PSU Nittany Lions: Mark Weisman
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.
These might be our most challenging picks of the season, which could be a good thing for Brian Bennett, who trails Adam Rittenberg by a whopping five games in the season standings.
Without further ado, let's get to the picks ...
IOWA at NORTHWESTERN
Brian Bennett: Both teams are searching for some answers on defense, but the Wildcats are much healthier than the Hawkeyes, who are banged up at offensive line and running back. I think we'll see Northwestern get back to running the ball more with Kain Colter and Venric Mark this week, which works well enough to hold back an Iowa team whose quarterback is under fire. ... Northwestern 23, Iowa 17
Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern does have some injury issues of its own at cornerback, but James Vandenberg hasn't been able to take advantage of much this season. I like this matchup for Northwestern, even though the Wildcats have an identity crisis on offense right now. Iowa takes the early lead, but Northwestern finally puts the ball in Colter's hands, and he rushes for two second-half touchdowns. Mark Weisman bullies his way to 100 rush yards, but Northwestern gets it done on Homecoming. ... Northwestern 24, Iowa 20
INDIANA at ILLINOIS
Adam Rittenberg: I really think Illinois will be better following the open week -- the Illini can't get much worse -- and should capitalize on Indiana's defensive woes. But Indiana's spread offense matches up very well against an Illinois defense that, while talented, struggles mightily against spread teams. Hoosiers receivers Shane Wynn, Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes each catch touchdowns and Indiana finally finds a way to hold on for its first Big Ten win under Kevin Wilson. ... Indiana 31, Illinois 27
Brian Bennett: I guess I can't pick both to lose this week, huh? The Hoosiers have been much more competitive for the past several weeks than Illinois has, and their offense is better than any unit the Illini can put out there right now. Expect some new wrinkles from Tim Beckman after the bye week, but Indiana's passing game is too much as Nate Sudfeld comes off the bench for a pair of second-half touchdown passes. ... Indiana 28, Illinois 27
PURDUE at MINNESOTA
Brian Bennett: One of these teams has to get itself off the mat, and I think it's going to be Minnesota. Purdue has to be feeling a bit of a hangover from last week's heartbreaking loss to Ohio State, and another week of experience will do wonders for Gophers freshman quarterback Philip Nelson. He throws a key touchdown pass to MarQueis Gray, and a late field goal wins it. ... Minnesota 20, Purdue 19
Adam Rittenberg: This game is all about Purdue's demeanor after last week's heartbreaker. If we see the team that showed up in Columbus, the Boilers will win. If not, Nelson and the Gophers will get it done. I've been burned before, but I don't think Purdue is finished just yet. The Boilers' defense pressures Nelson, forces some takeaways and limits a low-scoring Gophers offense to 17 points. Purdue hits on some big plays to Gary Bush and Antavian Edison and gets a win it absolutely has to have. ... Purdue 23, Minnesota 17
MICHIGAN STATE at No. 25 WISCONSIN
Adam Rittenberg: I nearly went with the Spartans here, as I just can't believe Mark Dantonio's squad is on the verge of falling below .500. Then again, Wisconsin doesn't lose at Camp Randall Stadium, especially to teams that have no offense. This game follows a familiar script for Michigan State, which hangs around for a while behind its defense but allows a late score. Le'Veon Bell has 120 rush yards, but both Montee Ball and James White score in the second half as Wisconsin prevails. ... Wisconsin 20, Michigan State 13
Brian Bennett: Pretty simple here: Michigan State can't score, and I don't see how that changes this week against an underrated Wisconsin defense that's playing well. Ball & Co. won't find as much running room as normal against this Spartans defense, so quarterback Joel Stave will have to play well. He does well enough to get the win, hitting big passes to Jared Abbrederis and Jacob Pedersen to set up scores in a close one. ... Wisconsin 17, Michigan State 14
OHIO STATE at PENN STATE
Brian Bennett: I learned my lesson in picking against Penn State last week. Ohio State is getting thinned by injuries, and quarterback Braxton Miller might not be at full strength after last week's brief hospitalization.
