Tag:Rob Bolden
Posted on: October 29, 2011 7:30 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Penn State 10, Illinois 7

Posted by Adam Jacobi

PENN STATE WON. Another week, another close win for Penn State, who rallied late to snatch a 10-7 victory from Illinois in the snowiest game ever played at Happy Valley. The game stayed scoreless amid myriad errors until Illinois scored with 3:32 left in the third quarter; from there, it was 10 straight Penn State points and the Nittany Lions hung on for the win.

HOW PENN STATE WON: Penn State just committed fewer errors on Saturday, and really, that's not saying a lot. Penn State had "only" three turnovers, while Illinois had four. Both teams scored one touchdown and lined up for two field goals. Penn State's Anthony Fera made one of his two attempts, while Illinois botched the hold on one field goal and the usually reliable Derek Dimke put his game-ending kick square on the upright. 

WHEN PENN STATE WON: When the ball went doink. Illinois took over the ball with just 1:08 on the clock, but Nathan Scheelhaase drove his team into field position with just the time he'd been given. A make puts the game into overtime, but alas, that was not to be.

WHAT PENN STATE WON: Penn State, somehow, is 8-1 on the season, with its only loss coming to Alabama early in the season. In some ways, Penn State could probably lay a claim to a Top 10 ranking based on its record and resume of opponents. It wouldn't be a strong claim, mind you, but the case could be made all the same. You'd think the magic would run out soon, but we're three-quarters of the way through the season; we're long past the point that this winning stops being an anomaly and starts being the story of Penn State's season.

And as for what Joe Paterno won, the venerable old coach just passed Grambling State legend Eddie Robinson to assume the Division I all-time record for most career coaching victories, with 409.

WHAT ILLINOIS LOST: Illinois may have lost its last chance to avert disaster. This was the Illini's third straight loss after a 6-0 start; with Michigan and Wisconsin looming next on the schedule, that slide could easily hit five straight games coming into a season finale at Minnesota that looks a little bit tougher today after the Gophers' win this week over Iowa.

THAT WAS CRAZY: In the second quarter, Illinois took advantage of a Rob Bolden fumble to take over the ball at Penn State's 24. The Illini quickly pushed the ball inside the PSU 5-yard line, and had a 3rd and goal at the 3. Jason Ford appeared to score on the next play, but Illinois was flagged for illegal motion and the touchdown was nullified. Nathan Scheelhaase threw an incomplete pass on the next play, and on 4th down, holder Tim Russell bobbled the snap, came up with it before Dimke could kick it, and threw an interception. The Illini were awarded no points, and may God have mercy on their souls.

Also, Bolden should not be taking one single snap away from Matt McGloin anymore, but you knew that.
Posted on: October 16, 2011 3:08 am
Edited on: October 16, 2011 3:08 am
 

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 7



Posted by Adam Jacobi


WINNER: The general order of the universe as we knew it in the spring. Michigan State beat Michigan, Ohio State beat Illinois, Wisconsin beat Indiana, Iowa beat Northwestern, and Penn State beat Purdue. All normal ideas for the casual Big Ten fan during the off-season, more or less. Yet those first two results are rather surprising, because it was Michigan and Illinois coming into the week undefeated and ranked 16th or higher, not MSU or OSU. On Saturday, the Spartans and Buckeyes looked like the teams we figured they'd be coming into the year, though, and in a way so did the Wolverines and the Illini. 

Michigan State's victory was the most impressive of the week (sorry, Wisconsin), because nobody has bottled up the Michigan offense like that this year (more on the particulars in a second). After Notre Dame thwacked the Spartans in Week 3, it was fair to wonder if Michigan was also about to run up 30+ points and shut down the MSU rushing attack. Neither happened, and the Spartans are now all of a sudden back in beautiful shape for the Big Ten Legends Division race -- just like we figured before the season. 

LOSER: Those do-everything quarterbacks I was so proud of last week. So, Taylor Martinez had the week off, so he's off the hook. Denard Robinson and Nathan Scheelhaase, though? Last week, the two QBs averaged 267 yards passing, 102 yards rushing, and four TDs in their team's victories. Extrapolate those types of numbers over 12 or 13 games, and you've got a Heisman finalist.

Extrapolating single games out for a year is stupid, though, because on Saturday, those numbers dropped substantially. Scheelhaase threw for 169 yards and rushed for 49 more, while Robinson's numbers were a dismal 9-24 for 123 yards passing (one TD) and 18 rushes for 42 yards (another TD). Not surprisingly, both QB's teams lost by double digits. It's certainly fine to have a do-everything quarterback helming your offense, but that just means it's imperative that that quarterback actually puts big numbers up; if he doesn't, that team's in real trouble.

WINNER: Illinois' pass defense. Wow, the Illini held Ohio State to 17 yards on Saturday! That's quite an accomplishment! Yep, 17 yards on 1-4 passing. But wait... if the Buckeyes only passed four times for the entire game, then that means... uh-oh.

LOSER: Illinois' rush defense. Oh, there's the rest of the story. Ohio State rushed 51 times to the four passes, totalling 211 yards on the ground, and Dan Herron led the way with 113 yards in his first game back from suspension. Honestly, Illinois' effort on defense wasn't bad, and holding OSU to 4.1 yards a pop on the ground isn't really cause for panic, but this was an Illini rush defense that had been ranked ninth in the nation coming into the week, averaging 2.3 yards per carry given up. The Illini front seven had a reputation to uphold, and it didn't do a great job of it. 

WINNER: Somehow, inexplicably, Penn State. Penn State is 6-1 and on the verge of being in the Top 25. That is amazing news to anyone who has watched Penn State play, because the Nittany Lions are, at times, bafflingly bad on offense. The QB rotation between Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden continues to confound PSU fans, the rushing game comes and goes, and Penn State has now beaten the foursome of Temple, Indiana, Iowa, and Purdue by a grand total of 25 points. This team should not be 6-1, but there's no "should" column next to wins and losses.

