Big Ten: Illinois Fighting Illini

Big Ten morning links

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
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Minnesota opens spring practice Tuesday without a quarterback problem. Mitch Leidner, though far from prolific, brings 16 games of starting experience, a level of efficiency and style of play to the position that fits the Gophers well.

The same cannot be said of at least five teams in the Big Ten this spring.

Ohio State -- clearly not on any quarterback-deprived list -- and Michigan made this rundown by Ben Kercheval of Bleacher Report on the top QB battles of spring. It includes predicted post-spring leaders at the position.

Michigan practice is already underway, though on break this week.

Maryland and Nebraska get started before the end of the week in addition to Minnesota. The Terrapins, while likely set with Caleb Rowe, who's expected back from knee surgery in plenty of time for fall camp, are splitting time between Shane Cockerille and Perry Hills in the spring.

Let's take a look at the best Big Ten spring QB battles, sans Ohio State, where it won't get all that interesting until closer to summer:

Michigan candidates: Shane Morris (junior next season), Wilton Speight (redshirt freshman) and Alex Malzone (true freshman)

Predicted post-spring leader: Morris, simply because of his experience. But this race will extend into the spring, when true freshman Zach Gentry joins the mix. And don't go to sleep on a summer surprise.

Iowa candidates: Jake Rudock (senior), C.J. Beathard (junior)

Predicted post-spring leader: Beathard. He'll get the benefit of the doubt this spring -- treatment to which Rudock has grown accustomed over the past two years -- after the Hawkeyes placed the junior atop the depth chart in January.

Rutgers candidates: Chris Laviano (sophomore), Hayden Rettig (sophomore), Giovanni Rescigno (redshirt freshman)

Predicted post-spring leader: Rettig. He's got an upside that the other two can't match, and with a season to acclimate after his transfer from LSU, look for Rettig to emerge this spring as one of the league's top newcomers.

Northwestern candidates: Zack Oliver (senior), Matt Alviti (sophomore), Clayton Thorson (redshirt freshman)

Predicted post-spring leader: Oliver, who's tall and strong and maybe a bit underappreciated this spring because of his turnover-prone play to finish last season. He'll enjoy a nice spring, but the battle will continue in August, and don't count out Thorson.

Purdue candidates: Austin Appleby (junior), Danny Etling (junior), David Blough (redshirt freshman)

Predicted post-spring leader: Appleby, in perhaps the league's toughest spring call. He faded in November, and both competitors will apply pressure in the spring. But Appleby will draw strength from his best moments of 2014.

Around the rest of the league:

Big Ten morning links

February, 27, 2015
Feb 27
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The best quote from the first week of spring practice at Michigan, surprisingly, came from someone other than Jim Harbaugh.

Of course, it was about Harbaugh.

“He’s the smartest man I’ve ever been around,” U-M offensive coordinator Tim Drevo told reporters Thursday night after the Wolverines’ second practice of the spring.

What, not the smartest man in the world?

It should be noted that Drevno, 45, worked with Harbaugh at Stanford from 2007 to 2010. If you take him at his word on Harbaugh, it’s safe to assume Drevno didn’t get out and about much on the Stanford campus, which is full of its share of smart people.

Otherwise, in this opening week, Drevo said he likes what he’s seen from Michigan, which returns its entire offensive line.

Drevno, who will call plays next season and coaches the line, told the Detroit News:

“There’s something special in there. Are we there yet? No. It’s Day 2, but there’s something special in there, and I’m excited about it.”

Ah, the optimism of spring.

Some intriguing data and excellent analysis here by Joseph Juan of numberFire on the NFL combine results of Melvin Gordon.

According to the numbers, the former Wisconsin All-American compares favorably to many of the great running backs of this generation.

Juan’s findings:
Gordon seems to possess a rare combination of size, speed and power that combined with his instincts and vision could make him a very formidable NFL running back. ... As a testament to the rarity of Gordon’s collection of skills, no other NFL running back for which we have combine data from the past 15 years falls within the ranges I set forth for (build, speed, power and explosiveness.)

The writer finds, in conclusion, that Gordon “appears that he’s primed for a breakout rookie season.”

Full disclaimer: While I enjoy the NFL draft, I’m not sold on the predictive ability of the combine, pro days or individual workouts. I think a player’s body of work in college serves as the best indicator of his NFL potential -- and Gordon couldn’t have done much better in that category.

Stats and measurements can be interpreted to make just about any argument. Nevertheless, the numberFire breakdown of Gordon is solid.

I agree that he’s got a chance to join the backs to whom he’s compared in this article. But the organization that drafts him in May likely ranks as the top factor in determining his shot to make a rookie splash.

A Friday trip around the rest of the Big Ten:

And finally, from Wisconsin, this is, well, it's something. Have a good weekend.

Ranking the Big Ten coaching jobs

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
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ESPN.com this week ranked the Power 5 college football coaching jobs, from No. 1 to 65. While those national takes on the Big Ten hit the mark, we'll offer a few minor changes in our Big Ten rankings, No. 1 through 14, of the league seats.

1. Ohio State
Is there really any doubt? The national championship is difficult to overlook. There’s no better job in the Big Ten -- both historically, though Michigan might argue, and in the current climate.

