BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES (7-5) vs. PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS (6-6)
DEC. 27, 4:30 P.M. ET, YANKEE STADIUM, BRONX, N.Y. (ESPN)

BOSTON COLLEGE BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: Few scenes in college football this season could compare to the one in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, on Sept. 13, as the Eagles upset then-No. 9 USC 37-31, leading to a prime-time field-storming. More special than the victory itself was whom it was for, as BC donned red bandana-themed uniforms in honor of alum and 9/11 hero Welles Crowther, whose family was given a game ball in the locker room from second-year coach Steve Addazio. Beating Virginia Tech for the second straight year, on Nov. 1 in Blacksburg, made the Eagles bowl eligible for the second year in a row.

Season lowlights: A 24-21 home loss to Colorado State on Sept. 27 looked bad at the time, but CSU ended up winning 10 games this season, easing the pain of that defeat. BC played subpar in home losses to Pitt and Louisville, but neither probably hurt more than losses to Clemson (17-13) and Florida State (20-17), division powers that BC was a play away from beating (a year after giving both teams great shots too).

Player to watch: Tyler Murphy is arguably the best transfer pickup in college football this season. The former Florida quarterback -- whom Addazio recruited to Gainesville during his time as an assistant there -- enrolled at BC during the spring semester, won the starting job and hasn't slowed down since. Murphy broke the ACC record for rushing yards by a quarterback (1,079) and scored 10 rushing touchdowns. He has thrown for 1,526 yards and 11 scores, with 10 interceptions, as he has given BC a completely different look on offense from a year ago.

Motivation factor: A victory would make BC 8-5 and show improvement over Addazio's first season, when the Eagles went 7-6. It would also be his first bowl victory with the Eagles. More than anything, every little step is a sign of progress for a program that was coming off a two-win season in 2012 when Addazio took over. He has said this is a five-year rebuilding job. If he is winning seven or eight games a year while "rebuilding," the buzz and potential around the program will continue to grow as he lands more recruiting classes.
-- Matt Fortuna

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PENN STATE BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: The Nittany Lions’ season started promisingly enough. Christian Hackenberg opened by throwing for 454 yards against UCF in a 26-24 win as he drove the offense downfield and Sam Ficken hit a last-second, game-winning field goal. A few weeks later, Hackenberg was instrumental in guiding Penn State to a last-minute 13-10 win over Rutgers. Since then, the defense has dominated -- but wins have been hard to find. On the bright side, Bill Belton rushed for a 92-yard touchdown against Indiana in a 13-7 win. And the Lions did force Ohio State into double overtime before losing 31-24.

Season lowlights: The offensive line was a bad punch line for much of the season, but it hit a new low against Northwestern in a 29-6 loss. Offensive guard Brian Gaia closed his eyes and inadvertently blocked a teammate as Penn State failed to convert a fourth-and-1 play. (The clip went viral.) A 16-14 loss to Illinois caused alumni -- such as running back Ki-Jana Carter -- to criticize the offense on Twitter; Carter called it “ridiculous” and “embarrassing.” Then there was the loss to Maryland after the Terps’ team captains refused to shake hands.

Player to watch: LB Mike Hull. He was named the Big Ten linebacker of the year, and he is the heart of the nation’s top-ranked rush defense and No. 3 total defense. He has the ability to take over a game and has more than twice as many stops as the No. 2 tackler on Penn State. Hull has 134 tackles, notched 10.5 tackles for loss and had a hand in three turnovers. He’s not the biggest linebacker at 6-foot-0, 223 pounds, but he’s smart, fast and strong.

Motivation factor: This bowl game is a bonus of sorts for Penn State. When the Nittany Lions received sanctions in the summer of 2012, stemming from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, they were also punished with a four-year postseason ban. But that ban was lifted in September. Thousands of Penn State fans crowded the streets in the hours following the announcement, some surfing on mattresses, to celebrate the news. For Penn State, this is its first bowl since the 2011 season. And this team doesn’t want the seniors who stuck with this program to end their careers with a loss.
-- Josh Moyer

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 15

December, 7, 2014
Dec 7
10:00
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Thought bowl projections were over? So did we. But we've got one more edition for you, hours before the selections become official. What fun for all.

