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2015 Week 13 Big Ten Roundup

Connor Cook returned and Michigan State dominated Penn State on Saturday. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America)
Connor Cook returned and Michigan State dominated Penn State on Saturday. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America)

2015 Week 13 Big Ten Roundup

The second to last week in the Big Ten regular season saw all fourteen teams playing in conference clashes with the Big Ten East Division winner still to be decided. It was easy for Michigan State – win against Penn State and they would be playing in Indianapolis on December 5. For Michigan and Ohio State, they needed to win against each other and hope for a Michigan State loss.

#4 Iowa Hawkeyes at Nebraska Cornhuskers

Result: Iowa Win 28-20 (Friday, November 27)

Iowa went on the road and took care of business against Nebraska to move into the Big Ten Championship Game undefeated.

C.J. Beathard was far from impressive throwing the ball going 9 of 16 for 97 yards and a touchdown. However, Jordan Canzeri picked up the slack with 140 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns on 17 carries. George Kittle had 2 catches for 35 yards and the lone receiving touchdown. Iowa put up just 250 yards of offense and did not convert a single one of their 9 third down attempts.

Iowa’s defense was the story as they forced four turnovers, all interceptions. Parker Hesse’s pick was excellent as he stepped in front of the pass at the four yard line, tipped the ball to himself, and easily scored the touchdown. Greg Mabin, Josey Jewell, and Cole Fisher all intercepted passes as well.

Tommy Armstrong did not have a good game for Nebraska throwing for 296 yards and those 4 picks on 25 of 45 passing. He did rush for 46 yards on 9 carries while Imani Cross had 19 carries for 55 yards and 2 scores. Cethan Carter led the Huskers with 4 catches for 76 yards while Brandon Reilly had 3 grabs for 50 yards. Jordan Westerkamp was held to only 2 catches for 41 yards. The Huskers were able to put up 433 yards of offense, but the turnovers hurt them. The Huskers did go 7 of 16 on third down.

Iowa (12-0, 8-0) will play Michigan State on Saturday to decided the Big 10 Champion. The winner is practically guaranteed a spot in the College Football Playoffs.

Nebraska (5-7, 3-5) is not guaranteed a bowl spot, but could end up going to one anyway due to a lack of 6 win teams.

#8 Ohio State Buckeyes at #10 Michigan Wolverines

Result: Ohio State Win 42-13

A week after a horrendous offense performance for Ohio State, they responded by crushing the Wolverines with a massive rushing performance.

JT Barrett went 9 of 15 for 113 yards and a touchdown through the air, but this game was all about the ground attack for the Buckeyes. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 214 yards and 2 touchdowns on 30 carries a week after he inexplicably had only 12 carries for 33 yards. Barrett also had his fun running the ball with 19 carries for 139 yards and 3 scores. Michael Thomas was the top receiver with 2 catches for 50 yards. Ohio State put up 482 yards on one of the top defense in college while going 7 of 13 on third down.

Jake Rudock had a decent game going 19 of 32 for 263 yards and a touchdown. He had no problem finding Jehu Chesson 8 times for 111 yards and a touchdown. Amara Darboh had 68 yards on 4 catches while Jake Butt had 5 grabs for 54 yards. The running game was virtually non-existent with 25 rushes for 57 yards as a team for the entire game. Michigan had 364 yards of offense and was a solid 9 of 18 on third downs.

Ohio State (11-1, 7-1) will not be playing in the Big 10 Championship, but will probably end up in a New Year’s 6 Bowl. Michigan (9-3, 6-2) finished a very good first year under Jim Harbaugh and will probably end up in a January bowl game.

Indiana Hoosiers at Purdue Boilermakers

Result: Indiana Win 54-36

Indiana had an offensive explosion against Purdue to get them into a bowl game. There was not a lot of defense played in this contest on either side.

Nate Sudfeld went 18 of 29 for 350 yards and 4 touchdowns while also had another touchdown rushing. No Jordan Howard for Indiana? No problem as Devine Redding had 144 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries and the Hoosiers ran for 309 yards as a team. Ricky Brookins had 64 yards rushing while Andrew Wilson also had 52 yards and a score on 15 carries.

Mitchell Paige had 5 catches for 92 yards and a touchdown, Simmie Cobbs had 5 catches for 84 yards and a touchdown, and Andre Brooker had only one catch, but it was a 72 yard touchdown. Indiana put up 659 yards of offense and went 5 of 15 on third down. The defense also forced four turnovers, which the offense turned into only 3 points.

Purdue did not play poorly on offense, but they did have 4 turnovers. Austin Appleby had 332 yards, two touchdowns, and 2 interceptions on 36 of 57 passing. Appleby also ran for two scores while Markell Jones had 16 carries for 96 yards and a touchdown. Four Purdue receivers had at least 5 catches and 50 yards (Danny Anthrop, DeAngelo Yancey, Domonique Young, and Cameron Posey), but the two touchdown catches came from Jordan Jurasevich and Cole Herdman. Purdue put up 486 yards of offense and went 6 of 16 on third down.

Indiana (6-6, 2-6) has finally reached bowl eligibility for the first time since 2007 when they played in the Insight Bowl. Purdue (2-10, 1-7) finished with a worse record than 2014 when they went 3-9. Under Darrell Hazell, the team is 6-30, but opted to keep him for 2016 season.

Maryland Terrapins at Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Result: Maryland Win 46-41

Despite having no bowl implications, this game was one of the more entertaining ones of the week as Maryland came back from a 31-10 deficit to win 46-41 on a touchdown in the final five minutes of the contest.

