All five of our Big Ten reporters are voting weekly on the races, with players receiving five points for a first-place vote, four for a second-place nod, etc. Also, we try hard to base these standings on 2014 season results only, not any preconceived notions or a player's previous track records. That's why you might see some names here you likely did not expect in the preseason.
Away we go:
Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year
1. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (five first-place votes): A unanimous pick right now, and understandably so given his game-winning catch and run vs. McNeese State. Abdullah is ranked No. 6 in the latest ESPN Heisman Watch.
2. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: The sophomore leads the Big Ten with 773 passing yards through two games, though his 4-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio could stand to improve.
3. Illinois QB Wes Lunt: The Oklahoma State transfer has been a big hit in Champaign, especially after he threw for 456 yards last week in a win against Western Kentucky.
4. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: Coleman and the Hoosiers were off this week, so he'll look to build on his huge Week 1 performance (247 yards, two touchdowns) on Saturday at Bowling Green.
5. Michigan State QB Connor Cook: He threw for 343 yards and two scores in the loss at Oregon, though he also had two picks. Cook is completing 68.3 percent of his passes through two games.
Also receiving votes: Rutgers RB Paul JamesPaul James
Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year
1. Iowa DT Louis Trinca-Pasat (1): A surprise early leader. Trinca-Pasat has four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks as Iowa's defensive line has carried the team in two close wins.
2. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa: Bosa already has two forced fumbles, including one against Virginia Tech last weekend. Will he be even more effective when Noah Spence returns on the other side of the Buckeyes' line?
3. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel (2): Zettel is tied with Trinca-Pasat for the most tackles for loss in the league through two weeks, and he owns two quarterback sacks. The Nittany Lions' defense has done a great job of bending but not breaking.
4. Penn State LB Mike Hull (2): Hull has been the leader of the Penn State defense as expected, and he has the second-most tackles in the league, with 22.
5. Wisconsin S Michael Caputo: After registering 15 tackles in the opener against LSU, Caputo grabbed an interception last week vs. Western Illinois.
Also receiving votes: Iowa DE Drew Ott; Indiana DL Bobby Richardson; Illinois S Taylor Barton
You have a grassy knoll in your front yard and own every Oliver Stone movie ever made. You spend time on Google looking for the truth about why Auburn was left out of the national championship game in 2004 and the real reason USC got the NCAA hammer over Reggie Bush.
You are a conspiracy theorist.
That's spelled C-O-N ... spiracy (for all you "In Living Color" fans).
We love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next person, and in sports, there's no shortage of them. So today, we present the conspiracy theory of the week, along with the biggest overreaction and underreaction to the weekend that was in college football. Because there are always different ways to look at the same story.
Conspiracy theory of the week: Penn State is immediately eligible for the postseason to help out a really weak Big Ten.
1. The hits keep on coming for Northwestern: First, it lost its star running back due to transfer. Then its top two wideouts came down with injuries, as Christian Jones is out for the season. Now? Quarterback Trevor Siemian is coming off a "minor" leg injury, and DT C.J. Robbins will miss the next game after the Big Ten suspended him for throwing a punch Saturday. He'll only miss the Western Illinois contest, so the Wildcats shouldn't be affected much. But, every week, it seems as if there's more bad news for Pat Fitzgerald's squad. Northwestern continues to make the kinds of headlines it wants to avoid, and it keeps getting harder for the Cats to stop this downward spiral. Maybe that finally ends next week?
2. RU should remove Ray Rice's art from campus -- and be open about it: Yes, Rutgers has been asked about whether it plans to scrub Rice's photos completely. No, it's declined to come out and say exactly what it plans to do, although you can probably read between the lines when a spokesman says the university plans to change "all the art around our program." Here's an idea: Let's just be transparent and direct about this. It's difficult to celebrate Rice's on-field feats at Rutgers after watching that video. And it would be a huge misstep if Rice's photos remained at the football building through all this. Although, as it's been pointed out, at least Rutgers announced such photos would not be at the football stadium ... several hours after it wouldn't say for sure.
