PSU Nittany Lions: Taylor Martinez
Ranking the opposing offensive players
1. QB Braxton Miller (Ohio State): He finished fifth in the Heisman voting last year, led his team to an undefeated record, threw for more than 2,000 yards and rushed for another 1,271. Need I go on? Miller is one of the most dangerous players in the country, and he's what makes this Buckeyes' offense so good.
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We're going back now and issuing a final, postseason ranking for each position group, and these will be far less subjective now because we have an actual full season's worth of data on hand.
Quarterbacks, naturally, are up first. (Those guys hog all the glory). You can take a look back and see how we ranked this group in the preseason here. Depth is an important factor in these position rankings, but having a standout main guy under center (or in the shotgun) is the most overriding concern with this group.
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteThanks to consistent play by QB Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes finished the 2012 season unbeaten.
2. Penn State (Preseason: 12): The Nittany Lions were dead last in our preseason rankings, and with good reason considering their past performances at the position. But I did write at the time: "Call me an optimist, but I believe Matt McGloin will be more effective at quarterback now that he's got a more modern offensive system and peace of mind that he's the starter." Uh, yeah. McGloin led the Big Ten in passing yards (3,266) and passing touchdowns (24) while throwing only five interceptions. And he stayed healthy, keeping Penn State's youthful backups from getting exposed.
3. Nebraska (Preseason: 3): Taylor Martinez led the Big Ten in total offense and completed a career-best 62 percent of his passes. When he was good, he was as good as there was in the league. But he still struggled with turnovers in key games, including 12 interceptions and numerous fumbles. If he can eliminate the mistakes, the sky's the limit.
4. Michigan (Preseason: 2): The Wolverines are a hard to team to peg in these rankings. Do we rank them based on Denard Robinson's poor showings in big games against Alabama and Notre Dame? Do we rank them based on Devin Gardner's strong finish to the season, when he was as productive as any Big Ten QB? How much do we factor in the team's lack of a solid backup plan in the Nebraska loss when Robinson got hurt early? You have to weigh the good with the bad, which makes this spot feel about right.
5. Northwestern (Preseason: 9): Starting quarterback Kain Colter threw for 872 yards, which was nearly 450 yards less than nominal backup Trevor Siemian. But Colter also rushed for 894 yards and kept defenses off balance with his versatility. Meanwhile, the Wildcats could use Siemian when they needed to stretch the field. The next step for Northwestern is developing a more consistent downfield passing attack.
6. Indiana (Preseason: 11): Who would have guessed in the preseason that the Hoosiers would actually exhibit the best depth at quarterback? After starter Tre Roberson went down in Week 2, Indiana was able to plug in juco transfer Cameron Coffman and true freshman Nate Sudfeld to sustain the league's top passing offense. The three combined to throw for more than 3,700 yards. Coffman got the bulk of the work but needed a better touchdown-to-interception ration than his 15-to-11 mark.
7. Purdue (Preseason: 1): We overrated the Boilermakers' depth in the preseason. It turned out that only one of the trio of former starters performed at a high level, and Robert Marve didn't play enough because of a torn ACL and Danny Hope's misguided insistence on sticking with Caleb TerBush. Purdue actually led the Big Ten in passing touchdowns (30) and finished third in passing yards, but much of that was because the team often had to throw the ball a lot after falling way behind. This ranking could have been higher with a full season of Marve.
8. Wisconsin (Preseason: 8): Danny O'Brien quickly showed that he was not the next Russell Wilson, but luckily the Badgers had some depth. Redshirt freshman Joel Stave showed major promise before his season was derailed by a broken collarbone, and Curt Phillips turned in a nice comeback story by managing the team well down the stretch. Still, Wisconsin ranked last in the Big Ten in passing yards.
9. Michigan State (Preseason: 10): It was not exactly a season to remember for first-year starter Andrew Maxwell, who was benched late in the Spartans' bowl game. But for all his struggles, Maxwell still finished No. 4 in the league in passing and had some nice games in the middle of the year.
10. Minnesota (Preseason: 6): What could MarQueis Gray have done if he hadn't hurt his ankle, prompting an eventual move to receiver? True freshman Philip Nelson took over the reins midseason and broke out with a huge first half against Purdue. However, he failed to throw for more than 80 yards in the team's final three regular season games. Nelson led the team with just 873 passing yards on the season, and the Gophers threw 15 interceptions.