As ESPN.com first reported this week, the Big Ten could have a bowl-eligible team miss a bowl. If a Big Ten team goes to the Capital One Orange Bowl, the league won't have a participant in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. And if only one other Big Ten team reaches a New Year's Six bowl, it will leave eight eligible teams for only seven spots. Since there are more bowl-eligible teams than spots, and all spots are contracted, there are no at-large selections this year.

Got all that?

Michigan State is virtually assured of an Orange Bowl berth, following Alabama's win against Missouri in the SEC championship. At No. 8, the Spartans should remain ahead of No. 10 Mississippi State in Sunday's rankings -- neither team played this week -- and therefore be the highest ranked non-champion from the Big Ten or SEC.

Big Ten champion Ohio State is the only other league squad heading for the big bowls -- either a Playoff semifinal or a New Year's Six game. After the Buckeyes' 59-0 spanking of Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship, we project Urban Meyer's squad to the Playoff. Boom.

That means one eligible Big Ten team is out of the bowls. Although Penn State and Illinois both are 6-6 and the Fighting Illini beat the Nittany Lions, there's no way PSU misses a bowl after being banned the past two years. Illinois, unfortunately, is the odd team out.

Wisconsin's horrific performance in the Big Ten title game drops the Badgers down to the Holiday Bowl, which really, really wants Gary Andersen's team. Minnesota heads to the Outback Bowl, while Nebraska likely would go to the Music City Bowl to avoid a repeat in Jacksonville.

Penn State in the Pinstripe has been a likelihood for weeks, and we have Rutgers going to Detroit and Maryland to Dallas.

Here are our final, final Big Ten bowl projections for the season:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual or Allstate Sugar Bowl): Ohio State
Capital One Orange: Michigan State
Outback: Minnesota
National University Holiday: Wisconsin
TaxSlayer Bowl/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Nebraska
Foster Farms: Iowa
New Era Pinstripe: Penn State
Quick Lane: Rutgers
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas: Maryland

Big Ten morning links

December, 5, 2014
Dec 5
8:00
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Too bad it's such a quiet week in the Big Ten.

Check that.

Let’s get ready for a weekend like college football has never seen by hitting the three stories burning hottest in the league.

First up, Nebraska hired a coach. Mike Riley flew into Lincoln on Thursday night and headed straight to a meeting with the Cornhuskers. The former Oregon State coach will introduce himself to the state of Nebraska on Friday morning with a press conference at Memorial Stadium.

If Riley has any doubt about the level of obsession in his new position, he won’t after going through the ringer of obligations in his first full day on the job. I realize he coached in the NFL for three seasons. But he coached in San Diego, where, if fans get disinterested in the Chargers, they head to the beach of the golf course. If they lose interest in Nebraska, it’s statewide emergency.

Lost in the news on Thursday: How did Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst keep everyone in the dark? Riley’s name never surfaced among the dozens of coaches in mainstream speculation for the Nebraska job this week, perhaps because he was 5-7 this season and 61 years old.

The recent whereabouts of Eichorst also remain a mystery. Either he conducted the entire search from the depths of his office or he ought to think about moonlighting as a Homeland Security operative.

A few opinions:
  • Eichorst is taking a risk with Riley, writes Dirk Chatelain, but it’s one that illustrates the AD’s apparent lack of a big ego.
  • Lee Barfknecht writes of the widespread respect Riley has earned among peers and how his skill at developing quarterbacks could hold the key in the coach’s bid to elevate Nebraska.
  • According to George Schroeder, Riley is a great fit at Nebraska. Writes Schroeder: "He's unlikely to be overwhelmed by the expectations or surprised by the obstacles." A rare combination, indeed, that perhaps offers insight into the nature of Eichorst's outside-the-box hire.
  • The Lincoln Journal Star compiles more reaction from media and current and former Nebraska players.
  • And after some Nebraskans wondered about the star power of their new coach, it’s worth taking this advice: Just chill.
Not much news out of Michigan on first full day of its coaching search. Interim AD Jim Hackett seems intent to take his time. Unless, that is, a slam-dunk candidate is ready to say yes.