3. Oh say, did you see Maryland's jerseys? I don't care how you feel about the Terps, you have to admit these are pretty cool. The new uniforms, which were inspired by the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore and the writing of the Star-Spangled Banner, are now the most patriotic in all of sports. The helmet and jersey even feature the words to Francis Scott Key's "Defense of Fort McHenry," a poem that was transformed into the national anthem. That's the best part, in my opinion. These jerseys would look incredibly out of place at, say, Michigan or Penn State ... or, really, just about any other team in the Big Ten. But at Maryland? It's obviously a perfect fit.
Now, onto the links ...
- Michigan State has proved before that it can bounce back from early-season losses.
- James Franklin and LB Mike Hull weigh in on the large student celebration that happened Monday night after Penn State's bowl ban was lifted.
- Ohio State's pass defense remains a work in progress.
- DT Willie Henry entered Michigan without much fanfare, but he's one of the defense's bright spots now.
- Several Pennsylvania natives on Rutgers' squad felt mostly overlooked by their in-state school, Penn State, and they're using that as motivation for Saturday's game.
- The Hoosiers are looking to "exorcise their road demons" against Bowling Green this weekend.
- Maryland QB C.J. Brown needs to relax and stop overanalyzing, Randy Edsall said.
- Nebraska gives the Big Ten its best chance at being represented in the College Football Playoff, according to the Chicago Sun-Times' Seth Gruen.
- Wisconsin's run game has hit a speed bump.
- Without left tackle Brandon Scherff, Iowa will need to find success running the ball by adopting the "Next Man In" philosophy.
- Purdue's Austin Appleby is ready for his turn at quarterback, if the coaches decide to plug him in Saturday.
- Minnesota TE Maxx Williams has "no doubt" Mitch Leidner will play against TCU.
- A look at how Northwestern is struggling in five critical areas.
- Wes Lunt's slow starts can't follow Illinois to Washington.
- The Detroit Free Press' Drew Sharp thinks shifting demographics -- like the population shift to the Sun Belt -- are what's leading to the Big Ten's failures.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Linebacker Mike Hull finished up his spicy chicken sandwich at an off-campus fast-food joint while chatting and joking around with his roommates. They didn’t have the slightest idea on Monday that they were moments away from an announcement they had waited for two seasons to hear.
Sure, they knew the Mitchell Report was set to be released. And, yes, they were even aware of rumors -- first started by a clothing store blog -- that Penn State might gain bowl eligibility or its missing scholarships. But they didn’t expect it all to come down that afternoon; they just expected to sit at their small table, use their BOGO discount and enjoy their day off from football.
Then defensive back Jesse Della Valle checked his cell phone and told the group, wide-eyed, about what he saw. They didn’t believe him – until they checked.
Due to Penn State's progress in ensuring athletics dept functions with integrity, NCAA immediately restores football postseason eligibility. - NCAA (@NCAA) September 8, 2014
Moments later, the four teammates received a mass group text for an instant team meeting. It was happening. And, even while recalling it all Tuesday afternoon, Hull seemed like he still couldn’t quite believe it.
“I was smiling ear to ear and a lot of the other guys were just ... we couldn’t believe everything turned around like that,” Hull said. “We were expecting the worst when those were handed down.”
Coach James Franklin opened his news conference on Tuesday with a big smile and by performing a little jig while jazz music played from the nearby phone line. He seemed reluctant at first to touch on the NCAA’s decision, in part because it took him more than eight minutes to take questions from the media, but he couldn’t stop the flood of that topic.
He wanted to focus on Rutgers, talk about Rutgers, but Penn State’s newfound potential for a bowl drove the conversation. He pledged the team wouldn’t look back to Monday’s celebratory news and let it interfere with Saturday’s game. But he also said he knew how important this was for players -- some of whom cried and most of whom looked dejected -- following the sanctions announcement in July 2012.
“This is great, now there’s nothing being held back from them in terms of opportunities,” Franklin said. “They have the ability to chase their dreams. But, we’re going to go back to our same approach: One game at a time.”
