Penn State Nittany Lions: Philip Nelson

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- New Penn State coach James Franklin hasn't yet been on campus for three months, but he has already made some lofty statements. Among them: an eventual return to national prominence, selling out Beaver Stadium every week and dominating the region in recruiting.

There's no telling exactly how Franklin's first season at Penn State will go, but there is obviously some precedent here. Last week, we tried to give an idea of what to expect in Christian Hackenberg's sophomore season by taking a look at how past B1G freshmen of the year fared in Year 2. This week, we're looking at how other Big Ten East Division coaches performed during their first seasons:

Kevin Wilson, Indiana, 2011
First season with Indiana: 1-11
Season before Wilson's arrival: 5-7
Best season so far: Year 3 (2014 -- 5-7)

Synopsis: Wilson didn't inherit the greatest situation, as the Hoosiers' top quarterback had graduated after earning honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team. As a result, Wilson was forced to play three quarterbacks during his first season, all of whom finished with between 80 and 160 passing attempts.

Since Wilson's first season, he has managed to improve the Indiana's offense every season. It was ranked No. 83 nationally in total offense in 2011, No. 34 in 2012 and then No. 9 last season. On the negative end, the defense has allowed more yards every season.

Randy Edsall, Maryland, 2011
First season with Maryland: 2-10
Record before Edsall's arrival: 9-4, beat East Carolina in Military Bowl
Best season so far: Year 3 (2014 -- 7-6, lost to Marshall in Military Bowl)

Synopsis: Ralph Friedgen's firing after the 2010 season came as a surprise, as he was named the ACC coach of the year. (Franklin was the offensive coordinator at the time and the head coach-in-waiting.) Edsall's first season was disastrous. After Maryland upset Miami (Fla.) in the season opener, the Terps lost its remaining 10 games against FBS opponents. Before the season, the Football Outsiders Almanac gave Maryland a 1 percent chance of finishing 3-9 or worse.

Several players, such as QB Danny O'Brien, transferred during that offseason -- and Edsall has tried to rebuild the program since. His record has improved every season since his forgettable first, and the Terps fared relatively well in 2013 despite an injury-ridden season.

Brady Hoke, Michigan, 2011
First season with Michigan: 11-2, beat Virginia Tech in Sugar Bowl
Record before Hoke's arrival: 7-6, lost to Mississippi State in Gator Bowl
Best season so far: Year 1

Synopsis: After Michigan finished with a winning record in just one of three seasons under Rich Rodriguez, Hoke came in and helped turn the Wolverines around immediately. Michigan's defense went from No. 110 in yards allowed under Rodriguez to No. 17 under Hoke, in large part because Hoke scrapped the 3-3-5. It was the first time the Wolverines won a BCS bowl since 2000, when Tom Brady won the Orange Bowl.

Michigan has won fewer games the last two seasons, finishing 7-5 in 2012 and 7-6 last season. The offense has statistically regressed every season, and the defense has ranged from great to just above average. Hoke finished Year 3 with the same record, 7-6, as Rodriguez did in this third season.

Mark Dantonio, Michigan State, 2007
First season with Michigan State: 7-6, lost to Boston College in Champs Sports Bowl
Record before Dantonio's arrival: 4-8
Best season so far: Year 7 (13-1, beat Stanford in Rose Bowl)

Synopsis: In Year 1 of the Dantonio era, the Spartans rebounded from three consecutive losing seasons to achieve an unexpected bowl berth. Only a dozen starters returned from 2006, so it wasn't as if Dantonio had the benefit of a stacked roster, either. His defensive mindset paid immediate dividends, as the Spartans finished ranked No. 32 in yards allowed that season -- an improvement of 56 spots from the previous season.

Dantonio has led the Spartans to unprecedented success. He has led them to seven straight bowl berths, the longest streak in school history. Before he arrived, Michigan State had just seven bowl wins. Dantonio's Spartans have won their last three.

Urban Meyer, Ohio State, 2012
First season with Ohio State: 12-0 (not postseason-eligible due to NCAA sanctions)
Record before Meyer's arrival: 6-7, lost to Florida in Gator Bowl
Best season so far: Year 1

Synopsis: A lot was working against the Buckeyes the season before Meyer landed in Columbus. There was the tattoo scandal and the accompanying suspensions, a new QB in freshman Braxton Miller and an offense that ranked No. 107 nationally in total yards. Meyer helped Ohio State rebound from all that in one short offseason. Miller became the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, the Buckeyes' offense improved to No. 47 nationally, and Meyer's team came away with six victories decided by a touchdown or less.

He won 24 consecutive games with the Buckeyes before losing back-to-back contests in the 2013 postseason, in both the Big Ten title game and the Orange Bowl, by a combined 15 points. He hasn't yet been named the B1G coach of the year, but it woud be difficult to argue that he's not one of the two best coaches in the conference.

Kyle Flood, Rutgers, 2012
First season with Rutgers: 9-4 (5-2 Big East), lost to Virginia Tech in Russell Athletic Bowl
Record before Flood's arrival: 9-4 (4-3 Big East), beat Iowa State in Pinstripe Bowl
Best season so far: Year 1

Synopsis: Expectations were high for the longtime Rutgers assistant, as one preview story said the Scarlet Knights could have a "championship-caliber" defense in 2012. Rutgers' defense lived up to expectations by ranking No. 10 nationally in yards allowed that season and, with a starting roster largely returning, the season was a success. But it could've been even better. Flood's team started 9-1 before dropping its final three games.

Flood's team seemed to take a step back last season, as it finished 6-7 after starting 4-1. Decommitments and off-the-field issues were a big concern, and questions about Flood's job security arose toward the end of the season. In a move in the right direction, Minnesota QB Philip Nelson recently transferred to Rutgers, however, and will be available for the 2015 season.

Big Ten Thursday chat wrap

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
4:00
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Today's Big Ten chat got a little testy at times, but we all made it through. Thanks again for your questions and participation. If you missed out, check out the full transcript.

To the highlights:

SK from NJ: Rutgers fan here, wondering what we should expect from Philip Nelson?

Adam Ritenberg: He's a guy who came to Minnesota with a lot of attention, showed some decent mobility at times this season but wasn't accurate enough. He didn't have a great receiving corps by any means, but his accuracy numbers down the stretch were a bit troubling. I'm interested to see how he develops under new Rutgers OC Ralph Friedgen.

Marty from The Tundra: Hey Adam! I was just curious what your takes are on which school has the overall coaching advantage? Dantonio and staff at MSU? Urban Meyer's staff at OSU or even Franklin's at Penn State or something else?

Adam Rittenberg: Meyer is still the only Big Ten coach who has won a national title (two, in fact), so I give him the nod over Dantonio, who has certainly made up ground. Ohio State's overall staff gets an edge against MSU's, although the Spartans have the best assistant of the bunch in Pat Narduzzi. Franklin and his staff are excellent recruiters, but they need to show they can win against the best Big Ten teams before I put them in the Meyer/Dantonio category. Vanderbilt made historic strides under Franklin but beat up on the bottom of the SEC.

