Big Ten: Rutgers Scarlet Knights
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.
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:
- The quarterback competition is just getting started at Northwestern.
- Mark Dantonio is understandably bullish on Michigan State's chances to maintain its top-five status from the past two seasons.
- Indiana's cornerbacks under the spring spotlight.
- Doran Grant will be difficult to replace for an Ohio State secondary that made huge strides in 2014.
- Nebraska's 2015 roster is the best in the Big Ten West, according to this analysis.
- Penn State running back commitment Miles Sanders added a scholarship offer from Alabama.
- A spring preview of Rutgers from the Big Ten Network.
- Lou Groza Award-winning kicker Brad Craddock is the only repeat member of Maryland's leadership council, the Terps' version of captains.
- Social media can be a friend or enemy to college athletes.
And finally, from Wisconsin, this is, well, it's something. Have a good weekend.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...
- Quarterback guru George Whitfield is confident about Braxton Miller's return.
- Indiana's Tevin Coleman played nearly half the season with a broken toe -- and still rushed for 2,000 yards.
- Some Iowa football players got down with their bad selves at halftime of a Hawkeyes basketball game.
- Michigan's Devin Funchess said he could have played basketball in college.
- Another guy named Allen could be headed to Michigan State soon.
- Minnesota is excited about its redshirt freshman receivers.
- Scouts don't have to question much about Nebraska's straight-shooting Ameer Abdullah.
- Bill O'Brien cheered when he heard Penn State's sanctions had been lifted.
- Melvin Gordon is being realistic at the NFL combine.
- Is Illinois getting better under Tim Beckman?
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.
If you're reading this it's too late.. pic.twitter.com/6GYsHk0Kik— Dwayne Haskins, Jr (@dh_simba7) February 17, 2015
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:
- Remember that business mogul and Rutgers booster, Jeff Towers, who was up for the job to lead the Scarlet Knights' recruiting operations? Yeah, that's not happening.
- Did Penn State seriously want to hire 70-year Bill Parcells to replace Joe Paterno? No surprise, they noticed this story in New Jersey.
- Place-kicker Rafael Gaglianone highlights this look at the Wisconsin special teams in 2015.
- Nebraska announces details for its April 11 spring game. Tough times for former Husker defensive back Rickey Thenarse.
- Defensive end Khalid Kareem backs away from his early commitment to Michigan State.
- Former Iowa offensive tackle Andrew Donnal met Wednesday with the Texans at the combine -- no surprise, considering the strong connections already formed between the Houston franchise and the Hawkeyes.
- Former Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams is a popular guy in Indianapolis.
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:
- Grading Michigan’s recruiting class, position by position.
- Top recent Penn State performances at the NFL combine, which officially begins Tuesday.
- A few impressive recruiting targets near home for Illinois in the 2016 class.
- Here's a deal: Buy Iowa season tickets in the next four weeks and get concession vouchers at Kinnick Stadium and coupons for discounted Hawk gear.
- A holder’s perspective on the journey of Australian placekicker Brad Craddock at Maryland.
- Nebraska tight ends ought to get ready to catch some passes.
- A fish-whispering Gopher? Must be a Texas thing.
- The checkered history of Mr. Football in Indiana, an award that has failed to provide a regular boost to the football programs at Indiana and Purdue.
- An interview with Tom Shanahan, who authored a book on how former legendary Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty helped integrate college athletics.
- Time to evaluate the new receivers at Rutgers. Kyle Flood lost his high school coach over the weekend, a father figure whom the Scarlet Knights’ coach consulted on all major decisions in his career.
Read more from this series here.
Up next are the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
2014 record: 8-5 (3-5 Big Ten)
Three-year record: 23-16
Coaching situation: Kyle Flood enters his fourth season as head coach this year armed with more job security. He was widely believed to be on the hot seat going into 2014, but he received a two-year contract extension lasting until 2018 in early September. By defying expectations in Rutgers' first season in the Big Ten, Flood solidified his own situation.
Roster situation: The Scarlet Knights lost their starting quarterback (Gary Nova) to graduation, and for the fifth consecutive time, they got only one year out of their offensive coordinator (Ralph Friedgen, in this latest case). But the return to school by star receiver Leonte Carroo boosted the team's outlook. Flood has said he wants to get bigger on both lines in order to compete with the Big Ten's best.