These players, especially these seniors, didn’t want to talk about this possibility two months ago. They didn’t want to think about it. At Big Ten media days in Chicago, Hull said as much. His teammate, the normally softspoken Bill Belton, snapped at a reporter who asked what a bowl game would mean to them.
“How would you react if you were on a bowl ban?” an agitated Belton asked, before some mild back and forth. “I’m just saying, like, if you were a kid in a program and you were in a bowl ban, it would be exciting. That’s what I’m saying.”
A lot of the players on this team had already resigned themselves to the NCAA’s fate. Their hopes were dashed in July 2012 and, perhaps, the only thing worse would have been to get them up once more -- only to see them dashed again.
But then Monday came.
“A lot of times, you don’t realize how much you miss something until you don’t have it,” senior safety Ryan Keiser said. “And we’re thankful we’re eligible again.”
The 49 remaining players who stuck through Penn State’s sanctions were called up to the front of the team meeting Monday afternoon. Their teammates showered them with a standing ovation; a smile was fixed to nearly everyone’s face.
It wasn’t just the seniors who were commended, it was everyone -- such as redshirt sophomore Geno Lewis, who was part of Penn State's 2012 recruiting class. He lived on campus for just weeks when the sanctions came down. But he chose to stay.
Lewis lingered outside Beaver Stadium on Tuesday afternoon. He knew, back as an 18-year-old, he might wind up graduating without ever going to a bowl. So when asked Tuesday if he ever thought, ever dreamt, of experiencing back-to-back winning seasons and then going to a bowl, he stopped walking for a moment and just paused.
“I was surprised about the bowl, but I always had faith,” he said. “That’s really all you can do. I’m just very happy and humbled.”
Added Hull: “It’s really worked out the best it possibly could.”
There were injuries to discuss, the repeal of the NCAA sanctions at Penn State and much, much more during the two-hour whip around the conference. Get caught up on the highlights right here, right now.
"Obviously we got some great news yesterday, and we're ready to move forward." -- James Franklin only briefly mentioning the sanctions.— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) September 9, 2014
Kirk Ferentz said Brandon Scherff is day-to-day. Doesn't mention surgery. Says Drew Ott will be ready to go.— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) September 9, 2014
Hoke on reduced PSU sanctions: "Is it good for the Big Ten? Yes it is." Said you hate to see kids get punished for things they didn't do.— Josh Moyer (@ESPNJoshMoyer) September 9, 2014
Tim Beckman says every win for Illinois is a signature win. But mentions that only four Illini teams in last 25 years have started 3-0.— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) September 9, 2014
Kyle Flood: First impressions in life matter. And this is our opportunity to make a first impression in the Big Ten— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) September 9, 2014
Fitzgerald said Wildcats will rest quarterback Trevor Siemian but they expect him to practice next week and be ready for W. Illinois.— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) September 9, 2014
Jerry Kill joking that he didn't want to play his friend Gary Patterson and TCU. "But I'm not the boss, I'm the football coach."— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) September 9, 2014
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- At Penn State, bowl games and packed stadiums under Joe Paterno yielded to scandal, suffering and sanctions at the abuses of Jerry Sandusky.
But the Happy Valley faithful and its resolute players who stuck with the program though its bleakest era can finally start to feel whole again.
The Penn State fans who lock arms and bellow "We Are" can finish the slogan: Bowl eligible. Back on track. Competing for a Big 10 title.
Not quite catchy, but good enough for devotees in a town where "Honor Joe" signs still dot windows throughout downtown in reverence to the legendary coach.
The NCAA levied the blistering sanctions two years ago, including a four-year postseason ban. It softened that Monday, taking Penn State a step farther away from the fallout from Sandusky, a former assistant coach convicted of sexual abuse of 10 boys, including acts at university facilities.
Tom Kline, a lawyer who negotiated a settlement with Penn State for one of the eight victims who testified against Sandusky at trial, said Tuesday it made sense to ease the penalties, given the university's reforms and other actions.
