Michigan Wolverines: Mark Hollis

This September's 42nd Notre Dame-Michigan matchup is likely the last between the schools for the foreseeable future. That doesn't, however, mean that the appearances of Big Ten teams on the Irish's schedule are coming to an end.

Michigan State and Purdue have been stalwarts on Notre Dame's slate -- more than Michigan. And athletic directors from both schools are happy to see their respective rivalries with the Irish continue, even if they're on an abbreviated basis.

Among imminent matchups, Notre Dame will "host" the Boilermakers Sept. 14 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for its annual off-site Shamrock Series game. The Irish have a home-and-home scheduled with the Spartans for 2016 (at ND) and 2017 (at MSU).

"[Notre Dame athletic director] Jack [Swarbrick] and I are in constant communication, and it's not adversarial whatsoever. But it's a situation where, both with us going to nine [conference] games and with them having to move into the ACC scheduling model, it's created some significant challenges for both of us," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told ESPN.com. "And right now we're kind of in a position of, we know the next two, we know we have two more in the future and we're just kind of taking it one step at a time. We've been in constant communication."

The future, Hollis told local reporters last week, includes an agreement to play a home-and-home in 2026 and 2027, as well as a neutral site game, possibly in Chicago, in 2023.

Notre Dame and Purdue, meanwhile, have five more scheduled games -- Sept. 19, 2020 at Purdue; Sept. 18, 2021 at Notre Dame; Sept. 14, 2024 at Purdue; Sept. 13, 2025 at Notre Dame; and in 2026 on a date and in a neutral site that has yet to be determined.

"I think the relationship between the schools is -- you're not going to take it to San Juan," Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke told ESPN.com. "But we have alums all over the country, too. Strong populations in Texas, in California, in Florida. The likely sites are Chicago and Indianapolis."

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said last week that most of his scheduling conversations with Swarbrick start with Michigan, Michigan State and an SEC team. But Wolverines athletic director David Brandon told ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg in an email that there had been no discussions with the Irish.

The mood might have soured between the two schools -- Sept. 7 at Notre Dame will be their last matchup following the Irish's 2012 exercising of a three-year opt-out clause in the series -- but that has not been the case between the Irish and the rest of the Big Ten.

"Jack and I have known each other for a long, long time," Burke said. "He had a hard deal because when the Big East went the way it went, he had to find a home for lots of sports. What he had to do then was to negotiate, he had to use some of the football inventory to do that, and that's what created the issue. There's no issues with wanting to play Purdue or Michigan State. The Michigan thing there's a little bit of a tiff, I guess. But I don't think so.

"Our history goes back a long time. So what we tried to do was to make sure that there was at least a path forward. In other words, don't just announce Lucas Oil and it stops, but try to show people that we're going to play more than just once every 10 years. That's the best we could do now. Who knows what the landscape will be down the road? My hope is that someday, I hope we don't look back and say we lost something that started in 1946, because there are Purdue and Notre Dame folks who have been going to those games for years and tailgated. And you've had some great athletic contests with some great family relationships. And as we break some of this stuff apart and get bigger leagues, do you lose some of those relationships, and 10 or 15 years from now, does that hurt you?"

With Purdue having played Notre Dame 85 times, and with Michigan State having played the Irish 77 times, both schools are hoping that the answer to that question is a resounding no.

"There's going to be fewer games with Notre Dame because of the national landscape, and that's one of the unfortunate parts of conference expansion, is those nonconference games take secondary step," Hollis said. "But it's important to Michigan State that we continue to play on a national stage, so we'll have Notre Dame as much as we can have Notre Dame. They want as many games, we want as many games, it just all has to fit."

Big Ten lunch links

May, 16, 2014
Who else is ready to head to Natal?
  • Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis addresses the logistics of scheduling in the new era of college football, and he also is mindful of limiting the number of games at night.
  • Meanwhile at Michigan, Dave Brandon said there have been no talks with Notre Dame about putting them on the schedule after the series comes to a close this fall.
  • James Franklin's recruiting pitch at Penn State isn't limited to potential athletes, and he's not leaving any stone unturned to drum up support for his program.
  • The new turf is down and the numbers and lettering were being installed on Thursday, but there's still work to be done at the Horseshoe before Ohio State opens it up in September.
  • Rutgers coach Kyle Flood publicly addressed the Philip Nelson situation, calling it "tragic" and sending out prayers for the victim.
  • Now on his third position with Purdue, Dolapo Macarthy has found a comfortable spot at tight end and appears to figure significantly in Darrell Hazell's plans this fall.
  • Kirk Ferentz will keep on selling the NFL to Iowa recruits, and with only Ohio State having more players drafted in the Big Ten this decade, that's a good idea.
  • Minnesota coach Jerry Kill announced a partnership with the Epilepsy Foundation, starting the fundraising with a $100,000 donation of his own.
  • Ohio voters oppose allowing college athletes to form a union and also aren't in favor of paying them.
ROSEMONT, Ill. -- The SEC and ACC think eight is great, but the Big Ten has no plans to go back on its move to nine league games beginning in the 2016 season.

The Big Ten isn't ignoring the upcoming college football playoff and the potential paths to the field of four, but its reasoning for the move -- namely, to play one another more often in an expanded conference -- hasn't changed.

"Fans like Big Ten games," league commissioner Jim Delany said Wednesday. "If you look at Big Ten attendance around Big Ten games, it tends to be better than the average nonconference game. Also, the commissioners have been clear about strength of schedule and winning championships in conference as the tiebreakers in the college football playoff.

"That's an additional reason for us to do that."

But the move to nine league games doesn't mitigate the challenge of nonconference scheduling. In fact, the unbalanced home-road ratio, combined with a league-wide initiative to stop scheduling FCS opponents, has created new issues to navigate.

Several Big Ten athletic directors this week talked about a smaller inventory of nonleague opponents. This drives up the cost for Big Ten teams to schedule home games that aren't returned (guarantee games). Most Big Ten teams require seven home football games per year to meet budget demands.

"Where are the guarantees going to go as far as the demand and the supply of the opponents to come in and play you?" Michigan State AD Mark Hollis said. "You only have three nonconference [games]. You can have one home-and-home situation and then have to buy two games to get to your seven.

"If the net on those games becomes a level where the visiting team's making more than the home team, then you have to start looking at other options."

Hollis has been reluctant to explore neutral-site games, and while some Big Ten teams have them scheduled -- Wisconsin opens the next three seasons against SEC opponents at neutral sites -- most want to keep games on campus. The Big Ten is working with its schools on scheduling for the 2016, 2017, 2018 seasons and beyond. Hollis thinks more scheduling agreements will happen in the short term rather than games 10-15 years in advance.