[+] EnlargePat Narduzzi
AP Photo/Al GoldisMichigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is too good and he will get his chance to be a head coach before long.
Glenn from FL: Are you surprised Narduzzi is still coaching at MSU? It seems a lot of guys can't wait to get a head coaching job. Is he not being offered or is he turning offers down? Or does he prefer being a coordinator? It is much easier than being the head coach.

Adam Rittenberg: He had an opportunity at Connecticut that wasn't very good, in my opinion, and chose to remain at MSU. He interviewed for the Louisville job, but Petrino always was the target there. He had a good shot at Cincinnati last year before Tuberville suddenly became available. So it's a matter of time, in my view. Pat is brutally honest and maybe not as polished as some head coaches, but he has matured in recent years and seems ready to lead a program. I'd be surprised if he's still coordinating MSU's defense in two years.

Armond from Toledo: Why is everyone excited about OSU's 2 defensive coaching staff hires? It seems like people are excited like we just hired the Seahawks' DC. Michigan's OC hire was something to be excited about. These two guys have me skeptical.

Adam Rittenberg: Expand on that thought, Armond. Why does Nussmeier excite you more than Johnson and Ash? Because he came from Alabama? A lot of coordinators could have success with Alabama's personnel. Larry Johnson has been an exceptional defensive line coach for more than a decade. Chris Ash is a rising star who specializes in defensive back play, where Ohio State struggled so much a year ago. Nussmeier is a good hire, too, but I don't understand your concern about Johnson and Ash.

Jim from Chicago: If the B1G ten doesn't end up with an undefeated team, chances they have a representative in the play off next year?

Adam Rittenberg: Jim, we addressed this a bit earlier. It all depends on what happens elsewhere, but I don't see too many 1-loss Big Ten teams making the playoff. Michigan State certainly could. Perhaps Ohio State or Wisconsin another team that racks up some impressive wins despite one setback. It would need to be a close loss, ideally early in the season, for a Big Ten team to overcome and still reach the playoff.

Thanks again for the questions. Let's do it again soon.

Big Ten lunch links

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
12:00
PM ET
The links have decided to unionize.

Big Ten lunchtime links

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
12:00
PM ET
I'm here tonight to tell you the state of our union is ... cold.
The last two seasons have shown that two-quarterback systems can work in the Big Ten.

Northwestern recorded 10 wins in 2012 while rotating Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian. Indiana led the Big Ten and ranked ninth nationally in total offense last fall while alternating between Tre Roberson and Nate Sudfeld.

[+] EnlargeJoey Bosa, Connor Cook
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesAfter taking over the quarterback job in Week 5, Connor Cook led the Spartans to 10 consecutive wins.
Given the recent success, my next statement might surprise you: Every Big Ten team would be best served picking one quarterback and sticking with him in 2014. That includes Indiana and Northwestern.

Quarterback rotations can be successful in the short term, but they are rarely sustainable or desirable. We saw this at Northwestern last fall, as the Wildcats never established a consistent offensive rhythm and operated with a reduced playbook, in part because of injuries but also because the unit lacked a clear identity. Northwestern finished 10th in the league in scoring.

Minnesota alternated between quarterbacks Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner during several games, including the Texas Bowl against Syracuse. Although the Gophers had a nice surge during Big Ten play and recorded eight wins, they also finished 11th in the league in scoring and last in passing.

Nebraska had some success using two quarterbacks (Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Ron Kellogg III) last season but did so out of necessity following Taylor Martinez's injury. The Huskers also struggled to pass the ball, finishing 11th in the league.

The strongest argument for picking a quarterback and sticking with him comes from the Big Ten's best team in 2013. Michigan State's offense was a train wreck in non-league play as the Spartans used three quarterbacks. After a Week 4 loss to Notre Dame, the coaches decided Connor Cook would be their guy. You all know what happened next, but what struck me was Cook's mindset at the time.

"We went through spring ball competition and fall camp competition, it was the most stressed out I've ever been in my entire life just trying to be the quarterback," Cook said last month before the Rose Bowl. "After I got the starting job and started a couple of games, the stress went away and it turned to focus, me being focused and knowing they're not going to use other quarterbacks in the game and not stress too much that go if I make a bad play I'm going to be pulled.

"That's when the stress went out the window."

Players like Northwestern's Siemian and Indiana's Roberson and Sudfeld are more accustomed to sharing time than Cook was, but each of them, like any quarterback, would rather be the clear-cut starter.

Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase is another good example of a player who benefited from an unambiguous role. He struggled from the middle of the 2011 season through all of 2012, raising the possibility of a rotation last season. Instead, Scheelhaase started every game and led the Big Ten in passing (3,272 yards).

[+] EnlargeTommy Armstrong Jr.
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsAfter playing well in place of Taylor Martinez, sophomore signal-caller Tommy Armstrong Jr. is the favorite to start for the Cornhuskers in 2014.
I'm all for competition at quarterback, and the Big Ten will feature plenty of it this spring and summer. Only five quarterbacks -- Ohio State's Braxton Miller, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg, Michigan State's Cook, Iowa's Jake Rudock and Michigan's Devin Gardner -- can feel pretty secure about their starting roles. Gardner has been mentioned as a possible rotation candidate with Shane Morris -- some Michigan fans wouldn't mind seeing Gardner line up at wide receiver, a position of need -- but I'd be surprised if Morris leapfrogs the senior.

I'm also OK with teams employing change-up quarterbacks for a package of plays, be it the Wildcat or something else. Michigan State could be a candidate for this in 2014 with dynamic redshirt freshman Damion Terry possibly spelling Cook from time to time.

The first few games also provide a platform to use multiple quarterbacks in settings that can't be replicated on the practice field. Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel often did this with his younger quarterbacks, giving them a first-half series or two. It makes sense. But by Week 4, roles must be identified.

The offseason is full of Big Ten quarterback questions:

  • Will Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt take the reins at Illinois?
  • How will Gardner and Hackenberg fare with new offensive coordinators?
  • After Nelson's transfer, who emerges at Minnesota among Leidner, Chris Streveler and possibly a young quarterback such as Dimonic McKinzy?
  • Nebraska's Armstrong went 6-1 as a freshman starter, but can he hold off Johnny Stanton?
  • Can Gary Nova retain his job at Rutgers?
  • Will Danny Etling keep the top job at Purdue, or will Austin Appleby and possibly early enrollee David Blough enter the mix?
  • How does Siemian bounce back at Northwestern, and do the Wildcats look at Matt Alviti and Zack Oliver?
  • Will either Roberson or Sudfeld finally separate himself at IU?

