Big Ten morning links

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
I went to college with Brook Berringer. I did not know him well.

Berringer was 17 months older than me. The few times I interviewed him for the school newspaper, I thought he seemed much older than that, probably because he somehow stayed above the fray -- especially late in his career as a quarterback that happened to coincide with the most controversial and successful period in Nebraska football history.

Because of my own youth and lack of awareness, I failed at the time to recognize the impact of Berringer on people in Nebraska.

I saw him as just another guy with a good story. That is, until April 20, 1996, two days after Berringer died when the small plane he piloted crashed in a field north of Lincoln.

At Nebraska’s spring game, instead of celebrating consecutive national championships or another batch of Cornhuskers drafted into the NFL -- Berringer likely would have been among them -- the school and state mourned its fallen hero by playing a video tribute on the big screens.

Sports are often emotional. But not like that. That was not about sports. The stadium went completely silent. It remains the only time I’ve shed tears while sitting in a press box. I was far from alone.

The Big Ten Network documentary, “Unbeaten,” a 54-minute production on the life and death of Berringer, set to premier after the Nebraska-Northwestern game on Saturday, will similarly stir emotions for those who remember Berringer, and it will educate a generation of fans too young to have watched him play.

This fall marks the 20-year anniversary of his greatest football achievement, leading Nebraska to eight wins in place of injured star Tommie Frazier.

The documentary, directed by Matthew Engel and Kevin Shaw with Bill Friedman, BTN coordinating producer for original programming, hits all the right notes on Berringer.

It features no narration, only sound from a diverse lineup of former Berringer teammates and testimony from others, including Nebraska assistant Ron Brown, who recruited Berringer to Lincoln, and Kyle Orton, who has worn No. 18 since high school as a tribute to the QB.

An archived Berringer interview away from the field is particularly haunting. Forgotten audio from Keith Jackson lends important historical perspective.

“We wanted Brook to have a voice,” Engel said.

For Nebraska fans, the first half of the film largely serves as review of the 1994 and ’95 seasons, with impressive insight into the complicated dynamic of the Frazier-Berringer relationship. The final 25 minutes includes powerful reporting on the plane crash and its aftermath, poignant footage and a final sequence certain to move viewers like that April Saturday 18 years ago in Lincoln.

“He’s a guy who represents all that’s good about a college football player,” Friedman said. “He was a symbol of how Nebraskans want their football to be portrayed.”

Berringer’s impact is lasting, memorialized with a statue of the quarterback in uniform with his coach, Tom Osborne, that stands outside the entrance Nebraska’s athletic offices on the north side of Memorial Stadium.

Shaw said he visited Lincoln prior to documenting Berringer and saw the statue without knowing its significance. In learning about Berringer and remembering the statue, Shaw said, it was a “wow moment.”

“It was like, that’s that guy,” he said.

With “Unbeaten,” BTN succeeded in creating a film that will touch Nebraskans and teach others across the Big Ten about a quarterback who’s worth remembering for another 20 years and beyond.

Let’s go around the league:

East Division
West Division

Recruiting reporters Erik McKinney, Damon Sayles, Derek Tyson and Tom VanHaaren join Phil Murphy to break down the college decisions for some of the most sought-after college football recruits in the nation.

Following his knee surgery, No. 1 overall recruit Josh Sweat has rescheduled his official visits. National recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton discusses where Sweat will visit and when, as well as which finalist may not get an official at al.

National recruiting analysts Craig Haubert and Tom Luginbill break down the top uncommitted quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and offensive linemen.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The easiest way to catch the attention of Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is to put up huge passing numbers against Michigan.

A surefire way to get cornerbacks a little more focused for an upcoming quarterback is to put a lot of interceptions on film.

Gary Nova has done both of those things already this season, ensuring that the Rutgers senior has been broken down from every conceivable angle ahead of his trip to Ohio Stadium on Saturday. And depending on the perspective, or maybe which version of Nova shows up, the Buckeyes should either brace for a stiff test for their suspect secondary or make sure their hands are ready to hang on to a lot of footballs.

“That’s definitely something we have watched and feel like we can take advantage of,” cornerback Eli Apple said. “Because, I mean, sometimes he does get a little bit rattled and feels like he just has to throw it up there.

