Michigan Wolverines: Joe Paterno
We're not talking about what Illinois did this season or what Indiana did last season or even what Northwestern did season after season in the late '70s and '80s. From time to time, good programs, even great programs, have a season that makes you go, "Huh?" Nearly every college football blue blood has had one of these seasons in the past 20 years, and we'll look back at two in the Big Ten.
Rich Rodriguez's arrival as coach represented a new era of Michigan football, but the program sunk to historic depths in his first season and never truly recovered, leading to his dismissal after Year 3.
Michigan's streak of 33 consecutive bowl appearances ended, and the Wolverines suffered their first losing season since 1967. The team dropped nine games, the most it ever had in a single season, and finished the season with a team-record fifth consecutive loss to archrival Ohio State.
The season had several potential low points, but a Week 6 loss to Toledo, Michigan's first to a Mid-American Conference team in 25 appearances, likely earns the label. Michigan finished 109th nationally in total offense, 108th in passing and 104th in turnover margin. While Rodriguez's offense sputtered with the wrong types of players, the defense wasn't much better. Michigan surrendered 45 points in a home loss to Illinois -- the most it had allowed at the Big House since 1991 -- while Illini quarterback Juice Williams set a Michigan Stadium record with 431 yards of offense. Purdue later racked up 48 points and 522 yards against the Wolverines.
"Hopefully [we will] remember it as a blip on the screen, a one-time happening," Rodriguez said of the season.
It's one Michigan fans would just as soon forget.
Penn State, 2003
The Nittany Lions had lost momentum since the middle of the 1999 season, enduring back-to-back losing campaigns in 2000 and 2001 before rebounding behind star running back Larry Johnson in 2002. But things took a sour turn again in 2003, as Penn State tumbled to a 3-9 record (wins were later vacated as part of NCAA sanctions).
After losing Larry Johnson, star receiver Bryant Johnson and most of the starting offensive line, Penn State struggled to produce, finishing 103rd nationally in total offense -- last in the Big Ten -- and 99th in scoring. Perhaps more surprisingly, Penn State couldn't stop the run on defense, finishing 104th nationally.
Penn State had never lost nine games in a season before 2003 and hadn't won fewer than four games since 1931. Coach Joe Paterno had endured only three other losing seasons in his 38 seasons at the helm.
The Lions had a six-game losing streak to begin Big Ten play, their longest slide with Paterno on staff as either an assistant or a head coach. The season ended with a 41-10 loss at Michigan State. Paterno had to fend off repeated retirement questions and replaced longtime offensive coordinator Fran Ganter following the season.
"A season like this -- you can't forget this," quarterback Michael Robinson said after the Michigan State loss. "I'm exhausted -- physically, mentally and emotionally."
Fortunately for Robinson and Penn State, there would be better days ahead in 2005.
Former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr visited "College Football Live" today and talked about his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame and what it means, he also chatted about the college playoff system and shared his memories of Joe Paterno.
Former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr released a statement late Sunday about the passing of former Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who died Sunday at age 85.
"I am deeply saddened by the passing of Coach Paterno. I will remember him with respect and admiration. I will remember his competitive spirit, his incredible generosity, his honesty, his integrity and his humanity."
In his career, Carr was 9-2 against Paterno.
"I am certainly saddened by the news today of Coach Paterno's passing. College football has lost one of its greatest, a coaching icon. Even though I was just an assistant when our teams faced one another, I feel honored to have shared the field with Joe. His players' love for him, it shows how he touched their lives and it tells who he was as a man. He will be missed. His mark on Penn State and college football will never be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Joe's family and friends and the entire Penn State community."
"Rocket" men (Oct. 22)
Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIREMichigan State Spartans wide receiver Keith Nichols' (right) catch to defeat the Wisconsin Badgers was the top play of the 2011 Big Ten season.
Badgers get revenge (Dec. 3)
The first Big Ten championship game couldn't have asked for much more drama, as Wisconsin and Michigan State staged a highly-anticipated rematch of their earlier classic. This one played out in almost the same fashion, with each team trading huge plays in a thrilling game. This time, the Badgers completed a desperation heave, as Russell Wilson found Jeff Duckworth on a long pass in the fourth quarter to set up the go-ahead touchdown. A running-into-the-punter penalty ended the Spartans' chances of winning in the final minute again. Wisconsin clinched a second straight Rose Bowl appearance with its 42-39 victory, and another Spartans-Badgers epic duel made the inaugural title game a smashing success.