Ultimately, these questions must be answered. The teams that avoid prolonged rotations should be better off for it.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
5:00
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Winter stinks. Warm me up with some of your emails:

Darren from Spring Hill, Fla., writes: I'd appreciate your thoughts on Indiana's coordinator situation. I've also thought the pecking order in the BCS era is 1. SEC, 2. (3-way tie depending on year) Pac-12/Big 12/Big Ten; 3. ACC 4. Varies. So why would a coordinator leave IU for the same position at UNC (Littrell) ... is the ACC and, say, the Mountain West more appealing than a low-tier Big Ten school? Thanks.

Brian Bennett: While it's somewhat unusual to see a Big Ten coordinator leave for the same job at what is at best a mid-tier program in the ACC, we have to remember Indiana is not exactly a football power. The Hoosiers have been to one bowl game since 1993 and often play in front of a bunch of empty seats, and the program has not historically provided much of a springboard for coaches' careers. So if Seth Littrell wanted to move on after two very successful years, that becomes more understandable.

We also don't yet know the money situation here. Early reports said Littrell would also be named assistant head coach at North Carolina, which suggests a pay raise. Indiana has made a much bigger commitment to football in recent years but still isn't among the top-paying Big Ten schools when it comes to coaches' salaries. Perhaps the most interesting aspect here is that Littrell -- a former Oklahoma player with deep Sooners ties -- is leaving former Oklahoma coordinator Kevin Wilson's staff to join that of former Oklahoma State play-caller Larry Fedora.


Lachlan from Winterpeg writes: Hey BB, with the hiring of the new assistants at PSU, I see two that stand out to me. The defensive coordinator and the receivers coach. The defense last year had many ups and downs (mostly downs) and bringing in a guy that fielded a top-25 defense last year in the SEC brings in hope. On the other end, a receivers coach that has produced a couple of All-American receivers takes on the task of taking the remaining WR group for PSU that was lackluster last year, and trying to turn them into a threat in the passing game seems challenging. Which of these two do you expect to have a better handle on things being as both have issues to work with, depth with the defense and a group of unproven receivers on the other?

[+] EnlargeBob Shoop
Sean Meyers/Icon SMINew Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop takes over a defense that loses just three starters and he should have plenty of talent to work with this season.
Brian Bennett: Just in terms of talent and experience to work with, new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop should have an easier go of things right away. Shoop -- whose brother, John, is Purdue's offensive coordinator, giving us a Big Ten Shoop-Shoop -- led a Vanderbilt defense that really was the backbone of that team during its nine-win seasons each of the past two years. While Penn State's defense had its struggles in 2013, the unit loses only three starters (DaQuan Jones, Glenn Carson and Malcolm Willis). Shoop will need to develop leaders on that side of the ball and improve the secondary, but there is talent in place.

Receivers coach Josh Gattis has a tougher assignment. No player outside of Allen Robinson really produced a whole lot at wideout for the Nittany Lions last year, and Brandon Felder is gone, too. Geno Lewis has solid potential but still needs polishing. Gattis will likely have to quickly coach up some incoming freshmen such as De'Andre Thompkins and Chris Godwin. The receiver group will have to make a lot of progress this offseason to give Christian Hackenberg some help. Remember, too, that head coach James Franklin has coached receivers in the past, and Penn State has also reportedly hired former Temple receivers coach Terry Smith for an unspecified role. So that position should get a lot of attention.


John from Minneapolis writes: Hey, Brian. In Monday's chat you answered a question about Philip Nelson and stated, " Nelson himself didn't light it up as a passer, but he might not want to run it as much as Minnesota seems to want from its QB. If that's the case, I have no problem with him transferring somewhere else." I understand what you're saying, but whatever happened to sticking with a commitment? It smells like weak character to me. That same attitude is why the divorce rate is 50 percent. That's it, thanks.

Brian Bennett: The problem is that commitment and loyalty too often is a one-way street in college sports. A player such as Nelson is supposed to fulfill his four years to the school, yet coaches can leave at any time and his scholarship is up for renewal every season? And Nelson will have to sit out a year unless he transfers to a lower level. The reality is that college sports is a business, and players have to look out for themselves. If Nelson believes his future will be better served by playing in a different system, more power to him.


Craig from Braintree, Mass., writes: The Gophers certainly are not in the top half of the B1G as far as budget, but they bought not only a quality head coach but a whole staff that will not be easily influenced by a few extra bucks. You have any thoughts about whether Jerry Kill and his staff deserve raises?

Brian Bennett: Kill made a reported $1.2 million last year, which is hardly chump change but still ranked as the lowest in the Big Ten. Minnesota officials said they would work on bumping up Kill's pay this offseason, and Kill would like raises for his assistants, too. After an eight-win season, that staff is definitely in line for some salary increases. The price of keeping a high-quality head coach in the Big Ten is escalating rapidly. The good news for the Gophers is I don't think Kill is looking to leave anytime soon.


Dave from Millstone, N.J., writes: So, Brian. We're BaAAaack. ... When is the date when you'll start covering Rutgers in the blog? We missed you since you bolted the Big East for the B1G -- now we're following you, haunting you, filling your dreams. We're coming; you can't stop it now. Oh, sure, you can change assignments and head to the ACC, where Andrea abandoned us to last year. But we will find you, no matter what. Now write one of you famous opinions on how RU will never be great. Go ahead, make my day! Seriously, looking forward to getting picked on by the big boys of the B1G for a few seasons before we take over. So when's the warm welcome start on the blog?

Brian Bennett: You made me laugh, Dave, so good job. I'm looking forward to reuniting with Rutgers and visiting Piscataway again. Maybe I should start increasing my workouts now in anticipation of hitting a grease truck. We typically incorporate new schools right after signing day. So look for coverage of the Scarlet Knights -- and Maryland -- in the Big Ten blog in just a couple more weeks.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
4:30
PM ET
Wishing you a good weekend. We'll wrap up the East-West Shrine Game and NFLPA Bowl on Monday.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter.

To the inbox …

Brent from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, writes: So Iowa blasts Nebraska in Lincoln on the final Friday in November, plays a more difficult bowl opponent in LSU, and Nebraska finishes higher in your power rankings. That's par for the course.

[+] EnlargeZaire Anderson
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesIt was impossible to ignore what the Cornhuskers did to Georgia in the Gator Bowl when it came time to do the power rankings.
Adam Rittenberg: Both teams played SEC teams playing without their starting quarterbacks. LSU wasn't the same team without Zach Mettenberger. We do power rankings after the bowl games to factor in what happened in the bowl games. Otherwise, there's no point in doing another version. Nebraska improved during bowl practice and played well against a heavily favored Georgia team. Iowa couldn't mount a scoring drive of more than 5 yards against LSU. You can't solely do power rankings based on head-to-head results. Otherwise, Michigan would be ahead of Minnesota and Indiana would be ahead of Penn State. It's a what-have-you-done-lately type of deal.

