Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
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We are almost in the home stretch on our way to signing day, so coaches are pushing it into overdrive to finish out their recruiting classes.

Here is a look at the latest news on the recruiting trail within the Big Ten.

Big Ten morning links

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
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Good morning, Big Ten fans. Only four more days until college football résumés ...

1. Ohio State OC Tom Herman a good fit for Houston: He's currently in negotiations with Houston to be its next head coach, according to The Associated Press. And, if the Cougars sign him in the end, they're getting a good one. He worked a lot of magic with Ohio State's quarterback situation, and Houston could use a little of that after sophomore John O'Korn took a step back and lost his job after a terrific freshman campaign. Herman would have two young quarterbacks to work with -- O'Korn and Greg Ward Jr. -- and he'd inherit a talented team that simply underperformed this season. Herman has proven enough; he's undoubtedly ready to move up the ranks. Ohio State fans should be sad to see him go but, at the age of 39, you knew he couldn't stay around forever. As the winner of the Broyles Award, which goes to the nation's top assistant, he was just too talented stay a coordinator much longer.

2. Indiana one of two leading schools for UAB running back: In case you need to catch up here, UAB running back Jordan Howard is looking for a new home after his program folded. And he's quite the coveted sophomore, considering he's No. 7 nationally with 1,587 rushing yards. As ESPN.com's Jeremy Crabtree reported, Howard has Indiana and Notre Dame leading the way right now. He visited both schools, has no other visits planned and wants to decide where to transfer within about the next three weeks. In other words, it sure looks as if Howard is down to the Irish and the Hoosiers.

It's a bit of a surprise the Alabama native is looking to move up North, but it could work out well for Indiana. Tevin Coleman is expected to declare early for the NFL draft, and the Hoosiers are looking for a replacement. Playing time is something IU could offer, and it doesn't hurt that UAB wideout Marqui Hawkins already chose Indiana. Plus, as Howard told me a little over a week ago, he has some family in the Fort Wayne, Indina, area. If IU can reel him in, he would instantly become one of the most intriguing Big Ten running backs of the 2015 season. He's definitely a player you should be keeping an eye on.

3. $12 million worth of football building renovations at Penn State: OK, so $12 million isn't nearly as much of a head-turner as Maryland's $155 million facility. But we're talking about strictly football here, and $8 million is dedicated to just “branding and graphic upgrades.” As StateCollege.com reported, one of the plans is to integrate video, sound and lighting to “create a ‘Wow' factor in all areas of the building.” Among the renovations? An “experience room,” which is supposed to immerse recruits into a digital, first-person view of game day. Digital locker room name plates are among the suggested concepts, as this renovation is trying to take PSU more into the 21st century. The funds aren't as much as other B1G schools' recent renovations, but PSU doesn't need to alter as much, either. The facilities are already pretty good.

East Division
  • The departure of offensive coordinator Tom Herman won't derail Ohio State, writes The Columbus Dispatch's Rob Oller.
  • Five quick talking points on Michigan State, from Baylor fans buying up MSU's Cotton Bowl tickets to the next career move for defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.
  • Rutgers freshman CB Dre Boggs has played in nine games already this season, but he has higher expectations for himself.
West Division
  • Paul Chryst, who's poised to succeed Gary Andersen at Wisconsin, declined to say Monday that he'll remain with Pitt.

Houston hires OSU's Tom Herman

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
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Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman has signed on to become the head coach at Houston, but he will still work for the Buckeyes in the College Football Playoff.

Herman will receive a five-year, $6.75 million deal from Houston.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for my family and I to come back to Houston and lead one of the top programs in the country," Herman, who has 11 years experience coaching at the college level in Texas, said in a statement. "I am looking forward to working with one of the top athletic directors in the country as well as Chancellor Khator in a partnership that will make the city of Houston and the great state of Texas proud."

Houston fired coach Tony Levine last week. 

No. 4 Ohio State plays No. 1 Alabama in a CFP semifinal Jan. 1 at the Allstate Sugar Bowl. If Ohio State wins, the Buckeyes will play Oregon or Florida State for the national championship on Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas.

