Tag:Purdue
Posted on: December 21, 2011 6:55 pm
Edited on: December 21, 2011 7:10 pm
 

Roundtable: Changes to the bowl schedule

Posted by Eye On College Football 


Occasionally the Eye on CFB team gathers, Voltron-style, to answer a pressing question from the world of college football. Today's question is:

What changes, if any, would you make to the current bowl schedule and/or bowl eligibility requirements?


Bryan Fischer: Any time you have a team like UCLA playing in a game at 6-7, I think it underscores that there needs to be a new rule that you not only be 6-6, but 7-5 at the very minimum. I get that the bowl games are a treat for the players but shouldn't we be rewarding winners and not the mediocre? The entire bowl system seems to have turned into the college football equivalent of a participation trophy. This, of course, ties-in with the line of reasoning that there are too many bowl games. At some point we'll get to the point where there's a good number of games for good teams but right now the excess causes mediocrity. For every crazy New Orleans Bowl finish we get, there's just as many Beef O'Brady Bowl duds it seems.

Tom Fornelli: I tend to agree with Bryan in that I'm not a big fan of 6-6 teams being rewarded for mediocrity, and I usually fall in line with the "there are too many bowl games" crowd, but then a funny thing happens every year. The games start, and they feature a couple of 6-6 teams, and I love them.

Yeah, there are some duds, but there are plenty of duds every Saturday during the regular season. So I think my personal criticisms from the current bowl system come from the fact that I'd like to see some type of playoff. A plus-one being the minimum of what I'd like to see.  So while I get extremely annoyed when I see that 6-6 Florida is playing 6-6 Ohio State in the Gator Bowl, I'm sorry, the TAXSLAYER.COM (bangs head, SIGN OF THE BEAST!!!) Gator Bowl, I'll probably still watch the game. I'm just a college football junkie, there's no way around it.

Jerry Hinnen: There's an easier fix for getting the UCLA-like riffraff out of the postseason than scuttling existing bowls: re-institute the discarded NCAA mandate that bowls must take teams with winning records ahead of teams with .500 (or sub-.500, in the Bruins' case) marks. "Too many bowls" is going to be a hard sell for the folks at places like Temple -- who unfairly sat at home after going 8-4 in Al Golden's final season last year -- or Western Kentucky, who should have gotten their first-ever FBS bowl bid after 2011's second-place Sun Belt finish and 7-5 record.

Cases like Temple's and WKU's are why, personally speaking, I'm fine-n'-dandy with the Participation Trophy Bowl circuit; not every game is going to be riveting theater (and matchups like UCLA-Illinois or Louisville-N.C. State promise to be quite the opposite), but it's not like anyone's required to watch. Should the seniors on that UL-Lafayette team we saw celebrating like they'd collectively won the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes Saturday night have been denied that once-in-not-even-most-people's-lifetimes experience just because a few college football diehards don't want to risk being bored?

Is the long-since-antiquated notion that bowl berths are for no one but mid-major champions and the top handful of major-conference programs worth brilliant Hilltoppers' running back Bobby Rainey ending his career without a bowl appearance? Not if you ask me--if the players want to play them, the the local organizers want to host them, it's not my place (or any fan's) to say they shouldn't. The number of bowls is fine; the way the teams are selected could just use a little pro-winning-record tweaking. Besides, give it another month and there won't be any college football at all. I'll take whatever I can get at this stage, Belk Bowl included.

(That said, it would be outstanding if the NCAA also prohibited the exorbitant ticket guarantees that have turned bowl trips into a financial sinkhole for so many smaller schools, but that's a separate issue from the scheduling/eligibility question.)

Chip Patterson: I too would like to see limping 6-6 BCS conference team taken out of the bowl equation, particularly when there are dangerous Non-BCS teams that have been left out of postseason play in recent years. One way could be to change the requirements to 7-5, but this season I thought of another wrinkle.

Instead of changing the bowl eligibility record/win total, add a stipulation that requires a team to finish .500 or better in league play. Many times, the 6-6 team that fails to show up for a bowl game has struggled down the stretch and enters the postseason with little-to-no momentum. If schools are going to benefit from conference tie-ins, make them perform in conference play to earn that right. A 6-6 team with a 3-5 conference record likely is not playing their best football at the end of the season, and might be a part of one of the dud bowl games we have seen recently.

I would also prefer to move the "gutter" bowl games back before the BCS and traditional New Years Day games. That stretch of bowls leading up to the National Championship Game is one of the places where we find unattractive matchups and lose college football excitement after the blitz of New Years Day. If those games were moved back before the New Year and the title game was pushed back to Jan 4-5, it would arguably be a better spot for college football to capitalize on the nation's interest. Not only does the average fan have to wait, but they have to be teased with games that would be better consumed in pieces during a Dec. 28 doubleheader.

Adam Jacobi: It's important to keep in mind that most of these lowest-tier bowls are media-owned entities, which were created and staged every year because from a media perspective, live televised FBS college football is more lucrative than anything else that could be aired in the middle of a December week. As such, if you want to get rid of these bowls, you had better come up with something that produces higher ratings for that network instead, otherwise, no amount of hand-wringing about the quality of the teams playing in bowls is going to result in any meaningful change. This is not a scandal or anything that should not be, mind you, because it does not negatively affect fairness of play or anything else of vital importance. It's merely the entity that stands to gain most from lowest-tier bowls being played, making sure that the lowest-tier bowls get played by owning and organizing them. That's just good business.

