Big Ten: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
9:00
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Recognizing the best and brightest from Week 4 in the Big Ten:

Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: Handing out this first helmet sticker was as easy as it gets. Let’s go straight to the stats: Gordon finished with 253 rushing yards and five TDs -- on only 13 carries. Thirteen! Heck, Gordon would’ve earned a helmet sticker if those kinds of numbers came on 31 carries. It was the fewest carries needed for a back to gain 250 yards since at least 2000. And the last time a Big Ten team gained so many total rushing yards (644) was in 1927, when Minnesota finished with 663 and gas cost 15 cents a gallon. Gordon's performance -- in Wisconsin’s 68-17 win over Bowling Green -- might be the most dominating one we see all year.

Indiana defense: No need for a double take. Indiana’s defense may have never before earned a helmet sticker, but it certainly deserved one this weekend. Missouri came in averaging 42 points a game, but the Hoosiers limited the No. 18 team in the nation to just 27 points while forcing seven punts and 11 tackles-for-loss in the unlikely 31-27 upset. But, most importantly, it held the Tigers when it needed by allowing three points on Mizzou’s final three drives. When Mizzou reached the Indiana 20 with about three minutes to go, it couldn’t get anything going and settled for a field goal. That set the stage for a great Indiana comeback, one set up by an unlikely-but-solid defensive effort.

Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: The front-runner for Big Ten offensive player of the year made it look easy again on Saturday. He set a career-high with 35 attempts and made them count by racking up 229 rushing yards (6.5 ypc) and two TDs -- in addition to a 3-yard catch for a receiving TD. He touched the ball just about every other offensive play in Nebraska's 41-31 win over Miami. The Hurricanes entered this game as the 16th best run defense in the nation.

Iowa QB C.J. Beathard: His stats on Saturday won’t blow you away -- 7-of-8, 98 yards -- but it’s clear this offense was different when Beathard was under center. Exhibit A: Iowa had just four offensive possessions in the second half and scored on three of them. Exhibit B: He made two critical third-down throws and ran for a fourth-down conversion on Iowa’s game-winning drive in the 24-20 win over Pitt. Iowa tailback Mark Weisman deserves a shoutout, but Beathard deserves the helmet sticker. He had a QBR of 97.3 -- it only goes up to 100 -- and the Hawkeyes wouldn’t have won without him.

Minnesota RB David Cobb: How important was Cobb to the Gophers’ 24-7 win over San Jose State? Well, first off, Minnesota completed just one pass, so there was really no other offensive support to speak of. And, second of all, Cobb accounted for more than 53 percent of the Gophers’ entire offense as he rushed for 207 yards and two touchdowns. Minnesota ran 65 offensive plays, and Cobb ran the ball 34 times. San Jose State knew what was coming, but it couldn’t stop him anyway. Cobb averaged 6.1 yards a carry.
Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.

1. The Big Ten can step up in key games: After two weeks of justified bashing, the Big Ten deserves some credit for bouncing back nicely in the last meaningful Saturday of nonconference play. The league went 3-0 against the ACC and recorded a huge road win against a ranked SEC opponent as Indiana stunned No. 18 Missouri in Columbia. Iowa finally found its swagger -- and, potentially, its new quarterback (C.J. Beathard) -- in rallying to beat Pitt. Nebraska didn't lose its composure in a chippy game against Miami and outlasted the Canes behind star back Ameer Abdullah. And both games against MAC teams -- Michigan State-Eastern Michigan and Wisconsin-Bowling Green -- turned into routs by the Big Ten squads. Michigan remains a black eye for the league, but everyone else took a step forward and the Big Ten bolstered its record against Power 5 opponents. It doesn't erase the damage done the previous two weeks, but the Big Ten can feel a little better as league play cranks up next week.

[+] EnlargeRalston Evans
Ed Zurga/Getty ImagesIndiana had plenty of reason to celebrate on Saturday after notching a signature win over No. 18 Missouri.
2. Indiana is back on track: Same old Hoosiers. That's what everyone said in Week 2 when an Indiana defense that hasn't stopped anyone for two decades let Bowling Green march downfield for the game-winning score. The loss made bowl eligibility seem unlikely and raised questions about the program's direction under fourth-year coach Kevin Wilson. And then Indiana did the most un-Indiana-like thing imaginable: beat Missouri on the road, 31-27, thanks in large part to its defense. The Hoosiers limited Missouri to one second-half touchdown, and Tevin Coleman (132 yards rushing, one touchdown) showed why he's one of the nation's best big-play backs. It added up to the biggest win of the Wilson era and the biggest in recent memory for IU. The coaches and players deserve a ton of credit for rebounding from the Bowling Green setback. IU has teased us before, but a win like this suggests the program is truly turning a corner under Wilson.

3. Michigan's offense is just getting worse: Brady Hoke hired Doug Nussmeier to fix Michigan's offense and save his job as head coach. But Michigan's offensive woes clearly run deeper than the playcaller, as the unit has amazingly managed to backtrack this year. The Wolverines have yet to reach the red zone in 23 drives against Power 5 opponents (Notre Dame and Utah). The turnover troubles that plagued them in the past have only intensified, as four more giveaways against Utah leave Michigan with 12 on the season and a minus-10 turnover margin. There was a rock-bottom feeling about the 26-10 Utah loss, which ended at a mostly empty, waterlogged Michigan Stadium following a weather delay. Athletic director Dave Brandon repeatedly gave Hoke a vote of confidence before the season, but if the offense doesn't improve in Big Ten play, Hoke could be in serious trouble.

