Ohio State Buckeyes: Aaron Burbridge
The 1,000-yard mark means more to wide receivers than rushers, especially in the Big Ten. Four players reached the milestone in 2013 after just one (Robinson) in 2012. The Big Ten had four 1,000-yard receivers in 2011 but none in 2010 and just one (Purdue's Keith Smith) in 2009. So this category can be tricky to forecast.
Although no Big Ten returning player had more than 800 receiving yards in 2013, the league boasts several potential breakout stars. Your task today: Select the Big Ten player most likely to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards this fall.
The candidates ...
Kenny Bell, Nebraska, senior: The 'fro, tragically, is no mo' after Bell lost a bet to his friend, Northern Colorado defensive lineman Devontae Chapple. But perhaps less hair will mean more production after Bell's receiving yards went from 863 in 2012 to 577 last year. Nebraska never has had a 1,000-yard receiver, and quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. has much to prove as a passer, but Bell is one of the nation's most experienced wideouts.
Stefon Diggs, Maryland, junior: Big Ten fans who haven't seen Diggs are in for a treat, at least when he's not facing their favorite team. An ESPN 150 recruit who picked Maryland over Ohio State and others, Diggs finished eighth nationally in all-purpose yards (174.2) as a true freshman. He averaged 17.3 yards per reception through Maryland's first seven contests last season before suffering a broken leg. Diggs should be fine for the season and can put up huge numbers with his big-play ability. Maryland's depth at receiver -- Deon Long also returns from a broken leg -- could make it tough for Diggs to get to 1,000 yards.
Devin Funchess, Michigan, junior: Funchess is listed as a tight end and won the Big Ten's tight end of the year award last fall, but he plays like a bigger receiver at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds. He has averaged 15.5 yards per reception in his first two seasons with 11 touchdowns, setting a team record for receiving yards by a tight end with 748 last fall. Funchess becomes quarterback Devin Gardner's favorite target as Gallon departs. Michigan needs its receivers to step up, but Funchess could threaten 1,000 yards this year.
Shane Wynn, Indiana, senior: Like Bell, Wynn saw a slight production drop from 2012, when he led Indiana with 68 receptions, to last season, when he had 46 but still put up about the same yardage. But the departures of Latimer and tight end Ted Bolser, both selected in the NFL draft, along with Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson leave Wynn as undoubtedly Indiana's No. 1 passing target. Quarterbacks Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson will be looking for Wynn a lot this fall, and his numbers could surge in a productive IU offense.
And, finally ...
Mystery man: Don't like any of these candidate to reach 1,000 receiving yards? This is the spot for you. Maybe Rutgers' Leonte Carroo complements his touchdowns with bigger yards totals this fall. One of the Northwestern Joneses (Christian or Tony) might reach 1,000 yards in a more pass-driven offense. Geno Lewis could follow Robinson's path at Penn State. Maybe Ohio State's Devin Smith gets there. Will one of Michigan State's receivers -- Tony Lippett, Macgarrett Kings, Aaron Burbridge, Keith Mumphery -- separate from the pack? Maybe one of the spring standouts -- Iowa's Derrick Willies, Illinois' Geronimo Allison or Mikey Dudek, Michigan's Freddy Canteen -- has a true breakout season.
- Joel Stave jumped into rehab on his injured throwing shoulder.
- Players to watch in Penn State's spring game. The Nittany Lions' battered offensive line is chugging along.
- Ohio State's offensive line is still a question mark. The Scarlet team appears to have the edge in the Buckeyes' spring game.
- Pat Fitzgerald is not the problem in the Northwestern union issue, Seth Gruen writes.
- Patience and hard work appear to have paid off for Zach Sterup, who's in line to start at right tackle for Nebraska.
- Minnesota's Peter Mortell is a seriously good punter with a great sense of humor.
- Michigan State receivers coach Terrence Samuel is making Aaron Burbridge's improvement a priority.
- Brady Hoke says the competition at quarterback isn't over for Michigan because Devin Gardner needs to be more consistent.
- An Iowa administrative assistant is helping the Hawkeyes get creative in recruiting.
- There's no rush to name Wes Lunt the starting quarterback for Illinois, Loren Tate says.
- Some time away helped Maryland receiver Marcus Leak mature.
