Michigan Wolverines: Jim Tressel

The Final Four of our all-time Big Ten coaches tournament is all set.

On Monday, we announced that Penn State's Joe Paterno and Nebraska's Tom Osborne both advanced to the semifinals. Now it's time to find out the rest of our field.

Our seventh game pitted No. 2 seed Michigan's Bo Schembechler against No. 10 seed Barry Alvarez of Wisconsin. Alvarez made this closer than expected for a while, but Schembechler finished as the victor, earning 61 percent of your vote to 39 percent for the Badgers' Hall of Famer.

Game 8 was an all-Buckeyes affair between No. 1 overall seed Woody Hayes and No. 9 seed Jim Tressel. Hayes won that one going away, by a count of 82 percent to 18.

So our Final Four matchups will look like this:

No. 4 Joe Paterno vs. No. 1 Woody Hayes

No. 3 Tom Osborne vs. No. 2 Bo Schembechler

We'll open up the voting for these semifinals on Thursday. This should be a lot of fun.

Curiously, we didn't really get a lot of responses on the Alvarez-Schembechler match. Don't forget to send in your comments (especially you Bo backers). Here are a couple of your thoughts on the Hayes-Tressel showdown:
Matt from Cape Coral, Fla.: I grew up a huge Tress fan and the 2002 national title game is what finally sold me on football as a kid, but when it comes down to it, Woody is Ohio State football and you cannot argue with five national championships. I voted for Woody.

Robert B. from Logan, Ohio: Brian, in 1964, I was 14. We were in Canton for the North-South game. Woody was recruiting the son of my parents' best friends and we were at a local restaurant for lunch. My father had died less than a month before. Now I don't know if Stein, the boy's father, asked him to, or not, but Woody came over to the table and sat down and talked to me for about 15 minutes. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of stories just like mine that prove that Woody Hayes was more of a hero off the field than on. His record speaks for itself, but I am one speaking to his compassion. To me, he was a soft-spoken, kind man. I bleed scarlet and gray, as my father did, my children do, and my grandchildren do. Woody Hayes was a complete person and that's why I vote for him, even over Tressel.
We're a 24/7/365 football blog around here, but it's impossible to not get caught up in the excitement of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

But while football will have its own, smaller version of March Madness with the College Football Playoff this season, we don't want to wait that long. Why let the basketball guys have all the fun when we can hold our own tournament?

In past years, we did this with the top players and championship teams of the past 15 years. This time around, we're going to pit the best coaches in Big Ten history against one another in a winner-take-all bracket.

The Big Ten has an incredible roster of accomplished coaches in its lore. (And, yes, we're including all current Big Ten member schools, regardless of how long they've been in the league. We're inclusive here. Deal with it.). Narrowing the field to our customary eight was difficult, if not downright unthinkable. So we've expanded the bracket to 12 this time, with the top four seeds getting byes and the others trying to play their way in. Be on standby, Dayton.

We're looking for coaches who have won Big Ten titles and national championships, those who stuck around long enough to pile up Hall of Fame résumés and build unmistakable legacies. No current coaches are involved, as we'll let them finish their careers before we start stacking them up against the all-timers.

The tournament will kick off Thursday with the first couple of matchups. But first, here is a look at the entire field, in alphabetical order:
  • Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin: Alvarez revived the Badgers program during his 16 years at the helm in Madison, compiling 118 wins. He also earned three Rose Bowl victories and is the only league coach to ever win back-to-back Rose Bowls. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
  • Bernie Bierman, Minnesota: The Gophers claimed five national titles under Bierman (1934, 1935, 1936, 1940 and 1941) and won seven Big Ten championships from 1932-41. He went 93-35-6 at Minnesota and also won a national title as a player with the Gophers.
  • Duffy Daugherty, Michigan State: Daugherty coached the Spartans from 1954 to 1972 and led them to back-to-back national titles in 1965 and 1966. The rest of his tenure didn't go as well, but Daugherty is tied for the sixth-most Big Ten wins ever.
  • Hayden Fry, Iowa: The Hawkeyes hadn't had a winning season in 17 years before Fry arrived before the 1979 season. He proceeded to go 143-89-6 in Iowa City, claiming three Big Ten titles. His 98 Big Ten wins are fourth-most ever.
  • Woody Hayes, Ohio State: Few coaches are as synonymous with a school as Hayes is with Ohio State. He won 205 games, the most of any coach while a member of the Big Ten, and a record 152 league games. Hayes also won 13 Big Ten championships, tying him for the most all time, and five national titles (1954, 1957, 1961, 1968 and 1970).
  • Tom Osborne, Nebraska: There aren't many coaches more beloved and universally respected than Osborne, who went 255-49-3 while leading the Huskers to three national titles in a four-year span (1994, 1995 and 1997). How about this: His teams never won fewer than nine games in a season, and this was before 12-, 13- and even 14-game seasons became the norm.
  • Joe Paterno, Penn State: JoePa won a record 409 games, plus two national championships (1982, 1986) and four other undefeated seasons. He won all four major bowl games -- the Rose, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar -- and was the AFCA national coach of the year five times. His career ended in scandal and a huge chunk of his wins were vacated by the NCAA.
  • Bo Schembechler, Michigan: Bo and Woody. Woody and Bo. Two coaches really defined the Big Ten for decades, and Schembechler was one of them. He is tied with Hayes for the most Big Ten titles ever (13) and his 143 Big Ten victories are the second-most all time. Schembechler has the highest conference winning percentage (.850) of any coach who competed in the Big Ten for at least 10 years. But he never won a national title.
  • Amos Alonzo Stagg, Chicago: Listen up, youngsters. The University of Chicago was a charter member of the Big Ten, and Stagg was its sports titan. He won 199 games, including 116 Big Ten victories, as well as two national championships (1905, 1913). Stagg is credited with innovating many plays and formations used in modern football, and he was also named to the Basketball Hall of Fame for his contributions to that sport.
  • Jim Tressel, Ohio State: Tressel coached exactly 10 years in the Big Ten before he was forced to resign, but what a decade it was. He has the second-highest winning percentage both overall and in league play for coaches who spent at least 10 years inside the conference, and he won or shared seven league titles (though the 2010 co-championship was later vacated). Tressel is the last Big Ten coach to win a national title, in 2002.
  • Fielding Yost, Michigan: The Wolverines won six national titles under Yost (1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1918 and 1923) and his 10 Big Ten titles trails only Hayes and Schembechler. His career winning percentage of .888 while a Big Ten head coach is the best all time among those who coached at least a decade in the league.
  • Bob Zuppke, Illinois: He was the Illini head coach from 1913 to 1941 and won four national titles (1914, 1919, 1923, and 1927). Zuppke is credited for inventing the huddle, which is kind of a big deal, and he also coached the legendary Red Grange. He is tied with Daugherty for the sixth-most Big Ten wins of all time, and he captured seven Big Ten titles.