Houston plays Pittsburgh in the Armed Forces Bowl on Jan. 2, and defensive coordinator David Gibbs will serve as the Cougars' interim coach.

The 39-year-old Herman, a Cincinnati native, spent the first 10 years of his career coaching in the state of Texas before becoming offensive coordinator at Iowa State (2009-11).

He has been quarterbacks coach and playcaller for Ohio State teams that have gone 36-3 the past three seasons. The Buckeyes rank fifth in the nation in yards per play this season and finished fifth in yards per play last season.

Under Herman, Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller


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Roundtable: Season's best B1G games

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
3:30
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Every day this week, before the bowl season kicks off, our Big Ten panel of experts will be weighing in on different topics related to the regular season.

Our first question of the week: What was the best game of the season?

Brian Bennett: It didn't have a lot of meaning for the rest of the season, but Northwestern's 43-40 overtime win at Notre Dame was as entertaining a game as you could find. The Wildcats, coming off four straight losses in which they had scored a total of 50 points, somehow rallied from 11 points down in the fourth quarter on the road in South Bend. Jack Mitchell drilled a 45-yard field goal with 10 seconds left to tie it and then hit a 41-yarder in the first overtime to give Northwestern a win that ranked alongside their 1995 upset of the Irish in terms of pure shock value.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott, Adrian Amos, Marcus Allen
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarEzekiel Elliott and Ohio State fought past Penn State in double overtime in one of 2014's most memorable Big Ten games.
Austin Ward: Penn State and Ohio State crammed just about every possible kind of intrigue into the double-overtime thriller in October. There was the first stern test on the road for Ohio State freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett against an elite defense and hostile crowd, and on top of that he had to overcome a knee injury in the second half. There were controversial calls, the drama made for compelling action late in regulation, and the Buckeyes would have their College Football Playoff hopes legitimately on the ropes trailing in the first overtime. The win even was clinched with a signature moment, with Joey Bosa bulldozing into the backfield for a walk-off sack that capped a memorable battle that stood out as the most entertaining in the Big Ten this season.

Adam Rittenberg: Neither Minnesota nor Nebraska won the Big Ten West Division this year, but the teams delivered an entertaining game Nov. 22 in Lincoln. The game had a bit of everything: long pass plays, tough running, a key injury to Minnesota's David Cobb and a huge special teams play from Nebraska's Nate Gerry, who returned a blocked field-goal attempt 85 yards for a touchdown. Minnesota hung around and rallied in the second half behind Mitch Leidner, and Nebraska's late push fell short as De'Mornay Pierson-El fumbled near the Gophers goal line. Minnesota held on for a 28-24 win in what proved to be the final home game for Nebraska coach Bo Pelini.

Josh Moyer: Indiana's 31-27 upset over eventual SEC-East champ Missouri still resonates the most with me. The Hoosiers came in as a two-touchdown underdog to the then-No. 18 Tigers, and all of us predicted another IU loss. Why wouldn't we? Indiana had lost its last 18 games against ranked opponents (dating to 2006), and it last beat a top-18 opponent on the road in 1941. So all signs pointed to a Mizzou win, especially when it took a 27-24 lead with a little more than two minutes left in the game. But IU quarterback Nate Sudfeld wouldn't be denied; he engineered a six-play, 75-yard game-winning touchdown drive. Just 22 seconds remained following the score. After a rough Week 2 in the Big Ten, no one expected this kind of game in Week 4.

Dan Murphy: Maybe it wasn't the most competitive, but Wisconsin's 59-24 win over Nebraska on Nov. 15 will go down as the most memorable game in the Big Ten this season. That game, a battle for control of the West Division, sent the two teams in opposite directions to finish the year. The Huskers' loss on a big stage probably sealed Pelini's fate in Lincoln and started a domino effect that will significantly shuffle the league's coaches. The record-setting performance by Melvin Gordon punched his ticket to the Heisman Trophy ceremony. His 408-yard mark stood for only one week, but the images of him galloping untouched through Nebraska's defense and the falling snow will have a much longer shelf life.