The latest victory is a 23-18 decision over hapless Purdue, a game that should have been tied in the 4th quarter at 20-all if Purdue hadn't missed a PAT then missed a 2-point conversion to make up for the missed kick. Now, to be fair, Purdue never led, PSU never let Purdue manage so much as a first down after the game was 20-18, and the game ended with Penn State up 5 and taking knees inside the Boilermaker 10 yard line, but it was still another ugly, wretched affair all around. And yet just like the 4-point win over Temple and the 6-point win over Indiana, Penn State just did all it needed for the victory, and nothing more. Hey, a win's a win.

LOSER: Mark Dantonio's reputation as a disciplinarian. It seems like every season, fans are treated to anecdotes about what a great coach Mark Dantonio is, and how high his standards of player discipline are. "Zero tolerance" are his words, not ours. And it also seems like every season, there's an instance of Dantonio basically punting on discipline with his star players, like with Chris L. Rucker rejoining the team immediately after serving an 8-day jail sentence, or B.J. Cunningham taking part in a massive brawl on campus and missing one game as a result.

With that in mind, then, it's really not surprising to see star DE Will Gholston allowed to stay in a game after he punched Michigan OL Taylor Lewan (who, to be fair, had been holding Gholston's head on the ground earlier in the play). It was Gholston's second personal foul of the afternoon, with the first being a combination of a late hit and a face mask on Denard Robinson. The Big Ten may very well intervene and keep Gholston out for next week's game against Wisconsin, but the fact that Dantonio kept Gholston in the game after both incidents speaks far, far louder than Dantonio's claims of "zero tolerance."

WINNER: The Iowa athletic department. Before today's game, the fans at Kinnick Stadium were all given two-sided cards for one of those old-fashioned card stunts. The end result was really, really cool, and don't be surprised to see more of this type of thing around college football stadiums nationwide in the next few years or so. 

LOSER: Iowa's Northwestern demons. For years, the Hawkeyes have struggled mightily against Northwestern, sometimes even at the expense of BCS bowl dreams.  All in all, coming into today, Iowa had lost five of its last six against the Wildcats -- and the last four losses featured double-digit Hawkeye leads.

So when Iowa ran up a 17-0 lead on Saturday, then watched the Wildcats string together drive after drive to tie the game up at 17-17, it was only natural for Hawkeye fans to think, "here we go again." Fortunately for the home crowd, Iowa responded with 17 straight points of its own, and held on for the 41-31 victory. The win pushes Iowa to 4-2 (1-1) on the year, and with Michigan, Michigan State, and Nebraska all looming on the schedule, this win was crucial to the Hawkeyes' hopes for securing another winning season.


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 | Preview
Posted on: October 9, 2011 5:00 am
 

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 6



Posted by Adam Jacobi


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

WINNER: Nebraska's season

Ignore the fact that 4-2, all things considered, isn't a terrible record; for No. 14 Nebraska, dropping the Ohio State game would have been a backbreaker for a season that started with realistic Rose Bowl aspirations -- especially with OSU looking like an unusually easy victory coming into Saturday. Instead, the Buckeyes opened up a 27-6 lead and seemed to be putting the final nail in the coffin of Nebraska's reputation as a Big Ten contender before the Huskers pulled off their largest comeback in program history on the back of Rex Burkhead (pictured above, finding plenty of comfort in the middle of OSU's rush defense). Now the Huskers are 5-1, and more importantly, only have one loss on their Big Ten slate instead of starting out 0-2. This season still might not end up in the Rose Bowl -- in fact it probably won't -- but sheerly by dodging the bullet on Saturday, Nebraska was a big, big winner.

LOSER: Joe Bauserman, yet again

It's not entirely fair to pin Ohio State's collapse on Joe Bauserman; the backup QB came into the game in the second half cold, and Nebraska had already begun its fight back at that point. And yet, the score was 27-13 OSU when Bauserman came in for an injured Braxton Miller on a 3rd and 8, and the score was 34-27 Nebraska by the time Bauserman put the finishing touches on his 1-10, 17-yard, 1 INT magnum opus. In the last four weeks -- the only games in which OSU has faced BCS conference competition this season -- Bauserman's stats are a terrifying 12-40, 144 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. That's a 63.49 passer rating, which is reprehensible. Oh, and not only is Bauserman going to play for as long as Braxton Miller's hurt, he's also the quarterback Luke Fickell tabbed to start the season for the Buckeyes. Enjoy, OSU!

WINNER: Do-everything QBs in the Big Ten

Nathan Scheelhaase, Taylor Martinez, and Denard Robinson may all be vying for the Second Team All-Big Ten role behind Wisconsin dreamboat Russell Wilson, but all three QBs put on an absolute show on Saturday. Scheelhaase had 210 yards passing, 88 yards rushing, and 4 combined TDs for Illinois in a win at Indiana. Martinez had his best passing performance of the year against a tough Ohio State defense, going 16-22 for 192 yards passing and rushing for 102 more yards; he accounted for three of Nebraska's four TDs. Robinson's numbers were the gaudiest: 325 yards passing, 117 yards on 25 rushes, and four total TDs in Michigan's 42-24 win over Northwestern. Even Braxton Miller had 95 yards passing and 91 yards rushing before he was forced to leave the game. Conference play will sort out this hierarchy, but it's fantastic to see such a breadth of dynamic talent at QB.

LOSER: Timid 4th down playcallers

Indiana kicked a field goal on 4th and goal from the 3 with a 4-point deficit. Iowa punted from Penn State's 33-yard line down 6-3. Ohio State punted from Nebraska's 32-yard line with a late 27-20 lead. What do all these decisions have in common? They were all unnecessarily conservative, and they all backfired. Indiana immediately gave up a touchdown drive, Iowa's punt led to a 90-yard Penn State drive that mercifully ended in an end zone interception (but still wore down the Iowa defense), and Ohio State would never see its lead again after Nebraska responded with a touchdown drive. Yes, the field position is important, but the points battle is the real one that matters, and all three of these teams did themselves a disservice by not even attempting to maximize their opportunities.