Moreover, if by some chance these lowest-tier bowls happen to disappear, as much as we're tired of seeing a 6-6 (3-5) BCS-conference team get into the postseason, let's not pretend that that team's going to be the first against the wall. It's going to be the also-rans of the MAC, WAC, C-USA, and every other non-AQ conference, because 90% of the time, those non-AQ schools draw lower ratings than their BCS-level counterparts. The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl between UCLA and Illinois is going to suck, but if we're being honest about what bowl organizers really want out of a team that they invite, UCLA and Illinois are going to keep getting bowl invitations over even 8-win teams like Tulsa, Toledo, or Louisiana Tech.

So if you're asking me what I would change about the bowl system, I wouldn't possibly know where or how to begin. The bowl system is a product of media desires and inequality in FBS football, so if you want the bowl system to be any different, you'd better figure out a way to fix either the media landscape or the college football landscape first, and well... good luck with that.

Tom Fornelli: What if we replace the mid-week December games with gladiator like competitions? In which players from each school battle each other to the death. The loser, obviously, dies and frees up a scholarship for the school. The winner gets extra credit in any class of his choosing!

WHO WOULDN'T WATCH?

Adam Jacobi: Well, that would certainly be heartbreaking for everyone involved.

I wouldn't mind it if the sponsors (or bowl organizers or the stadium) had a little bit of leeway in ground rules for these games. These are silly games anyway (unless I'm supposed to take something called the Beef O'Brady's Bowl completely seriously all of a sudden), so why shouldn't the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl be played with literally a giant potato for a football? Field goals in the Holiday Bowl worth 4 points if they're from more than 45 yards out? Fine by me! Special uniforms in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl designed to look like boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese? OF COURSE we should be doing that.

So yeah, as long as we're going to have ultimately trivial exhibitions end the seasons of so many teams, we might as well make said trivial exhibitions unique in ways that go beyond mere branding.

Tom Fornelli: These ideas have my full support.  Can you imagine how much better the Orange Bowl would be if they were using an orange instead of a football?

Chip Patterson: Did they change tires on car at half time of the Meineke Car Care Bowl? If not they should.  Same goes for the Belk Bowl. I think instead of a coin toss there should be a Dockers shopping spree to determine who gets the ball first.

Adam Jacobi: And if Hooters got involved, there would be... lots of wings available for attending fans to eat. And that is all.

To chime in on the bowl schedule debate, or offer your own changes; "Like" us on Facebook and let us know what you think.

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Posted on: December 15, 2011 12:40 pm
Edited on: December 15, 2011 12:46 pm
 

Little Caesars Bowl Key Matchup

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



A look at the key matchup that could decide the Little Caesars Bowl

Purdue CB Ricardo Allen vs. Western Michigan WR Jordan White.

Purdue has a problem. Their best defender by a mile and a half is defensive tackle Kawann Short, whose 17.5 tackles-for-loss led all Big Ten defensive tackles -- yes, ahead of All-Americans Jerel Worthy and Devon Still -- and made him the only Boilermaker on either side of the ball named to either the Coaches' or media's All-Big Ten first team. His 6.5 sacks weren't bad at all, either. But Western Michigan's quick, controlled passing game doesn't really care about trying to run up the middle (the Broncos were 8th in the FBS in passing but 87th in rushing), neutralizing much of Short's impact there, and getting to quarterback Alex Carder before he delivers the ball would be a challenge for any defensive tackle. No matter how good Short is, this doesn't look like the best matchup for him.

Which means the most pivotal defender for the Boilers will be corner Ricardo Allen, Purdue's best one-on-one pass defender and a second-team coaches' all-conference selection. Allen will almost certainly draw the assignment of covering receiver Jordan White, who we're confident will provide Allen with quite the challenge; White's only an All-American who led the nation in both receptions and yards and finished second in receiving touchdowns. And if Allen can't slow down White, the rest of the Boiler secondary is in real trouble; fellow Bronco seniors Robert Arnheim and Chleb Ravenell are tricky veterans who combined for 118 catches and 1,431 yards themselves.

But here's the good news: if Allen can slow down White, the entire WMU operation might slow to a crawl. Not counting a rout of FCS Nicholls State in which he barely played, White was only held below 100 yards receiving twice all season--once again Eastern Michigan, and once against Northern Illinois. In those games WMU scored a total of 32 points (nearly 4 points below their single-game average), posted their two lowest yardage totals of the season, and went 0-2. And if that Carder-to-White connection is disrupted, players like Short mean that the Boilers have far more capacity elsewhere for big plays vs. the Broncos than the Eagles or Huskies.

The task ahead for Allen is a tall one. But the rewards for his success should be substantial.