“That’s something we’re going to try to capitalize on as a defense.”

The Buckeyes wouldn’t be the first to do it this year, with Penn State knocking off the Scarlet Knights thanks almost entirely to Nova’s 5 interceptions in a dismal outing last month. And throughout his career, there is plenty of evidence that the four-year starter is prone to turning it over with 46 interceptions already on his résumé.

But for the most part, Nova’s turnover issues have been overshadowed by steady, and occasionally spectacular, play during a surprising start. He ranks third in the Big Ten in passing yards and second in efficiency, and only Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett has thrown more touchdowns than Nova’s 13.

Even with all that under his belt so far this season, though, his last outing alone would have been enough to catch Meyer’s eye. For starters, it was his most recent outing before a bye and the Buckeyes had extra time to analyze it while they were off as well, watching as Nova tossed three touchdowns and set a career high with 404 yards. But it also just so happened to come in a win over Michigan, and that doesn’t usually go unnoticed.

“The quarterback had a hell of a day against our rival,” Meyer said. “We’ve got our hands full.

“We’re going to be very aggressive, and we’ve got to get this quarterback down because he’s playing the best he’s ever played right now.”

Nova isn’t all that far removed from one of his worst outings either, though he won’t be the only roller-coaster factor at work on Saturday. If the Buckeyes have seen both the pros and cons of what Nova is capable of doing through the air, he’s seen the same of their pass defense on film.

Ohio State’s biggest weakness a year ago hasn’t appeared to be completely fixed yet during the first half of the season, alternating between an opportunistic unit with a conference-leading 9 interceptions and a group susceptible to the deep ball after allowing 352 yards and four touchdowns last month against Cincinnati.

And while the direct matchup between up-and-down secondary and inconsistent quarterback won’t be the only one that determines the critical East Division game, there might not be one with a bigger influence -- or that’s any more unpredictable.

“Well, the [interceptions] are there,” Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash said. “I mean, you can't deny it. Not just speaking of Gary Nova, but in general when you watch a quarterback, you try to identify the things that rattle them ... [and] see if there's a pattern of the mistakes that a quarterback makes that you're noticing on film.

“But there’s also a lot of things that he does well.”

The Buckeyes are preparing for those positive things first and foremost. And if they get the good Nova, they’ll need the best version of their secondary to stop him.

Big Ten Week 8 predictions

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16
Thanks to their bold selection of Michigan to beat Penn State, Mitch Sherman and Josh Moyer were both 5-0 in Week 7. Can they do it again in Week 8? On to the picks ...

Why Iowa will win: Steer clear of this game in Vegas as both teams have been hard to pin down. But I liked Iowa's aggressive offensive approach last week against Indiana and see no reason why the Hawkeyes can't keep the pedal down against a Maryland defense that allows more than 450 yards per game. Iowa must shore up its run defense after last week, but there are no Tevin Colemans on the Terrapins roster. Close game, fun game, lots of points, but Iowa emerges with a win. ... Iowa 35, Maryland 31 -- Adam Rittenberg

Why Maryland will win: C.J. Brown is healthier, Maryland is at home, the Terps are scoring an average of more than five TDs a game, and they're coming off a bye. Add all that together, and I feel a little better going with Maryland over the Hawkeyes. Both teams have been inconsistent, but Iowa has crossed the 30-point barrier against an FBS team only once -- and that was last week against the nation's No. 89 scoring defense. Maryland's D isn't good, but it's better than Indiana. The Hawkeyes might not be able to keep up in the end. ... Maryland 31, Iowa 28. -- Josh Moyer

Why Minnesota will win: Purdue is rapidly improving and growing into the kind of physical team Darrell Hazell wants. But Minnesota already has that kind of team. The Gophers are surging thanks to strong defensive work, solid special teams and a shorten-the-game approach on offense. The Boilermakers' young defense will have trouble containing David Cobb and the Gophers will move to 6-1. ... Minnesota 27, Purdue 16 -- Brian Bennett