Michigan's miracle (Sept. 10)
If not for those Michigan State-Wisconsin games, Michigan's 35-31 win over Notre Dame would likely be remembered as the most exciting game of the Big Ten season. The Wolverines trailed 24-7 after three quarters and couldn't get much going offensively. But then Denard Robinson took over. The two teams scored three touchdowns in the final 1:12, until Robinson ended matters with a 16-yard scoring strike to Roy Roundtree with two seconds left. That kind of magic would stay with Michigan all season long, right through its equally improbable Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech.
Braxton's bomb (Oct. 29)
A week after losing on that Hail Mary in East Lansing, Wisconsin had its guts ripped out all over again in Columbus. Precocious Ohio State freshman quarterback Braxton Miller scrambled and nearly crossed the line of scrimmage before firing a 40-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Devin Smith with 20 seconds left as the Buckeyes won 33-29. Little did we know then that it would be Ohio State's last great moment of the season, or that the Badgers would somehow regroup to still win the league championship.
The fall of an icon (Nov. 9)
No story in the Big Ten, or in all of sports, was bigger than the child sex abuse scandal that erupted at Penn State in November. The rape allegations against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, as well as charges that school administrators failed to stop him and/or lied under oath, became international news. And on Nov. 9, that scandal led to the firing of legendary head coach Joe Paterno, who won 409 games while leading the program since 1966. Everything about that week in State College, from students rallying on Paterno's front lawn to the bizarre, circus-like atmosphere at the Board of Trustees news conference announcing his dismissal, was and remains surreal.
A time for healing (Nov. 12)
After all the events and controversy leading up to Penn State's home game against Nebraska, which included student riots in the streets of downtown a few days earlier, there was serious concern about what would happen at Beaver Stadium that Saturday. Security was on high alert. But the Nittany Lions and Huskers players helped diffuse the tension by meeting at midfield just before kickoff for a moving prayer. Nebraska won the game and won some admirers for how it handled the difficult situation.
Urban renewal (Nov. 28)
Most of Ohio State's season, which featured a 6-7 record and a 2012 NCAA bowl ban handed down in December, was something its fans would like to forget. But Buckeyes fans can't wait for the future after the school hired Ohio native Urban Meyer as its next head coach. Meyer's first season will be hampered by the postseason ban. Still, for Ohio State to go through the mess it faced during 2011 and still end up with a coach of Meyer's stature and pedigree has to be considered a victory.
Gophers go hog wild (Oct. 29)
Minnesota barely looked like an FBS team, much less a Big Ten one, during its 1-6 start. The Gophers had lost to North Dakota State and were outscored 144-31 in their first three league contests. But the rivalry game against Iowa brought out the best in them. Minnesota scored two touchdowns in the final 8:22 and pulled off a daring onside kick to stun the Hawkeyes 22-21 in the upset of the Big Ten season. The Gophers kept the Floyd of Rosedale trophy in Minneapolis for a second straight season.
Huskers' historic comeback (Oct. 8)
Nebraska's first Big Ten home game was one to remember. The Huskers trailed Ohio State by 21 points in the second half before rallying for the biggest comeback victory in program history. Taylor Martinez, Rex Burkhead and Lavonte David all had huge nights as the team scored 28 straight points for a 34-27 victory. And by beating the league's reigning blue-chip program, Nebraska proved it belonged in the Big Ten.
The Streak ends (Nov. 26)
Brady Hoke promised to "Beat Ohio" when he took the Michigan job. And he delivered with an exciting 40-34 victory that snapped an infuriating seven-game losing streak to the hated Buckeyes. Robinson accounted for five touchdowns as the Wolverines held off a big performance from Ohio State's Miller. With Hoke and Meyer now battling it out every year, The Game could resume its place as college football's top rivalry.
Except he didn't even wait for the question to be asked. Hoke led off his Wednesday news conference with a statement about longtime Penn State coach Joe Paterno and his retirement effective at the end of the season, which was announced Wednesday morning.
"I have the utmost respect for what coach Paterno has done on the field," Hoke said. "It's really a situation that's obviously unfortunate but its one that doesn't affect us. We have to worry about Michigan and the decisions that we make and getting ready for this week going to Illinois."
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Here are the highlights, in convenient bullet form:
- On the Hemingway catch/non-catch, which Hoke said he still hasn't received a full explanation for and the Big Ten told WolverineNation on Monday it won't comment on judgment calls: "To be honest with you, we’re past that. We moved passed it Sunday as a team. We can think it was a catch but there are guys who have different angles."
- On Penn State and Joe Paterno: "I’m not going to really address that. I said it yesterday, it’s an unfortunate situation but it’s not my place to make judgment on it because who knows the facts. My concern is Michigan and this program and getting ready to play a very good Illinois team."
