Why Maryland will win: Our best chance for an offensive shootout in the conference this weekend will be in Bloomington. Indiana's up-tempo offense took down reigning SEC East champ Missouri last weekend. Maryland has the firepower to keep pace. Quarterback C.J. Brown has gotten consistently stronger in the passing game over the past few weeks and has a handful of big-play targets surrounding him. The Terps sounded geeked to make their Big Ten debut during the week of preparation, which should help them outlast Indiana in a close one. Maryland 38, Indiana 33 -- Dan Murphy
Why Indiana will win: Because these Hoosiers are different. They're not going to disappoint their fans, as is customary for IU football. They're not going to follow a big win with a deflating loss before a home crowd itching for something about which to get excited. These Hoosiers are different because of running back Tevin Coleman, the do-it-all junior who might rank as the most underrated player in college football. Indiana has momentum after its road upset at Missouri and motivation to continue to prove that a loss two weeks ago at Bowling Green was an aberration -- that this is a team ready to play in the postseason. And if all that isn't enough, the Hoosiers aren't playing Michigan State; they're simply good enough to outscore Maryland. Indiana 35, Maryland 27 -- Mitch Sherman
Why Minnesota will win: Michigan's generosity with the football has been well documented, and it doesn't even seem to matter who plays quarterback as those woes continued even after Devin Gardner was removed from last week's loss to Utah. On the flip side, only one team in the nation has more takeaways than Minnesota's defense, and that combination doesn't seem like a great recipe for the Wolverines to hold on to the Little Brown Jug. The Gophers have had their own problems protecting the football, but a powerful rushing attack and stout defense should put them in position to make Brady Hoke's life even more difficult. Minnesota 20, Michigan 13 -- Austin Ward
Why Michigan will win: The season is really on the line for the Wolverines and coach Brady Hoke. If U-M loses, a bowl berth suddenly seems unlikely and Hoke's seat would be hotter than ever with some tough games remaining in a competitive East Division (Penn State, Michigan State, Ohio State). I don't think Michigan is done yet, and the Wolverines seem to always find a way to beat Minnesota, even with their weaker teams (see: 2008). Michigan's defense matches up well against a one-dimensional Gophers offense. Minnesota's ability to take the ball away scares me, but I think Michigan grinds out a win in a low-scoring game to keep Hoke alive. Michigan 13, Minnesota 10 -- Adam Rittenberg
Michigan State over Wyoming 42-6: A tuneup for the Spartans, who host Nebraska next week. The Cowboys have fared well this year without scoring many points. They won't score many in East Lansing, either, though it comes with a less favorable outcome.
Ohio State over Cincinnati 45-17: The Buckeyes, off a bye week, continue to take steps forward by stopping Cincinnati QB Gunner Kiel, who has thrown 10 touchdowns in two games. Ohio State puts up a big rushing number.
Penn State over Northwestern 24-10: The Nittany Lions continue to get it done with defense -- especially up front, where breakout senior tackle Anthony Zettel makes life miserable for the punchless Wildcats, who average 4.54 yards per play, 116th nationally.
Nebraska over Illinois 48-24: The Huskers avoid a letdown, between big games against Miami and Michigan State, behind strong performances again from running back Ameer Abdullah and QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. as another slow start dooms the Illini.
Iowa over Purdue 28-20: More signs of improvement from the Boilermakers, but for a second straight week, QB C.J. Beathard rallies the Hawkeyes in the second half as Iowa starts to find an identity by getting its talented cast of receivers more involved.
Wisconsin over USF 56-14: That big soft spot in the schedule allows for another easy win as the Badgers run wild again. More important, QB Tanner McEvoy enjoys a solid game, and the Wisconsin defense surges forward, hinting at the capabilities of this team in a few weeks.
Rutgers over Tulane 37-17: The Scarlet Knights get a week before Big Ten play resumes to devise a way to replace injured running back Paul James. Against the Green Wave, who struggle to stop the run, Justin Goodwin and Desmon Peoples fill in nicely.
