Big Ten: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Big Ten morning links

February, 27, 2015
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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.
Since spring practice opened at Michigan and Northwestern this week, we’ve been ranking position groups around the Big Ten. For previous entries in the series, click here.

We come now to the end, with special teams. Since it's virtually impossible to predict what kick coverage units will look like several months from now or project how new starters will fare on field goals and such, we're basing these rankings mostly on who's coming back at place-kicker, punter and returner.

Here we go:

Best of the best: Maryland

The Terrapins return the 2014 Lou Groza Award winner in Brad Craddock, who missed only one field goal all of last season. They also bring back an elite return man in Will Likely, who led the Big Ten in kickoff return average and was third on punt return average last year. Punter Nate Renfro is also back, giving Randy Edsall both experience and trust at the key specialist spots.

Next up: Ohio State

It's entirely possible that Cam Johnston is a wizard, as his rugby-style punts somehow both cover a ton of distance yet seem to stop at the right places. He was brilliant in the Sugar Bowl. The Buckeyes also have a boatload of speed they can use in the return game, including Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson. Place-kicker Sean Nuernberger is back after a respectable freshman campaign, but it's not like Urban Meyer really wants to kick field goals, anyway.

Sleepers: Nebraska and Minnesota

"Sleeper" isn't really the right word here, but we wanted to give a shout out to both of these special-teams units.

The Huskers have one of the nation's most electrifying punt return men in De'Mornay Pierson-El, who averaged 17.5 yards per attempt and scored three touchdowns last year. Punter Sam Foltz and kicker Drew Brown also return and could improve with experience.

Minnesota has the reigning Big Ten punter of the year in Peter Mortell, plus highly productive returners Jalen Myrick and Craig James. More accuracy from kicker Ryan Santoso (12-of-18 as a freshman) would solidify the Gophers as one of the best special-teams groups around.

Problem for contenders: Penn State and Michigan

Again, it's nearly impossible to predict how new kickers will fare, as you don't really get to see how they will fare in pressure situations until the games begin. Both the Nittany Lions and Wolverines have some big shoes to fill.

Place-kicker Sam Ficken was far and away the best thing about Penn State's otherwise highly shaky special teams in 2014, and now he's graduated. The team doesn't have a scholarship kicker on the roster and may turn to walk-on Joe Julius. Punt and return teams must make major strides as well.

Michigan lost both its place-kicker (Matt Wile) and punter (Will Hagerup) to graduation, and its return game was no better than average last season. New special-teams coach John Baxter will have his work cut out for him this spring in bringing some new names -- like freshman kicker Andrew Davis -- along.
As spring practice opens in Ann Arbor and Evanston this week, we’re comparing position groups around the Big Ten. Defensive line is up now. For others in the series, click here:

Best of the best: Michigan State

Shilique Calhoun's return guarantees the Spartan Dawgs will retain their bite up front. Starting defensive tackles Lawrence Thomas and Joel Heath also will be back, and Malik McDowell could be ready to take a leap forward after getting his feet wet as a true freshman. Michigan State does have to replace four-year starter Marcus Rush, but it has Demetrius Cooper groomed to take on a much larger role. This is a deep and talented bunch anchored by a potential NFL first-rounder in Calhoun.

Next up: Ohio State

You could consider the Spartans and Buckeyes Nos. 1 and 1A here. Ohio State still has reigning Big Ten defensive player of the year Joey Bosa at defensive end, along with Adolphus Washington at defensive tackle. But the Buckeyes did lose All-America defensive tackle Michael Bennett and defensive end Steve Miller, and they weren't very deep at the position last season. Incoming true freshmen Dre'Mont Jones and Jashon Cornell could be asked to contribute right away at end, and the hope is someone from a group of redshirt sophomores -- Donovan Munger, Michael Hill and Tracy Sprinkle -- can move in next to Washington.

Sleepers: Michigan and Minnesota

The Wolverines replace both of their starting defensive ends from last season in Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer, though Clark was dismissed from the team before the season ended. Michigan should be in very good shape at defensive tackle with Willie Henry, Bryan Mone, Ryan Glasgow and Chris Wormley, and it could be Taco Charlton's time to shine at defensive end. New defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin had players on the front four gain weight this offseason in anticipation of possibly some more 3-4 looks this fall.

Minnesota lost two starters in tackle Cam Botticelli and Michael Amaefula, but remember the line dealt with some early injuries last season and still excelled. Defensive end Theiren Cockran returns, along with promising rising sophomore Steven Richardson at tackle, while Scott Ekpe and Alex Keith are back from their injuries. The Gophers like their depth here, too.