2. Michigan
The Wolverines deserve real consideration for a spot in the top 10 nationally. With more wins than any program in college football history and the second-highest winning percentage to Notre Dame, this is a truly special job. Just ask Jim Harbaugh.

3. Penn State
Resources galore. PSU may feature the best combination in the league of location, fan support and tradition. And the urgency to win is real, an important factor in comparison to other Big Ten programs striving for the top.

4. Nebraska
Some natural disadvantages exist, yes, but no school in the Big Ten creates unity and provokes passion among its fan base like the Huskers. This is not Tom Osborne’s Nebraska, but it’s still a top job with elite institutional support.

5. Michigan State
Natural competition with Michigan and Ohio State works for the Spartans in setting a high standard -- and works against MSU in that it may never be viewed, by comparison, as a true blue blood in the sport. Still, who cares about that if you’re in the discussion for a national title?

6. Wisconsin
While the Badgers don’t have the history of the Big Ten’s other top programs, and the resources in recruiting don't ever figure to stack up with a few competitors, Wisconsin wins and produces championship-caliber competitors.

7. Maryland
The Terrapins sit a ways back from the top tier of the league in many areas. But few can compare with Maryland’s recruiting ground and built-in support system courtesy of Under Armour.

8. Iowa
The Hawkeyes compensate their coach well: Kirk Ferentz had one of the top 10 salaries in the country in 2014. And they have a strong tradition. They are the biggest show in the state, but convincing talented players to come to Iowa City remains a challenge.

9. Minnesota
Minnesota has made an effort in the past few years to upgrade facilities and invest more in resources like nutrition and player support. The results are starting to show. While the local talent might be lacking, Minneapolis is one of the more attractive cities in the Big Ten.

10. Illinois
The Illini fall slightly behind Minnesota on our list because of location. Illinois coaches have had trouble consistently getting talent from Chicago to join them in the middle of the state. The focus remains more on basketball in Champaign.

11. Rutgers
One of the Big Ten’s newcomers is making strides toward matching some of the bigger schools in the conference, but the Scarlet Knights still have a ways to go before they can get out of catch-up mode.

12. Northwestern
Stringent academic requirements and a small, private campus are obstacles for any coach at Northwestern. A new facility on the edge of Lake Michigan should help the Wildcats when it is eventually completed.

13. Indiana
Football interest wanes quickly for the Hoosiers when basketball gets started in the late fall. The resources aren’t there, which makes it difficult to survive the improving gauntlet of the Big Ten East on a yearly basis.

14. Purdue
Purdue is Indiana without the added benefit of Bloomington, a great college town. Ross-Ade Stadium could use a face-lift, and West Lafayette lacks the charm of other campuses in the conference.

Big Ten morning links

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
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Spring football starts Tuesday at Michigan, where temperatures are forecast to dip below zero each of the next three nights.

Why do I feel like everyone on Twitter is talking to Jim Harbaugh these days?



The Wolverines will be warm and cozy at practice inside Al Glick Field House. Northwestern also starts this week. Maryland, Minnesota and Nebraska open drills next week, which makes now as good a time as any to review staff openings around the Big Ten.

Presumably, all 14 programs will get back to full strength for spring practice. For now, three teams remain down a man.

Since we last took a divisional look at offseason changes in the East and the West, Nebraska and Wisconsin lost assistant coaches. Brian Stewart left Maryland as defensive coordinator to take the opening at Nebraska.

And Purdue hired Terry Malone over the weekend to coach tight ends.

Malone made it to a 6 a.m. workout Monday with the Boilermakers.

He is an intriguing hire for Purdue. Most recently the tight ends coach of the New Orleans Saints, where he was instrumental in the development of 2013 first-team All-Pro pick Jimmy Graham, Malone coordinated Michigan's offense from 2002-05 and also worked under Lloyd Carr as offensive line coach.

Michigan won five league crowns in Malone's nine seasons. He brings an NFL pedigree and a history of success in the Big Ten. Pretty good place to start for the Boilermakers, who have won one Big Ten game in two seasons under coach Darrell Hazell.

The imminent Stewart hire at Nebraska, to replace Charlton Warren as secondary coach, also makes sense for Mike Riley, who generally picks coaches that he or his assistants know. Stewart served a solid stint in 2007-08 with the Dallas Cowboys as defensive coordinator. Also on that Dallas staff was Bruce Read, Nebraska's special teams coach and a longtime Riley assistant.

Stewart is a San Diego native and coached the secondary for the Chargers before his stint in Dallas; Riley, former head coach of the Chargers, and his staff have numerous San Diego ties.

Of little relevance, Stewart, as the Cowboys coordinator, succeeded Mike Zimmer, who -- after the 2003 season -- interviewed for the Nebraska head-coaching job. It went to Bill Callahan, who spent 2012-14 with the Cowboys.

And of minor relevance, Stewart would be the only full-time member of the Nebraska staff to coach a game at Memorial Stadium. He spent three seasons at Missouri, losing to the Huskers in 1996 and 2000 in Lincoln and in 1999 at Mizzou.

