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  • Barrett Becoming B1G's Best

    So this is getting kind of silly.

    Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett is one of the surprise stories in college football this season and now is considered as one of the premier performers in the Big Ten. So Barrett winning the conference Freshman of the Week award on Monday basically is no longer news.

    A 6-1, 225-pound redshirt freshman for Wichita Falls, Texas, Barrett has been borderline spectacular this season after taking over the QB duties from two-time Silver Football winner Braxton Miller, who is recovering from shoulder surgery.

    In a 56-17 rout of Rutgers in the Horseshoe last Saturday, Barrett was up to his old tricks with 261 yards and three touchdowns passing to go along with a game-high 107 rushing yards and two more scores.

    He came into the game leading the league in total offense and only padded that average with 368 yards as the Buckeyes moved to 5-1 overall, 2-0 in the conference and won their 18th straight regular-season Big Ten game.

    Sure enough, the Big Ten Conference recognized Barrett as the Freshman of the Week for the fourth time this season and he also was tabbed Offensive Player of the Week for the second time.

    Barrett connected on 19 of 31 passes without an interception against the Scarlet Knights. His 100-yard rushing day came on just seven carries and included a 33-yard TD scamper right up the gut of the defense – the longest run from scrimmage by a Buckeye this season until running back Curtis Samuel, a true freshman, ripped off a 34-yarder in the fourth quarter.

    Minnesota produced the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week and Special Teams Player of the Week after the Golden Gophers’ narrow win over Purdue.

    Senior safety Cedric Thompson won defensive POW honors after logging six tackles and a pair of interceptions against the Boilermakers. Freshman kicker Ryan Santoso won the special teams award largely on the strength of his 52-yard field goal with 4:59 remaining. That was the game-winning kick and the longest FG by Minnesota in 11 years.

    Just A Handful

    There hasn’t been a lot of movement as far as the Big Ten and the major polls are concerned as only four teams have managed to be in both of them this season and one of those – Wisconsin – dropped out after a surprise loss to Northwestern.

    Minnesota, though, joined the party – sort of – by squeaking into the No. 24 spot of the USA Today/coaches poll after hanging on against Purdue and improving to 6-1 overall.

    Michigan State (6-1), fresh off a 56-17 win at Indiana, is at No. 8 in The Associated Press poll and No. 5 in the coaches poll. The Spartans’ only loss came Sept. 6 at Oregon.

    Ohio State stayed at No. 13 in the AP poll and inched up one spot to No. 12 in the coaches. Nebraska (6-1) is at No. 16 in each.

    Maryland (5-2) received three points in the AP poll and Wisconsin (4-2) had 17 in the latest coaches poll.

    Only three teams remain unbeaten in Big Ten play: Michigan State and Minnesota are 3-0 while Ohio State is at 2-0.

    The Buckeyes play the Spartans and Gophers in back-to-back weeks (Nov. 8 and 15) on the road.

    Next Up

    Ten Big Ten teams were in action on Oct. 18 with the following results:

    Maryland 38, Iowa 31
    Minnesota 39, Purdue 38
    No. 8 Michigan State 56, Indiana 17
    No. 13 Ohio State 56, Rutgers 17
    No. 19 Nebraska 38, Northwestern 17

    Illinois, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin all had an open week.

    On Saturday, the conference again will showcase five league games while four teams enjoy an open week.

    Here is the Oct. 25 schedule (all times Eastern):

    --/No. 24 Minnesota at Illinois (noon, ESPNU)
    Rutgers at No. 16/16 Nebraska (noon, ESPN2)
    Maryland at Wisconsin (noon, BTN)
    Michigan at No. 8/5 Michigan State (3:30 p.m., ABC)
    No. 13/12 Ohio State at Penn State (8 p.m., ABC)

    Bye: Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue

    Quick Hitters

    * Minnesota is off to its best start in league play since 1990. A win at Illinois would give Jerry Kill’s team a mark of 4-0 in the Big Ten, which hasn’t happened since 1967. Michigan State and Ohio State were 8-0 in conference games in 2013 and are yet to lose a league game this year. OSU is two wins away from reaching the all-time program and conference record of 20 straight wins, which was accomplished from 2005-07. MSU has won 12 straight Big Ten games.