Adam Rittenberg: 40-10 (80 percent)
Mitch Sherman: 40-10 (80)
Brian Bennett: 39-11 (78)
Austin Ward: 39-11 (78)
Josh Moyer: 36-14 (72)
Dan Murphy: 9-4 (69)
1. What's the secret?: Chalk it up as gamesmanship or protecting the offensive plan, but there's really no reason for Brady Hoke to be trying to hide his starting quarterback at this point. For one thing, Minnesota coach Jerry Kill has already made it clear that he won't waste time preparing for a "ghost," which means he's already gearing his team up for Devin Gardner. Considering Gardner's multipurpose abilities, it would seem far easier for the Gophers to adjust to Shane Morris if the Wolverines elect to start him, so there doesn't seem to be much gained there. And from a Michigan standpoint, if Hoke is sticking by Gardner, wouldn't he be better served with a public vote of confidence from his coach instead of leaving open the debate about which option is really best to lead the attack? Hoke surely has enough to worry about at this point elsewhere, and he's never seemed all that concerned about public perception when it comes to his news conferences. But it's hard to think guarding a secret about his starting quarterback is worth the effort, and there's a chance it might actually be doing damage.
2. Sneaky-good game of the weekend: Before the season started, it was easy to overlook the matchup. Even now with both teams bringing a loss into the weekend, it might still not stand out as worth watching. But Maryland visiting Indiana for the Big Ten opener for both promises to be entertaining, and it may also have the benefit of being a worthwhile win for the victor down the road. The Hoosiers put themselves back on track for a possible bowl bid with their win at Missouri last weekend, and the Terrapins have emerged as something of a dark horse threat in the East Division with their only loss coming in a shootout against a tough West Virginia squad. There's much more on the line than might have been guessed before the season when it just looked like the conference debut for Maryland, and it certainly will be worth watching on Saturday afternoon.
3. Buckeyes scrambling to replace Spence: Ohio State already had to rely on Steve Miller to fill the void at defensive end left by Noah Spence's suspension before his second failed drug test, so it hasn't had to come up with a new solution since a second failed drug test made it unlikely they would ever get the All-Big Ten pass-rusher back on the field. But what would happen now if Miller goes down or the Buckeyes need to expand the rotation back to eight or nine guys up front as they originally planned? It's possible Adolphus Washington might again be forced to move back outside after seemingly finding a spot to settle once and for all on the interior, and Urban Meyer admitted there have been discussions about making that adjustment. But he indicated it won't happen this week, which could put freshmen Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes in line for action against Cincinnati. That definitely wasn't what Ohio State had in mind before the season when the line was touted as perhaps the nation's best unit, but that's now the reality of its situation.
- Derrick Green has officially pulled away from the pack in the Michigan backfield.
- Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford is ready for action.
- Patience has been a virtue for Penn State's Zach Zwinak.
- Is the cornerback position at Rutgers cursed?
- How will Maryland adjust to address the loss of tight end Andrew Isaacs?
- What would it take for Tevin Coleman to get some Heisman Trophy love?
- Ohio State H-back Jalin Marshall weighs in on a potential "statement game" against Cincinnati.
- From trash talk to cheap shots, Nebraska's Randy Gregory is getting plenty of attention this season.
- Purdue has already doubled its win total from last season and Darrell Hazell believes things are pointing in the right direction.
- Minnesota isn't planning to win any Big Ten games with just 7 passing yards. In the past, the Gophers have actually won with less.
- A look at everything that goes into handling a weather delay like Illinois had last weekend.
- Fullbacks may be falling by the wayside nationally, but the position is still alive and well at Iowa.
- Northwestern has the speakers blaring at practice and is ready to hit the road to take on Penn State.
- Blitzing is all about effort, and that's no problem for Wisconsin's Derek Landisch.
Josh Moyer: It's not exactly a well-kept secret whom Michigan would like to get - Jim Harbaugh or Les Miles - but I would still label both candidates as "serious," too. Usually, successful NFL coaches don't take a step back down to college. But Harbaugh doesn't have a great relationship with the San Francisco 49ers' general manager, and Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio is already predicting a Harbaugh-to-Michigan move. If Harabugh would be willing to jump to the Wolverines, Michigan would be crazy not to take him. As for Miles, he's already twice been passed over for the Michigan job. But, even this summer, it sure didn't sound as if he held a grudge: "It's certainly a place I hold very near and dear to my heart." Miles to Michigan? ESPN's own Travis Haney believes there's smoke to that one. Either hire would be a slam dunk for Michigan. It'd be up to either head coach if he wants to keep Doug Nussmeier, but I wouldn't be surprised if he stayed.