WINNER: Penn State's defense

In a stat that will undoubtedly become a trivial relic by the end of the season, Iowa came into this week's game against Penn State with the Big Ten's most prolific passing attack, averaging 281 yards a game under QB James Vandenberg. Penn State bottled that attack up beautifully, limiting Vandenberg to 169 yards on 17/34 passing with two interceptions and a lost fumble on a sack. More importantly, the Nittany Lions allowed only a field goal in a 13-3 victory. delighting a partisan PSU crowd that was hungry for a Penn State win over the nemesis Hawkeyes.

LOSER: Rob Bolden Fan Club president Joe Paterno

There is truly no reason for Rob Bolden to be starting anymore, yet start he does, week in and week out. Bolden's passer efficiency is out of the NCAA's top 100; Matt McGloin's was 42nd nationwide coming into the game. McGloin was far better against Iowa, hitting pass after pass in tight windows while Bolden's best gains came on tipped balls -- his biggest completion ricocheted off of an unsuspecting referee's leg, for crying out loud. Nobody at Penn State outside of the coaching staff knows why Bolden plays so much, yet he does, and he's probably going to ride his 3/7, 31 yard performance to another starting week unless Joe Paterno puts an end to this farce of a quarterback battle and just gives the job to McGloin already.

WINNER: Ron Zook's mojo

Imagine, if you will: Team X is ranked and undefeated, and playing at outmatched-but-feisty Team Y. Team Y takes the opening kick to the house, then makes a stop and turns it into a field goal for a 10-0 lead. At this point, one would assume that if Team X had a good coach, he would have his charges weather this storm and not panic, and if Team X's coach was a raving lunatic, then this was an upset in the making. Well, Team X is obviously Illinois, Team Y is obviously Indiana, the Team X head coach is obviously Ron Zook, and his team responded admirably to the adversity by turning the game into a 41-20 rout. Illinois is now 6-0. It could be 9-0 heading into the Michigan game. Ron Zook is doing all this. This is the reality you must accept.

LOSER: Whoever had to watch Minnesota-Purdue

One Husker blogger tabbed this matchup "the game that fun forgot" on Saturday morning, and while that's not a fair assessment of a game that ends up featuing 62 points scored, it's not quite that far off from this game either. Now. Purdue is not good at football. Not even in a young and sneaky and what if they put it all together sense. Just not good. Purdue also opened up a 45-3 lead on Minnesota en route to a 45-17 win, and we're left to wonder just what level of football the Gophers actually belong in (hint: not FBS!). And yet, there were still only 589 total yards combined in this game; even the PSU-Iowa eye-clawer, by comparison, had 648 total yards from scrimmage. Purdue and Minnesota can't even put on a blowout correctly! Just a mess all the way through here, and there are probably plenty more such messes that await fans of both these teams this season.
Posted on: September 25, 2011 4:19 am
Edited on: September 25, 2011 12:19 pm
 

What I learned from the Big Ten (Sep. 24)



Posted by Adam Jacobi

1. The Big Ten can't even get cheap wins correctly. There's no nice way to put this: this was possibly the worst week in Big Ten history in terms of opponent quality. The total amount of AP and coaches poll votes held by the Big Ten's Week 4 opponents? 22, received by Michigan opponent San Diego State, who will likely see that number fall to zero on Sunday after the Wolverines prevailed 28-7. Handfuls of undeserved votes aside, the best team anybody in the Big Ten faced today was Western Michigan, who took Illinois to the limit in Champaign. Again: Western Michigan, a MAC team with no AP or coaches poll votes, looked like the most talented opponent of Week 4 for anybody in the Big Ten. And being that there were no riots on any of the Big Ten campuses, apparently fans are willing to allow this scheduling practice to continue.

So it would stand to reason that the Big Ten went 10-0 this week (Purdue and Northwestern are on bye weeks) then, correct? Well, no. Indiana couldn't overcome a 24-point deficit in a 24-21 home road loss to North Texas, and Minnesota increased its losing streak against North Dakota State to two games (also lost to Bison in 2007) by dropping Saturday's game, 37-24. As for how such a shocking loss could have possibly happened to a Big Ten team, well, look at the picture above. It's Minnesota. There were blowouts everywhere else in the conference, which is the way it ought to be, but 8-2 against a slate of cupcakes? Shame on the Big Ten for that.

2. Speaking of which, Indiana and Minnesota may be worse than we thought. It was obvious already that Indiana and Minnesota were going to be taking up residence in the basements of their respective divisions, what with the Hoosiers losing to Ball State in Week 1 and Minnesota dropping one to New Mexico State already this year. But both teams' losses to low-level competition this Saturday were even worse, because for most of the game, they weren't even close. North Texas was 0-3 on the year coming into the game, and built a 24-0 lead while moving the ball at will on the Hoosier defense, while NDSU held a 31-14 advantage in the second half before holding on for the win. We're talking about a previously winless Sun Belt team and an FCS school who both looked like they belonged in the Big Ten more than the Hoosiers or Gophers. That? That's not good.

3. Braxton Miller is not on Terrelle Pryor's level... yet. Ohio State cruised to a 37-17 victory over visiting Pac-12 doormat Colorado, but the big story here was Braxton Miller's debut as a starting quarterback for the Buckeyes. Miller was a force on the ground, registering 83 yards on 17 carries, and he also threw for two touchdowns. That's the good part. The bad part is that Miller was just 5-13 for 83 yards through the air, and he just doesn't have a very good read progression at this point. Really, he wasn't even supposed to be playing this year, much less starting, but then Terrelle Pryor's eligibility walked out the door and now here we are with a true freshman under center in Columbus.

Miller's going to improve over the course of the year, one would imagine, and that's good because don't let the touchdowns fool you: he's got a ways to go yet before he's as reliable as Luke Fickell is going to need him to be in conference play. Miller did show flashes of the athleticism and play-making ability that made him such a sought-after prospect on Saturday, but the consistency is going to be the key, and that comes mainly with time -- time that, with Michigan State coming to town next Saturday, Ohio State doesn't really have.

