minnesota (6-2, 2-2; last week: 8): Two weeks ago, many were wondering if Minnesota would make a bowl game and if head coach Jerry Kill would step down because of his health issues. While Kill's future remains somewhat in doubt, he has been in the coaches' booth to watch his team record upset wins against Northwestern and Nebraska. Saturday's dominant performance against the Huskers marked Minnesota's first win against Big Red since 1960. The Gophers received big performances from running back David Cobb (138 yards), defensive linemen Ra'Shede Hageman and Theiren Cockran and others. Minnesota could be a surprise contender in the Legends Division if it continues to win this week at Indiana.

7. Nebraska (5-2, 2-1; last week: 3): A four-spot drop in the rankings for one loss might seem harsh, but Nebraska invalidated any perceived progress since the UCLA game by struggling in all three phases in a loss at Minnesota. Despite his big-game flaws, Bo Pelini's teams typically had won the games they should win, but the Huskers fell apart after building a 10-0 lead. Quarterback Taylor Martinez looked very rusty and the defense couldn't stop Minnesota's ground game. Nebraska tries to get well against slumping Northwestern this week in Lincoln.

8. Penn State (4-3, 1-2; last week: 6): There will be better nights for quarterback Christian Hackenberg and Penn State, which fell behind quickly at Ohio State and never challenged the Buckeyes in the ugliest loss of the Bill O'Brien era. Penn State's defensive issues are very real, though, as the Lions have allowed more than 40 points in three consecutive games for the first time since 1899 (!). Hackenberg's health will be a storyline this week as Penn State faces Illinois. At least the Lions don't have any more open weeks.

9. Indiana (3-4, 1-2; last week: 9): It's still all about fixing the defense for Indiana, which had no answers for Jeremy Gallon, Gardner and Michigan in Week 8. The IU offense can strike and strike quickly, regardless of whether Tre Roberson or Nate Sudfeld is playing quarterback. Kevin Wilson's crew enters a critical home stretch against Minnesota and Illinois. IU likely needs to win both to have a chance of going bowling this year.

10. Northwestern (4-4, 0-4; last week: 10): Halloween arrives Thursday, but the nightmare has lasted four weeks for the Wildcats, whose October woes have reached a new low under Pat Fitzgerald. All of Northwestern's hallmarks -- great ball security, limited penalties, being great in the clutch -- seem to be going out the window. Fitzgerald has blamed himself and his staff for the recent struggles, and it's hard to disagree after the ultra-conservative decisions late in Saturday's loss to Iowa. Northwestern heads to Nebraska this week, as misery loves company.

11. Illinois (3-4, 0-3; last week: 11): The Illini's fast start seems like a distant memory now as they've been swallowed up in Big Ten play. Illinois' second consecutive home blowout loss makes a bowl game highly unlikely, and there are issues to address on both sides of the ball. A young defense is getting exposed by power running teams, as Michigan State had its way with the Illini. Bill Cubit is a creative play-caller, but Illinois needs something more against Big Ten defenses. Illinois had a meager eight first downs and 128 total yards against Michigan State.

12. Purdue (1-6, 0-3; last week: 12): The Boilers entered their second bye week feeling a bit better than they did entering their first. A stout defensive performance against Michigan State, particularly by Bruce Gaston and his fellow linemen, provides Purdue something to build on before the stretch run. Purdue now needs to get something going on offense. Ohio State comes to town this week, which should be special for Purdue coaches Darrell Hazell and Marcus Freeman.
The top half of the Power Rankings remains virtually unchanged, as Big Ten kingpin Ohio State rallied to beat Iowa, Wisconsin stomped Illinois, and the Michigan schools held serve in vastly different ways (all defense for Michigan State, all offense for Michigan).

The changes come in the league's second tier, as Northwestern continues its shocking tumble after a home loss to Minnesota, which moves up three spots. Iowa actually moves up despite a loss, as we liked the Hawkeyes' game plan and execution against Ohio State. Indiana also holds steady after nearly winning a shootout at the Big House.

Let's take one final look at the Week 7 rankings.

Now for the fresh rundown ...

1. Ohio State (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten; last week: 1): Another test passed for Ohio State, which overcame a plucky Iowa team with a stellar second half behind quarterback Braxton Miller (222 pass yards, 2 TDs, 102 rush yards) and running back Carlos Hyde (149 rush yards, 2 TDs). The Buckeyes also survived the ejection of star cornerback Bradley Roby in the first quarter and limited Iowa's offense to one big play in the second half. The defense once again will be challenged this week as Christian Hackenberg, Allen Robinson and Penn State visit Columbus.

