PSU Nittany Lions: Nebraska Cornhuskers
ESPN.com caught up with Rudner, the Big Ten's senior associate commissioner for television administration, to discuss how the 2014 schedule came together.
It's important to note the Big Ten compiled the 2014 slate based upon principles green-lighted by its athletic directors.
- Nonconference games that had been previously contracted were protected. For example, Northwestern visits Notre Dame on Nov. 15, 2014, so the Big Ten made sure not to schedule the Wildcats on that day. Also, Penn State and Rutgers had a previously scheduled non-league game for Sept. 13, 2014, which became a conference game with Rutgers joining the Big Ten. The date wasn't changed.
- No more than two consecutive road games
- Each team must play two home games and two road games in each half of the season
It's not as if athletic directors ask the league not to schedule multiple rivalry games on the road every year.
"Once you do that," Rudner said, "you're at risk of never having a schedule."
There has been some reaction to Michigan facing in-state rival Michigan State in road games in consecutive seasons (2013, 2014) and Purdue visiting Indiana for the Bucket game the same two years. The Wolverines never have played the Spartans in East Lansing in back-to-back years and haven't hosted MSU in consecutive years since 1967-68.
Although it'll be new for Michigan, such back-to-backs are fairly common when a scheduling model changes. Between 2010-11, there were 13 instances of back-to-back matchups, including rivalry games like Iowa-Minnesota (both games in Minneapolis) and Penn State-Ohio State (both games in Columbus) and other good matchups like Wisconsin-Michigan State (both games in East Lansing).
"It's unavoidable," Rudner said. "It happened five times in 2008-2009. So it's not foreign, it's not ideal, but it's unavoidable. When you're introducing new institutions and you dole out home and road games, it just happens."
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has said "parity-based scheduling," where teams will face one another more often in crossovers based on historical success,will begin in 2016, will begin once the league goes to a nine-game conference schedule. Rudner said the league asked the ADs if they wanted to start the nine-game schedules in 2014 but they couldn't because of so many signed contracts for non-conference games. If they had, the 2014 would have incorporated parity scheduling.
The 2014 slate ultimately features none of it, as the traditional powers in each division -- Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State in the East, and Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa in the West -- don't play at all.
"I don't think it's going to hurt us," Rudner said. "Brand is strong enough. There are enough games that are strong that'll drive television interest. Short of a full round-robin, which nobody in our conference wanted to do, you're going to have these sort of issues."
A few other schedule notes:
- Rudner and his staff didn't have a directive to schedule mostly division games in November, but it worked out that way as most teams will play exclusively in their division or play only one crossover in the season's decisive month. "Ideally, that's what we would like to do," Rudner said. "It makes a lot of sense to play division games late in the season, toward a championship."
- The Big Ten doesn't look at long-term trends of how often teams open league play on the road when crafting schedules. Athletic directors haven't asked it to a be a principle of building schedules. "It's never been important to them," Rudner said. "What they want to avoid is long road trips and making sure there's balance, home and away, in each half of the season. The rest of it, they can live with. Not everybody plays the same kind of schedule, but they do it based on those principles. They look at it and say, 'That's fair. Let's do it.'" Penn State, by the way, will open league play on the road for the fifth straight year and for the ninth time in the past 11 seasons.
- That new members Maryland and Rutgers host traditional powers Ohio State and Michigan on the same day (Oct. 4) was pure coincidence, Rudner said.
The 2015 Big Ten schedule, which should be released by the end of the month, will feature the same matchups at the opposite locations. The league has to maneuver around some previously scheduled non-league games before finalizing the slate.
What they’re selling: A chance to rebuild a program from the ground up, beginning with four-star quarterback Aaron Bailey, who signed in 2013.
What they’re missing: Just about all of the top prospects from their own state.
What they’re selling: Indiana coach Kevin Wilson embraces the idea of a college spring break and is ready to head to Cancun with some of his players.
What they’re missing: Wilson looks like he might hold the group up in Mexico, however, as he still needs the assistance of a flotation device. Points that it is in the shape of a turtle, though.
What they’re selling: Iowa boasts one of the few staffs that can say they will be there all four years of a recruit’s career and has the history to back it up. Kirk Ferentz is the longest tenured coach in the Big Ten and it’s not even close.
What they’re missing: Out-of-state prospects tend to think Iowa is all cornfields, leaving the staff to battle that misconception countless times throughout the recruiting cycle.
What they’re selling: Michigan coach Brady Hoke looks like an outlaw patrolling the sideline on Saturdays without a headset.
What they’re missing: The player who graces the NCAA Football 2014 cover Denard Robinson. "Shoelace" was one of the Wolverines’ best recruiting tools.
Michigan State Spartans
What they’re selling: Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio is the man behind Little Giants, one of the greatest trick plays of the last few decades.
What they’re missing: A trip to a Rose Bowl under Dantonio would put Michigan State over the top when it comes to recruiting. There is already a significant difference in the caliber of player the Spartans are now getting compared to just a few seasons ago.
