Michigan Wolverines: Al Borges
Once again, Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison leads Big Ten assistants in pay at $851,400, which ranks fourth nationally behind million-dollar coordinators Chad Morris of Clemson, Kirby Smart of Alabama and John Chavis of LSU.
Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges is the only other Big Ten assistant in the top 10 nationally in total pay ($709,300). Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck ($700,000) is next, followed by Ohio State defensive coordinators Luke Fickell ($610,000) and Everett Withers ($585,000), Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi ($558,908) and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman ($555,000).
On the whole, the Big Ten has fewer assistants making top-20 salaries than the SEC. There's also a decent drop-off in salary after Herman, as no others make more than $500,000 (Wisconsin coordinators Dave Aranda and Andy Ludwig both make $480,000).
Here are the highest-paid assistants for the 10 Big Ten squads reporting salary:
Michigan: Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison ($851,400)
Nebraska: Offensive coordinator Tim Beck ($700,000)
Ohio State: Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell ($610,000)
Michigan State: Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi ($558,908)
Wisconsin: Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig ($480,000)
Purdue: Offensive coordinator John Shoop ($400,000)
Illinois: Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit and defensive coordinator Tim Banks ($400,000)
Indiana: Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell ($356,500)
Minnesota: Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys ($346,800)
Iowa: Defensive coordinator Phil Parker ($325,500)
Claeys clearly is the best value in the league, as he served as Minnesota's acting head coach during Jerry Kill's health-related absence and remained as the main sideline coach even after Kill returned to duty. Iowa's Parker, along with OC Greg Davis ($325,000) also earned their keep and then some as the Hawkeyes flipped their record from 4-8 to 8-4.
Some Michigan fans will scoff at Borges' salary after the Wolverines offense struggled for much of Big Ten play. Fickell, Shoop and Banks also directed units that had forgettable seasons.
One thing to keep in mind when some of these assistants are mentioned for head-coaching jobs is the pay cuts they'd likely take to lead teams in smaller conferences.
In terms of total staff pay, Ohio State leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth nationally at $3,474,504, trailing LSU, Alabama, Clemson, Texas and Auburn. Michigan comes in next at $3,072,000, which ranks 14th nationally.
Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas in part because he had lost so many assistants in his final two years in Madison. Bielema's staff at Arkansas ranks 10th nationally in total staff pay ($3,233,000), while Gary Andersen's staff at Wisconsin ranks 28th ($2,495,000)
Here are the Big Ten teams sorted by total staff pay:
Ohio State: $3,474,504
Michigan State: $2,410,483
We can have an endless about debate whether college football coaches make too much money in general, but these numbers remain problematic for the Big Ten in my view. Only two teams are truly paying top dollar for their staffs, and some groups are undervalued.
Michigan State's staff obviously jumps out after the Spartans just won the Big Ten championship. MSU co-offensive coordinators Dave Warner ($280,800) and Jim Bollman ($262,000) are among the lowest-paid coordinators in the league, as several position coaches make more than them. Athletic director Mark Hollis said last week that raises are coming for head coach Mark Dantonio and his assistants.
Minnesota's staff also deserves a nice bump after handling such a tough situation this season. I also wonder whether Iowa's coordinators get a raise, especially considering what head coach Kirk Ferentz makes.
Purdue's Marcus Freeman and Jafar Williams are the Big Ten's lowest-paid assistants at $120,000. Only one SEC assistant, Kentucky's Derrick Ansley, makes less than $140,000.
Brandon urged patience with the program, mentioned coaches like Jim Harbaugh and Nick Saban in his post and praised defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, whose job, at least to the outside, always appeared safe. Noticeably absent from the post was offensive coordinator Al Borges, who, along with offensive line coach Darrell Funk, has been the subject of increasing criticism as Michigan's offense sunk to historic lows in early November before reviving itself last Saturday against archrival Ohio State.
Hoke doesn't have a blog (am I the only one who wished he did) and isn't nearly as verbose as his boss, but he also expressed some public support for his staff Monday during an appearance at Detroit's Ford Field.
From The Detroit News:
Hoke was asked if he's happy with the staff and anticipates having this staff in 2014.
"Yeah, I anticipate the staff [returning]," he said.
When pressed and asked if he does not expect any changes, he responded simply.
"Correct," Hoke said.
He was asked again if this is a "we'll-see situation."
"No," he said.
Like every coach, Hoke will conduct evaluations with his staff following the season. Not surprisingly, Brandon will be a part of those. So it's possible changes could come following Michigan's bowl appearance, but don't hold your breath.
There's no doubt Hoke is loyal, and loyalty is a fleeting quality in today's pressurized world of college coaching. Florida on Monday fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis, and other programs either have made or will make significant staff changes.
Michigan's offensive woes and season record aren't nearly as bad as Florida's, but both programs are supposedly big time and face pressure to win championships. Brandon's counterpart at Florida, Jeremy Foley, also had to give his head coach a vote of confidence in recent days. What do the two approaches say about the culture of the programs, the leagues they play in and the standards they set for performance?
Hoke and Borges were united in their offensive vision at San Diego State, and nothing has changed at Michigan. They want to restore a pro-style offense built around the power run. But for various reasons -- personnel types, youth, lack of development -- it hasn't happened yet. Michigan's offense had negative net rushing totals in its first two November games, couldn't score a touchdown in regulation at Northwestern and racked up just 158 yards at Iowa before exploding for 41 points, 31 first downs and 603 yards against Ohio State.
The Wolverines seem to be at their best with quarterback Devin Gardner moving around and ball-carriers attacking the perimeter, rather than between the tackles. That hasn't been the long-term vision, but the plan could come into focus next season as young linemen and young running backs mature.
Borges is a smart coach, but he's also a journeyman coordinator. He had different jobs each season from 2000-04 and hasn't been at one stop for longer than five years since a seven-year stint at Portland State from 1986-92.