Adam Rittenberg: The Buckeyes' slow starts, Miller's injury issues and Ohio State's lack of depth at linebacker are real concerns here. Penn State tight ends Kyle Carter and Jesse James find enough gaps in Ohio State's defense, and Bill Belton racks up 115 rush yards and two scores. Miller plays and keeps his team in the game, but Penn State has too much offense and a huge edge with the Beaver Stadium crowd. Buckeyes go down for the first time. ... Penn State 27, Ohio State 24
No. 22 MICHIGAN at NEBRASKA
Adam Rittenberg: I know Nebraska plays much better at home, and quarterback Taylor Martinez has made obvious improvement this season. But Michigan is the steadier team right now, and the better defensive squad. The Wolverines got over the hump last week against rival Michigan State, and they'll find a way to record a signature road win. Linebacker Jake Ryan recovers two Nebraska fumbles and Denard Robinson breaks off a long touchdown run in the fourth quarter as the Wolverines silence the Sea of Red. ... Michigan 26, Nebraska 24
Brian Bennett: The Legends Division race could get pretty boring if Michigan wins in Lincoln. One thing this league has not been this year is predictable. The Wolverines' recent conservative ways on offense will play into the hands of a Huskers defense that plays better when it knows what to expect. Martinez will pick on Michigan cornerbacks and turn in one of the finest moments of his career as Nebraska roars back from an early double-digit deficit to win. ... Nebraska 28, Michigan 23
Adam Rittenberg: 54-14 (.794)
Brian Bennett: 49-19 (.721)
After another convincing win over a conference opponent, Penn State is now just one victory away from the Associated Press' top-25 rankings. Some new players stepped up, some leaders played solidly and a few made big leaps on the list.
Whose performance left the biggest impression, and whose contributions were the most surprising? This week's top 10:
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IOWA CITY, Iowa -- It's time to stop talking about Penn State as a nice little story.
The narrative about first-year coach Bill O'Brien getting the most out of his presumably talent-starved, transfer-wrecked roster sounds old, boring and, quite frankly, a bit condescending. Because even in praising O'Brien and his Nittany Lions, there's a subtle hint that things inevitably will fall apart. There's a suggestion that at some point, the letdown will happen -- at some point, Penn State will collapse under the weight of all that has happened to its program in the past 11 months.
Maybe it's time to be honest about Penn State. This is a merciless football team playing with tremendous confidence and urgency on both sides of the ball. O'Brien and his staff are one step -- or, in games such as Saturday night's -- three steps ahead of the competition, and they have more than enough talent to keep on winning.
Right now, the Big Ten has no hotter team than the Lions. A week from now, we could be proclaiming Penn State the Big Ten's best team.
"The sky's the limit for us now," senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. "Today just speaks a little about how well we can play."
O'Brien talked in July about the season being Penn State's chance to punch back. On Saturday night, the Lions scored a first-round knockout in a place where they hadn't won since 1999. It marked their fifth win in a row after an 0-2 start.
"Every day, we're running out of time," senior linebacker Michael Mauti said. "We don't believe in a lull or anything like that. You only have so many games to suit up in a Penn State uniform. That's something really special that we take a lot of pride in.
"There's so much emotion we bring."
Perhaps Penn State's strongest weapon isn't O'Brien's scheme, which has transformed one of the nation's worst offenses and one of the Big Ten's weakest quarterbacks (Matt McGloin). It isn't a stout defensive front seven or a group of surprisingly dynamic young receivers and tight ends.
It's urgency. The Lions have it, and it shows in their play.
"They know at the end of the day, there's only five games left," O'Brien said. "There's only five games left. So what are you going to do? OK, we're going to be flat today, and then the last four, we'll get up? I believe that these guys will come ready to play and be energized. Whether we win or not, who knows, but they'll be energized."
