Welcome to Big Ten Blast!
Indiana's Cameron Coffman threw for 315 yards last week; Wisconsin's Montee Ball leads the Badgers
This will be a regular weekly column where we will provide some news and notes from around the conference.
This is shaping up as another fun weekend of Big Ten football.
With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for postseason play, the top two eligible teams in the Leaders Division are Wisconsin and Indiana. They will collide in Bloomington. A Wisconsin win would sew up that division’s berth in the Big Ten title game. An Indiana win would create a tie with Wisconsin with two games left for each school.
Two of the winningest programs in the history of the game will collide in Lincoln as Nebraska hosts Penn State. Nebraska is tied with Michigan for the Big Ten Legends Division lead and can ill afford a loss at this late stage in the season.
Likewise, Michigan hosts Northwestern in another critical battle. Also this weekend, Purdue visits Iowa and Minnesota travels to Illinois. Michigan State and Ohio State will be idle this weekend.
Below, we look at each of these match-ups. Here goes this week’s Big Ten Blast:
Wisconsin at Indiana
With Ohio State and Penn State out of the Big Ten championship picture, Indiana (4-5, 2-3) comes into its final home game with a chance to control its own destiny in the race for the Leaders Division spot in the Big Ten title game.
But it will not be an easy task with two-time defending Big Ten champion Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2) visiting Memorial Stadium. The Badgers were idle last week after their stunning overtime loss to Michigan State (16-13) on Oct. 27.
Second-year Indiana coach Kevin Wilson lost his first 11 Big Ten games. But IU has won back-to-back Big Ten games for the first time in five years after wins over Illinois (31-17) and Iowa (24-21). Wilson is playing the underdog card, however.
“We’re 4-5 and 2-3 in the league,” Wilson said. “They don’t replay our games on the Big Ten Network and we always play in bad TV slots and we don’t get much coverage. We’re going to keep plugging along and doing what we’re doing. Wisconsin is coming in with a great team.
“The kids have bought into it. The seniors have set a good tone. We’re getting a little bit better every day. We’re just trying to have fun. For weeks – even earlier when we were struggling and not getting the results we wanted – we just talked about getting better every day. We have a lot of work we need to do. It’s nice our kids have stayed positive and we’ve gotten better. We’re still a young team and an immature team physically. We just have to take it day by day.”
This year, the Hoosiers have averaged 45,115 fans in their five home games at Memorial Stadium. That is almost 8,000 below the stadium capacity of 52,929. Indiana hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 1967 and has been to one bowl game in 19 years, so some are saying this is the school’s biggest home game in many years.
“The weather will be good and we have a tremendous opponent coming in,” Wilson said. “We’ve been in some exciting games. We have to keep building our fanbase and the best way to do that is our play on the field. We hope this week we will get a great crowd. We need to get this house built up for a change.”
The Badgers are known for RB Montee Ball and their big running game. But Wilson said you can’t sleep on UW’s defense, ranked fourth in the Big Ten in points allowed (17.6 ppg) and third in total defense (311.3 ypg).
“To me what no one talks about – because they are known for their running game and the offensive line – is the plays they make on the perimeter and they play great defense,” Wilson said. “They are back-to-back Big Ten champs and to me I think they are a heck of a team.”
Neither team will apparently name its starting quarterback before the game. Indiana has rotated Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld. Wisconsin spent the open week trying to find a replacement for Joel Stave, who was lost for the season with an injury. Either Danny O’Brien or Curt Phillips will start in his place.
Wilson was asked about game planning for the uncertainty.
“We don’t know who is going to start for us,” Wilson admitted. “Somebody asked me, ‘Are you going to tell them?’ I said, ‘No, somebody is just going to go out there first.’
“As for Wisconsin, we will prepare for what we see on tape and how we think we will be attacked.”
Wisconsin has won seven in a row over Indiana and 13 of the last 15 meetings. That includes a 59-7 decision last year in Madison. But UW coach Bret Bielema is not taking anything for granted.