4. B1G's newcomers are better than expected: The Big Ten might have added Maryland and Rutgers because of their favorable locations, but the league is getting an added bonus so far this season. Both programs could be undefeated and both have won two games away from home in the first three weeks. Maryland responded from a last-second loss to West Virginia and beat Syracuse, 34-20, behind big plays in all three phases. Will Likely continued his excellent season with an 88-yard pick-six, while quarterback C.J. Brown and running back Brandon Ross connected on a 90-yard score on a screen pass. Rutgers beat an always-tricky Navy team, 31-24, in Annapolis, Maryland, despite losing star running back Paul James in the first half. Quarterback Gary Nova responded from his five-interception debacle with a clean performance (12-of-15 passing, no interceptions), and running backs Justin Goodwin and Desmon Peoples picked up the slack with James sidelined.

5. Melvin Gordon is going to be just fine: Until Saturday, things had not gone as expected this season for the Wisconsin star. He barely saw the field in the second half of a Week 1 loss to LSU and was held to 38 rush yards on 17 carries against FCS opponent Western Illinois in Week 2. But after an early fumble against Bowling Green, Gordon could not be stopped. He rushed for a career-high 253 yards, the most by an FBS back this season, and tied the team record with five touchdowns in a 68-17 win. And he did it on only 13 carries, recording the best single-game yards-per-carry average (19.5) in team history by a wide margin (14.5 was next best). Gordon even put himself in the company of the great Glenn Davis, as he's tied with the Army star for the NCAA career yards-per-carry record (8.26). Although Gordon will face better defenses this season, he appears to be just fine for Big Ten play. "The unselfishness of Melvin Gordon ... has been incredible," Badgers coach Gary Andersen said. "I'm so proud of the way that he's handled it. Today was his day."

Nebraska 41, Miami 31

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
11:59
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video Ameer Abdullah ran for 229 yards in No. 24 Nebraska's 41-31 victory over Miami.

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 4

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
8:00
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The chances to bolster the leaguewide résumé are running low, and the Big Ten already has squandered almost all of them. Can it turn things around today before conference action picks up in earnest next week? Or is more of the same from the past couple of Saturdays on tap starting at noon?

There's only one way to find out, and here’s the blueprint for following all the action (all times Eastern):

Noon games

[+] EnlargeJames Conner
Gregory J. Fisher/USA TODAY SportsIowa's schedule doesn't get any easier, as it comes off the loss to Iowa State with a tough matchup at Pittsburgh.
Iowa (2-1) at Pittsburgh (3-0), ESPNU: So much for that supposedly easy schedule. The Hawkeyes have strangely been unable to run the football, which made their conservative play calling a problem in last week’s loss to Iowa State. The Panthers are more talented and Iowa must travel to play them, which could present a real test for coach Kirk Ferentz.

Eastern Michigan (1-2) at No. 11 Michigan State (1-1), BTN: The Spartans had some extra time to regroup after the loss at Oregon, and that doesn’t bode well heading into the last two weeks of nonconference action for their opponents. First up is Eastern Michigan, which will have its hands full with Connor Cook and what so far seems to be a much more dangerous offense for the reigning conference champs.

Western Illinois (2-1) at Northwestern (0-2), ESPNews: The bye week was definitely not a time to rest for the Wildcats or Pat Fitzgerald, who certainly wasn’t expecting to be in this early hole as the nightmare year for the program continued with two early losses. If Northwestern didn’t find some answers ahead of the visit from Western Illinois, there’s not much left to look forward to this fall.

Southern Illinois (3-0) at Purdue (1-2), BTN: There were signs of life from the Boilermakers in the loss against Notre Dame, though in the end they didn’t have the talent to hang around for four quarters. Purdue’s non-Big Ten slate wraps up this weekend, and it could surely use a confidence boost before hosting Iowa next weekend.

Bowling Green (2-1) at No. 19 Wisconsin (1-1), ESPN2: The Badgers are still something of a mystery at this point thanks to an off date last week following a relatively uneventful win over FCS-member Western Illinois. The Falcons already have a win over a Big Ten team and can wear defenses out with their up-tempo attack, which might make this a good time for Melvin Gordon and the Wisconsin running game to get rolling.

Maryland (2-1) at Syracuse (2-0), 12:30 p.m., GamePlan: This matchup might be better suited for the hardwood, but the Terrapins and Orange could put on a pretty good show in pads at the Carrier Dome. Maryland has proved capable of putting up points in bunches while Syracuse relies on its defense, leaving an intriguing contrast of styles before Randy Edsall’s team dives into its first Big Ten action.

Midafternoon games

Utah (2-0) at Michigan (2-1), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2 mirror: Brady Hoke usually takes care of business at the Big House, but this could be a difficult matchup with Utah scoring at least 56 points in each of its first two games. If this turns into a shootout, the Wolverines and quarterback Devin Gardner will have to protect the football much better than they have so far this season to build some momentum for Minnesota’s visit next week.

Rutgers (2-1) at Navy (2-1), 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network: Even in a losing effort, the Scarlet Knights impressed in their Big Ten debut last week against Penn State. Rutgers can create problems with its stout defense and nearly won last week despite getting almost no offensive help, though Navy could easily pose problems with its tricky triple-option rushing attack.

Massachusetts (0-3) at Penn State (3-0), 4 p.m., BTN: The wins may not be all that overpowering, but the Nittany Lions are undefeated -- and for now, that’s enough to make them contenders in both the Big Ten and nationally until the outcomes change. Christian Hackenberg should have some chances to add to his résumé again this week as he faces a UMass defense allowing 35 points per game.

San Jose State (1-1) at Minnesota (2-1), 4 p.m., BTN: Uncertainty continues to swirl around the quarterback position for the Gophers, but whether or not Mitch Leidner plays again this week, the rushing game figures to be front and center. The two programs met last season, and Minnesota exploded for 353 rushing yards and won easily while completing just five passes.