11. Iowa (Preseason: 4): Nobody took a bigger tumble than the Hawkeyes, as James Vandenberg went from a 3,000-yard passer as a junior to often looking lost as a senior. He completed only 57.3 percent of his passes and tossed only seven touchdowns, with eight interceptions, and Iowa showed almost no ability to go vertical. And no other Hawkeye attempted a pass all season.
12. Illinois (Preseason: 7): The Illini had experience at the position with Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole, but they were both part of a wildly dysfunctional offense. Illinois was next-to-last in passing yards in the Big Ten and also had just 11 touchdown passes versus 14 interceptions. In fairness, both QBs were often running for their lives and had very little help.
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.
Assistant coaches are like nose tackles. They don't get nearly enough credit despite playing vital roles.
Today, we'll change it up and give some recognition to Big Ten assistant coaches who did exemplary jobs with their position groups or, in some cases, units in 2012. Each of these coaches fostered improvement this season. Some took units in bad shape and made them better. Others took units in decent shape and made them very good. Some entered the season with skeptics and quieted them.
We came up with 13 assistants who deserve recognition. Yes, we realize we're leaving out some quality folks, but we had to cap it somewhere and wanted to spread the love around to the different teams.
Here's the rundown in alphabetical order:
Chris Ash, Wisconsin, defensive coordinator/secondary: All the attention on the offense's turbulent season took the spotlight away from the good things happening on the defensive side. Wisconsin finished in the top 25 nationally in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and pass efficiency defense. The Badgers held nine opponents to 21 points or fewer and gave an inconsistent offense chances to win every time out. Ash will be missed as he joins ex-Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema at Arkansas.
AP Photo/Nati Harnik, FileTim Beck, right, coordinated Nebraska's Big Ten-leading offense for head coach Bo Pelini.
Tracy Claeys, Minnesota, defensive coordinator: An improved defense sparked Minnesota to a 4-0 start and eventually to bowl eligibility for the first time since the 2009 season. The Gophers pass rush showed life for the first time in years as senior end D.L. Wilhite and others put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Minnesota was especially good against the pass, ranking 11th nationally and 20th in pass defense efficiency. Although the offense remains a work in progress, Minnesota should be pleased with the direction on defense under Claeys.
Adam Cushing, Northwestern, offensive line: Cushing's recruiting ability always has stood out, but his coaching skills had been questioned as Northwestern struggled to convert promising line prospects into powerful blockers. The Wildcats went from a finesse offense to a power offense this season, blasting off of the line to the tune of 230.9 rush yards per game. Red zone offense went from a weakness to a strength as Northwestern tied for 17th nationally. Cushing's line paved the way for star running back Venric Mark.
Rich Fisher, Nebraska, wide receivers: Nebraska isn't known for its wide receiver play, but things are changing under Fisher's watch. Led by standout sophomore Kenny Bell, the Huskers' top three receivers combined for 1,657 yards and 11 touchdowns on 115 receptions. Just as important, the receiving corps helped Nebraska's bread-and-butter run game with effective blocking throughout the season. Fisher's hiring after the 2010 season raised some eyebrows, as he had taken a break from college coaching, returned to the high school ranks and also served as a golf instructor in Massachusetts. But he definitely looks like a great addition to Bo Pelini's staff.
Patrick Higgins, Purdue, wide receivers: Higgins played a significant role in Purdue's late-season surge, as he took over the offensive play-calling duties after coordinator Gary Nord suffered a severe back injury. Purdue won its final three games with Higgins and head coach Danny Hope handling the play calls. Higgins also did a nice job with Purdue's wide receiving corps, despite the fluctuating quarterback situation. Three veteran Boilers receivers eclipsed 40 catches and 300 receiving yards, and redshirt freshman Dolapo Macarthy showed promise.
Seth Littrell, Indiana, offensive coordinator/tight ends/fullbacks: Head coach Kevin Wilson brought in Littrell to boost Indiana's passing attack, and Littrell delivered despite losing starting quarterback Tre Roberson in Week 2. Indiana went from 80th nationally in pass offense to 19th, leading the Big Ten with 311.2 yards per game. With help from assistant offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kevin Johns, Littrell managed the quarterback situation pretty well as both Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld had success. Littrell will go largely unnoticed because of Indiana's low profile and 4-8 record, but he was one of the Big Ten's best coaching additions for 2012.
