B1G early look: Setting up Week 12

November, 10, 2014
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No, Michigan State and Ohio State can't play every week. But we're still in for an entertaining weekend, as the Big Ten's only two other ranked opponents -- Nebraska and Wisconsin -- will square off Saturday. We saw a clash of the East's elite last week, and it looks as if we're in for the best of the West this week.

That game is only one of the things to watch this week, however. Here's your early look at the storylines for Week 12:

[+] EnlargeOhio State
AP Photo/Al GoldisThe Buckeyes will need help to crack the list of the top four teams in the nation.
How far Ohio State can climb in the College Football Playoff rankings: Urban Meyer's squad beat Michigan State in convincing fashion, 49-37, Saturday so the Buckeyes will undoubtedly move up here. But just how much? Four of the committee's top-10 teams lost Saturday, and Ohio State needs a good boost because this will stand as OSU's best win until at least the Big Ten title game. As Adam Rittenberg wrote earlier, Ohio State “will need a lot of help to be acknowledged as one of college football's best four.” It was one of the lowest-ranked one-loss teams last Tuesday, so that help needs to start this Tuesday.

Melvin Gordon versus Ameer Abdullah: Nebraska-Wisconsin is the marquee Big Ten matchup Saturday due in large part to these two running backs. Gordon leads the nation in rushing yards per game (166.8); Abdullah is No. 6 (138.9 ypc), even after he left the last game with just 1 yard due to injury. No other matchup this season -- in the Big Ten or otherwise -- has seen two of the current top-six rushers square off against one another. So this is a rare treat. Both are among the best in the nation, both are ranked by ESPN.com's Todd McShay as two of the best 32 prospects in the NFL draft, and both have the potential to take control of this game. This one could produce a lot of highlights.

The Wild West: You should know by now that anything can still happen in this division. Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin are all tied for first with just one conference loss -- and two-loss Iowa technically isn't out of the equation either. We should get a clearer picture of the West this weekend, but we won't be able to jump to any conclusions. The loser of the Nebraska-Wisconsin game will be at a huge disadvantage -- but the winner won't necessarily be a shoo-in for the title game since Minnesota plays both Nebraska and Wisconsin in the final two weeks. It's all about who plays best these final three weeks, so all of these teams need to take a step forward Saturday.

Can Rutgers and Penn State become bowl eligible? Both teams are on the cusp of the postseason with five wins apiece, and Saturday could prove to be both squads' best shot at a bowl game. Penn State plays a Temple team that hasn't won in the series since 1941, and Rutgers is set to face a reeling Indiana squad that hasn't won without Nate Sudfeld. It only gets harder here from here on out for those two teams -- Penn State has Illinois and Michigan State left, while RU has Michigan State and Maryland. That being said, neither Penn State nor Rutgers has looked particularly good lately. The Nittany Lions are 1-4 over the last five games, and the Scarlet Knights have dropped their last three.

Finding the real Minnesota: Jerry Kill's squad isn't an easy team to decipher. On one hand, it lost to Illinois and barely beat the likes of Northwestern and Purdue. On the other hand, it just crushed a good Iowa team and stands at 7-2. The Gophers are a wild card of sorts in the West, and they have a good chance to prove they're for real Saturday against Ohio State. They boast a top-25 defense and one of the most underrated rushers in the nation in David Cobb. A solid win, or at least a solid performance, would give the Gophers respect and credibility in the West. They're the division's dark horse right now.

Weekend rewind: Big Ten

November, 10, 2014
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Our latest afternoon and evening of football was billed nationally as Separation Saturday, with six games between ranked teams set to reshape the College Football Playoff picture, including, of course, Ohio State-Michigan State in the Big Ten.

After the Buckeyes' 49-37 victory -- their league-record 21st straight in regular-season conference play -- the Saturday moniker appears to apply more so in the Big Ten than any place elsewhere on the Power 5 landscape.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesJ.T. Barrett accounted for five touchdowns in Ohio State's win over Michigan State.
Boosted by freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, Ohio State has separated itself atop the Big Ten, according to the many pundits who watched OSU punish the Spartans en route to 568 yards of total offense.