Here's a rundown of the programs with open positions:
  • Illinois still has an opening after the January firing of two assistant coaches. The spot yet to be filled was vacated by special teams coach Tim Salem, though coach Tim Beckman might hire for a different position. Beckman said recently that he had interviewed internal candidates and likely would assign Alex Golesh, the Fighting Illini recruiting coordinator who worked last season with running backs and tight ends, to handle a heavy load on special teams next season.

  • Maryland needs an assistant to replace Stewart. Inside linebackers coach Keith Dudzinski was promoted to defensive coordinator.

  • Wisconsin must hire a running backs coach to replace Thomas Brown, who left for alma mater, Georgia. John Settle, who coached the position for the Badgers from 2006-10 and for Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst at Pittsburgh last season, has been mentioned in reports as a candidate.
Let's get to the links:
The end has arrived in our weeklong snapshot look at every Big Ten program. For the past week, we've examined the coaching, win-loss trends, personnel, and recruiting of every team in the league.

The last school up is Illinois.

2014 record: 6-7 (3-5 Big Ten, fifth in West Division)

Three-year record: 12-25

Coaching situation: Coach Tim Beckman, in his third season last fall after presiding over a nice turnaround at Toledo, appeared in a tenuous November spot before the Illini beat Penn State and Northwestern to gain bowl eligibility for the first time since 2011 under Ron Zook. The school rewarded Beckman with a contract extension, and he followed by retooling the defensive staff with the hire of Mike Phair as co-coordinator from the Tampa Bay Bucs. Offensively, Bill Cubit has earned respect as an offensive innovator. Beckman remains in search of a tight ends coach to replace Tim Salem.

Roster situation: There are bright spots, but not enough to turn in Illinois into an overnight contender in the weaker of the Big Ten divisions. Start at receiver, where Mike Dudek returns after an excellent freshman season alongside Geronimo Allison and Malik Turner. Quarterback Wes Lunt, whose first season at the helm was disrupted by injuries then ineffectiveness, will be counted on for production in 2015, as will multi-talented back Josh Ferguson. Defensively, the Illini lose key players at every level in safety Zane Petty, linebacker Earnest Thomas II, and nose tackle Austin Teitsma. But linebacker Mason Monheim is back with All-Big Ten potential to lead a solid core that includes defensive end Jihad Ward, T.J. Neal at middle linebacker, cornerback V'Angelo Bentley, and safety Taylor Barton to anchor the back.

Recruiting situation: The Illini were excited with the results this year, despite a class ranking of No. 64 nationally that ranked last in the Big Ten. To suggest that Illinois’ recruiting is in poor shape, though, is not an accurate indication of the work accomplished by Alex Golesh in coordinating the Illini efforts. Illinois added nine early enrollees and scored big by keeping home ESPN 300 offensive tackle Gabe Megginson, who turned down the likes of Michigan State and Nebraska. But he was the only player in state’s top 12 this year signed by Illinois. That must improve. Quarterback Jimmy Fitzgerald, homegrown in Champaign, stands tall in the pocket, and the Illini hit important areas in California, Texas, Florida and Georgia. A year ago, its 66th-ranked class included Ward out of junior college and all three top returning receivers.

Trajectory: After the Heart of Dallas Bowl loss to Louisiana Tech, in which the Illini were outplayed from the start, a sense exists that Beckman has reached a crossroads. The Illini have improved from two wins to four to six under Beckman, and won three times as many league games last season as in his first two seasons. Illinois beat Minnesota last season and played Wisconsin close on the road, but it lost to Purdue in Champaign -- the Boilermakers’ only Big Ten win of the past two seasons. Fact is, though, the two November wins might have saved Beckman’s job. He’s yet to produce a winning mark after Ron Zook was fired for getting there three times in seven seasons, including a Rose Bowl appearance.

Six junior-college transfers are set compete for jobs, an illustration of the urgency in place. So does Illinois sink from here or rise to challenge the top group in the West? It gets Wisconsin and Nebraska at home next season after a manageable non-conference slate that includes a winnable game at North Carolina. To push the needle up, the Illini need more cohesiveness on defense and leadership from Lunt.

Big Ten morning links

February, 17, 2015
Feb 17
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As new coaches shopped for assistants after the season at Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin, four members of the programs’ old staffs were retained.

Jim Harbaugh kept Greg Mattison, the defensive coordinator turned D-line coach at Michigan; Nebraska’s Mike Riley kept secondary coach Charlton Warren; and Paul Chryst held onto defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and running backs coach Thomas Brown at Wisconsin.

Well, news surfaced Friday that Warren was departing for North Carolina. Monday, Brown left for his alma mater, Georgia.

And so there were two ...

Both decisions make sense. Brown played at Georgia and gets the chance to coach his former position near a fountain of recruiting talent.

For Warren, it’s a move closer to home. He’s from Georgia, too. And after nearly two decades in the military or working at the Air Force Academy, the opportunity was too attractive to make a career choice that served his family first.

Warren and Brown helped the new staffs at Nebraska and Wisconsin, respectively, transition through signing day. They were key figures in the schools’ signing of top prospects. Riley and Chryst, though, had bigger plans for them.