Illinois: The Illini are looking for more from this group after losing top target Steve Hull, who exploded late in the season to finish just shy of 1,000 receiving yards. While running back Josh Ferguson (50 catches in 2013) will continue to contribute, Illinois could use a boost from Martize Barr, who arrived with high expectations but only had 26 receptions last fall. Another junior-college transfer, Geronimo Allison, could make an impact beginning this spring, but there's some mystery at wideout. Illinois looks more solid at tight end with seniors Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse.
Indiana: Despite the somewhat surprising early departure of All-Big Ten selection Cody Latimer, Indiana should be fine here. Shane Wynn is the veteran of the group after recording 633 receiving yards on 46 catches last season. Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson also depart, so Indiana will be leaning more on Nick Stoner and Isaiah Roundtree. The Hoosiers have high hopes for early enrollee Dominique Booth, a decorated recruit who could fill Latimer's spot on the outside. Productive tight end Ted Bolser departs and several players will compete, including early enrollee Jordan Fuchs.
Iowa: Almost all the wide receivers are back from a group in which none eclipsed more than 400 receiving yards in 2013. Balance is nice, but separation could be nicer for the Hawkeyes this spring. Kevonte Martin-Manley is the most experienced wideout and has 122 career receptions. Tevaun Smith also returns, and Iowa fans are excited about big-play threat Damond Powell, who averaged 24.2 yards on only 12 receptions last season. Iowa loses its top red-zone target in tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and will need Jake Duzey to deliver more Ohio State-like performances.
Maryland: When the Terrapins get healthy, they might have the Big Ten's best wide receiving corps. Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, both of whom sustained broken legs against Wake Forest last season, have the ability to stretch the field as both averaged more than 15 yards per reception before the injuries struck. Leading receiver Levern Jacobs also returns, alongside junior Nigel King and sophomore Amba Etta-Tawo, who averaged more than 16 yards per catch in 2013. Marcus Leak, who started seven games in 2012, rejoins the team after a year away. The Terps are unproven at tight end after losing Dave Stinebaugh.
Michigan: There's a reason why some Michigan fans want Devin Gardner to return to wide receiver for his final season. The Wolverines are thin on the perimeter after losing Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo. Redshirt sophomores Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh are both candidates to start, and Dennis Norfleet could be the answer in the slot. But there's plenty of opportunity for younger players like Drake Harris, an early enrollee. Michigan's best pass-catching option, Devin Funchess, is listed as a tight end but plays more like a receiver. The Wolverines will be without their second-string tight end, Jake Butt, who suffered an ACL tear in winter conditioning.
Michigan State: Remember all the justified angst about this group a year ago? It has pretty much gone away as the Spartans wideouts rebounded nicely in 2013. Bennie Fowler departs, but MSU brings back its top two receivers in Tony Lippett and Macgarrett Kings, who showed explosiveness down the stretch last fall. Aaron Burbridge had a bit of a sophomore slump but provides another option alongside veteran Keith Mumphery, who averaged 16.6 yards per catch in 2013. Josiah Price leads the tight end group after a solid freshman season.
Minnesota: Here's a group to watch during spring practice, particularly the wide receivers. Minnesota has proven it can run the ball and defend under Jerry Kill, but the passing game was putrid in 2013, ranking last in the Big Ten and 115th nationally. Youth is partly to blame, and while the Gophers still lack experience, they can expect more from promising players like Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones. Senior Isaac Fruechte provides a veteran presence. Minnesota looks solid at tight end with sophomore Maxx Williams, the team's receiving yards leader (417) in 2013.
Nebraska: The Huskers lose a significant piece in Quincy Enunwa, who led the team in receiving yards (753) and had three times as many receiving touchdowns (12) as anyone else in 2013. Kenny Bell is set to recapture the No. 1 receiver role, which he had in 2012, and comes off of a 52-catch season as a junior. Nebraska must build around Bell this spring with players like the mustachioed Jordan Westerkamp, who had 20 catches as a freshman, including a rather memorable one to beat Northwestern. Will Jamal Turner turn the corner this offseason? Juniors Sam Burtch and Taariq Allen also return. Cethan Carter started six games at tight end last fall and should take over the top spot there as Jake Long departs.
Northwestern: The passing game fell short of expectations in 2013, but there's reason for optimism as Northwestern returns its top three pass-catchers in Tony Jones, Christian Jones and Dan Vitale. The two Joneses (no relation), who combined for 109 catches in 2013, lead the receiving corps along with junior Cameron Dickerson. Speedy Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler provides a playmaking spark, possibly at slot receiver. Vitale, who had a somewhat disappointing sophomore season, has All-Big Ten potential at the superback (tight end) spot. Although Northwestern rarely plays true freshmen, superback Garrett Dickerson, Cameron's brother, could see the field right away.