Problem for contenders: Nebraska and Wisconsin

These may not be problems as much as question marks, but both the Huskers and Badgers need some new players to step up this spring.

Nebraska looks all set in the middle with Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine, but Randy Gregory's departure leaves a huge hole at defensive end. Greg McMullen and Jack Gangwish return starting experience there, but they won't remind anyone of Gregory nor scare many opposing offensive tackles the same way he did.

Wisconsin, meanwhile, must replace two members of its three-man starting front in departing seniors Warren Herring and Konrad Zagzebski. Chikwe Obasih and Arthur Goldberg gained a lot of experience, but the Badgers will probably need a young guy like Alec James to improve this spring to solidify the entire unit.

Ranking the Big Ten coaching jobs

February, 25, 2015
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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:
Last season was the year of the running back in the Big Ten. But now many of those stars -- Melvin Gordon, Ameer Abdullah, Tevin Coleman, Jeremy Langford, David Cobb -- have moved on.

How does the position stack up around the league as spring practice is set to begin? Glad you asked. For others in the series, click here.

Best of the best: Ohio State

This will come as a big surprise: The Buckeyes are loaded at an offensive position. Ezekiel Elliott is the league's leading returning rusher, as the offensive MVP of the Sugar Bowl and national title game finished strong last year to post 1,878 yards and 18 touchdowns -- while playing with an injured wrist. He's an early Heisman Trophy contender in 2015. Ohio State also returns the extremely talented Curtis Samuel, who made an impact as a true freshman, and brings top recruit Mike Weber into the fold. Stan Drayton left as running backs coach, but new position boss Tony Alford has an enviable array of assets.

Next up: Wisconsin and Minnesota

It's highly doubtful that anyone will approach Gordon's 2,587-yard season, but the Badgers simply plug and play at tailback. The next man up is Corey Clement, who ran for 949 yards and nine touchdowns in an understudy role. Don't be surprised if he ends up leading the Big Ten in rushing this year. There will be some competition for Clement's backup spot, but redshirt freshmen Taiwan Deal and Caleb Kinlaw are talented guys returning from injury, and Wisconsin brings in two intriguing signees in Jordan Stevenson and Bradrick Shaw.

Minnesota also has to replace a school record-breaker in Cobb, but the Gophers feel great about the position. Rodrick Williams Jr., Berkley Edwards, Rodney Smith and redshirt freshmen Jeff Jones will compete for playing time this spring and beyond. This could become more of a committee approach, but options abound.

Sleeper: Rutgers

True, the Scarlet Knights didn't have a player rush for even 500 yards last season. But the Scarlet Knights fit the sleeper bill because of what they have coming back. If Paul James can ever stay healthy for a full season, he could put up some big-time numbers. Even if not, Kyle Flood has a pair of promising rising sophomores in Josh Hicks and Robert Martin, who both went over 100 yards in the Quick Lane Bowl. And Desmon Peoples, who started four games last year, is also back. Rutgers has a lot to sort out this spring but likes what it has at the position.

Problem for a contender: Michigan and Michigan State

Will the next great Mitten State running back please stand up? You know Jim Harbaugh wants someone to mash out yards on the ground, but does he have that guy among returning backs De'Veon Smith, Derrick Green and Drake Johnson or USC transfer Ty Isaac? Each has shown flashes of ability, but none has had sustained success. Running back has been a surprisingly weak position in Ann Arbor for several years now.

Similarly, the Spartans' picture is a little jumbled after the departure of ultra-productive workhorse Langford. Junior Delton Williams could be next in line but will be pushed by redshirt freshman Madre London and quite possibly incoming freshman L.J. Scott. We expect Michigan State to figure this out, but some questions linger heading into spring practice.

Big Ten morning links

February, 20, 2015
Feb 20
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The Big Ten is gauging its member schools’ interest in making freshmen ineligible, joining other Power 5 leagues that have at least kicked the thought around.

Is it an idea whose time has come? Or an old approach that doesn’t reflect modern realities?

Unless and until more details emerge, I would lean toward the latter.

First of all, freshmen ineligibility in men’s basketball is a non-starter without a change in the NBA age-limit rule or the creation of a better non-college option than the D-league. You only have to look at Duke, Kentucky, or Ohio State to realize there are true freshmen right now who are plenty good enough to be in the NBA, and restricting them from playing in college or at that level for a year would be unfair.