But three weeks of play remain. An opponent from the West, presumably to face Ohio State, must be determined for the Big Ten championship game.

It's not over in the Big Ten. Really, it's not.

Also on Saturday, Wisconsin pushed forward with a 34-16 win at Purdue. Iowa provided its fans with reason to give up on this year, losing 51-14 at Minnesota. Great rebound, by the way, for the Gophers.

The other two games were not worth revisiting. But read on, and we'll get there:

Team of the week: Ohio State. The Buckeyes, if you stopped watching after Week 2, have outscored their past seven opponents 214-59 in the first half. They've also won 12 straight games on the road, the longest streak among FBS teams, and last lost at Spartan Stadium in 1999. Ohio State simply bullied its way to victory over the Spartans. Defensively, the Buckeyes blitzed Connor Cook effectively, holding the junior quarterback without a completion on six first-half attempts against five or more pass rushers. On offense, Ohio State gained 284 yards on designed rushes and became the first team to run for four touchdowns against Michigan State since Alabama in 2011 Capital One Bowl.

Biggest play: Ohio State trailed 21-14 when Barrett found Michael Thomas on a slant. Thomas slipped past cornerback Darian Hicks and outraced safety Kurtis Drummond to the end zone for a 79-yard reception. The Buckeyes never trailed from there. Adding to the impact of Thomas' big catch, it followed a 39-yard missed field goal by Michael Geiger after a holding penalty wiped out Jeremy Langford's touchdown run. And that came on the heels of a fumble by Ohio State receiver Dontre Wilson on a kickoff return. So to assess, a dramatic reversal of momentum that propelled Ohio State to a halftime lead.

Big Man on Campus (offense): Who do you think? Barrett finished with 300 yards on 16-of-26 passing with three touchdowns. He also rushed for 86 yards and two scores. That's five touchdowns, giving him 34 for the season -- two from tying Braxton Miller's school record set last year. And despite another 205 rushing yards from Melvin Gordon, it's hard now not to consider Barrett as the frontrunner for Big Ten offensive player of the year.

Big Man on Campus (defense): Michigan defensive end Frank Clark teamed with linebacker Jake Ryan to smother Northwestern in the Wolverines' 10-9 win. Clark gets the nod for his impact on the defining play of the game. After the Wildcats scored on a Tony Jones reception with three seconds to play, Clark chased Trevor Siemian on the two-point conversion as the Northwestern QB slipped to the ground. Credit Pat Fitzgerald with a gutsy call to go for the win. But credit Clark more for his readiness to make a crucial stop.

Big Man on Campus (special teams): Purdue kicker Paul Griggs connected on three field goals. His conversions from 53 and 52 yards with the wind at his back made him the first ever at Purdue to hit two field goals in the same game of 50 yards or longer.

Biggest faceplant: Take your pick among the offensive units in Michigan-Northwestern and Penn State's 13-7 win at Indiana. Only Penn State, among the foursome, made it to 300 yards. In Evanston, it was scoreless until De'Veon Smith's 3-yard touchdown run with 6:49 to play in the third quarter. On a particularly ugly sequence in the third quarter for Michigan, a snap from center Jack Miller hit Devin Funchess as the receiver ran in motion, leading to a turnover; when Michigan regained possession, QB Devin Gardner tripped and fell for a 7-yard loss.

Fun with numbers: Minnesota's 37-point margin of victory was its largest in a Big Ten game under coach fourth-year coach Jerry Kill. Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams caught three touchdown pass and set a season position record at the school with seven. ... The Gophers are 6-0 at home for the first time since 1977. ... Barrett has thrown 22 touchdowns with three interceptions in Ohio State's past seven games. ... The Buckeyes are 20-0 when Devin Smith catches a touchdown. ... Urban Meyer is 36-3 in November since 2003. ... Eight Wisconsin receivers caught at least one pass against Purdue. ... The Boilermakers rushed for 26 yards on 26 carries, the third straight and sixth of nine Wisconsin foes to rush for fewer than 100 yards. ... Gordon accumulated 249 yards of total offense. He has scored multiple touchdowns in six of the Badgers' past seven games. ... Wisconsin QB Joel Stave threw for a season-high 219 yards.