You can check out our extensive Little Caesars Bowl Pregame preview here
Posted on: December 14, 2011 1:32 pm
Edited on: December 15, 2011 12:45 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Little Caesars Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

PURDUE WILL WIN IF: They're focused and motivated, which isn't always the easiest task for Big Ten teams squaring off against MAC opposition in the postseason. And let's be honest--a Tuesday afternoon game in Detroit on Dec. 27 doesn't exactly scream MUST-WIN EPIC MATCHUP TO DECIDE FATE OF THE PROGRAM AND ENTIRE WEST LAFAYETTE WAY OF LIFE. It more kind of whispers "hey, guys, a win would be nice." The good news for Danny Hope: after three years of being shut out of a bowl game (including the first two years on Hope's watch), the Boilers should be excited to make any kind of postseason appearance, and they should have enough overall depth and talent to get past a 7-5 MAC team if they are sufficiently motivated. But we'd have said the same thing before their failed trip to Rice in Week 2 of this season, and Western Michigan is much, much better than Rice.

WESTERN MICHIGAN WILL WIN IF: Alex Carder and Jordan White do their thing. Of all the things either the Boilers or the Broncos do, the only one either side does especially well is Western Michigan throwing the ball; they're eighth in the nation at 329 yards per-game behind Carder's pro-grade arm, and White has received All-American notices after leading the FBS in yards and receptions. Purdue, meanwhile, isn't terrible at defending the pass but -- like we said -- isn't great at it, either, ranking 54th in opposing passer rating. Still, WMU hasn't always lived up to that air-it-out billing--Carder failed to top 233 yards in any game of a three-game midseason slump, during which time the Broncos went 1-2 and fell to Eastern Michigan. But as long as the usual Carder/White tag-team shows up, Purude may be hard-pressed to keep pace.

THE X-FACTOR: The Broncos aren't much to look at on defense, statistically speaking -- they finished 100th in total defense -- but they seemed to keep something in reserve for their "punching up" contests, holding Illinois to 23 points and less than 6 yards a play and UConn to 6.2 yards a play in a 38-31 road win. Both YPP marks were above WMU's average (despite them playing in the MAC) and has been a repeating theme under Bill Cubit. On paper the Boilers should certainly be able to make some offensive hay, but the Bronco resistance may be tougher than the numbers make it look.
Posted on: December 13, 2011 5:24 pm
 

Roundtable: Highlights, lowlights of bowl season

Posted by Eye on College Football



Occasionally the Eye on CFB team gathers, Voltron-style, to answer a pressing question from the world of college football. Today's question is:

What game are you most excited to watch this bowl season? Which game would you rather repair a leaky faucet than be forced to watch? And what under-the-radar bowl do you think will prove surprisingly enjoyable?

Tom Fornelli: There's three games that stand out to me as must-watches. The Fiesta and Rose Bowls present a couple of interesting matchups--a battle between Andrew Luck and Brandon Weeden should be a good time, and in the Rose we have two drastically different approaches to the run game. It's a classic Speed vs Strength showdown we see a lot when the Big Ten is involved.

Then there's the Alamo Bowl and what could be our last chance to see RG3 play in a Baylor uniform. Plus a game between Baylor and Washingtonshould give us plenty of points.
When it comes to games I'd like to avoid like the plague, I have to go with the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Two 6-win teams playing under interim head coaches? HOO BOY. Gotta get some of that! As for the game most people probably don't care about, but could make for a very entertaining four hours, I have to go with the next-to-last game of the season: The GoDaddy.com Bowl between Arkansas State and Northern Illinois. Not exactly a glamourous matchup, but a matchup that could feature so many points and big plays, and it's likely going to come down to who has the ball last. It'll be a great way to get my last offensive fix of the season before tuning in to see LSU and Alabama trade punts.

Bryan FischerEven though it's not on New Year's Day this year, no game gets me excited like the Rose Bowl does. The pageantry, the setting, and -- of course -- the game itself are just fantastic. This year in particular is a very interesting matchup, the speed and quickness of Oregon against the smash-mouth sytle of Wisconsin. Both have something to prove: the Ducks need to win a BCS game under Chip Kelly and the Badgers are looking to forget last year's loss. It should be another great BCS game out in Pasadena.

At the complete opposite end of the scale is the Little Caesars Bowl. Detroit in the middle of winter with a 6-6 Purdue team and 7-5 Western Michigan team is not exactly glamorous. If you want an example of why we have too many bowls, this is it. The blandness of the game would be too much for anybody to sit through if there weren't a MAC team involved. The Interim Head Coach Bo... excuse me, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl isn't must-watch either.

I feel like a lot of people are overlooking the Outback Bowl this year. Michigan State was thisclose to getting to the Rose Bowl and winning the Big Ten title, but now head out to Florida with so much attention on rival Michigan and newcomer Urban Meyer that everybody has forgotten the Spartans won 10 games this year. Likewise, Georgia ran off 10 straight during the season and are looking to end on a high note after last year's ugly bowl loss. Of the BCS games, I can't wait to see Andrew Luck go against the opportunistic Oklahoma State defense.

Adam JacobiCo-signed on the MSU-Georgia game; I think that's going to be outstanding. One game that completely underwhelms me is Texas-Cal in the Holiday Bowl. I preferred the days of yore, when the Holiday matched up a defense-optional WAC team (usually BYU) against a Big Ten or Big 8/12 team and let the sparks fly. I don't see sparks with Texas or Cal, I see an interminable slog. In fact, the closest thing we've got to an old-fashioned Holiday Bowl is the TicketCity Bowl, which pits pass-crazed Houston and Case Keenum against Penn State's ferocious defense. All year long, fans have groused that Houston wouldn't be able to replicate its aerial assault against a "real" defense, and Ds don't get much realer than Penn State, which has talent up and down the lineup and depth. Of course, with PSU's spotty offense, 20 points might be all the Cougars need to score to secure a win, but even that's not a guarantee. Should be interesting to watch. In terms of fan experiences, Iowa State's Pinstripe Bowl visit to Yankee Stadium to take on Rutgers -- the closest thing to a "home team" possible in NYC -- should be beyond cool. In terms of actual football, it's probably going to be a horror show. Pass.