@ESPNJoshMoyer Who do you think are some serious Michigan head coach replacements if Hoke gets the boot? And will Nuss stay?— Steve Crank (@stephencrank) September 24, 2014
Josh Moyer: It shows the Hoosiers are on the right track, but it's premature to start calling them a serious contender, or even a dark horse. Let's not forget, Indiana also just lost to Bowling Green in a shootout two weeks ago. You want a dark horse right now? Maybe Penn State. But Indiana still needs to show consistency, that it can string together solid some solid performances. Until the Hoosiers do that, they may be a team on the rise, but I hesitate to call them anything more. Maryland will be a good test Saturday.
@ESPNJoshMoyer I know it's still early but does Indiana's win over Missouri show that the they can actually be a dark horse conf. contender?— Paul Shen (@Pianopunster10) September 24, 2014
Josh Moyer: In this week's power rankings, we listed Ohio State as No. 4 while Wisconsin was listed at No. 5. And it's a good question -- but you know what? I absolutely agree with you. We don't agree on everything here on the Big Ten blog, so we each do our own rankings and then add them all up to get the Big Ten Power Rankings that you see. This week, two of us ranked the Badgers ahead of the Buckeyes. I was one of them. Wisconsin's lack of a vertical passing game definitely works against it - and I'd wager that's probably what's holding back some of my colleagues - but Ohio State hasn't exactly been impressive, either. The Navy game was a lot closer than the score indicated, and the Virginia Tech loss looks a lot worse now after losses to East Carolina and Georgia Tech. These teams still have a lot to prove, and that's why these rankings are so fluid. If OSU struggles against Cincinnati and Wisconsin dominates USF, you'll probably see our overall rankings flip-flop.
@ESPNJoshMoyer Why so high on Ohio st in your rankings. They struggled with harder teams and low with Wisconsin who has a good defense front— johnsg20 (@stevegred17) September 24, 2014
Josh Moyer: This has to be a Nebraska fan fishing for compliments, right? Because, right now, it's pretty clear the Cornhuskers are the team to beat. At 4-0, they're the Big Ten's best hope for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Ameer Abdullah could be part of the Heisman ceremony at the end of the year, the passing game is doing just fine, and the Huskers rank No. 31 in the nation in total defense. The Badgers appear to be the West's No. 2 team but, if Iowa's offense continues to play like it did against Pitt, then the Hawkeyes certainly have the potential to move up. Minnesota needs to get some kind of passing game going to legitimately compete in the West and the other three teams - Ilinois, Purdue, Northwestern - are just a mess.
@ESPNJoshMoyer who is the top team in the West right now?— Adam Boben (@abobes7) September 24, 2014
Brent Clarke writes: I'm a diehard PSU fan/alum. Based on the play this season and with the noted issues on the O-line and rushing (Umass game notwithstanding), I think they are an above-average B1G team. I think they could achieve 9ish wins. With that said, what do you think has to happen for Penn State to crack into the polls (Top 25)? Can they do it this week if they win against Northwestern?
Josh Moyer: I'm with you there, Brent. I said before that Penn State was likely capable of between seven and nine wins but, if this offensive line can show marked improvement, that ceiling rises. Regardless, the Nittany Lions are already receiving the 27th-most votes in both polls -- so a win against Northwestern should definitely vault them into the Top 25. That was my thinking before the season, so that obviously remains my thinking now. There's a decent chance Penn State might be 6-0 heading into its Oct. 25 matchup against Ohio State. If that's the case, PSU could be ranked in the teens. That's a game Penn State fans like to circle every year, and that could wind up being an incredibly important one.
There is still plenty of football to be played and more than enough opportunities to shake up the ballots. But our Big Ten reporters are voting weekly on the races to take the pulse of the races, with players receiving five points for a first-place vote, four for a second-place nod, etc. Also, we try hard to base these standings on 2014 season results only, not any preconceived notions or a player's previous track record.
Here's where it stands after Week 4:
Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year
1. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (six first-place votes): Another prolific performance in a win for the unbeaten Huskers and another unanimous selection as the top offensive player in the league. Abdullah has set the bar high in the early going and could be tough to chase down if Nebraska keeps rolling.
2. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: Still something of an unknown nationally, Coleman helped get his name out last weekend in the upset at Missouri. He's actually averaging more rushing yards per game than Abdullah.
3. Michigan State QB Connor Cook: Fresh off a bye, Cook was able to take even more time off after carving up Eastern Michigan early and and then calling it a day after six attempts last weekend. He's completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and is clearly building on his strong finish to last season.
4. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: One of the preseason favorites has finally arrived in the rankings after a slow start. Gordon made up for some lost time with a ridiculous outing against Bowling Green, steamrolling to 5 touchdowns and 253 yards on just 13 carries.
5. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: Massachusetts didn't pose much of a threat to the Nittany Lions, and the sophomore didn't need to do much to secure another victory. He still leads the Big Ten in passing yardage, but he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns at this point.
Also receiving votes: Minnesota RB David Cobb and Michigan State WR Tony Lippett.
Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year
1. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel (six first-place votes): The clear-cut leader for the second week in a row, the defensive tackle continues to lead the league in tackles for loss. His emergence has been invaluable during the perfect start for the Nittany Lions.
2. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa: The Buckeyes were off this week, but that didn't hurt the pass-rushing dynamo any in the rankings. Bosa isn't likely to get his sidekick Noah Spence back any time soon, so his production will be even more critical moving forward for Ohio State.
T-3. Maryland CB Will Likely: The talented defensive back is breaking up at least one pass per game, and he's already nabbed a pair of interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. Even better for the Terrapins, he's a willing tackler averaging nearly 7 takedowns from his spot in the secondary.
T-3. Minnesota LB Damien Wilson: The senior sits on top of the tackling leader board after four games having already piled up 44 of them. The Gophers could use another solid outing as they head to Michigan with a chance to claim the Little Brown Jug.
5. Rutgers DE Kemoko Turay: The defensive race has been relatively wide open and full of surprising names, perhaps none as head-turning as Turay. Through four games, the freshman's four sacks are tied for the league lead.
Also receiving votes: Michigan LB Jake Ryan, Iowa DE Drew Ott and Wisconsin LB Joe Schobert.
Brian Bennett: Wisconsin wins the West
I picked the Badgers before the season, and though Nebraska is the hotter team in the West Division right now, the Cornhuskers still have to go to Madison (not to mention East Lansing). Meanwhile, Gary Andersen's team is starting to find its stride on offense, as evidenced by the Big Ten record rushing total last week vs. Bowling Green, and the defense remains steady. The young Badgers will continue to get better throughout the fall.
Josh Moyer: Christian Hackenberg sets a new Big Ten record in passing yards
This really isn’t a stretch, considering he’s already on pace to break it. Former Purdue QB Curtis Painter holds the record with 3,985 passing yards in 2006, and Hackenberg is on pace for nearly 4,100. Assuming a bowl game for the 4-0 Nittany Lions, Hackenberg needs to average just 302.7 yards per game to set the record, and that seems pretty likely with Penn State’s one-dimensional offense. Hackenberg will have a few big defensive tests -- such as Michigan State and Ohio State -- but half of Penn State's remaining eight regular-season games come against passing defenses ranked outside the top 90.
Ameer Abdullah and Tevin Coleman have grabbed much of the early attention in Big Ten backfields this season, but Gordon is built to surpass both and leave no doubt as to who is the top running back in the conference. Gordon's absence during the second half of a loss to the tough LSU defense was puzzling, but if he stays healthy, he should able to run for at least 1,800 yards behind an offensive line that is used to clearing the way for workhorses. Gordon (6-foot-1, 207 pounds) is better suited for the weekly battles with loaded Big Ten boxes than his counterparts at Indiana and Nebraska.
Adam Rittenberg: Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah gets to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony
He not only has been the best player in the league but the best leader, and this is shaping up to be a special season for No. 8. The Heisman Trophy has become a quarterback award and a lot of people think if a running back wins, it will be Georgia's Todd Gurley. But Abdullah has enough opportunities (against Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa) to showcase his skills. Eventually, he'll get enough national attention and earn a selection as a Heisman finalist.