    * Barrett’s pass-efficiency rating of 182.1 ranks third in the nation. The Big Ten has two more QBs who are among the national leaders in Michigan State’s Connor Cook (164.0, eighth) and Rutgers’ Gary Nova (161.5, 12th).

    The conference also has a couple of wide receivers with elite statistics. Redshirt freshman DaeSean Hamilton ranks 14th nationally in receptions per game at 7.2, which is impressive considering just about everyone ahead of him is on a team that practically abandons the run. Also, MSU’s Tony Lippett is averaging 112.3 yards receiving per game, good for 11th, and has eight TDs (third).

    * Despite the previous note and the fact that college football is producing more dangerous passing attacks, the Big Ten still is holding up its reputation as a conference that values running the football. Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah leads the nation in all-purpose yards per game (192.7) including 146.3 on the ground, which ranks fourth. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon (174.3) and Indiana’s Tevin Coleman (170.3) rank 1-2 nationally in rushing. Minnesota’s David Cobb (144.7) is right behind in fifth.

    Coleman also is first nationally in yards per carry (8.8) and fifth in rushing touchdowns (11). Abdullah is second nationally in rushing TDs with 14 and Gordon is a notch behind with 13.

    As a team, Wisconsin leads the nation in rushing offense with 343.0 yards per game. Conversely, Penn State is tops nationally in rushing defense, allowing just 60.8 ypg.

    * Michigan State, Minnesota and Nebraska are bowl eligible with six wins in their pocket. Four other Big Ten teams – Iowa, Maryland, Ohio State and Rutgers – can attain that status with one more win. The conference could place as many as 11 teams in bowl games this winter, and that figure doesn’t include the College Football Playoff.

    * By the way, Abdullah now ranks fourth on the conference’s career all-purpose yards list with 6,263. He currently sits 203 yards behind Indiana’s Anthony Thompson for third place. Ron Dayne of Wisconsin (1996-99) is tops with 7,429 yards followed by Ohio State great Archie Griffin (1972-75) who racked up 6,559 yards.

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  • BKB Races, Pre-Spring FB Outlook

    And down the stretch they come.

    It’s a three-horse race for the Big Ten men’s basketball crown – and Ohio State is in the lead by a full head – but there is still a lot of jockeying for position going on, especially in the middle of the pack.

    After the first-place Buckeyes took down Illinois on Tuesday night at the Schottenstein Center, Minnesota was trying to take down suddenly feisty Michigan State later that evening. A win by the Gophers would have created a five-team tie for fifth place as MSU and Minnesota would have joined Illinois, Penn State and Michigan with 7-8 conference records.

    That didn’t happen as Minnesota lost grip of a six-point lead and was outscored 12-1 in the final minutes of a 53-48 loss to the Spartans. That damaging defeat at Williams Arena dropped the Gophers to 17-10 overall and 6-9 in league play. Meanwhile, Michigan State (16-11, 8-7) inched up to fourth place.

    The following night, Wisconsin edged Michigan 53-52 as Josh Gasser banked in a three at the buzzer to turn Crisler Arena into a funeral home.

    The win kept faint hopes alive for the Badgers (21-6, 11-4) to grab a share of the Big Ten prize. Wisconsin needs to beat Northwestern at home on Sunday, take down Indiana in Bloomington on March 3 – and get some help from either IU or Penn State against Ohio State – to set up a showdown with OSU (26-2, 13-2) in Columbus on March 6.

    Ohio State, meanwhile, could secure a co-championship as soon as this weekend if Purdue (23-5, 12-3) loses at Michigan State on Sunday afternoon and the Buckeyes take care of Indiana, which hasn’t won a league road game all season, in a home game later that afternoon.

    The Boilermakers (23-5, 12-3), though, are still very much alive at the moment. They took down the rival Hoosiers (12-16, 3-12) on Wednesday night, 72-61, and can keep a lot of pressure on OSU with wins down the stretch at MSU Sunday and at home against Illinois (March 1) and Iowa (March 5).