Mitch Sherman: Let’s not forget the Big Ten newcomers. Maryland and Rutgers largely fared better than expected in challenging situations as they prepared for unfamiliar foes every week. And when they met on Nov. 29 in College Park, the seeds for a new rivalry were planted. Rutgers completed the largest comeback in school history to win 41-38 on Kyle Federico’s 25-yard field goal with six minutes to play. The game featured nearly 1,000 total yards, just five punts and two turnovers, excellent red zone- and third-down efficiency. In other words, it wasn’t a sloppy mess. The Scarlet Knights trailed 35-10 late in the second quarter when a Maryland roughing-the-punter penalty extended a TD drive that sparked the rally. If this was just a start, we’re all excited to see where this series can go.

Moments that shaped the playoff

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
1:48
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There are many moments that define a season, but this is the first year plays defined a playoff.

It wasn't just Baylor's nonconference schedule that doomed the Bears' playoff hopes; it was the loss at West Virginia that knocked them out of the top four. It wasn't only the performance by Ohio State third-string quarterback Cardale Jones in the Big Ten title game that punched the ticket for the Buckeyes; it was the win against Michigan State that put them in position to get there.

Here's a look at how the top four spots were won -- or lost -- in a historic season for the sport.

Alabama

The opponents: Arkansas and Mississippi State.

The moments: The first came in the fourth quarter at unranked Arkansas, when Landon Collins intercepted Brandon Allen on third-and-10 to seal the 14-13 win. The second moment wasn't a single play -- it was a 15-play drive in the fourth quarter against then-No. 1 Mississippi State. Alabama was clinging to a 19-13 lead when that 76-yard touchdown drive ate 6:07 off the clock and added a 25-13 cushion with T.J. Yeldon's 7-yard touchdown run. Blake Sims converted all three third downs himself (one pass, two rushes). It was Alabama's first win over a No. 1-ranked team in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The outcome: The win at Arkansas was critical not only for the SEC West standings, but from an emotional standpoint, as well. The Tide had to rebound from the previous week's loss at Ole Miss. The upset of Mississippi State put Alabama in the selection committee's rankings for the first time -- a spot the Tide would never relinquish.


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Early 2015 Big Ten Heisman hopefuls

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
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Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon came up one spot short of snapping the Big Ten’s eight-year streak without a Heisman Trophy winner this weekend. The last Big Ten player to win the award was Ohio State’s Troy Smith in 2006. With all three of this year’s finalists likely shipping off to the NFL, let’s take a look at who could end the Big Ten drought next fall.

[+] EnlargeTevin Coleman
AP Photo/John Sommers IIHeisman pose for 2015? Indiana's Tevin Coleman topped the 2,000-yard mark this season but could leave early for the NFL.
Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: Coleman is expected to make a decision about turning pro this week. If he makes the unlikely choice to return, he will be the Big Ten’s best returning back. The junior ran for 2,036 yards this year while being largely overshadowed by Gordon, who had a better supporting cast.

Ohio State’s starting quarterback: The name might not be filled in until August, but reserve one spot on this list for whoever is leading the Buckeyes’ offense next year. Will it be J.T. Barrett, who might have earned a trip to New York this year if not for a season-ending injury in Ohio State’s final regular-season game? Will it be two-time Big Ten Player of the Year Braxton Miller? Or perhaps current starter Cardale Jones? The winner of that job will get a cache of playmakers and a team that will be favored to repeat as conference champs.

Wisconsin RB Corey Clement: Gordon’s understudy this season ran for 844 yards and nine touchdowns. He has averaged nearly 7 yards per carry in his two seasons with the Badgers. The offensive line that paved the way for Clement and Gordon is losing three starters, which could hurt his chances. Wisconsin, though, has historically had no problem replacing talent in the trenches.

Michigan State QB Connor Cook: He has one more season to lead the Spartans’ evolving offense. Cook loses his top target (Tony Lippett) and top runner (Jeremy Langford) to graduation, but Michigan State is a consistent winner. Leading a team to the playoff with an offense that averages 40-plus points would put Cook in contention for the school’s first Heisman Trophy.