Recruiting situation: Rutgers had a rough 2014 recruiting season that was marred by a flurry of decommitments, some of which mght have been due to questions about Flood's future. There was less drama in this year's class, which ESPN ranked eighth in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights benefit from a rich recruiting area in New Jersey, though the competition for prospects there is fierce, especially given the Big Ten's eastward push.
Trajectory: Up. Most people expected Rutgers to struggle in its first year in the Big Ten, as the step up from the American Athletic Conference was a large one. But the Scarlet Knights held their own against mid-tier conference teams, beating Michigan and fellow newbie Maryland and nearly knocking off Penn State. It was a different story against the league's cream of the crop, as losses to Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Nebraska weren't even competitive. But Rutgers won a bowl game in impressive fashion and learned what it needs to do to get to the next level in the Big Ten. The league included the Scarlet Knights in its latest expansion because of the program's vast potential, and you don't have to squint to see some of that potential being fulfilled.
There has been an unprecedented number of coaching moves after national signing day, including some in the Big Ten. Ohio State lost running backs coach Stan Drayton to the Chicago Bears less than 24 hours after signing day. Just last Friday, Nebraska lost secondary coach Charlton Warren to North Carolina.
So this list of coaching moves -- and the one colleague Mitch Sherman will supply a little later -- isn't complete, but it provides a snapshot of what has happened around the Big Ten.
Let's begin with the East Division.
No changes (yet)
Notes: Kevin Wilson's staff shuffling began before he even coached a game for IU, but the Hoosiers should finally have some stability heading into a pivotal 2015 season. Running backs coach Deland McCullough, who helped mold Tevin Coleman into a consensus All-American last fall, has been rumored for the same post at Notre Dame. McCullough would be a big loss but the nucleus of Wilson's staff will remain.
Andre Powell, running backs/special teams coordinator
Terry Richardson, running backs
Notes: Powell, who left for the same post at Pittsburgh, oversaw arguably Big Ten's best special teams units in 2014. Kicker Brad Craddock won the Lou Groza Award. Richardson spent the past two years with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars but boasts extensive college experience. He coached standout running backs at Miami and also with Connecticut while working for Maryland coach Randy Edsall. This hire makes a lot of sense as Maryland looks to upgrade its run game.
Brady Hoke, head coach
Doug Nussmeier, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Dan Ferrigno, special teams coordinator/tight ends
Darrell Funk, offensive line
Jeff Hecklinski, wide receivers
Fred Jackson, running backs
Curt Mallory, safeties
Roy Manning, cornerbacks
Mark Smith, defensive line
Jim Harbaugh, head coach
Tim Drevno, offensive coordinator/offensive line
D.J. Durkin, defensive coordinator/linebackers
John Baxter, special teams coordinator
Jedd Fisch, quarterbacks/wide receivers/passing game coordinator
Jay Harbaugh, tight ends
Greg Jackson, co-secondary
Tyrone Wheatley, running backs
Michael Zordich, co-secondary
Greg Mattison (defensive coordinator/linebackers in 2014, now defensive line coach)
Notes: Michigan got its man in Jim Harbaugh, who hired a staff featuring a mix of NFL and college experience. He has extensive history with Drevno, tasked to boost a struggling Wolverines' line, and Durkin, considered a rising star. Harbaugh wisely retained Mattison, a strong recruiter and coach who wasn't the problem during Hoke's tenure. He also brings back former Michigan star Wheatley to oversee an underperforming position group. Fisch, who has bounced between the pro and college levels throughout his career, served as Minnesota's offensive coordinator in 2009.
Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator
Mark Snyder, linebackers/special teams coordinator
Mike Tressel (linebackers) and Harlon Barnett (secondary) elevated to co-defensive coordinators
Notes: Narduzzi, who left to become head coach at Pittsburgh, leaves a significant void after being Dantonio's defensive coordinator since 2004. But Tressel and Barnett have been on the defensive staff just as long and made big contributions to the unit's strength. Dantonio followed a familiar pattern in promoting them. Despite Snyder's struggles at Texas A&M, he has a strong track record as a recruiter and as a linebackers coach, a role he held at Ohio State before succeeding Dantonio as Buckeyes defensive coordinator.