    At this writing, though, no one team has locked down a particular spot in the standings, which, of course, corresponds to seeding in the Big Ten Tournament. Even Indiana and Iowa (10-17, 3-12) are in a battle to avoid last place.

    If Ohio State wins the regular-season title, either outright or shared, it would mark the fourth Big Ten championship for the program in six years. Only three conference teams have won as many titles in as sort a span: Ohio State (1960-64), Indiana (1973-76) and Michigan State (1998-2001).

    Paint By Numbers

    Also taking shape are some very interesting team and individual races for leadership in statistical categories for men’s basketball.

    For example, heading into Thursday night’s game between Penn State and Northwestern, PSU senior guard Talor Battle had a slight lead in scoring among Big Ten players at 20.8 points per game compared to Purdue center JaJuan Johnson’s average of 20.4 ppg. In the mix behind those players were Wisconsin forward Jon Leuer (19.1 ppg), Purdue guard E’Twaun Moore (18.6), Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor (17.9), Ohio State post man Jared Sullinger (17.8) and Northwestern forward John Shurna (17.3).

    In the rebounding department heading into the penultimate weekend of the regular season, Minnesota big man Trevor Mbakwe was the only Big Ten player in double figures (10.4 per game), but Sullinger was right behind at 9.9 rpg. Michigan State’s Draymond Green was third at 8.4 rpg.

    Michigan had some league leaders as well with center Jordan Morgan atop the conference in field-goal percentage (63.2) and point guard Darius Morris ranking first in assists per game (6.8).

    The battle for top free-throw percentage (minimum 2.0 made per game) was tight with Iowa swingman Matt Gatens in first at 87.5 but Leuer (86.3) and Penn State’s David Jackson (86.2) within striking distance.

    Interestingly, with three regular-season games to go teammates Aaron Craft and David Lighty of Ohio State ranked 1-2 in the league in steals per game, 1.89 to 1.82. Green was a hair behind at 1.81. Johnson appears on pace to lead the league in blocked shots per game (2.25) but Minnesota’s Ralph Sampson III is not far behind (2.07).

    Shurna was the only Big Ten player to that point making at least half his three-point attempts – he was a league-leading 56 of 112 for a percentage of 50.0 – but Illinois guard Demetri McCamey (61 of 127, 48.0), OSU’s Jon Diebler (76 of 159, 47.8) and Wisconsin forward Keaton Nankivil (48 of 101, 47.5) also were above 45 percent.

    As a team, Ohio is on pace to shoot right around 40 percent from long range. The Buckeyes lead the league at 202 of 506 for a mark of 39.9 percent. OSU also leads the league in overall field-goal percentage at 49.3 as a team. Minnesota was the only league team holding foes below 40 percent from the field (39.5) and Illinois was the only Big Ten squad holding teams under 30 percent from long range (29.7).

    Not surprisingly, Ohio State has led the conference in scoring (77.1 ppg) and scoring margin (+17.6) while Wisconsin was tops in scoring defense (57.4 ppg) and Minnesota, which has the biggest front line in the league, was best in rebounding margin (+5.4) and blocked shots (5.6).

    Spartan Women Claim Title

    The Michigan State women lost for the first time at home all season on Thursday night as the Spartans were nipped 54-53 at the Breslin Center, but there was still reason to celebrate that evening.

    By virtue of Penn State’s home loss to Purdue, 51-49, Michigan State had secured the outright Big Ten regular-season championship. It was the first such title for MSU, which shared the conference crown in 1997 and 2005.

    MSU clinched at least a co-championship with a win over Illinois on Sunday. The Spartans (24-4, 12-3) had a chance to win the league in style but missed a last-second shot against the Buckeyes (18-9, 9-6). Ohio State had its string of six straight league titles snapped but moved into a tie in the standing with Iowa (21-7, 9-6) and Michigan (16-11, 9-6), one game behind second-place teams Penn State (21-8, 10-5) and Wisconsin (15-12, 10-5).

    Purdue (19-10, 9-7) also has a winning record in league play, leaving just Northwestern (17-11, 6-9), Minnesota (12-16, 4-11), Indiana (9-18, 3-12) and Illinois (7-21, 2-13) on the wrong side of .500 in conference play.