Things are different in college football, where a lot of players redshirt their first year anyway. But it’s also true that many are ready to contribute as true freshmen. Justin Jackson, Mikey Dudek, Mason Cole, and De'Mornay Pierson-El are just a few names of true freshmen who made a major impact last season in the Big Ten. (No wonder Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith opposes freshmen ineligibility, since Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer says he doesn’t redshirt.)

Of course, the rule would be more about preparing players for the academic rigors of college than performing on the field. At the same time, however, teams are always going to bring in borderline students or even academic risks who have exceptional talent. Will a year off really make a huge difference for those types of players? How do you keep them engaged in school and the team when the reward of games has been removed for a year? Would players automatically get a sixth year if they need a medical redshirt later in their careers? What about transfers? And would you really want to see big-time stars -- like, say, Joey Bosa and Christian Hackenberg -- potentially jump to the NFL after only two seasons of playing for your team?

The sport's leaders should be lauded for trying to find ways to emphasize the college part of college football. Yet it's the uniquely American and mostly illogical practice of turning our universities into quasi-minor league teams that is the intractable problem. Making freshmen ineligible raises as many questions as it might solve.

Maryland changes defensive coordinators

Give the Terrapins points for stealth. Few people forecast the change Maryland made on Thursday, when it replaced defensive coordinator Brian Stewart with inside linebackers coach Keith Dudzinski.

The official Terrapins company line was that the team and Stewart agreed to "mutually part ways." But given that Stewart was handed a multi-year contract extension just 13 months ago, it’s hard to believe the decision wasn't more one-sided than that.

Stewart has a strong track record and was mentioned as a candidate for Tulsa’s head coaching job in December. Yet his defenses in College Park got a little worse each of the past three years. Despite some individual standouts on last season’s unit -- like defensive end Andre Monroe, cornerback Will Likely and linebacker Cole Farrand -- the Terps finished 95th in the FBS in yards allowed and tied for 87th in points allowed (30.2). The defense completely collapsed in the second half against Rutgers in the season finale, and gave up 45 points to Stanford in the Foster Farms Bowl.

Stewart will land on his feet and might already have another job lined up. Dudzinski, a coaching veteran who ran defenses at smaller schools in the Northeast earlier in his career, now has the task of reshaping this Terrapins defense that will break in almost an entirely new starting front seven this spring.

Elsewhere in the Big Ten ...

Big Ten morning links

February, 19, 2015
Feb 19
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It's cold. I'm cranky. Let's get on with this. Seriously, is it almost spring?

Purdue is lowering season-ticket prices for nearly 90 percent of the seats at Ross-Ade Stadium in 2015. You can get a ticket to seven home games for less than $100 after attendance dropped in 2014 by 28 percent to 35,269 per game -- the lowest figure since 1951, according to the Lafayette Journal and Courier.

The university issued a news release Wednesday, quoting athletics director Morgan Burke, who opened with this: "We want our fans back."

Hey, at least he's not sugar-coating it.

The Boilermakers have won four games since Darrell Hazell took over two years ago, including one in Big Ten play – and it came on the road at Illinois last year.

If you wondered about the importance of next season for the third-year coach, wonder no more.

Meanwhile, at Ohio State, they're dropping ticket prices, too, though not quite like Purdue. The national champs are rolling prices to 2010 for the April 18 spring game to $5 per seat.

Five bucks to see the Bucks -- that's the best deal in the Big Ten. Apparently, this is happening in response to last year, when OSU tried to charge $20 a seat for the spring game, only to slash prices at the last minute.

Or maybe Ohio State is just preparing its fans for the letdown of a scrimmage without Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett.

I admit, if I followed Dwayne Haskins Jr., the nation's No. 2-rated pocket-passer quarterbacl, on Twitter, I would not have understood his reference to Maryland's tribute to a Drake album cover.

I thought Drake was an FCS program in Des Moines. So yeah, I'm out of touch with some of these kids. Fortunately, people exist in the media out there who can explain this stuff to me.

Now, Jameis Winston and Bryce Petty are talking up Michigan's facilities and coach Jim Harbaugh in a part-genius, part-propaganda campaign by the Wolverines with two of the nation's premier quarterback prospects for the NFL draft.

If you didn't already notice, Winston and Petty visited Ann Arbor this week to work out at Al Glick Fieldhouse and meet with Harbaugh in advance of the NFL combine.

They attended a basketball game, and Winston gushed over Harbaugh on camera for the school-run website, saying, "I wish I could have played for" the former 49ers coach.