One idea discussed this week at both ACC and Big Ten meetings is league members scheduling one another in games that don't count in the conference standings. Michigan and Minnesota considered scheduling a nonleague game in 2010, a season where the longtime rivals weren't on each other's slates.

Iowa and Penn State last season scheduled a nonleague wrestling meet and will continue to do when the teams don't match up on the Big Ten schedule.

"We put together our own parameters in terms of the cost," Iowa AD Gary Barta said, "so I could see some of that happening potentially in other sports."

Michigan State on Tuesday announced a home-and-home series with Arizona State, which Hollis called a "blessing" because of the quality of the opponent and the location. The Spartans play longtime rival Notre Dame in 2016 and 2017, and Hollis told local reporters that MSU and Notre Dame have a verbal agreement for a home-and-home series in 2026-27, as well as a possible neutral-site game in Chicago in 2023.

The SEC's and ACC's schedule decisions sparked strong reaction because the five major conferences, competing for four playoff spots, won't have a standardized schedule model. But Big Ten leaders don't seem concerned about the differences.

"I could conceive of somebody playing eight conference games and four very strong nonconference games, and having a stronger strength of schedule than somebody who played nine conference games and three weak nonconference games," Delany said. "So we've tried to address it with more conference games, one major game against an opponent from a group-of-five conference, and that we're not playing [FCS] teams."

Big Ten lunchtime links

April, 24, 2014
Spring games on the horizon at Michigan State, Rutgers and Iowa. Read all about it:
  • Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon and Michigan State’s Mark Hollis weigh in against the unionization of college athletes in advance of the Northwestern vote.
  • Big plans and expectations for Michigan State defensive end Demetrius Cooper. Quarterback Connor Cook goes No. 1 in the MSU draft, conducted by players, for the upcoming spring game. And walk-on receiver Matt Macksood has made an impact this spring.
  • The MihWolverines might need their defense to carry a big load.
  • Penn State has no official position on the return of a Joe Paterno statue to State College. But the school should take a stance on the former coach’s legacy, writes our Josh Moyer.
  • Kyle Flood plans to spend more time than in the past involved in the details during Rutgers’ spring game on Saturday. Meanwhile, running back Paul James continues to fight through injuries.
  • The Washington Post offers a favorable grade for Maryland football coaching salaries in comparison to the rest of its new league.
  • Big raises for Minnesota coordinators Tracy Claeys and Matt Limegrover.
  • Jake Rudock strengthens his hold on the starting quarterback job at Iowa.
  • Urban Meyer is not an advocate for spring football at Ohio high schools, but he’d like to young players receive an opportunity to spend more time with their coaches in the offseason.
  • The band 1984 Draft, its name inspired by a Nebraska fan, help keeps alive the memory of a historic period for the Huskers.

Big Ten lunchtime links

February, 27, 2014
Cold, cold, go away.
The Big Ten's combination of big stadiums, big fan bases and big tradition has historically made football attendance a rather small issue.

America's two largest football venues -- Michigan Stadium and Beaver Stadium -- sit on Big Ten campuses, and three of the seven football stadiums with six-figure capacities are in the league (Ohio Stadium is the other). Michigan has led the nation in college football attendance for the past 15 years, and the Big Ten occupied three of the top five spots and seven of the top 23 spots in attendance average for the 2013 season.

[+] EnlargeOhio Stadium
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesOhio State averaged 104,933 fans at its seven home games in 2013, which ranked No. 2 in that nation behind Michigan.
The Big Ten in 2013 set records for total attendance (6,127,526) and attendance for league games (3,414,448), and ranked second behind the SEC in average attendance per game (70,431), a slight increase from 2012.

So what's the B1G deal? Eight of the 12 league programs saw a decline in average attendance last season. Some have seen numbers drop for several years. Student-section attendance is a growing concern, and the Big Ten is tracking the troubling national attendance trends.

"We've been blessed because we haven't been hit with the significant drop-off that many other conferences and schools have experienced," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told ESPN.com. "However, we've seen it in certain games, or in not necessarily ticket sales but people actually coming to games.

"So we're concerned."

The league is taking a proactive approach, starting last season with the formation of a football game-day experience subcommittee, which Smith chairs. The committee in August announced that Big Ten schools would be allowed to show an unlimited number of replays on video boards at any speed. Schools previously could show one replay at no less than 75 percent of real-time speed.

The move drew positive reviews from fans and no major complaints from game officials.

"If people can see the replay at home on TV, you can't give them a lesser experience in the stands," Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said.

A "more robust" replay approach is on the way for 2014, and Big Ten leaders are looking at other ways to bolster the stadium experience, which, as Burke noted, seems to have reached a tipping point with the couch experience.

Here are some areas of focus:

Cellular and Wi-Fi Connections

In August, the subcommittee encouraged each Big Ten school to explore full Wi-Fi in stadiums as well as Distributed Antenna System (DAS) coverage to enhance cell-phone functionality. A fan base immersed in smartphones, social media and staying connected demands it.

"Everybody realizes improvements have to be made," said Kerry Kenny, the Big Ten's liaison to the game-day experience subcommittee. "People want to be updated on other games. They want to go in there and take photos or Instagram videos or tweet. They want to be able to stay in touch with family and friends that aren’t there but are watching."

Penn State installed Wi-Fi throughout Beaver Stadium in 2012 but is the only Big Ten school to have complete access. Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas said he hopes to have total Wi-Fi in the school's football stadium by the fall, if not the 2015 season. Nebraska's regents last month approved a $12.3 million Wi-Fi project for its stadium, and Wisconsin hopes to have full stadium Wi-Fi this season.

Most schools are focused on boosting cell service, which is more feasible and widespread. Ohio State installed more than 200 antennas in Ohio Stadium to improve cell service. For complete Wi-Fi, it would need about 1,200 antennas.

"We don't know what the cost is, but we know it's somewhere north of seven figures," Smith said. "We're studying it, as are my colleagues in the Big Ten."

Student attendance

Student sections aren't nearly as full as they used to be on Saturdays, both in the Big Ten and in the nation. ADs are well aware of the downturn and have tried different approaches to boost attendance.

Michigan in 2013 implemented a general admission policy, hoping to get more students to show up early, but reviews weren't favorable. Minnesota provided a new student tailgating area and better ticket packages. Illinois held a clinic for international students, who have told Thomas they'd come to games if they knew more about football.

The technology component resonates for students. Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told CBSsports.com that many students didn't show up for a 2012 game against Iowa because they couldn't send text messages in the rain.

Even if Ohio State doesn't install complete Wi-Fi at The Shoe, it could do so for the student section.