Maybe Les Miles is that slam dunk. Or maybe not. A pair of Louisiana writers provide contrasting opinions: Scott Rabalais tells Miles that the time is right for him to go back to U-M, while Jeff Duncan writes that Miles would be foolish to leave.

Or is Greg Schiano the most realistic of the high-profile candidates?

Regardless, this is a critical hire for Michigan, where fresh starts are getting old. Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, no doubt, agrees. He’s not happy with the firing of Brady Hoke and has no interest in the job in Ann Arbor.

Meanwhile, Hoke lands on a list of potential candidates at Colorado State.

Back on the field, Wisconsin and Ohio State battled different kinds of adversity this season to earn trips to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game.

Don't expect the Buckeyes to hold back on offense because of its quarterback issues. And amid all the talk of Cardale Jones' steep learning curve as he replaces injured J.T. Barrett, the Ohio State defense faces a huge challenge on Saturday. The reason? Melvin Gordon, of course.

The Badgers have concerns with the depth on the offensive line, to the point that Gary Andersen would consider removing the redshirt from freshman Michael Deiter in this 13th game of the season.

On the other side of the ball, Wisconsin's No. 2-ranked defense is again an underappreciated collection of talent.

Looking for predictions? The Cleveland.com writers deliver in their weekly outrageous fashion. And they're bullish on the Buckeyes.

Finally, if Ohio State beats Wisconsin and Michigan State remains ahead of Mississippi State in the playoff rankings, the Big Ten looks set to leave one of its eight-bowl eligible teams at home this postseason. Here's an explanation.

Around the rest of the league:

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Don't make those bowl reservations just yet, Illinois. Rutgers' cool celebration after its comeback against Maryland might not lead to a bowl reward. Maryland's second-half collapse, meanwhile, could keep the Terrapins at home for the holidays.

You're probably wondering, what is this joker talking about?

The Big Ten could have a bowl-eligible team not end up in a bowl game this season. The league outlined the scenario -- and other postseason probables -- in a memo sent to its athletic directors Wednesday and obtained by ESPN.com.

Here's the deal: If Michigan State ends up in the Orange Bowl, a strong possibility, and only one other Big Ten team makes the New Year's six bowls, the Big Ten will be left with eight eligible teams for seven contracted spots. Remember, when the Big Ten sends a team to the Orange Bowl -- the bowl pairs an ACC team with the highest-ranked non-playoff participant from the SEC or Big Ten, or Notre Dame -- it does not fill its spot in the Citrus Bowl.

There are already 80 bowl-eligible teams for 76 available spots, all of which are contracted to certain leagues. So there will be no at-large selections this season.

Michigan State is No. 8 in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings, two spots ahead of Mississippi State, the other likely candidate for the Orange Bowl. If No. 1 Alabama loses to No. 16 Missouri in the SEC championship game, the Tide almost certainly would go to the Orange Bowl ahead of Michigan State. But if Alabama wins, Michigan State is a virtual lock for the Orange unless the selection committee somehow flip-flops the two MSUs on a weekend when neither plays.

If No. 5 Ohio State beats No. 13 Wisconsin, the Big Ten would be limited to two teams in New Year's Six games. If that's the case and Michigan State makes the Orange Bowl, the league would have an eligible team miss out on a bowl. The likely candidates would be Illinois (6-6), Rutgers (7-5) or Maryland (7-5).

Penn State also is 6-6, it's hard to imagine bowls not clamoring for the Nittany Lions, who haven't gone bowling since 2011 because of NCAA sanctions. Iowa is 7-5 and ended the season on a down note, but bowls absolutely love the Hawkeyes and their massive traveling fan base.

Although the Big Ten has more say in preventing repeat matchups, the bowls still have a decent amount of pull.

"The Conference will not interfere or influence our contract bowls' selection rights, nor does it have any control over the CFP," Mark Rudner, the Big Ten's senior associate commissioner for television administration, wrote to the athletic directors Wednesday. "Unless a contract bowl selects a team that is over-exposed because of recent trips to the same bowl or same region, we will not interfere with the bowl’s selection."

Rudner goes on to write: "Our bowls have the choice, other than the repeat criteria, to select the team that fits their bowl need on an annual basis. In other words, the number of wins, number of losses, head to head, and schedule strength are advisory only. These factors guide the bowl's selection, but do not direct it. The selection process is intended to move teams and fan bases around the country over the life of these contracts."