Chip PattersonThe first attempt at football in new Yankee Stadium was both a dream and nightmare at the same time.  The awkwardly aligned field and another in-state Big East team should make for a unique environment, but the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl will be remembered for the infamous excessive celebration penalty on the final touchdown that likely cost Kansas State a shot at overtime.  Throw two wildly unpredictable teams like Rutgers and Iowa State on the diamond, and who knows what will happen; it might not be that bad.

So in addition to the Kraft Hunger Bowl, I'll pile on with the Independence Bowl as lacking some flavor, because both teams are looking towards the future.  Missouri finished the season with three straight wins to become bowl eligible, but are on their way to the SEC and will be without star running back Henry Josey thanks to a freak knee injury.  Everett Withers will be coaching North Carolina for this one game, but with Larry Fedora already hired as the next head coach there leaves very little inspiration for the Tar Heels' staff to make this a game to build on for the future.  I could be wrong, but the Tar Heels did not show a ton of fight down the stretch, losing four of their final six games.

On the positive side, I'm looking forward to seeing Dabo Swinney and Dana Holgorsen making their first BCS bowl appearances as head coaches, and the showdown of high-octane styles should make for some fireworks in South Beach. The Rose and Cotton Bowls both seem like very intriguing on-field matchups, and I'm setting two DVR's to catch Luck and Weeden dueling in the desert. But I would rather watch the entire Big East regular season on loop for 2 days straight than watch Pittsburgh and SMU in the BBVA Compass Bowl.  Pitt blatantly tried to get out of the bowl and June Jones is fresh off an embarrassing flirtation with Arizona State. No thank you, BBVA Compass. I'll put my money elsewhere. 

Jerry HinnenIt's not surprising that precious few college football fans outside of Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge seem all that pumped for a rematch of a touchdown-free 9-6 slugfest that (save for the Bryant-Denny atmosphere) played more like a lower-rung NFL game -- in its inferior second half, anyway -- than a battle between two of the best SEC teams of the past decade. If I'd had a vote, I'd have cast it for Oklahoma State, too. 

But I'm still more excited for Tide-Tigers II than any other game on the bowl slate, because this LSU team is maybe the most compelling, fascinating college football team I can remember watching. They produce fewer yards per-game than 74 other teams in the FBS (including such non-must-see attacks as UCLA's and Virginia's), but they still make for riveting viewing because of the anything-can-happen-at-anytime nature of their games. There's Tyrann Mathieu's game-swinging plays, the terror of Mingo and Montgomery off the edge, Jordan Jefferson's capacity to win or lose any game near-singlehandedly, the phenomenon that is Brad Wing and -- oh yeah -- the mad in-game tactics of Les Freaking Miles. And now this bizarre bayou witch's brew of a team takes on its deadliest rival, again, with the opportunity to become not just national champions but -- given their domination of the SEC, nonconference gauntlet, and potential twin victories over Nick Saban's best Alabama team -- one of the game's greatest champions of the past 25 years. Whether it's the "right" title game matchup or not won't make it any less historic, or thrilling.

As for which game I'm least enthused about, at least Bruins-Illini has Nelson Rosario and Whitney Mercilus going for it. Louisville-N.C. State in the Belk Bowl seems like the most average possible matchup between the most average possible teams in the most average possible BCS leagues; I figure I'll need to average a cup of coffee per quarter to make it to the end. (At least, if Victor Anderson doesn't save me). As for an under-the-radar special, Vanderbilt and Cincinnati both come into the Liberty Bowl with plenty to prove, exciting (and balanced) offenses, and one of the hotter young coaches in the game. Show me two evenly-matched up-and-coming teams at programs where bowl wins are still worth their metaphorical weight in gold, and I'll show you what should be an outstanding contest.
Posted on: November 29, 2011 3:58 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 4:24 pm
 

Big Ten announces 2011 individual award winners

Posted by Adam Jacobi

On Monday evening, the Big Ten announced its full slate of conference award winners -- the first such slate since the Big Ten added the trophies in addition to expanding to 12 teams and two divisions.

Here's a breakdown of all the trophies handed out by the Big Ten:

Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year: Russell Wilson, Wisconsin
ADAM SAYS: Wilson's resume this year is undeniably brilliant, and he's going to be in line for some national postseason recognition after finishing first nationally in passer efficiency. Kirk Cousins, meanwhile, shouldered one of the conference's worst rushing attacks and still finished third in the Big Ten in efficiency and emerged as a solid ambassador for the program, conference, and sport. From a strictly on-field standpoint, Wilson deserves this award to himself, but the Big Ten named its divisions "Legends" and "Leaders"; surely it won't turn around and say its trophies should be restricted to strict on-field accomplishments, will it? All of which is to say, I'd rather the conference had thrown Cousins a bone and split this award between Wilson and him. Wilson would have been an even bigger snub than Cousins, but they're both highly deserving of recognition.

Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year: Marvin McNutt, Iowa
ADAM SAYS: McNutt basically rewrote Iowa's receiving record books, and he looked at times like the best player on either side of the ball for the Hawkeyes this year. That he was left off the list of 10 Biletnikoff finalists is a joke. Illinois' A.J. Jenkins was a strong contender here, but his inability to get into the end zone even once during the Illini's six-game slump seals his fate as an also-ran. 

Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year: Montee Ball, Wisconsin
ADAM SAYS: Rex BurkheadMarcus Coker, and Silas Redd all had admirable efforts this year, but c'mon. Could this trophy possibly go to anybody else? With 1,622 rushing yards (1,870 total from scrimmage) and 34 total touchdowns, Ball is third on my list of 2011 Heisman candidates and far and away the best running back in the Big Ten this year. 

Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year: Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern
ADAM SAYS: 43 catches for 509 yards and six touchdowns is a great year for a tight end (or superback, as it would be), and to do so in a season with three different quarterbacks seeing significant action is an even better accomplishment. Dunsmore was one of the three or four best TE in the nation this year and a deserving winner of the Kwalick-Clark Trophy.

Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year: David Molk, Michigan
ADAM SAYS: If this award were given to entire offensive lines (which I would not mind), it would have to go to Wisconsin. At any rate, though, coming into the season, Ohio State's All-American Mike Brewster was the highest-profile center in the conference. It was Molk, however, who showed the most leadership and mashery over the course of the season. Hopefully, this award translates into All-American attention for Molk; he deserves it for the job Michigan did pushing the line of scrimmage forward on offense this year.

Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year: Devon Still, Penn State
ADAM SAYS: Illinois' terror at DE, Whitney Mercilus, would be the strongest contender for this award if Illinois hadn't collapsed down the stretch, but even that collapse is hardly on the aptly-named Mercilus; he led the nation in sacks and forced fumbles on the year (if Tyrann Mathieu is the honey badger for his six forced fumbles, what does that make Mercilus with nine? Galactus?). Devon Still was an absolute beast for Penn State, though, and his presence affected opposing game plans all season long. A split between Still and Mercilus would have been ideal.

Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year: Lavonte David, Nebraska
ADAM SAYS: Lavonte David's been even better than I thought he'd be this year, and he was my top preseason linebacker in the conference. No-doubter here. Look for Wisconsin's Chris Borland to be the leading candidate for this award next year; the former Big Ten defensive freshman of the year was strong in his return from a torn ACL this season, and he's got two more years of eligibility.

Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year: Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska
ADAM SAYS: Purdue CB Ricardo Allen is the only guy who could make a decent case for being snubbed here, but Dennard turned this defense into an absolute nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. He deserves this award.

Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year: Brett Maher, Nebraska
ADAM SAYS: The fact that Maher was snubbed for Lou Groza consideration despite missing zero kicks from 50 yards and in this year is an absolute travesty the likes of which we haven't seen since... well, last year, when Nebraska kicker Alex Henery was also snubbed from Groza finalist consideration despite being pretty obviously the best kicker in college football. Maher's bona fides aren't as strong as Henery's, but he's still the best kicker in the Big Ten and should have been named a Groza finalist all the same.

Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year: Brett Maher, Nebraska
ADAM SAYS: Oh, stop showing off, Nebraska.
Posted on: November 13, 2011 5:15 am
 

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 11



Posted by Adam Jacobi


A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNERS: Nebraska and Penn State

It's hard to know what to say about the Nebraska-Penn State game. It was obviously important strictly from a football sense, as it might well be the exact same matchup that we'll see for the inaugural Big Ten Championship in December. It proved that Penn State's defense couldn't just plain win every game by itself if the Nittany Lion offense was struggling. It even marked a decent enough debut performance for Tom Bradley as a D-I head coach, even though his team eventually fell short.

It's just that today, nobody believed what happened on that field was the most important thing going on. Not with the headlines bringing terrible news about the victims of Jerry Sandusky on a daily basis (today being no exception, sadly). Not with the scandal costing Joe Paterno his job after an unbelievable 46 years atop the program. 

The reminders that this was about more than football came even on gameday, with the constant reminders from announcers, the blue-out engineered by the Penn State fans, and the remarkable scene of both teams meeting each other at midfield for a pregame prayer (shown above). Even when the game was on the line late in the fourth quarter, Penn State fans exhorted their team to victory by chanting the name of the coach wasn't there anymore -- Joe Paterno.

The chants did not propel Penn State to the comeback win, of course -- chants rarely do -- but they did underscore just how deeply intertwined Paterno is with the program. If a man embodies a football program as completely as Paterno did with PSU, then his bosses inform everybody that he doesn't anymore, how are fans supposed to react? Take some time to answer that. Take a few days. Everyone in Happy Valley's had at least that long, and nobody seems to have a good answer yet. Is there even one to be found?

LOSERS: Michigan State, Purdue, and Northwestern

Michigan State whipped Iowa at Kinnick. Purdue managed a huge overtime win against Ohio State. Northwestern fried Rice (sorry) (not actually sorry). All three wins were immensely consequential as the postseason goes (more on all that later) ... and just about nobody watched, thanks to the Nebraska-Penn State game dominating the common fan's attention. To be sure, that's where most eyes should have been trained, but fans of these three squads have the right to feel a little ignored and annoyed all the same; again, this was a big win for all three teams!