ESPN's Big Ten all-freshman team

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
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The Big Ten doesn't put out an all-freshman team. But we do. Here are our picks for the top first-year players in the league in 2014:

Offense

QB: J.T. Barrett, Ohio State: Well, duh.

RB: Justin Jackson, Northwestern: In the year of the running back in the Big Ten, Jackson somewhat quietly produced 1,187 yards and 10 touchdowns as a true freshman.

RB: Curtis Samuel, Ohio State: He added to the Buckeyes' ridiculous array of skill players, running for 386 yards and six scores. Looks like a future star.

WR: Mike Dudek, Illinois: In another season, one in which a guy like Barrett doesn't put up mind-boggling stats, Dudek would have been the freshman of the year in the league. He should surpass 1,000 yards receiving in the Fighting Illini's bowl game.

WR: DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State: Though the Nittany Lions' offense struggled, Hamilton caught more passes (75) than any other Big Ten player and finished with 848 yards in the regular season.

WR/RB: Jalin Marshall, Ohio State: A versatile, speedy weapon who could come out of the backfield or fly into it, Marshall scored seven touchdowns on offense and one on punt returns. He's also the team's backup quarterback right now.

OL: Mason Cole, Michigan: The first Wolverine ever to start the opener at left tackle as a true freshman, Cole stayed there all season and showed a lot of promise with his excellent footwork and instincts.

OL: Brian Allen, Michigan State: The true freshman and brother of All-Big Ten center Jack Allen appeared in all 12 games, with one start at left guard.

OL: Billy Price, Ohio State: The redshirt freshman has started all 13 games as a guard for the Buckeyes.

OL: Andrew Nelson, Penn State: The Nittany Lions had their issues on the offensive line, but Nelson started every game at tackle -- including twice at left tackle -- and has a bright future.

OL: Christian DiLauro, Illinois: He filled in as the starting right tackle in the second half of the season for the Illini and helped them rally their way to a bowl game.

Defense

DL: Kemoko Turay, Rutgers: After a torrid start, the pass rushing specialist finished with 7.5 sacks. He also blocked a field goal against Michigan to preserve that victory.

DL: Malik McDowell, Michigan State: The blue-chip recruit whose signing day saga made headlines showed his talent by playing in all 12 games and recording 3.5 tackles for loss.

DL: Steven Richardson, Minnesota: Thrust into a starting role after the first week because of injuries, the true freshman more than held his own by finishing with 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.

LB: Darron Lee, Ohio State: After taking a medical redshirt last year, Lee emerged as one of the Buckeyes' top defensive playmakers, recording 66 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and a pair of fumble recoveries, one of which he scored on.

LB: Ja'Whan Bentley, Purdue: The Boilermakers' linebacker position has been a problem for the past few years, but Bentley is part of the solution. He was Purdue's second-leading tackler on the season with 76 stops, adding an interception and three fumble recoveries.

LB: Anthony Walker, Northwestern: In his first start against Penn State, Walker returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown. He also had a pick in the win at Notre Dame and led the Wildcats with nine tackles for loss.

LB: Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State: Playing mostly in a reserve role, McMillan had an immediate impact on the Buckeyes. The former stud recruit recorded 50 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception.

DB: Eli Apple, Ohio State: It's scary how many star freshmen the Buckeyes have. Apple is another, as he had 41 tackles, including 5.5 for loss, and a pair of interceptions.

DB: Montae Nicholson, Michigan State: The true freshman played in every game and had three starts in the Spartans' "No Fly Zone." He had 30 tackles and a pair of fumble recoveries.

DB: Godwin Igwebuike, Northwestern: He made waves in the Wildcats' upset win over Wisconsin by grabbing three interceptions. He started five times at safety and finished with 51 tackles.

DB: Marcus Allen, Penn State: He started Penn State's final six games at safety after Ryan Keiser got hurt, and the Nittany Lions' defense didn't miss a beat. He was third on the team in tackles with 52.