The Big Ten memo encourages its schools to "advocate and communicate on behalf of your institution with the bowls in light of this set of circumstances." Put on those sales caps, Mike Thomas, Kevin Andersen and Julie Hermann. You might need them.

Or just root for Wisconsin to beat Ohio State on Saturday night. Although it would eliminate the Big Ten from the playoff picture, it likely would ensure the Big Ten has three teams in New Year's Six games and all eligible teams in bowls.

The Big Ten has contracts with 12 bowls but shares spots in the Orange-Citrus, Gator-Music City and Heart of Dallas-Armed Forces bowls. If a Big Ten team goes to the Orange Bowl, the remaining non-New Year's Six tie-ins would be: Outback, Holiday, Gator or Music City (not both), San Francisco, Pinstripe, Quick Lane and Heart of Dallas.

This situation is far from ideal, especially for a program like Illinois that hasn't gone bowling since 2011. Imagine if Michigan had become bowl eligible, too. The league would have been guaranteed to have one eligible team staying home for the holidays.

"Given this year's circumstances, and the new processes and procedures in place for the college football playoff, the Orange bowl and our other contract bowl arrangements, the Conference office felt it was necessary to reiterate the operational impact so that any hypothetical outcomes could be planned for and covered in advance so the broadest community of people were alerted," the memo reads.

Consider this your alert.

Big Ten team may miss bowl

December, 4, 2014
Dec 4
5:00
PM ET
video

The Big Ten could have a bowl-eligible team miss out on the postseason and has informed its schools of the possibility.

According to a memo sent by the league to its athletic directors Wednesday and obtained by ESPN.com, the Big Ten's new agreement with the Capital One Orange Bowl could create a scenario where there aren't enough contracted bowl spots for every eligible team.

Beginning this season, the Orange Bowl will pair an ACC team against the highest-ranked non-champion not in the College Football Playoff from the SEC, Big Ten or Notre Dame.

Michigan State, ranked No. 8 in Tuesday's College Football Playoff rankings, likely will head to the Orange Bowl if No. 1 Alabama wins the SEC championship game Saturday. The next highest-rated SEC team behind Alabama is No. 10 Mississippi State, but neither Michigan State nor Mississippi State plays before the final rankings and bowl pairings are set.

If a Big Ten team goes to the Orange Bowl, the league will not have a team in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. If only one other Big Ten team -- the league champion -- makes a Playoff semifinal or another New Year's Six bowl, the league would have eight eligible teams for seven contracted bowl spots.

There are 80 bowl-eligible teams for 76 spots, all of which are contracted to certain leagues or teams, preventing any at-large selections.


(Read full post)


Big Ten morning links

December, 4, 2014
Dec 4
8:00
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The silly season can wait. With the Big Ten title game just two short days away, and plenty of time when it’s over to talk about coaching searches, let’s focus on Wisconsin and Ohio State.

1. Heisman pose vs. The Shrug: The Big Ten’s top offensive player lines up opposite the league's top defender with a conference title on the line. Sure, the marquee lost a little bit of star power with the injury to the league’s top freshman, J.T. Barrett, but that won’t diminish the entertainment value of seeing Melvin Gordon collide with Joey Bosa. Gordon and Bosa, both freakish athletes, officially won Big Ten offensive and defensive player of the year awards on Tuesday night. With Barrett now out of the picture, the pressure is on Bosa to perform. The sophomore is going to have to be at his best to lead a defensive unit that has struggled some at stopping elite running backs -- and Wisconsin’s offensive line might be the best he’s faced all season. On the flip side, Gordon might be able to win over a few more Heisman voters if he can put together another vintage performance against a club with no shortage of talented defenders alongside Bosa.

2. Coaching connections: Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen worked for Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman joked about sleeping on the couch of Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda when they were in college together. In a profession that typically demands switching jobs and working with new faces for different programs throughout a career, it’s no surprise for there to be ties between Wisconsin and Ohio State. But there clearly won’t be many secrets with Andersen facing off against Meyer or Herman trying to outsmart his buddy Aranda. It could come down to which staff can come up with the best wrinkles, and it will almost certainly come down to whether the Badgers or Buckeyes are able to adjust on the fly in a high-pressure setting in Indianapolis. But more than just having some buddies on the other sideline, what should make Saturday night so fascinating is the impressive collection of some of the most respected names in coaching that Wisconsin and Ohio State have collected over the last couple seasons.