As you can see, this is an impressive field. We couldn't even include all the amazing coaches from history, including Michigan's Fritz Crisler, Nebraska's Bob Devaney or Minnesota's Henry Williams, to name just a few. (Sorry, Huskers fans, but while Osborne has a tenuous connection to the Big Ten as the athletic director who ushered the school into the league, Devaney's great career had no Big Ten ties. Don't worry. You can simply throw all your considerable voting power behind Osborne if you desire.)

Stay tuned for the opening matchups. "The ball is tipped ..."

Big Ten lunchtime links

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
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Happy Patriot League tournament final day.
Twenty-one players who suited up for current Big Ten schools are on the 2014 ballot for the College Football Hall of Fame. Two coaches also made the ballot, including former Ohio State boss Jim Tressel.

Selections will be announced in May.

To be eligible, players must have been named a first-team All-American by a major national outlet, played their final season at least 10 years ago, played within the past 50 years and not currently be playing professional football. Coaches must have coached for a minimum of 10 years and 100 games, won at least 60 percent of their games and be retired for at least three years (unless they're older than 70).

Here's the Big Ten contingent for 2014 (in alphabetical order):

Players
  • Trev Alberts, LB, Nebraska (1990-93)*
  • Larry Burton, SE, Purdue (1973-74)
  • Dave Butz, DT, Purdue (1970-72)
  • Shane Conlan, LB, Penn State (1983-86)*
  • Tom Cousineau, LB, Ohio State (1975-78)
  • Eric Crouch, QB, Nebraska (1998-2001)*
  • D.J. Dozier, RB, Penn State (1983-86)*
  • Tim Dwight, WR/KR, Iowa (1994-97)
  • Jumbo Elliott, OT, Michigan (1984-87)
  • Kirk Gibson, WR, Michigan State (1975-78)
  • Dana Howard, LB, Illinois (1991-94)
  • Clinton Jones, RB, Michigan State (1964-66)
  • Tim Krumrie, DT, Wisconsin (1979-82)
  • Rob Lytle, RB, Michigan (1973-76)
  • Mark Messner, DL/LB, Michigan (1985-88)
  • Tom Nowatzke, FB, Indiana (1961-64)
  • Jim Otis, FB, Ohio State (1967-69)
  • Antwaan Randle El, QB, Indiana (1998-2001)
  • Simeon Rice, LB, Illinois (1992-95)
  • Lorenzo White, RB, Michigan State (1984-87)
  • Steve Wisniewski, G, Penn State, (1985-88)*
* played for team before it joined Big Ten

Coaches
  • Darryl Rogers, Michigan State, 1976-79 (also coached at Cal-State Hayward, Fresno State, San Jose State and Arizona State)
  • Jim Tressel, Ohio State, 2001-10 (also coached at Youngstown State from 1986-2000, listed under divisional coaches on ballot)

Fourteen of the players, as well as Rogers, appeared on last year's ballot, and 13 (as well as Rogers) appeared on the 2012 ballot. The Big Ten newcomers this year are Penn State's Conlan, Iowa's Dwight, Michigan State's Jones, Wisconsin's Krumrie, Michigan's Messner, and Illinois' dynamic linebacker tandem of Rice and Howard.

Tressel also makes his first appearance on the ballot and will be a fascinating candidate to watch, given his success at both Youngstown State and Ohio State and how things ended for him in Columbus.
As the coach hiring season nears an end, we're examining the Big Ten coaching landscape and some recent trends. We wrap up the series today with a look at the importance of coaching continuity in the Big Ten going forward.

It's no coincidence that a historic downturn in Big Ten football has coincided with a historic stretch of instability among the league's coaches.

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesIowa's Kirk Ferentz has been at his post eight years longer than any other Big Ten coach.
Think back to 2005, a season that ended with two BCS bowl wins and teams ranked No. 3 (Penn State) and No. 4 (Ohio State) in the final polls. Seven of the league's 11 coaches had been at their schools for six or more seasons. Ohio State's Jim Tressel, three years removed from a national title, logged his fifth season in Columbus. Three coaches -- Penn State's Joe Paterno, Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez and Michigan's Lloyd Carr -- all had held their jobs for more than a decade (in Paterno's case, four decades).

The Big Ten coaches that year had combined for four national championships, five Rose Bowl titles and seven BCS bowl victories.

Since 2005, the Big Ten has gone through 17 coaching changes (not counting Nebraska's after the 2007 season). Seven teams have made multiple changes, including Penn State, which introduced new coaches earlier this month and in January 2011 after not doing so since February 1966. Last season, Indiana's Kevin Wilson was the longest-tenured coach in the Leaders division. He was hired in December 2010.

As the Big Ten invests more in its coaches, it also must ensure it has the right leaders in place for the long haul.

"If you believe strongly in the person you have," Iowa athletic director Gary Barta told ESPN.com, "continuity is invaluable."

Few programs value continuity more than Iowa, which has had two coaches (Kirk Ferentz and Hayden Fry) since the 1978 season. Ferentz, who just completed his 15th year at the school, has been at his post eight years longer than any other Big Ten coach. He's one of only four FBS coaches to start before the 2000 season (Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Troy's Larry Blakeney are the others).

Iowa awarded Ferentz with contract extensions both in 2009 and 2010, the latter a whopping 10-year deal with a salary of $3,675,000. The Big Ten hasn't set the pace nationally in coach compensation, but Iowa's pledge to Ferentz, often the subject of NFL rumors, jumps out. Ferentz's salary is frequently debated and scrutinized, especially when Iowa struggles like it did in 2012, but Barta's loyalty to him hasn't wavered. Iowa rebounded to win eight games last season.

"Because of that commitment, we made our statement," Barta said. "We're going to fight through this with the person in whom we have great confidence and trust. There's no guarantees in life, but because of Kirk's past performance, because of his long-standing approach at Iowa and his proven success, it was a risk I was willing to take. Knock on wood, so far it has worked out terrific."

Barta sees a similar approach from Big Ten schools like Michigan State, which won Big Ten and Rose Bowl titles in Mark Dantonio's seventh season as coach. Dantonio in 2011 received a contract designed to keep him a "Spartan for life," and his newest deal is expected to more than double his salary from $1.9 million in 2013.

"Continuity breeds success," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said, "and that's the hardest part sometimes on the institutional side, to keep that commitment, keep that contract whether it's an assistant or a head coach. … It requires a high level of confidence and a high level of trust."

The day of playing musical chairs with coaches, of making change just for change's sake, is over because any changes you make are going to be expensive and important. You've got to get them right.

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon
There have been similar long-term commitments at other Big Ten schools. Northwestern awarded coach Pat Fitzgerald a 10-year contract in 2011. When Indiana hired Wilson, it gave him a seven-year contract, longer than the initial deals new coaches typically receive. Athletic director Fred Glass links Indiana's lack of continuity -- the school has had five coaches since 1996 -- with its on-field struggles (only one bowl appearance since 1993) and knows the school needs a more patient approach.

"Stability is an important thing in our league," said Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, who applauded recent moves like MSU retaining Dantonio and Penn State hiring James Franklin. "The best example I'll use is men’s basketball where we're having tremendous success, in large part, because of the stability we have in a number of our programs. I think we need to get that in football."

