Big Ten: Michigan Wolverines

Michigan hasn't been subtle in its pursuit of Jim Harbaugh for its vacant head-coaching position. The school wants Harbaugh back in Ann Arbor ... real bad.

The campaign continued Tuesday as Michigan football's official Twitter account wished Harbaugh happy birthday (Harbaugh turns 51 today). Harbaugh played quarterback at Michigan from 1983-86.

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It's hardly uncommon for teams to give birthday shoutouts on Twitter to current players, coaches, support staff and even former players and coaches. But I can't recall Michigan doing this too often, and with the Harbaugh-to-Michigan rumors heating up in the past 10 days, today's tweet was no coincidence.

Harbaugh does have another job, at least until Sunday, when the San Francisco 49ers finish their season against Arizona. The coach is expected to part ways with the 49ers -- his brother, John, the Baltimore Ravens coach, said as much Tuesday on CSN Baltimore -- and though other NFL teams are expected to pursue Jim Harbaugh, there is an increased likelihood he will return to his alma mater.

Credit Michigan for being so strong in its pursuit of Harbaugh. He is the game-changer that a stale program needs. Will it be a huge letdown if he doesn't return? Sure. But Michigan had to put forth its best possible pitch.

What might Michigan get Harbaugh for the big day? I asked my Twitter followers.

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Roundtable: Favorite B1G moment

December, 19, 2014
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Every day this week, before the bowl season kicks off, our Big Ten panel of experts weighed in on different topics related to the regular season.

Our final question of the week: What was your favorite Big Ten moment of the season?

Brian Bennett: Take a bow, Melvin

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
AP Photo/Morry GashNeither sleet nor snow could stop Melvin Gordon against Nebraska.
If there's one moment that I'll forever remember from the 2014 Big Ten season, it happened at Camp Randall Stadium on Nov. 15. That was the day Melvin Gordon went off the hinges, running for a then-record 408 yards vs. Nebraska. He averaged a ludicrous 16.3 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns in the most unstoppable individual performance you're ever likely to see. Best of all, Gordon capped his day with a 26-yard touchdown run that gave him the record on the final play of the third quarter. Snow had begun to fall, and Gordon sealed the record with a little bow in the back of the end zone. His record somehow lasted only one week, but the memories will persevere forever.

Josh Moyer: Penn State fans celebrating the end of the postseason ban

It wasn’t the most important Big Ten moment of the 2014 season, but it’s still one I’ve never quite seen before – and probably never will again. After the NCAA announced the elimination of the bowl ban, along with other sanction reductions, PSU fans spilled into the streets of downtown Happy Valley and celebrated as if they just knocked off the top team in the nation. Two years of anger and frustration gave way to unbridled joy. Thousands sprinted to different venues on campus and just chanted, screamed and sang. Some even crowd-surfed on mattresses at the last stop. I’ve seen big fan celebrations before, but never for something that happened off the field. It was quite a sight.

Mitch Sherman: Mark Dantonio's answer to the Michigan disrespect

The seeds were planted long before Oct. 25, but when Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden drove a stake into the turf at Spartan Stadium, Michigan State reached its boiling point. It's rare that we get to see the reserved Dantonio stick out his chest, but the Spartans punctuated a 35-11 win over U-M with a Jeremy Langford touchdown run in the final 30 seconds. That was a message in response not just to the pregame stake-planting but years of disrespect. "I felt like we needed to put a stake in them at that point," Dantonio said after the game, also referencing the "little brother stuff" that has long brewed in this series. It was a great subplot, of which Michigan coach Brady Hoke, fittingly, was "not fully aware."

Austin Ward: Anthony Schlegel's takedown of a fan on the field

Leaving the stands and running on the field is pointless, dumb and dangerous right from the start. In case anybody had overlooked that last part, Ohio State assistant and former linebacker Anthony Schlegel offered a reminder that would have made The Rock proud. After a student had the bright idea to step on the turf at the Horseshoe during a September game against Cincinnati, he compounded it by getting a bit too close to the Ohio State sideline, where Schlegel popped out to plant him in the ground with an unforgettable body slam. The lesson, as always, is to stay in the seats.

Dan Murphy: Michigan-Ohio State moment of sportsmanship

Maybe it's all this Christmas music that has me feeling sappy, but the moment that keeps coming to mind (other than Melvin Gordon's insane performance against Nebraska) was shortly after J.T. Barrett's season-ending injury against the Wolverines. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner made his way on to the field and offered some support to Barrett, who was still laid out on his back as trainers worked on his leg. At that point, it was the fourth quarter of a one-touchdown game between bitter rivals with a lot on the line -- a potential playoff berth for the Buckeyes and a last-ditch effort to save their coaching staff for the Wolverines. One of the worst moments of the year (Barrett's injury) was quickly followed by a great one. The quarterback's show of genuine solidarity was a reminder that these guys are human beings. Gardner fell short of expectations on the field this season, but it's far more appropriate that college football's lasting image of him will be that moment of sympathy.