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1. A Legendary rivalry: Pardon the pun, but Michigan and Michigan State meet Saturday at Spartan Stadium with more than bragging rights on the line. The winner has to be considered the frontrunner in the Legends division. Michigan can improve to 7-0 overall, 3-0 in Big Ten play and, most important, 2-0 in division play with both wins coming on the road. Michigan State arguably has more on the line as Saturday marks one of just two Legends division home games. The Spartans still must travel to Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern, so defending their home turf against Michigan is critical.
2. Desperate Buckeyes hope to avoid history: These are tough times for Luke Fickell and the Ohio State Buckeyes, who are in an unfamiliar spot at 3-3 after last week's meltdown at Nebraska. A loss Saturday at No. 16 Illinois would drop Ohio State below .500 for the first time since 1999 -- and for the first time this late in the year since 1988, the Buckeyes' last losing season. After months of disappointing news and heightened criticism for Fickell and the coaching staff in recent weeks, Ohio State desperately needs something good to happen.
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesWill Denard Robinson be able to break loose against Michigan State, or will the Spartans bottle him up again?
4. Must-win game at Kinnick: Night games at Kinnick Stadium are always electric, but the intensity level might go up a few notches Saturday as Northwestern comes to town. Both Northwestern and Iowa are winless in Big Ten play and in danger of moving closer to the league's bottom-feeders than the lead pack. Throw in the fact that Northwestern has won three straight at Kinnick and five of the past six against Iowa, and Hawkeyes fans will be geared up. They hope their team displays better energy after a lackluster performance at Penn State. One squad will walk out of Kinnick with some momentum.
5. The scoreboard at Camp Randall: Last year Wisconsin hung 83 points on Indiana, the third-highest total scored in a Big Ten game and the most ever allowed by the Hoosiers. The Badgers' offense is arguably more dangerous this year with Russell Wilson at the helm, and Indiana ranks 11th in the Big Ten in total defense (421.5 ypg). Will Bucky Badger eclipse his 573 push-ups from last year on Saturday, or will Indiana's defense respond and make Wisconsin work for its points? It should be interesting to see how Wisconsin looks following a bye week, and how Indiana performs at a place where it was embarrassed last year.
6. Penn State's never-ending QB competition: The biggest mystery in the Big Ten isn't who should start for Penn State at quarterback, but why it's taking Joe Paterno and his staff so long to reach a decision. The numbers point to Matthew McGloin over Rob Bolden, and Penn State's offense has consistently operated better with McGloin calling the signals. But Paterno isn't budging, saying he's not convinced one quarterback is better than the other. Perhaps Saturday's game against Purdue provides a resolution under center. McGloin can help himself with a completely clean performance after tossing an interception in the end zone last week against Iowa. Also worth watching: how Purdue uses quarterbacks Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve.
7. Illinois' Mercilus defense vs. Braxton Miller: Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning has pulled the right strings for most of the season, mixing fronts and formations and maintaining an aggressive style from week to week. You can bet Koenning will turn up the heat on Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, who left the Nebraska game with a sprained right ankle but will play against Illinois. Keep an eye on Illini defensive end Whitney Mercilus, who leads the nation in sacks (8.5) and leads the Big Ten in both tackles for loss (10.5) and forced fumbles (4). Illinois also gets linebacker Jonathan Brown back from suspension. Ohio State must protect Miller and find the gaps in Illinois' defense, as it did for the first two and a half quarters at Nebraska.
8. Rushing the field in East Lansing: It's all about the ground game in the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry. The team with more rushing yards has claimed 38 of the teams' past 41 meetings. Michigan State has outrushed Michigan 613-274 during its current three-game win streak in the series, but Michigan boasts the nation's No. 7 rushing offense, led by Robinson, the Big Ten's leading rusher (120 ypg). Michigan State is No. 3 nationally against the run, but the Spartans also must get their own run game going. Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker gashed Michigan last year in Ann Arbor, but Michigan State's green offensive line is still building chemistry and faces an improved Michigan defense.
9. Boom is back: You could see the difference in Ohio State's offense with left tackle Mike Adams back on the field from suspension at Nebraska. The Buckeyes regain another key piece as running back Dan "Boom" Herron returns from suspension at Illinois. Herron gives the Buckeyes another option in the backfield, which should allow Jordan Hall to be utilized in different ways. Herron is Ohio State's most seasoned skill player and a guy performed well in Big Ten games last year (876 rush yards, 11 TDs in eight games). With Miller likely not 100 percent, Herron could play a big role for the Buckeyes' offense.