Open weeks haven't exactly been favorable to Big Ten teams in recent years. Many return to the field sluggish.
Penn State returned in fifth gear, shifting into its up-tempo offense -- O'Brien calls it NASCAR tempo -- on the game's second series and marching 84 yards in nine plays for a touchdown. The Lions kept the pedal down and scored on four of their next six possessions, as McGloin (26-for-38 passing, 289 yards, 2 touchdowns) spread the ball to several targets, namely freshman tight end Kyle Carter (6 catches, 85 yards), and received a big boost from a healthy Bill Belton (16 carries, 103 rush yards, 3 touchdowns) at running back.
"I didn't think we could come in here and huddle, and break the huddle, and run a normal pace," O'Brien said.
The result? "They couldn't keep up with it," McGloin said.
Penn State racked up 10 first downs and 187 yards in the first quarter, and finished the first half with 304 yards. Four players had multiple receptions, and Belton, finally near full strength after dealing with an ankle injury since the season opener, averaged 8.5 yards per carry.
A Lions offense that eclipsed 25 points just once in Big Ten play last season has put up totals of 35, 39 and 38 points in its first three league contests this season.
"Coach O'Brien's a great coach, and what he does is very unique and very effective," center Matt Stankiewitch said. "We're just proving it. Do we have an advantage? Coach O'Brien's the guy we have an advantage with because he's the coach."
Penn State's offensive renaissance under O'Brien has somewhat overshadowed a defense that keeps getting better each week. The Lions kept Iowa's offense out of the end zone for nearly 56 minutes -- the Hawkeyes scored on a kickoff return early in the fourth quarter -- and surrendered just 20 rush yards on 23 carries. Iowa star Mark Weisman played despite an ankle sprain and had 9 yards on five carries.
Hill and Mauti triggered the defensive effort, combining for 17 tackles, including three for loss, and two sacks. Mauti had one of two interceptions against struggling Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg (17-for-36 passing, 189 yards).
"It was one of my better games," said Hill, who led Penn State with nine tackles. "[Defensive line coach Larry Johnson] always says, 'Who's going to rise to the occasion when you're playing under the lights?'"
Penn State will be back under the lights next Saturday when it hosts undefeated Ohio State. The forecast calls for a whiteout at Beaver Stadium. No Big Ten fan base cherishes night games like Penn State's. For seniors such as Mauti, McGloin and Hill, it'll be their last time playing in front of the faithful at night.
It'll also give Penn State an idea of exactly where it stands.
"It'll be the best team we play so far this season," Hill said. "It'll be a great test for us, and we're up for the challenge."
In O'Brien's eyes, why wouldn't they be up for it?
"When you play football at Penn State," he said, "you have a hell of a lot to play for."
Saturday night against Ohio State, Penn State will play for the title of Big Ten's best team.
Penn State is for real, folks.
Bill O'Brien has worked wonders with a limited roster in his first year as Nittany Lions head coach, and his team appears to be getting better every week. On Saturday night, Penn State waltzed into Kinnick Stadium -- a house of horrors for this program in the past -- and absolutely threw the hammer down on an Iowa team that came in riding a wave of confidence. The offense is clicking in ways we haven't seen in years from Penn State, and the defense is locking things down. The Lions are playing as well as anybody in the Big Ten right now, and nobody expected that.
Here's a look at how Saturday's wildly impressive 38-14 blowout of the Hawkeyes went down:
It was over when ... Penn State recovered a James Vandenberg fumble at the Iowa 14 and, two plays later, capitalized with a Bill Belton touchdown run. That made it 24-0 with 5:53 still left in the first half, and the rout was officially on.
Game ball goes to: Quarterback Matt McGloin. The fifth-year senior is the league's best pro-style quarterback, which is still a shocking development. He's had a great season and showed his burgeoning mastery of O'Brien's offense with a crisp performance, going 26-of-38 for 289 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions. The defense also needs some major recognition after holding Iowa to zero offensive points until the final five minutes of the game.
