Michigan Wolverines: Pat Narduzzi

Our ultimate Big Ten road trip has made it to the final week of October. Time to get serious.

For those just joining in, we're each selecting one Big Ten game to attend each week during the 2014 season. We aren't tied down by a travel budget or nagging editors. If we want to attend a game -- depending on matchup, location, culinary offerings or any other factors -- we can go.

Here are the possibilities for Week 9:

Oct. 25

Maryland at Wisconsin
Michigan at Michigan State
Minnesota at Illinois
Ohio State at Penn State
Rutgers at Nebraska

Open date: Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue

Adam Rittenberg's pick: Ohio State at Penn State

Toughest choice so far. I really enjoy the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry, and the 2014 game features several great storylines, including two of the nation's top assistants, MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi and Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, matching wits. But I'm heading to Happy Valley for two reasons: Ohio State and the atmosphere.

The Buckeyes' schedule has offered few must-see opportunities, but going more than two months without seeing a top Big Ten title -- and potential College Football Playoff -- contender doesn't make much sense. Quarterback Braxton Miller could be in the Heisman Trophy mix, and Ohio State's defense is trying to course-correct. Speaking of the Buckeyes defense, new line coach Larry Johnson makes his return to Penn State, where he spent the past 18 seasons as an assistant. Penn State fans love Johnson, but it will be tough for them to see him wearing Ohio State colors.

And then there's the atmosphere. Beaver Stadium at night is one of the best settings in college football. Although the prime-time schedule hasn't been set, I'll go out on a small limb and plan to see Ohio State and Penn State under the lights during a whiteout. Haven't been to one of those since 2009, so count me in. Lions fans have two weeks to gear up for this one, and campus will be buzzing. The matchup features two talented quarterbacks in Miller and Penn State's Christian Hackenberg, and two of the league's most intriguing coaches in Urban Meyer and James Franklin, both of whom came to the Big Ten from the SEC.

I'll keep an eye on what happens in East Lansing, but I'm off to State College and not looking back.

Brian Bennett's pick: Michigan at Michigan State

This choice really comes down to East Lansing or State College, and if I end up at either place on Oct. 25, you won't find me complaining one bit. Both atmospheres should be silly good.

But while Ohio State-Penn State is sort of a rivalry, the Paul Bunyan game is a true old-fashioned hate fest, and that's why I want to be there. Michigan State has dominated this series of late and forced the Wolverines to adapt to its physical style. Michigan fans can't be too happy about going back to Spartan Stadium for a second straight season, but such is the quirk of the new schedules with the 14-team alignment.

Michigan hasn't scored more than 21 points in this game since 2007 and has managed just 32 points total in the past three years combined. So Devin Gardner & Co. have their work cut out for them against Narduzzi's defense. Nussmeier is trying to install a more physical, north-south running game this offseason, and never would that come in more handy than here. Don't forget this is still a division game, and there's no team Spartans fans love to beat than the maize and blue. It should be another intense installment of this rivalry, and I can't wait to see it.

Road trip itinerary

Week 1: Brian at Penn State-UCF (in Dublin, Ireland); Adam at Wisconsin-LSU (in Houston)
Week 2: Adam at Michigan-Notre Dame; Brian at Michigan State-Oregon
Week 3: Brian at Minnesota-TCU; Adam at Penn State-Rutgers
Week 4: Adam at Miami-Nebraska; Brian at Miami-Nebraska
Week 5: Brian at Cincinnati-Ohio State; Adam at Minnesota-Michigan
Week 6: Adam at Nebraska-Michigan State; Brian at Nebraska-Michigan State
Week 7: Brian at Penn State-Michigan; Adam at Northwestern-Minnesota
Week 8: Adam at Iowa-Maryland, Brian at Nebraska-Northwestern
We're going streaking! OK, not us (thankfully for you), but certain Big Ten teams have held the edge in rivalry games in recent years. We're taking a closer look at these games and whether things will change or remain the same in 2014.