3. Bad blood?: Before the questions shifted to Michigan State as an unofficial secondary rival for Ohio State these days, Urban Meyer was getting them a year ago about Wisconsin. Considering the competitive games the programs have played recently and some of the high stakes that have accompanied those matchups, Meyer and the Buckeyes largely gave the Badgers the same treatment as the Spartans, with former center Corey Linsley calling it a “physical war.” For Meyer’s part, he downplayed any bad blood between the programs and then instead called it “intense respect,” while customarily refusing to refer to anybody other than Michigan as a rival for his program. But however it’s referred to, the series has been extremely entertaining recently, with the last three games all decided by 7 points or less, with one going to overtime and another decided in the closing seconds on a come-from-behind bomb from Braxton Miller in 2011. The Big Ten can only hope for another competitive classic between the two programs, particularly since there wasn’t one on the schedule during the regular season this year.

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video

National recruiting analyst Craig Haubert breaks down what No. 12 cornerback Garrett Taylor - once a Michigan commit - means to James Franklin's defense now that Taylor has committed to the Nittany Lions.
video
Penn State is in need of immediate help along the offensive line, so it’s no surprise the coaches have looked to the junior college ranks for assistance. The Nittany Lions have given up 42 sacks on the season; only five teams have given up more.

Big Ten morning links

December, 3, 2014
Dec 3
9:00
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Most of Tuesday in Ann Arbor felt like a slow march toward the inevitable. Reports slowly filtered outward getting closer to the foregone conclusion that this would be Brady Hoke's final week as the head coach at Michigan. Interim athletic director Jim Hackett hit all of the expected notes during his press conference. Then, as Hackett put his finishing touches on a long day, he delivered a blast of hope-filled fresh air.

An hour after colleague Adam Rittenberg wrote about the need for Michigan to stop using tradition as a crutch, Hackett took a promising step in that direction. When asked whether or not he wanted the football team's next coach to have previous ties to the program, Hackett indicated he didn't care and then raised the bar a few more notches.

"I want to get rid of the word 'Michigan Man,'" he said. "Maybe today you could write about that."

That's a gutsy thing to say for anyone wearing maize and blue, let alone a temporary athletic director who's been one the job for only a month and a day. Legions of Michigan alumni hold the "Michigan man" status in very high esteem. To many, it means living a life that is equal parts victory and virtue.

The Michigan Man term was made popular by legendary Wolverines coach Bo Schembechler, whom Hackett played under as a center for four years. More recently, though, the term has come to embody the pervasive notion around Michigan athletics that past accomplishments entitle its teams to present-day success. The confidence Schembechler helped establish during his time as coach has at times teetered over to arrogance.

Hackett gave several reasons for wanting to get rid of the term. It is outdated in its exclusion of women, he said. Schembechler's original words -- which were directed at a basketball coach who signed a contract to go elsewhere in the middle of a playoff run -- have been twisted to take on a different meaning. And lastly, the idea that any man who showed a competitive spirit and selflessness could qualify as a Michigan man has disappeared and been replaced by a sense that Michigan men are part of an elite and exclusive old boys' club, more birthright than a status earned.

A new president, a new athletic director and soon a new coach will give Michigan a completely clean slate to try to recover its past glory. The fresh start begins with leaving behind the shackles of tradition, and Hackett seems willing to do just that.

Now, let's get to some links...

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Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

December, 2, 2014
Dec 2
10:00
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The regular season has come to an end and there was plenty of recruiting action around the Big Ten. Here is a look at the latest in recruiting news within the conference.


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Big Ten morning links

December, 2, 2014
Dec 2
8:00
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Good morning, Big Ten fans. Looks as if we might be in store for an interesting day ...

1. Writing on the wall for Brady Hoke?: It sure seems that way. Our Dan Murphy reported that Hoke will meet with the athletic director at 2 p.m. Tuesday, which just so happens to come before a 3 p.m. meeting with the players. It’d definitely be odd if no decision was made to keep or fire Hoke by then. But, then again, stranger things have happened -- like a 5-7 season by Michigan, for instance. Stay tuned ... we could have an answer soon.