Texas State (1-1) at Illinois (2-1), 4 p.m., ESPNews: The Illini and their high-powered offense hit a stumbling block last week at Washington, but they’re back home again Saturday afternoon and looking to unleash Wes Lunt again through the air. If Illinois is serious about making a push for bowl eligibility this season, this is a game the Illini can’t afford to overlook with a trip to Nebraska looming.

Indiana (1-1) at No. 18 Missouri (3-0), 4 p.m., SEC Network: Bowl projections for the Hoosiers almost certainly banked on a victory last week at Bowling Green, but that one slipped away and Kevin Wilson’s program now is a bit behind schedule in the win column. A soft defense continues to plague Indiana, and that could be an issue against a Missouri offense that has scored at least 38 points in each of its three wins so far.

Night game

Miami (2-1) at No. 24 Nebraska (3-0), 8 p.m., ESPN2: The latest polls might not reflect it, but this is still a prestigious matchup packed with historical significance. Having already lost and coming in unranked, the Hurricanes aren’t as close to competing for college football’s top prize as the Huskers. But if Bo Pelini and his team can knock off Miami to stay unbeaten, that might be a victory that resonates as the season progresses.

Bye week

Ohio State

Required reading

Nebraska kicker Bondi suffers injury

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
4:30
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Nebraska will be without junior placekicker Mauro Bondi on Saturday against Miami.

Bondi, who handles kickoffs for the Huskers, suffered a broken clavicle in a motorcycle accident on Thursday in Lincoln, coach Bo Pelini said in a statement released Friday.

"We wish him the best for a quick recovery," Pelini said.

The coach did not specify an amount of time that Bondi is expected to miss.

He is 1 for 1 on field goals this year as a backup to freshman Drew Brown. Bondi has accounted for 12 touchbacks on kickoffs this year. Nebraska ranks eighth nationally with 14 touchbacks. Behind Bondi, it ranked sixth nationally with 48 touchbacks in 2013.

Miami visits Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska, to face the 24th-ranked Huskers at 8 p.m. in a game telecast on ESPN2.
Miami and Nebraska have a storied history of intense battles -- none more epic than the 1984 Orange Bowl that ended in a national championship for Miami. This season marks the 30th anniversary of the game, so we decided to ask the men who lived it to take a look back at two of the most memorable plays that contributed to the 31-30 outcome.

Watch the videos, then take a listen to former Miami and Nebraska players and coaches as they detail what they remember 30 years later.

video

Former Miami safety Kenny Calhoun and linebacker Jacinto "Jack" Fernandez discuss the infamous trick play from the defensive side of it. Listen Listen

Former Nebraska guard Harry Grimminger, center Mark Traynowicz and tackle Scott Raridon along with their coach Tom Osborne recall the infamous fumblerooskie that brought the Huskers back within 10 points after they fell into a 17-0 hole in the first quarter. Listen Listen

video

Former Miami defensive end Kevin Fagan along with Calhoun and Fernandez remember Nebraska's failed 2-point conversion that gave Miami its first national championship. Listen Listen

Raridon, Grimminger and Osborne discuss Nebraska's decision to go for the win and the heartbreak that comes with losing the national title by one point. Listen Listen
The time is running out to make a splash outside of the Big Ten, a league that collectively has been having a hard time keeping its head above water so far this season.

Some have obviously had it better than others, particularly since Nebraska and Penn State both have spotless records. But the ghastly overall mark for the league in matchups with Power-5 members has left a few teams facing critical must-win games in the middle of September, either for the sake of playoff contention, a push for a bowl bid, or just to show any signs of life at all.

Heading into Week Four, the Big Ten blog crew takes a look at which program needs a victory the most -- and there were plenty of options.

Adam Rittenberg: Iowa

It's still fairly early in the 2014 season, but Iowa has yet to play a good game. The Hawkeyes were fortunate to beat Northern Iowa and extremely fortunate to beat Ball State before falling last week to Iowa State. The run game struggles are utterly baffling, and it's critical Iowa gets Mark Weisman, Jordan Canzeri and Co. going against a Pittsburgh team that ranks ninth nationally against the run. A Hawkeyes defensive line pegged to be the team's strength must step up against James Conner. This game has no bearing on whether Iowa wins the Big Ten West Division, as I predicted before the season. But Iowa has looked nothing like a league title contender, and something needs to shift in a hurry.

Austin Ward: Indiana

The Hoosiers have already fallen behind the projected win schedule that would send them back to the postseason, so even at this early stage they’ll likely need to pull an upset to get back on track. So Indiana has a pressing need, but it probably also has the longest odds of getting a victory as it heads to Missouri. The problem that has plagued Kevin Wilson’s program again popped up in the shootout loss to Bowling Green, and that’s troubling given all the offseason talk about making defensive adjustments and improvements to complement the high-powered offense. The combination of tailback Tevin Coleman and quarterback Nate Sudfeld makes Indiana a dangerous opponent for anybody -- even the reigning SEC East champions. But without a few stops against the Tigers, the Hoosiers could find themselves in a hole before conference play even starts.

Josh Moyer: Rutgers

Believe it or not, a lot is on the line for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are coming off an incredibly emotional loss after they played in front of the biggest crowd in school history in a game in which an RU player said “could change New Jersey and Rutgers football forever” -- if Rutgers won. The Knights can’t afford another letdown, or else they could very well see a Northwestern-like fall with their tough schedule. Not only do they have the East Division to contend with, but they also face Nebraska and Wisconsin. In other words, after Tulane next week, it’s not going to get any easier. Rutgers needs a confidence boost before the schedule gets harder, and a win against Navy could be just what it needs.

