Tag:Northwestern
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. 

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. | Preview
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. 

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. | Preview
Posted on: September 19, 2011 6:01 pm
Edited on: September 19, 2011 6:35 pm
 

Big Ten poll reactions, Week 3

Posted by Adam Jacobi

This week's polls have been released. Here's how the Big Ten fared, from the top of the polls to the bottom, and what it means.

(AP/Coaches)

6/7. Wisconsin

Wisconsin stays moving up, and for this I'm happy; the Badgers have looked like a Top 5 or 6 program every step of the way thus far, and now they're only 5 voter points away from overtaking Oklahoma State in the coaches poll. Of course, some voters might have a problem with the Wisconsin schedule thus far, and that's a valid thing to take into account (especially at this point in the season). So no howls of outrage here by any stretch -- especially when there's the rest of the poll to take umbrage with.

9/9. Nebraska

Needless to say, if I didn't agree with Nebraska's ranking last week, I'm not going to agree with it this week -- they're No. 16 in my Top 25, because I don't do the straight win-go-up, lose-go-down polling thing. The Huskers don't look like a Top 10 team at all so far -- not when it takes so long for the Huskers to put away the likes of Fresno State and Washington in Lincoln. They also don't look like a .500 team either, because this year's crop of teams drops off pretty precipitously after the first two tiers, and Nebraska looks to be on that third tier. Don't get me wrong -- they're still the team to beat in the Legends division. But 9th in the nation? No. Nooo no no no. Not yet. Not like this. 

22/21. Michigan

I personally still don't have Michigan in my Top 25 yet -- they're mighty close -- but I understand this ranking and I don't have much of a problem with it -- as of right now. Denard Robinson still terrifies me throwing the ball, though, and I still think this all crashes down in the last half of the season in a big way, but if Michigan takes care of SDSU this weekend and handles its first road test at Northwestern (who should have a healthy Dan Persa by then), it'll have earned a Top 20 spot.

UR/23. Michigan State

Yes, Michigan State is still ranked in the coaches poll and Illinois is not. The coaches poll is a joke. The real coaches don't even participate. I don't want to cover it like a serious thing anymore, but it just so happens to be a third of the BCS calculations so here we are every week, going through with this. Ugh.

24/UR. Illinois

With the Saturday win over then-No. 22 Arizona State, Illinois catapulted itself into the national conversation for the time being, and good for the Illini; they've got a legit quarterback in Nathan Scheelhaase, a productive defense with a mean streak, and a schedule that lends itself to maybe as many as 10 regular season wins. They could -- nay, should be 6-0 heading into a home date with Ohio State on October 15. Giddyup!

Also receiving votes: Illinois (90 coaches votes), Michigan State (42 AP votes), Ohio State (16 AP votes, 92 coaches votes), Penn State (19 coaches votes), Northwestern (1 coaches vote)

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 17, 2011 11:41 am
 

Big Ten Bullet Points, Week 3

Posted by Adam Jacobi

Here's a quick rundown on what every Big Ten team should be focusing on in today's action.

ILLINOIS: Consistency. Ron Zook-coached teams and mental toughness don't often go hand-in-hand, but that's a trait the Illini will need when No. 22 Arizona State comes to town. With QB Brock Osweiler, WR Aaron Pflugrand, and LB Vontaze Burfict, ASU has a plethora of playmakers. And yet, Missouri nearly pulled off a fourth quarter comeback win on ASU last week by staying focused and taking advantage of the Sun Devils' mistakes. Illinois will likely need to do both to pull the upset today.

INDIANA: Just get the win. Indiana's had two games and two disappointing close losses to start the year, and now South Carolina State comes to town. The Hoosiers should be easily capable of defeating the Bulldogs here, and only a continued mental letdown from the first two losses can or should stand in Indiana's way.

IOWA: Avenge Jake Christensen! In 2008, Iowa travelled to Pitt with embattled QB Jake Christensen starting under center. Iowa lost a 21-20 heartbreaker, Christensen was benched for Ricky Stanzi, and that was that. Now, Pitt comes to Iowa City with junior QB Tino Sunseri struggling mightily. Can Iowa bury Sunseri and the Panthers? 