4. Michael Mauti's luck is just wretched. Penn State beat Eastern Michigan 34-6, but the real story for PSU is the injuries suffered on the defensive side of the ball. CB D'Anton Lynn was carted off the field in the second half with an apparent neck injury, but he's expected to be fine. The real problem for the Nittany Lions is the absence of All-American candidate Michael Mauti, who suffered a torn ACL on a non-contact injury in the first quarter and will miss the rest of the year. Mauti was forced to redshirt in 2009, his second year with Penn State, after tearing his right ACL; Saturday's injury happened to Mauti's left. It's early enough in the year that he'll likely be able to apply for a sixth year of eligibility in 2013 if he wants it.

This marks the third season marred by injury for the talented linebacker; in addition to the 2009 ACL injury mentioned earlier, Mauti was plagued by ankle and shoulder issues in 2010 and never seemed to be at 100% during Big Ten play even when he was healthy enough to be on the field (not always the case). Mauti had looked great in early play this season, and although Nate Stupar is no slouch in relief, losing a high-caliber player like Mauti is tough for a team that's going to be leaning heavily on its defense this season with the continuing difficulties at quarterback.

We hope Mauti's recovery is swift and complete, and that he finally gets at least one healthy season to put it all together for Penn State. Anything less, frankly, would be unfair.

5. There are going to be a lot of quarterbacks getting All-Big Ten honorable mention recognition. The best quarterback in the Big Ten is probably Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, and if it's not, it's Mr. MichiganDenard Robinson.(seen at left, rushing for one of his three scores Saturday). Short of injury, there's basically no way these two dynamos cede the All-Big Ten first team and second team honors at the end of this season.

That means honorable mention is going to have to accommodate a lot of Big Ten quarterbacks who are off to great starts this season in their own right. Nathan Scheelhaase is basically a job-saver for Ron Zook at Illinois, epitomizing the "dual threat" label with a high option IQ and an accurate arm. James Vandenberg is probably the best pure passer Kirk Ferentz has ever had at Iowa, and the junior has nearly 1100 yards, 10 TDs, and only one interception in his first four games this year. MSU's Kirk Cousins was my preseason pick as 2011's top QB in the Big Ten, and he still may be so when the dust settles. Nebraska's option man Taylor Martinez would be the most dynamic rushing quarterback in the Big Ten since Antwaan Randle-El if it weren't for that Denard fellow in Ann Arbor. And oh yes, Dan Persa is coming back next week for Northwestern; if he can replicate his pre-Achilles injury form, Northwestern's going to be in great shape. That's a lot of very, very good quarterbacks for just one conference, and the scary part is that only Wilson and Cousins are seniors. Meanwhile, Indiana brings in top prospect Dusty Kiel next season and Braxton Miller will be the unquestioned starter in Columbus with a full year of experience under his belt in 2012. The high-profile quarterback isn't going anywhere soon in the Big Ten. 

One school that's conspicuously absent in this discussion is Penn State, who struggled again with quarterback play in the Rob Bolden/Matt McGloin quarterback platoon that seemed to hit a stride of sorts this week... against EMU, who isn't even good by MAC standards. How the Penn State quarterback situation got so dire is a question that gets beaten past any semblance of sense on a weekly basis in Happy Valley, but it doesn't change the fact that Penn State's in a quarterback-heavy league without a true No. 1 quarterback, and it's probably going to cost the Nittany Lions this year. It would be false to ascribe this to an institutional weakness on the part of Joe Paterno, since his last full-time starting quarterback was Daryll Clark, who was only the Big Ten OPOTY in 2008. It would also be false to think this problem will fix itself, though, because if there were a legitimate, game-ready quarterback on Penn State's roster, well, we would have seen him by now.

6. Well, at least that's all done. There are only two non-conference games left for anybody in the Big Ten; Purdue faces Notre Dame next week, and Northwestern has a date with Rice in November. For everyone else, it's nothing but Big Ten play from here on out. No more FCS patsies, no more MACrifices, and no more cupcakes showing up for a paycheck. It's the way the Big Ten was meant to be played. Let's go. 

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Posted on: September 18, 2011 5:32 am
Edited on: September 18, 2011 5:56 am
 

What I learned from the Big Ten (Sep. 17)



Posted by Adam Jacobi

1. It's Wisconsin, then everybody else. In a week where Ohio State and Michigan State both flunked their first major tests and Nebraska looked increasingly like a three-loss team in the making, Wisconsin blew out yet another opponent, this time working NIU 49-7. And yes, Northern Illinois is a MAC team, but a good one at that, and one that was expected by Vegas to keep the game within three scores. That went out the window by halftime, and the Huskies never looked capable of challenging Wisconsin. Russell Wilson (pictured above, striking a perhaps prophetic figure) looked fantastic once again, and now it's down to him and Denard Robinson in early consideration for first team All-Big Ten at QB.

As for things that aren't perfect about Wisconsin, it's a pretty short list. Russell Wilson did finally threw an interception, so he's clearly mortal, but even that's bad news for the Big Ten -- if he's mortal, then the rest of the Big Ten can't play its games against Wisconsin under protest (because immortal QBs have to be illegal, right?). We'll know way more once Nebraska comes to Madison on October 1, but until then, this is a one-team race.

2. It's Ohio State's turn to have no quarterbacks: Last week, Penn State's duo of Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin combined for a horrific 12-39, 144-yard passing tally in a 27-11 loss to Alabama. McGloin in particular submitted a near-impossible 1-10, 0-yard performance. But hey, at least it was against Alabama; facing Temple on Saturday, PSU went a much more reasonable 22-37 through the air for 216 yards (and confoundingly, McGloin looked far better than Bolden). Not great, but not awful.

No, awful had somewhere else to be, and this week, that was "under center for Ohio State." Ohio State lost to Miami under the lights at Sun Life Stadium, 24-6, and it looked capital-B Bad in the process. Facing Miami's secondary, which certainly isn't as good as Alabama's, QBs Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller combined for the following line, which contains no typos: 4-18, 35 yards, 1 INT. Passer rating: 27.4. HELPFUL POINT OF COMPARISON: Penn State's passer rating vs. Alabama was 56.7. Yes, for as awful as Penn State look against the Crimson Tide defense, Ohio State was way, way worse on Saturday.