After examining the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe, we'll stick with the Bunyan theme with Michigan-Michigan State, who play for this guy.

Series: First meeting in 1898. Michigan leads 68-33-5. The Wolverines hold a 35-24-2 edge when the Paul Bunyan Trophy is at stake (introduced in 1953).

Last meeting: Michigan State smashed Michigan 29-6 on Nov. 2, 2013, at Spartan Stadium in a game that wasn't as close as the score.

The streak: Although the teams have split the past two meetings, Michigan State has won five of the past six contests, including a team-record three straight at Spartan Stadium.

Next meeting: Oct. 25 at Spartan Stadium

The skinny: Last season's game epitomized the season for both teams. Michigan State's nationally ranked defense smothered Michigan, recording seven sacks and forcing eight punts. The Spartans exposed Michigan's offensive line and the Wolverines finished with minus-48 net rush yards, the lowest total in team history. MSU went on to win the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl, while Michigan finished 7-6. Michigan's offensive struggles in East Lansing suggested changes would be coming, and Brady Hoke replaced coordinator Al Borges with Doug Nussmeier after the season.

Nussmeier must get Michigan's offense on track, especially the power run game Hoke wants. The Wolverines return pieces at quarterback, tight end, running back and interior line but need replacements at the tackle and wide receiver spots. This will be the ultimate test for Michigan, as Michigan State, despite losing All-America cornerback Darqueze Dennard and several other standout defenders, should remain a top-10 or top-15 defense. The Spartans return quarterback Connor Cook and more skill players on offense than Michigan, but like the Wolverines, they have some holes to fill up front.

Because of the Big Ten's expansion and the schedule reset that goes with it, MSU will host Michigan in consecutive years for the first time in the history of the rivalry. The rivals are still in the same division, and the winner of this game should have a good chance to reach Indianapolis. Michigan last won in East Lansing in 2007, prompting Mike Hart's "little brother" comment and Mark Dantonio's "pride comes before the fall" retort.

The (very early) prediction: Dantonio's approach to the Michigan game mirrors that of his mentor, Jim Tressel, who went 9-1 against Michigan as Ohio State's coach. The Wolverines will be a better team and a more cohesive offense under Nussmeier, but I have a hard time picking against the Spartans at home with Cook back under center and Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi on the sideline.
The magical mystery tour known as the ultimate Big Ten road trip (2014 version) is underway. Brian has traded his Kentucky drawl for an Irish brogue after visiting Dublin for Penn State-UCF, while Adam no longer talks like a Yankee after trekking to Houston for Wisconsin-LSU.

It's now time for our Week 2 destinations. Remember, we're picking one game a week to attend based on matchup quality, location and other factors. Money is no issue, and neither are editors.

Week 2 offers a fairly appetizing slate of games, at least for East division teams.

Here's the schedule:

Sept. 6

Maryland at South Florida
Michigan at Notre Dame
Michigan State at Oregon
Virginia Tech at Ohio State
Akron at Penn State
Howard at Rutgers
Western Kentucky at Illinois
Ball State at Iowa
Middle Tennessee at Minnesota
McNeese State at Nebraska
Northern Illinois at Northwestern
Central Michigan at Purdue
Western Illinois at Wisconsin

Open week: Indiana

Brian Bennett's pick: Michigan State at Oregon

After visiting the Emerald Isle in Week 1, I'm going to be seeing a lot of green again in Week 2 with a trip out to Eugene. And I'll be racking up plenty of frequent flyer miles.

Truth is, I'd fly to the end of the earth to see this game in person. What an early-season treat this is, with the Spartans' ferocious defense going up against the Ducks' space-age offense (and uniforms). Both teams should be in the top 10 if not the top 5 coming into the game (they are Nos. 3 and 4 in Mark Schlabach's way-too-early Top 25). It's like staging the Rose Bowl in September.