While Big Ten football has struggled in recent years, the league is surging on the hardwood, in large part because of veteran coaches like Michigan State's Tom Izzo (19th year), Wisconsin's Bo Ryan (13th year) and Ohio State's Thad Matta (10th year). Six of the league's 12 basketball coaches have been in their jobs for at least five seasons.

Continuity doesn't guarantee success, but it often correlates. Barta has tried to create "an environment of longevity and long-term commitment" at Iowa, while also recognizing the pressure to win and, in some cases, the need to part ways with a coach.

"The day of playing musical chairs with coaches," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said, "of making change just for change's sake, is over because any changes you make are going to be expensive and important. You've got to get them right."

After several years of transition, the Big Ten hopes it has the right men at the top -- and the ability to keep them there.

Big Ten's lunch links

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
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What you know about roses, bro?

Big Ten's lunch links

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16
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At least there are still college all-star games to fill the time.
  • Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg sat down with new coach James Franklin shortly after he was hired, but he wasn't looking for a sales pitch.
  • The Michigan secondary didn't grade well at all in 2013, and it's clear it will need to show marked improvement in defending the pass in 2014.
  • Former Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough has no plans to make himself available to the media, and not only is that at odds with his reputation as a stand-up leader, it's become an "elephant in the room," writes Mike Griffith.
  • An ability to communicate and build relationships with his players has been at the heart of new Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson's success.
  • Ohio State's schedule didn't impress many people around the country during debates about its merit as a national-title threat in 2013. Next season presents a few more challenges.
  • Could the "Year of the Blackshirt" be just what the Nebraska program needs to give it a jolt of life?
  • Minnesota wide receiver Jamel Harbison announced on Twitter that he will transfer.
  • Purdue defensive lineman Langston Newton, a transfer from Kentucky, could potentially be eligible right away and provide some help for the Boilermakers up front.
  • Josh Klecko, son of a NFL great Joe Klecko, is leaving Rutgers.
  • Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand, a Michigan man, had an interesting idea for a tattoo from a rival school if Jim Tressel joins the staff and helps the organization win.

Big Ten all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
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The BCS is dead. RIP. As we memorialize the BCS era throughout ESPN.com today, we're selecting All-BCS teams from each conference. As a reminder, the BCS era lasted from the 1998 season through the recently completed 2013 season. To narrow our selections a bit, players had to play at least two seasons in the BCS era to be eligible. Nebraska players are part of our list even though the Huskers played in the Big 12 until 2011.

Here's our Big Ten All-BCS team.

Coach: Jim Tressel, Ohio State -- Tressel led Ohio State to the 2002 national title, the Big Ten's only championship in the BCS era, as well as seven Big Ten titles (one vacated).

OFFENSE

QB: Drew Brees, Purdue (1997-2000) -- He led Purdue to the 2000 Big Ten championship and finished his career with league records for passing yards (11,792), touchdown passes (90), total offensive yards (12,693), completions (1,026), and attempts (1,678). Brees won the Maxwell Award in 2000.

RB: Ron Dayne, Wisconsin (1996-99) -- The 1999 Heisman Trophy winner set the NCAA's career rushing record with 6,397 yards (not including bowl games). He won all the major national individual awards in 1999 and became the first player to repeat as Rose Bowl MVP.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMontee Ball had 39 TDs for Wisconsin in 2011.
RB: Montee Ball, Wisconsin (2009-2012) -- The man nicknamed "MoneyBall" tied Barry Sanders' NCAA single-season touchdowns record with 39 in 2011 and set the mark for career touchdowns with 83. He won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back in 2012.

WR: Braylon Edwards, Michigan (2001-04) -- The Big Ten's most recent Biletnikoff Award winner holds the league record for career touchdown receptions (39) and ranks fourth in career receiving yards (3,541). He's the only Big Ten receiver to record 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons.

WR: Lee Evans, Wisconsin (2000-03) -- Evans twice led the Big Ten in receiving yards, eclipsing 1,500 yards in 2001 before rebounding from an ACL tear to record 1,213 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2003.

TE: Dallas Clark, Iowa (1999-2002) -- Clark earned the John Mackey Award in 2002 after recording 43 receptions for 742 yards as Iowa went undefeated in the Big Ten.

OL: Greg Eslinger, Minnesota (2002-05) -- One of the more decorated Big Ten linemen in the BCS era, Eslinger won the Outland Trophy in 2005. He was a two-time first-team All-America selection and a three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection for one of the nation's top rushing offenses.

OL: Joe Thomas, Wisconsin (2003-06) -- Another Outland Trophy winner (2006), Thomas earned unanimous consensus All-America honors that year. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in each of his final two seasons and was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft.

OL: Dominic Raiola, Nebraska (1998-2000) -- In 1998, Raiola became the first Nebraska freshman offensive lineman to start a game in seven years. He went on to earn the Rimington Trophy as the nation's top center, first-team All-Big 12 honors in his final two seasons and consensus first-team All-America honors in 2000.

OL: Robert Gallery, Iowa (1999-2003) -- Gallery claimed the Outland Trophy in 2003 as well as first-team All-America honors. He twice earned first-team All-Big Ten honors as the anchor of a nationally elite offensive line.

OL: Jake Long, Michigan (2003-07) -- Although Long didn't win the Outland, he twice earned consensus first-team All-America honors (unanimous selection in 2007) and twice earned Big Ten offensive lineman of the year honors (beating out Thomas in 2006). Long was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft.

DEFENSE

DE: LaMarr Woodley, Michigan (2003-06) -- Woodley claimed the Rotary Lombardi Award in 2006 as the nation's top lineman. A first-team All-American that season, he finished his career with 10 forced fumbles, tied for seventh on the Big Ten's career list.

DE: Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue (2007-10) -- Unlike most of the men on this list, Kerrigan never played for any BCS bowl teams at Purdue but still had a remarkable career that ended with unanimous consensus first-team All-America honors in 2010. The Big Ten defensive player of the year tied the NCAA record for forced fumbles (14) and recorded 33.5 sacks and 57 tackles for loss.

DT: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (2005-09) -- The most dominant defender in recent years finished fourth in Heisman voting in 2009 (should have been higher) and earned several awards, including the Bednarik, Nagurski and Outland. Suh finished his career with 24 sacks, 57 tackles for loss, four interceptions, three forced fumbles and 41 quarterback hurries.

DT: Devon Still, Penn State (2008-11) -- Penn State produced a string of outstanding defensive tackles including Still, the Big Ten's defensive player of the year in 2011. Still earned consensus first-team All-America honors after recording 17 tackles for loss.

LB: James Laurinaitis, Ohio State (2005-08) -- Laurinaitis won major national awards in each of his final three seasons, including the Nagurski Trophy in 2006. The two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year became just the third Ohio State player to earn consensus All-America honors in three seasons.

LB: Paul Posluszny, Penn State (2003-06) -- Posluszny is one of only two players (Pat Fitzgerald) to twice win the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defender. He became the first Penn State linebacker to twice earn AP All-America honors.