Why Purdue will win: It's time to sell high on the Gophers. Minnesota has pounded its way to a 5-1 record despite ranking 124th in passing offense. Purdue's offense under sophomore quarterback Austin Appleby has shown a new propensity for big plays. The Boilermakers hung 31 on Michigan State's stingy defense a week ago with the help of a much-improved offensive line. If Appleby can get going early, he might be able to force Minnesota out of its David Cobb comfort zone and sneak away with the Big Ten upset of the week. ... Purdue 31, Minnesota 27 -- Dan Murphy

Unanimous picks
Michigan State 45, Indiana 17: Already suspect on defense with one of the worst units in the Big Ten, the Hoosiers are going to have an even harder time hanging around in shootouts with quarterback Nate Sudfeld out for the season.

Nebraska 28, Northwestern 20: Ameer Abdullah and the Huskers have had a week to recharge the batteries after their late rally came up short against Michigan State, and they’ll be looking to send a message that the West Division still goes through them this season.

Ohio State 48, Rutgers 20: The odds of the Buckeyes actually being better offensively this season than the last two under Urban Meyer looked long about a month ago, but that young attack is gaining confidence and shattering records seemingly every week even without Braxton Miller at quarterback.

Our records:
Mitch Sherman: 57-13 (.814)
Brian Bennett: 55-15 (.786)
Austin Ward: 55-15 (.786)
Adam Rittenberg: 54-16 (.771)
Dan Murphy: 25-8 (.758)
Josh Moyer: 51-19 (.729)

Big Ten morning links

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16
How is it possible that half of the season is already gone? Why does it seem like time is dragging until Saturday every week? Life and football are truly mysteries.

1. Quarterback quandary: Narrowing the field seemed like it could be a blessing in the summer, with Indiana coach Kevin Wilson quick to point out the benefits of no longer needing to juggle practice reps as much now that Nate Sudfeld was the last man standing in what was once a three-man battle. But there was an obvious downside that didn't receive nearly as much attention in July as perhaps it should have, and now that an injury has struck their starter, it's clear how much the transfers of Tre Roberson and Cameron Coffman hurt the Hoosiers. Roberson, experienced and proven in the Big Ten, is off putting up big numbers at Illinois State. Coffman is waiting for his chance to play for Wyoming while he sits out the season. And back at Indiana, the Hoosiers are scrambling to find somebody to put behind center this week with Michigan State's vaunted defense coming to town. The chance to focus on one guy and potentially unleash more of Sudfeld's ability was a nice silver lining, but it was apparently just a distraction from a huge storm cloud that was poised to wipe out Indiana's season.

2. Something special: There's any easy way to get Urban Meyer to gush about his team these days. All it takes is one mention of his kickoff coverage unit, and the Ohio State coach turns downright giddy by his standards. The Buckeyes have reason to be pleased with what they're getting on special teams lately, and they lead the Big Ten in net yardage on kickoffs thanks to a combination of well-positioned kicks, an aggressive scheme and a roster loaded up with speedy players willing to fly down the field and hit somebody. Meyer has always had a fondness for special teams, and he's fostered a competition for "starting positions" on the units that makes even first-teamers on offense and defense proud to contribute on punts and kickoffs. It may not draw much attention, but the Buckeyes are racking up some hidden yardage and subtly altering the field-position battle each week thanks in large part to Meyer's cover guys.

3. Best Bye: No program seems too thrilled with the double-bye schedule in place this season, but there appear to be obvious benefits for all four teams sitting out with an off date Saturday. Penn State's offensive line remains in disarray, and while it can't suddenly turn its inexperienced blockers into veterans, some extra reps and game-planning won't hurt heading into the stretch run that starts against Ohio State's tenacious defensive line next week. Wisconsin and Illinois both could use some time to work out kinks in the passing attack, with the former toying with a two-quarterback rotation and the latter trying to find the best option with Wes Lunt on the sideline. And after finally getting back in the win column, Brady Hoke might be able to take a deep breath at Michigan and enjoy at least a few moments of peace after a victory over the weekend. Out of all those options, maybe the Wolverines needed a bye the most -- unless the regents decide to stir the pot up again.