The Spartans will have to rebuild on defense after losing stars Darqueze Dennard, Max Bullough, Denicos Allen, Isaiah Lewis and others. They'll need to be ready right away, because quarterback Marcus Mariota might well enter the season as one of the Heisman Trophy favorites, and Oregon's speed will be unlike most of what Michigan State sees in the Big Ten. But Spartans defensive boss Pat Narduzzi has shown he can reload on that side of the ball, and the offense should be prepared to hit the ground running with quarterback Connor Cook, running back Jeremy Langford and several other key members of last season's Rose Bowl champions returning.

Big Ten teams haven't traditionally fared well when traveling into Pac-12 territory, and Autzen Stadium figures to offer about as intimidating an environment as possible. But Mark Dantonio's program made a leap last season and wants to prove it can stay among the elite. There's no better chance to do so than on Sept. 6, and there's no place on earth I'd rather be that day.

Adam Rittenberg's pick: Michigan at Notre Dame

I double-majored in history (insert your nerd joke here), so while Michigan State-Oregon might be the sexier matchup and more appealing trip, I want to be there when Michigan and Notre Dame meet for the final time in the foreseeable future. The past three matchups have taken place at night in electric stadium environments, which just shows once again how unfortunate it is that this series going on hiatus. The 2014 matchup also kicks off in prime time, and after attending the last two Michigan-Notre Dame games, I'm making the drive to South Bend, probably with my guy Matt Fortuna riding shotgun.

Both teams really need a win after disappointing 2013 seasons, and both have more tests ahead as Michigan visits both Michigan State and Ohio State in Big Ten play, while Notre Dame enters its standard gauntlet with Stanford, Florida State, Arizona State, Louisville and USC. Quarterback play always is a storyline, as Michigan's Devin Gardner tries to repeat his brilliance against the Irish last season, while Notre Dame's Everett Golson returns to the rivalry after a year away from school. We saw a defensive struggle two years ago at Notre Dame Stadium, and an offensive shootout last year at the Big House.

You'll get zero complaints from me if I end up at raucous Autzen Stadium for green-on-green combat, but I'm among those who will really miss Michigan-Notre Dame every September, and this season's matchup will be the last for a while. I've always been a fan of Notre Dame Stadium for its old-school feel, and this is an old-school matchup. I guess I'm getting old.

Road trip itinerary

Week 1: Brian at Penn State-UCF (in Dublin, Ireland); Adam at Wisconsin-LSU (in Houston)

Big Ten Thursday chat wrap

January, 30, 2014
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Today's Big Ten chat got a little testy at times, but we all made it through. Thanks again for your questions and participation. If you missed out, check out the full transcript.

To the highlights:

SK from NJ: Rutgers fan here, wondering what we should expect from Philip Nelson?

Adam Ritenberg: He's a guy who came to Minnesota with a lot of attention, showed some decent mobility at times this season but wasn't accurate enough. He didn't have a great receiving corps by any means, but his accuracy numbers down the stretch were a bit troubling. I'm interested to see how he develops under new Rutgers OC Ralph Friedgen.

Marty from The Tundra: Hey Adam! I was just curious what your takes are on which school has the overall coaching advantage? Dantonio and staff at MSU? Urban Meyer's staff at OSU or even Franklin's at Penn State or something else?

Adam Rittenberg: Meyer is still the only Big Ten coach who has won a national title (two, in fact), so I give him the nod over Dantonio, who has certainly made up ground. Ohio State's overall staff gets an edge against MSU's, although the Spartans have the best assistant of the bunch in Pat Narduzzi. Franklin and his staff are excellent recruiters, but they need to show they can win against the best Big Ten teams before I put them in the Meyer/Dantonio category. Vanderbilt made historic strides under Franklin but beat up on the bottom of the SEC.

[+] EnlargePat Narduzzi
AP Photo/Al GoldisMichigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is too good and he will get his chance to be a head coach before long.
Glenn from FL: Are you surprised Narduzzi is still coaching at MSU? It seems a lot of guys can't wait to get a head coaching job. Is he not being offered or is he turning offers down? Or does he prefer being a coordinator? It is much easier than being the head coach.