This is an issue, in fact, that persists nationally as the coaching carousel spins at an unusually brisk mid-February pace. Assistant coaches are abandoning recruits all around -- Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Georgia, LSU, Florida, Notre Dame, Texas, UCLA.

A few coaches to whom I’ve spoken since signing day recognize the problem. It should be addressed, Riley said last week.

I’ve also heard from readers and on social media that coaches ought to face a penalty for leaving soon after signing day. That simply won’t happen under the current governance model unless it’s written into their contracts. And until schools stop breaking deals much more often than coaches, don’t expect any such language to appear.

If the answer is an out clause for recruits, that’s a discussion for another day. And it starts with the conference commissioners, who administrate the letter of intent and meet every June as a group.

In the meantime, head coaches next winter may think twice about the value of retaining assistants.

Around the conference:
It's been quite an offseason already nationally and around the Big Ten. Earlier Monday, colleague Adam Rittenberg provided a rundown of the altered coaching landscape of the Big Ten's East Division.

We continue our recap of the coaching moves with a look at the West Division, featuring a mix of turnover at high-profile Nebraska and Wisconsin and longevity elsewhere:

ILLINOIS
Who's out?

Greg Colby, defensive line
Tim Salem, special teams

Who's in?

Mike Phair, co-defensive coordinator

Notes: Coach Tim Beckman remains in the market for an assistant coach to fill Salem's spot. The Illini got Phair from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He will run the defense with Tim Banks after Illinois ranked last in the Big Ten for the past two years in defending the run, a factor in Colby's removal. Before turning to Phair, Beckman attempted to hire Missouri defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski, but the longtime sidekick of Gary Pinkel opted to stay with the Tigers.

IOWA
Who's out?

No changes, though coach Kirk Ferentz made a few assignment shifts last week.

Promoted/moved

Brian Ferentz adds run-game coordinator to work with offensive line
Seth Wallace adds cornerbacks and nickelbacks to work as recruiting coordinator
LeVar Woods moves from linebackers to tight ends

Notes: Some have argued that Kirk Ferentz, set to enter his 17th season, should have made more significant changes after the Hawkeyes underachieved, especially on offense. Brian Ferentz has done nice work with the line. His promotion should allow offensive coordinator Greg Davis to focus more on the tenuous quarterback situation. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker can also focus on more big-picture work after the changes this month, and Jim Reid will alone handle the linebackers with Woods moving to the offensive side.

MINNESOTA
Who's out?

Are you kidding?

Notes: Status quo for the Gophers after two straight eight-win seasons. Coach Jerry Kill's staffers, including strength coach Eric Klein, have worked together for a combined 131 years, more than any staff nationally. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has been with Kill for 20 seasons; offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover for 16 and so on. Their longevity pays obvious dividends. Little changes look big for the Gophers, such as the switch last year of Brian Anderson to coach receivers and Pat Poore to running backs.

NEBRASKA
Who's out?

Bo Pelini, head coach
Tim Beck, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
John Papuchis, defensive coordinator
Ron Brown, running backs
Barney Cotton, assistant head coach/tight ends
Ross Els, linebackers
Rich Fisher, receivers
John Garrison, offensive line
Rick Kaczenski, defensive line
Charlton Warren, defensive backs

Who's in?

Mike Riley, head coach
Mark Banker, defensive coordinator
Danny Langsdorf, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Trent Bray, linebackers
Mike Cavanaugh, offensive line
Reggie Davis, running backs
Hank Hughes, defensive line
Bruce Read, special teams
Keith Williams, receivers

Notes: Riley brought Banker, Bray, Cavanaugh and Read straight from Oregon State, and added Langsdorf, a former OSU coordinator, from a one-year stopover as quarterbacks coach of the New York Giants. Davis, who came from Jim Harbaugh's staff with the San Francisco 49ers, is another former Riley assistant. Hughes came from Cincinnati, and Williams from Tulane. Riley retained Warren, but after two months with the new staff, he left last week for North Carolina, leaving the new coach to look for another man to coach the secondary -- Nebraska's fifth hire for the position in six years.

NORTHWESTERN
Who's out?

No changes.

Notes: Longevity reins in Evanston. Despite the Wildcats' struggles of the past two seasons, coach Pat Fitzgerald, entering his 10th season, has shown great confidence in his staff. Assistants Randy Bates (linebackers), Adam Cushing (offensive line), Matt MacPherson (running backs) and Jerry Brown (secondary) have been with Fitzgerald all the way. Brown, in fact, has coached at the school since 1993.

PURDUE
Who's out?

Kevin Sherman, receivers

Notes: Darrell Hazell remains in search of a replacement for Sherman, who spent two years with the Boilermakers before bolting for Pat Narduzzi's new staff at Pitt. The core of Hazell's staff has remained with him since the coach arrived from Kent State after the 2012 season.

WISCONSIN
Who's out?

Gary Andersen, head coach
Andy Ludwig, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Chris Beatty, receivers
Bill Busch, safeties
Jeff Genyk, tight ends/special teams
Chad Kauha'aha'a, defensive line
Ben Strickland, cornerbacks
T.J. Woods, offensive line

Who's in?