Curt Mallory, Michigan, secondary: Michigan's defensive line dominates the spotlight because that's where coordinator Greg Mattison and head coach Brady Hoke put their primary focus, but Mallory has done a really nice job with a secondary that struggled mightily under the previous regime. Despite losing promising cornerback Blake Countess to a torn ACL in the season opener, Michigan still finished second nationally (behind Nebraska) in pass defense (155.2 ypg allowed). Safety Jordan Kovacs has blossomed under Mallory's watch, and while the depth in the secondary isn't where it will be eventually, Mallory has managed things well.
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsBart Miller went from grad assistant to coach of a Wisconsin O-line that pummeled its way to Pasadena.
Reese Morgan, Iowa, defensive line: Iowa didn't have much to cheer about in 2012, and some of the staff changes Kirk Ferentz made led to some growing pains. Morgan faced a significant challenge in moving from offensive line to defensive line, which returned only a handful of players who had logged field time in 2011. Given the youth and inexperience along the Hawkeyes' defensive front, Morgan did a nice job in Year 1. Joe Gaglione had a nice senior season (9 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles) and young players like Louis Trinca-Pasat showed promise. The line held its own in the first half of the season before struggling late.
Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State, defensive coordinator: Many of these assistants took questionable units and improved them. Narduzzi led an elite defense that entered the season with high expectations and met them. Make no mistake: Michigan State's defense is the only reason the team found itself in every game this season. The Spartans had a few standouts, namely linebacker Max Bullough, but their overall team defense and stinginess stood out. Narduzzi is one of the nation's premier coordinators and should land a head-coaching job in the near future.
John Strollo, Penn State, tight ends: Although O'Brien's offense is a tight end's dream, Strollo did a terrific job of developing young and unproven players this season. Redshirt freshman Kyle Carter emerged into one of the Nittany Lions' top passing threats, and junior Matt Lehman and true freshman Jesse James also stepped up at times. Of Penn State's top five receiving-yards leaders this season, three players are tight ends (Carter, Lehman and James).
Ed Warinner, Ohio State, offensive line/co-offensive coordinator: Warinner took an underachieving Buckeyes offensive line with serious depth questions and turned it into quite possibly the best line in the league. The Buckeyes' front five turned a corner in Big Ten play and created lanes for Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde and the Big Ten's top scoring offense. Warinner was the Big Ten's best assistant hire of the last offseason and earns our vote as the league's top assistant in 2012.
The four major awards -- Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Freshman of the Year -- will be revealed Tuesday night. We will have our official blog endorsements for each of these throughout Tuesday, so be sure to check in.
To clarify, we don't have official votes for All-Big Ten (not like we cover the league closer than anyone year-round or anything, but we're not bitter), but we will reveal our own all-conference team at a later date.
For now, we're going to give our opinions on some of the key debates surrounding this year's all-conference team.
You'd probably have to be wearing aluminum foil on your head right now to actually believe in such a thing. But the Nittany Lions have felt they've been on the wrong side of too many calls this season, and a key fumble ruling in Saturday's 32-23 loss at Nebraska only added to the frustration, especially for senior quarterback Matt McGloin.
“To reset: Penn State was driving in for a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter when McGloin hit tight end Matt Lehman for a short pass from the Nebraska 3. Lehman was hit and fumbled the ball into the end zone, where the Huskers recovered for a touchback. However, replays appeared to show that Lehman broke the plane with the ball before it got knocked loose. Penn State definitely thought it was a touchdown, but the call was upheld after an official review.
We're not going to get that call here. We're not going to get that call ever, actually, against any team. It doesn't matter who the refs are. That's the way it is.” -- Penn State QB Matt McGloin
After the game, referee John O’Neill issued this statement: “The ruling on the field was a fumble short of the goal line. It went to replay and the replay official said the play stood based on the views he had. It’s ultimately his decision.”
McGloin could barely contain his frustration in a postgame interview, which you can watch here in a video taped by Audrey Snyder.
"We're not going to get that call here," McGloin told reporters. "We're not going to get that call ever, actually, against any team. It doesn't matter who the refs are. That's the way it is."
When asked why he said that, McGloin responded, "Why do you think? That's the way it is, man. Write what you think."
McGloin later said that the team had an us-against-the-world mentality and knew that it was "not going to get any help whatsoever" from the officials. He also tweeted out a slow-motion video of the play.