Kellen from Duluth, Minn., writes: Given Nelson' transfer, do you see the Gophers trying to pick up JUCO or potentially a graduate transfer (Brewer from Tech?) to help fill in the depth and push the QB competition?

Rittenberg: Kellen, it's possible the Gophers try to add another quarterback. They could be fine with Mitch Leidner and Chris Streveler, who generated some positive buzz during his redshirt year, but you'd like to have more than two options at quarterback. Incoming recruit Dimonic McKinzy, who has enrolled early, could have the skill set to run Minnesota's offense. "They want a playmaker at the quarterback position," McKinzy told the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press. I'm not sure Michael Brewer is a great fit as he'd be going from a pass-heavy offense at Texas Tech to one built more around the run game at Minnesota.

Jeremy from the Cornfields of South Carolina writes: Adam, we are already hearing how stacked the future East Division is going to be compared to the West and how the West programs will need to step up to match. I do not claim to be a conference fan, I am a die-hard Husker fan born and raised in the cornfields. That being said Nebraska has fared very well over the course of the last three years against our new conference rivals; 3-0 vs PSU, 2-1 vs Michigan, 2-1 vs MSU, 2-1 vs NW, 2-1 vs Iowa, 1-1 vs OSU, and 1-2 vs Wisconsin. The losses didn't look good for sure, but under Pelini Nebraska has found ways to beat the elite teams within the conference. To me the West needs to look to Iowa, Northwestern and Minnesota to step up and Nebraska and Wisconsin to at least maintain. There is no guarantee that Michigan or PSU contribute to the strength of the East in the near future. I don't see the potential imbalance that people are talking about.

Rittenberg: I agree with some of your points, Jeremy. There are no guarantees that Michigan or Penn State boosts the East Division, as both programs face some challenges right now. What works against the West is a lack of historic powers. Although Wisconsin has been very good in the past two decades, Nebraska is undoubtedly the most decorated program in the West Division. The Huskers have fared well against Penn State and Michigan, but it's debatable whether Nebraska can get it done in the biggest games. It beat a very weak Ohio State team in 2011 and flopped against Big Ten champ Wisconsin in 2011 and 12-0 Ohio State in 2012. I don't think Nebraska belongs with Wisconsin yet but could soon get there. The bigger point is that Iowa, Northwestern, Minnesota, Purdue and Illinois must elevate their play and sustain it to improve the strength of the division.

Kenny from Hastings, Neb., writes: Am I missing something with Wisconsin this year? How is a 9-4 Wisconsin team better than a 9-4 Nebraska team? Wisconsin lost its final two games while the Huskers went 1-1, winning their bowl game (one of only two Big Ten teams to do so) and being the only team in the Big Ten to beat an SEC team. What gives?

Rittenberg: Don't push your luck, Kenny. You're somewhat fortunate to be ranked ahead of Iowa. Wisconsin ended the season poorly but had a better, more consistent squad than Nebraska for much of the season. If the two teams played after the bowls, I'd still take Wisconsin (and so would Brian). Nebraska is where it should be after a nice bowl win, but the Huskers weren't the Big Ten's third-best team this year.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Brown
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyC.J. Brown provided a lot of excitement for Maryland in 2013.
John from Washington D.C. writes: Adam; I know this was the "final" Big Ten Power Rankings for the year, but any chance of getting an 'amended' rankings with Maryland and Rutgers? Just a glimpse of what's to come, so to speak?

Rittenberg: John, we'll almost certainly have Rutgers and Maryland as part of the first 2014 power rankings, as they'll soon transition to the Big Ten blog. I need to study both teams a little more closely, but both are going through some staff turnover, especially Rutgers, which must replace both of its coordinators. Neither team was overly impressive in its bowl game, and both will be transitioning to a new league and a very tough division. Both teams struggled with turnovers this past season and will have to limit mistakes entering 2014.

Jason from B1G West writes: I think it is kind of interesting the amount of players from the SEC leaving school early for the draft, compared to the Big Ten. Would it be the different recruits the Big Ten gets, or more of a commitment to education from our conference, or maybe it's just the way things went down this year?

Rittenberg: Jason, several Big Ten fans have mentioned this to me after seeing the discrepancy in early entries between the leagues. There are certainly some Big Ten draft hopefuls like Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah who could have jumped to the NFL but wanted to finish his degree. But the SEC has players like that, too. It's too simplistic to argue that all SEC players only want to go pro and all Big Ten players care more about education than the NFL draft. There are examples of both in each league, but the bottom line is the SEC has more players who are capable of making the jump early than the Big Ten. That speaks to talent.

Ben from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Adam,In 2016-1019, the first four years the Big Ten will have a nine-game schedule, Michigan plays Wisconsin four times, Nebraska once, Northwestern once, and Minnesota once. I get that this is the result of parity based scheduling, but even so, wouldn't Wisconsin, the obvious top program in the West, then play Michigan State or OSU four times?

Rittenberg: Ben, keep in mind the Big Ten is trying to satisfy multiple objectives with the schedule. There's the parity-based component, which will pair teams like Michigan and Wisconsin more often than not, but the league also wants to make sure every matchup takes place once every four years. Michigan and Wisconsin haven't played since 2010, and the fact they'll play in four consecutive seasons won't be the norm for parity-based scheduling. Wisconsin plays both Michigan State and Ohio State twice between 2016-19, which is a little more typical of what you'll see with parity-based scheduling.

Big Ten lunchtime links

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
12:00
PM ET
Six shopping days left.
Five lessons from the final weekend of Big Ten regular-season play:

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Tony DingQB Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes weren't perfect vs. Michigan but they survived in Ann Arbor.
1. Ohio State is imperfect, but a perfect record might be good enough: There they are, the team America loves to hate, on the doorstep of the national championship game. Ohio State didn't look like the No. 2 team in America during its one-point win against unranked Michigan, allowing 41 points, 31 first downs and 603 total yards to an inspired Wolverines team that managed just 158 yards the week before against Iowa. But Ohio State handled its first brush with adversity in six weeks, as running back Carlos Hyde bulldozed his way to 226 rushing yards and Tyvis Powell snuffed out Michigan's potential game-winning two-point conversion attempt with 32 seconds to play. The Buckeyes walked out of the Big House with a win, which is more than Alabama could say at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Alabama's loss should move Ohio State up to No. 2 in tonight's BCS standings, although Auburn is now a threat to leapfrog the Scarlet and Gray. This is an imperfect, perfect Ohio State team, which might be headed to play for a crystal football if it can get past Michigan State in the Big Ten championship.