Big Ten morning links

November, 10, 2014
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Good morning, and welcome to the Big Ten's new world order ...

There were many highlights from Urban Meyer's first two years at Ohio State. The Buckeyes went undefeated while on probation in his first season in Columbus, then started 12-0 in 2013 before losing the final two.

Yet there was a gnawing sense of unfinished business that had to do with the lack of a bowl game in 2012 and the losses in the Big Ten title game and the Orange Bowl a year ago. Meyer had the Buckeyes buzzing, but they hadn't really beaten anyone of note. The Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech at home this year, as the team looked to replace the injured Braxton Miller, seemed to further delay the timetable toward true greatness.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsSophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott is one of several emerging stars on the Ohio State offense.
That's why Saturday's 49-37 win at No. 8 Michigan State could be the start of something really special for Ohio State under Meyer. The offense on display in East Lansing is now more powerful and diverse than anything the Buckeyes had in the previous two seasons, thanks to J.T. Barrett and a growing arsenal of skill players. And the defense is no longer a sieve in the back end.

Here's the truly scary thing for the rest of the Big Ten: the Buckeyes' two-deep for the Michigan State game listed 19 freshmen or sophomores, including guys like Barrett, Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas, Dontre Wilson and Curtis Samuel on offense. Ohio State is in line to bring back as many as 15 starters next year, not counting whatever happens with Miller.

All that speed and talent Meyer has recruited is blossoming now, and his 24-0 run may have only been the prelude. Maybe the Buckeyes won't get to the playoff because that Virginia Tech loss is such an albatross. But they look like they're ready to return toward dominating the Big Ten.

Meyer has Ohio State back where it belongs, Dan Wetzel writes. Here come the Buckeyes, and they're here to stay, Michael Rosenberg says. A hidden program resurfaced, Chuck Culpepper writes. Beating the Spartans was Ohio State's best regular-season win since 2006.

More links ...

East Division
West Division

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 11

November, 9, 2014
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Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 9, 2014
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Recognizing the brightest from Week 11 in the Big Ten:
  • Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett: The redshirt freshman didn't just play well against the No. 5 defense in the nation; he absolutely dominated. Barrett threw for 300 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. That alone probably would've earned him a helmet sticker -- but he also added another 86 yards and another two scores on the ground. He led Ohio State to touchdowns on six straight drives and scored four TDs in just the first half, as the Buckeyes posted the surprising 49-37 victory over Michigan State. Barrett played big on the Buckeyes' biggest stage yet this season; this honor was a no-brainer.
  • Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams: When Williams inevitably wins the Big Ten tight end of the year award, how many of his highlights are actually going to come from this game: His first TD? His second? His third? Or about that toe-dragging 25-yard reception? On a day in which the Gophers finished with 51 points in a 51-14 win, the most they’ve scored in the battle for the Floyd of Rosedale since 1949, Williams was the star. He finished with five catches for 46 yards and three touchdowns. All of his scores came on second downs, and he made it all look easy for the Gophers.
  • Michigan defensive end Frank Clark: Good numbers, clutch play, holding the other team to minus-9 rushing yards – that’s a pretty good route to a helmet sticker. Clark finished with seven tackles, two pass breakups, a sack and two stops in the backfield during Michigan's 10-9 victory at Northwestern. He was closing in on Wildcats quarterback Trevor Siemian when Siemian slipped on the potential game-winning two-point conversion. Clark helped ensure the U-M victory and, while linebacker Jake Ryan also turned in a solid performance, Clark’s nose for the ball on the Northwestern’s final play gives him an edge.
  • Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon: Another week, another helmet sticker for MGIII. You can’t really be surprised at this point because the Heisman hopeful tends to dominate every week. In a 34-16 victory over Purdue, he ended up with 25 carries, 205 rushing yards and a touchdown. He also added a highlight or two receiving with three catches for 44 yards and another score. His two touchdowns came when the Badgers needed them most, the first to take the lead and the second to make it a double-digit game. He’s quick, he’s explosive, and his helmet might be running out of room with all these Big Ten helmet stickers.
  • Penn State defense: Indiana never once entered the red zone during Penn State's 13-7 victory, but it’s not fair to single out just one Nittany Lion defender here because, quite frankly, no individual stuck out. Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman paced the unit with seven tackles apiece, but five other players had six tackles. And eight players had at least one stop in the backfield, with no one finishing with more than two. It was a total team effort. And it was the first time all season Indiana tailback Tevin Coleman didn’t reach the 100-yard mark. It was an impressive performance all-around. PSU’s defense finished with 10 stops in the backfield and two interceptions.
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Check out the top plays from Week 11 of college football.