What they’re selling: The Gophers boast the biggest locker room in college football.
What they’re missing: They have not had a winning season since 2008.
What they’re selling: Bo Pelini whipped out “The Bernie” in the Huskers’ Harlem Shake video. Harlem Shake equals instant credibility with recruits.
What they’re missing: A lack of a strong base of in-state talent makes it tough to recruit at Nebraska, and a Harlem Shake video can overcome only so much.
What they’re selling: The new facilities are right near Lake Michigan, which, as assistant Bob Heffner is telling recruits, is a great spot for fishing.
What they’re missing: Not too many high schoolers in New Jersey have taken up fishing as a hobby. At least not yet.
Ohio State Buckeyes
What they’re selling: Urban Meyer is bringing SEC speed to the Big Ten.
What they’re missing: Has anyone actually clocked Meyer in the 40-yard dash? How fast is he really?
Penn State Nittany Lions
What they’re selling: Beaver Stadium fits more than 106,000 on Saturdays, making it the second largest stadium in the country. Inside is also one of the country’s most passionate fan bases, and ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit once listed Penn State’s student section as “simply the loudest, most supportive student section in college football.”
What they’re missing: A full slate of scholarships and a chance to play for a Big Ten title the next few years.
What they’re selling: Few programs have the history Purdue does at quarterback, and former Boilermakers Drew Brees, Kyle Orton and Curtis Painter are all on NFL rosters. The Boilermakers just signed ESPN 300 QB Danny Etling, too.
What they’re missing: Brees, Orton and Painter.
What they’re selling: The Badgers have been to three straight Rose Bowls.
What they’re missing: The coach who took them there.
When you live in Louisville, horse racing and handicapping are about all you can think of this time of year, in between bites of Derby Pie. So, like last year, I've imagined what the Big Ten 2013 program would look like if the championship chase were more like a horse race. I think the odds would go a little something like this (like the Churchill Downs toteboard, our odds only go up to 99-to-1),:
Ohio State: Even
Despite being scratched from last year's race by NCAA probation, the Buckeyes are the odds-on favorites this time around. They've got big-time winners both at trainer (Urban Meyer) and on the reins (Braxton Miller), and their schedule looks like they should get a clean trip.
The Wolverines are switching running styles this year, ditching the spread for a more traditional passing offense led by Devin Gardner. No need for blinders, as Taylor Lewan has the blind side locked down. Still, this entry hasn't had enough first-place finishes in its recent past performances.
The Huskers have been like one of those tantalizing horses in the program with a huge Beyer speed figure that always disappoints when you put the big money on them. Expect them to be a major pace-setter because of their early schedule, but that defense will determine whether they can make a long-awaited trip to the winners' circle.
Pretty good value here for a three-time defending champion of the Run for the Rose Bowl. Still, the Badgers are operating under new connections this time around (new coach Gary Andersen) and will have to prove they can track down Ohio State in the Leaders Division.
Another good option for those seeking value, as the Wildcats might be the wise-guy pick after last year's 10-win season. The problem is the potential of a very bumpy trip with that schedule (Ohio State and Wisconsin as crossover opponents). And there will be a lot of jostling in that Legends Division.
Michigan State: 20-to-1
Some bettors like to look for the bounce factor, meaning they seek out otherwise successful horses who are coming off one bad outing. The Spartans look like the best bounce candidate following last year's 6-6 season, which came after two straight double-digit win seasons. They have a more favorable post position (er, schedule) this time, but their early works suggest some lingering questions about the offense.
We've reached the real long shots now. Jerry Kill has shown that his charges take off in their third year of training, and the Gophers have turned in some encouraging works. Still, they'll need to run a perfect race to factor in the money.
This would be a Giacomo-level upset. An exotic pick, at best. But with the Hoosiers' ability to score points, they could pull off a shocker if everyone else falters.
Handicappers got burned by picking Purdue as their sleeper last year. The Boilermakers might be even more of a mystery horse this year with a new trainer in Darrell Hazell. Still looks like an also-ran, but don't forget that they seem to run neck-and-neck with Ohio State lately, for whatever reason.
Failed to fire last year, and the speed figures aren't pretty. If you're betting the Hawkeyes, you're basing it on the pedigree of Kirk Ferentz. Should show more fight this time, but might be too much of a plodder to hit the board.
Stumbled out of the gate, no rally, didn't factor in 2012. Equipment changes on offense (new coordinator Bill Cubit's spread system) should help. But Tim Beckman has a lot of work to do to show he's not saddling another nag.
Penn State: Scratched
DQ'd by the NCAA. (Now accepting future wagering on 2016).
So there's how I'd write the program. What kind of odds would you give to each team, and who would you put money on in 2013?
The comparisons at first glance seem valid. Michigan and Ohio State seemed poised to dominate the league from the Big Ten West the way Texas and Oklahoma did in the Big 12 South for several years. Meanwhile, Nebraska is the headliner in the other, seemingly weaker division -- again.