The clear implication here is that McGloin believes Penn State is still being punished for the Jerry Sandusky scandal and NCAA probation. Head coach Bill O'Brien was asked if he thought there was some kind of conspiracy to make Penn State lose.
"We don't feel like anyone is out to get us," O'Brien said.
You can't blame McGloin for being upset with losing such a tough game on the road, and maybe it was just the heat of the moment getting to him. But there is a genuine feeling among some Penn State fans that the team has not gotten its share of breaks this season.
Cornerback Stephon Morris had a more levelheaded response when asked about the controversial call.
"The referees did the best they could, but we put ourselves in that situation," he said. "We could have gotten some more third-down stops, we could have stopped [Nebraska quarterback Taylor] Martinez and we could have stopped the run. You can't leave the game in the referees' hands. We know that. They're not perfect. Nobody's perfect. That's just on us."
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Serious-minded Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is not usually one to make a lot of wisecracks when talking to the media.
But Pelini couldn't help but joke after his team pulled off yet another comeback from a double-digit deficit, this time to beat Penn State 32-23 on Saturday.
"I'm going to call the Big Ten and spot 'em 14 points, and we're good to go," Pelini said.
At this point, if you're a Nebraska fan or an opponent victimized by these zombie-like Huskers, you can't do much else but shake your head at the absurdity of this team's ways. Down 17 at home in the third quarter to Wisconsin? No problem. Trailing by 12 with six minutes to go at Northwestern? No sweat. Behind by 10 with a little more than seven minutes to play? We got this.
Some teams walk a tightrope. Nebraska jumps a motorcycle over a lake full of alligators while on fire. Team officials say the Huskers' four second-half, double-digit comebacks this season lead the nation and are the most in school history.
So when Penn State ran to the locker room with a 20-6 lead after 30 minutes on Saturday, there was no panic for the home team.
"The vibe at halftime was, 'All right, it's 0-0,'" running back Ameer Abdullah said. "We do this every week. We know what to do."
Pelini said he was hoping his team could the score by the fourth quarter. It surprised him by striking for two touchdowns in the first 5:23 of the second half to shift momentum their way. But this is Nebraska, so it still wasn't easy.
The Huskers wouldn't take their first lead until there was 10:57 left to play. And they caught a major break after that, when tight end Matt Lehman fumbled a potential go-ahead Penn State touchdown into the end zone for a Nebraska touchback.
Replays appeared to show that Lehman broke the plane just before losing the ball, but an official review upheld the fumble call. Nittany Lions quarterback Matt McGloin later tweeted out a video of the play and hinted in a postgame interview that referees had it in for Penn State because of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
AP Photo/Dave WeaverNebraska coach Bo Pelini cheers on Saturday as his team pulled off its fourth double-digit rally in the second half this season.
Fumble or not, the fact remains that the Huskers outscored Penn State 26-3 in the second half, holding the Nittany Lions to just 136 total yards after halftime. The Blackshirts defense was clearly bothered by Penn State's hurry-up "NASCAR" offensive package, burning three defensive timeouts and getting caught with too many defenders on the field several times in the first half.
"They went to the hurry-up and we couldn't adjust well," defensive lineman Cam Meredith said. "A lot of times we were looking at the sideline and not getting the call. We came up with a solution."
The answer was brilliantly simple, as Nebraska decided just to go with the same defensive alignment every time Penn State went to the no-huddle. It worked, as Daimion Stafford grabbed a key interception against McGloin and the Huskers later forced McGloin into an intentional grounding in the end zone for a safety.
Nebraska forced three turnovers, for once coming out on the right side of that battle. That doesn't mean it was all good news, though, as quarterback Taylor Martinez fumbled the ball inside the Penn State 5 to ruin a scoring chance, and Tim Marlowe muffed a first-half punt return to set up a Nittany Lions touchdown. The Huskers entered the day tied for second-to-last in the nation in lost fumbles, and they gave two more away to run their season total to minus-16.
Slipperiness with the ball isn't supposed to translate to winning. Yet, like an eccentric billionaire, Nebraska keeps succeeding despite its erratic behavior. Its offense leads the Big Ten in scoring and yardage despite all the turnovers and the slow starts. What could the Huskers do if they ever cleaned all that up?