Adam Rittenberg: Bust a move, Coach Kill

I'm tempted to go with Gordon in the snow against Nebraska, especially since I was there to witness history, but Jerry Kill gets my vote for his "old age" dance moves after Minnesota wins. Minnesota's rise under Kill has been one of the best Big Ten story lines in the past two seasons. Many wondered early in 2013 if Kill's coaching days soon would end because of his struggle with epilepsy, particularly seizures on game day. But the coach has his condition under control and continues to show why he's one of the best at getting the most out of his teams. You couldn't help but smile seeing Kill enjoy the wins by dancing in the locker room, surrounded by his joyous players. Those moments never get old.

Big Ten morning links

December, 19, 2014
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Bowl season is a tricky time for coaches to motivate players.

“You can grind guys up if you occupy them too much mentally,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said this week.

Read more from Fitzgerald and others Friday on ESPN.com about motivation in bowl season. His Wildcats, sitting home this month, would trade places with any of the 10 Big Ten bowl teams. And with that wonderful time of year to start on Saturday -- the first Big Ten bowl game is still a week away -- it makes sense to look at the factors motivating conference teams.

Here’s a ranking of Big Ten teams with the most for which to play in the postseason:

Ohio State (Allstate Sugar Bowl, vs. Alabama, Jan. 1): A clear leader in this category as the Big Ten representative in the College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes carry the weight of the league on their shoulders. What else is new? Ohio State is flagship program of the Big Ten under Urban Meyer, who had a lot to say Thursday about his team's daunting task against the Crimson Tide.

Michigan State (Goodyear Cotton Bowl, vs. Baylor, Jan. 1): The Spartans lost to a pair of playoff teams, yet they're largely forgotten nationally. A business trip to Texas to face Baylor, the next best thing to a playoff opponent, offers a chance for MSU to finish on a high note nearly equal last year's Rose Bowl win.

Minnesota (Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, vs. Missouri, Jan. 1): A victory in Orlando would give the Golden Gophers a nine-win season for the first time since 2003 and the second time in more than a century, and it would represent the school's best two-year run in over 50 years. It won't come easy against the two-time SEC East champ. The Gophers must run the ball effectively, their bread and butter, now and in the future.

Penn State (New Era Pinstripe Bowl, vs. Boston College, Dec. 27): The Nittany Lions, exposed in the second half of this season for a lack of overall talent, can end on a high note in this much-awaited return to the postseason after a two-year bowl ban. A visit to New York against a regional recruiting rival heightens the stakes.

Rutgers (Quick Lane Bowl, vs. North Carolina, Dec. 26): The Scarlet Knights exceeded expectations to make it this far. After an inspiring comeback win over fellow Big Ten newcomer Maryland to close the regular season, confidence is high, though the uncertain injury status of star receiver Leonte Carroo threatens to put a damper on the excitement around this bowl trip.

Wisconsin (Outback Bowl, vs. Auburn, Jan. 1): Motivated by the embarrassment of a 59-point loss in the Big Ten title game, the Badgers got knocked down another step by the surprise departure of Gary Andersen. But the return of Paul Chryst has boosted the spirits of players, who will look to impress their new coach as he observes in Tampa. Against Auburn's multi-faceted offense, Wisconsin must use everything at its disposal, including QB Tanner McEvoy on the defensive side.

Nebraska (National University Holiday Bowl, vs. USC, Dec. 27): The Cornhuskers are also playing to catch the eye of a new coach, as Mike Riley figures to watch closely. Riley's new staff will start fresh though, so what happens in San Diego stays in San Diego. Still, Nebraska players, amid a dramatic exit from their former coach that has sparked more debate, want to provide a fond farewell for their old staff of assistant coaches.

Illinois (Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, vs. Louisiana Tech, Dec. 26): With victories over Penn State and Northwestern to get bowl eligible, Illinois has won simply by making it this far. No marquee opponent awaits, and Dallas isn't exactly a winter paradise, though maybe the man of the hour, QB Reilly O'Toole, can rally the Fighting Illini once again.

Maryland (Foster Farms Bowl, vs. Stanford, Dec. 30): Did the Terrapins run out of gas in the second half against Rutgers? It was a long season, packed with several highlights, in Maryland's first season of Big Ten play. But a visit to face Stanford, which is coming off four consecutive major bowls, near its home turf, looks like another significant challenge for Randy Edsall's team.

Iowa (TaxSlayer Bowl, vs. Tennesssee, Jan. 2): The Hawkeyes need someone to step up, a habitual practice in the postseason, or they face a dull ending to a disappointing season that set up well in Iowa City.

Around the rest of the league:

Big Ten morning links

December, 18, 2014
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Live football has almost returned. Until it arrives again, take a few spins on the coaching carousel.