LB: LaVar Arrington, Penn State (1997-99) -- A freakishly athletic linebacker at Linebacker U., Arrington twice earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and won the Bednarik and Butkus Awards as a junior in 1999. He was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft.

CB: Jamar Fletcher, Wisconsin (1998-2000) -- Fletcher claimed the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back in 2000, won Big Ten defensive player of the year honors that year and was a three-time first-team all-conference selection. He's tied for fourth in league history with 21 career interceptions and holds the league record for interception return yards (459).

CB: Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State (2010-13) -- Dennard also claimed the Thorpe Award as he helped Michigan State to its first outright Big Ten title in 26 years and a Rose Bowl victory against Stanford. The two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection recorded 10 career interceptions and led the "No Fly Zone" Spartans secondary.

S: Tyrone Carter, Minnesota (1996-99) -- The only Big Ten safety to win the Thorpe Award, Carter also twice earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and earned unanimous All-America honors in 1999. He set the FBS record for career tackles by a defensive back with 528.

S: Mike Doss, Ohio State (1999-2002) -- A three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection, Doss earned unanimous consensus All-America honors in 2002 as Ohio State won the national title.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Mike Nugent, Ohio State (2001-04) -- Nugent won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker in 2004 and claimed consensus All-America honors in both 2002 and 2004. He holds the Big Ten record for consecutive made field goals with 24.

P: Brandon Fields, Michigan State (2003-06) -- His name is on the Big Ten's punter of the year award for a reason. Fields earned consensus All-America honors in 2004, earned first-team All-Big Ten honors three times and twice led the league in punting, tying for third in career average (45 ypp).

Returns: Ted Ginn, Ohio State (2004-06) and Steve Breaston, Michigan (2003-06) -- Ginn holds the Big Ten single-season records for kick return average (25.6 ypr) and career punt return touchdowns (6), while Breaston claims the league mark for career punt return yards (1,599) and is tied for third in punt return touchdowns (4).

It's tough enough putting together these teams for one season, much less 16 seasons. You can't please everyone, and many exceptional players didn't make the cut.

We decided to go with five offensive linemen rather than a center, two guards and two tackles, in order to recognize the best overall players in the trenches.

There was some debate for a second receiver alongside Michigan's Edwards, as the Big Ten hasn't exactly mass-produced superstars at the position. Several players had great seasons like Michigan State's Charles Rogers in 2002, but we put more stock into overall career output and went with Wisconsin's Evans, who led the league in receiving in 2001 and 2003.

Cornerback created some debate among Fletcher, Dennard and Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins, also a Jim Thorpe Award winner. We faced another tough decision at safety between Ohio State's Doss and Iowa's Bob Sanders.

Surprisingly, the defensive tackle spot produced few bona-fide superstars. Nebraska's Suh, who played his entire career in the Big 12, was an obvious choice but a second choice proved to be tough.

Arguably the toughest choice came at kicker between Nugent and Iowa's Nate Kaeding. Both won Lou Groza Awards and set numerous records. We gave the nod to Nugent, but not by much.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

November, 8, 2013
11/08/13
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A few questions and answers before Week 11 in the Big Ten. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter, the best place to track the latest news on Saturdays.

Ready? Break.

Darin from Lyme, N.H., writes: The Buckeyes don't need to worry about making the national title game if they win out. If you look at the BCS historically, only one out of 15 years has an undefeated team from a major conference not made the game (Auburn 2004). The odds are extremely long that we will end up with more than two undefeated teams.

Adam Rittenberg: Darin, you make a good point. The BCS usually works itself out to where undefeated teams from major conferences aren't on the outside looking in. Oregon's loss to Stanford on Thursday night certainly helps Ohio State, as the Ducks once again won't be going to the national title game. Baylor's big victory against Oklahoma helps the Bears' chances, but I still don't think Baylor runs the table. Ohio State won't jump Florida State or Alabama if both teams win out, and FSU's path to the title game certainly looks easier than that of Alabama, which still has LSU, Auburn and most likely South Carolina or Missouri in the SEC title game. The Buckeyes simply need to keep winning, ideally in impressive fashion, and hope teams like Wisconsin and Michigan State also continue to win. Ohio State already has beaten Wisconsin and would benefit from facing an 11-1 MSU team in the Big Ten championship game.


Bob from Forest, Va., writes: I realize you don't know much about the Rutgers program. Regarding coaching salaries you said "fairly or unfairly" the fact that RU is paying the football coach 800-900K per year leaves the perception that RU doesn't belong in a league like the Big Ten. Do you recall what they paid Coach Flood's predecessor? Also I always thought it was on-field performance that determined whether or not a team belonged. Outside of Ohio State, is there really a single B1G team RU can't compete with? We've held our own vs the Big Ten if you take out Penn State pre-B1G with a .500 record. What I don't get are the jabs from you. Is it an ESPN thing or are you just writing what you think your readers want to hear?

Adam Rittenberg: Bob, you're absolutely right that on-field performance, and not coach salary, determines whether a team like Rutgers will sink or swim in the Big Ten. It always comes down to winning, and Rutgers has an excellent opportunity to prove itself in a loaded East Division with Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State. You say Rutgers has held its own with the Big Ten outside of Penn State. Who else has Rutgers played? Rutgers hasn't played a Big Ten team since 2006 (Illinois) and has never faced seven current Big Ten teams (Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin). Your argument is therefore irrelevant.

I realize Rutgers paid more for Greg Schiano, and that Flood is a young coach who doesn't demand a huge salary. But like I wrote, the perception looks like Rutgers is small time when every other Big Ten coach is making at least $1.2 million. Placed in the larger context of what major conference coaches make, it looks pretty low. Purdue faced the same perception when it paid coach Danny Hope less than $1 million. That's just the way it is. But you're right that Rutgers can improve its perception by beating teams coached by guys making four times as much as Flood does.


Anthony from New York writes: Why didn't you include Michigan in your list of BCS at-large candidates? We know from 2011 that a two-loss Michigan team will be attractive to BCS bowls if ranked in the top 14. As you've said, Michigan is better off not making the B1G title game if it wants an at-large bid. It is perfectly plausible to see Michigan beat Nebraska, Iowa, and Northwestern (though none are easy games). Add in an upset of unbeaten Ohio and you've got a top-14 Michigan team coming off four straight wins. Wouldn't they be a very attractive team?

Adam Rittenberg: Anthony, as I specified in the top of the post, I'm not including any unranked teams in the conversation for at-large berths at this point. If and when Michigan re-enters the BCS standings, it will appear as a candidate. But even then, how attractive would Michigan be? The Wolverines would have to look a lot better in their final four games than they have in their first eight. You and your fellow Michigan fans won't agree, but it would be a real shame if a Michigan State team that went 11-1 in the regular season and lost in the Big Ten title game to Ohio State missed out on a BCS berth in favor of a team like Michigan, which the Spartans embarrassed last week. I also wonder whether Michigan would get into the top 14 of the final BCS standings and be eligible for selection. An Ohio State win certainly would help, but it would depend on what other teams do elsewhere. Let's see how things play out, but I don't see a top-15 team in Ann Arbor this year.