2. Wisconsin (5-2, 3-1; last week: 2): Ohio State retains its spot atop the rankings with a perfect record, but Wisconsin has looked like the Big Ten's most dominant team of late. After crushing Northwestern at Camp Randall Stadium, the Badgers went on the road and steamrolled Illinois, as running backs Melvin Gordon (142 rush yards, 3 TDs) and James White (98 rush yards, 2 TDs, 29 receiving yards, 1 TD) did their thing and Joel Stave had an extremely efficient performance (16 of 21 passing, 189 yards, 2 TDs). The second open week comes at a good time as linebacker Chris Borland must get healthy for the stretch run, which features some tricky games.

3. Nebraska (5-1, 2-0; last week: 3): The Huskers might be the Legends Division favorite at this point, as they get Michigan State at home. Quarterback Taylor Martinez should make his return from turf toe this week against Minnesota as Nebraska tries to keep building momentum before the season's defining month. Martinez needs some work before the schedule gets tougher, and the Huskers' offensive line plays its first game without standout guard Spencer Long.

4. Michigan State (6-1, 3-0; last week: 4): A shutout of Purdue wasn't surprising. Neither was another defensive touchdown, Michigan State's fifth of the season, courtesy of linebacker Denicos Allen. But Michigan State's offense took a step backward, as the line struggled to control Purdue's defensive front and Connor Cook completed only 13 passes for 107 yards. The Spartans will need to be sharper this week against Illinois and particularly when the schedule gets tougher in November.

5. Michigan (6-1, 2-1; last week: 5): We think Jeremy Gallon just caught another long pass. Gallon set a Big Ten single-game record with 369 receiving yards (second most in FBS history), while quarterback Devin Gardner set team records for pass yards (503) and total yards (584) and accounted for five total touchdowns. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint added 151 yards and four touchdowns. Michigan needed all the offense to win a shootout with Indiana at the Big House. As for the defense? A problem for another day. Michigan has two weeks to prepare for its Nov. 2 showdown at Michigan State.

6. Penn State (4-2, 1-1; last week: 7): The off week came at a good time for Penn State after a physically and emotionally draining four-overtime win against Michigan. The Lions had more diversity in their passing game against the Wolverines and will need the same -- as well as strong run production -- to keep pace with Ohio State on Saturday in Columbus. Penn State has won two of its past three games at Ohio Stadium and could play spoiler down the stretch in Leaders Division play.

7. Iowa (4-3, 1-2; last week: 8): Credit Iowa for an excellent game plan coming off the open week. The Hawkeyes racked up 17 first-half points against Ohio State and controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Ultimately, better talent won out as Iowa couldn't keep pace with Miller, Hyde and the Buckeyes, but the Hawkeyes certainly could make some noise down the stretch in the wide-open Legends Division. Sophomore tight end Jake Duzey (6 receptions, 138 yards, 1 TD) gives Jake Rudock another weapon in the passing game. Iowa returns home this week to face sputtering Northwestern.

8. Minnesota (5-2, 1-2; last week: 11): The bye week clearly paid off for Minnesota, and so did a halftime pep talk from coach Jerry Kill, who made his presence felt at Ryan Field without being on the sideline. Minnesota dominated the line of scrimmage, as defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, running back David Cobb and quarterback Philip Nelson, who relieved Mitch Leidner, stepped up in the final three quarters. The Gophers took advantage of a short-handed Northwestern team and overcame several bad calls to record a big road win. Up next: Nebraska at home.

9. Indiana (3-4, 1-2; last week: 9): The Hoosiers are high on entertainment value, boasting the Big Ten's best quick-strike offense and quite possibly the league's best group of wide receivers. But all those highlights and points still aren't translating to enough wins. It's the same movie with IU, with an A-plus offense and a D-minus defense, which surrendered an unacceptable 63 points and 751 yards to Michigan on Saturday. Tre Roberson was brilliant at Michigan and seemed to pass by Nate Sudfeld in the quarterback pecking order. But the defense remains the team's top priority entering the open week.

10. Northwestern (4-3, 0-3; last week: 6): The free-fall continues for a Wildcats team that was No. 2 in the power rankings just two weeks ago. Remember when Northwestern held a fourth-quarter lead against Ohio State? Key injuries certainly have played a role in Northwestern's downfall, but quarterback Trevor Siemian seems to be regressing and so is the offensive line. A bowl game suddenly is no guarantee for the Wildcats, who need to get Kain Colter and Venric Mark healthy and refocus for the stretch run. They visit Iowa this week.

11. Illinois (3-3, 0-2; last week: 10): The Illini needed a fast start coming off the open week against Wisconsin but stumbled out of the gate, falling behind 21-0 on their home field before course-correcting in the second quarter. Quarterback play wasn't the issue, as Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole combined to complete 25 of 32 passes for 318 yards, but two fumbles led to Wisconsin touchdowns and Illinois' defense couldn't slow down the Badgers. The Illini need at least one upset down the stretch to have a chance to reach six wins and a bowl.