Stat of the game: Iowa had just 21 rushing yards for the game, including five in the first half. Mark Weisman's ankle injury probably had something to do with that (he had just 9 yards on five carries) but Penn State's defense also played a large role. When the Hawkeyes can't run the ball effectively, they're pretty much toast. Extra-crispy burnt toast, in this case.
Unsung hero of the game: Penn State running back Belton was healthy for the first time since he hurt his ankle in the opener, and he ran 16 times for 103 yards and three touchdowns. Belton brings a much-needed speed element to the Nittany Lions' backfield.
What it means: During the bye week, O'Brien described Penn State's remaining schedule as "Murderers' Row." Well, his team played the executioner tonight. That's five straight wins for the Nittany Lions, and astute Associated Press poll voters will give them serious consideration for the Top 25 this week. A win next week over Ohio State at home could put Penn State in line for a Leaders Division title, even if that doesn't equal any postseason opportunity. The Nittany Lions will be extremely tough for any league team to handle the rest of the way if they can stay relatively healthy.
For Iowa, its 2-0 start in the Big Ten was exposed as potentially fraudulent with this train wreck of a performance at home. The Hawkeyes still don't appear strong enough offensively to hang with the best teams in the Big Ten, and a defense that had been playing at a high level lately was destroyed by O'Brien's attack. It was a costly loss, too, as two starting offensive linemen -- left tackle Brandon Scherff and guard Andrew Donnal -- left the game with what looked like serious leg injuries in the first half. For an offense already struggling to score points, that's a tough blow. The Legends race isn't out of reach, since this was a cross-division game. But the Hawkeyes still have difficult games left with Northwestern, Michigan and Nebraska.
Despite 2-2 marks in non-league play, both Penn State and Iowa have made strides in Big Ten games. Penn State scored 22 points to rally past Northwestern in its last game two weeks ago, while Iowa comes off of a road upset against Michigan State in two overtimes. Iowa has won four straight against Penn State at Kinnick, while Penn State won last year's meeting in State College.
Expect a truly electric atmosphere, as Iowa fans, like many in the Big Ten, love their night games. The tailgating scene around Kinnick looks fabulous, and I spotted a dude dressed like Waldo on my drive in.
Penn State is the healthier team following an open week and should have running back Bill Belton, hobbled by an ankle sprain for most of the season, in a bigger role. Iowa running back Mark Weisman, who has recorded four consecutive 100-yard games since claiming the featured role, is cleared to play with an ankle sprain and should be in there. How much? That's the key. The Hawkeyes will lean on true freshman Greg Garmon and junior Jordan Canzeri, who has made an incredible recovery from a torn ACL sustained in spring practice. Still, without much from Weisman, you have to wonder how Iowa will score against a solid Penn State defense led by All-America candidate Michael Mauti at linebacker.
Although Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin predicted a shootout this week, expect a low-scoring, physical game. Field position will be huge, and one key difference could be the kickers. Iowa's Mike Meyer has been fabulous, converting his last 13 field-goal attempts, including four in last week's win. Penn State, meanwhile, has little confidence in sophomore Sam Ficken.
Follow us on Twitter and keep it here for coverage of Penn State-Iowa throughout the night.
Right tackle Mike Farrell still remembers the cold crawling up his arms, the 15-mph winds and the black-and-yellow crowd that buzzed like a nest of yellow jackets.
Penn State's last trip to Kinnick Stadium was more than two years ago, but Farrell remembers. The fifth-year senior watched 27 games since that 24-3 loss during a chilly night in Iowa City, but he can't forget.
"It was definitely energetic," Farrell said. "It was one of the more difficult places to play."
Farrell may be able to recall that matchup with ease, but even he likely can't remember the last time the Nittany Lions marched into Iowa's pink locker room and flew home winners. Farrell couldn't be blamed -- his brethren haven't won a game inside the Hawkeye State this century.