Ohio State: A group that drew heavy criticism from coach Urban Meyer two springs ago is stockpiling talent. Devin Smith is the familiar name, a big-play senior who has started each of the past two seasons and boasts 18 career touchdowns. Ohio State must replace top wideout Corey Brown and will look for more from Evan Spencer. Michael Thomas has stood out in practices but must translate his performance to games. This could be a breakout year for H-back Dontre Wilson, who averaged nine yards per touch as a freshman. Buckeyes fans are eager to see redshirt freshmen Jalin Marshall and James Clark, and incoming players like Johnnie Dixon could make a splash right away. Ohio State returns an elite tight end in Jeff Heuerman.
Penn State: The Lions have very different depth situations at receiver and tight end. They're looking for contributors on the perimeter after losing Allen Robinson, the Big Ten's top wide receiver the past two seasons, who accounted for 46 percent of the team's receiving production in 2013. Brandon Felder also departs, leaving Geno Lewis as the likeliest candidate to move into a featured role. Richy Anderson also returns, but there will be plenty of competition/opportunity at receiver, a position new coach James Franklin targeted in recruiting with players like Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall. Things are much more stable at tight end as the Lions return three talented players in Jesse James, Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman.
Purdue: If you're looking for hope at Purdue, these spots aren't bad places to start. There are several promising young players like receiver DeAngelo Yancey, who recorded a team-leading 546 receiving yards as a freshman. Cameron Posey also had a decent freshman year (26 catches, 297 yards), and Danny Anthrop averaged 18.4 yards as a sophomore. A full offseason with quarterbacks Danny Etling and Austin Appleby should help the group. Tight end also should be a strength as Justin Sinz, who led Purdue with 41 catches last season, is back along with Gabe Holmes, who returns after missing most of 2013 with a wrist injury.
Rutgers: The good news is tight end Tyler Kroft returns after leading Rutgers in both receptions (43) and receiving yards (573) last season. Kroft will immediately contend for All-Big Ten honors. Things are murkier at wide receiver, where top contributors Brandon Coleman and Quron Pratt both depart. Leonte Carroo took a nice step as a sophomore, averaging 17.1 yards per catch and enters the spring as the frontrunner to become the team's No. 1 wideout. Ruhann Peele is another promising young receiver for the Scarlet Knights, who boast size with Carlton Agudosi (6-foot-6) and Andre Patton (6-4).
Wisconsin: The quarterback competition will gain more attention this spring, but Wisconsin's receiver/tight end situation could be more critical. The Badgers lose Jared Abbrederis, their only major threat at receiver the past two seasons, as well as top tight end Jacob Pedersen. Players like Jordan Fredrick and Kenzel Doe must translate their experience into greater production, and Wisconsin will look for more from young receivers like Alex Erickson and Robert Wheelwright. Help is on the way as Wisconsin signed five receivers in the 2014 class, but wideout definitely is a position of concern right now. Sam Arneson is the logical candidate to step in for Pedersen, but there should be competition as the Badgers lose a lot at the position.
- Jerry Kill is tackling his epilepsy at a critical point for him and for Minnesota. Philip Nelson had a good day at the Gophers' scrimmage. Freshman running back Berkley Edwards is impressing with his speed.
- Wisconsin has a three-year window of opportunity to join the elite, thanks to its future schedules. The Badgers' quarterback race is still wide open. Dezmen Southward is ready to take the next step.
- Purdue's Raheem Mostert has switched from receiver to running back. The quarterback who best translates Darrell Hazell's terminology could end up as the Boilers' starter.
- Penn State has reduced the hitting at practice to avoid injuries. Expect Bill O'Brien to stay aggressive with his fourth-down calls this season. O'Brien's top competitor might be defensive coordinator John Butler.
- Ohio State players are trying to stay in the present. Dontre Wilson brings game-breaking speed to the Buckeyes. Some other players are getting ready to fill in for Bradley Roby, if necessary. Louisville wants to play the Buckeyes.
- Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun, who once walked out on his basketball team, has grown up and become a leader. Analyzing the Spartans' weekend scrimmage. Receiver Aaron Burbridge says he's going to have a big year.