Tom Herman, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Stan Drayton, running backs/assistant head coach
Tim Beck, quarterbacks/co-offensive coordinator
Tony Alford, running backs/assistant head coach
Offensive line coach Ed Warinner became Ohio State's primary offensive coordinator
Notes: Few head coaches are better than Urban Meyer at locating top assistants, and the Buckeye boss came through again after losing two top offensive aides. Alford is an excellent recruiter with 18 years coaching running backs. He also has links to several Buckeyes assistants, including Warinner. Beck spent the past four seasons as Nebraska's offensive coordinator. He had some ups and downs, but the Husker offense always ranked in the top half of the Big Ten and Beck improved the passing attack. Alford previously served as Notre Dame's primary recruiter in Florida, while Beck has ties to Texas as a former high school coach there.
Notes: Penn State awarded defensive coordinator Bob Shoop a lucrative new contract after LSU made overtures about its defensive coordinator vacancy. Shoop oversaw a Lions defense that finished in the top 10 in several significant statistical categories. Keeping him is huge for PSU, which could take a nice jump in Year 2 under James Franklin.
Ralph Friedgen, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Phil Galiano, special teams coordinator/tight ends
Ben McDaniels elevated from wide receivers coach to offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Anthony Campanile moves from tight ends to wide receivers
Notes: Friedgen will continue to consult Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood, but his departure leaves Rutgers with a new offensive coordinator for the sixth consecutive season. McDaniels, the brother of New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, has experience coaching quarterbacks in the NFL but has never been a primary playcaller. Rutgers' offense took a significant step under Friedgen but loses quarterback Gary Nova and several other key pieces, so McDaniels will be in the spotlight. Galiano most recently served as Rutgers' recruiting coordinator but has extensive experience as a position coach, working with the Scarlet Knights' defensive line in 2011 and tight ends in 2010.
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.
- Paul Chryst sees Wisconsin's high academic standards as a selling point in recruiting.
- Ohio State's defensive players thrived under a simple plan during their championship season. Why recruiting Torrance Gibson was a risk for the Buckeyes.
- A Q&A with Minnesota's Cobb on the eve of the combine.
- Breaking down the wide receivers in Iowa's signing class.
- Jim Harbaugh talked about his departure from the San Francisco 49ers.
- Some thoughts on Charlton Warren leaving Nebraska for North Carolina. The Huskers' new receivers coach lets his passion show.
- Purdue's Danny Anthrop is making progress in his recovery from knee surgery.
- Projecting Rutgers' starting defense in 2015.
- A hotly recruited 2016 Maryland quarterback says the home-state Terrapins are in the mix for his services.
- What Mike Phair's hiring could mean for Illinois.
Let's turn to Rutgers:
1. Quarterback: This is the one that will have everybody's focus this offseason. Gary Nova started all or parts of the past four seasons and had a solid senior year. The competition to succeed him will likely come down to two players: Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig. Laviano was the backup this past season, so he has an edge in terms of experience in the system, though the Scarlet Knights now have a new offensive coordinator in Ben McDaniels. Rettig is an LSU transfer who appears to possess better physical tools. Will this one be decided in the spring, or will Kyle Flood let the battle rage on until fall camp?
2. Offensive line: Three multi-year starters -- guard Kaleb Johnson, right tackle Taj Alexander and center Betim Bujari -- will be graduating, and that should create a good deal of competition this spring. Among a large group who will fight for playing time are Dorian Miller, Derrick Nelson and Tariq Cole, and it remains to be seen if any of the incoming freshmen can avoid the redshirt route. Flood is an old offensive line coach, and he's not afraid to juggle roles to get the best five on the field.
3. Nose tackle: Starter Kenneth Kirksey and top backup Daryl Stephenson will both be departing, leaving a hole in the middle of the defensive line. And Rutgers had its worst run defense, statistically, in school history last season as several Big Ten teams bowled right through the Scarlet Knights. This battle looks like it will come down to sophomore Sebastian Joseph vs. redshirt freshman Kevin Wilkins for the starting nod, and the team will need some young players to step up and fill out the depth chart.