Paul Chryst, head coach
Joe Rudolph, offensive coordinator/offensive line
Inoke Breckterfield, defensive line
Chris Haering, special teams
Daronte' Jones, defensive backs
Tim Tibesar, outside linebackers
Mickey Turner, tight ends

Retained:

Dave Aranda, defensive coordinator/linebackers
Thomas Brown, running backs

Notes: Despite early reports that Matt House would come with Chryst from Pitt as defensive coordinator, Aranda remained, which was a popular move. Rudolph (a former Wisconsin player and assistant coach), Breckterfield, Haering and Turner did follow Chryst to his new job at his alma mater. Jones comes from Hawaii and Tibesar, the former Purdue defensive coordinator, comes from Northwestern where he served as a consultant last year. The Badgers also appear set to hire Ted Gilmore, who spent the past three seasons with the Oakland Raiders, as their receivers coach. Strickland looks in position to remain as an in-house recruiting coordinator.

Big Ten morning links

February, 16, 2015
Feb 16
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Tuesday marks the official beginning of the 2015 NFL combine, with the first group of players scheduled to arrive in Indianapolis. Hopefuls will go through interviews, get measured and tested for the first couple of days before their on-field workouts.

The schedule of those is as follows:
  • Friday: Specialists, offensive line, tight ends
  • Saturday: Quarterbacks, receivers, running backs
  • Sunday: Defensive linemen, linebackers
  • Monday: Defensive backs

The Big Ten is sending 38 players to the combine, and you can view the complete list here. A few story lines to follow when it comes to the league alumni:
  • Will the Year of the Running Back lead to a huge draft haul at the position? Running back has been severely devalued in the draft, especially as the NFL becomes more and more of a passing league. Yet there are supremely talented backs from the Big Ten who will try and buck that trend. Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon couldn't have done any more on the field last season to make his case as a first-rounder. I think Indiana's Tevin Coleman could wow scouts with his physical tools in the combine setting, while Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah should wipe away any concerns about his height. Minnesota's David Cobb and Michigan State's Jeremy Langford might not put up huge testing numbers, but you can't question their productivity and durability in college.
  • How many Big Ten players can crack the first round? After a dreadful couple of years in terms of producing first-rounders, the conference is poised to hear several of its players' names called on opening night in this draft. Todd McShay's most recent mock draft included eight Big Ten players in the first 32 picks. Nebraska's Randy Gregory has been viewed as a potential top-5 pick, but after some injuries slowed him down during the season, he needs to shine at the combine. Other guys like Minnesota's Maxx Williams, Ohio State's Devin Smith and Iowa's Carl Davis could solidify spots at the back end of the first round with strong showings.
  • How much can Brandon Scherff lift? The Iowa offensive tackle and strong man could challenge the record of 49 reps on the 225-pound bench press that Oregon State's Stephen Paea set in 2011. Other players not yet mentioned who I'd expect to really impress in testing include Michigan State's Tony Lippett, Minnesota's Damien Wilson, Penn State's Adrian Amos and Michigan's Devin Funchess.
Around the Big Ten ...

Big Ten spring practice dates

February, 13, 2015
Feb 13
10:15
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Spring (practice) is in the air. Well, almost.

Two Big Ten teams -- Michigan and Northwestern -- will take the field for spring ball before the end of the month. Here's a handy list for when every team in the league begins practicing and when it will hold its spring game.

Illinois

Start date: March 14
Spring game: April 18

Indiana

Start date: March 26
Spring game: April 18

Iowa

Start date: March 25
Spring game: April 25

Maryland

Start date: March 2
Spring game: April 11

Michigan

Start date: Feb. 24
Spring game: April 4

Michigan State

Start date: March 24
Spring game: April 25

Minnesota

Start date: March 3
Spring game: April 11

Nebraska

Start date: March 7
Spring game: April 11

Northwestern

Start date: Feb. 25
Spring game: April 4 or 11

Ohio State

Start date: March 10
Spring game: April 18

Penn State

Start date: March 20
Spring game: April 18

Purdue

Start date: March 10
Spring game: April 18

Rutgers

Start date: March 30
Spring game: April 24

Wisconsin

Start date: March 15
Spring game: April 25

Big Ten morning links

February, 13, 2015
Feb 13
9:00
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Credit Kirk Ferentz for trying. Is it enough, though?

The Iowa coach, in preparation for his 17th season, announced changes Thursday to his staff assignments. Not coaching changes, but hey, something is better than nothing, right?

To summarize, LeVar Woods, formerly the linebackers coach, will take over the tight ends. Brian Ferentz is now the run game coordinator in addition to his responsibilities as offensive line coach. And Seth Wallace, who assisted with the defensive line last year, now coaches the nickels and cornerbacks.

Change does not come easily at Iowa, where the head coach's release of a postseason depth chart, in a departure from previous seasons, raised brows last month.

Iowa's offense needs an infusion of energy. Maybe quarterback C.J. Beathard can provide it. But the elder Ferentz is wise not to rely entirely on that. He's banking also on Woods, a linebacker on Ferentz's first two teams who did nice work on the defensive side, and the coach's son in an increased role.