- Iowa looks to move past last year's poor offensive showing. The Hawkeyes lost a prized recruit to Alabama. It's a sign of Iowa's growing irrelevance, Pat Harty writes.
- Indiana hopes to turn up the pressure on its defensive line (subscription required). Recapping the Hoosiers' Saturday scrimmage.
- Brady Hoke says Michigan needs to play with more speed and power. Is Fitz Toussaint the right man for the Wolverines' No. 1 running back job? Young offensive linemen could be the key to Michigan's season.
- Darby Dunnagan is blazing a trail at Northwestern as the first female video coordinator at a major conference team.
- Tim Beckman took the blame for a Rantoul scrimmage snafu. The Illini secondary is young but full of potential.
- Nebraska defensive tackle Thad Randle is hoping for a healthy season so he can show his full potential. Patience may make perfect for Taylor Martinez. Imani Cross is looking to continue his progress at running back.
- Lots of Big Ten names on this list of the 25 most intriguing quarterbacks in college football.
Bring that beat back.
Team(s) of the week: Ohio State and Michigan share top billing this week. The Buckeyes turned in an attention-grabbing 63-38 blowout of Nebraska on national TV and have climbed up to No. 8 in The Associated Press poll. An undefeated season remains a strong possibility. Michigan was also very impressive, going on the road to clobber Purdue 44-13 in a must-have win. Anybody else already looking forward to The Game this year?
Best game: Even though Northwestern led Penn State 28-17 in the fourth quarter, you just knew it wasn't over. In fact, the Nittany Lions were just getting started. They reeled off 22 fourth-quarter points in a game that featured several wild momentum swings and fourth-down plays.
Best call: No one can accuse Bill O'Brien of playing it safe. Even though Penn State's kicking game is very shaky, most coaches would have settled for the field goal on fourth-and-4 from the other team's 5-yard line when trailing by three points in the fourth quarter. O'Brien is not most coaches. He rolled the dice and went for it, and Matt McGloin scrambled into the end zone for what turned out to be the winning score. Penn State was 5-of-6 on fourth-down conversion attempts against Northwestern.
Second guessing: Indiana was humming along in the first half against Michigan State but got strangely conservative right before halftime. Kevin Wilson gambled and pulled off an onsides kick after going up 24-14 late in the half. But after driving to the Michigan State 6-yard line, the Hoosiers ran three straight running plays and gained only 4 yards. Wilson elected to kick the field goal instead of going for it on fourth down, even though Michigan State was on the ropes and a touchdown might have provided a knockout blow. That's not the reason Indiana lost, because the Spartans pitched a shutout in the second half. But I bet Wilson would at least throw a pass into the end zone if he had to do that over again. Maybe he and O'Brien should compare notes.
Big men on campus (offense): It's all about the quarterbacks. Michigan's Denard Robinson ran for 235 yards (more than Purdue's entire offense generated) and threw for 105 more in the win over the Boilermakers. Ohio State's Braxton Miller ran for 186 yards and threw for 127 more in the pasting of Nebraska. And McGloin threw for 282 yards and accounted for three touchdowns while leading the Nittany Lions' fourth-quarter comeback.
Big man on campus (defense): Ohio State's Bradley Roby had a pair of interceptions against Nebraska and returned the first one 49 yards for a touchdown to open the Buckeyes' scoring onslaught. Props also to Roby's teammate John Simon, who had five tackles for loss versus the Huskers.
Big men on campus (special teams): Northwestern's Venric Mark and Ohio State's Corey Brown each scored on punt returns. Mark went for 75 yards against Penn State, while Brown took his 76 yards to the house.
Worst hangover: Purdue. Yes, Nebraska isn't going to enjoy the next two weeks after getting steamrolled by Ohio State. But the Cornhuskers always knew that was going to be a tough road game they could lose and still win the Big Ten. The Boilermakers were fired up after a solid start to the season, and many around the team believed a breakthrough was coming for Danny Hope's program. Instead, Michigan waltzed into Ross-Ade Stadium, rolled out to a 28-3 first-half lead and put Purdue back in its place. Now there are questions again about whether the Boilers will ever turn the corner under Hope. A win over Wisconsin this week now becomes paramount.
Strangest moment(s): It was a painful day for some of the officials in the Big Ten on Saturday.
In the Northwestern-Penn State game, line judge Michael Mahouski suffered a ruptured quad tendon while avoiding a hit on the sideline and had to be carted off. Another line judge was carted off in the Illinois-Wisconsin game. Forget replacement refs. Big Ten officials might need some replacement hips at this rate.