Needless to say, the OSU tailbacks weren't thrilled at the result. "I felt like me and Jordan were doing a great job in the run game, so I felt we should have just come out and ran at them," OSU tailback Carlos Hyde said after the game. "We should have manned up and ran straight at them, see if they could stop us. I think it would have worked. I mean, to me, I don't think they were stopping us on the run, so I feel like it probably would have worked."

Just as with Penn State last week, there will be better days for both OSU QBs over the rest of the season. There just has to be. Otherwise, we'll have two stadiums on the east side of the Big Ten, filled with 100,000+ fans who'll have nothing to say. And for once, neither will be the Big House. I KID, I KID, Michigan. You're a peach.

3. The Big Ten is almost certainly not expanding east: If one continues to subscribe to the theory that the Big Ten will join the ranks of the 16-team superconferences, one would have thought recently that its expansion would be largely eastward, with both the Big East and ACC seemingly vulnerable. Slight problem for that plan, though: the ACC is getting proactive in a hurry, and now the main suspects for Big Ten expansion to the northeast are all off the table. Syracuse and Pitt are in the ACC, and if the USA Today report is correct, UConn and Rutgers are next for the ACC. That basically dooms Big East football, and of the five football-participating conference members left (TCU, South Florida, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Louisville), none look like strong candidates for Big Ten membership and all that entails, to say nothing of their limited geographical desirability.

Moreover, even the potential big-ticket schools out there have severe challenges for fitting in the Big Ten. Texas and Notre Dame have their own lucrative television deals already, and thus probably zero interest in equal revenue sharing in the Big Ten Network's plan. The remaining Big 12 North teams are more likely to join the rest of the Big East's football programs en masse than to split entirely off of their traditional base of rivals and go it alone in a new conference. And after all that, there just aren't a lot of schools that would bring more value to the Big Ten than they'd command in an equal revenue sharing program -- at which point it makes no sense to expand at all.

So when Jim Delany says the Big Ten's "as comfortable as we could be" staying at 12 teams... he probably means it.

4. Even Michigan State can disappear on offense: I mentioned in the Big Ten Bullet Points that MSU had to put up large amounts of points to hang with Notre Dame, because the Irish were going to get theirs pretty much no matter what. Notre Dame held up its end of the bargain, racking up 31 points in a variety of ways. MSU? Not so much. The Spartans managed 13 points of their own, and that's almost entirely due to Notre Dame's rushing defense coming up big. The vaunted Spartan rushing attack managed just 29 yards on 23 carries, and MSU effectively abandoned the run in the second half after Notre Dame established a double-digit lead.

That's a shocking result for a backfield that was universally regarded as the second-best in the Big Ten, and the only one even close to matching the potency of Wisconsin's ground game. MSU's got plenty more tough road dates coming its way once conference play starts, and plenty more stout front sevens to face. If this is the way Michigan State responds to tough defenses, it's going to be a long year in East Lansing. 

5. James Vandenberg and Iowa are not dead (yet): When Pittsburgh took a 24-3 lead at Iowa late in the third quarter, Hawkeye fans began panicking; this was the worst deficit the Hawkeyes had faced in four years, and a larger deficit than Iowa had ever overcome for a win. Ever. Quarterback James Vandenberg looked out of sorts for most of the first three quarters, and announcers were wondering for the second straight week if he just couldn't overcome a shaky set of nerves. All of this on top of a three-overtime loss to rival Iowa State the week prior made the outlook dim and grim for Iowa.

All of a sudden, Vandenberg and the Iowa offense sprang to life, racing to a 60-yard touchdown drive in 1:55 of play, and when Pittsburgh could only manage a field goal in response after achieving a first and goal at Iowa's 3-yard line, Iowa smelled blood. The Hawkeyes stayed in a hurry-up offense for the rest of the game, and Vandenberg engineered three fast but sustained touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to bring Iowa back for the 31-27 victory. Vandenberg went 14-17 for 153 yards and three TDs in the 4th quarter alone, and none of his last four touchdown drives lasted any longer than 2:11 -- or went for any fewer than 60 yards.

Iowa can't rely on 153-yard, 3-TD quarters from its quarterbacks, ever, so this will almost certainly be a result in isolation from the rest of the season -- especially since there were a lot of recurring problems that Pitt exploited in both Iowa's pass rush and its secondary. But at the very least Iowa's not 1-2 right now, and it's not on the ledge of disaster and/or apathy before the conference season even begins. Whether the Hawkeyes can parlay this comeback into big things down the line remains to be seen, but it was a magical afternoon at Kinnick Stadium either way.

6. Northwestern is not kidding about bringing Dan Persa back slowly: Northwestern put Dan Persa in uniform for its Week 3 matchup against Army, and Persa warmed up with the offense, but when the Wildcats struggled for most of the contest, it was Trevor Siemian why came in to spell Kain Colter, not Persa. Siemian would throw a game-tying pass to Jeremy Ebert, but Army still ended up prevailing in a stunner, 21-14. With a bye week next for Northwestern, Persa should be ready to go for the next game on October 1. If so, that's a merciful end to the Kain Colter era for the time being, and Persa can probably right the Good Ship Northwestern just a tad.

One does have to wonder, though -- shouldn't someone in the football program have notified the athletic department that Persa probably wasn't going to play a snap until October before the department put up Persa For Heisman billboards? The billboards came down after just two weeks; did nobody know he'd still be out today? And here Northwestern was supposed to be the "smart" member of the Big Ten.

Posted on: September 10, 2011 7:33 pm
Edited on: September 11, 2011 4:33 am
 

QUICK HITS: Alabama 27, Penn State 11



Posted by Adam Jacobi

ALABAMA WON. The third-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide cruised to victory in Happy Valley on Saturday, besting Penn State 27-11. Trent Richardson ran for 111 yards and two scores against a tough PSU defense, and Eddie Lacy chipped in 11 carries for 85 yards for the Tide. Alabama held Penn State to just 251 yards on the day.