2. It's Michigan State or bust for a second BCS bid: There's no good way to explain Wisconsin's 31-24 loss to Penn State at home on Saturday. The Badgers had been so sound on both sides of the ball all season long, and so dominant the past two months. But Wisconsin made uncharacteristic mistakes all game against a Penn State team that delivered by far its best road performance of the season. Whatever the reason for that stink bomb from Gary Andersen's team, it removed all doubt about a fourth straight BCS game for the Badgers, and it left Michigan State as the clear No. 2 team in the Big Ten. The Spartans weren't especially impressive in a 14-3 win over Minnesota, but an 11-1 season should get the Spartans in the top 10 of the BCS standings tonight. Michigan State can erase all doubt by beating Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game, sending the Buckeyes to an at-large spot in the process. If not, the Spartans no longer have to worry about competition from within their own league for a BCS at-large spot. Saturday was a very good day to be a Spartan, and a very bad one to be a Badger.

3. You can't kill the Hawkeyes: Just when it seems safe to write off the Iowa Hawkeyes and Kirk Ferentz, the Big Ten's longest-tenured coach, they rise again. Iowa smacked Nebraska 38-17 in Lincoln to record a statement victory and flip its 2012 record from 4-8 to 8-4. It looks like there will be a third act in Iowa under Ferentz, who oversaw strong stretches from 2002 to '04 and 2008 to '09. Picked by many (cough, cough) to finish last in the Legends Division, Iowa ended up finishing second with a 4-1 mark in division play. James Morris and his fellow senior linebackers have sparked a defensive resurgence, and the offense has found its identity in Year 2 under coordinator Greg Davis. Iowa's four losses all came against teams ranked in the top 20. The talk about Ferentz's hefty salary and whether he's worth all that dough will never go away, but he has successfully facilitated another turnaround at Iowa, which should end up in a decent bowl game. Unlike many of its Big Ten brethren, Iowa typically shines in the postseason, going 6-4 in bowls under Ferentz.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Green
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioMichigan tailback Derrick Green rushed for 47 yards in the loss to Ohio State.
4. Minnesota is a passing game away from being a real contender: The Gophers lost their last two games of the regular season but earned respect for how they played against Wisconsin and Michigan State. The Badgers came away talking about how they needed to match Minnesota's physicality, which was something that hadn't been said in a long time. At Michigan State on Saturday, the Gophers became just the second team to rush for more than 100 yards against the Spartans this season, and they held an improving MSU offense to just two scoring drives. Yet Minnesota won't be a true Big Ten contender until it develops a passing game. Bad things tend to happen when the offense is forced to throw, like when Philip Nelson threw two interceptions (and should have had a third) or when Mitch Leidner was sacked for a fumble in the red zone on Saturday. The two quarterbacks combined for just nine completions in 25 attempts in East Lansing. Receiving targets Donovahn Jones, Drew Wolitarsky and Maxx Williams all have promising ability, but all are freshmen who are getting baptized by fire right now. If Minnesota can maintain its gains on defense and in the trenches while becoming competent in the passing game, it will be hard to handle next season.

5. Indiana missed a big opportunity this year: It's hard not to look at Indiana's score against Purdue in the Old Oaken Bucket Game and wonder how this team is staying home for the holidays. The Hoosiers had one of the most explosive offenses in all of the BCS -- except when they played Wisconsin and Ohio State -- and eight home games. Yet they finished 5-7 and still have just one bowl appearance under their belt since 1993. All they had to do was beat Navy at home or not mess up the ending of the game against Minnesota and they would have gotten to six wins. Of course, it's easy to pinpoint the reason why Indiana did not get there: an atrocious defense that has not made nearly enough strides in Kevin Wilson's three years. The Hoosiers should be potent on offense again next year, with quarterbacks Tre Roberson and Nate Sudfeld, running back Tevin Coleman and receivers Cody Latimer and Shane Wynn still owning eligibility. But if Wilson doesn't make major changes on defense, it might not matter -- again.

Gophers gaining respect in Big Ten

November, 9, 2013
11/09/13
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Any doubt that Minnesota is evolving into a balanced offense was put to rest in a 24-10 victory over Penn State in Minneapolis on Saturday afternoon.

The Nittany Lions stacked the box early against the Gophers, dared them to pass -- and then watched Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson respond in a big way. The sophomore was 12-of-18 for 165 yards by halftime, helped his team score on its first four drives and then watched tailback David Cobb take over the second half.

This marked the Gophers' fourth consecutive victory in Big Ten play, the first time that occurred since 1973, about two decades before Penn State joined the conference. The Golden Gophers are now 8-2 -- one of the more unlikely eight-win teams playing in a BCS conference -- and they haven't been eliminated from the Big Ten title race just yet.

Minnesota earned the Governor's Victory Bell and. More importantly, the Gophers are continuing to earn respect in the Big Ten.

Where the game was won: Through the air. As unlikely as it might have sounded before the game, Minnesota's run-heavy offense decided to pass early and often against a struggling Penn State secondary. Statistically, it was the second-best passing performance of the season for Minnesota. The running game took off in the second half, but Minnesota did most of its damage during that pass-happy first half, scoring 24 points.

The game was over when ... : Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg fumbled a snap on the Minnesota 1-yard line with less than seven minutes left to play. Minnesota linebacker James Manuel fell on the ball, and that put an end to Penn State's comeback hopes. Trailing by 14, a touchdown would have given them life. But that fumble put the game out of reach.

What it means for Minnesota: The Golden Gophers are making their case to be considered one of the better teams in the Big Ten. They're still behind the likes of Ohio State and Michigan State, but Minnesota and Wisconsin certainly seem to be the best teams behind them. Minnesota should find itself in a decent bowl game; this is the best team it has fielded in at least the last decade.

What it means for Penn State: Complementary football, something Bill O'Brien stresses, isn't coming easily for Penn State (5-4, 2-3). The offense played OK in the first half, while the defense was dominated. And those roles were reversed in the second half -- the defense shut out Minnesota, but the offense didn't score. Expectations this season were around seven or eight wins, and that's far from a guarantee now.

Big Ten Week 11 primer

November, 9, 2013
11/09/13
7:00
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Setting the table for an afternoon of Big Ten football. Feel free to fill up then, because it will all be gone by dinner time.

Noon ET

Penn State (5-3, 2-2) at Minnesota (7-2, 3-2), ESPN2: There’s more than a Victory Bell on the line for the Gophers, as arguably the most surprising team in the league remains alive for a division title despite all the adversity that has come its way this season. Jerry Kill, the entire coaching staff and a resilient roster deserve every bit of praise that has accompanied an unexpected push into contention. And should Minnesota come up with another victory at home, it can expect many more compliments by remaining a factor in the Legends Division.

Iowa (4-5, 2-3) at Purdue (1-7, 0-4), Big Ten Network: A short, miserable October gave way to a November that didn’t start any better for the Boilermakers, who haven’t scored a touchdown since September. Granted, Purdue has only played three games in that span, but that’s still an embarrassingly long drought, and Iowa is certainly capable of extending it with a hard-nosed, aggressive defense. The Hawkeyes also need a victory to clinch a bowl bid, so they won’t be lacking for motivation.