But those weren't even the weirdest circumstances involving an official on Saturday. In that Illinois-Wisconsin game, Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase tried to high-five back judge Mike Brown after scoring on a short touchdown run. Brown was not having any of it.
"Our deal is to hand the ball to the official," Scheelhaase explained. "But somehow the ball got loose -- I probably, like, threw it a little bit -- and in apology, I tried to give him a high-five. I almost knocked him over. He almost tripped.
“I don’t think they can [high-five players]. One of the refs told me they weren't able to do that.”
At least Mahouski got a handshake from Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald as he left the field on the cart.
- Penn State QB Matt McGloin: McGloin misfired on some of his throws early in the game against Northwestern, but he was on point when it mattered. He led a comeback from a 28-17 fourth-quarter deficit and ran for the go-ahead score in a 39-28 Nittany Lions victory. McGloin finished 35-of-51 for 282 yards and two touchdowns, plus that running score. Props also to Allen Robinson, who caught both of McGloin's touchdown throws, and running back Zach Zwinak, who had 121 yards rushing and 52 receiving yards.
- Michigan State WR Aaron Burbridge: The true freshman got his first career start against Indiana, and it came at just the right time for the Spartans. With star tight end Dion Sims injured, Michigan State needed someone to step forward in the passing game, and Burbridge finished with eight catches for 134 yards. The Spartans' 31-27 victory wouldn't have been possible without him.
- Michigan QB Denard Robinson: Shoelace doesn't owe anybody any apologies for this one. Coming off maybe his worst game ever against Notre Dame two weeks ago, Robinson looked more like his old self in a 44-13 victory at Purdue. That old self included an emphasis on running, and he finished with 235 rushing yards on 24 carries. He also completed 8 of 16 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown -- and no interceptions! -- as the Wolverines dominated in a must-have win. Robinson became the Big Ten's all-time leader in rushing yards by a quarterback, surpassing Indiana's Antwaan Randle El.
- Wisconsin's defensive line: The Badgers' front four got several key players back on the field and delivered its best collective performance of the season. Pat Muldoon returned to the lineup after missing three games with a broken thumb and recorded 2.5 tackles for loss, including a sack. Four different defensive linemen recorded sacks, and the group combined for six tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a quarterback hurry in holding Illinois to 14 points and 284 total yards in the 31-14 win.
- Ohio State QB Braxton Miller: We're afraid Miller is running out of room on his helmet for all these stickers. But slap another one on there after he ran for 186 yards on just 16 carries -- that's 11.6 yards per carry -- and threw for 127 yards in the 63-38 romp over Nebraska. He simply looks unstoppable through six games. Give at least half a sticker to backfield mate Carlos Hyde, who ran for 140 yards and four scores so Miller didn't have to do it all.
1. Miller Time, T-Magic on display: Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez might not be traditional Big Ten quarterbacks, but they're the faces of the quarterback position in the league these days. Both are dynamic dual threats who have made significant strides from the 2011 season. Miller aims to continue his Heisman Trophy campaign Saturday night against a Nebraska defense that struggled to contain him last year before he left the game with an ankle injury. Martinez led the biggest comeback in Huskers history last year against Ohio State and has accounted for eight touchdowns (6 pass, 2 rush) in his past three games.
2. Boiling point: Purdue coach Danny Hope says he already knows a lot about his team after three non-league wins and a 3-point road loss at Notre Dame. The rest of us aren't quite as sure about what the Boilers will be this season. The good news: Everyone will find out in the next three weeks, as Purdue opens Big Ten play with its defining stretch of the season. Before hosting Wisconsin and visiting Ohio State, Purdue hosts Michigan on Saturday in its most anticipated game since perhaps Wisconsin in 2004. The Boilers average 51 points per game on their home field, where they open league play against the Wolverines for the first time since 1970.
3. Oktoberfest: Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald made October a major point of emphasis as far back as the summer, mindful of his team's struggles in the season's middle month. The Wildcats have done well in September (20-9) and November (13-8) under Fitzgerald, but they've had their difficulties in October (10-15), including a 1-4 mark in 2011. Northwestern is 5-0 for the third time in five seasons and takes a national ranking to Happy Valley, where it faces a streaking Penn State squad. It's a good chance for Northwestern to change its October fortunes against its most challenging opponent to date.