“It’s their senior day,” Bielema said. “They have a lot of seniors who are playing very good football. They are playing very good football overall. It will be a tremendous challenge and one I know our guys are ready to take.
“They have two good quarterbacks. Whether it’s No. 2 or No. 7, they go in there and execute a lot of good things.”
Bielema admitted he is keeping his quarterback choice a secret. He admitted there may be an advantage to not announcing that choice. But he said he also wants to keep pressure off his quarterbacks as well.
“I know who is going to start,” Bielema said. “We want to continue to work both of those guys. Both of them have had some experience – Danny with the games he played this year and Curt with his experience here over the past several years.
“We have some other guys who have to step up. We have to make this transition for our quarterback as smooth as possible.”
After giving up 30 points in its Big Ten-opening loss to Nebraska, Wisconsin has kept its last four opponents under 20 points in each game.
“We’re not a flashy defense,” Bielema said. “We don’t go for sex appeal. Our D-line is probably as thick and as deep as it’s been since we’ve been here. I like the play of our defensive ends. It’s almost been by committee. We’ve had a lot of guys coming in and out.
“The key for us has probably been our linebacker play. Mike Taylor is a tremendous football player and his senior year he is playing extremely well. Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong are playing well. Now that we’re healthy in the secondary, we are doing some good things.”
Click here for coverage of Wisconsin from Badger 247.
Click here for coverage of IU athletics from Inside Indiana.
Penn State at Nebraska (18)
Nebraska (7-2, 4-1) stayed in its Legends Division tie with Michigan with last week’s dramatic 28-24 win at Michigan State. The Huskers return home to host Penn State (6-3, 4-1).
A win could keep the Huskers in the Legends Division lead, but NU coach Bo Pelini isn’t worried about the division race.
“We look at the small picture,” Pelini said. “I haven’t talked about any of that. Our guys know what’s at stake. All we are worried about is the next opponent and getting better today. We talk about living the process. It is a pretty consistent message.”
Penn State has hit the 30-point plateau in four of its five Big Ten games.
“It is more of a pro style offense,” Pelini said. “What they do, they do very well. They are well coached. They execute extremely well. (QB Matt McGloin) is a good player. Coach O’Brien has him playing really well and making a lot of good decisions and quick decisions. He is playing good football.”
With a win, Penn State can finish the year a perfect 4-0 in Big Ten road games.
“The Big Ten is a difficult conference and, obviously, on the road it’s an even more difficult conference,” said PSU coach Bill O’Brien. “We’ve got a big challenge at Nebraska. It’s going to be a tremendous environment. Hopefully our guys will embrace the challenge and stay focused.”
He added, "It's like Nebraska-Penn State. That's what college football is all about."
Sophomore wide receiver Allen Robinson has been quite a find for Penn State. Robinson leads the Big Ten in receptions per game and is second in receiving yards. He has caught 57 passes for 689 yards and eight touchdowns. He has stepped in after top returning starter Justin Brown transferred to Oklahoma over the summer.
“I got here after the Super Bowl and we started those winter workouts in February that you’re allowed to have,” O’Brien said. “You could see right away he was a big, smooth kid with athleticism. He could come in and out of cuts real well.
“When we got to spring practice, we saw he was a smart guy. He could play either receiver position. And he caught the ball well in the spring. We knew we had a guy who had a chance to be productive for us. He knew whether Justin Brown was here or not he was going to be a big factor in our offense.”
After the win over Michigan State, Nebraska moved up three spots in the AP poll to No. 18. The Huskers are also 16th in this week’s BCS rankings. Click here for more coverage from Huskers Illustrated.
Click here for more coverage of Penn State from Lions 247.