The Wisconsin Way: Continuity should be back at Wisconsin, and the program made it clear that it won’t be compromising anything it proudly stands for to keep it. By sticking inside the family on Wednesday and officially bringing Paul Chryst back home, the Badgers have somebody who knows exactly what the job entails and a coach who almost certainly won’t be making a lateral move at any point in the future. Maybe the Badgers will start spending more money on assistants down the road, so there’s some flexibility there in regards to an issue that turned off Bret Bielema. But in terms of knowing the kind of recruits it can expect to land and clearly laying out the academic requirements moving forward, not to mention bringing in an existing relationship with the university and the boss, Chryst couldn’t be any better suited to provide stability for Wisconsin after a rough stretch of losing Bielema and then Gary Andersen after two short years.

Down to one: Wisconsin moving quickly leaves only Michigan active on the job market, and while there’s no telling when that search will end, it is effectively the only one that still has a chance of connecting on a true home-run hire. No offense to Chryst or new Nebraska coach Mike Riley, because those were smart, sensible hires that made perfect sense for each program -- but they certainly don’t qualify as splashy or scream that championships are on the way. If Les Miles is definitively out of the picture, it really seems as though Jim Harbaugh is going to have to come through for the Wolverines once his commitments to San Francisco are over at the end of the NFL season. And it seems like Michigan is fully committed to doing whatever it takes to deliver him. Maybe there’s another huge name secretly looming out there for Michigan, but if there was, wouldn’t there have been some indication of that by now? The Big Ten is down to one job, and there really only seems to be one guy who should claim it.

Coordinator corner: Just below those headline vacancies leading Big Ten programs, the chance to replace Tom Herman as Ohio State’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator will be up there as a highly-coveted position this offseason as the coaching carousel spins. The odds are strong that Ed Warinner will receive something of a promotion from his co-coordinator duties and take on more responsibility as a play-caller, though he was already somewhat active in that regard in his current role. Warinner not only deserves a raise for the incredible job he’s done with the Ohio State offensive line, he has earned more credit than he currently receives for that work, which is perhaps why he hasn’t landed an opportunity to lead his own program yet despite a couple interviews over the last two years. The Buckeyes are actually fortunate that they don’t have to replace both Herman and Warinner simultaneously, but either way there will be no shortage of candidates lining up for the shot to potentially work with J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller at quarterback.

East Division
West Division

Jim Harbaugh 'considering' Michigan

December, 17, 2014
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video

Multiple NFL and Michigan sources had said for weeks that 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh was not expected to wind up at Michigan, but in recent days at least one person familiar with his thinking said he was at least "considering it."

According to multiple reports, Michigan has made a six-year, $49 million offer to Harbaugh. The offer was earlier reported by CBS5 in Arizona.

The annual average pay of $8.17 million would make Harbaugh the highest-paid college football coach, surpassing Alabama's Nick Saban by more than $1.21 million.

Another person close to the process said that while it was possible Harbaugh could wind up at Michigan, "it was not likely."

Asked why he was considering it now, but hadn't been previously, one person said now that the 49ers are out of the playoffs, it was possible for Harbaugh to at least consider the offer.
Every day this week, before the bowl season kicks off, our Big Ten panel of experts will be weighing in on different topics related to the regular season.

Our third question of the week: What was the Big Ten's biggest disappointment of the season?

Mitch Sherman: Christmas came early for Big Ten detractors. No individual or team performance matched the league-wide flop of Week 2. You remember it as the day Ohio State lost 35-21 at home to Virginia Tech, Notre Dame pounded Michigan 31-0 and Oregon dominated the second half against Michigan State. Moreover, Nebraska barely avoided overtime against McNeese State. Iowa scored two late touchdowns to sneak past Ball State. Maryland, Minnesota, Rutgers and Illinois – all eventual bowl teams -- won close over South Florida, Middle Tennessee and Howard and Western Kentucky. Northwestern lost to Northern Illinois, and Central Michigan routed Purdue. Seriously, The nation laughed at the Big Ten all year because of that day. Want to know why league teams opened as underdogs in all 10 bowl games? Look to Sept. 6.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke, Devin Gardner
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesMichigan's 5-7 season was tough to watch on several fronts.
Josh Moyer: You can’t talk about the biggest disappointment without mentioning Michigan’s 2014 season – especially the first half of it. The Wolverines started just 2-4, with wins over Appalachian State and Miami (Ohio), while making school history with its poor play. First came a 31-0 loss to Notre Dame, which was the most lopsided loss to the Irish in the series’ 127-year history. Then came a lightning-delayed loss to Utah, when the Big House emptied so much that one player called it the “Ute House.” And then Brady Hoke’s squad lost the Little Brown Jug to Minnesota, 30-14, in the Gophers’ largest margin of victory in the series since 1977. Oh, and Michigan helped Rutgers get its first-ever Big Ten win, as longtime starting QB Gary Nova passed for a career-high 404 yards. It was a nightmare first half to the season.