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.
Start date: March 14
Spring game: April 18
Start date: March 26
Spring game: April 18
Start date: March 25
Spring game: April 25
Start date: March 2
Spring game: April 11
Start date: Feb. 24
Spring game: April 4
Start date: March 24
Spring game: April 25
Start date: March 3
Spring game: April 11
Start date: March 7
Spring game: April 11
Start date: Feb. 25
Spring game: April 4 or 11
Start date: March 10
Spring game: April 18
Start date: March 20
Spring game: April 18
Start date: March 10
Spring game: April 18
Start date: March 30
Spring game: April 24
Start date: March 15
Spring game: April 25
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:
- Penn State will get its share of bowl revenue in 2015 for the first time since 2011.
- The redshirt freshman season of freshman J.T. Barrett in photos.
- Ex-Indiana cornerback Michael Hunter is excited about his new home at Oklahoma State.
- LSU is reportedly interested in Maryland receivers coach Keenan McCardell.
- There’s a sense of urgency among Michigan State running backs to determine a pecking order before the summer arrival of elite recruit L.J. Scott.
- An interesting look at how running back Karan Higdon landed at Michigan over Iowa.
- A breakdown of the Wisconsin wide receivers.
- Fundraising efforts for Minnesota’s facilities projects are ahead of schedule, according to athletic director Norwood Teague.
- Nebraska will hold open tryouts for students who hope to walk on to the football team.
- Illinois receivers coach Mike Bellamy deserves mention among the nation’s top recruiters.
- A look at Purdue's four linebacker signees this month.
Did Penn State almost get kicked out of the Big Ten?
That nuclear option, which was rumored in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, might have been seriously discussed by Big Ten leadership. That's according to testimony by NCAA president Mark Emmert in a deposition, which was released in a huge document dump Wednesday as part the legal case against the NCAA brought by Pennsylvania state Sen. Jake Corman.
Emmert said there were talks about removing Penn State from the NCAA and added that "my understanding is the Big Ten talked about whether they would expel them from the Big Ten." Emmert also said that "the range of issues and penalties that were being considered covered the gamut, again because of the extraordinary nature of these circumstances."
Let's not forget the disgust and outrage directed toward the university after the scandal hit and after the Freeh Report was released. Whether the Big Ten ever came close to ousting Penn State might never be known. But that would have been the wrong move then, and given how the NCAA has had to backpedal and defend itself in court proceedings since, it's a good thing the league didn't follow that path.
Proposed rule changes for 2015
In news that sheds a more competent light on the NCAA, the football rules committee supported some changes for next season. The most significant potential rule change would be in how the ineligible man downfield penalty would be called. The proposal calls for blockers to be ineligible if they are one yard past the line of scrimmage instead of the current three, unless they are engaged with a defensive player when a pass is released.
Defensive coordinators hate that spread offenses have been getting away with having linemen downfield on passing plays, and teams like Ohio State, Indiana, and Northwestern might be most affected by the change in how this would be called, if approved.
There also could be testing of new technology systems at bowl games next season, including the use of computers on the sidelines and allowing coaches to communicate through the helmets of one player on offense and defense. The NFL has had this in place for more than two decades, and it's about time college football got on board. I've always been confused about the lack of technology in football despite all the money in the sport -- really, chain gangs are still the best we can do, guys? -- and hopefully this is a step toward the, uh, 20th century.
The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel would have to approve these proposals on March 5.
- This is really interesting: Rutgers is reportedly on the verge of hiring a business mogul who has no football experience as part of its shakeup of the recruiting staff.
- There will be two new starting cornerbacks for Michigan State this season, even if one of them has a familiar name.
- Indiana tight end Jordan Fuchs is joining the Hoosiers basketball team, and he had mad skills in high school.
- Jim Harbaugh is in hot pursuit of quarterbacks for his 2016 class, including one of the top juniors who's coming to the spring game.
- The Ohio State championship celebration reached the Ohio statehouse on Wednesday.
- Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda interviewed with the Green Bay Packers. Badgers tickets are about to get a little more expensive.