Caleb Rowe went 16 of 32 for 239 yards passing with no touchdowns or interceptions. The run game was great for Maryland as Brandon Ross ran for 173 yards and 3 touchdowns on 28 carries. Rowe had 7 carries for 98 yards, Ty Johnson was incredibly efficient with 2 carries for 87 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Kenneth Goins had one carry for 42 yards and a touchdown.

Jahrvis Davenport led the team in receiving with 7 catches for 89 yards, DeAndre Lane had 4 grabs for 63 yards, and D.J. Moore caught 4 passes for 49 yards. Maryland had 656 yards of offense and went 5 of 15 on third down.

Rutgers had a good day on offense as well, but lost a 21 point lead. Chris Laviano went 21 of 33 for 344 yards with 4 touchdowns and a pick. Paul James had 17 carries for 71 yards and a touchdown, Josh Hicks had 61 yards on 10 carries, and Robert Martin had 16 carries for 42 yards. Leonte Carroo ended his season the way he started: with a big game. Carroo had 7 catches for 183 yards and a touchdown while Janarion Grant caught 4 passes for 56 yards and a score. Rutgers had 530 yards of offense and went 3 off 11 on third down.

Maryland (3-9, 1-7) and Rutgers (4-8, 1-7) will both be home for the bowl season and will also be looking for new head coaches for 2016.

Penn State Nittany Lions at #5 Michigan State Spartans

Result: Michigan State Win 55-16

With a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game on the line, Michigan State did not just take care of Penn State, they destroyed them.

Christian Hackenberg went 22 of 39 for 257 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions while Saquon Barkley ran 17 times for 103 yards. Chris Godwin had a good day catching 11 passes for 109 yards and 2 touchdowns while DaeSean Hamilton had 8 catches for 78 yards and Saeed Blacknall had one catch for 77 yards. Penn State had 418 yards of offense and went 5 of 15 on third down. Penn State went an excellent 4 of 5 on fourth downs as well.

Connor Cook came back from injury for the Spartans to go 19 of 26 for 248 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Spartans as a team had a solid rushing attack with 38 carries for 188 yards and 3 touchdowns. The touchdowns came from Gerald Holmes, LJ Scott, and center Jack Allen. Aaron Burbridge had 6 catches for 75 yards and his touchdown was spectacular as he took a hit and spun twice to reach the end zone. The Spartans had little trouble on third down going 8 of 11 and had 436 yards of offense.

Penn State (7-5, 4-4) had a terrible ending to the season losing their final three games. Michigan State (11-1, 7-1) has a date with Iowa on Saturday in the Big Ten Championship Game. The winner will all but be guaranteed a spot in the College Football Playoffs.

#16 Northwestern Wildcats at Illinois Fighting Illini

Result: Northwestern Win 24-14

Northwestern got out to a comfortable 21-7 halftime lead and held on from there to prevent in-state rival Illinois from reaching 6-6 on the year.

Clayton Thorson went 12 of 25 for 146 yards with a touchdown pass and an interception. Justin Jackson had his eighth 100 yard rushing game going for 172 yards and a touchdown on 37 attempts. Warren Long had 25 yards and a score on 5 carries as well. Austin Carr had 3 catches for 61 yards, Miles Shuler hauled in 2 passes for 39 yards, and Dan Vitale had 3 catches for 32 yards and the lone receiving touchdown. Northwestern finished with 350 yards of offense and went 6 of 19 on third down.

Wes Lunt went 20 of 41 for 241 yards with no touchdowns and an interception, but ran for a score. Ke’Shawn Vaughn had 12 carries for 62 yards while Josh Ferguson had 14 carries for 40 yards and caught 7 passes for 100 yards. Desmond Cain had 4 grabs for 52 yards, Malik Turner had 3 caches for 46 yards, and Geronimo Allison had 5 grabs for 42 yards. Illinois had 319 yards and went 6 of 18 on third down.

Northwestern (10-2, 6-2) has reached double digit wins for the first time since 2012 when they went 10-3. In that year, Northwestern also won their bowl game. Illinois (5-7, 2-6) is not bowl eligible, but like Nebraska, may still be part of a bowl due to the lack of 6 win teams in the FBS.

Wisconsin Badgers at Minnesota Golden Gophers

Result: Wisconsin Win 31-21

A rivalry game between Wisconsin and Minnesota saw the Badgers’ rushing game get back on track.

Joel Stave’s first pass of the game was returned for a touchdown and the Badgers opted to keep the ball on the ground after that. Stave went 9 of 17 for 79 yards, no touchdowns, and the aforementioned pick. Dare Ogunbowale had his best game of the season with 33 carries for 155 yards and a touchdown. He looked much better this week with more decisive cuts, power running, and shiftiness. Taiwan Deal also had a good game with 90 yards and 2 touchdowns on 22 carries. Alex Erickson was the leading receiver with 6 catches for 66 yards.

The Badgers defense was excellent forcing 5 turnovers against Minnesota. Tanner McEvoy had 2 interceptions, Joe Schobert forced a fumble and recovered a separate one, and Darius Hillary had 2 fumble recoveries. Corey Clement did not travel with the team due to an incident on Wednesday.