"The sky's the limit," said Abdullah, who had his sixth 100-yard day of the season with 116 yards on 31 carries. "We've yet to play our best game offensively. We say we want to play our best game in our last game, and we've got a couple of games left."
Believe it or not, there is some method to this comeback madness. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck says opposing defenses have thrown new looks at the Huskers all season long in an effort to slow down their deep cast of offensive skill players.
"There are some games where we might as well not even practice," he said. "Because what we're seeing isn't what we're practicing against."
Beck said it often takes a couple of quarters to figure out just what is happening and then adjust to it. On Saturday, the Nittany Lions used some blitzes and schemes that Beck hadn't seen on film from them all year.
Beck's offense also is designed to wear opponents out with its high-tempo pace and speed. That's one reason the Huskers kept running toss sweeps to different sides of the field, making Penn State's thin defense run from sideline to sideline all game. The Nittany Lions looked gassed by the fourth quarter.
That doesn't mean Nebraska would like to continue this particular pattern of falling behind, turning the ball over and mounting wild comebacks.
"It's enough already," Martinez said. "We need to start getting ahead."
But this particular brand of crazy works for them. After losing 63-38 at Ohio State on Oct. 6, Pelini told his team it needed to win out to claim a Big Ten title. Four straight wins later, the Huskers are in control of the Legends Division. They need only to beat Minnesota at home next week and win at struggling Iowa in the season finale to reach the Big Ten championship game.
"That's four down, and we've got two more to go," Pelini said. "We just have to stay the course."
The same crazy, winning course.
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska never makes things easy for itself and especially not its fans. But the No. 16 Cornhuskers keep on winning.
Down 20-6 at halftime against Penn State, the Huskers engineered one of their patented second-half comebacks and held on for a 32-23 victory at Memorial Stadium.
The win keeps Nebraska in first place of the Legends Division and gets it one step closer to playing in the Big Ten championship game. Here's a quick look at how it went down:
It was over when: Justin Blatchford broke up Matt McGloin's fourth-down pass attempt with under three minutes to play. But the game-changer came with 5:02 left, when McGloin was called for intentional grounding in the end zone. That penalty resulted in a safety and gave Nebraska the 29-23 lead and the ball. Nebraska scored two touchdowns in the first 5:23 of the second half to tie the score, the second one coming after a McGloin interception deep in Penn State territory.
Game ball goes to: Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez. He had another costly turnover, fumbling the ball inside the Penn State 5 to short-circuit a scoring opportunity. But Martinez still gets the job done. He completed 12 of 20 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown and carried 15 times for 104 yards. Ameer Abdullah also rushed for 116 yards on 31 carries.
Stat of the game: Penn State had 255 yards and 20 points in the first half. In the second half, Nebraska held the Nittany Lions to 136 yards and just one field goal. The Huskers outscored the Nittany Lions 26-3 in the second half.
Unsung hero of the game: Nebraska's Brett Maher shanked a 16-yard punt into the heavy wind earlier in the game. But with Nebraska needing to punt with about 5:40 to go, he unleashed a 69-yarder that went out of bounds at the Penn State 2. That pin job directly led to the safety.
Second guessing: Penn State was about to take the lead late when McGloin hit tight end Matt Lehman on a short pass near the goal line. But Lehman fumbled into the end zone, and Nebraska recovered. Replays appeared to show that Lehman crossed the plane before he fumbled, but the ruling was upheld after an official review. Bottom line: Lehman has to hold onto the ball there.
What it means: Go ahead and write Nebraska into the Big Ten title game, if not with permanent marker then at least with a finely-sharpened No. 2 pencil. The Huskers need only to beat Minnesota at home and Iowa on the road to claim the Legends Division title and a berth in Indianapolis because of their head-to-head win over Michigan. They are too good to lose to either of those teams, so a rematch of the 30-27 win over Wisconsin on Sept. 29 appears all but inevitable.
This week's impact player: Stephon Morris, senior cornerback
Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez might be the best pocket passer this secondary sees all season -- and he loves to go after cornerbacks. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Martinez is completing 55.1 percent of his passes thrown over 15 yards. And the intermediate to deep routes should again be on showcase vs. Penn State.