WINNER: Michigan State's division title chances
LOSERS: Iowa and Michigan's division title chances

With this win, Michigan State has effectively dispatched two of the three teams it was competing with for the Legends Division crown. At three losses, Iowa's out of the running; the division's competitive, but it's not that competitive, and Iowa cannot surpass MSU now. Michigan can pass MSU in the standings, technically -- it's just going to take Spartan losses to Indiana and Northwestern in the coming weeks. We're prepared to assume MSU wins at least one of the two.

That just leaves Nebraska as a potential spoiler to the Sparty Party, and aside from one game, the Huskers are playing what's easily their best football of the season. But that one game, the terrible, terrible home loss to Northwestern last week, is likely going to doom Nebraska unless the 'Cats (hey, them again) want to play spoiler one more time. It's not out of the question; Northwestern is typically a beast in November under Pat Fitzgerald. But considering what MSU did to the Iowa secondary this week and what Northwestern's secondary has suffered through, it might be too much to ask the Wildcats to pull one more upset.

WINNER: The Michigan State ground game

Coming into the week, the Spartans were the worst rushing team in the Big Ten. There are plenty of factors going into that: a retooling offensive line, a brand new offensive coordinator and system, and a schedule full of tough defenses, for three examples. But still, no matter how valid the explanations are, at the end of the day you need an effective running game if you're going to keep the ball on the ground 30+ times a game, otherwise those sticks just aren't moving very often.

So it was heartening to see the Spartans rush for 155 yards -- 25 yards above their season average, and 35 yards above their conference average -- in Saturday's 37-21 win at Iowa. Le'Veon Bell in particular was a beast between the tackles, running for 112 yards with one particularly demoralizing 25-yard score late in the first half (shown above at right). No, it's not like MSU put up 250 yards or otherwise let Kirk Cousins take the day off or anything -- it wasn't that big of a day on the ground -- but after three straight games of scarecely topping 100 yards for the day, 155 yards on 39 carries is a message that Sparty's rushing attack might be living up to its potential at the most important part of the season.

LOSER: The Ron Zook Experience

Remember when Ron Zook was proving everybody wrong about Illinois and, by extension, himself? Remember thinking that if you give any coach (Zook included) a dynamic quarterback, a top-level receiver, and a world-crushing defense, you'd get 9-10 wins, and that Zook was over halfway there? Remember? Those sure were nice days.

Then the losses started piling up, and they've shown no signs of abating -- quite the opposite, really. And now one can't help but think that this monumental collapse is going to mean the end for Zook. In all likelihood, Wisconsin's going to push the Illini's losing streak to five games next Saturday, and now even a road trip to Minnesota doesn't seem like a sure thing. No, the Gophers aren't good yet, despite beating Iowa and hanging with MSU. But they're at the least interested in playing well, and that's a sentiment that seems hard to come by in Champaign these days. 

WINNER: Bowl eligibility

Two teams we didn't expect to see on the brink of bowl eligibility are Northwestern and Purdue, two teams that struggled mightily in the early conference season but that have logged important upset victories in recent weeks -- Northwestern over Nebraska last week, and now Purdue salvaging a regulation tie with OSU by blocking a last-minute extra point, then finishing the Buckeyes off in overtime.

So assuming that Northwestern can beat Minnesota at home and Purdue can win at Indiana, there'll be an astonishing 10 bowl-eligible teams out of 12 in the B1G. If that's the case, it would be appropriate that the conference is based out of Chicago, because Oprah Winfrey is too, and she says you get bowl eligibility! You get bowl eligibility! Everybody gets bowl eligibility! And if the Big Ten had 10 bowl tie-ins, well, that would automatically make 10 bowls very happy hosts and 10 teams very happy guests, would it not? 

LOSER: Well, probably Northwestern or Purdue

Of course, the Big Ten does not have 10 bowl tie-ins, so if the conference has that many bowl-eligible teams this season, someone's going to be left out of the Big Ten bowl lineup. Even assuming two BCS teams come from the Big Ten (a travesty if ever there was one, this year), the most teams the conference can assuredly accommodate is nine. So depending on which bowls take which schools, we're going to be looking at one or two Big Ten teams stuck at six wins and hoping a mid-major bowl has a spot free.

Knowing how bowls make their selections, and thinking about how the standings are likely to shake out by the end of the season, it seems rather clear that Northwestern and Purdue are not only the most likely six-win teams in the conference, they're also the two least desirable potential bowl teams for a committee making its selection. Neither travels particularly well or grabs great ratings, and with Dan Persa still not 100%, both teams are badly lacking a high-profile player that casual fans would make time to watch.

We hope both teams can find their way into bowls, and not just because we're bitter Big Ten partisans to the very end -- it's that it'd be great to see them both make one last push for a bowl victory and a happy ending to the season. Dan Persa has obviously not had the senior campaign he or anybody else wanted, but considering his issues are related to rehab and chronic injuries, it seems like a late December Persa would probably be the best-healed Persa we've seen all season. Considering what he was doing on a football season pre-injury, the closest he can come to that, the pre-injury form, would be nice to see one last time.