Dan Murphy: Nebraska

Not all is lost for the Cornhuskers if they don’t hold off a fast Miami team, but no team can do as much to help themselves and the Big Ten as a whole as Nebraska can Saturday night. Bo Pelini’s group is one of two undefeated teams left in the league. Get past Miami and Nebraska should be in good shape for a 10-win season. A victory against an out-of-conference opponent with some brand-name cache will help the Big Ten save a little bit of face in its last real chance to do so. That could help the Huskers if they make a run toward the College Football Playoff, or it could help the overall resume for whatever Big Ten team knocks them off to win the conference title.

Mitch Sherman: Michigan

The Wolverines are closing in on the one-year anniversary of their 42-13 win over Minnesota. Why is that significant? It’s the last victory about which Michigan could actually feel good about. Since, Michigan is 4-7. Its two wins this season reveal next to nothing about the ability of Brady Hoke’s team to play to always lofty expectations. In its lone chance to build momentum this season, Michigan laid an egg against Notre Dame. The Wolverines need to beat Utah like the human body needs food. Their players need it. Their coaches need it. Their fans need it. A win would surpass in prestige any that a Big Ten team has achieved this season. A loss could send the Wolverines into a spiral -- just in time for the big meeting with Minnesota.

Big Ten's top recruiting visits 

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
10:00
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There aren’t many big, exciting home games for the Big Ten this week, but the few that are playing at home are making the most of it. Nebraska, Illinois and Michigan will all have big recruiting visitors for their game.

Here is a look at who is visiting and why they’re important.

Our reporters will periodically offer their takes on important questions in college football. They'll have strong, though often differing, opinions. We'll let you decide who is right.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
AP Photo/Nati HarnikBo Pelini's Huskers are close to returning to national prominence.
Nebraska and Miami renew a unique rivalry on Saturday night in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Cornhuskers and Hurricanes have played 10 times -- the past five in bowl games, four of which crowned the national champion. Most recently, Miami beat Nebraska in the 2002 Rose Bowl. Since the Canes joined the ACC a decade ago, neither program has made it to a major bowl game.

So today's Take Two topic: Which is closer, Nebraska or Miami, to a return to the top of college football?

Take 1: Mitch Sherman

I'll go with the Huskers, though almost by default as Miami continues to feel its way through the new world order in college football, having lost five games or more in six of the past eight seasons. Sure, Miami uses a proven recruiting formula under Al Golden, but that's the problem. Florida State does it better. And so does half of the SEC.

Some might make similar claims about Nebraska. After all, the Huskers play in the Big Ten, where Ohio State resonates more deeply with recruits, and Penn State has seized momentum in recent months.

At least the Huskers have stability. Say what you want about coach Bo Pelini's lack of championships, but his teams have played in league title games three times in his six years, and he's never won fewer than nine games. Those 9-4 and 10-4 records do little to soothe the feelings of Nebraska fans who long for the glory years, but that era is long gone.

This week, Nebraska can take some solace in knowing that it's closer, by the numbers, to regaining elite status than Miami. And the weak Big Ten, despite conventional logic, might help Nebraska, which has upgraded its talent while others in the conference have not.

A win over Miami would complete an unbeaten nonconference season. Hurdles remain in the league, but for the Huskers, a re-emergence nationally is closer than many envision.

Take 2: Matt Fortuna

[+] EnlargeMiami
AP Photo/Alex MenendezAl Golden's ability to recruit in talent-rich Miami bodes well for the Hurricanes.
The idea that Miami has not played in a single ACC championship game yet is perplexing. Instead, the men's basketball team is the one that can claim a league title. Go figure.

Looking down the road, though, I think the Hurricanes have the more direct path back to their glory days, or at least at getting closer to what they once were. For one: Location, location, location. There is simply too much talent in Miami for this program ever to fall on down times. Golden, in his fourth year, has taken advantage of this, on pace for his fourth straight top-15 recruiting class. Let's not forget that this was also a program that was operating under the black cloud of the Nevin Shapiro scandal for two-plus years.

The same argument that the Big Ten provides a clearer path for Nebraska can be used for the ACC and Miami; the Coastal Division is a mess. But the most promising aspect for the Canes may be just that: promise.

Yes, fans want more out of this regime, which has lacked some punch at times. But there is still time to clean things up and for Miami -- which, we should note, has had some pretty awful luck with injuries offensively -- to improve. What Pelini has done in Lincoln is no small task, and I do think he is taken for granted, but I wonder if he has maxed out there. That may be tough to accept for a fan base that is so used to dominance, but as you said, that era appears gone.

What isn't gone is the talent in Florida, and in the Southeast. By virtue of its location, and by surviving a potentially program-crumbling scandal, Miami at least has the upside to make a return to the top of the college football world a possibility in the not-so-distant future.

Big Ten morning links

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
8:00
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Let's take a look at some of the more interesting quarterback situations this week ...

1. Will the real Gary Nova please stand up?: The Rutgers quarterback has reached a turning point. Again. In 2013, he started off hot with 13 touchdowns to four picks through the first five games – and finished the rest of the season with five TDs to 10 interceptions. In 2012, he started off hot with 15 TDs to three picks through the first seven games – and finished the rest of the season with seven touchdowns to 13 interceptions. It seems as if that leash gets shorter and shorter ever year. Because, this season, he started off well the first two games – with six TDs to one pick – before throwing five interceptions and no touchdowns against Penn State. Throughout his career, Nova has been the model for inconsistency. And this is his final year; this is his final turning point. NJ.com’s Steve Politi wrote this past week that Kyle Flood risks losing the team if keeps starting Nova. Well, Nova is starting again. If he can’t rebound this week, then it’s about time Nova sees the bench. It’s boom or bust for Nova this week. We’ll see whether he can actually bounce back now that he’s a veteran.