12. Purdue (1-6, 0-3; last week: 12): Darrell Hazell's squad can build on Saturday's road performance against Michigan State, especially a Boilers defense that allowed just one score and repeatedly penetrated the backfield. The offense had several chances but couldn't finish drives in Spartans territory. Purdue needs to clean up its pass protection after allowing five sacks, but if Bruce Gaston Jr. and the defensive front continues to step up, a win could be coming down the stretch. The Boilers have a week off before hosting Ohio State.
Next weekend the Wolverines begin their hunt for the Big Ten title. Here’s a quick look ahead at what Michigan will face through the rest of the season:

Minnesota | Oct. 5

Big Ten rank:
Total offense: No. 10
Total defense: No. 7


Michigan will open its Big Ten season at home with the Gophers and although Minnesota has started its season 4-1, those numbers don’t tell the whole story. The Gophers are two wins away from being bowl eligible despite the fact that QB Philip Nelsonhas thrown just two touchdowns. What Nelson has thrown is interceptions (four of them) and the run game hasn’t really been established yet, but the defensive line has been relatively effective (with the exception of the Iowa game) and could wreak havoc on Michigan if it doesn’t figure out its interior offensive line problems.

Penn State | Oct. 12

Big Ten rank:
Total offense: No. 7
Total defense: No. 4


Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg has already thrown for more than 1,000 yards this season. He has been helped out in the air by junior wide receiver Allen Robinson, who’s arguably the best receiver in the Big Ten. In fact, 12 different Nittany Lions have caught passes this season so the Michigan secondary will have its hands full, especially if caught playing soft coverage like it has early this season.

Indiana | Oct. 19

Big Ten rank:
Total offense: No. 1
Total defense: No. 11

Facing Indiana and Michigan State will be two interesting games for the Wolverines to have back to back, because the IU offense should test the Michigan defense far more than its defense will test the Michigan offense. Then, the exact opposite will be true when Michigan travels to East Lansing. Like Penn State, the Hoosiers will look to really attack the Wolverines downfield, taking their shots when they can. Indiana is eighth in the nation in passing yards per game (348.5), which has resulted in scoring 44.5 points per game. Now, their defense will be another subject all together, but this could be a very high scoring game depending on how the Wolverine defense responds.

Michigan State | Nov. 2

Big Ten rank:
Total offense: No. 11
Total defense: No. 1

Who knows whether Michigan State will still have a quarterback controversy when November rolls around, but one thing is for sure: its defense will be stout. The Spartans are giving up just 13.3 points per game, good enough for 10th in the country. Their defense -- barring injuries -- should continue to progress through the next month, and if their offense picks up and gains steam, this could be a really tough game for the Wolverines, especially because it’s on the road.

Nebraska | Nov. 9

Big Ten rank:
Total offense: No. 4
Total defense: No. 12


Nebraska’s defense is kind of a mess right now. Any team that allows 38 uncontested points to anyone is in a bad place defensively (and offensively, too). Taylor Martinez’s turf toe will likely be cleared up at this point, so we’ll see if he comes back with a reinvigorated sense of urgency that spills over to the rest of his offense. This game was a big turning point in last year’s season (lost Denard Robinson, saw and said good-bye to Russell Bellomy), this year it could be the same since it’s in a string of Legends Division matchups.

Northwestern | Nov. 16

Big Ten rank:
Total offense: No. 5
Total defense: No. 9

Hello, Pat Fitzgerald. We’ll know quite a bit more about his team after this weekend’s matchup with Ohio State, but this will likely be a close game when the Wolverines come to Evanston, Illinois. The two-quarterback system works well for the Wildcats and last season Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter accounted for three touchdowns and 183 yards in the air, while Colter and running back Venric Mark picked up 186 yards and one touchdown on the ground. Their offense has looked a bit different without Mark this season but he should be back by the time this game happens so the Michigan defense will be truly tested. Defensively the Wildcats have quite a bit to shore up -- they haven’t been good on third down or in the red zone (which are places where Devin Gardner has excelled). It’s a long way off, but this could be a pivotal game in the Legends race.

Iowa | Nov. 23

Big Ten rank:
Total offense: No. 8
Total defense: No. 2

Sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock has looked more and more comfortable and the Iowa defense seems to be picking up steam as well. They have three linebackers on the Butkus Award watch list and the defense has given up just 79.2 rushing yards and 186.3 passing yards per game. This could be another big game in the Legends Division as it’s a road game -- several players have said over the years that one of the most difficult Big Ten stadiums to play in is Kinnick Stadium. In the Wolverines’ last four trips there, dating to 2003, they’re 1-3. And of late, the road hasn’t really been Michigan’s friend, so this could be yet another big test.

Ohio State | Nov. 30

Big Ten rank:
Total offense: No. 3
Total defense: No. 5

This will be huge no matter what. Generally, you can put aside the statistics and records and anything else that might matter going into any other game, and just wait for the 60 minutes to play out. Last season the Buckeyes shut out Michigan in the second half and forced the Wolverines into four turnovers. Like every year, feel free to look forward to the last Saturday in November. This will be a game.

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