Mitch Leidner went 16 of 37 for 223 yards with a touchdown and three picks while being held to only 10 yards rushing on 6 carries. Rodney Smith had 7 rushes for 35 yards and a touchdown while Shannon Brooks was limited to 8 yards on 5 carries. Brooks was the top receiver with 3 catches for 53 yards while Nick Hart had 3 receptions for 45 yards. The Badgers did a good job limiting KJ Maye to 5 catches for 45 yards and Drew Wolitarsky had 2 catches for 44 yards and a touchdown. Minnesota finished with 276 yards, were 3 of 12 on third down, and missed both fourth down conversions.

Wisconsin (9-3, 6-2) finished third in the West Division, but still have a chance at 10 wins in the bowl game. Minnesota (5-7, 2-6) endured a tough season with the loss of their head coach midway through the season, but could still end up in a bowl game if there are not enough 6 win teams.

2015 Week 9 Big Ten Roundup

Michigan needed a goal line stop to win the Little Brown Jug (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images North America)
Michigan needed a goal line stop to win the Little Brown Jug (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images North America)

2015 Week 9 Big Ten Roundup

The ninth week of college football provided five Big Ten games. The game of the week turned out to be Michigan at Minnesota, but the other four games also provided story lines.

Illinois Fighting Illini at Penn State Nittany Lions

Result: Penn State Win 39-0 (Saturday, October 31)

Penn State had the largest margin of victory in Week 9 by one point, but they completely shut down the Illinois offense.

Christian Hackenberg had a good game going 21 of 29 for 266 yards with 2 touchdowns through the air. He also caught a 14 yard touchdown pass on a half back pass for his third touchdown. Saquon Barkley ran for 84 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries while Mark Allen had a touchdown and 23 yards on just 2 carries.

Eight different Penn State players caught a pass with Chris Godwin leading the way with 7 catches for 76 yards and a score. Saquon Barkley added another 58 yards on 3 catches through the air while DaeSean Hamilton had 4 grabs for 54 yards. The offense put up exactly 400 yards while going 5 of 13 on third down.

Illinois could not get anything going on offense thanks in large part to the Penn State defense. Wes Lunt struggled during this game throwing for just 129 yards with an interception on 16 of 37 passing. Ke’Shawn Vaughn had 15 carries for 38 yards and Chayce Crouch ran for 22 yards on 5 carries. Dionte Taylor caught 4 passes for 45 yards, Geronimo Allison had 4 grabs for 34 yards, and Vaughn had 6 catches for 33 yards.

Illinois only mustered 167 yards of offense and went 6 of 21 on third downs. As a team, they had just 37 yards rushing on 27 carries for a putrid average of 1.4 yards per carry.

Illinois (4-4, 1-3) has dropped three games in a row and will face Purdue next week on the road. Penn State (7-2, 4-1) will have a tough road contest at Northwestern next week.

Nebraska Cornhuskers at Purdue Boilermakers

Result: Purdue Win 55-45 (Saturday, October 31)

While not game of the week, the Nebraska-Purdue contest was incredibly wild in the fourth quarter with 42 points put on the board in the final frame alone.

Nebraska opted to go with Ryker Fyfe at quarterback with Tommy Armstrong out with an injury. Fyfe was a bit of a conundrum looking really good at times and also making poor throws at time. He finished 29 of 48 for 407 yards with 4 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He was forced to throw due to an ineffective rushing game and being in a deficit late in the game.

Terrell Newby ran for 56 yards on 10 carries while Imani Cross had 8 carries for 39 yards and a touchdown. The Huskers finished the game with 29 carries for 77 yards. Jordan Westerkamp led Nebraska in receiving with 9 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Reilly had 5 grabs for 88 yards and a score while 10 different players recorded at least one reception. The offense finished with 484 yards and went 7 of 12 on third down.

Purdue had a big game from quarterback David Blough with 28 of 43 passing for 274 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also added 82 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries to help his cause as Markell Jones had a nice game with 23 carries for 92 yards and 2 touchdowns. DeAngelo Yancey had 5 catches for 111 yards and 2 touchdowns, Jones had 5 catches for 51 yards, and Danny Anthrop had 10 catches for 40 yards and a touchdown.

Purdue was far more balanced on offense than Nebraska, but totaled less yards with 457. They went 8 of 17 on third down and also converted on 2 of 3 fourth down attempts. The time of possession was just about 50-50 in this game.

Nebraska (3-6, 1-4) is on the verge of missing a bowl game for the first time since 2007 when the Huskers were in the forgettable Bill Callahan era. Nebraska faces Michigan State at home next week in a must win situation to stay alive for a possible bowl game.

Purdue (2-6, 1-3) will also need to win out to make a bowl game, which is even more unlikely than Nebraska. Purdue has Illinois next week at home.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Wisconsin Badgers

Result: Wisconsin Win 48-10 (Saturday, October 31)

Wisconsin had Joel Stave and Corey Clement back for this game and it was clear the offense was much better with the duo in the lineup.

Joel Stave was not crisp going 13 of 25, but had 217 yards and a touchdown. He also threw two picks one of which was returned for a touchdown by Blessuan Austin. Corey Clement had 115 yards and 3 touchdowns on just 11 carries and could have had even more scores, but could not finish one long run of 58 yards as he was tackled at the four yard line.

Dare Ogunbowale had 14 carries for 41 yards and a score while Tanner McEvoy also had 2 carries for 29 yards and a touchdown. Alex Erickson led the offense with 6 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown and Troy Fumagalli caught 3 passes for 55 yards. The Badgers were very balanced with 217 yards passing and 209 yards rushing for a total of 426. Wisconsin went 8 of 16 on third down and one of one on fourth down.