3:30 ET

Illinois (3-5, 0-4) at Indiana (3-5, 1-3), BTN: Both programs had designs on getting back to a bowl game before the season and encouraging starts in nonconference play, but the odds are starting to look long for each of them now. The loser this afternoon will have no margin for error from here on out, and the Hoosiers and Illini both have a date with No. 4 Ohio State coming up in the next two weeks. The winner will still have work to do, so it’s not exactly a play-in game. But there probably won’t be any need to worry about the postseason without a victory at Memorial Stadium.

Nebraska (6-2, 3-1) at Michigan (6-2, 2-2), ABC: The matchup between two of the most decorated programs in the history of college football was always tabbed as a crucial one in the Legends Division, but the stakes are certainly a bit smaller than might have been anticipated. The Wolverines are on the ropes after losing a potential head-to-head tiebreaker with first-place Michigan State with their loss in East Lansing last week, and while the Huskers survived on a Hail Mary against Northwestern, they can’t afford another loss, either, if they hope to stay in the race. Can Michigan’s offense rebound against a still suspect group of Blackshirts, or will Nebraska finally right the ship against an attack that has been prone to turnovers and has problems with their running game? The answer will determine who gets to keep entertaining the idea of a division title.

BYU (6-2) at No. 24 Wisconsin (6-2, 4-1), ESPN: Gary Andersen just can’t seem to escape his old foe from previous stops at Utah and Utah State, but at least the Wisconsin coach is plenty familiar with this November nonconference opponent. The Badgers are still being haunted by what happened outside the league in September thanks to the officiating blunder that led to their loss at Arizona State, but they’ve got one more chance to notch a non-Big Ten win that could provide a boost for their BCS at-large hopes.

Weather

For early November in Big Ten country, the weather could hardly be any better for football. Both games in Indiana should have temperatures around 60 in the afternoon, which is tough to beat this time of year. The temperature will be a bit chillier in Minneapolis and Madison, but anticipated highs in the mid-40s leave little room to complain as well.

The Huskers and Wolverines should have pretty decent weather by kickoff as well, though there's a chance of showers in the morning before the projected high of 56 later in the day.

Top Week 11 stories

What to watch in the Big Ten | Predictions | Did you know?

No ban for Taylor Lewan

Q&A with Indiana's Cody Latimer

Philip Nelson taking Gophers to another level

Old foe in Gary Andersen's way

Attitude fuels Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah

Urban Meyer shoots down rumors of Luke Fickell interviewing at Florida Atlantic

Big Ten race update

Improved Iowa still needs finishing school

Mark Dantonio shapes Spartans in his image

Michigan offensive line not living up to expectations

Michigan and Nebraska are seeking a defining moment

Combination of Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton worthy of Heisman

Five things: Penn State at Minnesota

November, 9, 2013
11/09/13
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While Penn State is trying to finish the season strong, Minnesota is seeking its fourth consecutive Big Ten win for the first time since 1973.

The Governor's Victory Bell is on the line, and here are five things to keep an eye on:

1. Allen Robinson nearing another school record. The Penn State receiver is just 42 yards shy of breaking the single-season school record for receiving yards (1,084), a mark set in 1995 by Bobby Engram. Robinson is averaging 10 catches and 149 yards in each Big Ten contest, so it seems almost certain that he will break the record against Minnesota. Of course, there's also an outside shot he'll break another record in the afternoon -- the single-season receptions record. Robinson is at 66 catches right now, and he needs 12 more to break his record from last season. He has twice grabbed a dozen receptions in Big Ten games this season.

2. Stopping quarterbacks on the run. In the last three games, quarterbacks have run for 247 yards (82.3 per game) against Penn State. Minnesota quarterbacks Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner are both dual-threats -- Leidner tends to run the most -- and have averaged a combined 75 rushing yards a game. The Nittany Lions have been mostly good against the run, outside of the Ohio State game, but they haven't fared well against running quarterbacks. Penn State's ability to limit both quarterbacks on the run will be paramount to stopping Minnesota.

3. Can Bill Belton continue playing at this level? The junior tailback rushed for 201 yards last week, the first time a Penn State running back gained 200 yards in a game since Larry Johnson in 2002. Belton has been the most improved player on the offense, and he's solidified his status as the starter. But, after carrying 36 times last week, can he keep carrying such a heavy load? This game, against the No. 39 run defense, would go a long way in helping cement him as a top player. Big Ten Blog readers already voted him as the most surprising tailback in the conference.

4. More aggressive Minnesota passing offense. In the first six games of the season, the Golden Gophers averaged just 116.8 passing yards a game and amassed a total of just nine completions of 20 yards or longer. In the last three games? It's been completely different. Nelson has helped guide Minnesota to an average of 202.3 yards per game and the Gophers have accounted for 13 big passing plays. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover has opened up the playbook, and it will be a challenge for Penn State's secondary.

5. PSU defense vs. Minnesota offense in the red zone. The Gophers aren't the highest-scoring team in the Big Ten. But when they get inside the red zone, they're almost automatic. Minnesota ranks third in the nation by recording scores on 29 of 30 red-zone trips, with 22 touchdowns and seven field goals. Penn State is a middle-of-the-road team when it comes to bending and not breaking. The defense was able to come up with big plays when it needed against Illinois, but it will have to be even better against Minnesota. The Gophers have a penchant from running it in within five yards; 11 rushing touchdowns have been from 1 yard out.
Last week's predictions came down to a Hail Mary in Lincoln, Neb. What does Week 11 have in store?

Brian Bennett has rallied to take a one-game lead in the season standings. If he can hold on, he'll be chowing down on Adam Rittenberg's dime at St. Elmo in Indianapolis. But there's a long way to go, including five games this Saturday.

Let's get started …

PENN STATE at MINNESOTA

Brian Bennett: I might pick Penn State here if it the game were in State College, Pa., where the Lions seem to have all of their mojo. But Minnesota has something special going and I'm done doubting the Gophers. Ra'Shede Hageman causes havoc on defense as Penn State turns the ball over three times, and Minnesota's ground game wears down the Nittany Lions defense. … Minnesota 24, Penn State 20.

Adam Rittenberg: Gophers fans probably won't like this, but I'm picking Minnesota after being burned the past two weeks. A balanced offense takes advantage of Penn State's leaky defense and a team that struggles away from home. David Cobb goes for 150 rush yards and two scores, and Philip Nelson adds two more touchdown passes. Allen Robinson has another big day for Penn State, but it's not enough as Minnesota wins its fourth consecutive Big Ten game for the first time in 40 years. … Minnesota 31, Penn State 24

IOWA at PURDUE

Rittenberg: The Hawkeyes need this one to become bowl eligible, and they'll play with a purpose at Ross-Ade Stadium. Iowa finishes a touchdown drive on the first possession behind a Mark Weisman run and controls the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Linebacker James Morris adds another takeaway as Iowa pulls away in the third quarter behind Weisman and Damon Bullock. … Iowa 31, Purdue 7

Bennett: Iowa won't need to score in the second half of this game in order to win, but the Hawkeyes will do so anyway. There's just not much to like about the way Purdue is playing right now, and I think Jake Rudock will throw a couple of touchdown passes in the second quarter to put this away early. … Iowa 38, Purdue 3.