MICHIGAN: That's enough drama for one month, thanks. The Notre Dame comeback was one for the ages, but Michigan's got Eastern Michigan and San Diego State to close out the month of September. Brady Hoke's got to be looking for safe, low-blood-pressure wins tomorrow and next week before Big Ten season begins.

MICHIGAN STATE: Score points (because Notre Dame sure will). Unless Notre Dame has one of the worst cases of the yips in football history, it won't turn the ball over five times again, which means that potent offense is going to put up points -- even against MSU's underrated defense. But Michigan State has major-league talent at every skill position, and that talent's going to have to pay off early and often today.

MINNESOTA: Jerry Kill wants you to kill. We're continually buoyed by the good news coming out of Minneapolis about Kill's improving condition, but meanwhile there is a game to be played, and as head coach, Kill must want nothing more than to see his players take the fight to Miami University -- and take the spotlight off him and his seizure condition.

NEBRASKA: So what's Taylor Martinez here to do? Nebraska has looked unstoppable on the ground at times this season, but good heavens is Taylor Martinez hit-and-miss when he throws the ball. Today's a good day to show the coaches he's been watching game film -- and to make better reads and passes against Washington's sturdy secondary as a result. Otherwise he's a glorified tailback running the wildcat.

NORTHWESTERN: The Kain mutiny. This is likely Kain Colter's third straight start under center for Northwestern, and since there's a bye week coming up and Dan Persa's at least suiting up for today's game against Army, it's also likely Colter's last start. His last, that is, unless he earns the spot over Persa with play on the field. What I'm saying is, he should aim for at least eight touchdowns today against our troops. It's not patriotic, but neither is any team that beats Army, so what're you gonna do.  

OHIO STATE: Win the aerial battle. Both Ohio State and Miami have somewhat suspect situations at quarterback, with Joe Bauserman and Jacory Harris both seemingly one or two bad weeks away from a spot on the bench. OSU's got the better secondary, but not by much, so execution on both ends of the passing game is going to be critical in this night game.

PENN STATE: Don't sleep on Temple. The Alabama nightmare is gone and done, and Penn State can get back on track this week. Except... Temple's off to a hellacious start. It beat FCS powerhouse Villanova 42-7, then stomped MAC rival Akron 41-3. The line on this game is seven points. SEVEN! Temple RB Bernard Pierce vs. Penn State's front seven should be great fun to watch.

PURDUE: A new peace at quarterback? Purdue fans are probably eager for a familiar face under center against Southeast Missouri State, and to that end, Robert Marve appears to be ready to take snaps today. Caleb TerBush is still the starter, but it's generally accepted that he was just placeholding until Marve's rehab from last year's ACL injury; he wasn't even expected to play much this year, but putative starter Rob Henry tore an ACL before Week 1. Sophomore Sean Robinson has had his expected redshirt burnt for the second straight season, and has struggled in his limited opportunities. Sound like a mess? It is. So if Marve looks good today coming into next Saturday's bye week, expect him to be written into the starting role for Week 5.

WISCONSIN: No alarms and no surprises. Wisconsin is headed for a classic "trap game" at Northern Illinois this weekend, and Northern Illinois is better than you think. The Badgers have the horses to win handily, but they're on the road and facing former defensive coordinator Dave Doeren, who's now helming NIU. A fast start and a minimum of mistakes will help put this game away early -- and keep blood pressures down back home in Madison.

Posted on: September 12, 2011 12:42 pm
Edited on: September 12, 2011 12:42 pm
 

Dan Persa's billboard is no more

Posted by Tom Fornelli

With the success of the Northwestern football program in recent seasons under Pat Fitzgerald, the school had recently began a bit of a public relations blitz in the Chicagoland area touting Northwestern as being "Chicago's Big Ten team." As part of that campaign, the school also paid to put up a billboard of quarterback Dan Persa over the Kennedy Expressway that hyped Persa as a Heisman candidate.

Well, two games into the new season the Wildcats find themselves at 2-0, but Persa is yet to play in a game as he still recovers from an Achilles injury he suffered last year.

Now his billboard has come down as well.