Northwestern at Michigan
Michigan (6-3, 4-1) rebounded from its loss at Nebraska and was able to dispatch Minnesota 35-13 last Saturday despite playing without starting quarterback Denard Robinson (elbow). Devin Gardner moved back from wideout and threw for 234 yards and two touchdowns in Robinson’s place.
“It was (decided) on game day as far as how much (Robinson) would come around,” UM coach Brady Hoke said of the decision to go with Gardner. “Devin stepped in and did a nice job for us. I thought our receivers did a nice job of coming to the forefront.
“I think we’ve known that since day one about his skill level and his intelligence. That wasn’t a surprise to us at all.”
The breathers are over for Michigan, which closes against Legends Division foes Northwestern and Iowa at home and at rival Ohio State on Nov. 24.
“We have a tough stretch the next three games,” Hoke said. “At Northwestern, Pat (Fitzgerald) does a great job with his team. They are playing physical football. Offensively, Kain Colter has had a tremendous year. Venric Mark is a dynamic football player who can get you a lot of ways.
“We have a long way to be the kind of team we want to be on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game.”
Northwestern won in its last trip to Michigan in 2008 (21-14), although the Wolverines won last year in Evanston (42-24). NU already has a bowl berth locked up, but NU coach Pat Fitzgerald is looking for more.
“We’re thankful for what we’ve been able to accomplish,” Fitzgerald said. “But at the end of the day, I don’t think we are playing the kind of football we are capable of playing. We can still improve. We worked hard the last week and we are focused on that right now. We have not yet put together 60 minutes of football they way we want to. We have to play clean football and find a way to win.”
Fitzgerald talked about Michigan’s play without Robinson.
“I thought Devin stepped in and did a good job,” he said. “He had a very good second half. They also did a good job of getting the ball into their playmakers’ hands. (Fitzgerald) Toussaint had a great game. The receivers made a bunch of plays, too.”
Northwestern is not ranked in the AP poll, but the Wildcats are rated 24th in the BCS rankings this week.
Click here for more coverage of Michigan from Wolverine 247.
Minnesota at Illinois
Minnesota (5-4, 1-4) still needs a victory to qualify for a bowl game. The Golden Gophers will be looking for just that as they visit Illinois (2-7, 0-5), which has lost six straight games by an average of 27 points.
UM coach Jerry Kill talked about the issues that have set his team back.
“It’s real simple,” Kill said. “We’ve had some guys open and had some opportunities for some runs, but we just haven’t made plays for us to be successful. Against Michigan, we had opportunities to make plays on offense and defense and we didn’t make them. A lot of it is just about making a play at a critical time.
“We spend a lot of time working on red zone. It’s getting a lot of attention and detail.”
For Illinois, one bright spot against Ohio State was the return of cornerback Terry Hawthorne. He led the Illini with 10 tackles, two tackles-for-loss and a sack. He also had 158 yards on kick returns, including a 45-yarder.
“It’s been huge,” Beckman said of Hawthorne’s return. “Terry got dinged up against Wisconsin and earlier in the season he had some ankle issues. He did a great job for us, not just on defense but also as a returner. We missed him being able to return for us. It was great having him back doing that last week.”
Purdue at Iowa
Something will also have to give as Iowa (4-5, 2-3) hosts Purdue (3-6, 0-5). After winning its first two Big Ten games, Iowa has dropped its last three. Purdue has four double-digit losses among its five Big Ten losses.
Purdue coach Danny Hope, staring at a fourth losing season in four years as the Boilers coach, was asked about a published report stating that Purdue was “sending out feelers” to potential coaching replacements.
“That’s news to me,” Hope said. “Anytime the team isn’t winning and there is rough sledding, there is speculation. I haven’t seen or heard anything.”
Hope, who got an extension after leading Purdue to a Little Caesars Bowl win last year, was asked if he has earned the right to return for a fifth year.
“I don’t know what it takes to earn the right,” he said. “We are disappointed in the performance of our football team so far this season but we’re not disappointed in the development of our football program. We’ve come a million miles in this program in the last 3-1/2 years. We’ve committed our lives to it. Our focus has been on making progress and getting our team ready to play.”