Meanwhile, Purdue has scrapped and clawed hard to get to .500 on the season at this point. It was easy to dismiss the Boilermakers after they dropped a game at Rice early on, and the 62-17 whipping Wisconsin handed them seemed to underscore how far away they is from respectability. And yet, Purdue held off a furious rally to beat Illinois back when that still meant something, and a home game against Iowa might be an opportunity for a tone-setting win. Purdue didn't lose to Rice or Penn State by very much -- both games went down to the final possession -- so it's really not far from a 7-3 record right now. If the Boilers can get to a bowl game and come away with a win, it'll be a welcome end to a season that looked bleak at numerous times. How can you not want that? 
Posted on: November 6, 2011 4:15 am
Edited on: November 6, 2011 12:04 pm
 

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 10



Posted by Adam Jacobi

A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

B1G B1G B1G WINNER: Chaos

How much wilder is the Big Ten after this 10th week of play than before? Consider, now, that four of the six Legends Division teams are still in plausible contention for that crown, or that Penn State could still find itself at 6-2 (or worse) in the conference, setting off a similar scramble in the Leaders Division. This year, Minnesota has beaten Iowa, Purdue has beaten Illinois, and now Northwestern has beaten Nebraska in Lincoln. Did you see that one coming? Yes? Liar.

Sure, some might note that the ACC already tried having everybody in the conference go 6-2 or worse, and the result is a shambolic title race -- and a sham BCS bowl participant. And yes, generally, it's better to have a conference champion in the BCS' Top 12, where they'd be eligible to participate in a BCS bowl even without the conference title, but still: a little madness never hurt anybody, and what better way to demonstrate to the Big Ten faithful how much drama a division race can add to a season?

LOSER: Penn State

This was supposed to be a peaceful week off for Joe Paterno and Penn State, who would be watching gleefully as losses by Nebraska and Michigan would leave PSU as the only one-loss team in the conference. Instead, nobody in State College is talking football today; instead, it's the litany of serious crimes facing Jerry Sandusky -- and what role PSU brass may have played in keeping Sandusky's alleged crimes under wraps.

We're not going to comment on Sandusky's charges; we trust our readers to form their own opinions at this point. We'll just say that it's beyond depressing that Penn State is 8-1 (5-0), Joe Paterno is the Division I's winningest coach of all time, and the Penn State president still needs to be issuing statements assuring people that his athletic director and treasurer didn't try to cover up a serial child molester in violation of Pennsylvania state law. But alas: here it is, and here we are. Ugh; back to football.

WINNER: Michigan State's division title hopes

On its face, Michigan State's performance today was, if anything, lackluster; the Spartans let lowly Minnesota take a lead into the fourth quarter in a game in East Lansing, and MSU only won by 7 points after letting Minnesota drive into Spartan territory in the game's final seconds. And yet, Michigan State still won, and that gives the Spartans sole possession of first place in the Legends Division after Michigan and Nebraska both dropped contests Saturday. Unlike every other contender in the conference, MSU has no games against ranked opponents left; there are, however, road tests at Iowa and Northwestern looming, so it's not exactly time to start booking hotel rooms in Pasadena quite yet. Still, this is as commanding a position as anybody's held in this division thus far. 

LOSER: Michigan's division title hopes

It's getting to be difficult to imagine a scenario in which Michigan plays for the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis this December. The Wolverines dropped to 3-2 in the league, and while that's still just a game off the lead with three games yet to play, it's to whom Michigan has lost that should prove most problematic for the Wolverines. Iowa and Michigan State both hold head-to-head tiebreakers over Michigan and a non-division loss, so really, the only way Michigan takes this division is by winning it outright. There is a plausible path to that: MSU loses to Iowa and Northwestern, Iowa loses to Nebraska, and Nebraska loses to Michigan. But that's about it.

WINNER: Iowa's offensive stars

Iowa's numbers on offense weren't spectacular in the Hawkeyes' 24-16 win over Michigan; 302 total yards and 15 first downs were all the Hawkeyes managed in 56 offensive plays. Not bad, no, but not spectacular. Nonetheless, there were some very familiar faces responsible for the lion's share of that production -- Marcus Coker had 132 yards and two scores, James Vandenberg was 14-21 for 171 yards and a score, and Marvin McNutt (seen at right, divorcing J.T. Floyd from his helmet) caught nine passes, a career high, for 101 yards. Overall, that's a pattern that has put several Hawkeyes among the league leaders with three games left in the regular season.

Coker leads all Big Ten rushers with 1101 yards on the season; Montee Ball is a close second with 1076. In receiving, McNutt trails only A.J. Jenkins (1030 yards) with 959 yards, and his nine receiving touchdowns lead the league. Meanwhile, Vandenberg is third in the Big Ten in passing efficiency, with a 154.83 rating and 18 touchdowns to only four interceptions. Officially, Vandenberg is second only to I-A leader Russell Wilson in the NCAA's eyes, as Dan Persa hasn't played in 75% of Northwestern's games yet, but that doesn't seem totally fair to Persa, who meets the other qualification of 15 pass attempts per game even counting the games he missed. We see you, Dan.

LOSER: Any notion of Rex Burkhead as a Heisman candidate

For a little while, Rex Burkhead was starting to gain steam as a potential darkhorse candidate -- not a potential winner, but certainly someone that might at least score a free trip to New York in December. Nebraska would have to win out as a one-loss Big Ten champion, though, and Burkhead would have to keep coming up as big as he has all season long. Do all that, and it might be good enough to get some major national attention.