Like many coaches, Hoke believes in staff continuity, which is often a top indicator of success. We've seen plenty of examples in the Big Ten, including the long-tenured staffs at Michigan State and Minnesota picking up the slack when head coaches Mark Dantonio and Jerry Kill stepped away because of health reasons.
Northwestern attributes much of its recent success, at least until this year, to the staff remaining fully intact. Coach Pat Fitzgerald plans to keep it that way despite a highly disappointing 5-7 record. But Fitzgerald isn't at Michigan. He doesn't have the same external and historic demands as Hoke does, or should.
Does the patience/loyalty shown by Brandon and Hoke show that Michigan is different (in a good way), avoids knee-jerk reactions and wisely plans for long-term success? Or does it show Michigan talks like a big-time program but struggles to make the hard choices needed to compete at the highest level?
I'll admit it's a tough one. We'll probably get our answer in 2014.
Tobin, Tecumseh: Was the two-point conversion the right decision?
A: I think so. With how the Michigan defense was playing, I don’t know if it would’ve been able to stop the Buckeyes in overtime. But I think the Ohio State defense could’ve found a way to slow Michigan in OT, especially considering how apparent it became that Devin Gardner was nearing the end of his rope, injury-wise. So why go into a situation in which you have to weigh those odds against an opportunity to win the game right here, right now? It was a gutsy call but I think making it, especially with the backing of the seniors, was the right way to go about it.
Now, Ohio State cornerback coach Kerry Coombs said he knew what play was coming which is why the Buckeyes were able to so easily stifle it. So, if that’s true, perhaps a different play call should’ve been the answer. But, with how Gardner appeared (injury-wise) at that point in the game, Al Borges' playbook was likely limited.
James, Chicago: Why did Michigan not play this well offensively until this late in the season?
A: I think a lot of it has to do with the offensive line. The Wolverines finally put together a group that gave Gardner time in the pocket and gave the play calls time to develop on the field. It’s crazy how much of a different half a second makes, but with that kind of push, it just allows the offense to really live up to its potential. The O-line also created holes for the running backs to hit. I was impressed with Derrick Green, Fitzgerald Toussaint and De’Veon Smith, and I think the only mistake there is that Green and Smith should’ve picked up more carries earlier in the season.
Nathan Cole, Grand Rapids: Is there any realistic chance that Shane Morris is the starting QB next year and Devin Gardner goes back to WR?
A: I don’t know. I thought Gardner looked pretty solid against a good Ohio State defense. He threw for four touchdowns and 451 yards against the Buckeyes and played clutch, leading the Wolverines from down two touchdowns to a play in which Michigan had the chance to snag a win. This was really the first time in the conference season that the offensive line has put together a complete game and look what Gardner did with it. I’m not sure why people would still be calling for his head. Morris will compete for the job, as will early enrollee Wilton Speight. The best player will play but I see no reason why Gardner doesn't have the lead as of now (seriously, four touchdowns and 451 yards against Ohio State!). Plus, next season, Amara Darboh will be back from injury and the Wolverines will have receivers with experience in Jehu Chesson, Devin Funchess, Jake Butt and some talented freshmen.
Patrick, Nashville: How important has Jake Butt been this season?
A: I think it’s fair to say that the Wolverines wouldn’t have experienced the same level of success that they’ve had without Butt. If he hadn’t emerged as a player, there’s a pretty good chance Michigan would still have Funchess as a tight end. And because Funchess can move out to WR, that has helped the production of every other receiver because defenses have keyed in on him more. Butt becoming a usable player allowed the Wolverines to have a more well-rounded attack. And the more he comes out as a pass catcher, the more valuable he’ll become because that’ll forces defenses to be even more honest.
Wisconsin's shocking home loss to Penn State ends the debate over whether the Badgers or Michigan State should be at No. 2 behind front-runner Ohio State. Although the Buckeyes and, to a lesser extent, the Spartans had some struggles Saturday, they found ways to win. The Badgers had their worst performance of the season, and it cost them a potential BCS at-large berth.
That doesn't take away from Penn State, which received big boosts from quarterback Christian Hackenberg and others.
Our big dilemma this week was what to do with the 6-8 spots. Penn State had by far its best showing of the season, and Michigan had its best showing in months, even in defeat, against archrival Ohio State. Nebraska didn't show up at home on Black Friday, however, the Huskers have road wins against both the Lions (six days before the Iowa clunker) and Michigan.
After some spirited debate, we ultimately went with body of work to determine the rundown, especially since these are the final regular-season rankings. We understand it devalues the Week 14 performances a bit.
Here's one last look at the Week 13 rankings.
Now for the new rundown, final regular-season version.
1. Ohio State (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten: last week: 1): The Buckeyes lost their composure early and nearly lost their perfect season late. They were faced with adversity for the first time in six weeks, but they made enough plays on both sides of the ball to win. Running back Carlos Hyde (226 yards, one TD) and quarterback Braxton Miller (five total TDs) led a virtually unstoppable offense, which helped overcome some shoddy pass defense. The Buckeyes now await Michigan State in the Big Ten title game.
2. Michigan State (11-1, 8-0; last week: 3): There weren't many style points against Minnesota, but the Spartans came away with another double-digit Big Ten win. The defense kept Minnesota out of the end zone, as linebacker Denicos Allen led the way. Running back Jeremy Langford (134 rush yards, TD) had another big day as Michigan State moved closer to a BCS bowl berth, regardless of the result in Indianapolis.
3. Wisconsin (9-3, 6-2; last week: 2): It's only a one-spot drop for Wisconsin, but what a downer in Mad City. A team that had been so dominant since falling at Ohio State never showed up on Senior Day against a plucky Penn State team that took control from the onset. Quarterback Joel Stave threw three interceptions in the loss, and one of the Big Ten's better defenses allowed a slew of big plays as Penn State racked up 465 yards. It led to Wisconsin's most surprising home loss in recent memory.