Rob Christy/US PresswireCoach Bo Pelini and Nebraska figure to be a consistent contender in the new Big Ten West.
The Big 12 staged a conference championship game from 1996 until 2010. During that time, the South won the title games 11 times to just four by the North. Four of those wins by the South, however, were decided by three points or fewer.
The real issue for the North was the alleged lack of depth at the top. Nebraska appeared in the championship game six times in 15 years, joining Colorado (four), Kansas State (three) and Missouri (two). However, Texas and Oklahoma gobbled up 13 of the 15 championship game spots for the South.
Just how bad was the rest of the North outside of Nebraska? Here are the records during that span for the other teams in the division, and their bowl bids:
Kansas State: 120-67 (.642 winning pct), 11 bowls, 2 BCS appearances
Missouri: 104-79 (.568), nine bowls
Colorado: 93-90 (508), nine bowls, 1 BCS appearance*
Kansas: 78-97 (.446), five bowls, 1 BCS appearance
Iowa State: 70-109 (.391), six bowls
Totals: 465-442 (.513), 40 bowls, four BCS appearances
*Colorado's 1997 wins were vacated by the NCAA.
Let's see how that compares with the Big Ten West by examining the teams' records during that same time for Nebraska's future division:
Wisconsin: 134-58 (.698), 14 bowls, 3 BCS appearances
Iowa: 108-76 (.587), 11 bowls, 2 BCS appearances
Purdue: 99-85 (.538), 10 bowls, 1 BCS appearance
Northwestern: 88-94 (.484), seven bowls
Minnesota: 85-97 (.467), nine bowls
Illinois: 64-111 (.366), four bowls, 2 BCS appearances
Totals: 578-521 (.526), 55 bowls, five BCS appearances
There are some similarities here, but the new Big Ten West ranks better in winning percentage, bowl appearances (nine per team, compared to eight per team for the Big 12 South) and BCS bids. Wisconsin trumps Kansas State as the most consistent winner, especially since the Wildcats' success has been so heavily dependent on one man (Bill Snyder). Missouri and Iowa and Purdue and Colorado have very similar résumés, although Colorado fell on some hard times toward the end, and it took a while for Missouri to really get going. Illinois is comparable to Kansas in that it has had a couple of banner seasons and a lot of bad ones.
The problem with the Big 12 North wasn't a lack of good teams, as Kansas State, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado all had their moments. It was a lack of consistency by most everyone outside of Nebraska and, to a lesser extent, Kansas State. The same will likely be true in the Big Ten West. While Wisconsin and Nebraska should field good teams year in and year out, it will be up to Purdue, Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern and Minnesota to remain consistently competitive and not fluctuate wildly from year to year. If, say, Iowa can return to getting into the annual mix for BCS bowls, or if Northwestern can build off last year's 10-win season, then the West will be more than just Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Then, even if Michigan and Ohio State turn the Big Ten East into a new Big 12 South, the West won't have to suffer those Big 12 North comparisons.
The Class of 2015 linebacker, only 6 years old back when he and his father shared a recliner, would stare at the giant football players on TV and listen to his father. "You need to watch this guy," the elder Cooper would tell him, pointing to a Penn State linebacker.
Every Saturday, they'd watch the Nittany Lions. And, with each passing weekend, Cooper became more and more of a PSU fan. There was his neighbor, a PSU kicker in the 1970s whose grilled hot dogs and burgers became a neighborhood staple. Then there was the local standout, Dan Connor, who played for PSU. And, of course, he couldn't forget the time one of his father's friends took him inside the stadium on media day to meet players.
The small kid who sipped sodas while his father opted for other beverages on those Saturdays is a different person now. He's grown to 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds -- but that doesn't mean everything's changed. When asked if PSU remains his top school, he just laughed.
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ESPN/ABC has made its six prime-time picks for the upcoming season. One game already had been announced: Notre Dame at Michigan on Sept. 7.
Here's the full Big Ten prime-time schedule on ESPN/ABC:
Sept. 7: Notre Dame at Michigan, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2
Sept. 14: Notre Dame at Purdue, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2
Sept. 28: Wisconsin at Ohio State, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2
Oct. 5: Ohio State at Northwestern, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2
Oct. 12: Michigan at Penn State, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN or ESPN2
Oct. 26: Penn State at Ohio State, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State will host Michigan in another prime-time matchup on Oct. 12.
The Big Ten Network soon will announce its prime-time schedule for the fall, most likely next Monday. The Big Ten had 14 prime-time games last season, and you can expect about the same total this year.
Some thoughts on the list:
- Although the Big Ten is now open to night games in November, none appear on this list. ESPN/ABC was able to fill its six-game allotment before the end of October, featuring two games involving Notre Dame and four Big Ten matchups. An ESPN platform will televise a Big Ten matchup in prime time five of six straight Saturdays from Sept. 7 to Oct. 12. There are certainly some appealing games in November that could be played at night, but the networks chose to pass this time around. So if you're upset, blame TV.
- Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith has been vocal about the fact the Buckeyes typically play two road games at night and just one at home. Smith wants more night games at The Shoe -- so does coach Urban Meyer -- and he gets his wish as Leaders Division foes Wisconsin and Penn State both visit Ohio Stadium at night. Not surprisingly, the Buckeyes make more ABC/ESPN prime-time appearances (3) than any other Big Ten team, as they also visit Northwestern.
- Speaking of Northwestern, the Wildcats have to be thrilled with an ABC/ESPN prime-time game at Ryan Field. Pat Fitzgerald's crew could/should be 4-0 and coming off of a open week when Ohio State comes to town for Northwestern's Big Ten opener. It will be the most anticipated Northwestern home game in recent memory.
- I really liked the late-afternoon/early evening kickoff for Ohio State-Penn State last year at Beaver Stadium. Penn State gets another of these as Michigan comes to town on Oct. 12. Could a whiteout be on tap? Let's hope so.
- The ABC/ESPN prime-time slate features most of the Big Ten teams projected to contend for a championship -- except one. Nebraska has to be a little disappointed to be left out, although the Huskers' schedule in September and October -- when Big Ten prime-time games are typically played -- is very dull. A Week 3 matchup against UCLA likely will be a late-afternoon kickoff.
- Love 'em or hate 'em, Notre Dame remains a major national TV draw. The Irish will play a night game at a Big Ten stadium for the fifth consecutive season and two road night games against the Big Ten for the second time in three years.
What do you think of the ABC/ESPN prime-time schedule?
ASHBURN, Va. – The East Coast and mid-Atlantic states represented well on Sunday as eight players earned invites to The Opening at the Nike Football Training Camp outside of Washington, D.C. Defense ruled the day, led by two five-star prospects from Virginia.
10. Nick Scott
Fairfax (Va.) Fairfax |RB| 5-11, 180
Scott stood out among a field of backs who were overshadowed by the prospects at nearly every other position. He earned the attention of coaches for his strong play and versatility but missed the MVP award, which went to Vincent Lowe (Chesapeake, Va./Grassfield), who also posted the top SPARQ score.
Scott committed to Penn State in February over an offer from Boston College.
ESPN national recruiting analyst Craig Haubert’s take: “He’s got a great frame, and what I like about him as a Penn State verbal, he’s a versatile player. He may not run by you, but he does a good job in route-running.”
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He didn't know he was just minutes away from a conversation that would set his football future into motion, that would allow him to gain nearly 20 scholarship offers before the end of his junior year. For now, near the end of his freshman season, he just knew coach DaLawn Parrish wanted to chat with him.
He could feel his heart thumping in his chest, and he wondered what Parrish could possibly have to say. Was it good? Was it bad? Was it about an injury that allowed him to play just four JV games? Was it about a teammate?
"Everybody gets nervous when Coach Parrish wants to talk to you," Allen said. "Everybody."
The coach motioned the freshman linebacker inside, and the two stood across from one another. Parrish, a former defensive back at Wake Forest, told Allen -- who had undergone a four-inch growth spurt, from 5-foot-8 to 6-1 -- that he wanted him to move up to varsity.
Allen shook his head. He was hesitant. He had played in just four games, and scholarships weren't on his mind at that point; playing with his friends was. And when Parrish mentioned moving to safety, Allen couldn't believe it. He had no experience with that position at all.
"A lot of times, young men are apprehensive," Parrish said. "They don't know just how good they really are. And I knew he was going to be special."
Parrish began sketching out Cover-2 diagrams on the dry eraseboard behind him. It might as well have been advanced algebra because, Allen admitted, he had no idea what he was looking at. He wasn't even sure what a safety's role was.
The coach, a man with closely cropped hair and a thin goatee, then asked Allen to backpedal right there in the classroom. He laughed slightly when Allen clumsily tried to run backward. Allen didn't agree to move up right then, but it was a start.
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ESPN RecruitingNation has signing day covered. Follow ESPNU’s coverage, chat with analysts and get breaking news on our Signing Day Live page beginning at 7:30 a.m. ET through 7 p.m. ET. For more on what to expect on signing day, check out the Big Ten conference breakdown .
Bold prediction: Penn State will hang on to a top-25 class, even if just by the slimmest of margins. Bill O'Brien and his staff deserve all the credit in the world for having to originally put together a class after the scandal and then reshaping it after NCAA sanctions were levied in July.
Biggest need: The Illini's offense was arguably the worst in the Big Ten in 2012, and Illinois needs help just about everywhere on offense, especially at the skill positions.
Biggest recruit: Four-star athlete Aaron Bailey is the future at quarterback for Illinois, and the coaches will expect him to be ready to take the reins once Nathan Scheelhaase moves on.
