Conference Endures Rough Mid-October

By Jeff Rapp, October 23rd, 2010

With tons of fall sports in high gear, basketball practice underway and the conference receiving daily exposure on the Big Ten Network, which is growing in popularity, it’s probably not entirely fair to say the Big Ten Conference just had a bad weekend.

Well, we’re going to say it anyway: The Big Ten Conference just had a bad weekend.

Ohio State’s reign as the nation’s No. 1 team lasted only a week, Minnesota decided to wait no longer and sacked Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster and even Nebraska, which will join forces with the conference next year, suffered its first loss and plummeted in the polls.

And that’s just the football-related news.

One of the league’s power teams in men’s basketball, Purdue, lost the services of star forward Robbie Hummel, effectively turning what appeared to be a three-horse race into a two-horse race between Michigan State and Ohio State.

We delve into two of those developments and a few other Big Ten-related notes below:

Hummel To Miss Entire 2010-11 Season

Hummel re-tore his ACL in practice the morning of Oct. 16 and will miss the entire 2010-11 season, the university said. It’s the same ligament that snapped on him late last season on Feb. 24 vs. Minnesota, causing him to miss the Boilermakers’ final eight games.

In the 27 games Hummel played last season, he again proved he is one of the most versatile and effective wings in college basketball. He averaged 15.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game and earned All-Big Ten and honorable mention All-America honors.

“This is obviously disappointing for Robbie, as well as our team, since he worked so hard to return from the tear he suffered in February,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said in a statement. “As he begins his rehab and recovery, we’ll persevere together and provide Robbie with all the support possible. I have no doubt he’ll continue to play a pivotal role for this season as a leader for our team.”

Because Hummel never redshirted, he will be eligible for a fifth year and would be able to rejoin the Boilermakers next season.

Without him Purdue still could be a team to watch this season with JaJuan Johnson manning the middle and E’Twuan Moore again ready to take the big shots and make key stops in the backcourt.

In fact, even after news of Hummel’s injury, Purdue still checked in at No. 8 in the initial USA Today/ESPN coaches poll.

Purdue rallied without Hummel to make the Sweet 16 in March before losing to eventual national champion Duke and finishing 29-6. But Painter is now left wondering how to attack teams without his 6-8 forward. He hinted recently he might go to a four-guard lineup to surround Johnson.

Graduation already has cost Purdue two longtime starters in Keaton Grant and Chris Kramer.

Hummel also missed significant time his sophomore year with a back injury.

Brewster Gets Pink Slip

Moments after Minnesota’s 41-23 loss to Wisconsin on Oct. 9, Brewster was incensed that UW coach Bret Bielema ordered a two-point conversion attempt in the fourth quarter with his team already owning a 41-16 lead. He shook out of a postgame handshake with Bielema and blasted the coach in his postgame address.

A week later, the Golden Gophers fell to 1-6 overall and 0-3 in the Big Ten with a 28-17 setback at Purdue. That spelled the end for the fourth-year UM coach, who was fired on Sunday.

“While I appreciate the passion and commitment that Coach Brewster has shown, it is clear that a change in the leadership of Gopher football is necessary,” athletic director Joel Maturi said in a statement. “We have high aspirations for our football program and we are not satisfied with its current direction. The results so far this season have been unacceptable and the program has simply not shown enough improvement over the past three and a half years to continue with the status quo.”

Co-offensive coordinator Jeff Horton takes over as the interim coach for Minnesota’s final five games. After beating Middle Tennessee in the opener, the Gophers have dropped six consecutive games, including home losses South Dakota and Northern Illinois.

Brewster was just 1-11 in 2007, his first on the job, but the Gophers advanced to the Insight Bowl at the end of the past two seasons.

He finishes his tenure in Minneapolis at 16-30, including a 6-21 record in the Big Ten.

Among the names that have surfaced as possible replacements is that of Tony Dungy, a Minnesota alum and Super Bowl-winning coach, as well as Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, who is a former Minnesota assistant, and former Gophers quarterback Marc Trestman, who is coaching the Montreal Alouettes after a long career as a NFL assistant.

Q&A

When he represented his school, Iowa, at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon in Chicago late this summer, defensive end Adrian Clayborn was asked to provide some quick answers to a few football-related questions.

Here are the replies Clayborn provided:

Best defensive player in the conference: Greg Jones (Michigan State’s middle linebacker)
Best rivalry game you’re not involved in: Michigan-Ohio State
Best venue in the conference: Penn State
What do you enjoy most about playing in the Big Ten?: Just that game in and game out every week you have to bring your ‘A’ game every week.
When you hear the words “Wisconsin football,” what is the first thing that comes to mind?: Hard-nose running attack.
What it means to be considered the best defensive player in the conference, especially from your peers: It’s an honor to hear people say that.

By the way, Clayborn will get to tangle with that Wisconsin running game and red-hot tailback John Clay this Saturday as the No. 13 Hawkeyes will host No. 10 UW (3:30 p.m. Eastern, ABC or ESPN) in a highly important league showdown.

League Notes

* In other Big Ten matchups on Oct. 23, No. 11 Ohio State hosts Purdue and Illinois hosts Indiana (noon Eastern, Big Ten Network), No. 8 Michigan State is at Northwestern (noon Eastern, ESPN) and Penn State is at Minnesota (noon Eastern, ESPNU). Michigan has an open week.

* The Big Ten actually is the only conference in the country that has four member schools in the top 15 of the initial BCS standings that were released Oct. 17. Undefeated Michigan State debuted at No. 7, Ohio State is at No. 10, Wisconsin is No. 13 and Iowa is No. 15.

* After seven weeks of college football, only 10 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) programs remain undefeated, including Michigan State. The Spartans are one of only four teams standing at 7-0, a group that includes Auburn, LSU and TCU. Six programs are off to 6-0 starts, including Boise State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon and Utah.

* Indiana’s Bill Lynch and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz are both nearing the 100-victory mark for their coaching careers. Lynch improved to 99-92-3 last week as he led the Hoosiers to a 36-34 win over Arkansas State. Ferentz currently holds a career mark of 98-77 and is looking for win No. 99 against the Badgers.

* Wisconsin wide receiver David Gilreath returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown against Ohio State, his first career kickoff return score, and shattered a Big Ten career record in the process. Gilreath now has amassed 2,677 career kickoff return yards. That ranks first all-time among conference performers and just ahead of Michigan State’s Derrick Mason, who had 2,575 yards from 1993-96.

* Penn State head coach Joe Paterno, who is closing in on his 400th win, will be coaching in the 65th different facility of his illustrious career when he leads the Nittany Lions into TCF Bank Stadium for the first time Saturday.