2. Weird Wiscy QB situation: So, Joel Stave still has the “yips,” and Tanner McEvoy is still the starter. Regardless, we really don’t know what to expect from McEvoy yet. McEvoy looked as if he rebounded from an awful, awful opener by going 23-of-28 last Saturday. But that was against FCS team Western Illinois -- and the Badgers led by a score of just 9-3 at halftime. Western Illinois dared Wisconsin to pass by stacking the box and, yes, McEvoy fared well there. But I’m not convinced. And you shouldn’t be either. Bowling Green is a better team than the Leathernecks, and this game should help prove what contest for McEvoy was an anomaly: The first against LSU, where he went 8-of-24, or the second one. Teams are going to keep daring Wisconsin to pass, and 23-of-28 performances likely aren’t going to be the norm for this quarterback. We’ll see.

3. Purdue’s Danny Etling deserved the start: Remember last season when Purdue’s depressed crowd rose to its feet when Etling entered a game for the first time, despite trailing 27-7 against Northern Illinois? Well, needless to say, that excitement’s since been a bit tempered. Etling didn’t look so great against Central Michigan two weeks ago, and his job was in jeopardy last week. Darrell Hazell stuck with him against Notre Dame, and Etling looked good in the first half. This isn’t breaking news: Purdue is not a good team. But I’m inclined to believe that Etling’s performance against Notre Dame was the norm, as opposed to CMU. Etling has grown a lot since his true freshman season, and teammates raved about the good decisions he was making in the spring -- as opposed to practice a few months before. Etling is a talented quarterback without much talent around him. Like it or not, he gives the Boilermakers the best chance to win … even if that “win” ceiling stands at about four right now.

Now, on to the links ...

East Division
West Division
  • Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong said he'd give his play so far this season a grade of a "C."
  • Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian said he wants to play Saturday but, ultimately, it's "up to the trainers."

Big Ten Week 4 predictions

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
9:00
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Week 4 features a new voice in the predictions mix as our new Big Ten reporter Dan Murphy jumps into the fray. It also features a handful of games our writers disagree on, including games involving programs that desperately need to rebound with a win this week.

 

Why Iowa will win: Call me a contrarian if you'd like (I've been called much worse), but Iowa seems to rise up at the unlikeliest of times. Pitt has looked way better than the Hawkeyes this season. The Panthers can run the ball (James Conner has 544 rush yards and eight touchdowns), while Iowa can't (393 rush yards, four touchdowns). Panthers coach Paul Chryst, the former Wisconsin assistant, knows the Hawkeyes well. So of course I'm going with Iowa, which will discover its run game and force two second-half turnovers to rally for the win. Iowa 21, Pitt 20 -- Adam Rittenberg

Why Pitt will win: Adam did a pretty good job of making my argument for me. This game hinges on who wins the battle between Iowa’s front seven and the Panthers’ running game. Conner's 214 rushing yards against Boston College in a 30-20 win look a lot more impressive this week after the Eagles held USC's entire offense to 20 rushing yards. Pitt also has some good experience in the secondary (CB Lafayette Pitts and S Ray Vinopal) that could put a dent in the strong completion percentage Jake Rudock has put together thus far. Pitt 27, Iowa 17 -- Dan Murphy

 

Why Syracuse will win: Beating MAC teams isn't easy, as the Big Ten can attest. Well, Syracuse went on the road last week and crushed Central Michigan, one of the better MAC squads, by 37 points, looking nothing like the team that was extremely fortunate to get by Villanova in its opener. The Orange are a different offense with quarterback Terrel Hunt at the helm, and they're stout in defending the run (opponents average just 2.7 yards against them). Maryland makes too many mistakes to get this win on the road. Syracuse 28, Maryland 24 -- Adam Rittenberg

Why Maryland will win: Maryland has shown an explosiveness on offense and special teams, but the Terrapins have lacked consistency. They will need to avoid the turnovers and wild mood swings on the road at Syracuse. Former Orange quarterback Randy Edsall's team has enough playmakers to get the job done. Maryland 31, Syracuse 27 -- Brian Bennett

 

Why Utah will win: Unless Brady Hoke’s unwillingness to talk about injuries is based around a desire to spring a surprise by unleashing a healthy secondary on the Utes, the Wolverines could have their hands full with Travis Wilson, the nation’s No. 2 quarterback in terms of passing efficiency. The jury is still out on Michigan’s offense as well, particularly since it was shut out at Notre Dame, its only true test so far, and has shown signs that issues protecting the football haven’t been solved. That’s not a good combination against a program that appears to be on the rebound and actually has prior experience winning at the Big House under Kyle Whittingham. Utah 34, Michigan 27 -- Austin Ward

Why Michigan will win: Utah is good, but it's no Notre Dame. The Utes' success so far this season has come against two lowly opponents -- Idaho State and Fresno State -- so they might be getting a little bit more credit than they deserve. Devin Gardner is a wild card, but I can't see him committing another four turnovers, at least not in the Big House. Michigan 31, Utah 28 -- Josh Moyer

 

Why Rutgers will win: Rutgers is actually an underdog against Navy, and this game has serious letdown potential after the Scarlet Knights got sky high for Penn State. Yet the Scarlet Knights have been very good against the run and have the defensive front to disrupt the Navy option. That will be enough to pull it out -- provided Gary Nova doesn't throw another five interceptions. Rutgers 24, Navy 21 -- Brian Bennett

Why Navy will win: The Scarlet Knights said there would be no letdown after the loss last week to Penn State. But Rutgers invested so much energy in the program’s first meeting in nearly two decades with the Nittany Lions that, yes, there will be a letdown. And be sure of this, Navy requires Rutgers’ full attention. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds is expected back from injury on Saturday to lead the nation’s No. 1-ranked rushing offense, which averages more than 400 yards. Rutgers looks equipped up front to defend the triple option with Darius Hamilton and a solid line, but Navy’s offensive efficiency will prove too much to overcome. It has won eight straight true home games dating to 2012. Make it nine. Navy 31, Rutgers 21 -- Mitch Sherman

Unanimous decisions

Illinois over Texas State, 38-21: The Illini running game finally emerges and opens things up for Wes Lunt to have a big second half in Champaign.