Specialists

K: Rafael Gaglianone, Wisconsin: The effusive Brazilian with the strong leg went 17-for-20 on field goals, including 2-of-3 from beyond 50 yards.

P: Daniel Pasquariello, Penn State: His 37.7-yards per punt average was nothing to write home about -- except the Australian probably does write home a lot. He improved down the stretch to solidify the Nittany Lions' punt team.

Returner: De'Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska: He was third in the FBS in punt-return average (17.8) and scored three touchdowns, including a memorable one in the comeback win at Iowa.

Big Ten morning links

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
8:00
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Miss college football? Bowl games begin this weekend. Giddy up.

1. Wisconsin can't officially offer its vacant head coaching job to anyone until Wednesday, but all signs still point to Paul Chryst being the guy despite chatter about him being interested in staying at Pitt and athletic director Barry Alvarez talking to Greg Schiano.

The focus now is on hiring assistants, and Jeff Potrykus writes that keeping defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is a possibility. If so, that would be a major coup, as Aranda is one of the brightest young defensive minds in the game and is loyal to Gary Andersen. Potrykus also reports that former Wisconsin assistant Joe Rudolph could return to Madison along with Chryst.

2. The Michigan search continues, and the longer this goes on the more you have to think the Wolverines must believe they have a shot at Jim Harbaugh. There's a potential interesting twist to this saga, however, as there are reports the Miami Dolphins could fire coach Joe Philbin and take a run at Harbaugh.

Of course, the Dolphins are owned by Stephen Ross, who is arguably Michigan's most well-known booster. He would naturally be involved in putting together a lucrative package to bring Harbaugh to Ann Arbor. I can't imagine Ross would trap door his alma mater in order to bring Harbaugh to Miami, so if there's more to this pursuit than it indicates that Harbaugh truly is interested in leaving the NFL ranks right now.

3. The Columbus Dispatch's Bill Rabinowitz reports that the Ohio State parents association has written a letter to the Big Ten asking for financial assistance to travel to the Buckeyes' semifinal game against Alabama in New Orleans.

Each family can be reimbursed $800 out of the school's student-assistance fund, but that's still not enough to cover all the travel costs. And things only get more expensive if Ohio State wins and moves on to the national title game in Texas.

Star defensive tackle Michael Bennett's mother, Connie, called it "reprehensible" that players' families aren't helped more when it comes to traveling to watch their sons play.

"They're making hand-over-fist dollars on our guys, the guys take all of the risk for the entertainment dollars and they ignore their families altogether," she said, according to Dispatch story.

The playoff is a great thing for the sport, but how fans and especially families were going to be able to get to those games has always been a major unanswered question. Neither the Big Ten nor NCAA can change that right now, but given the new autonomy measures the Power 5 conferences have been granted, this needs to become a priority. The playoff will generate an enormous pile of money, and a small part of that should go toward making sure participating players' parents are in the stands.

West Division
East Division

Early Offer: The dead period is here 

December, 14, 2014
Dec 14
11:00
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video
What is the dead period and why is it an important time in football recruiting? Plus, Texas Tech’s loss at quarterback could be Baylor’s gain.

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video

Kirk Herbstreit breaks down the College Football Playoff semifinal bowl games, featuring four star-studded offenses, with a trip to the national championship game on the line.

Big Ten Friday mailbag

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
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It's time once again to usher in the weekend with a Friday mailbag. This week's edition is chock full of coaching transition questions and conspiracy theories.

Dave in Ohio writes: OK. Gary Andersen left Wisconsin for OSU (not the one we know). He's a western guy. I was more surprised when he took the UW job than I am that he left. The bigger question, to me, is how much longer can Michigan wait to find its new coach? The clock continues to tick, and the longer it waits, the more it looks like another Brady Hoke-type hire.