Pat from East Lansing, Mich., writes: You both always pretty much have the same predictions week to week. Can we get creative?

Adam Rittenberg: We have to pick the teams we think will win, Pat, and sometimes they'll all be the same. I've differed from Brian in one game in each of the past two weeks and lost both times, as Nebraska's Hail Mary got me last week. One chatter Thursday suggested we incorporate score prediction into the race, which isn't a bad idea. We might look to do something with that next year. I think you'll see a few more disagreements down the stretch, but we're not going to be contrarians here, especially with an expensive dinner in Indianapolis on the line.


Charley from New York writes: Is it a journalist's job to lobby for millionaires to paid even more money? I must admit my jaw dropped when I read from you: "Both Wilson and Kill earn less than coaches from Colorado State, Navy, South Florida and Central Florida. That seems a bit troubling for teams in a loaded league like the Big Ten." Troubling? I notice you haven't been much of an advocate for paying the kids who actually generate the millions of dollars colleges earn from football, but you have always been an advocate for higher head and assistant coaches' salaries. Is this your way of trying to brown-nose your sources or do you really believe that educational institutions should devote more and more of their budgets to football coaches' salaries?

Adam Rittenberg: Charley, do I believe college football coaches make ridiculous salaries for university employees? Yes. But they also bring in a ton of money, and the market is dictating what they're making. We can have a discussion on the larger issue of coach salaries if you want, but the pay structures are what they are in major conferences. People look at why the Big Ten is struggling right now. It's hard to completely dismiss the fact that SEC head coaches are making much more on average (SEC assistants are, too). As I wrote last month, money isn't the problem in the Big Ten, even though the league sponsors more sports than the SEC. From a perception standpoint, not necessarily reality, it doesn't look like Minnesota and Indiana are that invested in their programs when you look at the league they're in and the market rates for college coaches.


Chris from Knoxville, Tenn., writes: I know most people, myself a Michigan fan, included, favor Ohio State over Michigan later this month. But so many people are calling it to be a blowout. I disagree -- even in 2011 a downtrodden Ohio State kept that game close, and I expect this year's game to also be close, especially since it's at the Big House. Teams tend to preform better in rivalry games. Who do you think is right, the many people mentioned or my pick of a close game?

Adam Rittenberg: It's way too soon to call for a blowout in The Game. It's still three weeks away, we don't know the injury situations for both teams and we don't know how the teams will be playing entering that one. I don't expect Michigan to magically become a top-10 team by Nov. 30, but the Wolverines could remedy some of their issues before Ohio State comes to town. You're absolutely right that teams perform better in rivalry games. Michigan likely is out of the Big Ten title mix, so beating Ohio State is really the only major goal left for Brady Hoke's crew. More important, as you mention, Michigan plays much better at home under Hoke, never losing a game in his two-plus seasons. I'm not sure of my prediction for The Game, but I doubt I'll pick Ohio State to win by more than 10 points. Michigan will give its best effort on that day.


Grant from Cincinnati writes: Is it just me, or is Luke Fickell's stock much higher than it should be? His track record as a recruiter and positions coach is well documented, and he seems to be a high quality, character guy. However, in his only season as head coach, he went 6-7. It's not as though the cupboard was bare for him, as that year was sandwiched between a Sugar Bowl victory and an undefeated season. Also, his defense has underachieved for much of this season, though it seems to be getting back on track a bit. Now he's interviewing for a head coaching gig and you're mentioning that you expected him to hold out for a major conference head coaching position. In short, Fickell seems like a good guy, but why the love fest?

Adam Rittenberg: Some fair points here, Grant. Fickell's stock certainly seemed higher before he became a head coach -- albeit under very difficult circumstances -- or a defensive play-caller (Jim Heacock handled those duties until last season). I don't think you can judge him too much for the struggles in 2011, as the program was rocked by Jim Tressel's resignation and had a tough situation at quarterback because of Terrelle Pryor's departure. Fickell handled himself well overall, although the on-field product left much to be desired. There have been some valid criticisms of him as a defensive coordinator, as Ohio State hasn't been a salty as it used to be on that side of the ball. But I think Fickell could thrive as a head coach because of his personality and recruiting ability. He might be a better CEO type than a coordinator, and I think fans and players would rally around him. It needs to be the right situation, unlike the one in 2011.


Nick from East Lansing, Mich., writes: How likely is it that MSU has to look for a new coach in the offseason? It would be hard to turn down if Texas came calling.

Adam Rittenberg: Sure, Texas certainly has its perks, but I highly doubt Mark Dantonio is going anywhere. He's in a great situation at Michigan State, works for a great athletic director (Mark Hollis) who he loves, and has roots in the Midwest as an Ohio native. Dantonio definitely is due a raise at Michigan State, although it's more important to him to pay his assistants, which the school has been doing. At this stage in his career, I don't think Dantonio wants to deal with all the excess stuff at a place like Texas. You never say never, but I'd be very surprised if he's not back at MSU in 2014.


Matt from Michigan writes: I am a little confused after reading the "rooting interests" article. Why would Michigan want Minnesota to lose? If Michigan State loses to Minnesota and either Northwestern or Nebraska and if (big IF) Michigan were to win out and finish 6-2 along with MSU finishing 6-2, it would be MSU winning the tie breaker. However, wouldn't Michigan still have a chance to represent the Legends in a three-way (or even four-way) tie at 6-2? Looking at the schedule, I think it is possible to have MSU, Michigan, Nebraska and Minnesota ALL finish at 6-2. Not saying likely, but that would make for a compelling last weekend!

Adam Rittenberg: Indeed it would, Matt. My rationale for the Minnesota loss would be to knock the Gophers out of the race, but if the tiebreaker is Michigan's best chance to win the division, which it may well be, it would make sense for Minnesota to win out. The key obviously is for Michigan State to start losing games, beginning next week against Nebraska. If Michigan State loses out -- highly unlikely -- and Michigan wins out, the Wolverines would go to Indy.


The Legends division race finally begins to take shape this month, and the result of Saturday's game between No. 21 Michigan and No. 22 Michigan State could go a long way toward determining which team reaches Indianapolis. In fact, Michigan State can take a significant step toward locking up the division crown by beating Michigan on Saturday afternoon. The Spartans would be 5-0 in league play with three division games left (Northwestern, Nebraska, Minnesota). Michigan already has one conference loss, albeit a cross-division one, but needs a victory Saturday to keep its main goal -- a Big Ten championship -- in the viewfinder.

Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg and Michigan/Big Ten writer Chantel Jennings both will be at Spartan Stadium on Saturday, and they discussed some key questions entering the matchup.

A lot is on the line for this game, but which team gains more from a win or loses more from a loss?