It has been replaced with another advertisement for Northwestern football, which the school says has nothing to do with Persa's injury and was the plan all along.

Which could totally be the case, and I'm sure the school did plan on bringing the Persa billboard down at some point, but I can't help but think had he been healthy to start the season and having another great year, Persa would have been leering down on Chicagoans stuck in traffic for a bit longer.
Posted on: September 11, 2011 6:43 pm
Edited on: September 11, 2011 9:28 pm
 

Big Ten poll reactions, Week 2

Posted by Adam Jacobi

This week's polls have been released. Here's how the Big Ten fared, from the top of the polls to its bottom, and what it means.

(AP/Coaches)

7/8. Wisconsin

I grumbled yesterday about the fact that Wisconsin's ranking was too low relative to the actual quality of its team, and to the polls' credit, the Badgers moved up a spot in each poll. Granted, that was only because Texas A&M enjoyed its bye week early and was summarily punished for that by pollsters, which, all right I guess you showed them, but it's a start. I've got the Badgers sixth on my personal ballot, and that might still be too low, but the fact that the Badgers are moving up is a step in the right direction.

10/10. Nebraska

Nebraska held steady at No. 10, meanwhile, but this is just that silly lazy pollster mentality than a reflection of the season Nebraska has put together thus far. The Huskers struggled for a second straight week to justify their lofty praise, beating a middling Fresno State squad 42-29 and looking decidedly average in the process. For that, Nebraska's No. 18 in my poll, and if that sounds like OMG MEDIA DISRESPECT, keep in mind we're hit over the head year-round with the "every week counts" mantra from the BCS elite, so if we're going to be honest about what that actually means, then we need to be able to look at Nebraska's first two games and realize that it has not played at a Top 10 level thus far. Taylor Martinez is a wonderfully gifted runner, but as a passer he is a ticking time bomb. The way he's thrown the ball in the first two games won't be enough to lead Nebraska to even a division title, much less the conference crown and a BCS bowl bid.

15/15. Michigan State

The Spartans made slight jumps in both polls after their throttling of Florida Atlantic, and that ranking is just about right so there's no qualms here from me. Their defense is going to get a major test with a trip to South Bend this week, and let's not kid ourselves -- even at 0-2, Notre Dame is a very dangerous opponent. If Tommy Rees and his compatriots hadn't turned the ball over five times in each of the first two weeks, they'd probably be 2-0 right now, and a borderline Top-10 team. If MSU survives this road test, it deserves to move up in the polls. Way up.

17/16. Ohio State

Just as I was bearish on Nebraska for its underwhelming performance against Fresno, I'm mortified by Ohio State getting taken to the wire by Toledo, so to see the Buckeyes only drop from 15th in both polls to here is a bit of a joke. They still deserve to be ranked, and they've got nothing but BCS opponents from here on out so the stage is set for earning a return to national prominence, but right now it sure looks like the Buckeyes are three or four spots too high. Hey, every week counts, right?

Others receiving votes: Michigan (104 AP votes, 97 Coaches votes), Northwestern (19 AP votes, 31 Coaches votes), Penn State (18 AP votes, 29 Coaches votes)
Posted on: September 11, 2011 4:21 am
 

What I learned from the Big Ten (Sep. 10)



Posted by Adam Jacobi


1. Michigan and Denard Robinson, the night is yours. What could there possibly be to say about the Michigan-Notre Dame contest that would properly suit such a game, such a finish? Then again, as those fake old Adidas uniforms (shown above) proved, "proper suiting" had no place in this game, so let's talk about it at length. Michigan slept through the first three quarters, trailing the Fighting Irish 24-7 at the third intermission in a game that didn't even seem that close, and Denard Robinson looked completely ill-suited to succeed in the Brady Hoke/Al Borges offense.

At that point, naturally, all hell broke loose. Michigan scored on the first play of the fourth quarter when Notre Dame stuffed a Wolverine halfback dive at the goal line and forced a fumble ... only the ball bounced right to Robinson, who ran the recovery in for an easy score before anybody else knew what was happening. Robinson would then engineer three more touchdown drives almost singlehandedly, the last taking all of three plays and 28 seconds before Roy Roundtree came down with the game-winning touchdown pass from Robinson with two ticks left on the clock.