WHY ALABAMA WON: Alabama had a vaunted defense, and it showed up to play in this game, but it's also clear that Penn State's quarterback situation is just about a disaster. Rob Bolden was just 11-29 for 144 yards and one bad interception, but his performance was downright virtuoso compared to Matt McGloin, who went 1-10 for 0 yards. That is not a typo. McGloin's quarterback rating for the game was 10.0, which is just about as bad as it gets. Credit for that goes to Alabama's defense, to be sure, but both PSU quarterbacks were missing throws badly over the course of the game.

WHEN ALABAMA WON: The Alabama defense was so stifling that pretty much any lead would be safe, but when Richardson ran 13 yards to pay dirt with 6:14 left, making the score 27-3 and pushing the big back over 100 yards, PSU fans were free to head to the exits.

WHAT ALABAMA WON: Penn State's offense may have been an exercise in ineptitude, but its defense is legit, and Beaver Stadium is still one of the most intimidating home fields in all of college football. So coming into Happy Valley and leaving with a 24-point win is a tremendous accomplishment for Alabama, and the Tide now has a feather in its cap as it continues to prepare for the SEC and a potential championship run.

WHAT PENN STATE LOST: If Penn State had any confidence in its quarterback situation, it's gone now, as neither QB looks capable of beating a legitimate Big Ten defense -- or even being an effective "game manager," as the term goes. McGloin won't go 1-10 every week, of course, and there'll be better days against worse defenses, but Penn State's prospects for conference play look much bleaker than they did before this game.

THAT WAS CRAZY: With Penn State leading 3-0 late in the first quarter, Alabama needed a kickstart to its offense and found itself facing 4th and 1 at its 40. Nick Saban called a fake punt rush by Brad Smelley. Smelley took contact at the line of scrimmage after what Saban would later say was a blown block, and barely, barely got the ball across the first down line. Alabama would later score a touchdown on the drive, and the Tide never looked back.

Posted on: August 12, 2011 3:54 pm
Edited on: August 12, 2011 4:57 pm
 

CBSSports.com Preseason All-Big Ten team

Posted by Adam Jacobi

As part of the CBSSports.com season preview, here are one writer's choices for the preseason All-Big Ten team. 

Offense

QUARTERBACK

Kirk Cousins, Senior, Michigan State

For as many high-level quarterbacks as there are in the Big Ten, it looks as if the stars have aligned the best for Kirk Cousins this year. Cousins returns his stable of running backs, two of his top three wideouts (and experienced senior backups at the third receiver and starting tight end), and his same offense from 2010. Cousins also didn't suffer a catastrophic injury last year. Oh, and Cousins is a very, very good passer. There isn't another quarterback in the conference that can make all of those claims, so while the MSU schedule is just brutal this year, if any losses occur, it's unlikely that a healthy Cousins will be to blame for any of them.

Also watch for: Even without Terrelle Pryor lining up under center, this is a loaded position in the conference. Denard Robinson and Dan Persa can also make legitimate claims as the top quarterback in the conference, and Wisconsin newcomer Russell Wilson might get there by the end of the year. This is a conference where Nathan Scheelhaase and Taylor Martinez are competing to even be mentioned in the top five quarterbacks. Big Ten secondaries, beware.

RUNNING BACK

Edwin Baker, Junior, Michigan State

In a Spartan backfield loaded with depth, Baker is the best of the bunch, rushing for over 1,200 yards and 13 TDs in his sophomore campaign. Baker is a low, powerful rusher with some of the best instincts in the conference, and he’ll be counted on to produce even more -- provided he can keep his talented teammates from stealing even more carries in 2011.

Montee Ball, Junior, Wisconsin

Ball gets the nod here just for being a year ahead of his teammate listed below, but the truth is both are going to be major weapons for the Badgers this year. Ball was a hair away from hitting 1,000 yards rushing last year, but his nose for the end zone is impeccable; he scored 18 rushing touchdowns last year, which is even more ridiculous considering half-man, half-truck John Clay was also a Badger last year and scored 14 TDs of his own. 20 touchdowns is totally in play for Ball this year.

Also watch for: All the true sophomores. There's a lot of them. First of all, both Baker and Bell have superlatively talented teammates in their backfields; Ball's partner in crime is reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year James White, who racked up 1,057 yards and 14 touchdowns as a true freshman. Meanwhile, the Spartans have true sophomore big back Le'Veon Bell, who rushed for 605 yards at 5.7 yards a carry last year. Iowa boasted its own a true freshman breakout star in Marcus Coker, who scorched Missouri for 219 yards and two scores in the Insight Bowl. Penn State's starting tailback Silas Redd was also a true freshman in 2010, looking impressive as he tallied 437 yards (5.7 yards per carry) in relief of since-departed Evan Royster. Ohio State has a trio of workhorses in its backfield in Rod Smith, Jaamal Berry (8.3 ypc as, yep, a true freshman in 2010), and suspended starter Boom Herron. Meanwhile, junior Rex Burkhead (Nebraska) and senior Jason Ford (Illinois) have been significant contributors in the backfield for years, and both have opportunities to put forward a big year.

WIDE RECEIVER

Derek Moye, Senior, Penn State

Penn State may not have its quarterback situation shored up just yet, but one thing for sure is that whoever steps forward will have the conference's best target to aim at. Moye is 6'5" and fast, and he led the Nittany Lions' receiving corps with 53 catches, 885 yards, and eight TDs -- all team highs last year. Ostensibly, both Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin (PSU's dueling QBs) have an even better rapport with Moye than they did last year, so don't be surprised to see all three of Moye's stats rise in his senior campaign.

Marvin McNutt, Senior, Iowa

McNutt first came onto the scene in 2009, when he was listed ahead of returning starter (and future Iowa record-holder in career receptions and receiving yards) Derrell Johnson-Koulianos on Iowa's depth chart coming out of camp. McNutt and Johnson-Koulianos eventually played their way into starting roles alongside each other, but the more surprising aspect was that McNutt -- recruited as a quarterback out of high school, and the Hawkeyes' 3rd stringer under center the year prior -- could work his way into the starting lineup that easily. McNutt quickly emerged as the surest catcher on the team, and his big play ability has put the Hawkeyes' career touchdown reception record in dire jeopardy (he needs just five scores to match Tim Dwight and Danan Hughes at 21).