It's dropped four straight to Iowa on the road and last won there during Kirk Ferentz's 1999 rookie campaign -- a week after defensive end Pete Massaro celebrated his 10th birthday. Warm, cold, day, night; it hasn't mattered. Home or away, Iowa has claimed eight victories in the last 10 matchups.
"I've been away at Alabama, Ohio State, some places like that," Massaro said, "and I'd say Iowa's stadium is pretty vicious. It's definitely a tough place to play."
Bill O'Brien upped the volume this week on the practice loudspeakers, but he realized that wouldn't exactly mimic the Kinnick Stadium atmosphere. Short of inviting 75,000 screaming fans to stand 10 feet from the sidelines, louder hip-hop music had to make due.
"It's not going to be anything like what it's like Saturday night, so hopefully we can just give them a picture of it," O'Brien said. "It's a very tough environment, and they're playing well right now. They're a very tough football team. It's not going to be easy."
Here are NittanyNation's Week 8 storylines:
1. Iowa running game: You might not hear panic in Kirk Ferentz's voice, but these Hawkeyes are in trouble. Without their top offensive weapon in Mark Weisman, who's listed as doubtful, the Hawkeyes are forced to resort to Plan C. Damon Bullock is still reeling from a concussion, so Saturday's load will fall on the inexperienced shoulders of true freshman Greg Garmon -- an unknown whose name was misspelled on Iowa's official depth chart. He's a wildcard, carrying the ball just 14 times this season and averaging just 2.5 yards a touch. Iowa's offense could be in for a long day.
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The bruising runner is listed as doubtful, but Hull didn't seem to care if he had a 1 percent chance or 100 percent chance of playing. Hull and the defense planned to treat this game the same way no matter what.
"We're preparing as if he's going to play just because he's been a big part of their offense," Hull said Wednesday. "He's made some big plays for them. He's tough, he's a big guy, and we're going to have to stop him for us to be successful."
But wouldn't the game at least be a bit easier without the 225-pound fullback-turned-tailback bursting through Penn State's defensive line?
"Well," Hull said, "their other backs have had success. He's just been a spark for them recently."
That just speaks to Iowa's lack of depth at the position. Just like Penn State earlier this season, the Hawkeyes have been forced to get creative with their depth chart.
Damon Bullock remains foggy after a Sept. 15 concussion and won't play Saturday. That means the true freshman with the tricky last name will get the start -- with Jordan Canzeri backing him up. Canzeri hasn't played yet this season after undergoing ACL surgery in the spring.
But Penn State's players didn't want to hear all that.
"We realize right now he's not on the depth chart," safety Jake Fagnano said. "But we're preparing as if he's going to be playing every down. Obviously, he's a big part of their offense."
Matt McGloin took that preparation talk one step further. Forget that injury uncertainty, he wanted to see Iowa's version of Zach Zwinak in the backfield Saturday night.
"It would be great to have him in the game and see him do his job," McGloin said Wednesday afternoon. "It's definitely good to see another kid have success who started out as a walk-on."
Penn State's quarterback could regret those words if Weisman somehow defies the odds to return. In the last two games -- both wins -- Weisman has accounted for more than 49 percent of Iowa's entire offense. His 6.3 yard-per-carry average this season is surpassed by only two tailbacks in the country who also have at least 100 carries.
McGloin complimented Iowa signal-caller James Vandenberg. But it's clear this is Weisman's offense -- and, without him, the Hawkeyes could struggle against the Nittany Lions' front seven.
"We are going through our preparations as if he's going to play," Pete Massaro said in a familiar refrain. "He's got a lot of ability between the tackles, but that doesn't change the fact they have a big and aggressive line."