Dan Murphy: The Big Ten championship game. The state of Ohio might disagree, but this year's game in Indianapolis did not live up to its billing. This was supposed to be a showdown between one of the country's best offenses and one of its best defenses. One side of that equation never showed up in Ohio State's 59-0 win over Wisconsin. The lopsided score (and the Buckeyes defense) gave us no chance to marvel at Melvin Gordon. The Heisman Trophy runner-up ran for 76 yards, eliminating whatever small chance he had to win the award. I understand that without an Ohio State blowout, the Big Ten probably would have been the odd man out in this year's College Football Playoff. But from the standpoint of wanting a dramatic, competitive finale to the conference season, man, what a dud.

Adam Rittenberg: I remember talking with MGoBlog's Brian Cook about Michigan in the summer, and Cook described Michigan's schedule as "low-variance," likely to produce eight or nine wins, but probably not 10 or seven. I completely agreed. No one envisioned 5-7 as being remotely possible for a team that, despite underachieving the year before, seemingly had improved depth and leadership. Brady Hoke really liked his team. Opposing coaches told me the talent absolutely was in place for a solid season. Then the bottom fell out against Notre Dame and Michigan never truly recovered. I really thought the offense could at least be respectable under new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, but it never got on track against solid competition. Northwestern and Iowa certainly belong in the biggest-disappointment conversation, but neither team has as much raw talent as Michigan. What a clunker.

Brian Bennett: As disappointing as Michigan and Northwestern were, I never viewed either as a serious league title contender. Many picked Iowa to win the West Division because of its dream schedule. No Ohio State or Michigan State and both Wisconsin and Nebraska at home the final two weeks. Yet the Hawkeyes managed to go just 7-5, losing at home to a terrible Iowa State team, getting blown out at Minnesota and letting Maryland run all over them. This Iowa team never found a real identity and squandered what could have potentially been a special season. That should cause some re-evaluation this offseason in Iowa City.

Austin Ward: The premature end of defensive end Noah Spence’s college career. Ohio State obviously disagreed with the ruling against Spence, and perhaps it had a case that his failed drug test wasn’t for a performance-enhancing substance. But either way, the junior did break the rules when he was suspended for a second time by the Big Ten, bringing a promising college career to a sad end. The league was robbed of a chance to watch his elite talent for another season, Ohio State’s plans for unleashing a completely unstoppable defensive line at every position took a blow and, of course, Spence’s own health was damaged. Hopefully there is a happy ending for him following his time away from the field, but it was certainly a wasted opportunity this season.

Michigan Wolverines season review

December, 16, 2014
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Michigan is up next in our week-long project to review the 2014 season for each team in the Big Ten.

Overview: Brady Hoke’s final season as Michigan’s head coach consisted of a long string of stubbed toes. A constant barrage of distractions away from the field cast a permanent cloud over this season’s team. Things didn't get much brighter on the field. Turnovers, allowing too many and not taking enough, were the team’s most consistent problem. They contributed to an offense that averaged 20.9 points and 333 yards per game. Only Penn State did worse in the Big Ten in those categories. Veteran quarterback Devin Gardner and star receiver Devin Funchess combined for three touchdowns in the first 26 minutes of the season, but only connected for one more score in the remaining 11 games. A well-stocked defense helped Michigan pull out a couple of close and dramatic wins against Penn State and Northwestern. The resulting 5-7 record meant the Wolverines would miss bowl season for the third time in the last seven seasons.

Offensive MVP: Gardner battled through injuries and other elements outside his control during a disappointing final season at Michigan. He played poorly at times -- sophomore Shane Morris replaced him in the lineup briefly in late September -- and contributed to the turnover problems. Still, the fifth-year senior remained the obvious soul of the offense. The few times Michigan moved the ball well were a result of Gardner’s good play. In a young, unproven group, Gardner’s experience made him an important part of the offense.

Defensive MVP: Senior linebacker Jake Ryan moved from outside to inside linebacker to bolster the Wolverines' strong front seven. The new position allowed him to use his speed and instinct to patrol the entire field. He led the team with 112 tackles, including 14 tackles for loss. Ryan, a deserving recipient of the team’s MVP award voted on by his teammates, is a no-brainer selection for the defense’s top player in 2014.

Michigan coaching search: Names to know

December, 16, 2014
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As Michigan’s search for its next head coach reaches two weeks and counting, the end result remains a guessing game. Here we take a look at some of the names (in alphabetical order) most frequently mentioned during the search and lay out the arguments for why they will or won’t end up in Ann Arbor.

Jim Harbaugh – San Francisco 49ers

The Case For: Harbaugh remains the slam-dunk hire for Michigan. He transformed Stanford from a program that had not had a winning season in five years before he arrived to an Orange Bowl winner when he left for the NFL. Harbaugh’s stay in San Francisco will likely come to an end this year, making it a good time for him to return to his alma mater.

The Case Against: The ultra-competitive Harbaugh may not want to leave the NFL on a bad note. Many NFL insiders, including ESPN’s Adam Schefter, previously said they expect Harbaugh will remain at the pro level. Michigan has been patient so far, but it would have to wait two more weeks for the 49ers to finish their season before trying to sign Harbaugh. That puts the Wolverines in a bad spot while trying to build a recruiting class that is down to only six committed prospects.