Rittenberg: It's definitely Michigan. The Wolverines already have a conference loss and essentially would be three games behind Michigan State if they fall Saturday in East Lansing. They would lose the head-to-head tiebreaker and would need either Michigan State to lose out or a multi-team tie with two losses apiece. Keep in mind that Michigan also has the tougher remaining schedule. Both teams play Nebraska and Northwestern -- Michigan State faces both on the road -- but Michigan also faces unbeaten Ohio State on Nov. 30, while Michigan State doesn't play the Buckeyes. A Michigan State loss isn't a backbreaker by any means. The Spartans would have two weeks to prepare for Nebraska, the only Big Ten team Mark Dantonio has yet to beat, and still would have a decent chance to win out and claim the division crown at 7-1.

Jennings: I agree. From a league race perspective, the Wolverines need this if they want to remain competitive in the Legends division. However, this game is also huge from an emotional/fan base perspective. Michigan will be extremely restless with a loss to MSU this season. The Wolverines also dropped one to Penn State earlier, so losing to Michigan State and possibly Ohio State later this year could mark Hoke's least successful season in Ann Arbor.

Michigan's defense has a lot of questions to answer after its performance against Indiana. How do the Wolverines respond?

[+] EnlargeJake Ryan
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarWith an extra week off, Jake Ryan could be closer to full strength and ready to be a factor for Michigan.
Rittenberg: I don't buy into bye weeks as much as others, but the added prep time allowed Michigan to press the reset button on defense after having few answers against the Hoosiers. Linebacker Jake Ryan should benefit as he works his way back to 100 percent from the knee injury. Michigan State has displayed better passing ability in recent weeks, but the Spartans won't challenge Michigan's secondary nearly as much as Indiana did. It really comes down to Michigan's defensive line and whether the front four can slow down emerging Spartans back Jeremy Langford and pressure Connor Cook. Wolverines end Frank Clark has some good numbers, but I'm still waiting for him to dominate a game. Where is the star power on this Wolverines defense? This would be a good time for it to show up, as Michigan State seems to be gaining confidence on offense, especially along the line.

Jennings: I really don't know. And that sounds like a cop-out answer but having covered this team, it's just so hard to say how they'll respond or how they'll show up or how they'll play. And I do think how a team responds is a bit different than how it'll play. The Wolverines could respond well and come out strong, but the big test will be if they can sustain that through four quarters. This group has just been so inconsistent -- they might be the best in the Big Ten at being inconsistent -- and this is such a physical game. I think we'll find out a lot about the Wolverines' mental fortitude after a few big hits on Saturday.

Michigan State's offense has been a wild card this season -- really bad early on but better in three of the first four Big Ten games. Which Spartans offense shows up Saturday?

Jennings: Connor Cook has gotten better and better every game, and I think the Spartans' offense is settling into a groove. The Michigan defense is still a big question mark, but they're far from perfect and have struggled with finishing on big plays through the season. Cook will have his opportunities down field, and if Langford can start by slashing the Michigan D up front, those opportunities probably will multiply through the game.

Rittenberg: It really comes down to the Michigan State offensive line, a group I've criticized in the past but one that has made noticeable strides during Big Ten play. If the Spartans control Michigan's defensive front, create some room for Langford and allow Cook to make plays against a defense thinking run-first, run-second, they'll be in good shape to win. I can't fully trust this unit after the Purdue debacle two weeks ago, but wide receiver Bennie Fowler seems to make a big difference, and he returned last week against Illinois.

Which position group on either side of the ball will be the MVP (most valuable position group) come Saturday evening?

[+] EnlargeDarqueze Dennard
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsSpartans cornerback Darqueze Dennard will be tested by Michigan receiver Jeremy Gallon.
Jennings: Michigan State's defensive line. If the Spartans' defensive front can establish a solid pass rush and get Devin Gardner out of his comfort zone, then good things could happen -- three-and-outs, interceptions, poor decisions. It might be the linebackers or defensive backs finishing off the plays, but they'll happen because the defensive line was stout.

Rittenberg: I picked Michigan State to win, so I'll also go with a Spartans defensive unit: the secondary. Michigan can attack downfield with Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess, which will force the Spartans to make plays in space. Fortunately for MSU, it has the type of defensive backs who can do that and match up in single coverage. I can't wait to see Spartans cornerback Darqueze Dennard, a potential first-round draft pick next April, go against Gallon. You're right that Michigan State's front four must apply pressure, but at the end of the day, I think we'll be talking about the secondary.

This is the first time Michigan and Michigan State have played in November since 2007 (Mike Hart "little brother" game). How intense is this rivalry now, and where do you see it going in the East division beginning next season?

Rittenberg: Well, Michigan running back Fitzgerald Toussaint certainly added some fuel this week, repeating Hart's "little brother" tag for Michigan State and talking about the personal nature of the rivalry. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio undoubtedly will bring up Toussaint's comments to his players. Dantonio has done a masterful job of playing up the rivalry, much like his mentor Jim Tressel did at Ohio State with the Michigan game. Michigan State won four straight in the series before falling last year in Ann Arbor, and the Spartans will have plenty of emotion on Saturday afternoon. Can Michigan match it? Brady Hoke told me this week that Michigan "flinched" too many times in 2011 in East Lansing, as Michigan State overwhelmed the Wolverines, personal fouls and all. This is a bigger game for Michigan than Michigan State, as a loss likely means another year without a Big Ten title. I'm very interested to see how Michigan comes out on Saturday.

Jennings: I think it's pretty heated. Specifically for Michigan, the Wolverines have a terrible taste in their mouth from the last time they visited Spartan Stadium. They were embarrassed and beaten up the last time they traveled to East Lansing, and for a group that prides itself on its physicality, that was the biggest insult. A loss is bad. But losing because you were manhandled and bullied is the worst. So not only are the Wolverines fighting for the top of the division, they're also fighting to regain their identity within that stadium. They haven't had to reestablish themselves like that inside an opponent's stadium yet under Hoke.

Big Ten not changing anybody's mind

September, 15, 2013
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John Papuchis, Bo PeliniBruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsBo Pelini and defensive coordinator John Papuchis watched their team crumble against UCLA.
CHICAGO -- A CBS camera followed Johnny Manziel's every move Saturday, tracking the Texas A&M quarterback from the magical to the mundane.

More than 750 media members converged on Kyle Field for a game that had been anticipated for months. This was another SEC Saturday, and no matter what happened in the Big Ten, the eyes of the nation would be on Alabama-A&M.

But the Big Ten had a chance to steal a glance, build some credibility and maybe change the narrative, not to mention a few minds. However, the league fell short in its one Saturday showcase of September.

Nothing to see here, folks. Same old story.

Michigan forgot to show up against an Akron team that had lost 27 consecutive road games. Nebraska decided to pack it in during the third quarter against UCLA. And Penn State's defense made a very good college quarterback (UCF's Blake Bortles) look like a Heisman Trophy candidate.
There was one Big Ten game that left everyone talking and tweeting well into Sunday morning, thanks to one of the more bizarre finishes you'll ever see. The clock ran out on Wisconsin after quarterback Joel Stave tried to center the ball deep in Arizona State territory. The officials, seemingly confused that Stave placed the ball on the ground rather than make an obvious kneeling motion, delayed in spotting the ball and time expired.