Adam Rittenberg: He had an opportunity at Connecticut that wasn't very good, in my opinion, and chose to remain at MSU. He interviewed for the Louisville job, but Petrino always was the target there. He had a good shot at Cincinnati last year before Tuberville suddenly became available. So it's a matter of time, in my view. Pat is brutally honest and maybe not as polished as some head coaches, but he has matured in recent years and seems ready to lead a program. I'd be surprised if he's still coordinating MSU's defense in two years.

Armond from Toledo: Why is everyone excited about OSU's 2 defensive coaching staff hires? It seems like people are excited like we just hired the Seahawks' DC. Michigan's OC hire was something to be excited about. These two guys have me skeptical.

Adam Rittenberg: Expand on that thought, Armond. Why does Nussmeier excite you more than Johnson and Ash? Because he came from Alabama? A lot of coordinators could have success with Alabama's personnel. Larry Johnson has been an exceptional defensive line coach for more than a decade. Chris Ash is a rising star who specializes in defensive back play, where Ohio State struggled so much a year ago. Nussmeier is a good hire, too, but I don't understand your concern about Johnson and Ash.

Jim from Chicago: If the B1G ten doesn't end up with an undefeated team, chances they have a representative in the play off next year?

Adam Rittenberg: Jim, we addressed this a bit earlier. It all depends on what happens elsewhere, but I don't see too many 1-loss Big Ten teams making the playoff. Michigan State certainly could. Perhaps Ohio State or Wisconsin another team that racks up some impressive wins despite one setback. It would need to be a close loss, ideally early in the season, for a Big Ten team to overcome and still reach the playoff.

Thanks again for the questions. Let's do it again soon.
As the coach hiring season nears an end, we're examining the Big Ten coaching landscape and some recent trends. Today we take a look at the rising salaries for assistants and whether a $1 million coordinator is on the horizon in the league.

In the days leading up to the Discover Orange Bowl earlier this month, Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris received nearly as much attention as the head coaches in the game.

That was because of Morris' ties to Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and the high-powered Tigers offense he engineered. Plus, Morris was already being paid like a head coach.

In part because of Meyer's reported interest in hiring Morris in December 2011, Morris is the nation's highest-paid assistant coach at $1.3 million annually. But he's not alone in the $1 million coordinator club. LSU's John Chavis and Alabama's Kirby Smart also made more than seven figures as assistants in 2013, and Louisville recently lured defensive coordinator Todd Grantham away from Georgia with a five-year contract worth $1 million annually.

[+] EnlargeKyle Flood
Frank Victores/USA TODAY SportsAt incoming Big Ten program Rutgers, head coach Kyle Flood barely makes more than at least one Big Ten coordinator.
The Big Ten has yet to take the plunge and cross the $1 million mark for an assistant coach. But there's little doubt that the pay for top coordinators is on the rise, and so is the league's investment in them.

"I think it’s imminent," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told ESPN.com. "I don’t know when, but I think it’s imminent. Whether that's two years from now or four years from now, it’s highly possible you'll see that in our league."

Some are not that far away now. Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is the Big Ten's highest-paid assistant at $851,000 per year. The Wolverines recently hired Doug Nussmeier away from Alabama as their offensive coordinator, and while his salary hasn't been disclosed yet, athletic director Dave Brandon has said it won't exceed Mattison's. Nussmeier was making $681,500 at Alabama.

Those numbers are compiled through open records requests and public information. But Brandon told ESPN.com that because contracts often include things like performance and longevity bonuses and deferred payments, "under certain scenarios, we've got coordinators now who could make over $1 million [in 2014]."

The $1 million mark is an arbitrary one in many ways. Brandon does not see an issue with surpassing it.

"Coordinator positions are very important, and when you look at what they are being paid in the pro ranks and in other conferences, the market has taken those positions up," he said. "If you're going to make a big investment in your head coach, you’ve got to back that investment up with the people around him to really bring it all together."

The arms race in college sports used to center on facilities. But now that just about every campus has upgraded every building imaginable and the construction crews are running out of projects, pay for assistant coaches seems to be the new frontier.