    Michigan State advanced all the way to the NCAA title game in 2005 under head coach Joanne P. McCallie, who left in 2007 to take over the controls at Duke. The Spartans have found recent success under her replacement, fourth-year head coach Suzy Merchant.

    This season marked the eighth straight the Spartans have won 20 or more games and  it is also the ninth straight year they have won 10 or more conference games. The 24 wins are a program high under Merchant.

    The Spartans look to become the sixth No. 1 seed to win the Big Ten Tournament, which begins March 3.

    Football Fever

    Snow and freezing temperatures still blanket most of the Midwest, but that hasn’t quelled optimism for 2011 football across the Big Ten.

    Several programs will start their spring practice sessions in less than five weeks, including defending Big Ten co-champion Ohio State. The Buckeyes begin their 15-practice spring season on March 31 and have scheduled their annual Scarlet and Gray Game for April 23 in the Horseshoe. That is the Saturday of Easter weekend.

    Ohio State (12-1, 7-1 last season) has won at least a piece of the conference crown for a record six straight years and came through with a gutty 31-26 win over Arkansas in the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

    Still, the Big Ten finished just 3-5 in bowl games thanks to a rough New Year’s Day. League co-champion Wisconsin was nipped by TCU in the Rose Bowl while the other title sharer, Michigan State, was massacred by Alabama in the Capital One Bowl. Likewise, Penn State and Michigan lost to SEC teams Florida and Mississippi State and Northwestern couldn’t get past Texas Tech in the TicketCity Bowl.

    The league, however, should be noticeably stronger in the game of pigskin with Nebraska now set to join the conference. The arrival of the Cornhuskers swells the conference to 12 teams, which will now be split into two divisions. The new divisions will be The Leaders (Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin) and The Legends (Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern).

    The new format brings a new outlook and hopes suddenly are high again at Indiana, Minnesota and Michigan with newly hired coaches in place. Minnesota canned Tim Brewster in October and after the season filled the void by hiring Northern Illinois’ Jerry Kill. Indiana ousted Bill Lynch in November and tabbed Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson as his replacement.

    Michigan waited until January, after the Wolverines were bombed 52-14 in the Gator Bowl and were still smarting from a seventh straight loss to Ohio State, to fire embattled head coach Rich Rodriguez. After a very unsuccessful three-year run under RichRod, UM is now putting its trust on former assistant Brady Hoke, who ushered turnarounds at Ball State and San Diego State.

    Also looking to turn their fortunes are the Iowa Hawkeyes. Head coach Kirk Ferentz thought he had a title contender but instead endured a disappointing 8-5 season that included losses in the final three games of the regular season. That includes a defeat at the hands of lowly Minnesota.

    After that, Iowa’s top receiver (Derrell Johnson-Koulianos) and running back (Adam Robinson) were suspended for off-field issues, although the Hawkeyes did rally to upset No. 12 Missouri in the Insight Bowl, 27-24. Still, the bad news continued in the off-season as 13 Iowa players were hospitalized in January with a rare muscle disorder.

    Iowa will try to stay with Nebraska, Michigan State and Michigan in The Legends division with the loss of several key players including defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn and quarterback Ricky Stanzi. James Vandenberg will be under the microscope at QB with Stanzi departed.

    Ohio State also lost a slew of starters on defense and some offensive linemen but the Buckeyes did not have a junior leave the program early to head off to the NFL for the first time in the Tressel era.

    Key underclassmen from the Big Ten who are now at the NFL combine or planning a professional career include Wisconsin running back John Clay, Indiana wide receiver Tandon Doss, Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt, and three standouts from Illinois – running back Mikel Leshoure, defensive tackle Corey Liuget and linebacker Martez Wilson.

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OSU ended the season with two straight losses, allowing 34 points in the B1G title game with Michigan State and 40 more vs. Clemson in the Orange Bowl. The D needs work, but what should Urban Meyer fix first?

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Big10 RappUp

In our latest installment, we look at the state of the Big Ten men's basketball race, declare Michigan State as the winner on the women's side, begin to outline what lies ahead in football and more.

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