2. And the Big Ten Coach of the Year is ...: The conference will announce the winner of the McClain/Hayes-Schembechler Trophy on Tuesday night, and it’s really the only award up for debate. I picked Urban Meyer in the preseason -- really, the only good preseason pick I made -- and I think he deserves to win over Jerry Kill. The Buckeyes didn’t have 2013’s leading quarterback, running back or wideout, but their offense was still arguably the best in the conference. If Meyer doesn’t get the trophy this year, then Buckeyes fans are right: An Ohio State coach is never getting this award.

3. Wideout questions on the All-B1G team: Both the coaches and the media agreed Tony Lippett belonged on the first team -- that was a total no-brainer -- but there was no common ground to be found with the other picks here. The coaches liked Kenny Bell on the first team, with Stefon Diggs and Devin Funchess on the second team. The media preferred Leonte Carroo on the first, with Mike Dudek and DaeSean Hamilton on the second. Count me among the camp that especially thinks Carroo was snubbed by the coaches; the Rutgers wideout was second in B1G receiving yards (1,043) and second in receiving TDs (10). Surely, he deserved at least a second-team nod by the coaches. Give me Lippett and Carroo on the first team, Dudek on the second ... and I’ll let Diggs and Hamilton fight it out for the last spot.

Now, on to the links ...

Big Ten championship
East Division
  • Mark Dantonio has previously felt -- and overcome -- heat from Michigan State fans.
  • Sanctions helped to sink Penn State to 6-6, writes the Reading Eagle's Rich Scarcella.
West Division
  • Firing Pelini has fueled reflection for Iowa, which hasn't beaten an FBS program with a winning record this season.

Trustees get access to Freeh material

December, 1, 2014
Dec 1
7:54
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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Nine Penn State trustees elected by alumni are getting access to documents used to create a 2012 report about how top university administrators handled sex abuse complaints against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Penn State board chairman Keith Masser said in a letter to trustees Monday that he has directed a Philadelphia lawyer to make available a database and interview materials used to produce the report by former FBI director Louis Freeh.

Masser said trustees who want to review the large set of documents will have to sign an agreement designed to protect confidentiality agreements made when people provided "sensitive and private information."

"I note that the alumni-elected trustees have requested access to millions of pages and so, obviously, there are both legal and practical issues to be considered," Masser wrote. "I will leave those details to be worked out with legal counsel."

Alumni-elected trustee Anthony Lubrano called Masser's letter "a good start," saying he and the others will probably have some ideas about the logistics.

"I'm sure we'll have some thoughts as to how we'd like to modify that process," Lubrano said. "To the extent that they make available the records we've asked for, I think in the end that's very positive. It'll allow us to do what we're supposed to do as fiduciaries."

The nine alumni-elected trustees have been critical of the report, which concluded there were serious shortcomings in how officials at the highest positions in university leadership responded to complaints about Sandusky.

The nine wrote Masser last Wednesday to argue the materials were property of the board and to say they needed access to "fully and independently evaluate the findings and conclusions" in the Freeh report.

Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse in 2012 and is serving a lengthy sentence in state prison.


(Read full post)


Big Ten Monday mailbag

December, 1, 2014
Dec 1
5:00
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Lots of news this week, so let's hit the mailbag ...

Josh Moyer: Associate head coach Barney Cotton -- the run-game coordinator who coaches the tight ends and helps out with the offensive line -- was named the interim guy, so he will coach the bowl game. Now for the $10,000 question: Who will be the next head coach? Well, since there will be no search firm, that decision is almost entirely up to athletic director Shawn Eichorst -- which makes it a bit more difficult to project. So all sorts of names have popped up, even Jim Tressel. (For the record, I'd find that incredibly surprising considering he is still under a show-cause penalty.) But one name that Eichorst will almost certainly consider is Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost, the former Nebraska quarterback. If Eichorst wants an offensive mind with Nebraska connections, Frost is the right fit. (He's also currently the Bovada favorite at 5/2.) If Eichorst wants more experience? Greg Schiano, Memphis' Justin Fuente, Colorado State's Jim McElwain or Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy could all potentially fit the bill. If Eichorst wants a little more experience and those university connections? A darkhorse candidate might just be Wyoming's Craig Bohl, who was born in Lincoln and graduated from Nebraska. There are still interviews to conduct and coaches to contact but, at this point, those are six names outside the Big Ten to keep an eye on.