4. Iowa (8-4, 5-3; last week: 4): Kirk Ferentz's crew entered the regular season as a popular pick to finish last in the Legends Division. The Hawkeyes emerged as one of the better teams not only in the division but the entire Big Ten. They've flipped their 2012 regular-season record behind a salty rush defense, led by an outstanding group of linebackers, and a functional offense. After two lackluster showings in the Heroes Game, Iowa outclassed Nebraska in Lincoln and should move up the bowl pecking order.
5. Minnesota (8-4, 4-4; last week: 5): It doesn't take a doctor at the Mayo Clinic to diagnose what's wrong with Minnesota. The Gophers' defense keeps them in every game, and Saturday's matchup at Michigan State proved to be no exception. But the offense simply can't score or consistently pass the football. Minnesota failed to reach double digits for the third time this season despite multiple opportunities in Spartans territory. It's still a great season for Jerry Kill's team, but there's a lot of work to do on offense before a bowl appearance.
6. Nebraska (8-4, 5-3; last week: 6): No one would dispute Bo Pelini that this has been a difficult season in Husker Country. No one would argue with Nebraska's ability to keep fighting. But when the same problems (namely turnovers) surface year after year, the bigger picture of the program becomes more depressing. The Huskers and their head coach self-destructed for much of the Iowa game and fell for the third time on their home field. Fortunately for Pelini, it didn't cost him his job, and he should get another chance to compete for an elusive league title in 2014.
7. Penn State (7-5, 4-4; last week: 8): The Lions had a better team in Bill O'Brien's first season, but they didn't have a better win than Saturday's stunning upset of Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium. After losing their first three road games by a combined score of 131-48, Penn State dominated Wisconsin for much of the afternoon at a place where the Badgers rarely lose. Hackenberg ended his freshman season with a signature performance (339 pass yards, 4 TDs) as the offense repeatedly gashed Wisconsin. A much-maligned defense held the Badgers' run game in check as Penn State ended an up-and-down season on a very good note.
8. Michigan (7-5, 3-5; last week: 7): After plummeting to historic lows earlier in the month, Michigan's offense looked like a completely different unit against Ohio State. Quarterback Devin Gardner played brilliantly, coordinator Al Borges called a good game and several others -- Jeremy Gallon, Jake Butt and De'Veon Smith -- stepped up in a 603-yard effort. It wasn't enough, as Michigan fell by a point and the defense had no answers for Ohio State, but the Wolverines played their best game in months and can feel a bit better entering the postseason.
9. Indiana (5-7, 3-5; last week: 9): Oh, what might have been for Indiana. A team with such an explosive offense and eight home games should have made a bowl game, period, but the Hoosiers couldn't get it done. At least they reclaimed the Old Oaken Bucket as quarterback Tre Roberson (six TD passes, 273 pass yards, 154 rush yards) torched Purdue and received help from Stephen Houston, D'Angelo Roberts, Cody Latimer and others. It's clear the Hoosiers have to make upgrades on defense. They can't keep wasting such explosiveness on offense.
10. Northwestern (5-7, 1-7; last week: 11): A season to forget for Northwestern ended on a positive note, as Pat Fitzgerald's team avoided a winless Big Ten season and recorded another victory against its in-state rival. Quarterback Trevor Siemian enters the offseason with some confidence after passing for a career-high 414 yards and four touchdowns against Illinois. Wide receiver Christian Jones (13 catches, 182 yards, two TDs) also stepped up as Northwestern twice rallied from deficits against Illinois. Fitzgerald said afterward that Northwestern "will be back" in 2014. The work begins now.
11. Illinois (4-8, 1-7; last week 10): The wins total doubled from two to four, which is nothing to celebrate. But Illinois clearly improved in Year 2 under coach Tim Beckman, who should receive another season in Champaign. Illinois has fixed the offense, and while quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase will be tough to replace, several playmakers like Josh Ferguson return. A bigger issue is the defense, which had no answer for Northwestern's passing attack on Saturday and surrendered more than 40 points and more than 500 yards per game in Big Ten play.
12. Purdue (1-11, 0-8; last week: 12): The optimist sees a dynamic young quarterback in Danny Etling, who finished his freshman season with 485 pass yards and four touchdowns against Indiana, and a team that can only get better. The pessimist sees a Purdue squad that was the worst in recent Big Ten history and has much work to do on both sides of the ball to become competitive in coach Darrell Hazell's second season. A big offseason awaits Hazell and his staff as they can't go through another season like this one.
Daniel from Enemy Territory, Ohio, writes: Brian, what can Michigan do (short of a miracle or swapping teams with say, Alabama) to pull off the major upset against OSU this week?
Brian Bennett: Well, the Wolverines should be praying the rosary and searching for a Zoltar Speaks machine. That's still their best bet in a game in which they are -- and should be -- heavy underdogs.
But in all likelihood, it will be a blaze of gory for the Maize and Blue.
John from Au Gres, Mich., writes: Are you on board with the idea that MSU can pass Wiscy with a more impressive victory of Minny this weekend? Be prepared, I have a feeling the Spartans play for style points, which is out of character. However, we are still stuck with the BCS, and perception matters. Coach D has already said he thinks the Spartans are playing for a BCS bid this weekend.
Brian Bennett: I assume you mean in our power rankings and on my own personal ballot, since Michigan State is already ahead of Wisconsin where it actually matters. And sure, I'm on board. I'll be in East Lansing on Saturday and am greatly looking forward to seeing the Spartans in person. I already think this is a fantastic team that can play with any team in the country. My only reservation about the Spartans, and it's a slight one, is that the schedule has been highly favorable.
