Published Tuesday, October 15, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 3:15 pm
Barfknecht: Wisconsin boasting Big Ten's best players

Our favorite time of the year, dear readers, is half over.

Hard to believe that we’re seven weeks into the Big Ten football regular season with seven weeks to go. That makes it time for a midyear review with 10 categories — some traditional and a few not-so normal.

» Coach of the year: Ohio State’s Urban Meyer.

Love him or hate him, you have to salute Meyer for working around the knee injury of quarterback Braxton Miller and having his team prepared for back-to-back spotlight tests early in the season against ranked opponents (Wisconsin and at Northwestern). Now the challenge is to avoid boredom until the Big Ten title game.

» Offensive player of the year: Wisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon.

He’s No. 3 nationally in rushing at 145 yards a game, but his real value is providing something lacking in many Big Ten games — the big play. The redshirt sophomore from Kenosha, Wis., has touchdown runs of 70, 37, 80 and 71 yards.

» Defensive player of the year: Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland.

The switch from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 has freed Borland up from some of the play-calling and given him more room to make plays. And, man, has he taken advantage. Borland is a red-and-white blur.

» Lamest fan base: Northwestern.

I know where the Wildcats fit into the Chicago sports scene. I get the Ivy League mentality toward sports on campus. I understand the too-cool-to-care set. But it was genuinely sad to see so much Ohio State red in the stands for arguably the biggest home game in Northwestern history. And it was even sadder to see only about 200 fans in purple last week at Wisconsin. So don’t come crying to me when Pat Fitzgerald leaves for a place that actually cares about football.

» The “Music to Our Ears” award: Penn State coach Bill O’Brien.

Though he worked under noted media hater Bill Belichick at New England, O’Brien has his own ideas on dealing with the press. “I try to answer questions to the best of my ability and try to be myself,” he said. “I really respect the media. I really do. I appreciate the job they have to do.” Hallelujah!

» Biggest miscalculation: Michigan’s switch from the spread offense to a pro-style power attack.

This stuff ain’t working. The best indicator was last week at Penn State when UM tailback Fitz Toussaint ran 27 times for 27 yards. For the season, UM’s top two tailbacks average 3.4 yards a carry. Only when quarterback Devin Gardner (5.5 per carry) gets in the zone read or is turned loose on designed quarterback runs do the Wolverines move the ball consistently.

» Ugliest stretch of play: Nebraska getting outscored at home 35-0 in a 15˝-minute segment by UCLA.

That was the day we found out why Bo Pelini locks the doors at practice. I wouldn’t want anybody to see that ahead of time, either.

» Best suggestion for midseason divisional realignment: Move Wisconsin to the Legends Division.

Since nobody on that side seems to want to take charge, it would be nice to see the Badgers get another shot at Leaders Division leader Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.

» Most out-of-touch scheduling decision: the Big Ten not playing night games in November.

Almost all of the league’s best games this season are on the five Saturdays in November — Michigan at Michigan State, Nebraska at Michigan, Michigan State at Nebraska, Michigan State at Northwestern, Ohio State at Michigan.

But with none of those at night, it hampers recruiting efforts in trying to get high school prospects on campus. And it limits national exposure for the league as those games get lost in the glut of 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. games.

» Worst fashion statement: Nebraska fans who wore black to the UCLA game.

Sportswriter and university friends from Oklahoma, Colorado and Missouri contacted me the following week and said watching a Nebraska home game on TV and not seeing the sea of red “was just wrong.” If you want to change the uniforms now and then to please the players, fine. Think really hard, though, about messing with your most visual national calling card. If the sea of red still gives pause to your old Big Eight brethren, you’d better believe it matters elsewhere, too.

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.



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