Consider that in 2010, the highest-paid Big Ten assistant coach was Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, at just more than $475,000. The increased commitment can really be seen at Ohio State, where in 2008, the Buckeyes did not pay a single Jim Tressel assistant more than $275,000. Now, Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell makes $610,000 and offensive coordinator Tom Herman earns $555,000. The Buckeyes just hired Chris Ash away from Arkansas as their co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at a salary of $520,000, and they're paying new defensive line coach Larry Johnson $400,000.

"It’s crazy," Smith said. "Stakes are higher. The revenue’s gotten bigger. So you see those assistant coaches who are extremely talented being compensated consistent with their skills. It’s blown up. And I’m not so sure it’s going to slow down.

"It’s just market-driven. It's really not unlike any other industry. Any industry or large corporation is going to pay whatever the market is for their top CFO or top COO or whatever the top positions are that they're trying to fill on their executive team. A head football coach is a CEO. And his executive team is his assistants."

That's fine for rich programs such as Ohio State and Michigan. Or Nebraska, which paid offensive coordinator Tim Beck $700,000 last year. But can every Big Ten school afford to reward its assistants like captains of industry? Consider that Clemson's Morris made more in base pay in 2013 than two Big Ten head coaches (Minnesota's Jerry Kill and Indiana's Kevin Wilson). Incoming Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood makes only $9,000 more per year than Mattison.

"It’s challenging, especially for a program like Indiana, where we have a smaller stadium, we don’t fill it," Indiana athletic director Fred Glass told ESPN.com. "So it’s tough to compete."

"I guess one of the questions is, where does it level off?," Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner told ESPN.com. "It depends on the revenue structure. If the revenue goes up and the investment causes a return that’s worthwhile, maybe things do continue to escalate, and particularly at schools that are able to financially support their programs so that it’s not a burden on the general funds."

Then again, few investments can have a more direct impact on the actual football product than paying top dollar for a truly elite coordinator. Michigan State surely doesn't regret the $558,000 it paid to defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi last year; one could argue he would be underpaid even at $1 million.

It won't be long until a Big Ten assistant gets there.

"We’re going to see it," Smith said. "Especially at places like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State -- the big stadiums, so to speak. It’s going to end up being here at some point. "

Big Ten's lunch links

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
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Penn State must be cramming a century's worth of silly seasons into one. Welcome to the party.
  • The search for a coach at Penn State is overshadowing another important vacancy at the school, one that will have an impact that's more than just on the football field.
  • An evening flight back to town for Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner drew a crowd, but it didn't bring a resolution just yet for filling the void left by Bill O'Brien's departure.
  • Michigan started a busy day of its own on the coaching front by firing offensive coordinator Al Borges after the Wolverines finished No. 47 in scoring last season.
  • Brady Hoke capped the day by snatching away Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier just a few hours later to quickly move on from Borges.
  • Vonn Bell was given the chance to show his stuff in a meaningful game at the Discover Orange Bowl, and it confirmed how bright the Ohio State safety's future is with the program.
  • The possible hiring of Bobby Petrino at Louisville is another bullet dodged if Michigan State is going to hang on to defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who was once again a prime candidate for an attractive job.
  • The fake Bo Pelini speaks.
  • The projections of his draft stock aren't all that high, but Indiana receiver Cody Latimer felt he was ready for the next level and isn't looking back on his decision.
  • Maryland lost its second assistant since the regular season ended to a head-coaching job after wide receivers coach and ace recruiter Lee Hull left for Morgan State. The Terrapins currently have three vacancies on the staff as they prepare for their first season in the Big Ten.
  • Purdue will have a minor behind-the-scenes shakeup after assistant recruiting coordinator Kevin Maurice, credited by coach Darrell Hazell for his work in the transition a year ago, left for a job at North Dakota.

Big Ten lunch links

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6
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Sure, it'd be fun to actually cover a national title game, but it's not every year you get a day like this in Chicago. Yeah, I know you're jealous.