East Division
  • Michigan may have another candidate emerging for a redshirt, but since it's an injury issue, all that Brady Hoke is providing is a hint.
  • Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun might have a future as a professional wrestler if he keeps fine-tuning his suplexes on the field.
  • Darius Hamilton rarely comes off the field for Rutgers now that he's emerged as a complete defensive lineman.
  • Ohio State has been roaring out of the gates lately, and Urban Meyer made sure to thank his coaching staff for that positive development.
  • Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown is ready to go again after the bye week.
  • Penn State might be getting closer to having an experienced veteran back in action to help that suspect offensive line.
  • Meet Zander Diamont, who has earned some glowing praise ahead of a likely start for Indiana.
West Division
  • Kenny Bell is starting to feel right again and is hoping to give Nebraska a lift at wide receiver.
  • Iowa has seven different players making a homecoming trip to Maryland this weekend, including safety Jordan Lomax.
  • Wisconsin could be welcoming back some key contributors soon.
  • Northwestern's success against Nebraska could be determined in the red zone.
  • A closer look at Tim Beckman's recruiting classes at Illinois and how they are panning out.
  • Minnesota senior wide receiver Isaac Fruechte has caught balls from four different quarterbacks during his career.
  • Purdue might have finally found an offensive identity.

Ohio State makes policy changes

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State University told federal education officials Wednesday that the school has begun designating specific rooms for changing in and out of marching band uniforms during road trips and has made other policy changes since discovering a "sexualized culture'' within the band and firing its director.

The university provided the information in its first quarterly update to the U.S. Department of Education under a September settlement agreement. The pact ended a federal inquiry into the school's handling of sexual abuse cases.

Band members also are instructed under new guidelines not to change in public, including on buses or in hallways regardless of what they're wearing under their uniform, and not to socialize in other students' hotel rooms. New policies also say students can ask for personal accommodations, whenever they want, to change their uniforms.

All band members are provided a copy of the revised policy manual and are required to review and sign it.

The policy changes came after the July 24 firing of director Jonathan Waters on grounds he failed to stop a host of sexually charged band rituals, including the bestowing of sometimes explicit nicknames, partially clad marches at Ohio Stadium, and groping games on buses.

Waters and a vocal group of his backers have disputed the findings of the university's two-month internal investigation and Waters has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking reinstatement. Waters joined the band as a student and served in a series of increasingly higher ranking positions until he was appointed director in 2012. Former Ohio attorney general Jim Petro serves on Waters' legal defense team.

Waters was known for revolutionizing the halftime shows of the band, known to fans as The Best Damn Band in the Land, using iPads to create morphing images that have gotten hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube.

(Read full post)

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There is a right and wrong choice for a quarterback operating Ohio State’s zone-rushing attack, and really it’s not that hard to figure out which is which.

As Tom Herman reviews the film or draws up something from the playbook, schematically there might be an optimal read. The Ohio State offensive coordinator can mark down a plus or a minus and come up with a rough guess on the number of times it was made.

Or he could just check to see if the played gained any yards, which is a pretty sure sign the right decision was made. And by that measure, the Buckeyes aren’t missing much of a beat even after losing one of the most dangerous rushing threats at quarterback the Big Ten has ever seen.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesJ.T. Barrett won't hit the home run like Braxton Miller did, but he's been steadily moving the Buckeyes' offense by making smart zone-read decisions.
“There’s so much gray area when it comes to should he or shouldn’t he have kept the ball,” Herman said. “And you’ve got to make a decision in half of a second, or whatever the case may be, that there’s really too much gray area.

“I mean, at the chalkboard was it the right read? I don’t know. It’s more about did you make yards or not?”

Herman has an idea how often his current quarterback is technically making the “right” read based on what J.T. Barrett is seeing from a defense, pegging that number at around 85 percent. But it’s the 7.8 yards per carry on zone-read rushes that really matters, because the Buckeyes have plenty of evidence that there’s no other hard-and-fast way to measure decision-making after watching Braxton Miller operate for the last three years.

Thanks to his blinding speed, uncanny juking ability and incredible acceleration, Miller was capable of making the “wrong” reads and turning them into positive gains or touchdowns. Without his dynamic athleticism, it was reasonable to assume that quarterback runs wouldn’t be nearly as dangerous or prominent in Ohio State’s offense after the season-ending shoulder injury Miller suffered during training camp.