Biggest need: To just put up a fence around Indianapolis and the state of Indiana. Kevin Wilson did that, assuaging defensive line concerns in the process by adding Indianapolis linemen David Kenney III and Darius Latham.
Biggest recruit: The Hoosiers are not accustomed to landing ESPN 150 prospects, but not only did they get Rashard Fant, but they got him all the way out of Georgia.
Biggest need: After having several productive running backs over the past decade, the Hawkeyes are hurting in the backfield due to injuries and off-the-field issues.
Biggest recruit: The Hawkeyes were after Berkley Edwards for a while, but once that fell through they put the screws to former Boston College running back commit LeShun Daniels. He flipped shortly after an official visit to Iowa.
Biggest need: Brady Hoke is transitioning to a pro-style offense, and he needed a pocket passer and a running back who makes his living in between the tackles.
Biggest recruit: ESPN 150 quarterback Shane Morris is that pro-style quarterback, but he is also the unquestioned leader of Team 134 and helped put together one of the nation’s top classes.
Biggest need: The Spartans will lose their top two rushers from 2012, including Big Ten rushing leader Le’Veon Bell, so running back is a priority. They are bringing in two.
Biggest recruit: ESPN 300 dual-threat quarterback Damion Terry is a capable thrower and runner, and he led his high school to a state title as a senior. Andrew Maxwell did not exactly lock down the starting quarterback job with his performance last season.
Biggest need: Donnell Kirkwood is a promising player at running back, but he struggled against some of the league’s better defenses and wore down late in the season. A complement is sorely needed.
Biggest recruit: Three-star running back Berkley Edwards is the younger brother of former Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards. Berkley is one of the Gophers’ highest-rated commitments, and running back is a position that lends itself to an easy transition.
Biggest need: Nebraska needs to return to its days of the Blackshirts, as the Huskers' defense was gashed on the ground all season. The Huskers need help along the defensive line.
Biggest recruit: Elite 11 finalist Johnny Stanton is a dual-threat quarterback, but he’s a much more polished passer than Taylor Martinez, who has taken his share of lumps since his flashy start in Lincoln.
Biggest need: Now that the Wildcats are a legitimate threat in the Big Ten under Pat Fitzgerald, the next step is to get better athletes to compete with Michigan and Ohio State. Fitzgerald is doing that with Ifeadi Odenigbo in 2012 and Godwin Igwebuike in 2013.
Biggest recruit: ESPN 300 dual-threat quarterback Matt Alviti had offers from some big programs including Notre Dame, but he chose nearby Northwestern. The Wildcats have an unsettled situation at quarterback, and as a local product Alviti could be called for by the fans if the quarterback play does not improve.
Biggest need: Linebacker was the biggest need for the Buckeyes, and after a shaky start Urban Meyer wrapped up a nice haul at the position with ESPN 150 products Trey Johnson and Mike Mitchell.
Biggest recruit: It’s a tie between Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson, who are separated by just a few spots in the ESPN 150. Both have game-breaking ability as a receiver or out of the backfield.
Biggest need: Despite significantly improved play from Matt McGloin in 2012, the Nittany Lions have not been blessed with quarterbacks the past decade, with the exception of a few good seasons from Michael Robinson and Daryll Clark.
Biggest recruit: While the class did field its share of decommitments, the damage would have been irreparable if No. 1 QB Christian Hackenberg bolted. By staying on, he instilled confidence in several other recruits to stay or join him in State College.
Biggest need: The quarterback situation at Purdue has been unsettled the past few seasons, which is not good when it comes to the most important position on the field.
Biggest recruit: An Elite 11 finalist, Danny Etling stuck with the Boilermakers through the coaching change. He will be looked at as the future of the program.
Biggest need: While the Badgers always have a strong stable of backs, losing Montee Ball is going to hurt, especially in the red zone. Wisconsin addressed it with top commitment Corey Clement.
Biggest recruit: The loss of Russell Wilson left a major void at quarterback, but the Badgers landed quarterback Tanner McEvoy on Monday. McEvoy is ranked No. 44 among juco prospects nationally and the expectation is he will contend for a starting job immediately.
We're going back now and issuing a final, postseason ranking for each position group, and these will be far less subjective now because we have an actual full season's worth of data on hand.
Quarterbacks, naturally, are up first. (Those guys hog all the glory). You can take a look back and see how we ranked this group in the preseason here. Depth is an important factor in these position rankings, but having a standout main guy under center (or in the shotgun) is the most overriding concern with this group.
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteThanks to consistent play by QB Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes finished the 2012 season unbeaten.
2. Penn State (Preseason: 12): The Nittany Lions were dead last in our preseason rankings, and with good reason considering their past performances at the position. But I did write at the time: "Call me an optimist, but I believe Matt McGloin will be more effective at quarterback now that he's got a more modern offensive system and peace of mind that he's the starter." Uh, yeah. McGloin led the Big Ten in passing yards (3,266) and passing touchdowns (24) while throwing only five interceptions. And he stayed healthy, keeping Penn State's youthful backups from getting exposed.