Former starting quarterback Robert Henry caught five passes for 54 yards in last week’s loss to Penn State.
“Rob is finally healthy,” Hope said. “That is a great thing for our team. He is one of our best athletes and very fast and very skilled. He also has good size. We have even thought about using him as a punt returner. We’ve put him in the backfield and he does a good job running the ball. He’s done well as a blocker on the perimeter. He’s also taken some snaps at the quarterback position and led a touchdown drive against Minnesota. He can do it all.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has liked the emergence of sophomore WR Kevonte Martin-Manley. He had seven catches for 131 yards and a touchdown in Iowa’s loss at Indiana.
“Kevonte is a tremendous young guy with a great work ethic,” Ferentz said. “We redshirted him two years ago. He did a nice job last year as our third receiver. He just continues to improve. He has a great attitude and great work habits. He is committed to being a good player. It’s been fun to watch him grow and develop. We are excited about the way he played this past Saturday and how he has played all season long.”
Iowa needs two wins in its last three games to reach a bowl game. After Purdue, Iowa visits Michigan and hosts Nebraska.
“We have to play better,” Ferentz said. “It’s pretty simple. We need to improve. That’s where our focus is right now. We have three games left. We have some good character guys who are completely invested. I expect to have a good week of practice and play a good game on Saturday.”
Click here for more Purdue coverage.
Click here for coverage of Iowa athletics from Voice of The Hawkeyes.
Sitting This One Out: Michigan State, Ohio State (5)
Michigan State (5-5, 2-4) and Ohio State (10-0, 6-0) will each be idle this weekend.
The Spartans are coming off a fourth bitter Big Ten loss, having dropped their four conference games by a combined 10 points. The loss to Nebraska was punctuated by a late pass interference penalty against MSU. Various MSU players took to Twitter afterwards to voice their displeasure.
“I haven’t commented on their Twitter at all,” MSU coach Mark Dantonio said. “I never saw them and I wasn’t looking for them at that particular time. I know there was a lot of frustration and I guess in this day and age people use Twitter to get their frustration out. Not that that’s right, but that’s what they do.”
Dantonio was asked about the nature of pass interference calls.
“It is incredibly difficult for defensive backs,” he said. “I know Nebraska also had a couple of pass interference calls as well. I’m sure they were close calls as well. I’m not going to respond too much past that.”
Michigan State still needs a win to become bowl-eligible. The Spartans wrap the year by hosting Northwestern and visiting Minnesota.
For Ohio State, coach Urban Meyer hopes his team won’t lose its edge after the bye week. His Buckeyes have tough match-ups left at Wisconsin and at home against Michigan.
“We have a bye week this week and it’s a chance for a couple of our injured players to get healthy,” Meyer said. “The concern is we played probably our best all around game on Saturday. It’s a concern when you lose your momentum. We want to keep them busy and keep them focused as we prepare to play an excellent team in Wisconsin.”
Meyer praised the play of sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier, who had 14 tackles in the win over Illinois.
“He did not grade as well as he did in the Purdue and Penn State games,” Meyer said. “His Purdue game was his best game as a pure linebacker. He is an athlete and he runs around and makes plays. He’s also out of position sometimes. I know he had a lot of production points, but (defensive coordinator Luke) Fickell would be the first to tell you he didn’t play his best game.
“There is still so much there. We are looking forward to coaching him this week because he can even be better.”
Meyer revealed Tuesday there is a “50/50” chance that linebacker Etienne Sabino will return against Wisconsin. Sabino has missed the last four games after suffering a broken leg against Nebraska Oct. 6.
Click here for more MSU coverage from Spartan Tailgate.
After the win over Illinois, Ohio State moved up one spot from sixth to a fifth-place tie with Georgia in the AP poll. Click here for more Ohio State coverage from Bucknuts.com.