Mitch Sherman: The Wisconsin offensive backfield, marked by confusion in early September, will resemble something of a monster by Week 10
Quarterback Joel Stave will return to the mix for the Badgers in October during a stretch of home games against Illinois and Maryland, separated by a bye. But instead of going solely with Stave, Wisconsin will use the junior in addition to senior Tanner McEvoy, sometimes together, alongside its dangerous duo of running backs. With help from a friendly schedule, Stave will successfully negotiate his return in time to gear up for a finishing stretch that features Nebraska and Minnesota at Camp Randall and a trip to Iowa. What began as a mess for the Badgers will end with a group of versatile weapons.
Austin Ward: The Big Ten will still be a factor in the College Football Playoff
The conference might have been a punch line for the first few weeks, but it will still be represented in the four-team field when the season comes to a close. Nebraska is unbeaten and a threat to every team it plays when Ameer Abdullah is on the field. Michigan State dropped a game, but it handled itself well in the loss at Oregon and looks like the league’s most talented team. Ohio State lost early also, but that young team has time to develop and enough pieces to make a run itself -- though it would have to beat the Spartans on the road to earn a playoff bid. Even Penn State is a factor after its perfect start and the repeal of its sanctions, leaving the Big Ten with enough options on the table to expect an appearance in the first year of the playoff.
- Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah joined the growing contingent of people shaking their heads at the recent escapades of Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston this week. Abdullah, a Heisman contender in his own right, knows Winston from time spent at regional recruiting camps while growing up in Alabama. He said Winston needs to think before he acts and show “a higher level of maturity.” Be careful, though, Ameer. The last Heisman hopeful to dish on the behavior of a Heisman winner ended up eating his words.
- Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio can see a potential future where the playoff or bust mentality in college football creates unhealthy expectations for a long list of programs. He said coaches and players will still value their conference championship rings, but it didn’t sound like he thinks that will be enough to appease the masses. In Dantonio’s world, a league championship would be a prerequisite for getting a shot at a national championship.
- While just about everyone outside of Michigan’s locker room has expressed doubts about Brady Hoke’s job performance, those inside the locker room are still passionately behind their coach, at least in public. A day after defensive coordinator Greg Mattison got worked up talking about his close relationships with Hoke, junior receiver Dennis Norfleet chastised outsiders for taking shots at his coach. The Wolverines are closing ranks and attempting to rally around their beleaguered coach. The "us against the world" approach could be just what Michigan needs, but history shows another tough loss will start to eat away at that locker room solidarity.
And now, your daily links:
James Franklin wants to see better punt returns from Penn State this week.
Maryland see its Big Ten this debut this weekend as a historic moment for the program.
Indiana lost a pair of defensive role players for the season in its big win over No. 18 Missouri.
Michigan State's Macgarrett Kings Jr. learned that "nothing is promised" the hard way this offseason.
Tickets for this Saturday's Michigan-Minnesota game came at a massive discount for some lucky fans.
Urban Meyer introduced two very special members of his team ahead of a "Coach To Cure" weekend in college football.
Kemoko Turay wants to be more than a pass rush specialist for Rutgers this season.
Nebraska's younger offensive line is making a smooth transition early in the year.
Wes Lunt needs to put together a more consistent game against Nebraska.
C.J. Beathard is ready to go at quarterback for Iowa if he gets the call on Saturday.
Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner isn't healthy yet, but won't lose his job to an injury.
Third-down efficiency is a priority for Wisconsin moving forward.
Purdue's run defense has been impressive so far, but Iowa will put it to the test.
Northwestern has never had much success when going head-to-head with the Nittany Lions.
By the way, if you’re not following us, what are you waiting for? Follow along at @ESPNRittenberg,@BennettESPN, @ESPNJoshMoyer, @DanMurphyESPN, @MitchSherman and @AWardESPN.