"I believe that the university should be able to move forward positively, based on everything they have done," Kline said. "Lifting the sanctions is something that is earned, deserved and is a correct decision."
It was certainly welcomed by a good chunk of the Nittany Lions' roster, who had every opportunity to escape without punishment when the sanctions were handed down.
"I just love Penn State," senior linebacker Mike Hull said. "I love the school, love everything about it. I'm just a Penn State guy at heart."
Several thousand students converged on campus to celebrate the NCAA’s afternoon announcement that PSU will be eligible for the postseason this year and will have full restoration of its scholarships next season. Students first met on the lawn of Old Main, the central administrative building, with reports coming just before 9 p.m. about the growing crowd.
Just before 10 p.m., the crowd -- decked out in blue and white -- spilled onto the campus sidewalks and paths on its way to Beaver Stadium. Some sprinted, some walked and most yelled. A few didn’t even know where they were going.
Upwards of a thousand people have gathered outside Old Main, and "Joe Paterno!" chants echo throughout the campus. https://t.co/pWcWUnpgyq— Onward State (@OnwardState) September 9, 2014
“Where are you guys headed?” one reporter asked.
“We have no idea!” was the response.
The size of the crowd was difficult to gauge around the stadium’s Gate A, where students routinely enter for football games. But some in the closely packed crowd stood atop merchandise vans, and constant chants rang throughout the night: “We Are ... Penn State!” “Dominate the State!” “Joe Paterno.” “I believe ... that we will win!”
Several players showed up, but most watched from across the street. Two greeted the students briefly, leading a Penn State chant, before taking off once TV cameras arrived.
After milling around the stadium, the group finally decided to head to Beaver Canyon, a downtown spot on Beaver Avenue that’s right next to traditional late-night snack spot Canyon Pizza. That’s where the crowd grew even larger.
The street was cordoned off, and police rerouted traffic around the crowd. The buzz of the group was palpable from at least three blocks away. Some students crowd-surfed on mattresses, others just gawked and took pictures, and apartment balconies flooded with fans taking it all in.
Found a better spot to watch ... A look at the growing crowd here at PSU on Beaver Avenue. It's almost midnight. pic.twitter.com/NTYmy1aJcT— Josh Moyer (@ESPNJoshMoyer) September 9, 2014
As students joined in the celebration, and as they got to within a block, most just took off in a full sprint. The energy was akin to an upset over the top-ranked team in the nation.
“Do we run?” asked one female student in pink dress clothes.
“Yeah, we run,” her friend responded, before a group of about five well-dressed students took off in a sprint.
The celebration subsided about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, 10 hours after the initial NCAA announcement at 2:30 p.m. Monday. Classes on Tuesday began at 8 a.m.
We've gone final in the Canyon. Some bottles and assorted trash, but really, no worse for wear. pic.twitter.com/VgTpCfIfgk— Greg Pickel (@GregPickel) September 9, 2014
Because of that, we are here to give you a recap of what took place and what to watch in the future.
- The timing of Penn State's bowl ban being lifted coincides nicely with Saturday's trip to Rutgers. We knew the Scarlet Knights faithful would be geared up for Rutgers' Big Ten debut against the program of record in the Mid-Atlantic region. Now Penn State fans will be even more energized as their team is eligible for a Big Ten championship and a postseason berth. I'll be at a non-Big Ten venue on Saturday night, but I can't wait to see the images from Piscataway, as High Points Solutions Stadium will be rocking for the first conference game of the season. Good times.
- The Big Ten's Week 3 schedule lacks the national showcase opportunities we saw in Week 2, but there are some sneaky good matchups that could help or hurt the league's profile. Illinois aims for a bowl-boosting road upset against Washington, which has struggled in its first two games under new coach Chris Petersen. West Virginia, which visits Maryland on Saturday, looks much improved after testing Alabama in Week 1 and thumping Towson. Minnesota tries to validate its stock with a road win against TCU, while Iowa faces an Iowa State team that nearly stunned Kansas State last week. Notre Dame is a heavy favorite against Purdue, but the Boilermakers have given the Irish their best shot in recent years.