Harbaugh and George Whitfield, personal coach for Winston and Petty, have some history together; Whitfield served as an intern with the 49ers last year.

Curious minds want to know: What do Jimbo Fisher and Art Briles think of this little exercise?

On with the rest of the links:
As spring practice approaches, we're taking a snapshot of the state of each Big Ten program. We're looking at recent performance, won-loss trends, coaching, current personnel and future personnel.

Up next: the Minnesota Golden Gophers

2014 record: 8-5 (5-3 Big Ten)

Three-year record: 22-17

Coaching situation: This can be summed up in one word: stability. Jerry Kill and his chief lieutenants -- offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys -- are approaching two decades of working side by side. Kill appears to have found the right way to manage his epilepsy, and he was named Big Ten coach of the year in 2014.

Roster situation: Kill has added a little more size and speed to the roster each year, and now in Year 5 he likes how the roster shapes up. The Gophers have struggled to develop big-play threats at wide receiver, which has limited their offense. But some young players with length and athleticism should start to see the field this fall and perhaps remedy that. Even with talented tight end Maxx Williams leaving early for the NFL draft, Minnesota returns a lot of key players from last year's team.

Recruiting situation: Minnesota isn't located in a football recruiting hotbed and often has a hard time keeping home the blue-chippers who do come out of its state. So the Gophers have traveled far and wide for prospects, hitting Texas and Florida and many parts in between. The promise of a new, much-needed athletic facilities complex on the horizon should help recruiting efforts, as well as continued on-field success. Minnesota is probably never going to reel in top-10 classes or even crack the top 20 with consistency. But the good news is that Kill and his staff do a great job evaluating and developing players, with Williams and David Cobb recent shining examples of that.

Trajectory: Up. The Gophers finished with the same record (8-5) in 2014 as they had the year prior but clearly were improved. They went down to the final weekend of the regular season with a chance to win the Big Ten West Division and made their first New Year's Day bowl game since the JFK administration. They gave Ohio State a test late in the season and won back rivalry trophies from Michigan and Iowa, along with beating Nebraska on the road. Things are clearly trending in the right direction in Minneapolis, though Kill must prove that this program can break through the eight- and nine-win ceiling. They'll get great measuring sticks in 2015, with games against TCU and Ohio State, who might start the season as the nation's top two ranked teams. Winning a bowl game is clearly part of the next step for the Gophers as well.

Big Ten morning links

February, 18, 2015
Feb 18
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Jim Harbaugh ... quarterback whisperer?

Such was the implication when it was revealed on Tuesday that the new Michigan coach was in Ann Arbor helping former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and ex-Baylor star Bryce Petty prepare for this week’s NFL combine.



It turns out that Winston and Petty were directed to Michigan via quarterback guru George Whitfield after training in San Diego in order to get acclimated to the time zone and weather and throwing in an indoor facility before they head to Indianapolis. (Though why they'd need to adjust to the weather is a mystery). Harbaugh and Wolverines quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch met with both players on campus.

Though it was a bit odd to see players from other schools get advice from Harbaugh, it was also brilliant in many ways. Harbaugh has a great and well-deserved reputation for developing quarterbacks and understanding the position, given his playing career and previous players he has coached. This will merely enhance the perception of him as a teacher of quarterbacks, especially given that Winston could be the No. 1 player taken in the draft.

And what's Michigan's biggest need right now? Developing a quarterback, naturally. Despite getting a very late start in recruiting this year, Harbaugh was able to flip Zach Gentry away from his Texas commitment based no doubt largely on Harbaugh's track record. The Wolverines are in hot pursuit of more star quarterbacks in the 2016 class. It sure doesn't hurt for prospects out there to see these images of Harbaugh bestowing his wisdom on future NFL quarterbacks. (And it was probably also no coincidence that Petty and Winston were at the Michigan State-Michigan game in Crisler Arena at the same time as a bunch of important in-state recruits).

Of course, the guy who Harbaugh will be chasing, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, is viewed as one of the best developers of quarterbacks in the business. If there was ever any doubt about that, Meyer showed it last season with how both J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones were able to take over at a moment's notice.

Two other new head coaches in the Big Ten, Nebraska's Mike Riley and Wisconsin's Paul Chryst, have earned praise in the past for their ability to teach quarterback play. That's a great harbinger for the league's future, since the most important position on the field seemed to slide a bit in recent years throughout the conference. Now, though, the Big Ten might just be flush with quarterback whisperers.

Around the league ...

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
9:00
AM ET
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
AM ET
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
AM ET
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

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