Marc Morehouse of the Cedar Rapids Gazette suggests that the new job description for Brian Ferentz rates as the most interesting of the changes. But what will the younger Ferentz do as run game coordinator? Certainly, he's not about to supercede offensive coordinator Greg Davis, who has his hands full with quarterbacks Beathard and Jake Rudock.

Fact is, though, Iowa's quarterbacks -- and its defense -- would benefit most from a dynamic running game. The Hawkeyes' 4.12 yards per rush in 2014 ranked 10th in the Big Ten. It lacked explosiveness.

Brian Ferentz has extended Iowa's notable tradition of producing solid offensive linemen. If his work translates to the run game at large, maybe he can help get his dad back on the right track.

Nothing official out of Piscataway, New Jersey, yet on the potential hire of business consultant Jeff Towers as Rutgers' recruiting coordinator, but Stewart Mandel of FoxSports.com is offering praise for coach Kyle Flood.

Mandel likens Towers, who has no known experience in football, and other similar hires at major programs to general managers at the pro level -- without the ability to trade or draft players, of course. (Don't get any ideas.)

Much remains unknown about the specifics of Towers' business experience. The only details uncovered came from his LinkedIn profile. Regardless, if Flood makes this move, clearly he believes in Towers to bring a new type of leadership to the business side of the Rutgers program.

College football programs are built like corporations today. Nearly every major program employs an operations director, the most effective of whom possess freedom in making decisions on non-coaching matters. So why not have a GM-like figure to run the personnel department, otherwise known as recruiting operations?

The size and structure of these staffs loom as a possible issue for the Power 5 conferences to debate. Even so, unless major restrictions are imposed -- unexpected in this age of autonomy -- hires like Towers will soon be viewed as standard practice.

Let's get to the links:

East Division
West Division

Big Ten morning links

February, 12, 2015
Feb 12
9:00
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Good morning, and Happy Birthday to Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, Bill Russell and Arsenio Hall. That would be quite a golf foursome.

Did Penn State almost get kicked out of the Big Ten?

That nuclear option, which was rumored in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, might have been seriously discussed by Big Ten leadership. That's according to testimony by NCAA president Mark Emmert in a deposition, which was released in a huge document dump Wednesday as part the legal case against the NCAA brought by Pennsylvania state Sen. Jake Corman.

Emmert said there were talks about removing Penn State from the NCAA and added that "my understanding is the Big Ten talked about whether they would expel them from the Big Ten." Emmert also said that "the range of issues and penalties that were being considered covered the gamut, again because of the extraordinary nature of these circumstances."

Let's not forget the disgust and outrage directed toward the university after the scandal hit and after the Freeh Report was released. Whether the Big Ten ever came close to ousting Penn State might never be known. But that would have been the wrong move then, and given how the NCAA has had to backpedal and defend itself in court proceedings since, it's a good thing the league didn't follow that path.

Proposed rule changes for 2015

In news that sheds a more competent light on the NCAA, the football rules committee supported some changes for next season. The most significant potential rule change would be in how the ineligible man downfield penalty would be called. The proposal calls for blockers to be ineligible if they are one yard past the line of scrimmage instead of the current three, unless they are engaged with a defensive player when a pass is released.

Defensive coordinators hate that spread offenses have been getting away with having linemen downfield on passing plays, and teams like Ohio State, Indiana, and Northwestern might be most affected by the change in how this would be called, if approved.

There also could be testing of new technology systems at bowl games next season, including the use of computers on the sidelines and allowing coaches to communicate through the helmets of one player on offense and defense. The NFL has had this in place for more than two decades, and it's about time college football got on board. I've always been confused about the lack of technology in football despite all the money in the sport -- really, chain gangs are still the best we can do, guys? -- and hopefully this is a step toward the, uh, 20th century.

The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel would have to approve these proposals on March 5.

East Division
West Division

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

February, 11, 2015
Feb 11
5:00
PM ET
Welcome to another installment of the Big Ten mailbag, where you ask intriguing questions, I provide middling answers and we all try to fill the void between signing day and the start of spring practice.

John S. from Lindale, Georgia, writes: Hey Brian, in that Brady Hoke's recruiting classes were pretty highly rated, is it not possible that Michigan's new staff couldn't reasonably be expected to get the team to more than eight or nine wins next year? Seems like all the early projections for next year have a best-case scenario of no more than eight or nine wins. Thanks!

Brian Bennett: I've actually been surprised with some rosy projections for the 2015 Wolverines by fellow ESPN types in the past couple of days. Our Football Power Index has Michigan ranked 28th in the preseason, K.C. Joyner wrote that the Maize and Blue could win 10 games and challenge Ohio State Insider in the East Division and Brad Edwards picked Michigan to make the Rose Bowl Insider.

Um, guys, have you been watching the same Michigan team as I have? You know, the one that lost its best defensive player, best receiver and starting quarterback from last season? Jim Harbaugh deserves respect, but with a really murky quarterback situation and questions on the offensive line, at receiver and at running back, I just don't see 2015 being a banner debut season.