ILLINOIS at INDIANA

Bennett: I guess somebody's got to win this one, eh? Don't expect a whole lot of defense from either side. Indiana has a few more playmakers on offense, and that, plus the home-field advantage, should be enough. But barely, as the Hoosiers rally from an early 10-point deficit to win on the Mitch Ewald field goal they should have kicked last week. … Indiana 38, Illinois 35

Rittenberg: Both of these teams had brutal losses last week, so which one bounces back? Although I liked much of what Illinois did at Penn State, but the Illini's struggles against the run still concern me. Tevin Coleman goes for 180 yards and three touchdowns, including the game winner, as Indiana overcomes a 300-yard passing performance by Nathan Scheelhaase and wins a shootout. … Indiana 45, Illinois 41

NEBRASKA at MICHIGAN

Rittenberg: The Hail Mary didn't do much to change my opinion of Nebraska, and while Michigan also has its problems, the Wolverines are a different team at home under coach Brady Hoke. Quarterback Devin Gardner continues his season of extremes with a big performance, passing for 250 yards and two touchdowns and adding another on the ground. Ameer Abdullah keeps the Huskers in this one with 150 rush yards and two scores, but Michigan uses a big second half to record the W. … Michigan 38, Nebraska 31

Bennett: No outcome here would surprise me because these are two of the most inconsistent and flawed teams we've seen all season. I'm worried about whether Gardner has PTSD from last week's Michigan State beatdown. But Nebraska has to win one of these big games on the road before I will pick it, and I think the Huskers' offense is a little too beat up right now to win in Ann Arbor, Mich. … Michigan 27, Nebraska 17

BYU at WISCONSIN

Bennett: I'm tempted to pick BYU because the Cougars have been on a roll and have the ability to put up points fast. Wisconsin is also pretty beat up right now. I'll stick with the Badgers because their run defense is very stout and the Camp Randall Stadium edge is just too much. It will be awfully close, however. … Wisconsin 28, BYU 24

Rittenberg: This is a sneaky-good game as both teams are better than their 6-2 records indicate, and both coaching staffs have a lot of familiarity from Gary Andersen's time in the state of Utah. Taysom Hill puts BYU on top early with some big plays, but Wisconsin's defense stiffens and the Badgers get strong performances from Melvin Gordon and James White, who combine for four touchdown dances on the day. … Wisconsin 34, BYU 26

You've heard from us. Now it's time to hear from one of you. As a reminder, throughout the season, we'll choose one fan/loyal blog reader each week to try his or her hand at outsmarting us. There's nothing but pride and some extremely limited fame at stake. If you're interested in participating, contact us here and here. Include your full name (real names, please), hometown and a brief description of why you should be that week's guest picker. Please also include "GUEST PICKS" in all caps somewhere in your email so we can find it easily.

This week's guest is Adam Miller from Los Angeles. Adam, the floor is yours …

Long time reader, first time writer, hoping to be your next guest picker! As a recent Penn State grad living across the country in Pac-12 territory, I need all the B1G I can get, and your blog does a lot to help with that (even though I'm still adjusting to 9am 'Lunchtime Links'). I'm even traveling from SoCal to Minneapolis this weekend with college buddies to watch my Nittany Lions taking on a surging Minnesota squad. Pretty excited for a short work week capped off with a great football weekend. Hope to hear from you guys. Keep up the good work -- Adam, PSU Class '13


Here are Adam's Week 11 picks:

Penn State 28, Minnesota 24
Iowa 27, Purdue 14
Indiana 41, Illinois 21
Michigan 34, Nebraska 27
Wisconsin 34, BYU 17

SEASON RECORDS

Brian Bennett: 62-12
Adam Rittenberg: 61-13
Guest pickers: 57-17

Planning for success: Penn State

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Offensive tackle Adam Gress offered a slight shrug.

He didn't have any simple answer as to why his Nittany Lions seemed to struggle on the road. He wasn't totally sure why PSU dropped a game to Indiana, 44-24, and Ohio State, 63-14, while away from Beaver Stadium.

"I doubt that's really related to being on the road," he said. "I wouldn't say that it has that much to do with being on the road as it does with how the game went."

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
Rich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsBill O'Brien says it's hard to say why Penn State has struggled on the road.
Penn State has only played away from Happy Valley twice this conference season -- losing both times -- and, although the Nittany Lions don't seem to know the cause for those two road woes, they're hoping for a change on Saturday against Minnesota.

The Golden Gophers are 7-2 , and they're 4-1 so far at home. Their only loss at TFC Bank Stadium came more than six weeks ago against Iowa.

"We didn't really address it," defensive end Anthony Zettel said of those road troubles. "This is a big game for us. … Sometimes they might go bad, but we're going to come out prepared."

Added Bill O'Brien: "Obviously, we haven't played as well on the road. It's hard to pinpoint why. Hopefully that changes."

Sure, the sample size -- two games -- is a bit small and it might be too early to label a two-game skid on the road a trend. But it's just one more question mark the Nittany Lions will have to deal with this weekend.

Minnesota is playing its best football of the season right now. Philip Nelson threw for a career-high 298 passing yards last week, and his team's riding a three-game Big Ten win streak thanks to Northwestern, Nebraska and Indiana. Penn State's inconsistent defense will be matched up against a run-first offense that's starting to open up the playbook -- and the Lions seemed much more concerned with that than any notion of trouble on the road.

"They're 7-2," cornerback Adrian Amos said. "And that says something because you really don't go 7-2 being a slouch team."

O'Brien said his team will focus on Minnesota's tells for play-action passes. He'll help coach the defense to stay on top of routes. And he'll try to mix up the tempo on offense to throw the Gophers off.

If they do all that, O'Brien intimated, those road woes will start turning into road wins.

"We'll string some good practices together and be ready to go on Saturday," he said. "So, hopefully, we can change the tide of not playing well on the road right now."

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 10

November, 4, 2013
11/04/13
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We have true separation in the Big Ten, and not just with Ohio State at the No. 1 spot. Although the Buckeyes remain the league's kingpin, both Wisconsin and Michigan State also belong in the Big Ten's upper crust.