Dan Murphy: The longer Michigan waits, the more optimistic its fans should be. Interim athletic director Jim Hackett has been on the job for little more than a month; his patience is prudent. Michigan is (and should be) willing to wait for Jim Harbaugh or Les Miles. The school won’t wait if both men have turned the job down through back channels. So, while there’s a chance they’ve already said “no thanks” and the Wolverines are now desperately seeking a Plan B hire, it's more likely that the Wolverines are biding their time and vetting backup plans in case the top choices don’t work out.

There’s a natural tendency to want to pile on the “Michigan can’t get anything right” rhetoric after the past year in Ann Arbor, but this search hasn’t provided any tinder for that fire. There’s no reason to rush a very important decision.

Tom in Berkeley, California, writes: I'm not surprised that Wisconsin lost the [Big Ten championship] to Ohio State, but this is a team that has lost by more than one score once in the past five years. A 59-0 loss is quite a surprise. Is it possible that the head coach, and perhaps many of the assistants, were focused on where they would be coaching next and were neglecting their game prep?

Dan Murphy: Nebraska hired Mike Riley on Thursday night. Virtually no one knew the Oregon State job would be open before then. Did Gary Andersen’s mind wander toward the possibility of a move on Friday? Maybe. Even if it did, I doubt that was a damning distraction for the routine walkthrough most teams hold the day before a game. There’s no way Andersen wasn’t fully focused on winning a conference championship the following day. It takes an incredibly competitive nature and a strong ability to compartmentalize to become a successful head coach. As for his assistants, many of them didn't know until Andersen took the job earlier this week. There are many reasons why Ohio State beat Wisconsin. A distracted coaching staff is not one of them.

Dan Murphy: Paul Chryst has a 19-19 record in three years at Pittsburgh while trying to shift from one style of offense to another. Those aren't numbers that were going to shoot him to the top of many coaching search lists. At Wisconsin, though, he provides an opportunity for stability. The Madison native played quarterback for the Badgers and was an offensive coordinator there for seven seasons. After losing two coaches in short time, finding someone who will stick around for a while should be a priority for Wisconsin. He understands the job and knows the administration. Some of the players he recruited are still around. Wisconsin doesn't need someone who can build a team from scratch. The program is in great shape, it just needs someone who can keep things headed in the same direction. It's worth noting here that Wisconsin can't officially offer the job to anyone until Dec. 17 because of university hiring policy. Dan Murphy: It's impossible to say definitively, but I wouldn't count on Dave Aranda staying in Madison. He coached with Andersen at Utah and, like Andersen, has spent the majority of his career further West. The California native is probably due for a head coaching job in the near future, but my guess is he's not going to be sticking around at Wisconsin until then. Dan Murphy: Herman is the next Urban Meyer disciple in line for a head job. Travis Haney reported earlier today that he impressed Houston's athletic director in a meeting this week, but Herman could help himself down the road by passing during this year's cycle for a couple reasons. Right now his focus is on getting a third-string quarterback ready to face an SEC champion defense for a shot at a national championship. More importantly, the amount of talent coming back for the Buckeyes will put Herman behind the wheel of a frightening offense in 2015. If he hangs on for another year or two, he'll have bigger opportunities than he does now. Dan Murphy: You've got to go with the guy with experience here, right? Not only does Barry Alvarez have experience as a head coach, but he has experience stepping in to coach a bowl game after a coach leaves. Nebraska's Barney Cotton has been with 'Huskers since 2008 but hasn't been a head coach since he was at Hastings College in 1996. Before the coaching carousel got started, I would've given Wisconsin a better shot at beating Auburn than Nebraska over USC. That doesn't change with the interims in place. Brian in Omaha writes: Conspiracy Theory: Barry "The Godfather" Alvarez told Gary Andersen he had to lay a goose egg in the B1G championship or he would reduce his assistants salary pool by 10 percent so the B1G could have a representative in the CFP. Meanwhile in a dark room Jim Delany stares at a pile of cash while he slowly strokes Faux Pelini's cat.

Dan Murphy: Nailed it. Now please pass the tin foil, my hat is falling apart.

B1G roundtable: Bowl thoughts, Part V

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
3:30
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All week, our Big Ten panel of experts has been weighing in on topics related to the league's postseason lineup.