"Our surveys show that less than 25 percent of the crowd actually uses their cellular device [during games]," Smith said, "but of that 25 percent, a supermajority are students. You want to be able to provide that access."

In-Game Entertainment

Everybody realizes improvements have to be made. People want to be updated on other games. They want to go in there and take photos or Instagram videos or tweet. They want to be able to stay in touch with family and friends that aren't there but are watching.

Kerry Kenny, the Big Ten's liaison to the game-day experience subcommittee, on Wi-Fi in stadiums.
The days of public-address announcers listing scores from other games during timeouts are over. Schools want to give fans a broader view on Saturdays, whether it's putting live feeds of other games on video boards or replaying highlights shortly after they happen.

"I was at a game at Purdue this year," Kenny said, "and they showed a highlight of a touchdown in the Wisconsin-Iowa game within a couple minutes of that touchdown being scored."

Added Thomas: "If you're watching ESPN or watching a game at home, those are the kinds of experiences you should give people in your venue."

Big Ten athletic directors and football coaches last week discussed having more locker-room video or behind-the-scenes content that can be shown only within the stadium.

"You're in an era where people want to know what's it like before the game, after the game," Burke said. "It humanizes us if people see that side, the highs and the lows."

Burke likens Purdue's sideline to a "Hollywood production," as the band director, a disc jockey and a show producer coordinate in-game music on headsets. Several schools post tweets from fans at games on video boards to create a more interactive experience.

Ticketing and timing

Last month, Penn State became the latest Big Ten school to adopt variable ticket pricing for single games, acknowledging, "We have been listening to our fans." Attendance has dropped 11.2 percent from 2007 to 2012, while frustration has grown with the Seat Transfer and Equity Plan (STEP) program.

Big Ten schools are getting more creative with ticket plans in response to attendance concerns. Northwestern last season implemented a modified "Dutch auction" system where a portion of tickets were sold based on adjusted price demand rather than set prices.

Purdue last fall introduced mobile ticket delivery, which allows fans to download tickets directly to their devices.

Kickoff times are another attendance indicator, as Big Ten schools located in the central time zone often struggle to fill the stands for 11 a.m. games. The Big Ten gradually has increased its number of prime-time games, and while Burke considers mid-afternoon games ideal, more night kickoffs likely are on the way, including those in early November.

Ohio State is in the process of installing permanent lights at Ohio Stadium.

"I'm a big fan of evening games," Thomas said.

As attendance becomes a bigger issue, the Big Ten and its members have surveyed fans about what they want at games. Wisconsin last fall established a 25-member fan advisory council, with two students. The school has received feedback about concessions, parking and whether fans would prefer digital programs rather than the traditional magazine-style ones.

"So much of it is when somebody comes to your venue," said Justin Doherty, Wisconsin's associate athletic director for external relations, "they have an experience that makes them want to come back."
As the coach hiring season nears an end, we're examining the Big Ten coaching landscape and some recent trends. First, a closer look at the increased investments Big Ten schools are making in their football staffs to keep up with the national market.

Two days before Michigan State ended its best season in nearly a half-century with a Rose Bowl victory, Mark Hollis stood outside a Los Angeles conference room and described the dilemma he and other athletic directors face with football coaches' salaries.

"I get concerned sometimes about where we're going with coaches' salaries as an industry," Hollis said, "but at the same time, you need to ensure that continuity is in place."

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/ John BealeNew Penn State coach James Franklin will make about $1 million more than his predecessor Bill O'Brien.
Michigan State ensured continuity by making major financial commitments for coach Mark Dantonio and his assistants. Penn State, meanwhile, is paying new coach James Franklin about $1 million more than a coach (Bill O'Brien) it lost to the NFL. Michigan used its financial resources to attract an offensive coordinator (Doug Nussmeier) from national power Alabama.

The recent moves underscore a greater willingness throughout the deep-pocketed Big Ten to invest more in the men charged to coach its flagship sport, one that has struggled for the past decade. The Big Ten didn't set the market for soaring coaches' salaries, but after some initial reluctance, the league seems more willing to join it.

"When you see an institution like Penn State and Franklin, it says we're going to attract the best talent that we can and in order to do that, we have to step up financially to procure that person's services," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told ESPN.com. "I think that's great for our league. ... We need to have the best coaches, we need to retain the best coaches."

Ohio State in 2011 hired Urban Meyer for a salary of $4 million per year. At the time, the Big Ten had no coaches earning more than $4 million and only two making more than $3 million. Purdue was one of the few major-conference programs paying its coach (Danny Hope) less than $1 million. Bret Bielema cited the difficulty of retaining top assistants at Wisconsin as one reason he left for the Arkansas job in 2012.

The landscape has changed. Last year, both Meyer and Michigan's Brady Hoke made more than $4 million, while Iowa's Kirk Ferentz made just less ($3.985 million), according to USA Today. Franklin's deal at Penn State includes an annual salary of $4.25 million. Terms of Dantonio's new contract at Michigan State have yet to be announced, but it will put Dantonio, previously among the lowest-paid Big Ten coaches ($1.9 million), in the top salary tier. His staff also will receive nice pay bumps.

"I don't think we've been woefully behind," Smith said of the Big Ten. "We were not the first ones to drive the salaries up, but we weren't far behind in responding. Whenever we can attract someone who is really talented, we pay them."

They also must pay top assistants, many of whom command salaries well above those of head coaches from smaller leagues. The Big Ten, after lagging behind nationally in assistant coach pay, is catching up.

"The offensive and defensive coordinators, those decisions become critically important," Michigan AD Dave Brandon said. "You can have the greatest head coach in the world, but if you're not providing him with those leaders who can manage those smaller staffs ... it's hard to believe that the head coach is going to be successful."

There has been no Big Ten mandate to increase salaries, and athletic directors don't discuss financial specifics when they meet. These are institutional decisions, and Hollis, upon realizing Dantonio and his aides deserved an increase, first looked at what MSU could provide before surveying the Big Ten, the national college scene and the NFL.

Part of his challenge is verifying data, as some numbers, even those available through records requests, aren't always accurate.

"Every school pays individuals in different ways," Hollis said. "There can be longevity payments put in there, different bonuses."

Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner expected to make a strong financial push for O'Brien's successor but didn't know exactly where the numbers would fall. Among the metrics Joyner used was the potential attendance increase a new coach could bring.

Despite PSU's on-field success the past two years, average attendance at Beaver Stadium has dropped by about 5,000. An increase of 1,000 fans during the season, including parking and concessions, adds about $500,000 in revenue, Joyner said.