Rutgers struggled all game on both phases of the offense. Chris Laviano went 4 of 14 for 31 yards and an interception. Hayden Rettig came in late to go 2 of 6 for 51 yards, but all indications are Laviano will hold on to the starting job. The rushing game was not much better with Josh Hicks running for 72 yards on 15 carries. Carlton Agudosi led the team with one catch for 49 yards. Rutgers finished with 165 yards of offense and converted only 2 of 15 on third down.

Rutgers (3-5, 1-4) will have a second straight road game against Michigan next week. Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1) will travel to face Maryland next week.

Maryland Terrapins at #10 Iowa Hawkeyes

Result: Iowa Win 31-15 (Saturday, October 31)

Iowa did not always look great against Maryland, but they never looked in danger of losing the game.

Perry Hills went 11 of 24 for 74 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. Hills also led the offense with 104 yards rushing on 19 carries while Wes Brown had 8 carries for 33 yards and Brandon Ross had 5 carries for 31 yards. 8 different receivers caught a pass for Maryland, but the leader was Taivon Jacobs with 3 catches for 18 yards and a touchdown. Maryland had 241 yards of offense and converted only 1 of 10 third downs. Maryland also got a 100 yard kickoff return from William Likely in the fourth quarter.

C.J. Beathard went 12 of 23 for 183 yards with no touchdowns and no picks. Akrum Wadley had 19 carries for 67 yards and a touchdown while LeShun Daniels ran for 60 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Matt VandeBerg caught 3 passes for 54 yards while Tevaun Smith had 2 grabs for 35 yards. Iowa totaled 293 yards on offense and converted 6 of 16 third downs. Desmond King continues to be a ball-hawk for the Iowa defense with another interception. He returned his pick for a touchdown to give him 7 interceptions for the season.

Maryland (2-6, 0-4) takes on Wisconsin at home next weekend. Iowa (8-0, 4-0) travels to face Indiana next week looking to continue their incredible run in 2015.

#15 Michigan Wolverines at Minnesota Golden Gophers

Result: Michigan Win 29-26 (Saturday, October 31)

Michigan needed a touchdown with a backup quarterback and goal line stop to beat Minnesota, but they got both of those to win 29-26 in a great game for the Little Brown Jug.

Jake Rudock went 13 of 21 for 140 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but was knocked out in the third quarter and replaced by Wilton Speight. Speight led the Wolverines to the eventual game winning touchdown with less than five minutes to play. He finished 3 of 6 for 29 yards and the touchdown.

Drake Johnson ran the ball 10 times for 55 yards, Jehu Chesson had one carry for 22 yards, and Jabrill Peppers got in on offense to rush for 16 yards and a touchdown on 4 carries. Amara Darboh led the team with 6 catches for 73 yards and Jake Butt had 4 grabs for 38 yards. Chesson had 3 catches for 33 yards and 2 touchdowns. Michigan put up 296 yards of total offense and went 5 of 12 on third down.

One of the surprising stories of this game was the Minnesota offense and the way they were able to move the ball against Michigan’s defense. Mitch Leidner went 16 of 33 for 317 yards and a touchdown and carried the ball 11 times for 37 yards and a touchdown.

Rodney Smith had 12 carries for 74 yards and Shannon Brooks had 12 rushes for 33 yards. Brandon Lingen had a big game with 5 catches for 111 yards, Rashad Still had 2 catches for 69 yards and a touchdown, and KJ Maye had a team high 6 catches for 58 yards. Minnesota had 461 yards of offense and went 5 of 14 on third down. Minnesota also had a 4 for 4 game kicking field goals with a long of 47 yards.

Michigan (6-2, 3-1) faces Rutgers at home next week with a chance to fix some issues on defense. Minnesota (4-4, 1-3) faces Ohio State on the road next weekend in prime time.

Check back next Sunday for a look at the week 10 edition of the Big Ten Roundup.

2015 College Football Preview: Big 10 West

Corey Clement has big shoes to fill in replacing Melvin Gordon while Wisconsin has been to three of the first four Big 10 Championship Games. (Mike McGinnis/Getty Images North America)
Corey Clement has big shoes to fill in replacing Melvin Gordon while Wisconsin has been to three of the first four Big 10 Championship Games. (Mike McGinnis/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: Big 10 West

Part fourteen of Sports Enthusiasts’ 2015 College Football Preview delves into the Big 10’s West Division. There are only three conferences left in the preview series with the Pac-12 and SEC still a few weeks down the road. Below is the schedule of conference previews completed and those still to come.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

FBS Independents – July 28

Sun Belt – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

The Big 10 West Division is broken down below.

1. Wisconsin Badgers

Bret Bielema bolted Wisconsin after the 2012 season to go to Arkansas while Gary Andersen came in for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. He led the Badgers to a 9-4 record in 2013 before a double digit win season in 2014 including a 59-0 destruction at the hands of Ohio State in the Big 10 Championship. He too bolted Madison and went West to Oregon State. Paul Chryst returns to his alma mater where he played quarterback from 1986 to 1988 and was the offensive coordinator from 2005 through 2011. He was also the head coach at Pittsburgh from 2012 t0 2014.