Also watch for: Jeremy Ebert of Northwestern has a record of production that's as good as just about anybody else in the conference, and his familiarity with Dan Persa is going to be key as Persa continues to work his way back from a torn Achilles tendon. Ohio State wideout DeVier Posey was a favorite target -- by a pretty wide margin -- of Terrelle Pryor, and it's hardly a stretch to think that whoever OSU's new QB might be will depend on Posey often (once Posey comes back from suspension, anyway). 6'5" Indiana WR Damarlo Belcher would probably be in the NFL today if he had held onto a game-winning 4th down pass against Iowa last season. He didn't, the Hawkeyes won, new Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson convinced Belcher to stay, and here we are. Keshawn Martin and BJ Cunningham should both put up big numbers for Kirk Cousins at MSU.  

TIGHT END

Drake Dunsmore, Senior, Northwestern

From a purist's standpoint, Dunsmore is not technically a tight end; he's classified by Northwestern as a "superback," which means he can be found all over the place in the Wildcats' different offensive sets. He fits the same role that a tight end usually does, however, mixing a healthy amount of both blocking and receiving. Think of Dunsmore as Northwestern's Frank Wycheck. Also, think of him as Dan Persa's safety valve, being the second-leading receiver returning to the Wildcats and by far the leader among Big Ten tight ends with 40 receptions in 2010.

Also watch for: If Dunsmore's role as "superback" is too much of a departure from tight end for comfort, Nebraska TE Kyler Reed could easily take Dunsmore's place on this list. Reed's athleticism makes him one of the toughest tight ends to cover in the league, and at 18 yards per reception in 2010, he's proven the ability to move chains as well as any end in the conference. His eight touchdowns (tops among Big Ten TEs) don't hurt either.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Center Mike Brewster, Senior, Ohio State

Forget the Big Ten, Mike Brewster might well be the best center in the nation. In a position that usually attracts shorter linemen, Brewster stands tall at 6'5" 305 and still boasts elite technique. The four-year starter has become something of a folk hero in Columbus, and for good reason: he's probably going to be an All-Pro at the next level.

Guard Kevin Zeitler, Senior, Wisconsin

Now that First Team All-Americans Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt are gone to the NFL, the Wisconsin offensive line needs a new anchor, and Zeitler likely fits that bill. Zeitler is the most experienced offensive lineman on the Badgers, with 22 starts to his name, and his senior season should be his best.

Guard Joel Foreman, Senior, Michigan State

Foreman worked his way into the starting lineup early in his redshirt freshman season, and never relinquished the role. 36 starts later, he's the premier guard in the Big Ten, and his ability to get to the second level has been critical to Michigan State's considerable success rushing the ball. Foreman's pass protection skills are also stellar; it's no accident that Kirk Cousins has flourished as a passer over the last few years.

Tackle Mike Adams, Senior, Ohio State

Mike Adams shouldn't be on this list. He should be in the NFL, because he likely would have been a first-round pick last year. His role in the tattoo scandal and subsequent NCAA investigation led Jim Tressel to demand Adams return for his suspension-shortened senior season, and here we are. With the aforementioned Carimi off in the NFL, Adams takes over the mantle as the best tackle in college football, and his return to the Buckeyes' lineup after his five-game suspension is going to be a major factor in the Buckeyes' fight to stay atop the conference.

Tackle Riley Reiff, Junior, Iowa

As Iowa's left tackle, there's no denying Reiff has big shoes to fill; his recent predecessors include former All-Americans (and first-round NFL draft picks) Robert Gallery and Bryan Bulaga. Reiff could soon fit that bill himself; he's a big, mean masher who excels in downfield blocking and at the point of attack. Reiff's pass protection isn't as impressive quite yet, but he's still got two seasons left at Iowa to take that next step. He may not need two before the NFL comes calling.

Also watch for: Michigan center David Molk would probably be first-team in just about any other conference, but with Brewster manning the role for OSU, Molk is relegated to second-team status here. RT J.B. Shugarts is a third senior starter on the line for the Buckeyes, and if his foot injury is healed, he'll likely have a big year. Wisconsin RT Josh Oglesby is back from an injury that robbed him of all but two games in 2010, and he could easily play his way into all-conference consideration.  

Defense

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE Cameron Meredith, Junior, Nebraska

In Meredith’s first year starting in 2010, he racked up 10 quarterback hurries and 6.5 TFLs. That would be disconcerting enough by itself, but with the bevy of talent in the front seven, most of the help blocking will have to be devoted to other defenders -- meaning Meredith will likely be on an island with his opposing tackles, terrorizing them and opposing quarterbacks all season long. Look for his sack numbers to go way up in 2011.

DE Vince Browne, Senior, Northwestern

One of the most underappreciated players in the Big Ten is probably Vince Browne, who registered seven sacks and 15.5 TFL in relative obscurity last year. The spotlight's on Browne now as a consensus preseason first-team all-Big Ten player, and his production continues to improve, he'll quickly make Wildcats fans forget about former all-conference DE Corey Wootton.

DT Jared Crick, Senior, Nebraska

It's slightly unfair to Crick (pictured above right) that he shared a defensive front with former Heisman candidate DT Ndamukong Suh, because it only invites comparisons between the two rather than letting Crick define his own legacy at Nebraska. On the other hand, earning comparisons to Suh is fantastic news for Nebraska, because it means Crick's incredible. Crick is a likely All-American at DT, with 32 TFLs to his name over the last two seasons and the potential to pass 20 TFLs this year. He's big, strong, and disruptive, which probably means instant double-teams on the majority of snaps in 2011. That still might not be enough to slow Crick down.

DT Mike Martin, Senior, Michigan

Last year, Mike Martin faced the same challenge that former teammate Brandon Graham did in 2009: being the best defensive lineman on a truly terrible defense. At the very least, Martin gets another crack at helping the Wolverines turn their defense around, and with the arrival of Greg Mattison as defensive coordinator, that looks to be a real possibility. Martin wasn't at 100% very often last year, but he's healthy right now, and that plus the move back to a 4-3 lineup (with space eater William Campbell next to him at NT) should be enough to propel Martin and the Wolverines DL to a much-improved season.

