Big Ten Links: Rounding up the latest headlines

The Wisconsin offense appears to perhaps be turning a corner after some early season tumult that saw the offensive line coach fired and the staff make a quarterback change. There have been many keys to the slow ascent. One key: quarterback Joel Stave is given the option to “tweak” plays—not necessarily totally change them—at the line based on the defense he sees.

Now, the Badgers find themselves perhaps a win away at Purdue from taking control in the Leaders Division.
Speaking of the Badgers, how much progress have they made since that uneven beginning that included a 10-7 loss at Oregon State? Check out this video of Wisconsin State Journal writers Adam Mertz, Tom Mulhern and Tom Oates discussing the topic.

Storm watch: With Etienne Sabino out three weeks with a broken leg, the Buckeye linebackers will need help. This is Storm Klein’s cue to step up.

To begin with, the linebacker corps is shorthanded and it isn’t considered one of the stronger areas on the defense. Klein, who was suspended for two games earlier this season, has re-emerged and unseated Curtis Grant for the starting spot in the middle.

With one player leaving with injury, Ohio State welcomes back another from injury. Safety C.J. Barnett is back after missing the last three games with an ankle sprain, shoring up a secondary that is among the best—if not THE best—in the Big Ten.

Chat wrap: Check out this chat recap with Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World Herald. It will get you caught up on all things Big Ten.

As you would guess, there are Nebraska-oriented questions. And, yes, they are ones about the defense. A guy named Mike asked Lee what happened to the defense in the 63-point debacle at Ohio State:

“It’s everything, Mike. When you give up 63 points to a team that only scored 29 on UAB and 17 on Michigan State, the whole things is an issue.”

Sounds about right.

[RELATED: Read BTN.com’s Tom Dienhart’s latest answers to your football questions.]

Husker reboot: Steve Sipple and Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal Star chime in on three questions about Nebraska football in this video. The Huskers are off this week before playing at Northwestern. And I don’t think I need to remind Nebraska fans what happened last year against the Wildcats.

Meanwhile, Brian Rosenthal of the Lincoln Journal Star takes a look at Big Ten midseason superlatives. Who is his biggest surprise? Biggest disappointment? It’s all right here, America.

Embarrassed? Purdue? You bet. That’s the word Danny Hope used to describe the program’s feelings after the 44-13 drubbing that the Boilermakers took last week from Michigan—in West Lafayette, no less. Before the loss, some felt Purdue not only was the favorite to play in the Big Ten title game out of the Leaders Division but that it also was the favorite to win the Big Ten.

Now? Who knows?

The good news for the Boilers: A visit from Wisconsin looms this Saturday. Beat the Badgers, and Purdue remains in nice shape to advance to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game. Lose to Wisconsin? And, well, you know …

Hands on: The Minnesota receiving corps was a question coming into the season. But the unit has developed nicely.

Is there an Eric Decker-type go-to guy? No, but there is a nice collection of pass catchers led by improbable star A.J. Barker. Others like Devin Crawford-Tufts, Isaac Fruechte, Marcus Jones and Derrick Engel also have played key roles for one of the Big Ten’s most surprising teams.

Five & out: Big game for Iowa this week at Michigan State. With that, the great Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register answers five questions about the Hawkeyes.

Oh, and Peterson even answers a query about Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and if he should be a legit Heisman contender since the Buckeyes are on probation. Of course he is. Silly question.

On that note, I have Miller No. 3 on my working ballot behind West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Kansas State’s Collin Klein.

[RELATED: Listen to this week’s audio of Big Ten coaches on the Big Ten teleconference.]

Leading the charge: Penn State’s 4-2 mark is one of the more surprising developments of the Big Ten season. One of the big keys has been the staff that Bill O’Brien has built. A top hire: offensive line coach Mac McWhorter, a sage assistant whose front has gone from a question mark to a strength.

The Nittany Lion front has used 10 players but yielded just eight sacks of Matt McGloin in what has been a pass-heavy offense. And the group seems to be getting better with each passing game. Not bad for a sixty-something assistant who had to be lured out of retirement from Georgia to join O’Brien’s staff.

Corner market: Coming into the season, some felt Michigan State cornerback Johnny Adams was the top defensive back in the Big Ten. Heck, he may even have been the top NFL prospect in the Big Ten. Alas, he has struggled.

Adams has been beaten deep several times for touchdowns. But he’s in no danger of losing his job. If anything, the rough first half of the season as steeled the will of Adams.

Look, more lists! The great Phil Steele is out with his midseason All-American teams. And, in typical Steele fashion, it’s a sea of names. The good news: Unlike his inch-thick preseason magazine, you won’t need a magnifying glass to read this. Oh, and the Big Ten is well-repped.


TWEETS THAT MATTER

My take: Well, that just so happens to be every team’s emphasis. Welcome to the club!


My take: I’m guessing by the time they meet, Ohio State will have, what, maybe five national titles?

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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