Michigan State (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten) at No. 23 Michigan (4-2, 2-0), 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network: Where's the threat? Or maybe we should say, are the Spartans still a legitimate threat to Michigan's Big Ten ambitions? This game has lost a lot of luster thanks to Michigan State's stumbles, but there's still plenty on the line. The Wolverines need to break a four-game losing streak in this rivalry, while MSU would be in danger of a losing season with a defeat here and Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern up next. All eyes will be on Denard Robinson and a Spartans defense that has shut him down the last two years.
Penn State (4-2, 2-0) at Iowa (4-2, 2-0), 8 p.m., BTN: Raise your hand if you had these two teams atop their respective divisions midway through October. They're both doing it with defense, as Penn State is No. 2 and Iowa No. 3 in the Big Ten in points allowed, and some surprising contributors on offense (Mark Weisman for the Hawkeyes, a surging Matt McGloin and Allen Robinson for the Nittany Lions). Expect a slugfest, but hopefully one with more points than last year's 13-3 Penn State win.
The league entered the fall with unique circumstances, as two of its premier programs (Ohio State and Penn State) couldn't compete in the postseason because of NCAA sanctions. But between a surging Michigan State program, a Michigan team coming off of a Sugar Bowl championships, a Wisconsin team that had made consecutive Rose Bowl appearances and a veteran-laden Nebraska squad, the Big Ten had ample reasons for optimism. They soon vanished.
Things got off to a rocky start at JerryWorld, as Michigan was stomped 41-14 by defending national champ Alabama. They only got worse in Week 2, the Big Ten's worst regular-season Saturday in recent memory. Big Ten teams went 6-6, including three losses at Pac-12 venues, including two by ranked teams (Wisconsin and Nebraska) against unranked foes (Oregon State and UCLA). The Big Ten went 6-9 against teams from BCS automatic-qualifying conferences and Notre Dame, with three wins coming from one team (Northwestern). Although Ohio State hasn't lost a game under new coach Urban Meyer, the Big Ten removed itself from the national title talk earlier than anyone expected.
After a pair of identical 4-1 marks in Week 6, Adam Rittenberg maintains a four-game lead against Brian Bennett in the season standings. Those shrimp cocktails at St. Elmo's in Indianapolis -- on Brian's dime -- are sounding pretty good right now, but there's still a long way to go and time for Brian to catch up.
It's prediction time ...
IOWA at MICHIGAN STATE
Brian Bennett: Get ready for a classically rugged Big Ten game between two teams who love to pound the rock and play defense. Neither team will be able to sustain many long drives against strong defenses. But home-field advantage and a key turnover forced by the Spartans' defense will make the difference. Le'Veon Bell contributes two scores as he outduels Mark Weisman. ... Michigan State 17, Iowa 14
Adam Rittenberg: While I'm tempted to pick Iowa in the upset, Michigan State matches up well against the Hawkeyes on both sides of the ball. The Spartans' defense holds Weisman to 90 rushing yards and records a key second-half interception against James Vandenberg. Bell records 100 yards and two scores as Michigan State grabs the early lead and holds on for its second straight win. ... Michigan State 21, Iowa 17
NORTHWESTERN at MINNESOTA
Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern can't afford another poor start on offense, and I think the Wildcats come out of the gates a little stronger and take an early lead. Minnesota's Max Shortell makes some plays in the pass game, firing two touchdown passes, but Northwestern gets the ball in the hands of playmakers Venric Mark and Kain Colter a lot more often this week than last. Mark and Colter combine for three touchdowns and Northwestern survives a late scare to improve to 6-1. ... Northwestern 28, Minnesota 24
Brian Bennett: If the Gophers had a fully healthy MarQueis Gray, I'd be more likely to pick them here. As it stands, I don't think a gimpy Gray gives them enough firepower to get past Northwestern. Minnesota struggled against the run last time out against Iowa, and will do the same against Colter and Mark. A Jeff Budzien field goal provides the difference. ... Northwestern 31, Minnesota 28
WISCONSIN at PURDUE