No one could believe it, even the victorious Sun Devils.

Wisconsin deserved a chance to win a big game on the road and salvage something for the Big Ten. Thanks to the inexcusable officiating blunder, the Badgers' 32-30 loss was a black mark on a mostly sour Saturday.

Make no mistake, Week 3 wasn't as bad as Week 2 of the 2012 season, when the Big Ten went 6-6, a virtual impossibility given the forgiving nature of nonconference schedules. After that sorry Saturday, league commissioner Jim Delany told the critics to swing away, acknowledging the Big Ten's status as a national pinata.

The Big Ten bashing will continue after this Saturday, although not as much as it did last season. But perhaps just as damaging, the league didn't give people a reason to pay attention. The Big Ten is still viewed as a has-been conference, not a right-now conference.

[+] EnlargeChristian Hackenberg
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsChristian Hackenberg and PSU were stunned at home by UCF.
Oh, there's Ohio State, which flexed its offensive muscles at Cal despite being without starting quarterback Braxton Miller. Michigan State's offense showed up, and so did Indiana's defense. Iowa ended its slide in the Cy-Hawk series and captured a win it absolutely had to have in mostly impressive fashion. Purdue gave Notre Dame a better game than expected before folding early in the fourth quarter. Illinois fought hard against a good Washington squad here at Soldier Field. Northwestern continues to look very good.

But nothing that happened Saturday boosted the Big Ten's poor perception.

Nebraska's fight for national relevancy continues to be sidetracked by complete collapses. After storming ahead to a 21-3 lead against a seemingly emotionally wounded UCLA team, the Huskers allowed the Bruins to score 38 unanswered points on Big Red's home field.

This is who you are, Huskers. Your Big Ten legacy can be summed up in a series of numbers: 48-17, 45-17, 30-13, 63-38, 70-31, 45-31 and 41-21. Those are the final scores of Huskers losses in nationally relevant games against Wisconsin (2011), Michigan (2011), South Carolina (2012 Capital One Bowl), Ohio State (2012), Wisconsin (2012 Big Ten championship game), Georgia (2013 Capital One Bowl) and UCLA (Saturday).

They're not stunning collapses because they happen so often. They're as much a part of Nebraska's identity as the Blackshirts, the balloons and the Tunnel Walk.

Coach Bo Pelini said his players looked like they'd seen a ghost as UCLA took over in the second half. Maybe they had just seen this movie so many times before.

While Nebraska continued to bring negative attention, Michigan brought unwanted attention. The Wolverines' game against Akron was off the radar in a slate that featured four matchups with the Pac-12, the Iowa-Iowa State rivalry and other superior pairings. Devin Gardner and his teammates were supposed to make quick work of Akron, which has won one game in each of the past three seasons.

Akron's best hope for an upset? Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who tortured Michigan during his tenure, is the school's vice president for student success. Maybe Michigan can chalk up Saturday's near-upset to The Curse of The Vest, as Akron's student-athletes had plenty of success at the Big House.

Michigan was a yard away from arguably the worst loss in program history. It wasn't Appalachian State, as the 2007 Mountaineers were miles better than the Toledo team Michigan lost to in 2008 or the current Akron squad. The 2008 Wolverines might have been the worst edition in school history. Michigan entered Saturday off an impressive win against Notre Dame. A letdown was possible? A letdown loss to Akron? Not a chance.

But it nearly happened.

"We almost lost to Akron," said Gardner, who committed four turnovers in the 28-24 win. "No disrespect to Akron, but we almost lost after coming out and having a great win last week in front of the whole world, and we come out and almost blow it. I definitely would have been sick if we [had lost]."

Michigan fans thankfully don't have to debate whether 2008 Toledo or 2013 Akron is a worse loss, but they do have to figure out what type of team they'll have the rest of the season after such a step backward.

Penn State can't help the Big Ten's ragged reputation in a bowl game because of NCAA sanctions. But the Lions could have taken care of business against UCF, a 10-win team in 2012.

However, a normally sound defense didn't come through, surrendering 507 yards and failing to get key second-half stops in a 34-31 loss. Get ready to hear a lot about how the sanctions are finally getting to Penn State.

Listen, it's not all gloom and doom for the Big Ten. There are some bright spots. If Ohio State goes on to win a national title, all the negative stuff washes away. That's how it works in college football.

This could turn out to be a better league than it was last season, when it set a historically low bar. We'll find out in late December and early January.

Until then, it'll be all SEC, all the time.

After another lost Saturday, the Big Ten still doesn't give the nation a reason to care.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
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My dog tried to play with a skunk this week. I think we're all getting stir crazy waiting for the football season.
The rivalry never sleeps, even in the middle of summer as the final days tick away until camp opens in August.

But just in case a little offseason kick was needed to get the juices flowing for the next edition of "The Game," BuckeyeNation and WolverineNation are teaming up for a week of content looking at some moments from the past and forecasting what will happen a few short months into the future.

Today, we peek back into series history and identify some of the top heroes and villains from the blood feud. Here are Ohio State's villain for the Wolverines:

1. Jim Tressel, coach: From the moment he was introduced and grabbed a microphone to address the Ohio State faithful, Tressel’s mission was clear -- get the program back on top in The Game. The Buckeyes backed up their new coach with a road upset in 2001, and the next decade was completely dominated by The Vest, who posted a 9-1 record before scandal ended his run on the sideline. Even his exit might have twisted the knife in the Wolverines since it helped Ohio State land Urban Meyer, who knocked off Michigan in his first Game to finish an unbeaten season in 2012.

2. Troy Smith, quarterback: At the height of that dominant run under Tressel, it was the prolific signal-caller inflicting the majority of the damage on the Wolverines. Smith became just the second Ohio State quarterback to beat Michigan three times, with the last couple coming in forgettable fashion. There was the late comeback in 2005 keyed that included 386 passing yards from Smith, and another virtuoso performance in the epic showdown in 2006 that individually clinched a Heisman and sent the Buckeyes to the national title game.

[+] EnlargeSean Payton, er, Woody Hayes
George Long/Getty ImagesIt was during Woody Hayes' 27 years as Ohio State head coach that the blood feud with Michigan truly took shape.
3. Woody Hayes, coach: The rivalry became firmly entrenched among the most passionate, competitive series in the country when Hayes was at the top of his coaching game and matching wits -- and trading barbs -- with Bo Schembechler. Tressel’s gaudy record might have diminished some of hatred for Hayes, however slightly, but his 16 wins in The Game, an infamous decision to go for a 2-point conversion “because he couldn’t go for 3” and his place in Ohio State history will always get some Michigan blood boiling.

4. Mike Doss, safety: Working on a 14-year drought in Ann Arbor and trying to live up to the goal Tressel established when he took over, Doss was instrumental in snapping the skid and setting the tone under Ohio State’s new coach in 2001. A pair of interceptions helped set up scoring drives, and an unranked group of Buckeyes snatched a 26-20 win over the No. 11 Wolverines to start building the momentum that would last for pretty much the entire decade.