Les Miles – LSU Tigers

The Case For: Miles has been mentioned as a candidate in each of Michigan’s last three coaching searches. He played for the Wolverines during the same era as interim athletic director Jim Hackett. He’s another native son who would excite fans because of a resume that includes two SEC titles and a national championship.

The Case Against: Miles told LSU beat reporters Monday night that he didn’t want to be quoted directly about the Michigan opening, but that he wasn’t considering leaving for Ann Arbor. He said neither he nor his agent has talked to the Wolverines. If Miles were to reverse course it wouldn’t be the first time a coach took a job after saying he wouldn't, but reports out of Baton Rouge are that he was adamant he wasn’t considering it.

Jim Mora – UCLA Bruins

The Case For: Mora’s early success in recruiting has helped UCLA become a force in the Pac-12 South during his three seasons as a college head coach. He spent the first quarter century of his coaching career in the NFL before taking three years off and eventually landing with the Bruins. He’s a strong second-tier option if Michigan can’t land its top choice.

The Case Against: Mora, a father of four, was happy enough keeping his family on the West Coast last year when he was reportedly offered a job at Texas. There’s nothing to indicate he would be any more swayed to leave behind what he’s building in Los Angeles to come to Michigan. His contract with UCLA extends through 2019 and his assistants would be shocked if he left now.

Dan Mullen – Mississippi State Bulldogs

The Case For: Mullen became one of the coaching world’s rising stars this season while leading Mississippi State to the No. 1 ranking and holding it until November. The former Urban Meyer assistant previously coached in the Midwest as a graduate assistant at Notre Dame and a quarterbacks coach at Bowling Green.

The Case Against: Mississippi State is working this month to extend Mullen’s contract in Starkville and keep him around. Athletic director Scott Stricklin said on Dec. 8 that he was optimistic that the two sides would reach a deal. Mullen told The Clarion Ledger he had not been in contact with Michigan as of Tuesday morning. He also said in October that he hopes to have shoveled his last driveway.

Sean Payton – New Orleans Saints

The Case For: It was a surprise when Payton’s name was one of many tossed out as possible candidates during the first two weeks of the search. He is a Midwest native who coached as an assistant in Big Ten for one season (Illinois) before moving to the NFL in 1997. He’s had a lot of success in nine seasons with the Saints, including winning Super Bowl XLIV, but is in the middle of his first losing season since 2007.

The Case Against: Payton’s salary is reportedly in the $8 million range, which would be almost impossible to match on the college level, even for a school like Michigan. He has spent almost two decades in the NFL and told reporters he has no plans to leave New Orleans.

Greg Schiano – Free Agent

The Case For: If Michigan is looking for a tough disciplinarian, Schiano fits that bill. He is largely responsible for building Rutgers’ program from a laughingstock to a top-10 team in his decade there. He has spent the past year traveling the country to hone his coaching philosophy and prepare for his next job.

The Case Against: Schiano struggled at his most recent job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where players complained he was too much of a micromanager. His year away from the game makes him a harder sell to Michigan fans who are hoping for a big name to join the program.

Bob Stoops – Oklahoma Sooners

The Case For: Stoops provides that big name after 15 seasons at Oklahoma. He has won 168 games, a national championship and multiple national coach of the year awards. The Sooners have grown stagnant in recent years, which leads some to believe that Stoops and Oklahoma would both be better off with a fresh start.

The Case Against: Stoops has a good relationship with the university leadership at Oklahoma and one of the largest annual salaries in college football. The Youngstown, Ohio, native has no problem recruiting talented players to Norman and it’s unclear if he would be interested in taking on a perceived fixer-upper like Michigan.
The very first thing Michigan’s interim athletic director did after announcing he would start searching for the school’s new football coach was to ask for patience.

In a silly season marked by expedient and unexpected hires, Michigan has been slow and deliberate in its search. Jim Hackett, now six weeks into his career as an athletic director, had specific timelines in mind the day he formally fired Brady Hoke. He knew enough to know he’d be surrounded by eager requests for a resolution and wanted to deliver a message right away: Sit tight. This could be a while.

“I ask for your patience in this search process,” he said. “It's not fair for me to comment on potential candidates today or the institutions or organizations they currently may be employed by. I can't compromise the integrity of our search process by commenting prematurely, until we have that new coach ready to go.”

That’s a request Hackett should get used to issuing if he has plans to drop the interim tag from his title and stick around for a while. Fan bases aren’t known for their equanimity, so there will be plenty of fingers hovering above the panic button in the near future. It will take at least a couple of years, not a couple of weeks, to solve the issues keeping Michigan from competing for championships on a regular basis.

The need to rush to find a coach doesn’t exist for Michigan. The only notable jobs that remain open outside of Ann Arbor as of Tuesday morning are Colorado State and Wisconsin, expected to become Colorado State and Pittsburgh later this week if Paul Chryst returns to Madison to coach the Badgers. Neither of those programs is in line to poach someone high on Michigan's wish list.