- Can Mike Riley solve Nebraska's recruiting challenges?
- A spring preview for Illinois.
- How did Iowa do in recruiting offensive linemen?
- Recapping Purdue's defensive line signees.
- Minnesota announced its spring dates.
John S. from Lindale, Georgia, writes: Hey Brian, in that Brady Hoke's recruiting classes were pretty highly rated, is it not possible that Michigan's new staff couldn't reasonably be expected to get the team to more than eight or nine wins next year? Seems like all the early projections for next year have a best-case scenario of no more than eight or nine wins. Thanks!
Brian Bennett: I've actually been surprised with some rosy projections for the 2015 Wolverines by fellow ESPN types in the past couple of days. Our Football Power Index has Michigan ranked 28th in the preseason, K.C. Joyner wrote that the Maize and Blue could win 10 games and challenge Ohio State in the East Division and Brad Edwards picked Michigan to make the Rose Bowl .
Um, guys, have you been watching the same Michigan team as I have? You know, the one that lost its best defensive player, best receiver and starting quarterback from last season? Jim Harbaugh deserves respect, but with a really murky quarterback situation and questions on the offensive line, at receiver and at running back, I just don't see 2015 being a banner debut season.
Yet as you mention, John, the cupboard is not entirely bare. The players Hoke and his staff recruited were ranked high for a reason, and Harbaugh and his guys are known for developing talent. That should equate to better results quickly, but maybe not this year. If Michigan can go 8-4 or better this fall, Harbaugh will have done a very good job.
Brian Bennett: Most coaches believe there should be changes made in recruiting. But good luck trying to get them all to agree on specific changes. This isn't just a Big Ten phenomenon, either. At the American Football Coaches Association national convention in Louisville last month, several of the nation's top coaches met and talked about whether there should be an early signing date and other changes. As one coach told me, "We talk about the same things every year, and nothing ever happens." It's a minor miracle that an early signing date in mid-December has a chance of coming about, though I believe the date should be earlier.
@BennettESPN Does the B1G overall (Delaney) have a stance on revamping the recruiting rules? If so, what is that viewpoint and rationale?— Corn Rows (@RowsOfCorn) February 11, 2015
The reason why it's hard to get every coach on board with the same idea is that different schools have different agendas. Moving up official visits to a prospect's junior year would greatly help some Big Ten programs like Nebraska and Wisconsin. But ones like Ohio State and Penn State, which are much closer to rich talent bases, don't really need it. Jim Delany's job is to listen to what his coaches want. They may never come to a complete consensus, but I believe Big Ten coaches share many of the same principles and concerns about the accelerated recruiting calendar.
Brian Bennett: Austin Ward covered the Scarlet Knights' revolving door of playcallers in Wednesday's morning links. You want consistency with your staff, and it's tough on players who have to adjust to new terminology and a new way of doing things year after year.
@BennettESPN What are your thoughts on Rutgers working with another first-year offensive coordinator? Will this be a setback?— Zack Morrison (@ZackMorrison18) February 11, 2015
Change isn't necessarily bad, though, and plenty of first-year offensive coordinators have done well. Michigan State's 2013 season is a prime example of that. What Rutgers has going in its favor is that the basic system hasn't really changed much since Greg Schiano's tenure began. Under Kyle Flood, the Scarlet Knights still run a pro-style set that new coordinator Ben McDaniels seems well-groomed to oversee. At some point, you'd like to see some continuity there for the players' sake, but Rutgers' success on offense this season probably depends a lot more on who's playing quarterback than who is calling plays from upstairs.
Brian Bennett: It doesn't hurt that the Hawkeyes are in the much more wide-open West Division, and they went into the final two weeks of last season with a solid chance of making it to Indianapolis before coming up short in their final two home games. In my view, it still all starts with the running game. Iowa has been mediocre at best at pounding the rock the past couple of seasons. As much as I admired Mark Weisman's story, the fact that no one could really beat him out as the primary ball carrier for two years speaks volumes.