- Perhaps we should expect this early in the season, but it seems like Big Ten coaches are being outwitted quite a bit by their opponents. In Week 1, Northwestern's staff admitted it didn't expect Cal to use freshman quarterback Luke Rubenzer as a complement to Jared Goff. Now Ohio State's coaches say they didn't expect Virginia Tech's defense to load the box so much or Hokies quarterback Michael Brewer to move around so much in the pocket. "That is the first time I've seen that kind of defense, maybe in our coaching career, where they were all [within] six yards [of the line of scrimmage]," Urban Meyer said. Meyer is a big fan of hyperbole, so take that into account. I just wonder when Big Ten teams will get the schematic edge in some of these games.
To the links ...
- Brady Hoke says the true fans will stick with Michigan despite its struggles.
- A look at where Ohio State goes after its first regular-season loss under Meyer.
- A look back at the Rutgers-Penn State trash talk as a rivalry builds.
- After the Oregon letdown, Michigan State focuses on stopping the big play.
- Indiana needs QB Nate Sudfeld to reverse his road woes.
- Maryland RB Brandon Ross could lose his starting job because he's losing the football.
- Nebraska's latest injury report is a bit of a mixed bag.
- Darrell Hazell is undecided on Purdue's top QB for the Notre Dame game.
- Illinois aims for just its fifth 3-0 start in the past quarter-century at Washington.
- Wisconsin's early season adversity could pay off later this fall.
- An interesting take on why Iowa State (not Iowa) should drop the Cy-Hawk game.
- The Daily Gopher looks ahead to the TCU game.
- Breaking down the film of Northwestern's latest ugly loss.
- Doug Lesmerises' genius plan to fix the Big Ten.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Happy Valley lived up to its name Monday night, as thousands of Penn State students converged to celebrate the football team's newfound bowl eligibility and the return of its scholarships.
Students first gathered at the lawn of Old Main, the central administrative building, before running in droves to Beaver Stadium. From there, they marched downtown to Beaver Avenue -- where the crowd grew even larger.
For more than four hours Monday night, fans celebrated as if the Nittany Lions had just knocked off the top-ranked team in the nation.
Chants of "We are ... Penn State" rang out in the night sky, songs like "Sweet Caroline" and "Zombie Nation" were staples for the duration, and cries of "Joe Paterno" and "Where's the statue?" were frequently hit upon.
It was a relatively calm night, considering the size of the crowd. One fan attempted to scale a street light outside Beaver Stadium but was politely chided by a police officer and instantly climbed down. Another reporter saw the crowd disperse for a trapped taxi cab.
"We consider this a peaceful crowd," State College Police Chief Tom King told Onward State. "As long as no extensive damage is being done, we have no problem with it."
At least two players briefly joined in the celebration at Beaver Stadium before thinking better of it once TV cameras showed up. During the downtown celebration, some fans crowd-surfed on mattresses while many just stood around to take photos or take part in the chants.
The crowd gradually dissipated as the night wore on, and most left around 12:30 a.m. ET Tuesday. The NCAA's announcement was made around 2:30 p.m. Monday.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today's offerings: James Franklin and Penn State was already building one of the best classes in the country, and Monday's news that the Nittany Lions were eligible for postseason play will help them build an even better class. Plus, recruits across the country agreed with the NFL and the Ravens' decision to distance themselves from Ray Rice, and we continue our tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.
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Rutgers AD Apologizes For Insensitive Fans
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final West Virginia 40 Maryland 37 Final Indiana 42 Bowling Green 45 Final Kent State 0 22 Ohio State 66 Final Miami (OH) 10 Michigan 34 Final Iowa State 20 Iowa 17 Final Minnesota 7 TCU 30 Final Illinois 19 Washington 44 Final Purdue 14 11 Notre Dame 30 Final Penn State 13 Rutgers 10 Final Nebraska 55 Fresno State 19