Recruiting concerns shouldn’t force Hackett into a decision either. Each passing day does give Michigan’s next staff less time to rebuild a recruiting class that has only six current commits. On the other hand, much of that rehab is done in face-to-face meetings that build trust. Monday started a month-long dead period when coaches aren’t allowed to travel to see recruits. No new coach will be able to sit in a prospect's living room until Jan. 14.

At some point before September, the Wolverines will hire their new coach. Then the real patience-testing waiting period begins. Michigan isn’t likely to be in a position for instant gratification regardless of who it hires.

Fast turnarounds usually require an electric, game-changing player (i.e. Denard Robinson in 2011). In today’s college football world, that player almost has to be at quarterback. The Wolverines have an improved offensive line and have many skill players returning, but their offense won’t click until it finds a star at that position. That’s not to say Shane Morris or another Wolverine can’t eventually fill that role, but the available options all appear to be more than a few months of training away from getting there.

A solid defense and a game-managing offense isn’t enough to compete in Michigan’s division anymore. The program’s next head coach will have annual battles with Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio, two smart coaches with a big head start in creating teams that can control the game on both sides of the ball.

The time it will take to catch up puts Hackett and the Wolverines in a tight spot. After seven years with only one bowl win, Michigan can’t afford another full trip through the life cycle of a coaching staff without some sustained success.

Starting with a new president and a new athletic director presents a rare opportunity for the program to do a complete reboot. The right head coach can help all three of them settle into appropriate roles and healthy relationships – something Michigan’s last two coaches learned was an important ingredient to success. With so much riding on this decision, Michigan fans should have no problem being patient as Hackett takes all the time he needs.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

December, 16, 2014
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We are almost in the home stretch on our way to signing day, so coaches are pushing it into overdrive to finish out their recruiting classes.

Here is a look at the latest news on the recruiting trail within the Big Ten.

Big Ten morning links

December, 16, 2014
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Good morning, Big Ten fans. Only four more days until college football résumés ...

1. Ohio State OC Tom Herman a good fit for Houston: He's currently in negotiations with Houston to be its next head coach, according to The Associated Press. And, if the Cougars sign him in the end, they're getting a good one. He worked a lot of magic with Ohio State's quarterback situation, and Houston could use a little of that after sophomore John O'Korn took a step back and lost his job after a terrific freshman campaign. Herman would have two young quarterbacks to work with -- O'Korn and Greg Ward Jr. -- and he'd inherit a talented team that simply underperformed this season. Herman has proven enough; he's undoubtedly ready to move up the ranks. Ohio State fans should be sad to see him go but, at the age of 39, you knew he couldn't stay around forever. As the winner of the Broyles Award, which goes to the nation's top assistant, he was just too talented stay a coordinator much longer.

2. Indiana one of two leading schools for UAB running back: In case you need to catch up here, UAB running back Jordan Howard is looking for a new home after his program folded. And he's quite the coveted sophomore, considering he's No. 7 nationally with 1,587 rushing yards. As ESPN.com's Jeremy Crabtree reported, Howard has Indiana and Notre Dame leading the way right now. He visited both schools, has no other visits planned and wants to decide where to transfer within about the next three weeks. In other words, it sure looks as if Howard is down to the Irish and the Hoosiers.

It's a bit of a surprise the Alabama native is looking to move up North, but it could work out well for Indiana. Tevin Coleman is expected to declare early for the NFL draft, and the Hoosiers are looking for a replacement. Playing time is something IU could offer, and it doesn't hurt that UAB wideout Marqui Hawkins already chose Indiana. Plus, as Howard told me a little over a week ago, he has some family in the Fort Wayne, Indina, area. If IU can reel him in, he would instantly become one of the most intriguing Big Ten running backs of the 2015 season. He's definitely a player you should be keeping an eye on.

3. $12 million worth of football building renovations at Penn State: OK, so $12 million isn't nearly as much of a head-turner as Maryland's $155 million facility. But we're talking about strictly football here, and $8 million is dedicated to just “branding and graphic upgrades.” As StateCollege.com reported, one of the plans is to integrate video, sound and lighting to “create a ‘Wow' factor in all areas of the building.” Among the renovations? An “experience room,” which is supposed to immerse recruits into a digital, first-person view of game day. Digital locker room name plates are among the suggested concepts, as this renovation is trying to take PSU more into the 21st century. The funds aren't as much as other B1G schools' recent renovations, but PSU doesn't need to alter as much, either. The facilities are already pretty good.

East Division
  • The departure of offensive coordinator Tom Herman won't derail Ohio State, writes The Columbus Dispatch's Rob Oller.
  • Five quick talking points on Michigan State, from Baylor fans buying up MSU's Cotton Bowl tickets to the next career move for defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.
  • Rutgers freshman CB Dre Boggs has played in nine games already this season, but he has higher expectations for himself.
West Division
  • Paul Chryst, who's poised to succeed Gary Andersen at Wisconsin, declined to say Monday that he'll remain with Pitt.