* Michigan coach Brady Hoke was asked whether he and his team were checking the score of the MSU-Nebraska game last week.
“I’d be lying … We were checking in, let’s put it that way, on the way home,” Hoke said. “But we can’t worry about that. Opportunities come and go. We just have to worry about what we’re doing as a football program.”
* A year ago, Nebraska visited Penn State in the Nittany Lions’ first home game after the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke and the firing of coach Joe Paterno.
Pelini was asked about that week and the game, which Nebraska won 17-14.
“That was such a crazy time and you want to forget about that in a lot of respects,” Pelini said. “That was a crazy situation. But I give Penn State a lot of credit. They have moved on past it. They have done a good job of managing the situation and I think Coach O’Brien has done a remarkable job of pulling his team together.
“It’s great the way they have played given all of the circumstances they have been facing. That’s a credit to him and everybody in their administration.”
* At 10-0, Meyer has the fifth-best start to a coaching career in Big Ten history.
The best record to start a career at a Big Ten school is 29-0 by Michigan’s Fielding Yost. OSU’s Carroll Widdoes is next at 12-0 with OSU’s Earle Bruce and Michigan’s Bennie Oosterbaan next at 11-0.
* Meyer said he had a chance to watch the Alabama-LSU and Oregon-USC games. Now that his team has moved into the top five, he was asked about how they compare with the nation’s best.
“Those teams are playing at a very high level,” he said. “The common denominator for those teams is speed. That’s an area where we need to improve a little bit. But I certainly like to think we could play with those teams.”
* Players selected as Big Ten players of the week included:
Defense: Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier (14 tackles, two TFLs vs. Illinois)
Special Teams: Michigan State punter Mike Sadler (seven punts, 46.6 average vs. Nebraska)
Freshman: Ohio State RB Brionte Dunn (13 carries, 73 yards, one TD vs. Illinois)
Big Ten Standings
Ohio State (10-0, 6-0)
Penn State (6-3, 4-1)
Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2)
Indiana (4-5, 2-3)
Purdue (3-6, 0-5)
Illinois (2-7, 0-5)
Nebraska (7-2, 4-1)
Michigan (6-3, 4-1)
Northwestern (7-2, 3-2)
Iowa (4-5, 2-3)
Michigan State (5-5, 2-4)
Minnesota (5-4, 1-4)
Nov. 3 Games
Michigan 35, Minnesota 13
Indiana 24, Iowa 21
Nebraska (21) 28, Michigan State 24
Ohio State (6) 52, Illinois 22
Penn State 34, Purdue 9
Idle: Northwestern, Wisconsin
Nov. 10 Games (All Times Eastern)
Purdue at Iowa, noon (Big Ten Network)
Wisconsin at Indiana, noon (ESPN2)
Northwestern at Michigan, noon (ESPN)
Minnesota at Illinois, 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Penn State at Nebraska (18), 3:30 p.m. (ABC regional; ESPN2 outer market)
Idle: Michigan State, Ohio State (5)
Nov. 17 Games
Iowa at Michigan, noon (ESPN or ESPN2)
Northwestern at Michigan State, noon (ESPN or ESPN2)
Indiana at Penn State, noon (Big Ten Network)
Ohio State at Wisconsin, 3:30 p.m. (ABC regional, ESPN2 outer market)
Minnesota at Nebraska, 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Purdue at Illinois, 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
On Thursday, I made my picks for Week 10.
I am glad to finally say this was my best week yet.
I ended up 16-6 straight-up and 15-7 against-the-spread. For the year, I am now 185-59 SU and 119-114-1 ATS. I went from three games under .500 ATS to five games over.
In Big Ten games, I was 5-0 straight-up and 4-1 ATS. Through 10 weeks, I am 64-15 straight-up and 39-32 ATS.
Stay tuned this week for our Big Ten basketball preview as well as Picks for Week 11 later this week.