Mark Dantonio said he and Craig Bohl were both up for an assistant job at North Dakota State back in the day. Bohl got the nod.— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) Sept. 23, 2014
Dantonio: My vision is you should be champion of your league before you can be champion of the country— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) Sept. 23, 2014
Bo Pelini on criticism of B1G this year: "I think all of the stuff of people making judgments ... after two to three weeks is ludicrous."— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) Sept. 23, 2014
Franklin says feedback from recruits after a big visit is very valuable, but hard to obtain.— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) Sept. 23, 2014
Lots of dead air during Pat Fitzgerald's stint on B1G teleconference: "That's what happens when you're 1-2, buddy."— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) Sept. 23, 2014
IU's Kevin Wilson: "I dont think, short-term, one win changes a lot. But I think it shows the direction we're moving."— Josh Moyer (@ESPNJoshMoyer) Sept. 23, 2014
Edsall on CB Will Likely: "I could take the whole time here to talk about Will Likely. He's a coaches dream."— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) Sept. 23, 2014
Hoke, talking about wait to announce QB decision: "We don't want to mislead (the media) at all." Somehow, I doubt that's a huge priority.— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) Sept. 23, 2014
The Buckeyes just pitched a shutout before their bye week. They’ve already intercepted five passes. Only two teams in the nation are allowing fewer yards per game through the air.
Those things may be encouraging, and Meyer certainly isn’t complaining considering Ohio State’s horrendous pass coverage a year ago effectively cost them a Big Ten title and a shot at a national championship. But those statistics provide something of a false positive, because the reworked secondary of the No. 22 Buckeyes hasn't really been tested yet.
“Here we go,” Meyer said. “This is the test. This is the one that we’re all shooting for.
“They’re really good at throwing the ball, and it will be a challenge for us. But I really can't make an evaluation yet after the first three games.”
The signs appear to be pointing in the right direction under new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash, who was brought in to lead the overhaul of a coverage unit that finished No. 110 in the nation last season against the pass.
Ohio State was routinely torched down the stretch a year ago, barely surviving a shootout against Michigan before falling to both Michigan State in the Big Ten title game and Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl thanks largely to breakdowns in the secondary. Meyer didn’t hesitate in the aftermath of the losses that snapped a 24-game winning streak to express his frustration with a defense that wasn’t playing as aggressively as he wanted, and after Everett Withers left following the season to take over at James Madison, it was up to Ash to dial up the intensity and deliver what his new boss wanted in the secondary.
So far, he appears to be delivering that with a system that relies on simpler schemes, man coverage and players with fearless mentalities who don’t back down from the challenge of intense competition on every snap.
“We did make improvement, but again, we’ve got a long way to go in a lot of areas,” Ash said. “It’s hard to answer [how much improvement there is], because I don’t really know. I was hoping that we would be good, but I was hoping that we would be undefeated at this point and we’re not.
“Where are we at right now? We won [against Kent State], we made improvement and that’s all we can ask for.”
Kent State is a far cry offensively from Cincinnati, and the Buckeyes haven’t pretended otherwise since pitching a shutout ahead of their off date and turning the focus to one of the nation’s most dangerous quarterbacks and a talented receiving corps.
Ohio State had already snuck a peek at Gunner Kiel and the explosive Bearcats before taking on Kent State, watching the redshirt sophomore’s debut in a Friday-night game in which he carved up Toledo for six touchdowns. He was impressive again in another win last weekend against Miami (Ohio), and his hot start and the strength of the Cincinnati offense is clearly not a secret to the Buckeyes.
But with just three weeks of somewhat worthless data on hand, Ohio State is actually welcoming a measuring stick for the revamped secondary. That way Meyer might finally have something worth evaluating to put his mind at ease -- or maybe some evidence that last year’s problems haven’t yet been solved.
“We’ve got some things to work out, but we’re getting there, real close,” safety Tyvis Powell said. “I’m just excited about playing the game, and we’re ready to just display to the world that the pass defense has improved.”
1. Michigan should look to backup QB: Shane Morris doesn’t deserve to start, per se, but Devin Gardner has shown he’s not the answer to Michigan’s woes. Actually, he’s a big contributing cause. Against two Power-5 opponents, Gardner has led the Wolverines offense to exactly zero touchdown drives. Can Morris possibly fare any worse? Hoke should announce the starter later Tuesday. If he picks Gardner, this has to be the dual-threat’s last chance. But if U-M wants to turn things around now, maybe it should stop starting the same guy over and over again and expecting different results. You know what they call that ...