The offense was very good under Andersen where they had nearly identical output over his two years. In 2013, they put up 34.8 points and 481 yards per game and it was 34.6 points and 469 yards in 2014. The offense has five starters back with Joel Stave not having to worry about another QB. Stave threw for 1,350 yards with 9 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Melvin Gordon is gone after his monstrous season with 2,587 yards with 29 touchdowns, but Corey Clement is willing to try and fill the void. Clement had 949 yards and 9 touchdowns rushing while Dare Ogunbowale had 193 yards and a touchdown on only 34 carries. The go to guy last year, Alex Erickson, is back after recording 55 catches for 772 yards and 3 touchdowns. Troy Fumagalli caught 14 passes for 187 yards last year and a second wide receiver will need to develop in 2015. The offensive line also has only two starters returning, but the quarterback numbers should be better with Chryst in charge. The loss of Gordon will hurt, but the offense should be solid even with Chryst coming in.

The defense for Wisconsin is constantly solid. Between 2009 and 2014, the defense has not yielded more than 22 points and 325 yards per game. The defense had only 3 starters back in 2014 and allowed 20.8 points and 294 yards per game. There are six starters back including most of the secondary. Chikwe Obasih had 21 tackles and 1.5 sacks in seven starts. The depth is also better after plaguing them the past two seasons. The linebacker unit has the two outside ‘backers returning in Vince Biegel (56 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 9 tackles for loss) and Joe Schobert (69 tackles, 3 sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 7 pass breakups). The secondary has three starters back led by Michael Caputo. Caputo was the top tackler last year with 106 stops while also recording 1 sack, 5 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups, and an interception. Darius Hillary and Sojourn Shelton will be at the cornerback spots, but need to interception more passes after those two failed to record any in 2014. Tanner McEvoy has also moved to safety after splitting time at quarterback and safety in 2014.

Wisconsin opens with a daunting game in Arlington, Texas against Alabama that will surely test them to their highest capability. After that, it is much easier with the trio of Miami (OH), Troy, and Hawaii all coming to Madison. In conference, Wisconsin faces Iowa, Purdue, and Northwestern at home while playing Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota on the road. From the East division, the Badgers take on Rutgers (home) and Maryland (road). The Badgers will surely make a bowl game in 2015 and can expect to be the team to beat for the West, but they have their question marks.

2. Northwestern Wildcats

Pat Fitzgerald did something that only Bob Voigts was able to do: win a bowl game. Voigts won the 1949 Rose Bowl while Fitzgerald won the 2012 Gator Bowl after losing the previous four bowl games. Since that 2012 season, Northwestern has not been back to a bowl game after back-to-back 5-7 seasons that have been filled with injuries. 2015 must result in a bowl game for the Wildcats and Fitzgerald.

The offense sputtered last year after putting up 23 points and 353 yards per game despite eight starters back. This year, the offense will have six starters back, but one of them will not be at quarterback. That may not be a bad thing as Trevor Siemian only threw for 2,214 yards with 7 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Zack Oliver threw for 367 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions, but he will be battling with Clayton Thorson and Matt Alviti for the starting job. Justin Jackson is back after a stellar freshman season. Despite only starting five games, Jackson ran for 1,187 yards with 10 touchdowns while also catching 22 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown. There is plenty of talent back at wide receiver with Dan Vitale leading the way. He had 40 catches for 402 yards and 2 touchdowns. Cameron Dickerson (24 catches for 318 yards and a touchdown) and Miles Shuler (23 catches for 190 yards) back as well. The biggest returner is Christian Jones, who had a solid 2013 season with 668 yards, but missed all of 2014. The offensive line has three starters back and the entire offense should be able to perform better this year.

The defense was decent in 2014 with seven starters back, giving up 25.2 points and 384 yards per game. Eight starters are back in 2015, the most for Fitzgerald since 2009 (gave up 24.5 points and 350 yards per game). The entire defensive line is back led by Dean Lowry, who had 41 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and 8 pass breakups. The linebacking unit is the worry for Northwestern with only Anthony Walker returning (51 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions). The secondary is another strength with three starters back. Traveon Henry had 73 tackles (#2 on team) and 2.5 tackles for loss while Matthew Harris had 70 tackles (#3 on team), 3.5 tackles for loss, 7 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. The defense should be solid once again for Northwestern and should improve on the numbers the allowed last season.

Northwestern does not have an easy start to the season with Stanford coming to town followed by Eastern Illinois. A road trip against Duke comes before their final non-conference game against Ball State at home. In conference, the Wildcats will face Minnesota, Iowa, and Purdue at home while taking on Nebraska and Wisconsin on the road. They also face Illinois in Chicago on the final weekend in November. From the East, they will have the pleasure of facing Michigan (road) and Penn State (home) in two tough games. All around, Northwestern should be better in 2015 and could have a chance to take the division with a win over Wisconsin (Nov. 21).

3. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Nebraska was led by Bo Pelini starting in 2008 and going through 2014. During that time, Pelini led Nebraska to at least 9 wins each year including three 10 win seasons. Pelini, however, did not make a BCS or Group of Five bowl in that time and was let go after the 2014 season. Mike Riley comes over from Oregon State after 15 years there and only once led the Beavers to at least 10 wins (2006).

The offense has six starters back from a group that put up 37.8 points and 452 yards of offense per game. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong threw for 2,695 yards with 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while also rushing for 705 yards and 6 touchdowns as the teams second leading rusher. Ameer Abdullah will not be back, which leaves Imani Cross (384 yards and 5 touchdowns) and Terrell Newby (297 yards and 5 touchdowns) as the top returning running backs. Nearly all of the receivers return led by Jordan Westerkamp (44 catches for 747 yards and 5 touchdowns) and De’Mornay Pierson-El (23 catches for 321 yards and 4 touchdowns). The offensive line has two starters back at the tackles. The offense will probably not put up the same numbers as they did last year with a new coach and new schemes.