But Barrett has been able to keep that a staple of the attack by consistently making what could be pegged as plus-worthy decisions if the Buckeyes were monitoring them the same way they would a quarterback’s completion percentage. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Barrett ranks seventh among Power-Five quarterbacks with his 156 yards on 20 designed zone-read carries, and his 7 gains of 10 yards or more are tied for fifth.

And while he might not be able to break off nearly as many long, electrifying runs as his predecessor, the redshirt freshman has consistently given himself an edge against defenders and helped moved the chains thanks in large part to his brain more so than his legs.

“It doesn’t make him any faster,” Herman said. “But it puts him in position to make more yards carrying the football when he makes the right read. I think grading the decision can sometimes be unfair because I’m not out there. I’m not seeing what he sees to say, ‘This is the standard.’

“That’s probably why there’s not a benchmark. But I do know that at the rate he’s on right now, he’s doing a pretty good job of it. I think the reads and runs that we’re calling are right on schedule.”

The Buckeyes seemed to be lagging a bit behind early in the season as Barrett was thrust into the lineup trying to replace the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year behind an offensive line that had lost four starters from last season. The growing pains were obvious in a Week Two loss to Virginia Tech, even though Barrett still finished with 70 rushing yards and a touchdown despite being sacked seven times.

But the linemen have steadily developed and built more chemistry. The rushers in the backfield have gained more experience and proved to defensive coordinators that they’re legitimate threats to gash them for big plays. And behind those blockers and next to those tailbacks, there’s a guy reading the movements of every defender and weighing the proper response.

More often than not, he’s choosing the right one regardless of how it’s evaluated.

“Braxton gave us the ‘wow’ factor and would take one [to the end zone] at any time,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. “You saw a couple times last year 60 yards, 70 yards. I know J.T., and that's not really his game. He's a movethechain quarterback.

“A lot of those reads are splitsecond reads, and he has made the right decision. He’s gained us yards, moved the chains, got us going.”

Ultimately, that’s really the best way to get a plus in the grade book anyway.
We're winding down our midseason overview with a look at five storylines to watch in the second half of the Big Ten season:

The nation's best group of running backs. The Big Ten has taken its share of lumps this season, and often rightfully so, but no league can claim a better trio of running backs than Indiana junior Tevin Coleman, Wisconsin junior Melvin Gordon and Nebraska senior Ameer Abdullah. Gordon and Coleman may join Abdullah in the NFL draft next spring. Each is a sight to savor, and for different reasons, but they share an ability to handle a heavy load of carries. Even among a deep group of backs in the league that includes David Cobb of Minnesota, Michigan State's Jeremy Langford and Ezekiel Elliott of Ohio State, the top three stand out, staying on pace to give the league its first threesome to average more than 140 rushing yards since 2000.

The Michigan mess. The first half of the season could not have gone much worse in Ann Arbor, featuring three September losses and the troubling ordeal that surrounded Shane Morris' head injury in a Sept. 27 loss to Minnesota. What will the second half bring? The Wolverines, after a bye week, play their final game of October with a bit of momentum gained from a 18-13 win against Penn State. But Michigan State awaits. Another loss would only turn up the heat on coach Brady Hoke, already facing intense scrutiny. Short of a miraculous turnaround, Hoke may not be able to save his job. Regardless, the final five games merit attention.

Ohio State's resurgence. The Buckeyes didn't go away, of course, but they slipped under the radar a bit in September after the two-touchdown loss to Virginia Tech. In the three games since, Urban Meyer's team has scored 168 points as freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett made major leaps. Ohio State, as it enters the second half, looks like a new kind of challenge altogether for its upcoming opponents. The biggest game, Nov. 8 at Michigan State, likely offers the Big Ten its only realistic shot land a team in the College Football Playoff. And while OSU didn't look worthy in early September, the selection committee may soon receive a new set of trends to ponder on Ohio State.