The big debate in these rankings concerns the No. 2 spot, which Wisconsin has occupied for several weeks. The Badgers handled Iowa on the road and delivered a salty defensive performance even without superstar linebacker Chris Borland. Michigan State smothered Michigan, complementing a dominant defense with timely passes from Connor Cook. Both teams have won at Iowa and at Illinois. Michigan State has the best win between the bunch but has played the easier schedule.

For now, we're keeping Wisconsin at No. 2. We realize we're in the minority there, but Wisconsin hasn't done much to move down since the Northwestern game. It's too bad the Badgers and Spartans can't play this season to decide the second spot.

Elsewhere, Nebraska avoids another drop thanks to its Hail Mary against sad-sack Northwestern. We debated whether to move Minnesota higher, and we will if the Gophers keep winning. Iowa falls down a few spots, and the bottom of the rankings remains unchanged.

Here's one last look at the Week 9 rankings.

Now, the new rundown ...

1. Ohio State (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten; last week: 1): Ross-Ade Stadium is no longer a graveyard for the Buckeyes, who buried Purdue in a matter of minutes Saturday. Ohio State scored 28 first-quarter points and 42 in the first half, as the tight ends got involved, quarterbacks Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton both had jump-pass touchdowns and the defense blanked Purdue. Whether style points matter, Ohio State is finally getting them. The Buckeyes are off this week before visiting Illinois on Nov. 16.

2. Wisconsin (6-2, 4-1; last week: 2): The offense struggled and top defender Borland watched from the sideline with a hamstring injury, but Wisconsin found a way to beat Iowa. Marcus Trotter was fabulous filling in for Borland, as the Badgers' defense repeatedly turned Iowa away in plus territory. Running back James White came alive late as Wisconsin pulled away. The Badgers will need a stronger performance this week as they step out of league play against a good BYU squad.

3. Michigan State (8-1, 5-0; last week: 3): Not only did the Spartans reclaim their superiority against in-state rival Michigan, but they looked like a worthy competitor for Ohio State in a potential Big Ten championship game matchup. If Nebraska falls this week at Michigan, MSU would have a two-game lead on the rest of the division with three weeks to go. An elite defense had its best performance under Pat Narduzzi, as end Shilique Calhoun and linebackers Denicos Allen and Ed Davis combined for seven sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Cook made some impressive throws as the Spartans pounded Michigan. They'll have some extra time to celebrate during an open week before visiting Nebraska on Nov. 16.

4. Nebraska (6-2, 3-1; last week: 7): One play makes all the difference between another Power Rankings drop for Big Red and a three-spot gain. Nebraska had defensive problems early and turnover problems late against Northwestern, but the Huskers never gave up and won a game on a Hail Mary to Jordan Westerkamp for the first time in team history. Credit running back Ameer Abdullah for keeping a potentially splintering team together. The young defense also shut down Northwestern's offense in the second half. Nebraska must beat Michigan on the road this week to stay in the Legends Division race.

5. Michigan (6-2, 2-2; last week: 4): That Notre Dame win feels like years ago as Michigan's warts were exposed in Saturday's loss at Michigan State. The Wolverines are either too young or simply not tough enough, as they were pushed around the field at Spartan Stadium. Michigan had a program-low rushing total (minus-48 yards) and couldn't protect quarterback Devin Gardner. The program's Big Ten championship drought almost certainly will reach nine years, and it's fair to question where things are really headed under third-year coach Brady Hoke. At least Michigan returns home, where it has never lost under Hoke, to face Nebraska this week.

6. Minnesota (7-2, 3-2; last week: 6): The Minnesota mojo continues, thanks in large part to an inexcusable crunch-time blunder by Indiana. Minnesota blew a 22-point third-quarter lead but rallied behind Philip Nelson, who established himself as the team's offensive leader with 298 pass yards and four touchdowns. It was a rough second half for the defense, but linebacker Aaron Hill came up with the decisive play late as the Gophers got out of Bloomington with their third consecutive league win. Minnesota is a factor in the Legends Division race but must keep winning this week against Penn State.

7. Iowa (5-4, 2-3; last week: 5): Sure, the Hawkeyes are improved this season, but some of the same maddening offensive traits remain, like being unable to finish drives. Iowa should have been up at halftime rather than down 7-6 to Wisconsin, and although quarterback Jake Rudock's injury impacted the game, the Hawkeyes' second-half struggles on offense are nothing new. The defense is good enough to get Iowa a few more wins, but can the offense start scoring? Iowa visits Purdue this week.

8. Penn State (5-3, 2-2; last week: 8): It isn't always pretty with Penn State, but the Lions don't quit, especially on their home field. Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg once again rallied his team from a late deficit and stepped up in overtime as Penn State avoided what would have been a bad loss to Illinois. Bill Belton established himself as the team's top running back with 201 yards and a touchdown. The defense remains far too vulnerable to big passing plays. Penn State will need to be better on both sides of the ball this week as it visits surging Minnesota.

9. Indiana (3-5, 1-3; last week: 9): Coach Kevin Wilson's crew doesn't quit, but the Hoosiers still don't know how to win. They were 9 yards away from completing a huge second-half comeback against Minnesota and moving a step closer to bowl eligibility. At worst, they were in position to send the game to overtime. Instead, everything fell apart on a dropped backward pass to Tevin Coleman, who had a big game (108 rush yards, TD). The quarterback race took another turn with Nate Sudfeld outplaying Tre Roberson, and the defense had a wildly inconsistent performance. Indiana hosts Illinois this week but will need a road win at Ohio State or Wisconsin to become bowl eligible.

10. Northwestern (4-5, 0-5; last week: 10): The former Cardiac Cats are only giving their fans heartache at this point as they've forgotten how to perform in the clutch. Northwestern had another golden opportunity for a road win, but let it slip away when it couldn't finish off Nebraska on either side of the ball, leading to the Hail Mary touchdown to Jordan Westerkamp. Injuries continue to mount in a snakebitten season for the Wildcats, who likely won't make a bowl. Northwestern has an off week to regroup before hosting Michigan on Nov. 16.

11. Illinois (3-5, 0-4; last week: 11): The Big Ten losing streak has reached 18 games, and arguably no defeat stung more than Saturday's at Penn State. Illinois wasted opportunities early, took the lead late and still couldn't hold on for a victory. Tim Beckman's team performed better than expected and can take some positives from its performance in Happy Valley, but there's still too much inconsistency on both sides of the ball, as the defense allowed 250 rush yards. Illinois visits Indiana this week.

12. Purdue (1-7, 0-4; last week: 12): The misery continues for Darrell Hazell's crew, which is on its way to its worst season since 1993 (1-10) and might be one of the worst squads in recent Big Ten memory. Young quarterback Danny Etling had another rough outing as Purdue never challenged Ohio State and had no answers for the Buckeyes' offense. Purdue has been shut out in consecutive games and has scored just 17 points in four Big Ten contests. The remaining schedule is a little more favorable, but Purdue has to show something positive by season's end.

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