Well, that clearly didn't happen. Nebraska's rushing attack was bottled up by Northwestern, of all defenses; the Wildcats had been ranked 95th nationwide coming into Saturday's contest, ceding 194 rushing yards per game. And yet, Nebraska managed only 122 yards on the ground in the 28-25 loss, and Burkhead was particularly ineffective: 22 rushes, 69 yards, one score, and one costly fumble inside Northwestern's 5-yard line. Worse, only three of those 22 rushes gained first downs, while Burkhead converted for a score or first down on only two of six rushes on 3rd and 4th down. That? That's not good.

WINNER: Kain Colter

Say this about Pat Fitzgerald: he doesn't much care for traditional labels on players. How else to explain Kain Colter, who for the last four weeks has averaged 55 yards rushing, 55 yards passing, and 71 yards receiving per game in a QB/WR hybrid role in support of Dan Persa? This week, Colter's versatility was especially useful, as Persa would leave the game at the half after sustaining a shoulder injury; Colter responded by scoring three touchdowns in the second half of Northwestern's upset victory.

Colter and Persa had seen their roles increasingly specialized coming into this week's action, with Persa taking the lion's share of the passing duties and Colter rushing far more often. Indeed, even though he only played a half, Persa threw 14 passes in this week's game; Colter, meanwhile, threw six. So there still isn't a ton of trust from Pat Fitzgerald in Colter's throwing ability yet. At the same time, this platoon seems awfully similar to 2009, when Persa was primarily a rushing threat in relief of Mike Kafka. That clearly didn't hamper Persa's prospects as a thrower down the road, and the current setup shouldn't be construed as a permanent indictment of Colter's passing ability.

LOSER: Denard Robinson's legs 

Last year, in the Gator Bowl blowout that would seal Rich Rodriguez's fate with Michigan, the Wolverines tried to go for it on five fourth downs. In each one, a pass play was called for Denard Robinson; in each one, Michigan failed to convert, as the pass fell harmlessly incomplete on each attempt. This week, Robinson had led Michigan to Iowa's 3-yard line with under 20 seconds to play and a first and goal. This time around, Brady Hoke called four straight passes for Robinson; in each one, Michigan failed to score, as the pass fell harmlessly incomplete on each attempt.

This is not to argue that Robinson should never pass or anything of that sort. It's just that Robinson is at his most dangerous on the move, and when a drive or a game's on the line, by and large, it's not smart to have him stand still and look to pass. Junior Hemingway came awfully close to making a great catch on 2nd down and Roy Roundtree may have had a legitimate gripe for pass interference on 4th down (though it was far less obvious in real time), but still: Denard Robinson is the most dynamic runner in the Big Ten; why not try a run-pass option? With deep apologies to ZZ Top, Robinson has legs, and he knows how to use them. Give him a chance to do that!

Posted on: November 5, 2011 7:17 pm
 

QUICK HITS: No. 19 Wisconsin 62, Purdue 17

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

WISCONSIN WON: 
The Badgers no doubt built up plenty of frustration in their last-minute (or last second) losses the past two weeks, and they took every bit of that frustration out on the helpless Boilermakers. Behind 223 combined first-half rushing yards from Montee Ball and Russell Wilson on 9.9 yards a pop, Wisconsin racked up 38 points before the break and was never threatened. The Badgers finished with 604 total yards to Purdue's 283, Ball cracking the 200-yard mark on the ground with 224.

WHY WISCONSIN WON: Well, a 45-point win suggests that there were many, many reasons that Wisconsin won. Certainly Wilson's brilliance was one of them; 15-of-21 for 9.7 yards an attempt with 2 touchdowns and no picks is nice, his repeated flummoxing of Boiler defenders with his legs to the tune of 76 yards and another TD even nicer.

But when you've rushed for 365 yards on 6.6 yards a carry for the game, the biggest stars on your offense haven't really been the guys handling the ball. They've been the guys up front, who in this case absolutely mauled a Boiler front seven that isn't nearly as bad today's numbers, honestly. (Defensive tackle Kawann Short has played his way into All-Big Ten consideration, for instance.) So take a bow, Wisconsin tackles Josh Oglesby and Ricky Wagner, guards Travis Frederick and Kevin Zeitler, and center Peter Konz; there's no way to watch what you did to to Purdue Saturday and think you haven't earned it.

WHEN WISCONSIN WON: Say this for Purdue: despite being so overwhelmed defensively, the combination of opportunistic offense and a pair of long kickoff returns by Raheem Mostert made it kind of a game at halftime, with the Boilers down "only" 21. And thanks to Mostert setting them up at their own 40 and a quick 16-yard completion to start the second half, the Boilers drove to the Wisconsin 36 with a chance to make it an actual game. Then they made the curious choice to attempt a 4th-and-5 conversion with a slow-developing running play. Akeem Shavers was stopped short with laughable ease, and that was that.

WHAT WISCONSIN WON: If the Badgers happened to lose any of their mojo and/or confidence against Michigan State or Ohio State, you'd have to think this kind of bludgeoning of the Boilers will go a long way to restoring it. And of course they stay two games back of Penn State in the Leaders division race with a game vs. the Nittany Lions still to come.

WHAT PURDUE LOST: Maybe a little bit of pride thanks to that final score. But c'mon, it was Wisconsin at Camp Randall; a victory was never in the cards.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com