2. Ameer Abdullah still the best back in the Big Ten: Apologies to Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, who made enough highlight-worthy plays just on Saturday to fill up a season-long reel. But Abdullah has still had the more impressive season by far. Gordon put up video game numbers against Bowling Green, but Abdullah grinded it out against a good Miami run defense for 229 yards. Abdullah’s “worst” game came against McNeese State when he turned in this play. Don’t worry; you really don’t have to click that link because you’ve probably seen that crazy play -- where he breaks at least five tackles en route to a 58-yard TD -- at least a dozen times already. Gordon is great but, so far this season, Abdullah is better.
3. NCAA president Mark Emmert can’t admit when he’s wrong: Can we make something clear here? Whether or not you agreed with the NCAA’s initial move of sanctioning Penn State, it seems as if we can all agree that the NCAA handled the situation in a manner that was far from ideal. But, of course, the NCAA’s tone-deaf president was asked Monday about his handling of it all -- and, of course, disagreed. Emmert’s response: “I think that has gone really well.” It looks as if we need to talk, Mark. If you dole out a punishment and reduce said punishment twice in two years, then you probably missed the mark initially. Heck, you’re basically admitting you missed the mark with actions instead of words. ESPN.com’s own Ivan Maisel wrote something to that effect as well -- nearly a full year ago. The more Emmert talks, the more it becomes harder to believe him.
Now on to the links ...
- The Michigan job is too big for Brady Hoke, writes The Detroit News' Terry Foster.
- Despite improvements, Ohio State is still "not sure of" of its best offensive line rotation.
- Michigan State QB Connor Cook said he hasn't made a decision on the NFL and he's focused on this season.
- Penn State is starting to receive votes in the top 25 -- but who's not voting for the Nittany Lions?
- Rutgers coach Kyle Flood doesn't believe in "trap games."
- Injuries have forced quite a few changes on Maryland's depth chart.
- Indiana coach Kevin Wilson knows his team has to back up the win against Missouri.
- Nebraska's back seven needs to do some cleaning up.
- Jake Rudock was listed as the starter on Iowa's depth chart Monday morning, but Kirk Ferentz will undoubtedly be asked about the brewing QB controversy Tuesday.
- Despite Illinois 3-1 record, the Fighting Illini are still searching for consistency.
- Minnesota needs a sharper passing game in its Big Ten opener.
- An early preview package on Purdue's matchup against Iowa.
2. On Monday RecruitingNation released the latest edition of the Recruiter Power rankings and UCLA’s Adrian Klemm came in at No. 2 on the list. A big reason why Klemm is ranked so high is because he was able to land ESPN 300 tight end Alize Jones, the No. 1 tight end in the country. However, there’s some legitimate concern in Westwood that Jones could end up at Notre Dame. A source indicated the Bruins are doing everything they can to "fight off Notre Dame's advances." Jones continues to say he’s still with the Bruins and is only looking around at the Irish as a security blanket, but insiders believe the interest is much more than just that.
3. What an interesting few days it’s been for Draper (Utah) Corner Canyon offensive tackle Branden Bowen. On Saturday, Bowen, the No. 5 player in Utah, committed to the Utes to give Kyle Whittingham a nice in-state recruiting victory. Then hours later on Sunday, he tweeted he had picked up an offer from Ohio State, a school he admitted he was hoping to receive an offer from earlier in the process. It will be interesting to see if the Utes can keep Bowen on board, or if the Buckeyes' offer is too tempting to pass up.
Just received my 11th offer from The Ohio State University! pic.twitter.com/TfffhAWmK5— Branden Bowen (@BrandenBowen) September 22, 2014
Often players link their highlight videos on their social media accounts, but you almost never see them posting their grades or test scores. So give Alabama commit Christian Bell a whole lot of credit for posting his ACT score for everybody to see. It's the type of highlight that also should be cheered.
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After briefly returning to the practice field last week, Ohio State defensive end Noah Spence is no longer participating in team activities while awaiting word on an appeal of a second failed drug test that currently has him suspended indefinitely.
While the All-Big Ten performer is facing the permanent loss of his eligibility due to conference rules, Spence isn't facing dismissal from coach Urban Meyer in the meantime.
"He's not going to practice now," Meyer said during his Monday news conference. "That was just last week. He's not practicing, getting full-time treatment and working out just for his well-being.