3. Nebraska (Preseason: 3): Taylor Martinez led the Big Ten in total offense and completed a career-best 62 percent of his passes. When he was good, he was as good as there was in the league. But he still struggled with turnovers in key games, including 12 interceptions and numerous fumbles. If he can eliminate the mistakes, the sky's the limit.
4. Michigan (Preseason: 2): The Wolverines are a hard to team to peg in these rankings. Do we rank them based on Denard Robinson's poor showings in big games against Alabama and Notre Dame? Do we rank them based on Devin Gardner's strong finish to the season, when he was as productive as any Big Ten QB? How much do we factor in the team's lack of a solid backup plan in the Nebraska loss when Robinson got hurt early? You have to weigh the good with the bad, which makes this spot feel about right.
5. Northwestern (Preseason: 9): Starting quarterback Kain Colter threw for 872 yards, which was nearly 450 yards less than nominal backup Trevor Siemian. But Colter also rushed for 894 yards and kept defenses off balance with his versatility. Meanwhile, the Wildcats could use Siemian when they needed to stretch the field. The next step for Northwestern is developing a more consistent downfield passing attack.
6. Indiana (Preseason: 11): Who would have guessed in the preseason that the Hoosiers would actually exhibit the best depth at quarterback? After starter Tre Roberson went down in Week 2, Indiana was able to plug in juco transfer Cameron Coffman and true freshman Nate Sudfeld to sustain the league's top passing offense. The three combined to throw for more than 3,700 yards. Coffman got the bulk of the work but needed a better touchdown-to-interception ration than his 15-to-11 mark.
7. Purdue (Preseason: 1): We overrated the Boilermakers' depth in the preseason. It turned out that only one of the trio of former starters performed at a high level, and Robert Marve didn't play enough because of a torn ACL and Danny Hope's misguided insistence on sticking with Caleb TerBush. Purdue actually led the Big Ten in passing touchdowns (30) and finished third in passing yards, but much of that was because the team often had to throw the ball a lot after falling way behind. This ranking could have been higher with a full season of Marve.
8. Wisconsin (Preseason: 8): Danny O'Brien quickly showed that he was not the next Russell Wilson, but luckily the Badgers had some depth. Redshirt freshman Joel Stave showed major promise before his season was derailed by a broken collarbone, and Curt Phillips turned in a nice comeback story by managing the team well down the stretch. Still, Wisconsin ranked last in the Big Ten in passing yards.
9. Michigan State (Preseason: 10): It was not exactly a season to remember for first-year starter Andrew Maxwell, who was benched late in the Spartans' bowl game. But for all his struggles, Maxwell still finished No. 4 in the league in passing and had some nice games in the middle of the year.
10. Minnesota (Preseason: 6): What could MarQueis Gray have done if he hadn't hurt his ankle, prompting an eventual move to receiver? True freshman Philip Nelson took over the reins midseason and broke out with a huge first half against Purdue. However, he failed to throw for more than 80 yards in the team's final three regular season games. Nelson led the team with just 873 passing yards on the season, and the Gophers threw 15 interceptions.
11. Iowa (Preseason: 4): Nobody took a bigger tumble than the Hawkeyes, as James Vandenberg went from a 3,000-yard passer as a junior to often looking lost as a senior. He completed only 57.3 percent of his passes and tossed only seven touchdowns, with eight interceptions, and Iowa showed almost no ability to go vertical. And no other Hawkeye attempted a pass all season.
12. Illinois (Preseason: 7): The Illini had experience at the position with Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole, but they were both part of a wildly dysfunctional offense. Illinois was next-to-last in passing yards in the Big Ten and also had just 11 touchdown passes versus 14 interceptions. In fairness, both QBs were often running for their lives and had very little help.
But, hey, some performances do need recognition. With that in mind, we're listing the Top 10 individual performances by Big Ten players from the 2012 season today. Degree of difficulty is a factor here, so we'll reward those players who shined against tough opponents over those who piled up stats vs. cupcakes. And, ideally, the performance came in a victory for the player's team.
Enough with the intro. A drum roll, please, for our Top 10:
10. Penn State's Michael Mauti vs. Illinois: Mauti was very vocal with his displeasure at Illinois' attempt to poach Nittany Lions players last summer. The senior linebacker backed up his words with six tackles and a pair of interceptions, including a 99-yard return to end the first half. He came up inches short of a touchdown on that pick but definitely proved his point.
9. Ohio State's John Simon vs. Wisconsin: In what would turn out to be his final college game, the Buckeyes defensive end went out with a bang against the Badgers in Madison. He had four sacks, which set a school record and were the most by a Big Ten player since Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan registered four vs. Michigan in 2010.