The West Division scramble. To enter Week 8, it's a jumbled mess, with Minnesota atop the heap. The Gophers look poised to stay in control into November, with upcoming games against Purdue and at Illinois. Things get dicey for Minnesota, though, next month with a finishing stretch against Iowa and Ohio State, followed by trips to Nebraska and Wisconsin. Northwestern, with one loss in the league, remains in a decent spot, as do the preseason division favorites, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska. As projected in August, the race may still come down to schedules. And the schedule, despite Minnesota's strong play and stumbles elsewhere, still favors the Badgers and Hawkeyes.

The path of Rutgers and Maryland. The Scarlet Knights, in particular, have made the transition to the Big Ten look easy this fall. For a group picked by many to finish last in the league, it's been a stunning start, fueled by a stingy defense and the strong play of quarterback Gary Nova. Rutgers is a failed defensive stand in the final minute from a perfect record. Maryland, too, has looked strong at times, particularly on offense. But the road is about to get much more difficult for the league's new members, starting on Saturday as the Scarlet Knights visit Ohio State and Maryland hosts Iowa. Rutgers' schedule is downright brutal over the next month, and it doesn't look much more inviting for the Terrapins. But they've already proved us wrong, so why not again?

Big Ten morning links

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15
It's the halfway point of halfway week in the college football season. My goodness, it's going fast.

1. The Big Ten season's switch from waxing to waning this week gives a reason to take stock of the first seven weeks of the year. The Big Ten blog was peppered with summations and projections Tuesday (highlights, lowlights, all-conference performers and more). The Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein had his own superlative review that is worth checking out. The general sentiment around the league this year has been one of disappointment and mockery, but halfway home it appears that a one-loss conference champion has a fighting change to land in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Would a better nonconference showing in early September have changed anything? The outlook probably wouldn't be any different had the Big Ten rolled through nonconference play.

2. The Pac-12 might host more movie stars at its home games, but the Big Ten had a couple Hollywood moments this week. Michigan kick returner Dennis Norfleet's dance moves and music selection landed him on George Clinton's radar Tuesday. The Prime Minister of Funk was impressed. Not to be outdone, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio showed his hip side Tuesday, at least among the pre-teen crowd. Dantonio nicknamed his ill-fated fake punt attempt from over the weekend "Frozen" and said the team should probably "Let it go," referencing the animated Disney mega-hit. Apparently it's not just game film that makes it on the projection screen in the Spartans' new state-of-the-art facility.

3. Speaking of Dantonio in the film room, he said he had to go all the way back to high school tape this week to prepare for Indiana quarterback Chris Covington. The freshman is taking over for Nate Sudfeld, who separated his shoulder last Saturday. While Sudfeld's injury is a blow to the Hoosiers' teetering bowl chances, it might be a hidden blessing for head coach Kevin Wilson. Our Brian Bennett suggested on Twitter that having a rookie quarterback might shield Wilson from the blowback of missing a bowl game for the fourth straight year, and I tend to agree. Wilson might not be on the hook no matter what happens this year, but now he's got an excuse if things go south.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the Big Ten...

East Division

Defensive coordinator Chris Ash explains why his Buckeye defensive backs aren't getting their hands on wide receivers.

Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg is doing a good job of dealing with frustrating losses.

Michigan State is finding out how hard life can be at the top.

Nate Sudfeld’s injury is the worst case scenario for Indiana football this fall.

Michigan kicker Matt Wile thinks he’s solved his early-season problems from the right hash.

Rutgers is getting ready for the noise of six figures worth of fans at the Horseshoe this weekend.

The 10 numbers you should know about Maryland’s first six games in the Big Ten.

West Division

Fifth-year walk-on Tommy Gaul got to lead the Hawkeyes in their fight song after Saturday’s win.

Minnesota’s attention to detail on special teams paid off big in its win over Northwestern.

Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro weighed in on his favorite Wildcats player and his impressions of the season so far.

Nebraska’s De'Mornay Pierson-El has reinvigorated a punt return unit that was a weak link for the Cornhuskers a year ago.

Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon might get an invite to the Heisman ceremony, but recent trends suggest he won’t bring home the hardware.