But I just saw Wisconsin play Minnesota last week so should have a great comparison this week. I've said all along that this is basically a flip-a-coin, 2A and 2B situation. I'm totally willing to switch the teams based on what we see this weekend.
Bob Noble from Grand Ledge, Mich., writes: What am I missing? You continue to have Ryan Shazier and Chris Borland rated 1 and 2, respectively as Big Ten defensive POY, while Darqueze Dennard is at No. 3. Which one of the three is a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award as the NATIONAL Defensive POY? Oh yeah, that would be Dennard of MSU. So how is DD lower on the list of Big Ten POY when the two players listed above him aren't even being considered for NATIONAL POY?
Brian Bennett: First of all, nobody loves Dennard as a player more than me. If he doesn't win the Thorpe Award or make first-team All-America, I'll scream. He is absolutely tremendous and deserving of any honor you want to give him.
Secondly, let's not put a whole lot of stock in whom one award names as its finalists. There are approximately 1.2 million college football postseason awards, and as we've seen over and over again, the voting for those can often turn out inexplicable and wacky.
Finally, while all three are great players, I have Shazier and Borland rated a little higher because I think a linebacker makes a little more overall impact on a defense than a cornerback. And while Dennard has other stars around him such as Max Bullough, Denicos Allen and Shilique Calhoun, Borland and Shazier are the unquestioned focal points of their defense.
Paul W. from Dodge City writes: Do you think if Nebraska was 10-1 or 11-0 right Ameer Abdullah would be in the Heisman hunt? I know that he has a lower touchdown total than other running backs but a good game Friday and he could surpass Mark Ingram's rushing total from his Heisman season.
Ethan from Abbottstown, Pa., writes: The PSU special teams has been awful this year, and it is one of the major impacts of the sanctions. Do you attribute this special teams downfall to the fact the former only special teams specialists are now being used to fill out the offense and defense? Or the fact that PSU must now recruit only must-need positions and not players who could find a home on kickoff and kick return?
Brian Bennett: Special teams have been a problem, really, in both seasons so far for Bill O'Brien. But they have been particularly glaring of late. The sanctions certainly have played a role; it's hard not to notice that Anthony Fera, who transferred from Penn State after the NCAA free pass, is a Lou Groza Award finalist. O'Brien is also forced to play some walk-ons in key spots in the kicking game.
But I don't think you can blame all the problems on scholarship reductions. Coaching still has to enter the equation, and there have been some obvious breakdowns in coverage and returns. And Penn State's special teams weren't very good last year when the scholarship numbers were much higher. So while I continue to believe the sanctions will have an impact on special teams in the near future, I also think the Nittany Lions can do a better job than they have of working around those depth issues in the kicking game.
John from Lima, Ohio, writes: As a Buckeye fan it has been very frustrating to hear all year how bad their schedule is and that being the sole reason they should be held out of the title game, never mind how good they actually are. Especially when you see a team like Clemson sneaking back up the rankings when they have zero wins against currently ranked FBS teams, all their FBS wins are against teams with at least four losses, and they played not one, but TWO FCS teams this season. So while OSU's schedule might not be murderer's row this year, why does the media single them out when other teams have the same issues?
Brian Bennett: Let's not kid ourselves: the negative perception of the Big Ten is weighing down Ohio State. And the Buckeyes are also paying a price for losing by double digits in two BCS title games in the previous decade, which is ridiculous. I also believe not playing in a bowl game last year hurt Ohio State. Clemson got a significant perception bump last year by beating LSU in a bowl game, allowing the Tigers to start out high in the polls. Then they began the year by beating a Georgia team that was ranked in the top 5. That has been enough to keep Clemson ranked high, even though Georgia has since fallen apart because injuries. Ohio State has nothing out of conference to hang its hat on from the past two years.
Pat from Iowa writes: Who would you consider the biggest surprise team this year for good or for worse? Northwestern's down spiral, Minnesota's amazing year, or perhaps a great Iowa rebound year? Thoughts?
Brian Bennett: The biggest positive surprise has been Minnesota. No one thought the Gophers would be 8-3 at this point, especially after Jerry Kill took his leave of absence in the middle of the season. That's been an unbelievable story. Northwestern has to be the biggest negative surprise. This was a Top 20 team earlier in the year that most people thought could contend in the Legends Division. If the Wildcats don't beat Illinois, they'll end up 0-8 in the Big Ten. Unreal. No. 2 on both my lists would be Iowa on the positive side and Michigan on the negative.
Martyn from Cuenca, Ecuador, writes: I read the Big Ten blog religiously. Moved from Madison to Ecuador this year. Miss the atmosphere at Camp Randall & the Kohl Center. On your recent blog about Big Ten linebackers you mentioned Borland's 14 forced fumbles tying the B1G record. I believe it is the FBS record? I will prepare myself to apply to be a guest predictor next year. I catch a few broadcasts on my computer. Keeps my Badger jones in check. A little early, but Happy Holidays.
Brian Bennett: Vaya con Dios, Martyn. Do they have cheese curds in Ecuador? There was a little confusion in regards to Borland's record. He came into the year needing one to tie the FBS record. But Buffalo's Khalil Mack had three forced fumbles in his last game to set the new FBS career mark of 16. Borland is now tied for second and tied for the Big Ten career mark with Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan.
One last note: Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!
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.
But for those within the program itself -- coach Brady Hoke, Borges and the offensive players -- they seem to be pleased with the play calls that have been made. The same can't be said about the execution of those plays.
And quarterback Devin Gardner, the one in the middle of it all, believes in Borges and has a simple fix for those who don’t.
“Maybe they should try and find a job as an offensive coordinator then,” Gardner said of the naysayers. “Maybe they should be an offensive coordinator somewhere if they can do better [than Borges].”