The defense has six starters back from a unit that allowed 26.4 points and 384 yards per game. Three starters are back on the defensive line that gave up 178 yards and 4.7 yards per carry last year. Greg McMullen (4 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, and 4 pass breakups), Maliek Collins (45 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 9.5 tackles for loss), and Vincent Valentine (45 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and 2 pass breakups) are the returners. David Santos is the lone returning linebacker after recording 50 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 1 interception. The secondary has two starters back led by Nathan Gerry (#1 tackler), who had 88 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, 4 pass breakups, and 5 interceptions en route to making the 2nd Team Big 10 squad. There may be some growing pains in 2015, but the numbers should not fluctuate too much.

Nebraska opens with BYU and South Alabama at home before traveling to face Miami (FL) on the road and getting Southern Miss at home. The Cornhuskers face Illinois, Minnesota, and Purdue on the road while playing Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Iowa at home. From the East, Nebraska will take on Michigan State (home) and Rutgers (road). Nebraska should be in a bowl game in 2015 and could even make the Big 10 Championship Game with a few stumbles and surprises.

4. Illinois Fighting Illini

Ron Zook was in charge of Illinois from 2005 through 2011 and led the Illini to three bowl games including the 2007 Rose Bowl. Zook was let go before the 2011 bowl game that Illinois won 20-14 over UCLA. Tim Beckman came in starting with the 2012 season and went 2-10 followed by a 4-8 record in 2013. The Illini had to make a bowl game in 2014 for Beckman to keep his job and they did, but lost to Louisiana Tech 35-18. 2015 is another chance for Illinois to make a bowl game.

The offense put up 25.9 points and 367 yards per game in 2014 with Wes Lunt taking over at quarterback. Lunt had injury issues throughout the season while finishing with 1,763 with 14 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Josh Ferguson is returning at running back after a sub par year with only 735 yards and 8 touchdowns. Ferguson also was the team’s third leading receiver with 50 catches for 427 yards and 2 touchdowns. Mike Dudek led the team in receiving as a freshman in 2014 with 76 catches for 1,038 yards and 6 touchdowns, but tore his ACL in April. He status for 2015 is still up in the air. Geronimo Allison (41 catches for 598 yards and 5 touchdowns), Malik Turner (25 catches for 256 yards and a touchdown), and Justin Hardee (19 catches for 240 yards and a touchdown) all return in case Dudek is unable to go. Three starters are back on the offensive line to bring the total up to eight for the offense. A healthy Lunt will mean higher numbers for the Illini offense even if Dudek is out for the year.

Defense has been an issue for Illinois under Beckman, as the unit has not allowed less than 32 points per game in his tenure. Last year, the defense gave up 34 points and 456 yards per game with seven starters back. That same number is back this year with Jihad Ward and Rob Bain back on the line. Ward had 51 tackles, 3 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss last year. Two linebackers return in Mason Monheim and TJ Neal, which is good news for Illinois. Monheim had 111 tackles (#1 on team), 1 sack, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions while Neal had 98 tackles (#4 on team) and 6.5 tackles for loss. The secondary has three starters back including Taylor Barton, who had 100 tackles (#3 on team). V’Angelo Bentley is back in the secondary as well, but he will also be utilized in the return game. The defense should improve in 2015 with seven starters back.

Illinois opens with home games against Kent State and Western Illinois before traveling to face North Carolina on the road. They close out the non-conference portion of their schedule against Middle Tennessee at home. Within their division, Illinois will play Nebraska and Wisconsin at home while facing Northwestern in Chicago. They also play Iowa, Purdue, and Minnesota on the road. From the East, the Illini play Penn State (road) and Ohio State (home), which is a tough draw. There is enough offense and defense on this Illinois squad to make a second straight bowl game under Beckman.

5. Iowa Hawkeyes

Kirk Ferentz is entering his 17th season at Iowa. In that time, Iowa has 11 winning season and four season with at least 10 wins. Since going 11-2 in 2009, however, Iowa has not reached that success with their best recording being 8-5 in both 2010 and 2013. The pressure may be on Ferentz to get Iowa back to double digit wins sooner rather than later.

The offense will return five starters from a group that put up 28.2 points and 400 yards per game. CJ Beathard is taking over at quarterback for the now transferred Jake Rudock (went to Michigan). Beathard threw for 645 yards with 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions while also not having Mark Weisman (812 yards and 16 touchdowns). Jordan Canzeri (494 yards), Akrum Wadley (186 yards and a touchdown), Jonathan Parker (141 yards and a touchdown), LeShun Daniels (49 yards and a touchdown), and CJ Hilliard will all see some looks at the running back spot. Tevaun Smith (43 catches for 596 yards and 3 touchdowns), Jake Duzey (36 catches for 392 yards and 3 touchdowns), and Matt VandeBerg (14 catches for 256 yards and 1 touchdown) are back. The line has three starters back while the offense could put up similar numbers in 2015 as they did last year.

Last year’s defense was not as effective as an Iowa defense usually is. They gave up 25.6 points and 344 yards per game with only five starters back. The number of starters returning increases by two, to seven, which is good news. Drew Ott (57 tackles, 8 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and an interception) and Nate Meier (57 tackles, 2 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss) are back to anchor the defensive end positions. Bo Bower and Josey Jewell are the two starters returning at linebacker while the secondary has three starters back. Jordan Lomax will be at one of the safety spots after recording 92 tackles, 6 pass breakups, and an interception last year. 2015 should see Iowa’s defense improve.