"What is a zero tolerance [policy] when an addiction has set in or whatever? The decision, when you harm yourself or harm your team, we wrestle with those all the time. I've been criticized for many, many years about how I treat these guys. I treat them like they're my kid, and I'm not a big fan of dismissal. I don't try to do that very often. It's got to be a severe one where you're hurting someone else."
Spence's situation does harm the Buckeyes on the field, leaving them without a pass-rusher who leads the team with eight sacks.
The Big Ten's grace period to celebrate a successful Saturday is over, though. It's time to move on and set the table for what should be an entertaining weekend.
Five things to watch in Week 5
1. What's next for Michigan?: There was only one team in the league not celebrating Saturday night, and the driving rainstorm wasn't what cancelled the party for Michigan. The Wolverines are still a mess on offense, seemingly incapable of finding the red zone and strangely allergic to maintaining possession of the football, and those problems have left Brady Hoke in a tough spot heading into Saturday's Big Ten opener with Minnesota at the Big House. There doesn't appear to be an easy fix at this point, though a change at quarterback is probably where Hoke will start. But no matter who starts under center, the Wolverines are facing their first legitimate challenge for the Little Brown Jug since losing it in 2005 -- and watching the Gophers put their hands on it would only make life tougher for Hoke.
2. Heisman hype: The campaign has been steadily picking up steam for weeks for Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, but he might finally have company in the Big Ten now that his buddy Melvin Gordon has belatedly thrown his hat in the ring. The Wisconsin star definitively put his slow start behind him with a record-setting outing Saturday against Bowling Green that produced five touchdowns and 253 yards on just 13 carries, and he's got a chance to keep the momentum going as the Badgers wrap up nonconference action at home against South Florida. Meanwhile, Abdullah can try to maintain his position as the Big Ten's current top candidate as the Huskers play host to Illinois and its porous defense.
3. Bucks back to work: After a rocky training camp and some continued bad news mixed in with an early loss, Urban Meyer hasn't exactly had the best month. The Ohio State coach isn't getting Braxton Miller back this season and it seems unlikely he'll ever have star defensive end back with the program either, but that hasn't done much to change his outlook with a team that can still compete for a Big Ten title and a potential spot in the College Football Playoff. Beating up on Kent State won't do much to impress the selection committee, but it gave the Buckeyes and a young roster a jolt of confidence heading into their first off date last weekend. They're facing a dangerous Cincinnati passing attack Saturday, and how Ohio State's rebuilt secondary handles that challenge could reveal just how realistic the odds of contending in the conference really are at this point.
4. Welcome party: Maybe it's still taking some getting used to, but Maryland's first chance to dive into conference play might help in making it seem more real that it's really a member. After all, what's more Big Ten then a trip to Indiana? In some ways, both the Hoosiers and Terrapins qualify as pleasant surprises for the league at this point, even though both come into a matchup that has the makings of a wildly enjoyable affair with losses on their resumes. Maryland's defeat makes a bit more sense given the way West Virginia has battled with Alabama and Oklahoma already this season, while Indiana's shootout loss at Bowling Green might remain a head-scratcher for a while. Kevin Wilson's club did bounce back in a major way with its upset win at Missouri, but with home-field advantage this week against the newcomers, count this as another win that Indiana likely needs if it's planning on heading to a bowl game.
5. Wild or mild?: If Northwestern was looking to once again establish itself as a threat in the Big Ten after its disastrous 0-2 start before a bye week, grinding its way to a 24-7 win over Western Illinois wasn't the best way to do it. Going on the road and knocking off unbeaten Penn State? Now that would certainly send a message. It's a tall order for Pat Fitzgerald's club given the various issues that have plagued the Wildcats dating back to the middle of last season, and the Nittany Lions seem to be enjoying the opportunity to play without NCAA sanctions having over their heads lately. The home crowd is likely going to be rocking on Saturday, and Penn State can jump out to an early lead in the East Division thanks to a schedule that already allowed them to play a league game this month. Both teams still have something to prove, but it's the Wildcats who have their backs pressed to the wall even though it's still September.
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BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
12:00 PM ET Purdue Illinois 12:00 PM ET 20 Ohio State Maryland 2:30 PM ET North Texas Indiana 3:30 PM ET 17 Wisconsin Northwestern 7:00 PM ET Michigan Rutgers 8:00 PM ET 19 Nebraska 10 Michigan State