Our final question of the week is this: What's your early prediction on the Big Ten's bowl record?

Brian Bennett: I'll go with 4-6. And that's if several things go right, especially in the lower-tier bowls. This is once again a very challenging postseason slate for the Big Ten, which will face some elite offenses in Baylor and Auburn, the No. 1 team in the country in Alabama, a seasoned team playing a virtual home game (Stanford) and an SEC division winner, among others. Regardless, the postseason is already a success for the Big Ten because the league got a team into the playoff.

Josh Moyer: The Big Ten certainly didn’t draw an easy lot with these matchups, so it’s difficult envisioning a scenario where the conference ends the bowl season with a winning record. I waffled between three and four wins, but the Big Ten is an underdog in each of its matchups. That doesn't bode well. On the plus side, it should be easier to steal some wins from the lower-tier games. For example, Illinois’ Tim Beckman is facing a Louisiana Tech team that fell to Northwestern State and Old Dominion. A win is a win, right?

Adam Rittenberg: I'll go 4-6. The underdog thing is nothing new in the league, but several games look like toss-ups to me. Both Ohio State and Michigan State have tough tasks in the big bowls, but there are opportunities for wins near the bottom of the lineup.

Mitch Sherman: With its three traditional SEC matchups in addition to the playoff semifinal in the Sugar Bowl, the Big Ten faces a tough task to get to .500. I think it happens after a strong start that includes at least two wins from the group of Illinois, Rutgers and Penn State. I’ll say 5-5, which -- do the math -- includes an Ohio State loss to Alabama.

Dan Murphy: I'm going with 5-5. The Big Ten shows its teams have, for the most part, improved since the early September disaster by playing competitive games against some quality opponents.

Austin Ward: The most accurate picker on the Big Ten blog this season usually needs a little more time to crack the code and nail down the winners, but initially I would expect the conference to finish with at least 6 wins. Currently that doesn’t include a victory for Ohio State, but Urban Meyer has been masterful as an underdog and I think at a minimum that matchup will be close. I’m reserving the right to change my pick to the Buckeyes later this month.
The University of Houston spoke this week with Ohio State co-offensive coordinator Tom Herman, multiple sources with knowledge of the search have told ESPN.com.

They added that the 39-year-old Herman impressed athletic director Mack Rhoades and the school’s administration.

Those familiar with the program say it is looking for someone to again make its offense as explosive as it was when Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Baylor’s Art Briles were at UH.

This season, Ohio State finished behind only Oregon in terms of Power 5 yards-per-play offense (7.04). The Buckeyes overcame a lot at the quarterback position to accomplish that.

Ohio State lost Heisman candidate Braxton Miller to a shoulder injury midway through preseason camp in August, but Herman and OSU’s coaching staff were able to turn backup J.T. Barrett into another Heisman hopeful by November.

[+] EnlargeHerman
Jason Mowry/Icon SMITom Herman has spoken with Houston about its open head coaching job, according to sources.
Then, when Barrett broke his ankle in the regular-season finale against Michigan, the Buckeyes plugged in Cardale Jones for the team’s 59-0 rout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.

The win propelled OSU into the first College Football Playoff. Jones, the No. 3 quarterback in August, had 257 yards and three touchdowns against the Badgers.

Herman has some familiarity with the Houston area, as well. He was the offensive coordinator at Rice from 2007-08. Rice and Houston’s campuses are separated by a couple miles.

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True Freshman All-America Team

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
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[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsSamaje Perine set the NCAA record for rushing yards in a single game. Not bad for a true freshman.

It seems like every year, true freshmen are having a greater impact on the game. This season continued that trend. There were so many good first-year running backs that great players such as Nick Chubb and Dalvin Cook couldn't find their way to this team. Meanwhile, a trio of SEC pass-rushers had immediate influence, with one even breaking Jadeveon Clowney's freshman sack record. Expect to hear a lot more from this group over the next few years.