To the links ...

A look at the B1G assistant salaries

December, 12, 2013
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USA Today has released its annual database of assistant coach salaries throughout college football so let's see how the Big Ten aides stack up. Ten of the 12 Big Ten schools report coaches' salaries (Northwestern and Penn State do not).

Once again, Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison leads Big Ten assistants in pay at $851,400, which ranks fourth nationally behind million-dollar coordinators Chad Morris of Clemson, Kirby Smart of Alabama and John Chavis of LSU.

Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges is the only other Big Ten assistant in the top 10 nationally in total pay ($709,300). Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck ($700,000) is next, followed by Ohio State defensive coordinators Luke Fickell ($610,000) and Everett Withers ($585,000), Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi ($558,908) and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman ($555,000).

On the whole, the Big Ten has fewer assistants making top-20 salaries than the SEC. There's also a decent drop-off in salary after Herman, as no others make more than $500,000 (Wisconsin coordinators Dave Aranda and Andy Ludwig both make $480,000).

Here are the highest-paid assistants for the 10 Big Ten squads reporting salary:

Michigan: Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison ($851,400)
Nebraska: Offensive coordinator Tim Beck ($700,000)
Ohio State: Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell ($610,000)
Michigan State: Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi ($558,908)
Wisconsin: Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig ($480,000)
Purdue: Offensive coordinator John Shoop ($400,000)
Illinois: Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit and defensive coordinator Tim Banks ($400,000)
Indiana: Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell ($356,500)
Minnesota: Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys ($346,800)
Iowa: Defensive coordinator Phil Parker ($325,500)

Claeys clearly is the best value in the league, as he served as Minnesota's acting head coach during Jerry Kill's health-related absence and remained as the main sideline coach even after Kill returned to duty. Iowa's Parker, along with OC Greg Davis ($325,000) also earned their keep and then some as the Hawkeyes flipped their record from 4-8 to 8-4.

Some Michigan fans will scoff at Borges' salary after the Wolverines offense struggled for much of Big Ten play. Fickell, Shoop and Banks also directed units that had forgettable seasons.

One thing to keep in mind when some of these assistants are mentioned for head-coaching jobs is the pay cuts they'd likely take to lead teams in smaller conferences.

In terms of total staff pay, Ohio State leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth nationally at $3,474,504, trailing LSU, Alabama, Clemson, Texas and Auburn. Michigan comes in next at $3,072,000, which ranks 14th nationally.

Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas in part because he had lost so many assistants in his final two years in Madison. Bielema's staff at Arkansas ranks 10th nationally in total staff pay ($3,233,000), while Gary Andersen's staff at Wisconsin ranks 28th ($2,495,000)

Here are the Big Ten teams sorted by total staff pay:

Ohio State: $3,474,504
Michigan: $3,072,000
Nebraska: $2,648,500
Wisconsin: $2,495,000
Michigan State: $2,410,483
Iowa: $2,367,500
Minnesota: $2,152,350
Indiana: $2,074,780
Illinois: $2,066,400
Purdue: $2,010,000

We can have an endless about debate whether college football coaches make too much money in general, but these numbers remain problematic for the Big Ten in my view. Only two teams are truly paying top dollar for their staffs, and some groups are undervalued.

Michigan State's staff obviously jumps out after the Spartans just won the Big Ten championship. MSU co-offensive coordinators Dave Warner ($280,800) and Jim Bollman ($262,000) are among the lowest-paid coordinators in the league, as several position coaches make more than them. Athletic director Mark Hollis said last week that raises are coming for head coach Mark Dantonio and his assistants.

Minnesota's staff also deserves a nice bump after handling such a tough situation this season. I also wonder whether Iowa's coordinators get a raise, especially considering what head coach Kirk Ferentz makes.

Purdue's Marcus Freeman and Jafar Williams are the Big Ten's lowest-paid assistants at $120,000. Only one SEC assistant, Kentucky's Derrick Ansley, makes less than $140,000.