[+] EnlargeKevin Wilson
AJ Mast/Icon SMIIndiana has put more resources than ever before into coach Kevin Wilson and his staff.
"If you believe [the coach is] going to have a very positive effect on your fan base and on your program and on your ability to put bodies in the seats," he said, "it doesn't take a lot of seats to cause a return on that investment."

Indiana AD Fred Glass also wants to fill seats, but he's in a different financial ballpark from schools with massive stadiums like Penn State, despite competing in the same conference. Glass notes that while Michigan made $147.5 million in football revenue last year, Indiana made only about $4.5 million.

But it didn't stop IU from doubling its salary pool for assistant coaches when Kevin Wilson arrived, or awarding Wilson a seven-year contract worth $1.2 million annually, or increasing the number of full-time strength coaches devoted to football from two to five, the NCAA maximum.

"There's a reason IU traditionally hasn't been where we want to be in football," Glass said. "We haven't really made the investments in it. We haven't stuck with continuity. We haven't stayed with a staff over a long period of time. That's what we need.

"Kevin understands we're making resources available, but it's not a bottomless pit."

Glass' last point resonates in the Big Ten, which generates record revenues but also sponsors more sports, on average, than any other major conference. The league believes in broad-based programs, which makes it harder to sink money into football, despite the superior return.

"We are a college program versus just a football franchise, and I think our football coaches not only understand that but really embrace it," Hollis said. "I believe in the Big Ten, maybe more so than others -- I've had the opportunity to see East and West -- [coaches] feel that the athletic department is part of their family."

But they also have to take care of their own families, and their assistants. They know salaries are rising everywhere.

Big Ten athletic directors know this, too. To keep up, you have to pay up.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

November, 29, 2013
Hope you're stuffed from Thanksgiving. Be sure to follow us on Twitter for the final Saturday of the regular season.

To the inbox ...

Pat from Iowa writes: Who would you consider the biggest surprise team this year for good or for worse? Northwestern's down spiral, Minnesota's amazing year, or perhaps a great Iowa rebound year? Thoughts?

[+] EnlargeKain Colter
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesSince the loss to Ohio State it has been all downhill for Northwestern.
Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern's downturn definitely is the biggest surprise, especially considering where the Wildcats were on Oct. 5 (4-0, leading Ohio State in the fourth quarter, College GameDay on campus). I attended that game and also last week's home finale, where the stands were mostly empty and the team had been decimated by injuries and poor play. Northwestern returned its core from a 10-win team and won't make a bowl -- big surprise. Minnesota, while deserving a lot of credit, likely will win only two more regular-season games than it did last year. And Iowa couldn't have been much worse after the 2012 season, although the Hawkeyes have been a nice story.

Mike from Colorado Springs, Colo., writes: I appreciate your dissatisfaction with Ameer Abdullah not being a finalist for the Doak Walker Award. I think he is way underrated because of the season Nebraska is having. With all the injuries on offense, he has been the one guy they can count on. If you look at the stats he also has much fewer carries than Andre Williams and Ka'Deem Carey and they are Heisman candidates. Not to discredit what Williams has done because it is really special, but if Abdullah gets the carries he does I think the stats are pretty similar. Is Abdullah a Heisman candidate if Nebraska is more in the national picture? These other guys are and Arizona and Boston College are lower on the totem pole than Nebraska. What is hindering him from the national spotlight?

Adam Rittenberg: I thought Nebraska's relatively early exit from the national spotlight (the UCLA game) hurt Abdullah's national exposure a bit, but Arizona and Boston College aren't exactly challenging for league championships, either. So it's a bit puzzling. Abdullah's lack of touchdowns might play a role, and several of his signature plays -- like the fourth-down conversion against Northwestern before the Hail Mary -- haven't resulted in touchdowns. He has been the model of consistency and should be getting more attention, but it hasn't happened. Disappointing for sure.

Kyle from Dover, Del., writes: Adam, yes or no, does Jabrill Peppers stay committed to Michigan despite the absolutely terrible season we have had?Also, do you think Shane Morris will be ready to lead the Wolverines entering the 2014 season? God bless, go blue, happy holidays.

Adam Rittenberg: Same to you, Kyle. I fully expect Peppers to Go Blue come national signing day. Coach Brady Hoke isn't going anywhere, and neither is defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. Hoke's future never was in doubt at Michigan, but Peppers obviously got concerned about the coach keeping his job in 2014. Those concerns should go away. Peppers really seems all in for Michigan, and while recruits can always change their minds at the last minute, I wouldn't worry. As for Morris, I still think Devin Gardner is the Michigan quarterback in 2014. Gardner isn't the problem with that unit.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesMark Dantonio has made his feelings known about where his team belongs in the postseason.
JB from Scottsdale, Ariz., writes: Hey Adam,I know it sucks to be a MSU fan because of their bad luck getting into a BCS bowl, but all of this campaigning by Coach D is a joke. We can talk about this all we want, but the reality is if they lose the Big Ten championship game they can say hello to Orlando and the Capital One Bowl. Wisconsin should only have one loss on the season, and will be riding a seven-game winning streak. Also, the perception of a larger fan base means more money, they would go to the Orange Bowl. Most experts have Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl, and I can't see that changing. Even if MSU loses against OSU, but stays in the Top 14, Wisconsin would still be higher.

Adam Rittenberg: JB, you might be right, and Wisconsin might get an at-large berth ahead of Michigan State. But I think if the Spartans lose to Ohio State and stay in the top 14, they'll likely go ahead of Wisconsin. Maybe it's just a hunch, but Wisconsin has been to three consecutive Rose Bowls, while Michigan State hasn't been to BCS bowl during the BCS era and last went to a BCS-level bowl during the 1987 season (Rose). If the Spartans play Ohio State to the wire and lose, athletic director Mark Hollis and campaigning coach Mark Dantonio would have some good selling points. Your last point is really irrelevant as we constantly see teams ranked lower in the final BCS standings receive at-large berths. So if Michigan State remains in the top 14 -- remember, that was the issue in 2011, which no one mentions -- I think the Spartans could get an at-large spot ahead of Wisconsin.

Zach from Dallas writes: Adam, I'm going to ask you an impossible question to answer. If you had to pick one current Big Ten Player to build a defense around, who would it be? Ryan Shazier and Chris Borland are fantastic linebackers who put up big numbers. Darqueze Dennard is probably the best DB in the nation and cuts off half the field. Max Bullough is an extension of the coach on the field and can control a game by himself.

Adam Rittenberg: Zach, it is an extremely difficult question with no absolute right or wrong answer. There are so many great options in this league. But I've gone record before that Borland would be my starting point for putting together a defense. He's not only one of the smartest players I've ever covered, but he's the consummate playmaker, always around the ball and causing problems for the opponent. He has universal respect from opposing coaches and Gary Andersen, despite being with him for only one year, is calling him the best he has ever coached. So you can't go wrong here, but give me Borland.