Purdue might test out a new-look secondary this week against the run-heavy Golden Gophers

Illinois assistant Ryan Cubit will be reprimanded after he was arrested for driving under the influence Sunday.
The DMV (D.C./Maryland/Virginia) has developed into one of the most competitive areas in the country, so what recruiters do the best job in Washington D.C.? Plus, can Minnesota keep one of the top juniors in the country at home?

Best of Big Ten Week 8 conference call

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
Questions were asked. Coaches had answers. Here are a few of the highlights from the Big Ten conference call ...

By the way, if you’re not following us on Twitter, what are you waiting for? Follow along at @ESPNRittenberg, @BennettESPN, @ESPNJoshMoyer, @DanMurphyESPN, @MitchSherman and @AWardESPN.

B1G Roundtable: Lowlights from first half

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
We’ve already looked at the highlights to the first half of the season. So, naturally, we also thought we’d take a look at the lowlights.

What were the worst moments the Big Ten had to offer so far this season? What were some of the worst plays? The worst trends? Here’s a look at some of the things that won’t be making highlight videos any time soon, the lowlights to the first half of the season:

Brian Bennett: Night games in Week 2

The night time was not the right time for the Big Ten in Week 2. A highly-anticipated trio of prime-time games all ended up duds for the league, as Michigan State lost by 19 points at Oregon, Ohio State fell by 14 points at home to Virginia Tech and Michigan capitulated in a 31-0 loss at Notre Dame. You could almost feel the air drain out of the conference's playoff hopes on just the second Saturday of the season. The Spartans' loss didn't sink their College Football Playoff hopes, and the young Buckeyes have bounced back strongly (sorry, we can't say the same about Michigan). But the results of Week 2 will reverberate for a long time, and quite possibly inside the playoff selection committee war room on the first weekend in December.

[+] EnlargeMorris
AP Photo/Tony DingMichigan's lack of communication continued into the week following Shane Morris' concussion.
Adam Rittenberg: The broken record with Michigan's offense

Yes, the Wolverines had a nice reprieve Saturday night, but it has more to do with their defense and Penn State's offensive ineptitude. Michigan is tied for 104th nationally in sacks allowed (17), 110th in first downs per game (18) and tied for 119th in turnovers (16). New coordinator Doug Nussmeier hasn't fixed the problems, and things don't get any easier with Michigan State up next.

Josh Moyer: Penn State offensive lineman blocking a teammate

The struggles of this offensive line are well-documented: Only eight teams in the FBS have allowed more sacks and only nine teams have rushed for fewer yards per game. This is the worst offensive line in the Big Ten and possibly the worst in the Power Five. But it reached a new low against Northwestern when one offensive guard blindly blocked a fellow offensive tackle on a 4th-and-1 play. (Needless to say, that rush went for minus-2 yards.) The video went viral and served as the symbol for just poorly this unit has played. No reprieve is in sight.

Dan Murphy: Michigan's Shane Morris mistakes

Allowing a potentially concussed player back on to a football field in 2014 isn't acceptable, but it's at least somewhat understandable that signals could be crossed on a hectic sideline to create such a blatant blunder. It's much harder to understand how those signals remained crossed for the better part of the week that followed while Michigan's athletic department tried to explain how woozy quarterback Shane Morris returned to action in a loss to Minnesota. Inconsistent reports and middle-of-the-night press releases exacerbated the problem and revealed at least a temporary level of dysfunction inside the proud program's athletic operations.

Mitch Sherman: Nebraska's first half at Michigan State

The Huskers went to Spartan Stadium on Oct. 4 with an opportunity to show the Big Ten, if not the nation, that they were on the road to reclaim attention, if not establish position as a darkhorse for the College Football Playoff. Nebraska did none of that in the first 30 minutes, falling behind 17-0 as it failed three times to capitalize on turnovers in Michigan State territory. The Huskers were tentative on offense as with nine first-half drives ended in seven punts, one interception and one fumble. Six of those possessions netted 6 yards or fewer. For the game, Nebraska's high-powered rushing attack gained just 47 yards. It did, though, stage a serious comeback in fourth quarter, falling 27-22 and left to wonder how a decent first half might have altered the outcome.