@BennettESPN What does Iowa need to do to get back competing for Big 10 titles?— Collin Post (@postcollin90) February 11, 2015
Sure, it would be nice if Iowa developed a big-time passing game with loads of athletic receivers, but that's not all that realistic given the program's access to talent and Kirk Ferentz's philosophy. I think this program needs to rediscover some of the toughness that helped it get to major bowl games earlier in Ferentz's tenure and be more like what Wisconsin and Minnesota are, where opponents know it's going to be a long, physical day when you play them.
Brian Bennett: I can appreciate that coaches live in a bubble and devote all their energy and resources toward trying to get a large group of people all pulling in the same, successful direction. The best coaches are often control freaks who control every message their team receives, so of course they would view the media as being part of it.
@BennettESPN what's your take on Tim Beckman asking the Media to be more positive towards his program?— Joe blow (@Huskerstildeath) February 11, 2015
Naturally, though, that's not the role journalists are supposed to fill. I never see what I write as "negative" or "positive." Rather, I look at it as simply "what is." If a team is winning, the coverage will seem positive, and the opposite is true if a team is losing. Beckman and his staff perhaps deserve a bit more credit for pushing last season's team to six wins and a bowl. But true positivity around the program only stems from winning more games.
If anything, the Rutgers coach is chalking up a seemingly annual tradition of replacing his offensive coordinator as a positive, pointing to the quality of jobs his assistants have landed.
Whether that's focusing on the silver lining or truly genuine, only Flood actually knows. But either way, after Ralph Friedgen stepped down into an advisory role on Tuesday to become the fifth consecutive one-and-done offensive coordinator for the Scarlet Knights, Flood could use some consistency at some point.
"You describe it as a problem, but I think some of the guys we've had here as coordinators have left for some pretty good reasons," Flood said during his announcement teleconference. "When you hire talented people, there's always a chance that they're going to have the opportunity to go somewhere and get promoted."
That didn't happen this time with Friedgen, who wasn't looking for another job as much as a chance to "smell the roses" without the demands that come with full-time coaching in the Big Ten. He never figured to be a long-term answer for the Scarlet Knights, but it's still something of a surprise that he wound up adding his name to the list of one-and-done coordinators.
The next man up, former wide receivers coach Ben McDaniels, could potentially provide some stability moving forward and allow for the Scarlet Knights to find some comfort and rhythm. Of course, his young age (34) and famous name (he's the brother of New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels) could make him a hot commodity on the coaching market if he has success with the Scarlet Knights this season.
Perhaps there's nothing wrong with the turnover as long as Flood can keep hiring a steady stream of assistants capable of making a mark with the Scarlet Knights before moving on elsewhere. From the outside, there certainly didn't appear to be any negatives to having Friedgen around for a season, though it's fair to wonder if his apparent limitations as a recruiter might have made this move mutually beneficial heading into the future.
Regardless, the picture Flood painted about his program and a revolving door to the offensive coordinator's offense was nothing but positive. But if McDaniels can snap the streak while continuing to build the Scarlet Knights' offense, that wouldn't be a bad thing.
"Ralph and I had decided that we were going to sit down after signing day and just really take stock of the situation and have a conversation about what would be the best thing to do going forward," Flood said. "As we had that conversation, my thoughts turned to who would be who I thought would be the best person to lead our offense into the future.
"It did not take me too long to decide that that would be Ben."
After all, the hiring process is nothing new for Rutgers and Flood. If nothing else, he's getting mostly everything he needs from his coordinators aside from longevity.
- Flood has complete confidence in McDaniels to lead the Rutgers offense.
- New Ohio State assistant Tony Alford has plenty of familiarity with his new colleagues.
- Michigan defensive back Jabrill Peppers had his medical hardship approved on Tuesday.
- The buzz for Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook's draft status in 2016 is already building.
- Defenders to keep an eye on from Penn State's recruiting class.
- Maryland's Randy Edsall made sure to find time for a homecoming.
- Mike Riley has an idea that could revitalize the walk-on program at Nebraska.
- Some tongue-in-cheek questions about the "Oskee Empire" tweet from Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit.
- A closer look at the running backs Purdue signed in its latest recruiting class.
- Already itching for updates about the 2016 recruiting class? Here's an early look at what Wisconsin will be looking for over the next 11 months.
- First impressions of the new Iowa defensive linemen.