Charles from Knoxville, Tenn., writes: Adam, if Auburn manages to do the unthinkable and beat Alabama this weekend, that should be enough to solidify OSU into a national title game slot. My question is do you think the B1G front office would put pressure on MSU to allow OSU a pass in the title game, to ensure OSU's shot at a national title?

Adam Rittenberg: Charles, while the Big Ten would love to see Ohio State reach the BCS title game, the thought it would tell another of its teams to tank in the championship game is absurd. Not only would it be highly unethical and unfair to Michigan State, but the Big Ten wouldn't want its showcase event -- the title game -- tarnished in any way. Plus, why would Michigan State listen? The Spartans are well aware of what happens to title game losers in the BCS picture, as they often miss the big bowls entirely. I also wouldn't be so certain Ohio State is safe if Auburn beats Alabama, as there would be significant pressure to have an SEC team in the title game.

Enrique from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Adam, please fix your Big Ten picks overall records! There are 48 non-conference games and 48 conference games to pick during the regular season (96 total). Right now you are both 74-14 for a total of 88 picks. With six games left to pick that would put you at only 94. You guys got off track a few weeks ago. You'll want to double check, but I think you're both at 76-14. And if you'd like a question for your mailbag: The disparity between the Leaders is greater than that of the Legends this year. With the alignment shift next year, which division do you think will have greater disparity between the best and worst?

Adam Rittenberg: Enrique, thanks to you and others for pointing out the error in our picks records. They've both been updated to 76-14. Math never was my strong suit, and I clearly didn't give Brian or I enough credit here. The general feeling is that the Big Ten East will be much stronger than the West, and that could happen if programs like Michigan State continue to surge. Wisconsin looks like the premier program in the West. It will be interesting to see if Nebraska, Iowa, Northwestern and Minnesota can rise up to match the Badgers in the coming years. But if Michigan and Penn State make some progress this offseason, it's easy to envision the East being stronger, perhaps much stronger.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

November, 8, 2013
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.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

October, 18, 2013
Wishing you a great weekend of football watching. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter, the best way to keep track on Saturdays.

To the inbox ...

Sumeet from San Francisco writes: Adam, what else, schedule questions. I have one, parity-based scheduling doesn't appear to be working as you may think, coming from a PSU fan. From 2014-2019 (a six-season stretch), PSU plays Nebraska once and Wisconsin once, both at Beaver Stadium. Really? This after we played both teams annually the past three years with some classic games? But we play Iowa four times in a row, and the other West teams multiple times over the six years. PSU-Nebraska especially had the makings of a budding rivalry, but now we won't see them until 2017, and Wisky in 2018. What gives?

Adam Rittenberg: Sumeet, it's unfortunate that the Lions and Huskers will meet so infrequently during that stretch, as both fan bases love that game on the schedule. It seems like the Big Ten has prioritized certain games over others with parity-based scheduling. Nebraska and Ohio State, for example, meet every year between 2016 and 2019, but Nebraska and Michigan meet just once between 2014 and 2019. Wisconsin and Michigan also meet every year between 2016-19, but the Badgers only play Penn State once during that span. The Big Ten is trying to create appealing matchups more often while also satisfying its principle to have teams meet at least once in a four-year span.

Penn State does seem to be put in the second tier when it comes to this approach, as the Lions aren't facing the marquee West division teams as often as you'd hope. I would point out, though that, Penn State-Iowa was a significant Big Ten matchup not long ago, and could be once again in the near future. It's not the same as facing Nebraska every year, but Penn State and Iowa had a nice rivalry going for a while.

Jackie from New York: It's no secret that Badger running backs have great respect for each other and pride in their performance as a unit. That said, is there any cause for concern that the unbelievable depth could hurt the Badgers in recruiting? You could argue that not just two, but all three of the Badgers' current backs are FBS starting caliber, even though the third, Corey Clement, is a true freshman. Melvin Gordon, leading candidate for B1G offensive player of the year is not even first on the depth chart. Heck, they even have J.J. Watt's little brother lining up back there at fullback! So, my question is, how do you keep convincing big-time recruits to come to Madison when they might have to spend years sharing carries?

Adam Rittenberg: I don't think you worry about it until it becomes a problem, Jackie. The beauty of Wisconsin's running back situation is that the players all buy in to the spirit of competition and don't simply look for a place where they can be The Guy without first earning it. Running backs coach Thomas Hammock fosters this atmosphere of constant competition, and he looks for guys who want to compete and not have things just handed to them. Look at Montee Ball. He was the third-stringer for most of 2010 and had to boost his game to a point where he could be a featured back. Could Wisconsin's way lead to a transfer eventually or a highly touted player going elsewhere? Sure. But Wisconsin has built such a strong reputation for producing elite running backs that the talent will continue to come to Madison. More important, the right types of players will show up -- those ready to compete.

Ian from Tacoma, Wash., writes: Adam, there was a recent question from another B1G fan in one of your chats that I found pretty absurd. Someone made a comment along the lines of "Do we want Ohio State in the championship game" with the assumption that Ohio State losing somehow damages the B1G's reputation. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Ohio State is the only B1G team to PLAY in the NC game, much less win it. Ohio State also has the most BCS wins and appearances of any school, and has more BCS wins than any other B1G teams have appearances. Big Ten fans can hate Ohio State all they want, but the Buckeyes have accomplished more in the BCS era than any other league school, and it's not even close.

Adam Rittenberg: You're absolutely right, Ian. Ohio State has been the Big Ten's only consistently elite team during the BCS era. It underscores the Big Ten's lack of depth at the top, which is a big reason it lags behind the SEC, a conference that has multiple teams that can challenge for national titles almost every year. As I said in the chat, the only way the Big Ten boosts its perception is to win a national title, and you can't win one without reaching that game. Ohio State still unfairly gets blamed for its title-game losses more than half a decade ago. But you have to wonder whether this Buckeyes team is ready to compete with an Alabama or an Oregon on Jan. 7. We could find out.

Bob from Iowa writes: My Hawkeyes are going into a very hostile environment this weekend at OSU. This team has me thinking about the Hawks' 2008 team. An improving team whose previous three years were very IOWA (mediocre). They entered the 2008 season with a bit of QB controversy (2008 Christiansen vs. Stanzi the Manzi). In 2008, they had a power running game on which they leaned on for the majority of the year. Now, that same year they beat the No. 3 team in the nation, Penn State. Understandable, it was in IC but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen again, right? They finished the year with an 8-4 record and they trounced South Carolina in the Gator Bowl (I believe). The following year they went to the Orange Bowl. Do you think these same results are possible again in our present timeline? What needs to go right?