Josh Moyer: A lot of craziness; unprecedented craziness. It's not going to happen, but I received this question so much I feel obligated to answer. Michigan State is out of it because it's not getting ranked ahead of the Big Ten champion -- and it's literally impossible for two Big Ten teams to make the playoff at this point. As for Wisconsin, even if it beats Ohio State, think about the domino effect you would need here. If Oregon loses to Arizona, how would Arizona not stay ahead of Wisconsin? The Ducks are ranked higher than Ohio State, and Arizona's currently ranked higher than Wisconsin. If Baylor loses to Kansas State, how would Kansas State not stay ahead of Wisconsin? Kansas State's only losses came against No. 15 Auburn and No. 5 TCU, while Wisconsin fell to unranked LSU and nuranked Northwestern. One SEC team should make the playoff, so that leaves just one spot after the Pac-12 and Big 12 teams from above. For Wisconsin to stand any kind of chance then, TCU would have to lose to 32-point underdog Iowa State and Georgia Tech would have to knock off Florida State ... while still somehow not jumping Wisconsin. In other words, Big Ten fans will just have to settle for a spot or two in the New Year's Six.


Jared Amundson writes: As much as it pains me to ask, would Wisconsin be sitting in position to make the playoffs going into this game against OSU if they had beat Northwestern? I still have nightmares about how Wisconsin lost to Northwestern! Josh Moyer: Well, Jared, you might want to close your eyes instead of reading this answer then -- because the Badgers would definitely be in great position if it weren't for that Northwestern game. I could see Wisconsin and Ohio State right next to each other at the 5-6 spots, right behind TCU. And chances are a quality win in the Big Ten title game would have nudged Wisconsin (or Ohio State) over the Big 12 champ. We're talking about a lot of "what ifs," of course, and it's not an exact science. But if that Northwestern game would have gone differently? The Badgers would be set up nicely at this point in the season, and their higher ranking could have helped Ohio State more, too.

Josh Moyer: I hope you like New York because It's probably going to be the Pinstripe Bowl. We've projected that for quite a few weeks now. (Yes, even last week.) It's just a matter of whom Penn State's going to play. It looks as if Pitt is out of the equation because the ACC defines the Pinstripe as a Tier 1 bowl, and Pitt is in Tier II since it has six wins. Penn State's opponent in the Pinstripe could be any one of the following then: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Louisville, N.C. State or Notre Dame. And the Irish just played in the Pinstripe last season, so it's not the likeliest opponent either.


Isaac from Steven's Point, Wis., writes: Let's say, hypothetically, that Michigan State was a member of the West Division. Who would be playing Ohio State for the championship? Josh Moyer: Basically, what you're asking is, "Who's better: Wisconsin or Michigan State?" It's close, very close, but I'm still going with Michigan State. It's not just me, either. We Big Ten bloggers collectively ranked MSU ahead of Wisconsin in the conference power rankings, and ESPN did the same in the national power rankings. The Badgers boast the better defense, but Michigan State has the better overall offense and averages nearly six points more a game. Melvin Gordon might just be the best player in the nation, but Michigan State's trio of Connor Cook, Jeremy Langford and Tony Lippett also means you can't focus on just one guy. It's nearly a toss-up, but give me the Spartans..

Big Ten morning links

December, 1, 2014
Dec 1
8:00
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Barely an hour removed from a huge rivalry victory, the mixed emotions were playing out on the faces of Ohio State players as they streamed in to meet the media.

A teammate, a beloved brother, was only missing at that point, but it seemed difficult for some Buckeyes to smile too much or bask in the victory too long knowing that Kosta Karageorge still had not been found. His body was discovered on Sunday, but his tragic loss will only bring a different set of emotions for the Buckeyes to deal with in the coming days.