Brian Bennett: It's practically do-or-die time for the Boilermakers, and I expect them to play as if their Leaders Division lives depend on this effort. In fact, they will lead most of the way after a couple of quick-strike scores early. But an improving Wisconsin offense chips away until Joel Stave hits Jared Abbrederis for a long touchdown in the fourth quarter, and the Badgers' defense hangs on late. ... Wisconsin 23, Purdue 20
Adam Rittenberg: You touched on the sense of urgency for Purdue and coach Danny Hope, and I think that'll be the difference in this game. A Boilers defense hungry to avenge last week's poor showing records an early takeaway against Stave. Both Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve play and fire touchdown passes. Although Wisconsin's Montee Ball records two rushing scores, the kicking game is the difference as Raheem Mostert breaks off a long return to set up the game-winning touchdown. ... Purdue 27, Wisconsin 24
ILLINOIS at No. 25 MICHIGAN
Adam Rittenberg: Little is going right for the Illini right now, and they catch Michigan at the wrong time. After a quiet first quarter, Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson turns in another big performance (150 rushing yards, 175 pass yards, 2 rushing TDs, 2 passing TDs), and linebacker Jake Ryan records his first interception of the season. Versatile running back Josh Ferguson has a nice game for the Illini, but Michigan has far too much firepower and pulls away in the second quarter. ... Michigan 37, Illinois 14
Brian Bennett: The Illini's problems defending the spread and finding any kind of offensive rhythm don't bode well for this week's game in Ann Arbor. Robinson will throw for three touchdowns this week, and Michigan's defense holds Illinois to under 250 yards. ... Michigan 34, Illinois 10
No. 8 OHIO STATE at INDIANA
Brian Bennett: The Hoosiers are getting closer and closer to finally winning a Big Ten game. But it won't happen this week, as their shaky run defense is going to have a lot of trouble containing Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde. Those two combine for four touchdowns, and Bradley Roby picks off another pass to stymie Indiana's mild second-half charge as the Buckeyes move to 7-0. ... Ohio State 42, Indiana 24
Adam Rittenberg: I've also been impressed with Indiana's ability to compete, but this is just a tough matchup against Big Bad Brax. Miller runs for 150 yards and two touchdowns, and Hyde records his second straight 100-yard rushing performance. Quarterbacks Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld both play and have some success in the first half, and receiver Cody Latimer tests the Buckeyes' defense, but Ohio State shifts into fifth gear late in the second quarter and cruises to 7-0. ... Ohio State 45, Indiana 21
Nebraska and Penn State are off this week.
Adam Rittenberg: 45-12 (.789)
Brian Bennett: 41-16 (.719)
Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year
1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: The leader in the clubhouse after September, Miller continues to be the main reason why the Buckeyes are undefeated. He's averaging 115 rushing yards and 186 passing yards per game, though he'll have to cut down on both his turnovers and the big hits he's taken.
2. Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska: If Miller hadn't been so valuable the first five weeks, Martinez would be the clear choice so far. He's leading the league in pass efficiency, has an 11-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and is the engine that drives the Big Ten's top offense.
3. Matt McGloin, QB, Penn State: McGloin still leads the Big Ten in passing yards, and his 10 passing touchdowns are second to only Martinez. He's also added four rushing scores. He has had a hand in all but two of Penn State's 16 touchdowns this season.
4. Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State: Bell continues to lead the conference in rushing, but two supbar games in losses to Notre Dame and Ohio State hurt his cause in this race. He can still pile up the stats in the next couple of months, however.
5. Mark Weisman, RB, Iowa: The Hawkeyes' walk-on has an incredible story and has been playing incredibly the past three games, racking up 507 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Not playing much the first two games put him behind the leaders for individual honors, but if he can keep this up he'll catch them in the end.
Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year
1. Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State: There might not be a better linebacker in the country right now than Mauti, who is the heart and soul of the Nittany Lions' defense. His two-interception performance against Illinois sealed his status as the Big Ten defensive MVP of September.
2. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue: The senior had another sack against Marshall, giving him four this season. But the Boilers' overall defensive effort wasn't very good last week. Purdue will need Short to stand tall against Michigan this week. The next three weeks will be make-or-break time for his candidacy and his team's season.
3. Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin: Borland was all over the place against Nebraska last week, and is having an outstanding season (43 tackles, three sacks, four pass breakups, one forced fumble).
4. D.L. Wilhite, DE, Minnesota: Wilhite paced the Big Ten in sacks (4.5), but the Gophers' poor overall defensive showing against Iowa last week dented his chances.
5. Will Compton, LB, Nebraska: Compton might have played his best game as a Husker in leading his team's second-half comeback against Wisconsin. He leads Nebraska in tackles (44) and has three sacks, along with two quarterback hurries.
Richter–Howard Receiver of the Year
1. Allen Robinson, Penn State: Robinson has more receiving yards (439) than anyone in the league and is tied for tops in the Big Ten in catches (32) and touchdowns (five). He might also be the league's most improved player after catching three balls as a freshman.
2. Antavian Edison, Purdue: The Boilermakers have a lot of weapons, but Edison is their clear go-to guy in the passing game. He has as many touchdown catches as Robinson in one less game.
3. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin: Abbrederis' value to the Badgers' offense is immense. He's leading the league in receiving yards per game (99.8) and might be ahead of Robinson had he not missed a game and a half with a chest injury/concussion.
4. Devin Smith, Ohio State: No receiver in the league has more highlights than Smith, who has caught game-winning bombs against Cal and Michigan State. Urban Meyer said after the Michigan State game that Smith is blossoming into a great player right before our eyes.
Raise your hand if you expected Iowa's Mark Weisman to a) lead the Big Ten in touchdown runs and rank fourth in rushing yards, b) become Iowa's featured back, c) see the field at all for the Hawkeyes. Hadn't heard of Weisman before Sept. 15? You're not alone. The Hawkeyes' battering ram of a fullback has gone from anonymous to local cult hero in a matter of weeks, racking up 515 yards and seven touchdowns on 74 rushes.
Like McGloin, Minnesota defensive end D.L. Wilhite entered his fifth year with a less-than impressive résumé. He had appeared in 35 career games, starting 16, but had just 34 total tackles with seven sacks and two forced fumbles. He played for a Gophers defensive line that has been among the nation's least effective for the past three seasons. But Wilhite and the front four have surged this season. Wilhite leads the Big Ten with 4.5 sacks, and ranks fourth with 5.5 tackles for loss. He also has a forced fumble.
You might have caught a glimpse of Northwestern's Venric Mark before this season as he sprinted downfield on a punt or kickoff return. That's all Mark really was, a gifted return specialist, as he couldn't crack the lineup as a wide receiver and briefly was a candidate to play in the secondary. But he has found a home at running back and energized a position that has been dormant in Evanston in recent years. Mark ranks fourth in the league and tied for 17th nationally in rushing average (107.6 ypg). He has five rushing touchdowns and seven total touchdowns.
Penn State fans knew about McGloin, but they had major concerns about who he'd be throwing passes to this fall after top returning receiver Justin Brown transferred to Oklahoma. O'Brien talked up Allen Robinson in preseason camp, but Robinson had just three catches as a true freshman in 2011. Robinson has backed up his coach -- and his quarterback -- in a big way through the first five games, ranking second in the Big Ten in both receptions (6.4 rpg) and receiving yards (87.8 ypg), and tying for the league lead in touchdown catches (5).
All five players are surprises, to varying degrees. And there are others. It's your turn to pick the most surprising player. Time to vote.
With the convincing victory over Illinois, all eyes have turned to Penn State to see what it might do this conference season.
NittanyNation takes a closer look at the rest of its Big Ten slate to see what challenges lie ahead. Right now, it looks as if the Lions are on pace for a 7-5 season.
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