Adam Rittenberg: Bob, I love the optimism, and I agree that this season could springboard Iowa to bigger and better things next season, much like the 2008 season did for the 2009 team. Iowa's 2014 schedule is much, much more favorable with no overly difficult road games (Pitt, Purdue, Maryland, Minnesota and Illinois) and no Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State or Penn State on the slate. If certain things fall right, the Hawkeyes will be in the mix for the West division title. Now can Iowa beat Ohio State on Saturday? I don't see it. This Hawkeyes team isn't as strong as the 2008 version, which lost some games it shouldn't have and ended the year playing as well as anyone in the Big Ten. There was a ton of NFL talent on that team, which I don't see with the current version. Iowa will need to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, commit no turnovers and gain a few takeaways to stay in Saturday's game. The Hawkeyes also need the edge in the kicking game. It's a tall task, but not an impossible one.

Alden from Chicago writes: I wish the B1G would leave the end-of-year games alone for the Spartans. I understand that the so-called rivalry with Penn State was squandered through the 90s and 00s. But now that we're going to be in the same division again, with MSU more competitive, why not reinstate it? What does MSU have to look forward to by playing Rutgers and Maryland? I feel like it's a major disadvantage in the rankings as well, would you agree? Is it Penn State that wants to end the year playing against the east coast? I say let the Knights and Terrapins play each other to end November.

Adam Rittenberg: Alden, it very well may work out that Michigan State plays Penn State to end the regular season in most years, but I don't see the problem with rotating that game with several opponents. Penn State has more rivalry potential with Rutgers and Maryland than Michigan State does, and the Big Ten wants to see where those games go over time. I don't understand your point about the game being a "major disadvantage" in the rankings. MSU still will play PSU every season in the division, in addition to both Michigan and Ohio State. The Spartans also typically will have a good crossover game (Nebraska, Northwestern, Wisconsin, etc.). Strength of schedule shouldn't be an issue for any team in the East division.

The plus of playing Rutgers and Maryland -- whenever it falls during the season -- is being able to showcase your product in new markets. Michigan State AD Mark Hollis has talked about the school's large alumni base on the east coast. Those folks will get to see the Spartans play in their backyard in late November. So will recruits that Michigan State targets in states like New Jersey and Maryland. I just can't get excited about the MSU-PSU series enough to make it an annual end-of-season rivalry.

John from San Antonio writes: After a promising start against nonconference creampuffs, it's fair to say that the Beckman rebuild has turned into a hopeless spiral of failure and depression. A five-win season would be a miracle and the next honest shot at a 6-6 season comes in 2107 with the return of Indiana, which is coincidentally when his contract runs out. But the problem is no coach could turn it around before then. So what's a fan to do? Pray for a merciful end to yet another hiring mistake and allow someone else to do no worse? Or fake joy at the "progress" of 4-8 seasons, concluded with a lethargic 2017 campaign for a 6-6 bowl appearance allowing Beckman to go out on a not-exactly-winning note?

Adam Rittenberg: Wow, John, tell me how you really feel. I don't think you should be doing backflips about the Illini this year, but you have to acknowledge the improvement taking place there, especially on offense. This is still a young team that could take some steps late this season into next season. The remaining schedule looks daunting, and three more wins seem unlikely, but you never know. You can't say the next "honest shot" at a 6-6 season comes only in 2017, and that no coach could turn things around before then. Illinois is going to the West division, which should be the easier side to navigate. The team is already starting to mature a bit, and quarterback transfer Wes Lunt becomes eligible next fall. If you don't believe Tim Beckman is the guy, that's fine. But to project that the next four years will bring no bowls or tangible progress is a defeatist approach. Let's see how the rest of this season plays out.

Christopher from Middleton, Wis., writes: Big Ten football's demise is a cyclical phenomenon and not a failure to recruit. Scandal and coaching turnover, not style of play, is the biggest problem. Penn State and Ohio State, possibly the two best programs in the Big Ten were hit with big penalties. Michigan mis-hired with Rich Rod, who by the way was a spread-offense guy. Michigan players left, disgusted with Rich Rod's behavior. It takes many more years than just the years they are penalized or the years the coach is active, for a program to be rebuilt. Programs that have been consistent with coaching and offensive styles have done well, Wisconsin and Northwestern are successful without ranking high in recruiting. Michigan has always been a top recruiter, but had turnover, controversy, and a change of football philosophy that disrupts a program for years. It is not the recruiting but scandal, coaching turnover and the change of football philosophy that calls for different player personnel that goes with coaching change that has hit the Big Ten. Years ago the Big Ten basketball conference was considered weak, and now it is the top conference. My question is, how is recruiting in basketball different than football other than number of players?

Adam Rittenberg: Some good points here, Christopher, especially about coaching continuity leading to success and the lack of it in the Big Ten in recent years. It's important for programs to build their identities around the coach and the systems they run. We saw Iowa win the Rose Bowl after the 2009 season with a coaching staff and schemes that had been the same for a long time. All that said, football recruiting is quite different from basketball recruiting. The numbers are a huge factor. One or two basketball recruits can transform a program, but a football team needs much more depth.

Also, the Midwest remains a prime spot for elite basketball recruits. Look at all of the players coming out of major cities like Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis and other Big Ten cities. It's not the same for football, as the numbers don't lie for where the players are coming from. The Big Ten's football downturn is related to all of these factors: lack of coaching continuity, scandals and recruiting all play roles.
When Michigan State fans saw "Go Blue" written in the sky above Spartan Stadium before last Saturday's game against Youngstown State, they presumed it was the work of Michigan fans with too much discretionary income.

I loved the response from Scott Westerman, the executive director of the MSU Alumni Association, who gave Michigan State the green light to respond. That is, he encouraged them to donate their green (money) to the Michigan Ovarian Cancer Alliance. More than $27,000 had been donated as of Thursday, according to MLive.com.

Well, we find out today that the skywriting didn't stem from some deep-pocketed Michigan fans. It was paid for by Michigan's athletic department. From MLive.com:
Suzanne Asbury-Oliver, who runs Oregon Aero SkyDancer skywriting with her husband Steve, said the Wolverines' athletic department hired her business to put Michigan slogans into the air above Ann Arbor then East Lansing on Saturday. ... Asbury-Oliver, who has been skywriting with her husband for 33 years, said it was the fourth time Michigan athletics has hired her business, but it was the first time U-M asked her to skywrite over East Lansing.

Michigan disputes that claim, as an athletic department official said that Oregon Aero SkyDancer had been directed to write messages in certain areas but not in specific targeted locations.