Perhaps nobody summed up the matter better than junior Taylor Decker, a friend of Karageorge's before the latter joined Ohio State as a walk-defensive lineman. And while his message that life and death matters are "a lot bigger than football" is simple, it's yet another reminder of the importance of maintaining perspective when it comes to the games we all love and the athletes that play them.

So before diving into championship week and the coaching carousel, the Big Ten reporters send their deepest condolences to the Karageorge family and all his friends.

***

1. Pelini's fond farewell? In the end, maybe Bo Pelini got exactly what he wanted after essentially daring Nebraska to fire him on multiple occasions. Confident in his record with the program over the last seven years and with all those nine-win seasons to point to when other jobs open up around the country, Pelini always seemed to know there would be options for him if the Huskers became too disenchanted with the consistency he was providing them -- even if it was coming up just short of being elite or winning championships. There has been obvious unease between the two parties over the last couple seasons, so while the discussion about who Shawn Eichorst will hire will justifiably dominate the conversation in the coming days, Pelini’s next move could be equally interesting to follow. To be clear, he is anything but a failed coach, even if he was just fired. And as he appears to have believed all along, there will be another opportunity for him soon.

2. Next domino: Whether or not the Nebraska move came as a surprise, the fact that it acted first in the coaching silly season definitely was a shocker. That probably doesn’t mean Michigan is having second thoughts about parting ways with Brady Hoke, though, especially after rival Ohio State had the pleasure of putting the finishing touches on a 5-7 season that was seemingly as much of a disaster off the field as on it. Making the announcement on Sunday as Nebraska did or perhaps pulling the trigger today won’t make that much difference since the Wolverines have almost certainly been reaching out to candidates behind the scenes for weeks to prepare for the inevitable, but it should be their turn to step in front of the cameras and microphones and pick apart Hoke’s tenure and look to the future soon.

3. On the field: There is still a game to be played in the Big Ten, of course, and it’s a pretty critical one even if it’s currently being somewhat overshadowed by coaching changes -- or the lack thereof at Illinois. The fractured ankle suffered by Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett takes a little of the shine off a matchup that was going to prominently feature the league’s two best offensive players in a primetime showdown with both conference and national-title implications, but both coaches were quick to offer reminders during Sunday’s teleconference that the game was always going to be decided by more than Barrett and Melvin Gordon. That might be easier for Gary Andersen to say right now since the Badgers still have their star, but Urban Meyer is already working to build a convincing case that the Buckeyes will be fine with Cardale Jones taking the snaps. The biggest reason: Jones will be walking into a much more experienced huddle than Barrett did to start the season, and that supporting cast should ease his transition. Obviously it’s his job to instill confidence in his team and make sure that Jones and the rest of the Buckeyes are ready to go regardless of the circumstances, but his message does make sense with the likes of Jalin Marshall, Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas and more all proven playmakers at this stage of the season.

East Division
  • Michigan players stood up for Brady Hoke after the loss to Ohio State on Saturday.
  • If Pat Narduzzi is a candidate at Nebraska, Mark Dantonio hasn't been made aware of it yet.
  • Can Cardale Jones take over the Ohio State offense as seamlessly as J.T. Barrett did earlier this season?
  • A closer look at a brilliant game-clinching play that was a decade in the making for Rutgers.
  • Ralph Friedgen was honored by Maryland as he returned with the visiting team Saturday, and he went home with a victory.
  • Penn State didn't end the regular season the way it wanted to, but there were some improvements to take note of heading into bowl preparations.
  • Closing the season with a dramatic finish to claim the Old Oaken Bucket brightened up a disappointing campaign for Indiana.
West Division
  • Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst wants to compete for championships, a point he made clear during his public evaluation of Bo Pelini.
  • Wisconsin bounced back from its upset loss to Northwestern and has a chance to add to its "storybook ending."
  • There aren't many high marks for Northwestern after losing to Illinois and failing to make a bowl game.
  • After earning a postseason appearance, Illinois coach Tim Beckman will return for another year.
  • Iowa athletic director Gary Barta indicated there have been no discussions about shaking up the coaching staff.
  • After leaning so heavily on being disciplined all season, Minnesota made too many mistakes with the division title on the line against Wisconsin.
  • Purdue played some decent defense, but its offense was once again an issue in a conference loss.

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BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Saturday, 1/10
Monday, 1/12