And for those fans who truly believe they could call a game better than Borges? Well, they’re simply wrong, according to the quarterback.
“I think I’m faster than Denard [Robinson]. How about that?” Gardner said. “You can think what you want, but the reality is [fans] are where they are for a reason. They’re not offensive coordinators anywhere, and that’s the end of that.”
Borges said that the trend he has seen with the offense struggling to execute -- which by no means is exclusive to Michigan -- is when the Wolverines fail to put themselves in good second- or third-down situations by not succeeding on first down.
Of the 46 first downs over the past two games (excluding the team rushes at the end of each first half), 26 have been rushes, 16 have been passes, two have been bad snaps and two have been sacks.
Gardner’s passing on first down has actually been quite impressive, as he's completed 13 of 16 passes for 165 yards. Eight of those passes resulted in another first down.
But it’s the running on first down that seems predictable to many fans. Of the 26 running plays on first downs in the Michigan State and Nebraska games, nine (six from Fitzgerald Toussaint and three from Gardner) resulted in no gain or negative yardage.
Of the 15 first down rushes that gained positive yardage, only three went for at least five yards. And of those three, only one came from Michigan’s featured back Toussaint. The other two were by freshman Derrick Green and wide receiver/tight end Devin Funchess.
Everybody can do everything right, and if one guy doesn’t do his job it seems like the play was horrible. [But] if that one guy did his job, it would’ve been a big play. If everybody just continues to be consistent and play, all 11 guys at the same time, I feel like we’ll be all right.
-- Devin Gardner
And that, according to Borges, is where the execution comes in to play. The two biggest struggles on offense has been the run game and pass protection.
“They go hand in hand,” Borges said. “If you can’t run a football and you’re dealing with as many long down-and-distances as we are, it’s sharks in the water and you run into some issues.”
And because of those rushing statistics, the Wolverines have found themselves in several bad down-and-distances over the past two weeks.
When Michigan passed on a first down versus MSU and Nebraska, only once did those possessions end in a punt. However, when the first play was a run, Michigan punted nine times. On those punt plays, the first down run averaged just 1.3 yards.
On both plays against Michigan and Nebraska when center Graham Glasgow snapped the ball over Gardner’s head, the Wolverines were in bad down-and-distances and ... had to punt. And on the two first downs in which Gardner was sacked, Michigan, again, ended up punting on fourth down.
In those tough situations, the young Wolverines have had a problem executing. Naturally, play calls on third-and-18 or third-and-24 are going to be harder to execute because the defense is able to put more pressure on the quarterback and the offensive line.
And in those situations, Gardner and Borges both admit that it hasn’t been a collapse on the part of the entire offense, but rather one player ends up not executing perfectly and the play implodes.
The Michigan offense -- whether it's Toussaint being asked to block a much larger defensive end in pass protection or a player not running his route crisply -- has been deflated by 10-man football in those situations.
Going into the Northwestern game, Gardner said that consistency on everyone's part has been a major focus, and that if the Wolverines can accomplish that on every single down, there’s a lesser likelihood that Michigan will find itself in those bad situations.
“Everybody can do everything right, and if one guy doesn’t do his job it seems like the play was horrible. [But] if that one guy did his job, it would’ve been a big play,” Gardner said. “If everybody just continues to be consistent and play, all 11 guys at the same time, I feel like we’ll be all right.”
“Our biggest thing right now is our consistency of play,” Borges added. “A lot of 10-man football, turning guys loose or not being able to block them or missing a throw here or dropping a pass. So often it’s not just one guy, it’s more than one guy. … It’s a joint effort when it works; it’s a joint effort when it doesn’t. That’s just the way football is -- it’s the ultimate team game.”
Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he ran Sunday’s practice a little bit differently. However, he acted the same way he did on the Sundays after the big Notre Dame win, the Penn State loss or the Indiana blowout.
And Hoke’s message to the team was that the Wolverines still -- though unlikely and completely out of their own hands -- could contend for the Big Ten title.
But the first step toward winning that championship would be moving on from the disappointment in East Lansing to the Wolverines’ next test against Nebraska.
It obviously wasn’t going to be the easiest task to completely forget about Michigan State and move on to Nebraska because of how the Wolverines lost to Michigan State, and the numbers of holes that were exposed, both offensively and defensively.
But Hoke kept it simple. He explained that they couldn’t let Michigan State beat them twice. And most important,, he did it with a level head.
“Do you want your leader to freak out? Do you want George Patton to go crazy in the middle of a battle and get everyone killed? No. He had a bad temper, and Brady does, too,” offensive coordinator Al Borges said. “But if cooler heads prevail at the end of the day … then generally they’ll recover. But if you go in the tank or overreact or do something, the players will follow you right into the tank.”
Borges said that he and the other assistants take their cues from Hoke and that the captains and seniors follow their lead. The whole team seems to have gotten past their rivalry loss and moved completely to the Cornhuskers.
“We have to bounce back,” senior captain Cam Gordon said. “This isn’t a time to mope around. It’s time to really focus in, focus in on winning a Big Ten championship.”
Hoke has always wanted the seniors to be the vocal leaders and coming off this defeat, that’ll be especially important. With Nebraska coming off an emotional win over Northwestern and the Wolverines coming off such an emotional loss, controlling those feelings on the field will be paramount this weekend for Michigan.
And the next biggest lesson Hoke might give his team is how he reacts this Sunday. Win or loss, by a lot or a little, chances are it’ll be the exact same way he came in last Sunday and the one before that.
“I’ve always believed with young people that this may be the only consistent discipline thing that some of them have ever in their lives,” Hoke said. “For us to be consistent with how we act and how we react to different situations … I think that’s important.”
- Penn State junior receiver Allen Robinson is likely headed to the NFL after this season.
- Wisconsin is nursing a lot of key injuries as the BYU game approaches.