Missouri over Indiana, 42-27: The Hoosiers couldn’t help the Big Ten’s nonconference record against the MAC’s Bowling Green last week. They aren’t likely to turn that around against an undefeated SEC opponent.

Michigan State over Eastern Michigan, 52-3: Former Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden's last crack at the Big Ten doesn't go any better than the first time around. Mark Dantonio calls off his dogs after halftime to keep this one from getting uglier than it could.

Minnesota over San Jose State, 27-13: David Cobb and the Gophers show they are still headed in a good direction despite a disappointing showing against TCU last Saturday.

Nebraska over Miami, 34-31: The Canes have the talent to make it close, but they don’t have the quarterback to steal a game from a big-time opponent on the road yet.

Northwestern over Western Illinois, 24-10: Pat Fitzgerald keeps it simple and forces his team to play the bully role while trying to develop a new toughness in Evanston.

Penn State over UMass, 44-14: The Christian Hackenberg hype machine continues its crescendo toward a primetime matchup in the Big House in early October.

Purdue over Southern Illinois, 28-20: The Salukis put up a fight, but Danny Etling builds on a strong performance against Notre Dame to pull the Boilermakers to 2-2.

Wisconsin over Bowling Green, 33-7: Bowling Green won’t be able to sneak up on a well-rested Badgers team at Camp Randall Stadium.

Our records:

Mitch Sherman: 31-6
Adam Rittenberg: 29-8
Austin Ward: 29-8
Brian Bennett: 28-9
Josh Moyer: 27-10

Big Ten morning links

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
8:00
AM ET
Hitting on the hottest topics in the Big Ten before sweeping through the league ahead of another critical non-conference Saturday.

1. Minnesota's QB quandary: There's not exactly a controversy under center, since the Gophers have made it quite clear that Mitch Leidner is the top option to lead the offense. But for the second week in a row, there have been questions about his health, and therein lies the uncertainty that could turn this into a more pressing issue for Jerry Kill. The Minnesota coach pegged Leidner at 100 percent on his injured knee last week, but Saturday something else popped up with his foot -- though Kill shot down reports of a broken bone and seemed puzzled by where they came from. Backup Chris Streveler has appeared in all three games and was needed to finish the last two, and at some point if he keeps handling himself well and if Leidner's bumps and bruises remain a weekly topic of conversation, perhaps the Gophers may find themselves in the midst of a real controversy. This week it probably won't matter given the way Minnesota ran the ball all over San Jose State last year. But Michigan is looming next week, and the Gophers would likely be better off if they didn't have to keep answering questions about their starting quarterback.

2. Waiting game for Buckeyes: From the outside, the case seems pretty open and shut regarding Noah Spence's latest failed drug test and what figures to be permanent ineligibility for the All-Big Ten defensive end. But there hasn't yet been an official verdict handed down, so Ohio State coach Urban Meyer confirmed after practice Wednesday night that Spence was still practicing with the team while "doing things to get healthy." Given what would seem to be a long-shot appeal combined with the serious tone from the Spence family when they addressed a "medical illness" to the Columbus Dispatch last week, it is somewhat surprising that the star junior would be back on the field at all right now while each of those separate, but related, issues are sorted out. Meyer stressed that Ohio State was doing what it could to support him, and if Spence is eventually cleared for a return, everybody involved would surely want him ready to play again. So unless or until the Big Ten tells him otherwise, Spence is still working out with the Buckeyes and waiting for the next update on his status.

3. Heat is on Hawkeyes: The running game is struggling. The kicking game looked like a fire drill even when the field-goal unit hit a clutch attempt last weekend. Kirk Ferentz is under fire with his clock management skills being questioned. And after dealing with all that in the aftermath of the loss to Iowa State, the Hawkeyes have to hit the road to play unbeaten Pittsburgh before diving into conference play. Maybe Iowa could actually use that traveling time to bond and rally against the odds that seem to be stacking up against the program, because it's pretty clear the team needs a spark. The Hawkeyes were a trendy dark horse pick to win the West, and no matter what happens at Pitt it should be fine next week at home to open conference play against Purdue. But it's time for them to show they really have what it takes to contend this fall.

East Division
  • Brady Hoke explained the reasoning behind his unwillingness to address injuries.
  • Michigan State right guard Connor Kruse could be back in the lineup as early as next week.
  • Keys for Penn State as it looks to move to 4-0 to open the season.
  • The secondary has been key for Rutgers defensively so far this season, and it will need its safeties to play a big role against Navy.
  • Fixing problems on third down has been a top priority for Maryland this week.
  • Indiana receiver J-Shun Harris II is developing into another weapon for the uptempo offense.
  • Just more than a year after believing his football career might be over, Donovan Munger is providing depth at defensive tackle for Ohio State.
West Division
  • Danny Etling knows how to prepare. The Purdue quarterback might be overdoing it though.
  • Nebraska defensive backs are preparing for "the fastest receivers" they've ever gone against.
  • It doesn't appear Pat Fitzgerald is easing off the intensity at all coming off the bye week and as kickoff draws closer.
  • Injuries are dominating the headlines at Minnesota, but the offensive line is coordinator Matt Limegrover's biggest concern.
  • A look at the Texas State defense, which has some athletes who can provide a test for the Illinois offense.
  • Pressing questions for Wisconsin as it gets back to work against Bowling Green.
  • Iowa linebacker Quinton Alston said the Hawkeyes needed a "kick in the butt" after losing to Iowa State.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
5:00
PM ET
You've got questions, I've got answers. Let's move along to the Big Ten mailbag ...