Yet as you mention, John, the cupboard is not entirely bare. The players Hoke and his staff recruited were ranked high for a reason, and Harbaugh and his guys are known for developing talent. That should equate to better results quickly, but maybe not this year. If Michigan can go 8-4 or better this fall, Harbaugh will have done a very good job.

Brian Bennett: Most coaches believe there should be changes made in recruiting. But good luck trying to get them all to agree on specific changes. This isn't just a Big Ten phenomenon, either. At the American Football Coaches Association national convention in Louisville last month, several of the nation's top coaches met and talked about whether there should be an early signing date and other changes. As one coach told me, "We talk about the same things every year, and nothing ever happens." It's a minor miracle that an early signing date in mid-December has a chance of coming about, though I believe the date should be earlier.

The reason why it's hard to get every coach on board with the same idea is that different schools have different agendas. Moving up official visits to a prospect's junior year would greatly help some Big Ten programs like Nebraska and Wisconsin. But ones like Ohio State and Penn State, which are much closer to rich talent bases, don't really need it. Jim Delany's job is to listen to what his coaches want. They may never come to a complete consensus, but I believe Big Ten coaches share many of the same principles and concerns about the accelerated recruiting calendar.

Brian Bennett: Austin Ward covered the Scarlet Knights' revolving door of playcallers in Wednesday's morning links. You want consistency with your staff, and it's tough on players who have to adjust to new terminology and a new way of doing things year after year.

Change isn't necessarily bad, though, and plenty of first-year offensive coordinators have done well. Michigan State's 2013 season is a prime example of that. What Rutgers has going in its favor is that the basic system hasn't really changed much since Greg Schiano's tenure began. Under Kyle Flood, the Scarlet Knights still run a pro-style set that new coordinator Ben McDaniels seems well-groomed to oversee. At some point, you'd like to see some continuity there for the players' sake, but Rutgers' success on offense this season probably depends a lot more on who's playing quarterback than who is calling plays from upstairs.

Brian Bennett: It doesn't hurt that the Hawkeyes are in the much more wide-open West Division, and they went into the final two weeks of last season with a solid chance of making it to Indianapolis before coming up short in their final two home games. In my view, it still all starts with the running game. Iowa has been mediocre at best at pounding the rock the past couple of seasons. As much as I admired Mark Weisman's story, the fact that no one could really beat him out as the primary ball carrier for two years speaks volumes.

Sure, it would be nice if Iowa developed a big-time passing game with loads of athletic receivers, but that's not all that realistic given the program's access to talent and Kirk Ferentz's philosophy. I think this program needs to rediscover some of the toughness that helped it get to major bowl games earlier in Ferentz's tenure and be more like what Wisconsin and Minnesota are, where opponents know it's going to be a long, physical day when you play them.

Brian Bennett: I can appreciate that coaches live in a bubble and devote all their energy and resources toward trying to get a large group of people all pulling in the same, successful direction. The best coaches are often control freaks who control every message their team receives, so of course they would view the media as being part of it.

Naturally, though, that's not the role journalists are supposed to fill. I never see what I write as "negative" or "positive." Rather, I look at it as simply "what is." If a team is winning, the coverage will seem positive, and the opposite is true if a team is losing. Beckman and his staff perhaps deserve a bit more credit for pushing last season's team to six wins and a bowl. But true positivity around the program only stems from winning more games.

Big Ten morning links

February, 11, 2015
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There is no curse, nothing wrong with the job, and no apparent concern from Kyle Flood either.

If anything, the Rutgers coach is chalking up a seemingly annual tradition of replacing his offensive coordinator as a positive, pointing to the quality of jobs his assistants have landed.

Whether that's focusing on the silver lining or truly genuine, only Flood actually knows. But either way, after Ralph Friedgen stepped down into an advisory role on Tuesday to become the fifth consecutive one-and-done offensive coordinator for the Scarlet Knights, Flood could use some consistency at some point.

"You describe it as a problem, but I think some of the guys we've had here as coordinators have left for some pretty good reasons," Flood said during his announcement teleconference. "When you hire talented people, there's always a chance that they're going to have the opportunity to go somewhere and get promoted."

That didn't happen this time with Friedgen, who wasn't looking for another job as much as a chance to "smell the roses" without the demands that come with full-time coaching in the Big Ten. He never figured to be a long-term answer for the Scarlet Knights, but it's still something of a surprise that he wound up adding his name to the list of one-and-done coordinators.

The next man up, former wide receivers coach Ben McDaniels, could potentially provide some stability moving forward and allow for the Scarlet Knights to find some comfort and rhythm. Of course, his young age (34) and famous name (he's the brother of New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels) could make him a hot commodity on the coaching market if he has success with the Scarlet Knights this season.

Perhaps there's nothing wrong with the turnover as long as Flood can keep hiring a steady stream of assistants capable of making a mark with the Scarlet Knights before moving on elsewhere. From the outside, there certainly didn't appear to be any negatives to having Friedgen around for a season, though it's fair to wonder if his apparent limitations as a recruiter might have made this move mutually beneficial heading into the future.