4. Seeking mojo in Mad City: Austin Powers would steer clear of the Illinois-Wisconsin game Saturday. Both teams are looking for their mojo after the first five weeks. Illinois tries to find it in a very tough place (Camp Randall Stadium) after being embarrassed on its home field in back-to-back weeks. Asked this week about boosting team morale, first-year coach Tim Beckman said, "That's what we're dealing with each and every day." Wisconsin appeared to make strides last week against Nebraska before collapsing down the stretch. Coach Bret Bielema is encouraged with his team's progress amid transition, but Wisconsin can't start Big Ten play at 0-2. Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis called the Illinois game a must-win for Wisconsin.
5. MSU offense looks for green flag: After puttering around the track in the first five games, Michigan State's offense heads to the Crossroads of America (Indiana) hoping to finally shift into fifth gear. Coach Mark Dantonio shuffled the depth chart a bit this week, as freshman wide receiver Aaron Burbridge will start and other young players like freshman receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr. should see increased time. Michigan State can't neglect the run game, though, as it boasts a 15-1 record when Le'Veon Bell scores at least one rush touchdown. Indiana surrendered 704 yards to Northwestern last week (394 rushing). Saturday is the time for Michigan State to finally put it all together on offense.
7. Whiteout in Happy Valley: Sparked by their team's three-game win streak, Penn State students are planning a whiteout at Beaver Stadium for Saturday's game against Northwestern. The Lions aim for their first home win against a ranked opponent since the 2008 season, and several players called the contest a must-win. Senior quarterback Matt McGloin has owned Northwestern in his career (417 pass yards, 6 TDs, 0 INTs in two games), and McGloin is a much better quarterback in Bill O'Brien's offense. After an ominous start, Penn State can enter an off week with a ton of momentum with a victory.
8. Bo heads home: While his team aims for a signature road win in the Big Ten, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini makes a homecoming of sorts Saturday at Ohio Stadium. Pelini played safety for the Buckeyes from 1987 to '90 and hails from Youngstown, Ohio. Not surprisingly, the Huskers' boss downplayed his Ohio State roots this week, saying he's "at a different time in my life, a different place" and "has a job to do." It's wise for Pelini to keep himself out of the spotlight as much as possible, but he'll likely experience some emotion when Nebraska takes the field at The Shoe. And a victory against his alma mater will mean a little extra.
9. Two Hoosiers take aim: Indiana coach Kevin Wilson doesn't see much separating quarterbacks Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld, and he'll likely use both against Michigan State. Coffman has started the past two games, while Sudfeld has finished them, providing a spark down the stretch. Wilson likes the competition and plays down the other C-word (controversy), but the picture could clear up Saturday as the two quarterbacks face by far the best defense they've seen this season. Whoever better commands the IU offense -- and gets the ball to talented receivers Kofi Hughes and Cody Latimer -- will take a step closer to locking up the top job.
10. Badgers' 2-minute drill: Joel Stave is Wisconsin's starting quarterback, and he looked the part last week against Nebraska in his first career road start. But in crunch time, after Stave got a bit shaken up, the Badgers followed their plan and went with veteran Danny O'Brien under center rather than Stave. O'Brien moved Wisconsin to midfield but botched the call on a fourth-and-1 play, leading to a fumble that clinched the victory for the Huskers. It'll be interesting how the Badgers proceed should a two-minute situation come up against Illinois. Will they turn to O'Brien or give Stave a shot? Stay tuned.
Five games on tap, all in the Big Ten, and several that could play a huge role in which teams end up in Indianapolis. The games are getting tougher, and so are the predictions, especially this week with several toss-up games.
Adam Rittenberg holds a four-game lead on Brian Bennett entering Week 6, but things can change in a hurry.
Prediction time ...