Big Ten's lunch links

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
12:00
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Where did all the football go?
  • Urban Meyer senses an improved mood for Ohio State as it turns the page to the Discover Orange Bowl, and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney had high praise for his upcoming opponent.
  • With another season in the books, the conversation at Penn State will shift to Bill O'Brien's future with the program, as likely suitors again line up for his services.
  • Taylor Lewan has no regrets about returning to Michigan for another season, and he doesn't believe his draft stock has changed since last year.
  • Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi spurned an offer to take over at UConn, and now his full attention is on getting the Spartans ready for a bowl game.
  • Early in the season, Nebraska was desperately searching for a field general on defense. It appears to have found one in middle linebacker Michael Rose.
  • After getting benched late in a loss to Penn State to end the regular season, Wisconsin tackle Tyler Marz is looking for redemption.
  • Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said Rutgers' transition into the league is going smoothly at every level.
  • Controversy won't be going away when college football shifts to a playoff, with Tom Osborne joking that the selection committee will succeed if it doesn't "get lynched."
  • Cody Webster is rubbing elbows with the nation's best football players, and the Purdue punter is thinking about asking to snap a picture with Johnny Manziel.
  • Silver Football candidate Braxton Miller had everything change for him when he was almost sent to the bench in October. Now he's on the brink of a historic accomplishment.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

December, 11, 2013
12/11/13
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The weather outside is frightful. But your emails are so delightful. Well, except for the guy who sent me repeated missives in all caps about how Braxton Miller should have been suspended for the Big Ten championship game. Dude, give it a rest.

Anyway, on to the mailbag:

Scott M. from Charlotte, N.C., writes: Will we ever know why Ohio State felt two carries were plenty for Carlos Hyde in the fourth quarter? The game turned in the third quarter because of the bruiser. Braxton Miller is the driver of the car but those two calls late in the game were just awful. How anyone can say I have third-and-three for the game and my 230 pound, 7-yards-a-rush running back will not touch the ball really needs to look at themselves in the mirror.

Brian Bennett: Should Carlos Hyde have gotten more than 18 carries against Michigan State? Probably. But don't forget that the Spartans defense specializes in loading the box and daring teams to throw deep. Plus, Miller was the more effective runner of the two most of the night and finished with more yards and yards per carry than Hyde.

The fourth quarter began with an Ohio State punt. Then Michigan State drove for a field goal. On Ohio State's first real possession of the fourth, Hyde ran for four yards on second-and-10, setting up a passing situation on third down. Miller then threw an incomplete pass. The series you're talking about started with 7:36 left. The Buckeyes had Miller run it on third and fourth down, and he was stuffed both times. Urban Meyer said it was his call to give the ball to Miller on fourth-and-2.

And it's hard to fault him for that. We're talking about the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year who ran for 142 yards vs. Michigan State. A running quarterback is one way to counter the Spartans defense. It didn't work out, mostly because Pat Narduzzi called the right blitz and Denicos Allen made a great play. After that, Michigan State scored a touchdown to go up by 10 points, and the the time to run the ball was over for Ohio State.

Bottom line is you have to be successful passing the ball to beat the Spartans. And Ohio State went 8-for-21 for 101 yards through the air.

Tommy B. from Savannah, Ga., writes: Brian, as a Buckeye fan it's crazy for me to think that after the 2011 6-7 disaster that I'd be so disappointed after the team would go 24-1 under Urban Meyer so far. I'd almost forgot what it felt like to lose on a Saturday (emphasis on almost, it felt terrible in case you were wondering). The problem has obviously been complete inconsistency with the defense. They have big name veteran stars with gaudy numbers and at times (including in the B1G title game) they've been dominant. But in the Michigan game and for some big game-changing plays against MSU they've had complete breakdowns. They have the talent to be better than they are. In your opinion, what's the problem? Fickell? Key injuries (Bryant)? Fickell? Youth in key positions? Fickell?