From the Detroit Free Press:
He said there were messages over Jackson and the Detroit area Saturday, in addition to Ann Arbor and East Lansing. "We hired the skywriters to canvas southeast Michigan with slogans and numbers prior to our game last Saturday," he said. "That's all we did. We didn't target locations."

Hmmm, who do you believe? Asbury-Oliver told MLive.com that she dealt with someone from Michigan's athletic department but declined to reveal who or how much she was paid. She said she had been instructed by that person "not to say how much it cost if I got questions about it."

Michigan certainly has ramped up its branding efforts under athletic director Dave Brandon, and has had similar pro-Michigan messages written in the sky above the Big House. That the "Go Blue" message just happened to appear above the stadium of Michigan's rival seems like more than just a coincidence, but who knows.

To Michigan's credit, it apologized to Michigan State's athletic department about the message, leading to this gem of a response from MSU athletic director Mark Hollis to the Free Press.

"There's no apology necessary," Hollis said today. "This is another whimsical episode in a great rivalry."

Whimsical episode! Love it.

Anyone else excited for Nov. 2?
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

The Big Ten is warming up to the idea of more night games, but one showcase matchup that remains in its traditional daytime slot is Michigan-Michigan State. Things likely won't change soon, at least not in Ann Arbor, as Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said Monday of a potential night game, "We don't think that's a good idea." Brandon's counterpart, Michigan State AD Mark Hollis, is more open to the possibility. Today's Take Two topic is: Should Michigan and Michigan State step under the lights together or maintain the status quo?

Take 1: Adam Rittenberg

Longtime Big Ten blog readers know where I stand on this topic. Night games are great and more night games are even better for a league that should be doing everything it can to modernize and enhance its national image. College football has evolved into a nighttime spectacle. The biggest games are under the lights, usually in the ESPN/ABC Saturday night window. Teams and leagues should be doing all they can to get their games into those time slots, where they appeal not just locally and regionally but nationally. The prime-time element has enhanced the past two Michigan-Notre Dame games, and Michigan State's matchups against Notre Dame have received added interest when played under the lights at Spartan Stadium. Putting Michigan-Michigan State at night, while challenging in some ways, has great upside for both programs and the Big Ten.

[+] EnlargeHoke-Dantonio
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsMichigan State's Mark Dantonio and Michigan's Brady Hoke are a part of what has become one of the Big Ten's most intriguing rivalries.
Some folks will hate this, but there's only one Big Ten matchup that can be played at any time slot and receive national attention. The Game between Michigan and Ohio State carries that prestige. While I certainly wouldn't oppose having The Game at night, it can stay in its noon ET slot or move to 3:30 p.m. ET and still move the needle. Michigan-Michigan State, meanwhile, isn't always must-see TV outside of the region, but putting the game at night undoubtedly would build buzz.

Michigan's Brandon argues that moving the MSU game to prime time would "give everybody all day long to gear up for it. Hosting that at Michigan Stadium, that's probably taking that a step further than it needs to go." From a logistical standpoint, it absolutely brings more headaches with crowd control. But Alabama and LSU play night games, too, and last I checked, they "gear up" in the SEC, too. The Bedlam game between in-state rivals Oklahoma and Oklahoma State typically takes place at night. Plenty of heated rivalries around college football -- Florida-Tennessee, Texas-Texas A&M, USC-Notre Dame, Pitt-West Virginia, UCLA-USC -- have given prime time a shot. This is more of a cultural issue in the Big Ten, and I see a shift starting to take place as teams literally see the light and the benefits of night games. Here's hoping we soon see Wolverines-Spartans in prime time.

Take 2: Brian Bennett

Would Michigan-Michigan State be great at night? Sure. Does it need to be at night? Nah. I understand Brandon's concerns to a degree. The schools are located so close together that many fans attempt to drive home after the game. Throw in some all-day tailgating, and you've got some potential problems.

For me, hate plays at any time of day. Play a rivalry game at 8 a.m., and those who are into it are going to be fired up. (I remember running into some Spartans fans two years ago in East Lansing who planned on waking up at 4 a.m. to start, uh, preparing for the noon start between the Spartans and the Wolverines). Holding the game at night would give the game more national exposure, but this rivalry ultimately resonates most in the state of Michigan.

And the battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy is growing more and more heated. For that, you can thank Michigan State's four-game win streak that was snapped last season in a thrilling comeback win by Michigan, the sustained success by Mark Dantonio and the arrival of Brady Hoke into the series. This isn't the most recognized rivalry in the Big Ten -- Ohio State and Michigan hold that designation by a large margin -- but it has been one of the most entertaining and intriguing on and off the field the past several years.

So if the two schools decide they want to play it at night, that would be great. If they play it at noon, 3:30 p.m. or 5 p.m. on a Tuesday, I'm still watching it. If the rest of the country isn't paying close attention, it's their loss.

A new era for Big Ten, Notre Dame

September, 25, 2012

Notre Dame just got finished dusting off three straight Big Ten teams, beating Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan in order. It was an impressive run but one that might not be possible again in the near future.

The Irish have notified Michigan that they are opting out of their games against the Wolverines from 2015 to 2017, the Associated Press first reported Tuesday. The two schools were already scheduled to take a hiatus in 2018-19. That means we won't see a Michigan-Notre Dame game for at least five straight years after 2014 and maybe longer, as nothing beyond that is guaranteed.

Michigan-Notre Dame
Matt Cashore/US PresswireNotre Dame has notified Michigan that it is exercising a three-year out in their series contract.
This is about more than just Michigan, though. This signals a new era in the Notre Dame-Big Ten relationship. Michigan State and Purdue both have cherished series against the Golden Domers that are no longer safe.

The Irish are clearly moving in a new direction. They recently joined the ACC in all sports but football while agreeing to play five football games per year against ACC teams. With Notre Dame wanting to keep Stanford, USC and Navy on the schedule and desiring to play in major recruiting areas, their need to face three Big Ten teams every year has diminished significantly.

For Michigan, it's a loss but not a crippling one. The Wolverines lose a regional rival, but playing Notre Dame doesn't carry nearly the cachet that it once did. Michigan fans don't live and die by this game like they do Ohio State. Fans will miss it, but they probably won't yearn for it.

In fact, they might not even notice if athletic director Dave Brandon replaces Notre Dame with high-profile games like this year's opener against Alabama. Michigan has already scheduled Pac-12 opponents Utah, Colorado and Oregon State for the near future. Brandon will have to scramble a bit to fill holes in the '15 and '16 schedules because many agreements are signed years in advance. Hopefully, though, the maize-and-blue use this opportunity to play marquee matchups, because that's what a program of this magnitude ought to do, especially with strength of schedule likely a large component of the forthcoming playoff structure. Brandon is a bold-enough thinker to recognize this.