Iowa opens the season against Illinois State at home before facing in-state rival Iowa State on the road. The non-conference schedule ends with Pittsburgh and North Texas both coming to Iowa City. Iowa will face Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Nebraska on the road while playing Illinois, Minnesota, and Purdue at home. From the East, Iowa has Maryland (home) and Indiana (road) in two winnable games. Iowa should be back in a bowl game this year, but will that be enough to keep Ferentz around another year?

6. Purdue Boilermakers

Darrell Hazell came in from Kent State in 2013 and had a rough first year. The Boilermakers went 1-11 with their lone win against FCS Indiana State in a game they only won 20-14. The offense (14.9 points and 345 yards per game) and defense (38 points and 460 yards allowed per game) were dreadful. 2014 was a very good step in the right direction with a 3-9 record and 2015 should continue that trend.

The offense in 2014 had 8 starters back and shot up to 23.8 points and 345 yards per game. There are eight starters back again in 2015 with the quarterback position in the air between freshmen David Blough and Elijah Sindelar and Austin Appleby (1,449 yards with 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions). Running back is not settled with DJ Knox, Keyante Green (199 yards), David Yancey, and Markell Jones all having a chance to win the top duties. Danny Anthrop is back as the top wide receiver after grabbing 38 passes for 616 yards and 4 touchdowns. The offensive line has all the starters back, which is great news for whoever wins the quarterback and running back battles. The offense should be better in 2015 with even better numbers than last year.

The defense was awful in 2013 by giving up 38 points and 460 yards per game. Year two was better with the defense allowing 31.7 points and 416 yards per game. Seven starters return in 2015 including the second through fifth top tacklers from last year. Ryan Watson (17 tackles, 4 sacks, 1.5 tackes for loss) and Jake Replogle (40 tackles, 3 sacks, and 7.5 tackles for loss) return on the line that improved from 235 rushing yards allowed per game in 2013 to 192 yards per game in 2014. That number should drop in 2015. The strength of the defense is at linebacker with the top three starters back. Ja’Whaun Bentley (76 tackles; #2 on team), Jimmy Herman (56 tackles, #4 on team), and Danny Ezechukwu (43 tackles; #8 on team) all back after starting last year. The secondary has three starters back led by Anthony Brown and Frankie Williams at the corner spots. Like the offense, the defense should improve in year three of Hazell’s tenure.

Purdue opens the season on the road at Marshall in a tough game before facing Indiana State, Virginia Tech, and Bowling Green at home. In their division, Purdue will play Minnesota, Nebraska, and Illinois at home while facing Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Iowa on the road. From the East, they will have to play Michigan State (road) and Indiana (home). Purdue is going in the right direction and will probably need two upsets to reach a bowl game.

7. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Jerry Kill has been at Minnesota since 2011 and has made them into a gritty team that is not easy to defeat. After going 3-9 in his first year, the team improved to 6-7 in 2012 and lost by a field goal, 34-31, to Texas Tech in the bowl game. 2013 saw them finish 8-5 and they did the same in 2014 as they had a chance to win the Big 10 West in the final week against Wisconsin. 2015 will be an interesting test for Minnesota and Kill.

The offense for Minnesota is run-based and will have five starters back in 2015. Mitch Leidner threw for 1,798 yards with 11 touchdowns and 8 interceptions while rushing for 452 yards and 10 touchdowns. Backup Chris Streveler ran for 235 yards and 1 touchdown as well. David Cobb has exited after rushing for 1,626 yards and 13 touchdowns leaving a big void at running back. Berkley Edwards (140 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Rodrick Williams (114 yards and 3 touchdowns) will be vying to start at running back. Top target Maxx Williams (36 catches for 569 yards and 8 touchdowns) is gone as well, leaving KJ Maye as the top wide receiver. Maye had 16 catches for 298 yards and a touchdown as the #2 receiver. The offensive line has three starters back, but it will probably be tough for the Gophers to match last year’s production of 28.4 points and 357 yards per game with Cobb and Williams gone.

The defense has been solid for Minnesota the last three years. In 2014, the defense gave up 24.2 points and 368 yards per game and returns seven starters from that group. Theiren Cockran (23 tackles, 4 sacks, and 3 tackles for loss) and Steven Richardson (23 tackles, 2 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss) will be teaming up with the Ekpe brothers of Scott and Hendrick. De’Vondre Campbell (75 tackles, 2.5sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and an interception) and Jack Lynn (57 tackles, 1 sack, and 6 tackles for loss) will be the returning linebackers. In the secondary, three starters are back led by Eric Murray at corner. Murray had 69 tackles, 7 pass breakups, and an interception last year. The defense should be solid once again for Minnesota.

Minnesota opens with TCU at home before facing Colorado State on the road. Kent State and Ohio both travel to Minneapolis to close out the non-conference slate. In division, Minnesota will play Northwestern, Purdue, and Iowa on the road while taking on Nebraska, Illinois, and Wisconsin at home. From the East, Minnesota draws Michigan (home) and Ohio State (road). It will be a challenging year for Minnesota if the offense sputters and will need a couple of upsets to make a bowl game, but they are more than capable of getting those upsets.

Overview

The Big 10’s West division is quite the conundrum with every team having questions. Wisconsin has a new coach and lost a star in Melvin Gordon while Northwestern has some offensive worries. Nebraska is in the same boat as Wisconsin with a new coach and lost Ameer Abdullah. Illinois has worries on defense while Iowa is constantly underachieving. Purdue is still learning Hazell’s system and Minnesota lost a lot of offensive production in David Cobb and Maxx Williams.