Regardless, the picture Flood painted about his program and a revolving door to the offensive coordinator's offense was nothing but positive. But if McDaniels can snap the streak while continuing to build the Scarlet Knights' offense, that wouldn't be a bad thing.

"Ralph and I had decided that we were going to sit down after signing day and just really take stock of the situation and have a conversation about what would be the best thing to do going forward," Flood said. "As we had that conversation, my thoughts turned to who would be who I thought would be the best person to lead our offense into the future.

"It did not take me too long to decide that that would be Ben."

After all, the hiring process is nothing new for Rutgers and Flood. If nothing else, he's getting mostly everything he needs from his coordinators aside from longevity.

East Division
West Division
  • Mike Riley has an idea that could revitalize the walk-on program at Nebraska.
  • Some tongue-in-cheek questions about the "Oskee Empire" tweet from Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit.
  • A closer look at the running backs Purdue signed in its latest recruiting class.
  • Already itching for updates about the 2016 recruiting class? Here's an early look at what Wisconsin will be looking for over the next 11 months.
  • First impressions of the new Iowa defensive linemen.
Spring practice is just around the corner in the Big Ten. Michigan and Northwestern will be on the field before the end of this month, and the rest of the league will follow shortly after.

With that in mind, we're taking a look at some spring position battles to watch for each Big Ten team. We'll key on two to three spots for each squad and give you the outlook.

First up: Illinois.

1. Safety: Senior starting strong safety Zane Petty is gone from last season's team, and the free safety spot featured a season-long competition between Taylor Barton and Clayton Fejedelem. One of those latter two could move over to the strong safety spot. Jevaris Little backed up Petty last season and will look to step forward. Keep an eye on Darwyn Kelly, who redshirted and then was injured last season but could be a major factor if healthy.

2. Tight end: Seniors Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse were a big part of the offense in 2014 and now must be replaced. Junior Tyler White is the heir apparent on the roster, but Illinois also brought in a pair of junior college tight ends who enrolled: Andrew Davis and Ainslie Johnson. They didn't come to sit on the bench, and the Illini offense likes to use multiple tight ends.

3. Punter and kicker: Specialists don't get a lot of attention in the spring, as they're often off on on their own fields and nobody is thinking much about field goals and punts in March. But the Illini kickers need some extra attention this spring. Field goals were an unfortunate misadventure most of last season, and the two guys who rotated in that role, David Reisner (6-of-11 last season) and Taylor Zalewski (3-of-6), will battle it out again this spring. Justin DuVernois was one of the best punters in the Big Ten as a senior. Ryan Frain, who has one career punt, will try to replace him and also could be a candidate at placekicker. As always with these positions, some unheralded walk-ons could get a shot if they impress at practice.

Big Ten morning links

February, 10, 2015
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Happy National Umbrella Day. Big Ten spring practice begins in just weeks, if you can believe it, as Michigan is scheduled to take the practice field for the first time under Jim Harbaugh on Feb. 24.

1. Is this the end of the relationship between Ralph Friedgen and Rutgers?

Both the Star-Ledger and the Asbury Park Press reported Monday night that Friedgen would not return for a second season as the Scarlet Knights' offensive coordinator. Friedgen, 67, had hinted that he might step down after the season, and it looks like he'll be headed toward retirement.

Both newspapers mentioned wide receivers coach Ben McDaniels as the likely in-house replacement for Friedgen. McDaniels is the younger brother of New England Patriots offensive coordinator (and former Denver Broncos head coach) Josh McDaniels.

We'd be sad to see Friedgen go, especially after he did some very good work with quarterback Gary Nova last season. He would also be the fifth straight Rutgers offensive coordinator to last just one season.

2. Illinois announced on Monday that its next three scheduled home games against Northwestern (in 2015, '17 and '19) would be held at Soldier Field. The Illini do not in any way have this in mind, but I wonder if this could be a trial run for a possible Big Ten championship game in Chicago.

The league has a contract with Indianapolis that runs through 2021, and Indy has been a great and deserving host. Still, a lot of people would like to see the event staged in Chicago at some point. Two main concerns are usually voiced about the Windy City's chances of landing the game: the weather and the condition of Soldier Field's infamous turf.

Well, the Illini's three games at the stadium will all be held on Thanksgiving weekend, or typically, one week before the Big Ten championship game. If those games go off without a hitch -- if the field can hold up and the weather is manageable -- perhaps that would be enough to give Chicago another look.

3. The Mike Weber saga appears to have reached its conclusion.

The running back wavered between Michigan and Ohio State before signing with the Buckeyes, only to see Ohio State running backs coach Stan Drayton leave for an NFL job right after signing day. Weber criticized the move on Twitter, and his high school coach blasted Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes. That led to some back and forth on Twitter between Harbaugh and Buckeyes staffers, and there was at least some thought that Weber might ask out of his letter-of-intent, fueled even more by a photo on his Instagram account Monday of him working out in a Michigan T-shirt.

But Weber took to Twitter again Monday night and seemed tired of the drama, as well as fully committed to Ohio State and new position coach Tony Alford.

As always, though, Joey Bosa won Twitter. After the Instagram photo came out, Bosa tweeted that Weber "should be more worried about that baby weight."

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More links from around the league:

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East Division

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