ESPN's Big Ten all-freshman team

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
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The Big Ten doesn't put out an all-freshman team. But we do. Here are our picks for the top first-year players in the league in 2014:

Offense

QB: J.T. Barrett, Ohio State: Well, duh.

RB: Justin Jackson, Northwestern: In the year of the running back in the Big Ten, Jackson somewhat quietly produced 1,187 yards and 10 touchdowns as a true freshman.

RB: Curtis Samuel, Ohio State: He added to the Buckeyes' ridiculous array of skill players, running for 386 yards and six scores. Looks like a future star.

WR: Mike Dudek, Illinois: In another season, one in which a guy like Barrett doesn't put up mind-boggling stats, Dudek would have been the freshman of the year in the league. He should surpass 1,000 yards receiving in the Fighting Illini's bowl game.

WR: DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State: Though the Nittany Lions' offense struggled, Hamilton caught more passes (75) than any other Big Ten player and finished with 848 yards in the regular season.

WR/RB: Jalin Marshall, Ohio State: A versatile, speedy weapon who could come out of the backfield or fly into it, Marshall scored seven touchdowns on offense and one on punt returns. He's also the team's backup quarterback right now.

OL: Mason Cole, Michigan: The first Wolverine ever to start the opener at left tackle as a true freshman, Cole stayed there all season and showed a lot of promise with his excellent footwork and instincts.

OL: Brian Allen, Michigan State: The true freshman and brother of All-Big Ten center Jack Allen appeared in all 12 games, with one start at left guard.

OL: Billy Price, Ohio State: The redshirt freshman has started all 13 games as a guard for the Buckeyes.

OL: Andrew Nelson, Penn State: The Nittany Lions had their issues on the offensive line, but Nelson started every game at tackle -- including twice at left tackle -- and has a bright future.

OL: Christian DiLauro, Illinois: He filled in as the starting right tackle in the second half of the season for the Illini and helped them rally their way to a bowl game.

Defense

DL: Kemoko Turay, Rutgers: After a torrid start, the pass rushing specialist finished with 7.5 sacks. He also blocked a field goal against Michigan to preserve that victory.

DL: Malik McDowell, Michigan State: The blue-chip recruit whose signing day saga made headlines showed his talent by playing in all 12 games and recording 3.5 tackles for loss.

DL: Steven Richardson, Minnesota: Thrust into a starting role after the first week because of injuries, the true freshman more than held his own by finishing with 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.

LB: Darron Lee, Ohio State: After taking a medical redshirt last year, Lee emerged as one of the Buckeyes' top defensive playmakers, recording 66 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and a pair of fumble recoveries, one of which he scored on.

LB: Ja'Whan Bentley, Purdue: The Boilermakers' linebacker position has been a problem for the past few years, but Bentley is part of the solution. He was Purdue's second-leading tackler on the season with 76 stops, adding an interception and three fumble recoveries.

LB: Anthony Walker, Northwestern: In his first start against Penn State, Walker returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown. He also had a pick in the win at Notre Dame and led the Wildcats with nine tackles for loss.

LB: Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State: Playing mostly in a reserve role, McMillan had an immediate impact on the Buckeyes. The former stud recruit recorded 50 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception.

DB: Eli Apple, Ohio State: It's scary how many star freshmen the Buckeyes have. Apple is another, as he had 41 tackles, including 5.5 for loss, and a pair of interceptions.

DB: Montae Nicholson, Michigan State: The true freshman played in every game and had three starts in the Spartans' "No Fly Zone." He had 30 tackles and a pair of fumble recoveries.

DB: Godwin Igwebuike, Northwestern: He made waves in the Wildcats' upset win over Wisconsin by grabbing three interceptions. He started five times at safety and finished with 51 tackles.

DB: Marcus Allen, Penn State: He started Penn State's final six games at safety after Ryan Keiser got hurt, and the Nittany Lions' defense didn't miss a beat. He was third on the team in tackles with 52.

Specialists

K: Rafael Gaglianone, Wisconsin: The effusive Brazilian with the strong leg went 17-for-20 on field goals, including 2-of-3 from beyond 50 yards.

P: Daniel Pasquariello, Penn State: His 37.7-yards per punt average was nothing to write home about -- except the Australian probably does write home a lot. He improved down the stretch to solidify the Nittany Lions' punt team.

Returner: De'Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska: He was third in the FBS in punt-return average (17.8) and scored three touchdowns, including a memorable one in the comeback win at Iowa.

Big Ten morning links

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
8:00
AM ET
Miss college football? Bowl games begin this weekend. Giddy up.

1. Wisconsin can't officially offer its vacant head coaching job to anyone until Wednesday, but all signs still point to Paul Chryst being the guy despite chatter about him being interested in staying at Pitt and athletic director Barry Alvarez talking to Greg Schiano.