Also watch for: Jerel Worthy is a monster on the interior for Michigan State and may supplant Martin as a first-team DT by season's end; Worthy's production needs to improve, though. Iowa DT Mike Daniels is in his second year of starting, and the aggressive senior showed flashes of potential last season. He's going from the "fifth starter" in 2010 to the leader of the retooling Iowa defensive line. Ohio State DE Nathan Williams is in his second year starting for the Buckeyes, and he's expected to put together a solid senior year.

LINEBACKER

Michael Mauti, Junior, Penn State

When healthy, Mauti is one of the most fearsome linebackers in the Big Ten. It's that health that poses a bit of an issue. Mauti missed all of 2009 with an ACL injury, then struggled through various maladies last season -- including a shoulder injury suffered against Ohio State. Sheer probability suggests Mauti will have better luck with injuries this year, and he's manning the inside linebacker spot in a defense that puts the ILB in the best position to make plays. Tackles will be plentiful for the talented junior this year.

Lavonte David, Senior, Nebraska

It's bad enough for Nebraska's opposing offensive linemen that they have to deal with Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler at defensive tackle at the same time. It's worse that behind them lurks All-American candidate MLB Lavonte David. With needing three blockers to engage Crick and Steinkuhler a near-certainty, Davis will be free to get to the edges and and hit the point of attack, both things the speedy linebacker can do extremely well. Look for unholy amounts of production from David in 2011.

Chris Borland, Sophomore, Wisconsin

Wisconsin's defense wasn't spectacular last year, but with an offense scoring over 30 points in all but one Big Ten game, it didn't need to be. That defense is getting a major boost this year as 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Borland returns after taking a medical redshirt last season. Borland is strong and aggressive, and he represents a significant step up from departing MLB Culmer St. Jean. It wasn't exactly easy to run on Wisconsin last year, but it'll be legitimately tough now.

Also watch for: Andrew Sweat takes over as the leader of Ohio State's defense now, and the rangy OLB is poised for a big year. Iowa MLB James Morris stepped in as a 215-pound true freshman last year, and now that he's bigger, he may never leave the starting lineup; Iowa coaches are especially high on him. Senior Nate Stupar is versatile and productive, and he'll help bolster the Penn State linebacking corps in a big way.

SECONDARY

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, Senior, Nebraska

With former teammate and All-American CB Prince Amukamara off to the NFL, it's Dennard's time to shine as Nebraska's lockdown cornerback. He showed all the necessary potential last year as opposing quarterbacks threw for under 50% all season long (tops among BCS teams), and while the loss of Amukamara might push opposing passer ratings up a bit, throwing at Dennard is still going to be a terrible, terrible idea. 

Cornerback Shaun Prater, Senior, Iowa

Prater's interceptions are about to drop precipitously. Not because the returning All-Big Ten cornerback is about to get any worse, but with his accolades and the uncertainty in the rest of the Iowa secondary, there isn't going to be a whole lot of sense in testing Prater anymore.

Safety Aaron Henry, Senior, Wisconsin

Henry, a cornerback for the Badgers until 2010, made a successful transition to safety by registering 58 tackles, seven PBUs, and a pair of interceptions last year. With a year of experience at free safety under his belt and a wealth of athleticism to boot, Henry should be even better in 2011.

Safety Trenton Robinson, Senior, Michigan State

It's hard to argue with results, so it's hard to argue with Trenton Robinson's eight passes broken up and four interceptions; only Northwestern cornerback Jordan Mabin had more passes defended last season, with 14 PBUs and a pick. Robinson is also the leading tackler among returning MSU starters, so look for a big senior year in center field for him.

Also watch for: Iowa CB-turned-safety Micah Hyde might have a case for being on this list after scoring two touchdowns off interceptions last year, but he’ll need to produce at his new position for Iowa before any accolades come his way. True sophomore cornerback Ricardo Allen is a rising star in Purdue’s secondary after two defensive scores of his own; he’ll be getting All-American consideration before his career’s over. Also, as mentioned before, Jordan Mabin led the conference in passes broken up by a pretty substantial margin. That's worth something.

Specialists

KICKER

Derek Dimke, Senior, Illinois

Dimke is the returning first-team All-Big Ten kicker, and for good reason; the Lou Groza watch list member was 24-29 on field goals last year, and he's got one of the strongest legs in the conference. Look for another all-conference performance this year.

PUNTER

Brad Nortman, Senior, Wisconsin

Not only is Nortman one of the best (if not often-used) punters in the conference, he also led the Big Ten in rushing average after gaining 17 yards on a fake punt in Wisconsin's 31-30 win over Iowa last year. Sadly, Nortman's one rushing attempt did not qualify him for the official league crown. With the top three punters in the 2010 Big Ten all graduating, Nortman has an opportunity to step up and put together a big senior year.

Posted on: July 29, 2011 3:10 pm
 

Grades will sideline PSU's Paul Jones

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Paul Jones was one of the top recruits in Penn State's 2010 recruiting class and was expected to compete for the starting quarterback job for the Nittany Lions this fall. Well, thanks to his grades, the Penn State quarterback derby is now a two-horse race.

According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette Jones is going to miss the 2011 season thanks to some academic problems.
Coach Joe Paterno confirmed the news today prior to the Big Ten Conference's kickoff luncheon.

Jones, 6 feet 3 and 245 pounds, has struggled academically since graduating from Sto-Rox High School and enrolling early at Penn State in January 2010.
This means that the quarterback job will likely go to either Rob Bolden or Matt McGloin. Both of whom saw time at quarterback last season. Bolden was the first freshman to start at quarterback at Penn State during Paterno's long tenure at the school. After Bolden suffered a concussion, McGloin took over the starting gig and never let it go.

Which led to Bolden requesting a transfer after the season, a request that was denied by Paterno, but now it seems everybody is happy to be in Happy Valley.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com