Austin Ward: Quarterbacks sabotaging Melvin Gordon and Wisconsin

The ultimate backfield weapon doesn’t need much help, but imagine what Melvin Gordon might be capable of with even an average passing game to complement his otherworldly rushing ability. The star running back is still gashing defenses on the ground, but any chance of dragging Wisconsin into the College Football Playoff was erased with Joel Stave catching a case of the yips, Tanner McEvoy throwing an interception for every 20 attempts and defenses responding by loading up the box. The Badgers could have been truly dangerous on offense, but instead they have almost entirely squandered what should be their last season with Gordon before the calendar even flips to November.

B1G Roundtable: Highlights from first half

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
We’ve reached the midpoint of the season, so we decided to reflect on what we’ve seen in the Big Ten so far and pick out the top highlight. Who’s been the biggest surprise so far in the conference? What’s been the most impressive play? What’s been the best moment?

There were plenty of season highlights to pick from, but we could each select only one. So, without further ado, here’s a look at the best the Big Ten’s had to offer so far this season:

[+] EnlargeTevin Coleman
Darron Cummings/Associated PressTevin Coleman leads the nation in rushing and has been almost unstoppable for the Hoosiers.
Brian Bennett: Indiana RB Tevin Coleman

We knew what Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah could do, and we suspected Coleman could join them as an elite running back. Boy, has he ever. Coleman leads the nation in rushing yards (1,060) and has posted at least 122 yards every game while adding three 190-plus yard days. He's averaging an astounding 8.8 yards per carry. Things will get tougher with the Nate Sudfeld injury, but Coleman's emergence as a true superstar has been fun to watch.

Adam Rittenberg: Rutgers

No one expected much from the Scarlet Knights or embattled quarterback Gary Nova in a new league. But Rutgers has displayed talent, explosiveness and execution during a 5-1 start. Nova, who endured heavy criticism from fans last season, leads the nation in yards per completion (17.2) and ranks fifth in pass efficiency. Credit coach Kyle Flood for making some smart staff changes, especially Ralph Friedgen at offensive coordinator. It's time to respect the #Chop.

Josh Moyer: Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon's performance against Bowling Green

In case this doesn't ring a bell, allow me to refresh your memory: Gordon finished with 253 rushing yards and five touchdowns. On 13 -- 13! -- carries. Sure, he was playing a MAC team, but those video-game numbers would make even Tecmo Bowl's 8-bit Bo Jackson blush. Gordon averaged 19.5 yards a carry, which was actually brought down because he had two rushing scores from 2 and 3 yards out. Performances like that don't come around often. No other player reached 250 rushing yards on so few carries since 2000. It might be some time before another running back dominates like that again.

Dan Murphy: Michigan State's offense

Mark Dantonio has clearly expressed he has no interest in running up the score against lesser opponents, but this season he hasn't had much of a choice. A Spartans program usually known for its stingy defense is headed toward a shot at another Big Ten title thanks to its high-powered offense. Michigan State ranks fourth nationally with 45.5 points per game. The offense is responsible for 33 touchdowns through six games. Connor Cook ranks in the top 15 nationally in quarterback efficiency rating. He's steadily improved since taking over early in 2013, and the offense has grown into the best in the conference around him.

Mitch Sherman: Minnesota

Count me among the those watched the Golden Gophers labor to reach eight wins last season and figured it wouldn't get any better in 2014 for coach Jerry Kill. Well, shame on me. Minnesota is better. thanks to the emergence of athletes like linebacker Damien Wilson and the workmanlike efforts of running back David Cobb, and sits atop the West Division. And it will likely enter a rough November lineup of games with a bundle of momentum and four opportunities to equal the 2013 win total. It says here that the Gophers will exceed it.

Austin Ward: J.T. Barrett's emergence

So much for the doomsday predictions that followed Braxton Miller's season-ending shoulder injury during training camp. Ohio State did fall behind in the College Football Playoff race thanks to some growing pains for the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year’s replacement, but after losing in his second career start, Barrett has rapidly developed into perhaps the best quarterback in the league well ahead of schedule. Nobody in the league has thrown more touchdowns than Barrett’s 17, and he’s averaging nearly 100 yards more per game through the air than his predecessor. In doing that, Barrett has also put the Buckeyes back on track to compete for a conference title down the stretch.