- Jordan Westerkamp's Hail Mary catch helped end the curse of the No. 1 jersey at Nebraska.
- Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges admits some frustration but says Brady Hoke is the right leader for some rocky times.
- Iowa's offensive linemen want to take over a full game again, which they haven't done since Minnesota.
- Brothers Tommy and Ed Olson are back to starting together on Minnesota's offensive line.
- Mark Dantonio accepted Taylor Lewan's apology and says it's not his call whether the Michigan tackle gets a suspension.
- Even with no bowl game in sight, Purdue is aiming for a strong finish.
- Freshman cornerback Darius Mosely has become a key contributor for Illinois.
- Maryland held a symposium on its move to the Big Ten.
The Michigan offense has lacked consistency this season, so this week will give the Wolverines an opportunity to find that and jell more as they begin what will be a tough stretch to end the season. Defensively, Michigan had appeared stout until last weekend against Indiana, so this off week gives that group a chance to regroup and examine what went wrong.
Here’s a closer look at what this week means on both sides of the ball.
Offensive coordinator Al Borges has a lot of talent on his side of the ball, but it hasn’t always come together to show the most cohesive, productive unit.
Taylor Lewan, Michael Schofield and Graham Glasgow are safe at the tackles and center spots, but it doesn’t really matter how well those three play if the guards let pressure through on both sides. Kyle Bosch, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson and Chris Bryant all seem to be battling for those guard spots. With two full weeks to prep for the Michigan State game, it does seem likely -- at least with what the coaches want -- as though the starting group against the Spartans will be what Michigan will go with the rest of the season.
“We’re not eliminating anybody,” Borges said. “We still have some talented kids in the wings. We’re trying to keep this thing competitive. We got to this point where we’re pretty functional now, because we’ve kept it competitive. We don’t like doing it this way. We’d rather just have the same five from the beginning, but it hasn’t worked out that way.”
The O-line showed cohesion against Indiana and gave quarterback Devin Gardner plenty of time in the pocket. Gardner likely spent the week watching film with Borges to figure out how to attack the Michigan State defense. The Spartans boast the best defense in the country and have given up fewer than 14 points per game this season.
Gardner is going to need to continue improving his accuracy, as MSU will make sure to put its defense in prime positions to make plays on the ball. Already this season the Spartans have accounted for five defensive touchdowns.
However, they haven’t had to game plan against a tandem as unique as Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess. Both are effective but completely different as playmakers, and when one draws attention from a defense, the other seems to make big plays.
The Wolverines were ultra-effective in the pass and run game last weekend largely because they showed such a diverse offense, which in turn opened up the game for Gardner and allowed him and the playmakers to make plays.
“We’re not becoming a spread team but we’re going to have that dimension in our offense,” Borges said. “We’re going to have the ability to take you sideline to sideline; we’re going to have the ability to mow you over. If you have both, certain games one is going to be better than the other.”
Michigan’s defense looked so solid up until last week.
But it wasn’t the point total or the yardage total that disappointed defensive coordinator Greg Mattison the most. Instead, it was the fact that there weren’t 11 helmets running to the ball on every play. If the Wolverines want to take care of business next weekend in East Lansing, that (and many other things) will have to change.
“I feel very confident in our guys, because we’re going to work every second to do it,” Mattison said. “I know we’ll have Michigan defense back on that field the way it’s supposed to be when we play that game.”
The coaches haven’t come out and completely said what their plan is for Jake Ryan at this point. But if he is 100 percent and still has that quick step and instinct, it doesn’t seem like they’ll continue the three-play rotations they’ve employed with Ryan, Brennen Beyer and Cam Gordon for much longer.
If Ryan begins picking up more reps for the MSU game, it wouldn’t be too big of a surprise to see Beyer moved back to the defensive line to bring an extra body and experience to that group, while also being able to give Ryan a break here and there.
The secondary needs to clean it up this weekend. The Wolverines allowed several big plays over the past two weeks, and on many of them it seemed as though the defensive backs were right there but didn’t finish. But almost doesn’t cut it in football.
Mattison said Saturday’s disappointment for each position group on the defense could be a positive experience in the long run, as it’ll fuel each player for the rest of this season.
“That experience from Saturday -- you can’t pay for that, that feeling, and them seeing how it isn’t supposed to be,” Mattison said of the Indiana game. “You can’t pay for that. If you’re going to be a great defense, they’re going to remember that for a long time.”
So far Gardner has stayed in one piece, but admittedly, he has felt pretty sore after games.
He has been doing his best to avoid unnecessary hits, but each hit he does take brings him, and the Wolverines, closer to the possibility of Shane Morris seeing the field.
Against Penn State, Gardner rushed the ball 24 times for 121 yards (five yards per carry). Those numbers are very impressive, however, he was the only player that found yardage on the ground for Michigan. Fitzgerald Toussaint averaged one yard per carry, and Derrick Green was only given three rushes total.
“I pretty much knew what had to happen -- we weren’t getting many yards on first downs, we weren’t running the ball well,” Gardner said. “If they need me to run, that’s fine, I’ll do it. And if we don’t, like we did a few weeks ago, then I won’t.”
The 149 rushing yards isn’t a good sign. It’s quite a bit below Michigan’s season average of 173.2 yards per game, which puts the Wolverines No. 9 in the Big Ten. Wisconsin, which leads the conference, averages 298.2 yards per game on the ground.
The 149 yards didn't help the Wolverines find a victory against Penn State, and the main problem coming out of the run game is that Gardner had to find that yardage and take those hits. He accounted for 81 percent of Michigan’s rushing yardage against Penn State. Last season, Robinson had accounted for 58 percent of the Wolverines’ rushing attack before getting hurt.