The Spartans have a deal with Notre Dame that extends through 2031, although it's unknown what kind of out clauses the Irish have in that contract. Last week, Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told MLive.com, "Everything’s not up to them. What’s up to them is to make a request to alter the contract, and once they make that request, then it will be up to us on how we want to respond."

Hollis already has some big-time games on the future docket, including Oregon (2014 and 2015), Alabama (2016 and '17) and Miami ('20, '21). The Spartans played Boise State this year and will continue that series. They will play a strong schedule regardless, but the Notre Dame series has been good for them on the whole, especially when you consider that their top rival, Michigan, does not view them the same way.

Purdue is the team that should be really nervous here. The Boilermakers really value their in-state rivalry against Notre Dame and love the exposure it brings for a program that sometimes struggles to attract attention. You get the feeling athletic director Morgan Burke would schedule the Irish twice a year if he could.

But the Purdue series does little to benefit Notre Dame except that it is a very manageable road trip in odd years. It doesn't help Irish recruiting efforts or create much of a stir outside of northern Indiana. If Notre Dame truly wants to start being more of a coastal program, then there's little reason for it to play Purdue every year. While the Boilers will do everything they can to keep the series going, they shouldn't be surprised to see a Dear John letter from South Bend arriving in their mailbox soon.

Notre Dame didn't want to join the Big Ten, and the Big Ten would never have agreed to the kind of one-foot-in, one-foot-out arrangement the Irish made with the ACC. So both parties will move in different directions.

The Notre Dame games have been mostly beneficial for the conference, but in years when the Irish weren't that good, they dragged down the nonconference schedules. This year, they handed the Big Ten three losses. Today's news isn't necessarily No. 4.
On Tuesday, the second annual Michigan and Michigan State AD Challenge took place at the U-M Golf Course in Ann Arbor. Though MSU athletic director Mark Hollis and the Spartans beat Dave Brandon and the U-M staff in the tournament, it was a special day planned for the two rivals to spend some time together, what Hollis said represented "all that's good about college sports."

The tournament featured nine head-to-head matches. The lineup had athletic directors, golf coaches, radio announcers, faculty members and former student-athletes.

However, before the two athletic directors teed off they sat down with the media. Here is what they had to say.

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Our week-long series on college football coaches continues with a look at the best jobs in the country.

What makes a job great? Tradition, administrative/fan support, facilities, recruiting location, championship expectations, recent track record, college town and brand name all play key parts. Most Big Ten schools can be viewed as destination jobs for certain coaches, but only a select few are destination jobs for most coaches around the country.

In ranking the Big Ten's coaching jobs, I placed the most emphasis on the following four factors: tradition, facilities, recruiting location and recent track record. As a reminder, this isn't a ranking of Big Ten coaches, but of the jobs they occupy.

Here's the rundown ...

1. Ohio State: There's a reason Ohio State can go through a year like 2011 and then hire a coach like Urban Meyer. Most programs would have been in big trouble. From winning tradition to tremendous facilities to a location in the Big Ten's most fertile recruiting state, Ohio State has it all. It is one of the sport's best brands.

2. Michigan: No Big Ten program has greater long-term tradition than Michigan, and Brady Hoke and his assistants are showing just how dangerous the Wolverines can be on the recruiting trail. Recent facilities upgrades -- stadium, indoor practice facility -- have made Michigan an even better position and certainly a destination job for many coaches.

3. Penn State: Football is king at Penn State, and despite the recent scandal, this remains a very appealing job. Penn State has the facilities, the administrative support and good tradition on the field. While the school's location isn't ideal, Bill O'Brien's success on the recruiting trail amid the turmoil proves Penn State can still attract top talent.

4. Nebraska: The job isn't as attractive as it was during the glory years, but Nebraska still has first-class facilities, incredible administrative/fan support and a tradition of winning at the highest levels. The drawback is recruiting location, making Nebraska a tougher sell when the program isn't among the nation's elite.

5. Wisconsin: There's no way Wisconsin would be anywhere close to the top five before Barry Alvarez arrived in 1990. But Alvarez made Wisconsin relevant, and Bret Bielema has continued the success. Although Wisconsin is lacking in facilities (soon to be improved) and recruiting location, its recent track record has been exceptional, and Madison is an easy sell to prospects. The Wisconsin brand is very strong these days.

6. Michigan State: Mark Dantonio is showing just how good this job can be if occupied by the right man. The Michigan State job always has had appeal because of the program's tradition and recruiting location. The recent facilities upgrades (completed and ongoing) and stability in the athletic department (AD Mark Hollis) bump the job up a few notches.

7. Iowa: There are inherent challenges at Iowa, mainly a less than favorable recruiting location in a state that doesn't produce many high-level FBS prospects. The fan support is tremendous and Iowa has some tradition and a solid recent track record under Kirk Ferentz. Long overdue facilities upgrades enhance the appeal of the job.

8. Illinois: There are definite pluses, namely upgraded facilities and a location in a good state for football recruits. But Illinois still is known as a basketball school, and the program's most successful period came before World War II. Although the Illini have made some questionable coaching hires, the program's inconsistency raises questions about the quality of the job itself.

9. Purdue: It's a very close call between Purdue and Minnesota, but the Boilers get the nod. Purdue has a stronger recent track record, and while both programs face recruiting challenges, Purdue is more centrally located. Like Illinois, Purdue fights the "basketball school" stigma, although Joe Tiller made this a more appealing job with his successful tenure.

10. Minnesota: TCF Bank Stadium makes this a much more attractive job, as a head coach can sell on-campus football in a terrific facility. But Minnesota has some significant recruiting challenges, administrative support is so-so and the program's inability to win a Big Ten title since 1967 would give some coaching candidates some pause.

11. Northwestern: What used to be the worst job in major college sports is much better these days, and the team's historic run of success since 1995 boosts the job's appeal. But Northwestern still faces challenges with its lofty academic standards. It has the worst facilities and smallest crowds in the Big Ten, and the delay in announcing a major facilities upgrade raises questions about administrative support.

12. Indiana: The Hoosiers lack tradition and have very little recent success to boast about. IU's facilities are improved but not near the top of the Big Ten, and it isn't located in a great state for recruiting. The "basketball school" perception never looks more accurate than with Indiana, although the program lured one of the nation's top assistants, Kevin Wilson, to be its head coach in 2010.


Michigan C Cites Concussions In Decision To Quit
Joe Schad discusses how concussions and a concern over long-term health have helped Michigan center Jack Miller decide not to play football his senior year.