8. Ohio State's Braxton Miller vs. Michigan State: Miller had better statistical days than the one he turned in against the Spartans, but none were grittier. Hit over and over again, he somehow kept answering the bell and finished with 136 hard-earned rushing yards and 179 passing yards in Ohio State's 17-16 road win. Teammates said after the game that their quarterback was in a tremendous amount of pain, but he earned he even more respect from them.
7. Northwestern's Kain Colter vs. Indiana: Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald sprung a surprise on the Hoosiers by repeatedly lining Colter up at receiver. Colter caught nine passes for 131 yards and also ran for 161 yards and four touchdowns on just 14 carries.
6. Penn State's Matt McGloin and Allen Robinson vs. Indiana: We're cheating a bit here by including both players, but it's hard to separate the two from this record-setting performance. McGloin shredded the Hoosiers' defense for 395 passing yards and four touchdowns, while Robinson was as usual the main recipient of his throws. The sophomore grabbed 10 catches for 197 yards and three scores in the best day for a Big Ten receiver in 2012.
5. Michigan's Denard Robinson vs. Air Force: How's this for an individual feat: Robinson accounted for more than 100 percent of his team's offense vs. the Falcons, a statistical oddity we may not see again any time soon. He totaled 426 yards -- 218 rushing, 208 passing -- while a couple of late kneel downs left Michigan's team total for the day at 422. Robinson also scored four touchdowns in the 31-25 win.
4. Michigan's Devin Gardner vs. Iowa: In just his second start at quarterback, Gardner wrote his name in the Michigan record books. He accounted for six touchdowns -- three passing, three rushing -- in becoming the first Wolverines quarterback to do that since Steve Smith in 1983. He also threw for 314 yards and let everyone know Robinson wasn't getting his old job back.
3. Wisconsin's Montee Ball vs. Purdue: Ball finished his career with all sorts of NCAA and school records, but he never had as many rushing yards as he did in West Lafayette this fall. He ran for 247 yards on 29 carries and and scored three times to establish himself as the Big Ten's all-time leader in touchdowns.
2. Nebraska's Taylor Martinez vs. Northwestern: Martinez's best statistical showing came in the opener against Southern Miss (354 passing yards, five TDs), but that was against a team that finished 0-12. His signature performance was in the comeback win at Northwestern. He threw for 342 yards and three scores and ran for another touchdown while leading two 75-plus yard scoring drives in the final six minutes. Of course, he also threw two passes in the fourth quarter that should have been intercepted, but that's just part of the ride with Martinez.
1. Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell vs. Boise State: In just the second game of the season featuring a Big Ten team, Bell set a bar that could not be cleared. He was Superman against the Broncos, rushing for 210 yards and two touchdowns on 44 carries and catching six passes for 55 yards. The unbelievable 50 touches in the opener was both a testament to Bell's strength and a flashing red warning sign of Michigan State's dearth of playmakers.
Honorable mention: Bell vs. Minnesota and TCU; Miller vs. California; Ball and James White vs. Nebraska in the Big Ten title game; Robinson vs. Purdue; Ohio State's Ryan Shazier vs. Penn State; Ohio State's Carlos Hyde vs. Nebraska; Indiana's Cody Latimer vs. Iowa; Penn State's Jordan Hill vs. Wisconsin; Northwestern's Venric Mark vs. Minnesota; Michigan's Jeremy Gallon vs. South Carolina; Iowa's Mark Weisman vs. Central Michigan; Minnesota's Michael Carter vs. Purdue and Texas Tech; Purdue's Kawann Short vs. Notre Dame.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- ESPN Watch List wide receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass (Springfield, Ohio/Springfield) was set to make his final decision between Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin in November, but that didn't happen.
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound athlete decided to postpone his announcement. He felt it wasn't the right time.
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Let's take a look at ESPN.com's Big Ten All-Bowl squad ...
QB: Devin Gardner, Michigan -- There weren't many good choices around the league, but Gardner fired three touchdown passes and racked up 214 pass yards. He has accounted for at least two touchdowns in all five of his starts at quarterback for the Wolverines.
RB: Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State -- The nation's ultimate workhorse running back did his thing in his final game as a Spartan. Bell had 32 carries for 145 yards and a touchdown, recording his eighth 100-yard rushing performance of the season. He also threw a 29-yard pass on a pivotal third-down play.
RB: Rex Burkhead, Nebraska -- Another back who stood out in his final collegiate game, Burkhead racked up 140 rush yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, and added four receptions for 39 yards. It's really too bad we didn't get to see what Burkhead could have done all season when healthy.
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsJeremy Gallon celebrates one of his two touchdown catches against South Carolina.
WR: Derrick Engel, Minnesota -- Along with quarterback Philip Nelson, Engel provided some hope for Minnesota's future on offense with 108 receiving yards on four receptions in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. His 42-yard reception marked the third longest of Minnesota's season.