During his junior season, Robinson only needed to make up 41 percent of Michigan’s run game. That year he led the Wolverines in rushing yards, but Toussaint also accounted for 36 percent of the yardage. Michigan still doesn't necessarily want a quarterback to be its team's leading rusher, but finding something more balanced like 2011 would be beneficial for the Wolverines.
Michigan had done relatively well protecting Gardner before the Penn State game, and he had only averaged 63.6 rushing yards per game before last weekend. But when Michigan has needed yards on the ground this season, it has been Gardner who has found them.
“I don’t like it, but you do what you have to do to win the game -- End of discussion,” Borges said. “If no one’s getting any yards, you have a problem. I would prefer [that be] the tailback. But if the quarterback is the guy that beats you -- I don’t particularly like it -- but we’ll do what we have to do to win the football game.”
Indiana will offer the Wolverines a chance to get on track with its run game. The Hoosiers are the Big Ten’s worst rushing defense, having given up 216.5 yards per game this season.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he’s not opposed to trying out new faces in the run game, so Green, De'Veon Smith or Thomas Rawls could see some field time this weekend, especially if the Wolverines are more focused on taking the rushing stress of Gardner.
So far, he has been a good sport about it. The redshirt junior is willing to do whatever it takes to try and help his team win, even if that means taking extra hits and being sore the next day.
“I feel like if you’re not beat up after the game,” Gardner said, “you probably didn’t play that hard.”
But if Michigan allows Gardner to get too beat up, then it's simply going to be a team that's much easier to beat.
- Al Borges doesn't want to run Devin Gardner a lot because of injury concerns, but the Michigan offensive coordinator may not have a choice, given how his running backs have played.
- Just what Michigan State's opponents want to hear: The Spartans' defense should soon get some help with the return of Lawrence Thomas on the defensive line.
- Tanner McEvoy has made an impressive transition from junior-college quarterback to starting safety for Wisconsin.
- Five questions about the Purdue offense as the Boilers head into the second half of the season.
- Illinois is raising the bar for receiver Martize Barr, whose progress had "plateaued."
- Tracy Claeys is operating at a lower volume than Jerry Kill as Minnesota's acting head coach.
- Mark Weisman and the Iowa running game have a lot to prove this week at Ohio State.
- Penn State should give Bill O'Brien a raise now, Michael Bradley writes.
- "Trigger and tackle" are the buzzwords for the Ohio State defense heading into the second half.
- A midseason report card on Indiana.
But after four? They wanted him on the bench.
Now -- given the down or the series -- he's somewhere in between.
In his 26 years in the game, offensive coordinator Al Borges has heard it all.
“The backup’s the best player until the backup plays,” Borges said, “and then they don’t want him to play anymore.”
What most people don’t remember is that Gardner is still young by quarterback standards. Yes, he’s a redshirt junior, but he is just 10 starts into his career. He spent most of last year studying as a wide receiver. He was recruited into a spread offense by Rich Rodriguez, one that most likely better suits his talents.
That amount of transition that Gardner has gone through in his Michigan career reminded Borges a bit of 2004, when he became the Auburn offensive coordinator and quarterback coach for Jason Campbell.
Campbell had been through three coordinators in three years, and the fan base had turned against him.
“Everybody wanted to replace him -- they said, ‘This kid, he’s not confident, he makes bad decisions, let the other kid play,’ ” Borges said. “Same old deal.”
So Borges did with Campbell in 2004 what he’s doing with Gardner now. From a mechanical and technical standpoint, he returned to the basics -- the footwork, the nuance, the angles, the inches.
From a mental standpoint -- which in both Campbell’s and Gardner’s cases might be the more important element -- Borges simply told them he believed they could be the quarterbacks of their respective offenses.
“I don’t think it was any earth-shattering coaching deal,” Borges said. “It was just making the kid believe that he was still the answer when a lot of people didn’t think that.”
For Campbell, it worked. That season he was named the SEC Player of the Year, MVP of the SEC Championship Game and MVP of the 2005 Sugar Bowl. He threw for 2,700 yards and 20 touchdowns and completed 69.6 percent of his passes, good enough for second-best on the all-time Auburn completion list (just barely behind Ben Leard’s 70.7 percent).
It wasn’t that Borges came in and changed how Campbell played the game. He just instilled a mental framework that helped him to be at ease on the field.
“He’s a confidence builder,” Campbell said. “From the day he walked in he said, ‘You already have the ability to do anything you want to do as a quarterback.’ ”
And that’s what Borges did after Gardner struggled against Akron and UConn. He spent the bye week returning to fundamentals, but also reminding Gardner that he was in fact the answer for the Michigan offense.
“The worst thing for a quarterback is to be looking over his shoulder and things like that,” Gardner said during the bye week. “For [Borges] to have that kind of confidence in me after I played so bad was pretty refreshing for me.”
Against Minnesota, Gardner’s confidence shone. He didn’t turn the ball over at all, and he threw for 235 yards and one touchdown. He looked solid. He smiled. He was loved by the fan base once more.
Then the first half against Penn State struck, and Gardner, once again, looked out of place. And again, fans wanted to know why Morris wouldn’t be given a chance.
Even though he hadn’t played since the Central Michigan blowout. Even though the Wolverines were playing in front of a raucous crowd. Even though Michigan’s best offensive lineman was out of the game.
But Gardner calmed down and managed to put together a solid game overall. He even gave the Wolverines a chance to win. If Michigan had been able to produce a run game outside of Gardner, maybe that would’ve happened.
And by some standards, what showed real growth was that when he struggled on the field against Penn State, he still seemed relaxed on the sideline.
During the Akron and Connecticut games, Gardner spent time by himself in silence or speaking with Borges on the headset while his defense was on the field. He said he wanted to be inside his own head and try to block everything else out.
But during the Penn State game he spoke with teammates. It was a suggestion by Michigan’s director of athletic counseling Greg Harden, a man who helped Tom Brady and Desmond Howard, among others during their Michigan tenures.