5. David Boston, wide receiver: After coming up short in 1997 and hearing all about it from Charles Woodson, Boston exacted some revenge a year later with a massive individual performance as the Buckeyes knocked off the Wolverines 31-16 for one of John Cooper's two wins in the series. Boston was already an enemy for his brash comments before his final season with the Buckeyes, but he could be easily dismissed without ever winning a game. He changed that with 10 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns, finally backing up his mouth and getting the best of Michigan where it counted -- on the field.

Bonus pick -- Bob Ferguson, fullback: The message apparently hadn’t been delivered emphatically enough, despite Ferguson already having scored three times. He would finish the game with 151 yards. The fourth touchdown by the All-American rusher, though, set the table for the Buckeyes to rub a 50-20 win and a national championship in Michigan’s face in 1961 by going for a 2-point conversion with the outcome well in hand.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 13

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
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Ten items to track around the Big Ten on the final weekend of the regular season:

1. Bigger than The Game: Michigan defensive lineman Will Campbell told me this week that The Game never wavers in importance, whether Ohio State is 0-11 or 11-0. That's a good attitude for a player to have, but from the outside looking in, the Michigan-Ohio State game is much more appealing when there's a lot at stake for both teams. For the first time since 2007, that's the case. Ohio State aims for the sixth unbeaten, untied season in team history. Michigan can hand the Buckeyes their first loss and possibly reach the Big Ten title game. This one should be fun. "It makes the game even bigger," Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby said.

2. Bo knows: Stunned by his team's performance in a 63-38 loss to Ohio State, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini sat in the visitors' media room at Ohio Stadium and said, "Like I just told the football team, we need to win out. We need to win out." Few thought it would happen, and even Pelini's faith had to be wavering a bit at that low point. But Nebraska has won five consecutive games, rallying for three of the victories, and need only beat slumping Iowa in the Heroes Game to punch its ticket to Indianapolis. The Huskers have ridden the roller coaster all season, but they'd need a serious derailment in Iowa City not to fulfill Pelini's pledge.

3. Senior day in State College: There might never be another senior day at Penn State quite like the one Saturday at Beaver Stadium. Penn State will recognize a class that kept the team together during a tumultuous summer that included severe NCAA sanctions being handed down and several key player departures. "There's no doubt," first-year coach Bill O'Brien said, "that they set the tone for the future of Penn State football." Unfortunately, Penn State will play without senior linebacker Michael Mauti, a top candidate for Big Ten defensive player of the year and the team's emotional leader. Mauti, who suffered a knee injury last week, will be recognized along with his classmates.

4. Spartans, Boilers face must-wins: Both Michigan State and Purdue entered the season with lofty goals, particularly the Spartans, pegged by many to win the Big Ten and reach the Rose Bowl for the first time in a quarter-century. Few expected MSU and Purdue to be fighting for bowl eligibility in Week 13, but that's exactly the case. Michigan State must win at Minnesota, and coach Mark Dantonio is confident, saying Tuesday, "When we win Saturday -- and I'll say when -- we'll be a 6-6 football team." Purdue, meanwhile, aims for its third straight win when it hosts rival Indiana in the Bucket game. Will a 6-6 season save fourth-year coach Danny Hope?

[+] EnlargeJim Tressel
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireJim Tressel, now a consultant for the Indianapolis Colts, will be part of Ohio State's celebration of its 2002 national-title team.
5. Tressel's return: Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel will return to Ohio Stadium on Saturday for a reunion of the school's 2002 national championship team. It marks Tressel's first major public appearance at Ohio State since resigning from his post on Memorial Day in 2011. It will be interesting to see how the Buckeyes faithful react to Tressel, whose actions helped land the team in hot water with the NCAA. On the flip side, Ohio State's program is arguably better off with Urban Meyer as coach. "Some people will embrace it, some people will not," athletic director Gene Smith told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer. "Some people will feel it's awkward, some people will not. I'm not going to feel it's awkward because I'm realistic -- he was part of that team. And I know what he means to those players."

6. Their kind of town: Northwestern and Illinois both want to increase their clout in the Chicago area. Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats have been the more consistent program in the past decade and take an 8-3 record into Saturday's clash with the Illini at Ryan Field. With a win, Northwestern will match its highest victories total under Fitzgerald, who would tie Lynn "Pappy" Waldorf for the school's career coaching wins record (90). Illinois first-year coach Tim Beckman has emphasized the Northwestern rivalry from the moment he arrived. Perhaps his players will respond with a strong effort to end an otherwise miserable season.

7. Making their cases for awards: The Big Ten hands out all its awards next week, and races for offensive and defensive player of the year are still very much in doubt. Mauti's injury creates a potential opening in the defensive player of the year race, and a lot could depend on what happens in Columbus, as candidates such as Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan and Ohio State's tandem of John Simon and Ryan Shazier take the field. Other candidates, such as Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short, also are in action. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller remains the front-runner for offensive player of the year, but Nebraska's Taylor Martinez has been brilliant of late and could challenge Miller if he turns in a monster game at Iowa.

8. Boiler spoilers: Two weeks ago, Indiana was a home victory from putting itself in line to represent the Leaders Division in the Big Ten title game. The Hoosiers now know their season will end Saturday in West Lafayette, as they won't be going bowling for the fifth consecutive season. But Kevin Wilson's team still can reclaim The Bucket and prevent Purdue from making a bowl game. Wilson talked Tuesday about how the season doesn't feel like it's ending, and with so many young players, the future is promising. He downplayed the spoiler role, saying Tuesday, "It has nothing to do with what it does for them; it's about what it does for us. Winning is good for us. Winning builds us." Indiana has eight home games next season and should be in the mix for a bowl. A victory Saturday would be a nice boost before a crucial offseason.

9. Gray's day: Minnesota will recognize 15 seniors Saturday against Michigan State, and none has had a more unique career than MarQueis Gray. He arrived as a nationally heralded dual-threat quarterback recruit, played quarterback for a year, played primarily wide receiver for a year, started 10 games at quarterback in 2011 and opened this season as the top signal-caller but moved to wide receiver following an ankle injury. He will play primarily at receiver against the Spartans but had two rushing touchdowns last week and could see increased time in the backfield. Gray talked this week about "closing the chapter" on his Gophers career, and it'll be interesting to see how he performs in his final game at TCF Bank Stadium.

10. Denard and Devin: Michigan's Denard Robinson is healthy again, but how much quarterback he will play against Ohio State remains to be seen. Robinson's replacement, Devin Gardner, has been spectacular since returning to the quarterback role, accounting for 13 touchdowns in the past three games, including six last week against Iowa. Michigan started the Iowa game with Gardner at quarterback and Robinson at running back, and offensive coordinator Al Borges has the "creative juices" flowing as he crafts the game plan for Ohio State. Robinson and Gardner certainly give Michigan's offense a different look -- and some extra homework for Ohio State's improving defense.

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