TE: Dan Vitale, Northwestern -- The freshman provided offensive balance Northwestern needed against a Mississippi State team that focused on taking away Venric Mark and the run game. Vitale recorded team highs in both receptions (7) and receiving yards (82) as Northwestern ended the nation's longest bowl losing streak in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.
OL: Taylor Lewan, Michigan -- Everyone remembers Jadeveon Clowney's near decapitation of Michigan's Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl -- which resulted from a miscommunication between Lewan and tight end Mike Kwiatkowski -- but the Wolverines' left tackle did a good job overall against college football's most dominant defensive lineman. Lewan anchored a line that helped Michigan put up decent numbers against an elite defense.
OL: Zac Epping, Minnesota -- Minnesota's offensive line showed flashes of the dominance it displayed for much of the Glen Mason era against Texas Tech. The Gophers racked up 222 rush yards and two touchdowns on 54 carries, as Epping and his linemates opened up holes for Donnell Kirkwood, Rodrick Williams and MarQueis Gray.
OL: Brian Mulroe, Northwestern -- Mulroe made his 40th career start and helped Northwestern finally get over the hump in a bowl game. The Wildcats had a balanced offensive attack, avoided the penalty flag and didn't allow a sack against Mississippi State.
OL: Cole Pensick, Nebraska -- Stepping in for the injured Justin Jackson at center, Pensick helped the Huskers find success running the ball against Georgia, especially up the middle. Nebraska had 239 rushing yards in the Capital One Bowl.
OL: Travis Frederick, Wisconsin: The Badgers rushed for 218 yards against Stanford, which came into the Rose Bowl with the nation's No. 3 rush defense. They also gave up only one sack to a defense which led the FBS in that category. Frederick played very well at center and announced he would skip his junior year to enter the NFL draft a few days later.
DL: Quentin Williams, Northwestern -- Williams set the tone for Northwestern's win with an interception returned for a touchdown on the third play from scrimmage. He also recorded two tackles for loss, including a sack, in the victory.
DL: William Gholston, Michigan State -- Another player who stood out in his final collegiate game, Gholston tied for the team lead with nine tackles, including a sack, and had a pass breakup in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl win against TCU. The freakishly athletic defensive end stepped up in a bowl game for the second straight season.
DL: Tyler Scott, Northwestern -- Scott and his fellow linemates made life tough for turnover-prone Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell in the Gator Bowl. The Wildcats junior defensive end recorded three tackles for loss, including two sacks, and added a quarterback hurry in the win.
DL: Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota -- The big man in the center of Minnesota's defensive line stood out against Texas Tech, recording six tackles, including a sack, and a pass breakup. Gophers fans should be fired up to have Hageman back in the fold for the 2013 season.
LB: Max Bullough, Michigan State -- Bullough once again triggered a strong defensive performance by Michigan State, which held TCU to just three points in the final two and a half quarters of the Wings bowl. The junior middle linebacker tied with Gholston for the team tackles lead (9) and assisted on a tackle for loss.
LB: Chris Borland, Wisconsin -- The Badgers' defense clamped down against Stanford after a slow start, and Borland once again stood out with his play at middle linebacker. The standout junior led Wisconsin with nine tackles as the defense kept the Badgers within striking distance in Pasadena.
LB: Jake Ryan, Michigan -- Ryan capped a breakout season with another strong performance in the bowl game, recording 1.5 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and half a sack. He'll enter 2013 as a top candidate for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors.
CB: Michael Carter, Minnesota -- Carter finished off a strong senior year with two interceptions, a pass breakup and seven tackles in the 34-31 loss to Texas Tech.
CB: Nick VanHoose, Northwestern: The redshirt freshman picked off a Mississippi State pass and returned it 39 yard to set up the game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter.
S: Jared Carpenter, Northwestern: The senior was named MVP of the Gator Bowl win with a game-high 10 tackles and a near interception late in the game.
S: Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern: The Wildcats dominate our all-bowl team secondary for good reason. Campbell had an interception and a pass breakup against the Bulldogs.
P: Mike Sadler, Michigan State -- The punters took center stage in Tempe as both offenses struggled, and Sadler provided MSU with a huge lift in the field-position game. He set Spartans bowl records for punts (11) and punting yards (481), averaging 43.7 yards per punt with three inside the 20-yard line. His booming punt inside the TCU 5 helped lead to a game-turning fumble by the Horned Frogs' Skye Dawson.
K: Brendan Gibbons and Matt Wile, Michigan -- Both kickers share the honors after combining to go 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts in the Outback Bowl. Gibbons, the hero of last year's Sugar Bowl, connected from 39 yards and 40 yards in the first half. Wile hit a career-long 52-yard attempt in the third quarter, setting an Outback Bowl record.
Returner: Troy Stoudermire, Minnesota -- It took a bit longer than expected, but Stoudermire finally set the NCAA record for career kick return yards with a 26-yard runback on the opening kickoff against Texas Tech. The senior cornerback finished the game with 111 return yards, including a 37-yard runback, on four attempts.