In reality though, it seems as if Gardner has little to worry about. His offensive coordinator and head coach are confident in him, and on Monday Hoke said “there is no short leash” when it comes to Gardner.
But the fear is always there, and Gardner is a perfectionist.
There is no such thing as a perfect game, Campbell explained. But playing with confidence rather than fear will help a quarterback get closer to that standard. And knowing that Borges and Hoke are in his corner will only help as the season goes on.
“It gives you free reign to go out and play, because you know you have someone who has your back, and you know there’s someone who believes in you and that helps you to believe in yourself and believe in what you can do and your ability,” Campbell said. “For Gardner, that’s the thing he needs to know. He just needs to go out there and play, cut it loose.”
- Nick Saban talks about why Alabama nixed the Michigan State series. More on the series cancellation from Joe Rexrode. The Spartans bolster their kicking game in recruiting.
- Some more takes on Jim Delany's pay-for-play comments here and here and here.
- Tom Dienhart previews Week 5 in the Big Ten.
- A great look at Kenny Guiton's evolution with Ohio State. Ohio State's run game is based around power. Urban Meyer calls Wisconsin the king of the Big Ten, but his Ohio State players disagree.
- Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda talked with two former Badgers assistants to help prep for Ohio State. Center Dan Voltz is ready for his chance at Ohio State. Badgers nose guard Beau Allen wants to rush the passer. TCF Bank Stadium is sold out for Floyd. Wisconsin's defense is getting healthier.
- A video look at the Iowa-Minnesota series. An excellent profile of Iowa CB B.J. Lowery from Marc Morehouse. Hawkeyes offensive linemen Brett Van Sloten has molded himself into a Big Ten player.
- QB Philip Nelson and RB Donnell Kirkwood don't appear on Minnesota's latest injury report. Minnesota has played disciplined football so far.
- The USA Today crew makes its national Week 5 picks.
- A good look at Illinois' versatile offensive weapon Josh Ferguson. Illini LB Jonathan Brown mentors the defense. Former Illinois AD Ron Guenther, who will be honored Saturday, hasn't been forgotten in Champaign.
- A good breakdown of the Purdue-Northern Illinois matchup. The Boilers defense will be tested by NIU's Jordan Lynch. Purdue needs a win before it can regroup during the open week.
- Some Michigan nuggets from offensive coordinator Al Borges. Nick Baumgardner's Michigan mailbag. Michigan and Michigan State have time to fix their flaws, Bob Wojnowski writes.
- Three good things and three questions for Penn State after the first four games. Lions safety Ryan Keiser (hand) likely will miss next week's game at Indiana. After the NCAA amended Penn State's sanctions, USC is looking for the same thing.
- There's no real rift between Kain Colter and Northwestern over the APU movement.
- Indiana is anxious to return to the field after last Saturday's loss.
- Nebraska plays the waiting game in recruiting. The Huskers' Spencer Long says it's time to hit the gas pedal as Big Ten play looms.
- Bo Pelini says he "has an idea" who leaked the audio of his 2011 profanity-laced tirade and hints that he might have something to say about it later today. Fan reaction to the Pelini tape has been swift, but his bosses are deliberating over their next move. Taylor Martinez's turf toe puts his status for Saturday in doubt. It's time for Nebraska and Pelini to part ways, Teddy Greenstein writes. Pelini has an uphill battle with Huskers fans, Lars Anderson writes.
- Jerry Kill sidestepped questions about his own health but did say that quarterback Philip Nelson is questionable this weekend. Kill is an inspiration for kids with epilepsy. A deep-pocketed Gophers booster says he's tapped out on donating to the school.
- Michigan State is starting to figure out its lineup heading into the Notre Dame game. Punter Mike Sadler has been hearing it from teammates after he was voted one of the hottest college football players by Seventeen magazine. The "Go Blue" skywriting stunt led to a flood of donations for a cancer group. Connor Cook is confident heading into the showdown with the Irish.
- Al Borges said the Akron game tape showed "some really nice-looking plays surrounded by garbage." Greg Mattison takes the blame for Michigan's poor pass rush and vows to fix it. Blake Countess is regaining his swagger at cornerback.
- The ground-and-pound approach is paying off for Iowa. Happy days are back for the Hawkeyes -- for now. The Iowa fullbacks took center stage on Tuesday.
- The New York Times takes a look at Northwestern's napping. Can the Wildcats average 40,000 fans at home this season? They haven't done it in 15 years. A breakdown of the Northwestern offense.
- Future possible routes for Indiana's Nick Stoner include track and field, the seminary or law school. Another Nick for the Hoosiers, Nick Mangieri, is becoming a force at defensive end for the Hoosiers (subscription required). No wonder Nick's is so popular in Bloomington.
- A defensive tackle committed to Wisconsin is visiting Bret Bielema and Arkansas. The Badgers' past 11 losses have all come by a touchdown or less. Darrell Hazell and Gary Andersen took similar paths.
- Purdue, which has given up 831 rushing yards in the past two meetings with Wisconsin, will have to find a way to stop the Badgers' running game. The game in Madison will be a homecoming for Boilers tight end Justin Sinz.
- The numbers aren't there early on for Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes. Slumping Nittany Lions ticket sales have not hurt the State College economy on gamedays. Bill O'Brien says "thud" tackling is not to blame for the defensive struggles. O'Brien is not a fan of "Spacebook" (but does he use Tweeter?).
- Urban Meyer is more annoyed at the big plays given up by his defense than the missed tackles. Guiton-to-Smith is a historic Ohio State combo. The Buckeyes are the biggest favorites they've ever been this week vs. Florida A&M. Meyer responded to a toddler's recruiting leaflet.
- Illinois wants to return to Soldier Field for more games but faces some obstacles. Grading the Illini at the quarter pole.