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Here are NittanyNation's Week 11 storylines:
1. Matt McGloin vs. Taylor Martinez. They're the best pocket-passers in the Big Ten. Martinez boasts 18 touchdown passes, and so does McGloin. McGloin is completing 62.1 percent of his passes, Martinez is at 62.9 percent. McGloin combines for 271 passing and rushing yards a game, Martinez for 290. These quarterbacks will have a big say in whether their teams win, and all eyes will be on how these two play. If McGloin -- who has fewer interceptions -- can outplay Martinez, he might just play himself onto the All-Big Ten team. But that won't be an easy task; Nebraska has the No. 5 pass defense in the nation.
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Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten) at Indiana (4-5, 2-3), Noon, ESPN2: It's true. We have an actual large and meaningful Big Ten game in Bloomington. In football. The surprising Hoosiers can pull even with Wisconsin and would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker for the Leaders Division spot in the Big Ten title game if they can win their third straight conference game. Let's put that in perspective: Indiana won a total of three Big Ten games from 2008-11. So, yeah, this is all a bit new. The Badgers have had two weeks off to try and figure out their new situation at quarterback (our money is on Curt Phillips). Their defense will be under pressure to stop an IU passing game that has caused everybody fits this year. Wisconsin has won seven straight in this series by an average of 34 points.
Penn State (6-3, 4-1) at No. 18 Nebraska (7-2, 4-1), 3:30 p.m., ABC: The Huskers can't clinch the Legends title yet, but they can take one more giant step toward Indianapolis with a win this week in their toughest remaining game. Penn State can't go to the postseason but will have a huge say in both division races, with this game and remaining ones against both Indiana and Wisconsin. This game features the top two passers in the league in Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and the Nittany Lions' Matt McGloin. If you just woke up from a four-month coma and read that sentence, we forgive you for feeling very disoriented.
Northwestern (7-2, 3-2) at Michigan (6-3, 4-1), Noon, ESPN: Devin or Denard? That will be the big question this week for Michigan, which did just fine with Devin Gardner replacing Denard Robinson at quarterback last week. Northwestern had its own quarterback drama before seemingly settling on Kain Colter as the full-time option. The loser of this game can pretty much kiss its Legends hopes goodbye.
Minnesota (5-4, 1-4) at Illinois (2-7, 0-5), 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network: The Gophers built a little offseason momentum by upsetting Illinois in last year's season finale. Now they need to beat the Illini to gain postseason eligibility for the first time since 2009. Minnesota has won its last three trips to Champaign, while Illinois has lost 11 straight Big Ten games dating back to last season.
Purdue (3-6, 0-5) at Iowa (4-5, 2-3), Noon, BTN: You'd be hard-pressed to find another game this weekend featuring two fan bases less enthusiastic about their teams. The Boilers have been in a five-week tailspin that might well cost Danny Hope his job, while Iowa has lost three straight in disheartening fashion after a promising 2-0 start in league play. The Hawkeyes still have a chance to get to a bowl but must win here and then upset either Michigan on the road or Nebraska at home on Black Friday. The Boilers have Illinois and Indiana left, so a win here would keep their faint postseason hopes flickering.
Byes: Ohio State, Michigan State
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)
Through eight weeks, the Big Ten has just one quarterback ranked among the nation's top 30 in pass efficiency (Nebraska's Taylor Martinez at No. 15). The league has just one quarterback in the nation's top 30 in completions per game (Penn State's Matt McGloin at No. 19). The league has zero quarterbacks ranked in the nation's top 30 in total passing yards.
As former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce told me last month, "A team can't get cut short at that position. I don't know whether the evaluation of the quarterbacks has been wrong, or they had injuries or whatever, but the quarterback position is down in the Big Ten. There's no doubt about that."
Bruce is right. There's no doubt. But there's also hope on the horizon for a league that hasn't had a quarterback selected in the first round of the NFL draft since 1995 (Penn State's Kerry Collins).
Team of the week: Penn State. Plenty of candidates this week, as Michigan ended Michigan State's four-game winning streak in the rivalry, Nebraska got a much-needed road victory and Wisconsin kept chopping in the Axe series. But no team was as impressive as the Nittany Lions, who went on the road in a hostile atmosphere and simply dismantled Iowa from start to finish in a 38-14 win. That was as complete a performance as you're going to see in this league, and as Adam wrote on Saturday, Bill O'Brien's team is no longer just a nice little story.
Greg Bartram/US PresswireBackup quarterback Kenny Guiton led the Buckeyes to an overtime win against Purdue on Saturday.