The thing of it was, though, Robinson's passing wasn't even good. His accuracy was way off all day, and two of Robinson's three interceptions were absolutely unconscionable throws (including a screen pass that sailed at least five feet over his nearby receiver's head). Even after Robinson came to life late in the third quarter, his big plays were mostly underthrows and jump balls that so markedly didn't fit the arc and timing of the routes that Notre Dame's secondary struggled to adjust to where the throws ended up being, even while they were ostensibly providing good coverage.

And yet still, football is not about style points, it is about actual points, and those comical throws ended up netting Michigan enough actual points to seal the victory and set off a party at the Big House that didn't stop until the police were forced to tell the student section to go home. May all college football games end so delightfully for the home partisans, right?

2. It was pretty rough everywhere else. Michigan beat Notre Dame. That was a marquee win for the conference, without a doubt. But elsewhere, Big Ten members lost to Alabama (fine), Virginia (um), Iowa State (no), Rice (NO), and New Mexico State (NOOOOOOO). The wins, by and large, weren't really impressive either. Ohio State barely scraped by Toledo, and Nebraska caught four tough quarters from Fresno State. And those are two ranked division crown contenders! In the Big Ten! Elsewhere, Illinois and Northwestern throttled their FCS opponents, while Michigan State and Wisconsin took care of business against two wretched FBS opponents in FAU and Oregon State, respectively. That's, um, not a good week.

Of course, BCS Championships aren't won in Week 2, only lost, and aside from maybe Iowa (though that ISU win didn't look like an upset at all), the teams that lost today by and large weren't serious contenders for division titles to begin with. We've got a lot of football left in the year, and teams turning their seasons around after a rocky opening are hardly rare in college ball. That all said, if it's not time to panic yet for the five Big Ten teams with blemished records, it's certainly time for significant concern.  

3. Jerry Kill gets seizures sometimes. The TCF Bank crowd was shocked into silence and play was stopped in the waning seconds of the Minnesota-New Mexico State game on Saturday when Gophers head coach Jerry Kill collapsed and went into a seizure on the sideline. Kill would end up on the ground for about 15 minutes before being carted off and hospitalized. Shortly thereafter, Minnesota medical staff would assure reporters that Kill's life was never in danger, that he has had this seizure disorder for years, and that he will be fine, but still -- that was a terrifying sight.

The interesting aspect of the episode's aftermath is the series of revelations about Kill's disorder, namely that not only will Kill be fine, but he's had similar incidents before and never ended up missing a game of work. That seems unusual to people unfamiliar with seizures -- which would be most people, if we're being honest -- since generally, when someone collapses suddenly, doctors aren't clearing them to work the next week. And yet that's precisely the case with Kill, who has not been given a timetable for a return but will likely do so for Minnesota's next game. Let's hope his seizures don't make a habit of returning, of course, but let's also be thankful that they're generally not life-threatening or even career-altering.

4. Penn State's quarterback situation may be worse than we all imagined. Let's get one thing out of the way right off the bat: Alabama's defense is fantastic this year. Not only is it easily the best Penn State will face this year, it might be one of the ten best defenses Joe Paterno has ever faced. They're going to make a LOT of quarterbacks look bad this year.

That all said, Robert Bolden and Matt McGloin didn't just look bad on Saturday, they looked like they didn't belong on a D-I football field. Bolden finished 11-29 for 144 yards and one interception, and McGloin was an incomprehensible 1-10 for 0 yards. Really. Their wide receivers didn't do them a whole lot of favors, it should be pointed out, and Alabama's coverage was suffocating, but Bolden and McGloin routinely made bad throws regardless of the coverage. It can't have helped that the two QBs were rotated in and out with casual-at-best regard for their on-field performances, and it's likely that JoePa tires somewhat of the platoon situation in the near future, but it was also obvious that neither quarterback is playing at anywhere near a high level, and that's a dire situation without an obvious or effective fix. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this could easily submarine Penn State's season, and Joe Paterno really doesn't have many more seasons to sacrifice to the Bad QB What Are You Gonna Do gods.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com