10. Persa vs. Vandenberg: The Northwestern-Iowa game could be a high-scoring affair, and quarterbacks Dan Persa and James Vandenberg will have opportunities to showcase their talents. Northwestern ranks last in the Big Ten in total defense (439.4 ypg) and pass defense (263.8), so Vandenberg and his receivers should regain their swagger after a rough outing at Penn State. Persa shredded Iowa's defense in the fourth quarter of last year's game in Evanston, firing the game-winning touchdown pass with 1:22 left and rupturing his Achilles' tendon on the play. The senior has been sharp since his return and faces an Iowa team allowing its opponents to complete 64.7 percent of their passes.
But Week 7 certainly has the potential to trip us up. It's by far the most difficult set of games we've had this season. The teams, the locations, winning/losing streaks, rivalries and other factors all could play into what takes place Saturday afternoon and evening. There are at least three potential toss-up games on the Week 7 slate.
Let's get picky ...
NO. 11 MICHIGAN at NO. 23 MICHIGAN STATE
Brian Bennett: Denard Robinson's mistakes finally catch up to him against a nasty Michigan State defense, which comes up with three turnovers. Kirk Cousins and B.J. Cunningham hook up early and often, and the Spartans make it four Bunyans in a row. ... Michigan State 24, Michigan 20
Adam Rittenberg: Four Bunyans? Sounds nasty. I wrestled with this one all week, as there are so many interesting subplots, all of which could go by the wayside because it's a rivalry game. Although Michigan is undefeated, I think this game has greater significance for Michigan State. The Spartans do enough to slow down Robinson and get enough from running backs Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker. Michigan State rallies in the fourth quarter and wins on a last-minute field goal. ... Michigan State 23, Michigan 21
PURDUE at PENN STATE
Adam Rittenberg: Purdue will hang around in this one, but the Boilers make too many mistakes (8.6 penalties per game) to win in a place like Beaver Stadium. Penn State's defense bends but doesn't break, and the Lions' offensive line builds on its performance from last week as Silas Redd and Curtis Dukes both reach the end zone. ... Penn State 24, Purdue 13
Brian Bennett: The Lions could have a little letdown after an emotional win over Iowa last week. But Purdue just doesn't have enough playmakers to puncture that Penn State defense. Devon Still introduces himself to Caleb TerBush a couple of times, and the formula of defense and just enough offense gets it done for JoePa again. ... Penn State 20, Purdue 7
INDIANA at NO. 4 WISCONSIN
Brian Bennett: Not quite 83-20, but it's still ugly. A struggling IU team is no match for the Badgers' freight train. Four more touchdowns for Montee Ball in a Wisconsin laugher. ... Wisconsin 58, Indiana 17
Adam Rittenberg: Yeah, I can't see Wisconsin hanging 83 on Indiana again (or the Hoosiers lying down like they did last year). The Badgers won't be sweating this one out, as Ball adds to his touchdowns total and James White reaches the end zone twice. Russell Wilson has a short day, as Wisconsin can start gearing up for the Michigan State showdown. ... Wisconsin 54, Indiana 10
OHIO STATE at NO. 16 ILLINOIS
Adam Rittenberg: Upset special! Yes, Ohio State is fragile and Illinois is rolling. But the Buckeyes are desperate, and Illinois hasn't paid for some of its miscues (turnovers, penalties, forgetting the score). It catches up to the Illini this week. Dan Herron scores two touchdowns in his return, and Ohio State's defense does just enough to slow down Nathan Scheelhaase and A.J. Jenkins. ... Ohio State 21, Illinois 20
Brian Bennett: What? No love for the Zooker, Adam? I agree this will be a tough test for the Illini, but I'm not convinced Braxton Miller will be able to move effectively on his sprained ankle. And if he can't elude Whitney Mercilus, Jonathan Brown and the rest of Vic Koenning's defense, it will be another long day for the Buckeyes' offense. ... Illinois 17, Ohio State 14
NORTHWESTERN at IOWA
Brian Bennett: I went with history with last week's Iowa-Penn State pick and it let me down. But I was a history major in college. So I'll try it again and say Northwestern continues its dominance in this series. The Wildcats look close to breaking through, and Dan Persa tortures the porous Hawkeyes defense in an Iowa City shootout. ... Northwestern 38, Iowa 35
Adam Rittenberg: History was one of my majors, Bennett, but this is the Year of the Opposites -- Penn State beats Iowa, Iowa beats Northwestern, you're amazingly beating me in picks. Both defenses will struggle, but James Vandenberg and his receivers get well against a Northwestern team that can't stop anyone. Iowa feeds off the home crowd and rallies in the fourth quarter for a win. ... Iowa 27, Northwestern 24
BYE: Nebraska, Minnesota
Bennett: 46-11 (.807)
Rittenberg: 44-13 (.772)