MICHIGAN STATE at INDIANA
Brian Bennett: Mark Dantonio says he wants to see his team come out and make a statement, and I think the Spartans will. Indiana's defense should be just what Michigan State's scuffling passing game needs, as Andrew Maxwell fires two touchdown passes and Johnny Adams has a pair of interceptions. ... Michigan State 28, Indiana 13
Adam Rittenberg: A nonfactor a week ago, Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell gets back into the mix in a big way in Bloomington. The Spartans junior goes for 200 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Indiana once again has some success in the passing game early, but Michigan State takes control in the third quarter as Aaron Burbridge hauls in a touchdown catch in his first start. ... Michigan State 34, Indiana 20
No. 24 NORTHWESTERN at PENN STATE
Adam Rittenberg: Matt McGloin has torched Northwestern while quarterbacking a bad offense, and though the Wildcats are better defensively, so is McGloin. The Penn State senior connects for three touchdown passes to three different receivers. Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter keep Northwestern in this one, but McGloin leads the way in the fourth quarter. ... Penn State 28, Northwestern 24
Brian Bennett: I'm way behind in the standings, so I need to take some chances. And while Penn State's defense has been playing very well, the Lions haven't exactly played stellar offenses the past three weeks. Northwestern's two-headed quarterback monster and Venric Mark will get their yards and points, and an improving Wildcats defense comes up with an interception of McGloin in the final minute to seal the deal. ... Northwestern 23, Penn State 17
ILLINOIS at WISCONSIN
Brian Bennett: Wisconsin has its share of issues but looks like a top-10 team compared to the hot mess at Illinois. Jared Abbrederis hauls in two touchdown passes, and the Badgers stuff the wobbly Illini offense to get a much-needed Leaders Division victory.... Wisconsin 31, Illinois 14
Adam Rittenberg: Both teams need a win, and while Illinois can't be this bad week after week, I can't see the Illini pulling off the upset. Wisconsin gets multiple backs involved and gets three rushing touchdowns, two from Montee Ball. Joel Stave gets Jacob Pedersen more involved as Wisconsin pulls away in the third quarter. ... Wisconsin 28, Illinois 17
MICHIGAN at PURDUE
Adam Rittenberg: Tough one to call, and I've been going back and forth on it all week. Purdue will be geared up for its biggest game in recent memory and take an early lead. But Denard Robinson eventually finds enough gaps in the Boilers' defense and records two fourth-quarter touchdowns to rally the Wolverines. Caleb TerBush fires two early touchdown passes, but his interception in the closing minutes seals it for Michigan. ... Michigan 27, Purdue 24
Brian Bennett: I agree that this is an intriguing game. My biggest question: Is Purdue ready to take that next step? I think the Boilermakers are close, but ultimately not quite there yet. As disastrous as Michigan's turnovers were against Notre Dame, I saw improvement on both lines in that loss. And after a week off, I expect the Wolverines to come out with a better game plan, and to feature Robinson's legs much more. Robinson runs for 175 and three scores as Michigan gets a badly needed win. ... Michigan 35, Purdue 28
No. 21 NEBRASKA at No. 12 OHIO STATE
Brian Bennett: It seems like most weeks I'm wondering how Ohio State just won. The Buckeyes have been getting by on a little good fortune and a whole lot of Braxton Miller in their 5-0 start. Nebraska will be by far the best offense Ohio State has faced. But the Huskers still seem a little too loose with the ball and too susceptible to mobile quarterbacks. Miller gets it done again with 350 yards and four total touchdowns as the Buckeyes work their magic once more. ... Ohio State 31, Nebraska 30
Adam Rittenberg: Ohio State took a nice step in Week 5, but the Buckeyes have been a pretty fortunate team so far this season. They've survived turnovers on the road and defensive breakdowns at home. Saturday night, their luck runs out as Nebraska records its first true signature road win in the league. Miller does his thing and records two rush touchdowns and a passing touchdown, but he also throws a costly interception in the fourth quarter. Taylor Martinez rebounds from an early turnover to spark the Huskers against the Buckeyes, who haven't seen an offense like this. Martinez records his second consecutive 100-yard rushing performance and Brett Maher nails a 50-yard field goal to win it for Big Red. ... Nebraska 30, Ohio State 28
Iowa and Minnesota both are off this week.
Adam Rittenberg: 41-11 (.788)
Brian Bennett: 37-15 (.712)
The latest from Gustin at The Opening
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
7:00 PM ET Eastern Illinois Minnesota 10:00 PM ET Rutgers Washington State
8:30 AM ET Penn State UCF 12:00 PM ET Youngstown State Illinois 12:00 PM ET Indiana State Indiana 12:00 PM ET Northern Iowa Iowa 12:00 PM ET Appalachian State Michigan 12:00 PM ET Ohio State Navy 12:00 PM ET Western Michigan Purdue 3:30 PM ET James Madison Maryland 3:30 PM ET Florida Atlantic Nebraska 3:30 PM ET California Northwestern 9:00 PM ET Wisconsin LSU