Big Ten Links: On 'backers, buckets & big battles

In today’s batch of Big Ten Links, I open with a good look at Ohio State’s struggling defense, which allowed a combined 87 points the last two weeks. That’s no secret, and as Bill Rabinowitz writes today in the Columbus Dispatch, a big reason for the struggles is the lack of strong linebacker play. Attrition through transfers, injuries, and position switches has chipped away at the unit’s depth.

On the topic of Ohio State linebackers, Ryan Shazier is full of promise but still prone to make mistakes. Etienne Sabino was coming on as the star of the unit until suffering a broken leg. Curtis Grant has disappointed and been replaced by Storm Klein. The freshmen? They aren’t ready. Things got so bad last week that fullback Zach Boren played linebacker and led the team with eight tackles! Boren will be at linebacker again this week against Purdue.

Defensive buy-in: Nebraska defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski still believes in the Nebraska scheme.

Yes, the Cornhusker unit has been ripped for 653 yards by UCLA and 63 points by Ohio State. But Kaczenski says it’s just a matter of execution when it comes to Nebraska’s two-gap scheme. The Huskers, now no. 7 in the Big Ten in defense (367.0 ypg), will be put to a severe test at Northwestern in a huge Legends Division tilt.

Hoops du jour: Is the Big Ten now a basketball conference? Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer takes a look.

The coaches’ poll recently came out, and three Big Ten teams ranked in the top five: No. 1 Indiana; No. 4 Ohio State; No. 5 Michigan.

“What are we, the SEC of basketball now?” tight end Jake Stoneburner asked. “I never thought the Big Ten would have three in the top five.”

Sounds about right. The last time we checked the BCS standings, the Big Ten had zero teams in the Top 25. So, yes, I think it’s safe to say the Big Ten leans more toward hoops power than football power—at least for now. So, ditch your cleats for sneakers, fans!!!

[RELATED: Watch and share the latest amazing video clips from around the Big Ten.]

Planning ahead: So, with Notre Dame coming off of Michigan’s schedule, how will the Wolverines fill the void? Michigan A.D. David Brandon says he’s looking at home-and-home series, and neutral site possibilities.

The possibilities seem limitless. How about Michigan vs. Texas? Michigan vs. Oregon? Michigan vs. Florida? Michigan vs. Stanford? Michigan vs. Oklahoma?

Just asking: Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register has five questions about Iowa as it preps to welcome Penn State for a big game. The biggest: How will Iowa’s offense be different without Mark Weisman? A lot. Neither Greg Garmon nor Jordan Canzeri has the size or strength of Weisman, but each is a bit more elusive. Bottom line: The Hawkeyes will miss Weisman. A lot.

Staying put: Minnesota’s Jerry Kill quit coaching? Because of seizures? Nonsense, he says.

I certainly hope Kill stays the course. He seems to have the Gophers on the edge of a turnaround. Kill has a great staff and a plan that has worked at every stop. Best of all: Kill is all substance—and little style. I love it. It’s all about coaching football and making his team better. It’s not about him and his ego. God speed to you, Jerry Kill!

Axe for men: The battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe means a lot to Wisconsin players. Plus, it’s just a cool trophy! Who doesn’t want to swing that axe?

The Badgers have dominated the series recently. Wisconsin has won eight in a row and 15 of 17. The Badgers can match the longest win streak by either team in the series with a victory on Saturday. Minnesota won nine in succession from 1933-41. During their current win skein, the Badgers are averaging 39.3 points and their winning by an average margin of 15.5 points.

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

Roof, there he is: Remember when Penn State defensive coordinator Ted Roof was getting heating after the Nittany Lions opened 0-2? Well, four games and four wins later, Roof is being lauded.

A big key has been improving on third downs. Penn State allowed Ohio and Virginia to convert 22-of-35 on third down, including 18-of-21 in the second half. Both were losses. But the Nittany Lion defense has come together and rallied around Roof for what is one of the Big Ten’s hottest teams.

Buddy ball: A neat story within the Nebraska at Northwestern game is the friendship between Husker receiver Kenny Bell and Wildcat quarterback/receiver Kain Colter.

The two playmakers have been buds since childhood times in Boulder, Colo. To this day, they still talk and text regularly. But which one will make the most plays on Saturday in Evanston? Hmmm.

TWEETS THAT MATTER

My take: When I saw Lynch at Penn State camp, I was impressed with the kid. He will be a special back.

My take: The “Revenge Tour” continues—with a vengeance, I may add.

My take: Yes, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Michigan State pull out some gimmick or new wrinkle. The season is hitting a critical juncture for the 4-3 Spartans. Why hold anything back?

My take: Well, last time I checked—and it was scant moments ago—JVB was No. 12 out of 12 Big Ten starting quarterbacks in passing efficiency. I’m just sayin’.

My take: Hmmmm. I think I’m picking up on a trend.

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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