The focus now is on hiring assistants, and Jeff Potrykus writes that keeping defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is a possibility. If so, that would be a major coup, as Aranda is one of the brightest young defensive minds in the game and is loyal to Gary Andersen. Potrykus also reports that former Wisconsin assistant Joe Rudolph could return to Madison along with Chryst.

2. The Michigan search continues, and the longer this goes on the more you have to think the Wolverines must believe they have a shot at Jim Harbaugh. There's a potential interesting twist to this saga, however, as there are reports the Miami Dolphins could fire coach Joe Philbin and take a run at Harbaugh.

Of course, the Dolphins are owned by Stephen Ross, who is arguably Michigan's most well-known booster. He would naturally be involved in putting together a lucrative package to bring Harbaugh to Ann Arbor. I can't imagine Ross would trap door his alma mater in order to bring Harbaugh to Miami, so if there's more to this pursuit than it indicates that Harbaugh truly is interested in leaving the NFL ranks right now.

3. The Columbus Dispatch's Bill Rabinowitz reports that the Ohio State parents association has written a letter to the Big Ten asking for financial assistance to travel to the Buckeyes' semifinal game against Alabama in New Orleans.

Each family can be reimbursed $800 out of the school's student-assistance fund, but that's still not enough to cover all the travel costs. And things only get more expensive if Ohio State wins and moves on to the national title game in Texas.

Star defensive tackle Michael Bennett's mother, Connie, called it "reprehensible" that players' families aren't helped more when it comes to traveling to watch their sons play.

"They're making hand-over-fist dollars on our guys, the guys take all of the risk for the entertainment dollars and they ignore their families altogether," she said, according to Dispatch story.

The playoff is a great thing for the sport, but how fans and especially families were going to be able to get to those games has always been a major unanswered question. Neither the Big Ten nor NCAA can change that right now, but given the new autonomy measures the Power 5 conferences have been granted, this needs to become a priority. The playoff will generate an enormous pile of money, and a small part of that should go toward making sure participating players' parents are in the stands.

West Division
East Division
Tick. Tick. Tick.

With every passing second, Michigan is falling further and further behind in the recruiting battles for the Class of 2015.

Every other school that has not been touched by college football’s silly season will spend the next three days making in-home visits with recruits’ moms and dads, hosting prospects on official visits or dropping by high schools checking on junior and sophomore targets. Plus, on average most recruits take only two or three visits and for many this weekend puts them at that magic point in their decision-making process and now they’ll be able to hash out a choice with family and friends over the holidays.


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Earlier today, we presented our ESPN.com 2014 All-Big Ten team. We took a stab at a preseason All-Big Ten team back in August, based largely on players' previous track records.

So how'd we do?

Of our 26 preseason selections, only eight made it to our final All-Big Ten team. But we weren't far off with some of those we missed, such as Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Randy Gregory, Michigan State's Connor Cook and Kurtis Drummond and Ohio State's Michael Bennett. All of those guys would be on our second team if we did one, and several had good arguments to be included on the first team.

Our biggest misses were at receiver, where we pegged Indiana's Shane Wynn, Maryland's Stefon Diggs and Michigan's Devin Funchess as our preseason picks (using Funchess as a third receiver/tight end type). All are very talented players but didn't quite live up to expectations for various reasons -- Wynn because of the Hoosiers' quarterback situation, Diggs because of an injury and Funchess because of perhaps the general malaise of the Maize and Blue offense.

We got three of the five offensive linemen right, and a fourth -- Wisconsin right tackle Rob Havenstein -- just missed our postseason team. None of us saw Ohio State's J.T. Barrett earning the quarterback spot with his outstanding play. Of course, neither did anyone else.

Speaking of Barrett, the Braxton Miller injury that elevated him to starting quarterback for the Buckeyes was the single biggest reason that none of us picked Ohio State to win the Big Ten in the preseason. All five of us at the time (Dan Murphy hadn't come aboard yet -- lucky him) went with Michigan State, though Mitch Sherman, Austin Ward and myself did correctly forecast the Buckeyes to go 11-1 in the regular season. We just had them losing in East Lansing. Whoops.

Austin, Mitch and I were also correct in picking Wisconsin to win the West Division, while Josh Moyer went with Nebraska and Adam Rittenberg cast his lot with Iowa. The teams we were most wrong on? Rutgers (7-5), which none of us predicted for more than four wins, and Michigan (5-7), whom we all saw with at least a winning record (and two of us picked to go 9-3).

Our fearless predictions weren't much better. I did say Minnesota would win back either the Little Brown Jug or the Paul Bunyan Axe, and the Gophers did beat Michigan. Adam came close on his call of Tevin Coleman leading the league in rushing. Let's not talk about the others.

I'm pretty proud of the fact that I was the only one to correctly predict Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Ohio State's Joey Bosa would win Big Ten offensive and defensive players of the year. But given the state of the rest of our predictions (and the fact that I picked the Badgers to win in Indy last week) I'm not going to crow too loudly. Preseason picks are fun, but there's a reason they play the season.

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