Josh Moyer: Let's see here. Heisman-worthy candidate? Check. Two solid wideouts? Check. Best defensive player in the conference when healthy? Check. But there are a few things Nebraska needs to tweak, or sustain, to really put together a solid run. Let me give you my three key points. For one, the Huskers need to find ways to gain more turnovers. They have just one so far -- and it was an interception against McNeese State on a Hail Mary to end the game. Nebraska is dead-last in the nation in creating turnovers. So it needs to continue to take care of the ball but find ways to get that ball back, especially when it's on the road. Two, Tommy Armstrong needs to continue to make smart decisions -- but he has to understand he can't rely on the big play as much as before. This team is really living and dying on those big plays, instead of constructing sustained drives, so it'll have to adapt against better defenses. And three, if there's a part of the defense that hast to step up, it's the linebackers. They need to be more active and create more plays. If Nebraska does those things, I think you'll be seeing the Huskers in the B1G title game.

Andy from Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, writes: My biggest concern is that Jake Rudock is one of the leading rushers for Iowa. That's not a good thing! My impression is that he is taking off running on passing plays way too often. Is this a problem of the receivers not getting open or is it Rudock not giving the play enough time to develop?

Josh Moyer: There are all sorts of problems on Iowa's offense, but I don't think quarterback Jake Rudock is even close to being near the top of those concerns. He's completing 68 percent of his passes and has thrown one pick in 117 attempts. The offensive line bears some of the blame, but these issues also have to do with the play-calling. Opponents are loading the box against Iowa and, rather than airing it out or making opponents pay for that, offensive coordinator Greg Davis has opted to stick with a horizontal passing attack. Iowa's offensive gameplan is predictable and conservative, and that seems to be a big reason this offense is so out of whack. Rudock is simply taking off when he sees an opening, and he's done a relatively good job of that. You could argue he's taking off too much, but his unscripted running plays are more effective than the scripted runs: Rudock is averaging 4 yards a carry, more than a yard better than Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock. So you're right, it is concerning that Rudock is one of the leading rushers. But that's more a product of the concerning offense, rather than a concerning Rudock.


Josh Moyer: Realistically, I feel as if the most likely Penn State outcome is still an eight-win regular season, give or take a victory. But you specifically asked about the ceiling -- about the best-case scenario -- so I'll put that at 10. Yes, the Big Ten is down as a whole. And, yes, outside of Michigan State, there are really no "unwinnable" games. But as James Franklin said Saturday, winning tends to minimize issues while losing magnifies them. And Penn State still has quite a few issues -- namely the young offensive line. If you could substitute Wisconsin's offensive line here, I think PSU could realistically go 11-1 or better. But left tackle Donovan Smith appears to be the only above-average lineman, since center Angelo Mangiro really struggled Saturday against Rutgers. Christian Hackenberg has no time in the pocket, and there's virtually no run game of which to speak. I said this before and I'll say it again: Penn State's ceiling is capped by its offensive line. Ohio State should give PSU plenty of problems, and Michigan's defense is much more aggressive compared to last season. PSU fans should approach this conference season with cautious optimism.

Leland Buss rom Burlington, Wisconsin, writes: Why is Wisconsin trending downward? I thought the loss to LSU was a good loss. Am I wrong? The win against Western Illinois was solid if not spectacular, so why are they now being dismissed as contenders in the West?

Josh Moyer: Leland is referring to our Big Ten power rankings, where we dropped Wisconsin to No. 5 this past week. And it's a good question. But the Badgers' move had less to do with Wisconsin and more to do with how the teams above them performed. Nebraska dominated Fresno State, and Penn State turned in another solid defensive effort. Both teams are undefeated, and they deserve credit for that. Michigan State is the easy No. 1 and the Buckeyes ... well, their loss to Virginia Tech looks worse now than before. But Ohio State's passing game gives me a lot less pause than Wisconsin's. No one's discounting Wisconsin as a division contender. Iowa has looked pretty bad so far, and it sure seems as if the race in the West is between Nebraska and Wisconsin. If the Badgers can shore up their passing game, they'll be back near the top in no time.

Big Ten awards race tracker: Week 3

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
2:00
PM ET
Three weeks' worth of games are in the book. That's not enough to decide the individual award races in the Big Ten, but it won't stop us from figuring out where those races stand.

Our Big Ten reporters are voting weekly on the races, with players receiving five points for a first-place vote, four for a second-place nod, etc. Also, we try hard to base these standings on 2014 season results only, not any preconceived notions or a player's previous track records.

Here's how things shake out:

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (Five first-place votes): Abdullah gets the unanimous nod on offense as he continues to power up the Huskers attack.

2. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: He has become the master of the two-minute drive, and he leads the Big Ten in passing.

3. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: He leads the Big Ten in rushing yards (437) and rushing touchdowns (five) despite having played just two games. He's averaging 9.3 yards per carry.

4. Michigan State QB Connor Cook: His completion rate is over 68 percent, and Cook can build on his stats against Eastern Michigan and Wyoming the next two weeks.

5. Illinois QB Wes Lunt: He wasn't able to summon late-game magic at Washington in Week 3 but still is among the league's top passers.

Also receiving votes: Michigan RB Derrick Green; Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon; Minnesota RB David Cobb; Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong Jr.

Nagurski Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel (5): Another unanimous pick, Zettel has been a monster in the early going for the Lions. He leads the Big Ten in tackles for loss, with seven, to go along with three sacks.

2. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa: He's tied for the league lead with two forced fumbles, in addition to 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

3. Iowa DT Louis Trinca-Pasat: His strong start to the season continues, as he has four tackles for loss along Iowa's strong defensive front.

4. Wisconsin S Michael Caputo: He and the Badgers were off last week but should get a test from Bowling Green's fast-paced offense.

Also receiving votes: Penn State LB Mike Hull; Rutgers DE Kemoko Turay; Minnesota LB Damien Wilson; Michigan State DE Marcus Rush; Ohio State LB Joshua Perry.
Nebraska and Miami met five times in bowl games from 1984 to 2002, with the winner staking claim to the national title four times. Here’s a look inside the series at three of the most memorable games from an era gone past in college football:

1984 Orange Bowl: Miami 31, Nebraska 30


Turner Gill, Kevin FaganAP Photo/John RaouxKevin Fagan hounded Turner Gill in the '84 Orange Bowl as Miami won its first national title.


December 1983 rated as one of the coldest months on record in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The high temperature was 36 degrees on Dec. 8. The low? Minus-24 on Dec. 22, part of a weeklong stretch when the thermometer did not reach zero while the top-ranked Cornhuskers readied to play Miami in the Orange Bowl.

At the time, Nebraska practiced outdoors on frozen grass and AstroTurf. Four years later, the school built an indoor facility, spurred in part by the horrendous conditions of that month. When the Huskers arrived in Miami, players and coaches exited the plane in their winter coats. The heat and humidity hit them hard -– which was a factor as the Hurricanes jumped to a 17-0 lead on Jan. 2.

The 1983 Huskers averaged 50.3 points and 370.8 rushing yards per game behind quarterback Turner Gill and Heisman Trophy-winning I-back Mike Rozier. But in that Orange Bowl, Nebraska sputtered offensively as Rozier left in the second half with an ankle injury.

The Huskers pulled within one, but Gill’s two-point conversion pass failed in the final minute as Kenny Calhoun knocked the ball away from Nebraska I-back Jeff Smith.

The whole scenario couldn’t have worked any better for Howard Schnellenberger, the Hurricanes’ showman of a head coach who, in buildup to the bowl game, landed a helicopter on the Nebraska practice field in Miami, jumping out with a pipe in his mouth.

A wayward program just five years prior when Schnellenberger took charge, Miami won its 11th consecutive game to earn the school its first national title and first of four in a nine-year period.

And the Huskers, again under Tom Osborne, were left out in the cold.



1995 Orange Bowl: Nebraska 24, Miami 17


Warren SappAP Photo/Jeffrey BoanMiami's Warren Sapp was chatty, but Tommie Frazier and Nebraska got the last word and the win.


The story is part of Nebraska lore. Not the two-touchdown comeback or the prescient halftime vow to his team by Osborne that Miami would tire late -– well, that’s all legendary, too -– but Tommie Frazier’s version of the trash talk shared with Warren Sapp perhaps best symbolizes Nebraska’s rise to surpass Miami in this once-lopsided postseason series.

Osborne had replaced Frazier with Brook Berringer early, the arrangement in place for much of the 1994 regular season as blood clots sidelined Frazier for eight games.

When Frazier returned to field late in the fourth quarter, the Huskers trailed 17-9. Sapp, the Hurricanes’ boisterous defensive tackle, shot jabs at the junior quarterback.

“Where you been, Tommie,” Sapp shouted, according to Frazier.

“It’s not where I’ve been,” Frazier said in 2009, recounting the exchange. “It’s where I’m going, fat ass.”

With fresh legs, Frazier, the Florida native who came up two points short against Florida State a year earlier in the same stadium, gashed Miami on the option. With less than eight minutes to play, fullback Cory Schlesinger burst through middle for a 15-yard score. Frazier found tight end Eric Alford for a two-point conversion to tie it.

Less than five minutes later, with Frazier at the helm, Schlesinger scored again from 14 yards out. The victory secured Osborne’s first national title and one of three in his final four seasons as coach.

As usual in his college career, which concluded with 33 wins in 36 starts, Frazier had the final word.



2002 Rose Bowl: Miami 37, Nebraska 14


Andre Johnson, Daryl Jones, Carl Walker, Ken DorseyAP Photo/Mark J. TerrillMiami had 38 players go to the NFL, including Daryl Jones (L), Andre Johnson (C) and Ken Dorsey (R).


Six years before this most recent Nebraska-Miami meeting, the Cornhuskers fielded a team in 1995 that was considered by some as the greatest in history. Its average margin of victory approached 40 points. And true to form, Osborne’s team crushed Florida 62-24 in the Fiesta Bowl.

If only the 1995 Huskers could have met 2001 Miami. Because this Nebraska team had no chance. The Hurricanes, loaded with 16 future first-round NFL draft picks, blitzed the Huskers for 27 second-quarter points en route to a 34-0 halftime lead. Miami could have named its score, but coach Larry Coker showed mercy in the second half as the championship celebration began early.

The star power at Miami in 2001 was incredible, featuring running backs Clinton Portis and Frank Gore, quarterback Ken Dorsey, offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, tight ends Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow, safeties Ed Reed and Sean Taylor, linebackers Jonathan Vilma and D.J. Williams, receiver Andre Johnson, cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon and Mike Rumph, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork -- the list seems never-ending. In all, 38 players from that team were drafted. They accumulated more than 40 appearances in the Pro Bowl.

Miami outscored its opponents in 2001 by 33.2 points per game. Its offense, defense and special teams units each could lay claim to a ranking as the nation’s best.

And for all the work Nebraska accomplished in the '90s to close the gap on Miami’s dynasty of the previous decade, it looked wider than ever on Jan. 3, 2002.

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