We will go with Wisconsin to win the division, but Northwestern or Nebraska could also finish on top. Illinois is likely to make noise with a more veteran team along with Iowa. Purdue and Minnesota will both be close to bowl eligibility and could easily finish higher than predicted, especially the Gophers. Below is the predicted order of finish.

1. Wisconsin

2. Northwestern

3. Nebraska

4. Illinois

5. Iowa

6. Purdue

7. Minnesota

Check back on Friday for a preview of the Big 10 East Division as well as a look at the Big 10 Championship Game prediction.

Minnesota Comes Back To Defeat Purdue In High Scoring Affair

This article originally appeared on VAVEL USA.

Cedric Thompson (#2) had two interceptions to help Minnesota rally for the victory (Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY Sports)
Cedric Thompson (#2) had two interceptions to help Minnesota rally for the victory (Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY Sports)

 

Cedric Thompson‘s second interception of the day was enough to Minnesota‘s the 39-38 win over Purdue in a wild game that saw both offenses explode. Ryan Santoso‘s 52 yard field goal with 5 minutes left was the difference between the two teams.

Thompson’s first interception came on the first play from scrimmage when he intercepted Austin Appleby‘s pass and took it back to the two yard line. On the following play, David Cobb ran it in to make it 7-0 after 20 seconds.

Appleby nearly threw a second interception in as many drives when Damien Wilson intercepted him. However, Theiren Cockran was called offsides and Appleby responded by hitting Danny Anthrop for a 55 yard touchdown on the next play to tie the game at 7.

Minnesota’s offense came back with their second touchdown when Mitch Leidner hit Maxx Williams for a 7 yard score and retake the lead at 14-7. Purdue answered right back with Austin Appleby connecting with Gabe Holmes for a 13 yard touchdown.

Minnesota started the second quarter with a third touchdown when Donnell Kirkwood pounded the ball in from 3 yards out to make it 20-14. Santoso missed the extra point as it hit the upright and bounced back on to the field. That missed extra point loomed large and affected some decisions later in the game.

Purdue’s next drive ended when Raheem Mostert outran the defense for a 42 yard touchdown and a 21-20 lead for the Boilermakers. Purdue would get the ball right back when Cobb fumbled on the next drive. Paul Griggs nailed a 26 yard field goal to extend the lead to 24-20.

After forcing a punt, Purdue managed to extend their lead even further with Appleby finding DeAngelo Yancey for the touchdown. That made it 31-20, which was the lead at halftime.

Minnesota had a strong beginning to the third quarter. they went 75 yards in 6 plays to close the deficit. Leidner ran in from 6 yards out but the Gophers went for two. They tried to have the holder pitch the ball up Santoso in the extra point formation, but it was stuffed before the goal line. Purdue still led 31-26 after the failed trick play. Santoso added a 20 yard field goal on the Gophers’ next drive to closet he gap to 31-29.

On the next drive for Purdue, Mostert ran for a 69 yard gain to the one yard line and Appleby did the rest on the next play as he plunged in from a yard out. That made it 38-29, but Minnesota had one last score in them during the third quarter. Leidner found KJ Maye for a 37 yard touchdown pass and it would be 38-36 Purdue after the first 45 minutes.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Darrell Hazell decided to roll the dice on fourth and one at the Minnesota 30 yard line. Appleby kept the ball on a keeper but was tackled by Damarius Travis and fumbled the ball. Appleby recovered, but he was short of the first down line and Minnesota took over.

Minnesota’s drive stalled at the Purdue 35 yard line and head coach Jerry Kill decided to give his field goal unit a try at taking the lead. It worked as Ryan Santoso crushed the 52 yard field goal and the Gophers led 39-38 with 5 minutes to go.

Purdue’s next drive saw them convert a fourth and two at their own 38 yard line. However, two plays later, Thompson picked his second throw of the game when he made an athletic play to step in front of the receiver. The Gophers were able to get a first down and run the clock out after that.

Appleby had a solid game despite the two picks. He went 16 of 26 for 153 yards with 3 touchdowns. He also ran for 79 yards and a score on 10 carries. Raheem Mostert led Purdue in rushing with 115 yards and a touchdown on 5 carries. Akeem Hunt ran 17 times for 98 yards.

Danny Anthrop had 4 catches for 67 yards and a touchdown to lead the Boilermakers. Hunt was second on the team with 5 catches for only 24 yards.

Mitch Leidner is starting to come alive through the air. He went 9 of 18 for 165 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for 84 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. David Cobb was a workhorse with 35 carries for 194 yards and a touchdown.

Isaac Fruechte was the top receiver for Minnesota with 1 catch for 45 yards. Donovahn Jones caught 1 pass for 42 yards while KJ Maye had 1 reception for 37 yards and a score. Tight end Maxx Williams had 3 catches for 22 yards and a touchdown.

Minnesota is now 3-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since 1990. In addition, Saturday’s win over Purdue marks the first time the Gophers have won a game when they were trailing at halftime under head coach Jerry Kill. They were 0-22 entering the game. The Gophers are also 22-0 when they lead at halftime under Kill.

Purdue (3-5, 1-3) may be on the verge of another losing season, but they are clearly improved on offense. The 31 points they put up against Michigan State last week were not a fluke. They have a bye week before they face Nebraska on the road on November 1.

Minnesota (6-1, 3-0) has reached bowl eligibility and are in prime position to win the Big Ten West division. Their quest continues next Saturday when they travel to Champaign to face Illinois (3-4, 0-3).