Offense

QB: Brad Kaaya, Miami

This past summer was a disaster at quarterback for Miami, which lost starter Ryan Williams to injury and prospect Kevin Olsen to off-the-field issues, but Kaaya provided a resounding solution. After some early struggles on the road in his first start, Kaaya was exceptional and led the ACC in touchdowns (25), yards per attempt (8.6) and passer rating (148.2) while proving to be one of the best deep-ball threats in the country.


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Earlier today, we presented our All-Big Ten team. As you can imagine, there was a lot of debate between the six of us over who should make the team and who should get left off. Let's discuss some of our toughest choices and omissions:

Austin Ward: Thanks in large part to all the dirty work he was doing at the start of the year, Michael Bennett didn’t pile up the type of numbers that build a rock-solid case as an all-conference performer. But when it mattered most over the final month of the season, there probably wasn’t a defensive player in the league having a greater impact than the Ohio State senior as he made life miserable in the trenches in the most important games of the season for the Big Ten champs. Dating back to the road trip to Michigan State on Nov. 8, Bennett closed the season with 5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles down the stretch, looking every bit the All-American he was expected to be in the preseason.

[+] EnlargeKurtis Drummond
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsThree cornerbacks made ESPN.com's All-Big Ten team, which meant a deserving player in Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond didn't make the cut.
Brian Bennett: The toughest single position to choose was at defensive back. You may have noticed our team did not include Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond, who was named the Big Ten defensive back of the year. That's no slight against Drummond, who's an outstanding player, but we felt like we had to go with three cornerbacks, given the play of Maryland's Will Likely, Minnesota's Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Drummond's own teammate, Trae Waynes. In fact, Ohio State's Doran Grant had a strong case for inclusion as well, and we wanted to recognize what Wisconsin's Michael Caputo contributed to the league's best defense, statistically, during the regular season. Defensive back was a loaded position, and there wouldn't be much difference between the first- and second-team selections there.

Adam Rittenberg: I don't have a major beef with our selections this year, although it would have been nice to find a place for Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah on the offense. Melvin Gordon told me Wednesday that if Abdullah hadn't sustained a knee injury in early November, he also would have reached the 2,000-yard plateau. Imagine if the Big Ten had three 2,000-yard rushers in the same season. Safety wasn't the strongest position in the league this year, while cornerback turned out to be surprisingly good.

Dan Murphy: It's too bad we can't field an entire offense out of running backs because the Big Ten had almost enough of them worthy of filling out an all-conference roster. Minnesota teammates and cousins David Cobb (running back) and Damien Wilson (middle linebacker) both were left of the list after great years for a surprising Gophers team. Cobb would have made the team in most other years, and Wilson was a narrow miss. Freshman receiver Mike Dudek also deserves some recognition, but there's a good chance his name will pop up here in the next few years.

Josh Moyer: Cornerback was relatively strong this season, so we decided to go with three corners and one safety on our team. As a result, Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond was the odd man out, and he’s a player who definitely deserves some recognition. He struggled a few times this season -- missing open-field tackles against Purdue and not faring well against Ohio State -- but he was still named the Big Ten defensive back of the year. We thought Wisconsin's Michael Caputo played better, but Drummond was still solid and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection by both the coaches and media. He helped keep Michigan State’s No-Fly Zone together, while leading the team in tackles (65), interceptions (4), pass breakups (11) and pass deflections (15). He just missed the cut.

Mitch Sherman: I'm not sure we picked the right defensive lineman from Iowa. Louis Trinca-Pasat enjoyed an outstanding year, outperforming fellow tackle Carl Davis, who was more highly regarded before the season. But what about Drew Ott, the disruptive end who collected eight sacks, 12 tackles behind the line, scored a touchdown against Nebraska, forced a fumble and picked off a pass? Ott is just as deserving as Michigan State's Calhoun, though I doubt there's room for two linemen from an Iowa defense that ranked firmly in the middle of the Big Ten. So with the variety of defensive looks employed around the league, I'd take three ends and one tackle, like the coaches and media teams, inserting Ott in place of Trinca-Pasat.

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BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12