What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 11

November, 9, 2014
11/09/14
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Lessons learned after Week 11 in the Big Ten:

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsA clutch performance by J.T. Barrett on Saturday night helped keep Ohio State's playoff hopes alive.
1. Ohio State is king of the East and one of the B1G's two best bets for the playoff: Michigan State linebacker Taiwan Jones said he felt as if the College Football Playoff started Saturday. He was kind of right, but the Spartans are out, and the Buckeyes are in ... the playoff picture. Few people saw the Buckeyes' dominating 49-37 win over Michigan State coming, and that's exactly what they needed to make a statement in this playoff race. J.T. Barrett outplayed Connor Cook, Ohio State scored touchdowns on six straight drives, and there was no sad pizza eating for Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer. Margin of victory can only help the Buckeyes, and they'll need to keep playing like this to show they deserve one of the playoff's four spots. Only two Big Ten teams, one-loss Ohio State and Nebraska, are in contention for the playoff now, and they could face each other in the Big Ten title game. Of course ...

2. ... The Wild West still remains wild: Just when you think you’ve started to figure out the West Division, with Minnesota coming off a puzzling loss to Illinois and Iowa blowing out Northwestern, Jerry Kill’s squad steps up and absolutely dominates the Hawkeyes in a 51-14 thrashing that was over by halftime. Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin all boast just one Big Ten loss now -- so anything can happen in these last three weeks, especially when you consider these three teams will all play one another, with Nebraska taking on Wisconsin next Saturday. (Even Iowa, which still plays Wisconsin and Nebraska, isn’t technically out of the equation.) It’s looking more and more as if we’ll have to wait until the final week of the regular season to get a clear picture of who will move forward. Lessons learned: It was way too premature to write off Minnesota (and Kill’s dancing skills), and it’s still too early to pick a clear favorite.

3. Wisconsin passing game has some potential: Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy appeared doomed early this season, but they might end up just fine if Stave can build off part of Saturday’s performance. The Badgers set a season high with 30 pass attempts, and Stave finished 19-of-29 for 216 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His QBR of 77.2 was the highest of any Wisconsin starter in the Big Ten season, and he was especially hot in the second quarter of the 34-16 win. This was about as balanced as Wisconsin’s offense has been all season, and if defenses are forced to take some of the focus away from the running game, the Badgers’ offense could become even more dangerous. One game doesn’t make a trend, but it does show Stave is capable of more this season.

4. Several B1G offenses are regressing: If you watched -- and stayed awake through -- Penn State's 13-7 win over Indiana and Michigan's 10-9 win over Northwestern, feel free to pat yourself on the back. Those four teams combined for three offensive touchdowns, 39 points, 33 punts and 10 turnovers. It wasn’t pretty. For Indiana, it’s more understandable because Nate Sudfeld's injury forced this team to become even more one-dimensional. But for the other three, every week seems to lead to fewer answers and more questions. Turnovers continue to be an issue for Devin Gardner and the Wolverines, Trevor Siemian remains incredibly inconsistent … and Penn State? Well, nothing seems to be going well there. Penn State, Michigan and Northwestern are ranked outside the top 100 in scoring offense, and the Hoosiers have averaged 11.3 points per game with Zander Diamont as the starting quarterback. These offenses aren’t showing much progress.

5. Penn State bowl hopes pinned to the defense: As bad as the Nittany Lions’ offense has been, the defense has performed nearly perfectly. Indiana never reached the red zone Saturday, Tevin Coleman didn’t reach 100 rushing yards for the first time all season, and the Lions’ defense didn’t allow a single point. (IU’s only touchdown came on an interception return for a TD.) PSU needs just one more win for bowl eligibility, but even with Illinois and Temple left on the slate, that’s no guarantee. The offense hasn’t once reached 20 points in regulation in a Big Ten game, but on the flip side, the defense has allowed just nine touchdowns in regulation in six B1G games. This is arguably the best defense in the Big Ten, but it’s also arguably the worst offense.

Video: Penn State 13, Indiana 7

November, 8, 2014
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Bill Belton's 92-yard touchdown run highlighted Penn State's 13-7 win over Indiana on Saturday.

Penn St. ends 4-game skid 13-7 over Indiana

November, 8, 2014
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Sam Ficken kicked a 27-yard go-ahead field goal and Penn State defeated Indiana 13-7 to snap a four-game skid.

Ficken's kick gave Penn State a 10-7 lead which he later extended with a 28-yard field goal with under a minute to play.

Christian Hackenberg was 12 of 29 for 168 yards and Bill Belton ran for 137 yards and a touchdown for the Nittany Lions (5-4, 2-4 Big Ten), who haven't lost more than five games since 2004.

Zander Diamont was 13 of 28 for 68 yards and ran for 58 yards for the Hoosiers (3-6, 0-5), who have lost four straight.

Tevin Coleman rushed for 71 yards and finished with less than 100 rushing yards for the first time in 10 games.

Belton's fifth scored of the year came on a 92-yard run and was the longest rushing touchdown by a single player in Penn State history.


(Read full post)


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Penn State RB Bill Belton runs 92 yards untouched to tie the game up at 7 versus Indiana.
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Indiana safety Mark Murphy picks off Penn State's QB Christian Hackenberg for a touchdown.

Indiana Blocks PSU FG

November, 8, 2014
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Indiana special teams comes up with a blocked kick to keep Penn State from scoring.

Judge to review Penn State emails

November, 8, 2014
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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- A judge has ordered the NCAA to turn over 477 internal emails relating to the sanctions imposed on Penn State over the university's handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey said Friday that she will review the emails to determine whether they can properly be withheld under attorney-client privilege or other grounds.

A state lawmaker and the state treasurer have sought the material as they prepare for a January trial on a lawsuit over a state law ordering fine money collected under the 2012 consent decree to be kept within Pennsylvania to address child abuse.

College sports' governing body last month called the state law "blatantly unconstitutional" but has said it would allow the money to stay within the state. The case, however, has morphed into a wider look at the legality of the consent decree. The state Supreme Court on Wednesday turned down the NCAA's bid to prevent the case from going to trial as scheduled.

Sandusky, the former assistant football coach, was convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing 10 boys and is serving decades in prison. Afterward, the NCAA fined Penn State $60 million, imposed a temporary bowl ban and took away 112 wins the football team had under longtime coach Joe Paterno. The NCAA recently ended the bowl ban and restored football scholarships earlier than scheduled but hasn't reinstated the wins.

The plaintiffs said documents were improperly withheld as protected by attorney-client privilege, such as email exchanges on which a lawyer was one of a number of people copied. The NCAA said lack of an attorney's identification at the top of the communication was "an insufficient reason to justify the intrusion" of review by the court, but the judge disagreed.


(Read full post)


The SEC has a table for one, and perhaps two, reserved at the College Football Playoff cafe. Even if things get really wacky (see: LSU beating Alabama on Saturday night), some team from the league that has produced seven of the past eight national champions will claim a spot in the final four.

Does the Pac-12 have the same luxury? My colleague Chris Low thinks it does, arguing on Thursday's kickoff show that the Pac-12 champ will make the playoff no matter what. I think the Pac-12 champ should make the playoff, but I'm not as certain as Chris that it will.

The question here is whether Pac-12 depth truly resonates with the playoff selection committee. I recently spent five days in Pac-12 country, and coaches repeatedly pointed to the depth the league has this season.

"If you played all the teams in the Pac-12 and all the teams in the SEC, it would be harder to go through the Pac-12 undefeated," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez told me.

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Penn State Ruling Not A Victory
William C. Rhoden reacts to the NCAA's decision to restore Joe Paterno's 111 victories that had been vacated following the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
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