Brian Bennett: It's a good question. The place we thought Ohio State's defense might be vulnerable to start the year was up front because of all the youth there. Yet that was arguably the strength of the defense, with guys like Michael Bennett, Joey Bosa, Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington. The problem really seemed to be at the linebacker positions other than Ryan Shazier and at safety, especially when Christian Bryant got injured. Michigan State exposed the Buckeyes' safeties early on last Saturday.

It's kind of hard to believe that Ohio State would find itself so thin at linebacker. The Buckeyes recruited some highly-regarded defensive backs last year, but guys like Vonn Bell didn't have much of an impact this season. They're still young, so that's to be expected, but it was disappointing that some of the more veteran players didn't have great seasons (relatively speaking, because Ohio State did go 12-0).

The Buckeyes' defensive coaches all have strong track records, so I have a hard time believing it's simply a coaching issue. But Ohio State clearly needs to develop better depth in its back seven, especially if Shazier decides to leave for the NFL.

Randy from Waukesha, Wis., writes: I just learned that Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis won an award for the national best walk-on player-of the-year in CF! Did I miss your guys' article on this? If not please tell us more..... B1G can use all the kudos it can get, especially at this time of the year!

Brian Bennett: Yes, Abbrederis won the Burlsworth Trophy, which is award to the best player who started his career as a walk-on. We didn't write a post about it, mainly because there are seemingly thousands of college football awards now, but we did tweet it. Abbrederis was a slam-dunk choice for that award, and it's hard to believe he ever was a walk-on. He'll be on an NFL roster next fall.

King from Los Angeles writes: I agreed with you about the silliness of the coaches' poll. I am a Huskers fan and I do not believe we deserved a top 25 ranking even though Bo thinks so. I think they should change the way coaches vote by making a rule that you cannot vote for your own team. That could take away all the biases. What do you think?

Brian Bennett: That would only solve part of the problem, as there still would be inherent conflicts of interest involving teams in a coach's own conference, his opponents, friends, etc. The good news is it won't matter at all as part of the national championship provess next year, so the coaches can be as silly as they want to be. And given how little most coaches want to deal with the hassle, I'm not sure why there should even be a coaches' poll next year.

Greg from Lansing, Mich., writes: In giving conferences more power on selecting bowl match-ups should we just assume Ohio State/Michigan will always occupy the better bowl games? (If they aren't already in the play-off).

Brian Bennett: I can understand why there's a feeling in some quarters that Ohio State and Michigan get preferential treatment from the league office. But the truth is that the biggest brand-name schools already get preferential treatment from bowls. Is there any reason why Michigan at 7-5, should be in the Big Ten's No. 3 non-BCS bowl this year? Or why Ohio State went to the Gator at 6-6 in 2011? Only one: drawing power.

What the new system will basically do is allow the leagues more input on the process so as to avoid teams going to the same destination over and over again and to create better matchups. Had it been in place this year, however, I doubt we'd see Nebraska going back to Florida for a rematch with Georgia. Bowls are always going to want big-name teams as long as they are businesses. But better matchups and fresher destinations should help fans.

Greg from Atlanta writes: As an Iowa fan living in Georgia, I'm wondering how an 8-4 Georgia team gets ranked and an 8-4 Iowa team doesn't? Now, I'm not saying Iowa deserves a ranking, because 4 wins shouldn't get you in the top 25. But, Georgia lost to Vandy and needed double OT to beat Ga Tech. They also struggled with teams they should have throttled and fell far below expectations. Iowa played two teams tough that will both play in BCS bowls. Is this just more bias against the Big Ten? If so, will that bias ever go away?

Brian Bennett: I don't think this is a case of anti-Big Ten bias as much as it is probably pro-SEC sentiment. Iowa is a tough case and a team I debated putting in my final Top 25 for a while before ultimately deciding against it. Barely. The Hawkeyes' four losses are all highly respectable -- Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. But you shouldn't get credit for just losing to good teams. Iowa's best wins are over Minnesota, Michigan and Nebraska, with two of those on the road. Very solid, but not spectacular.

Georgia's in a similar boat in terms of "good" losses, including Clemson and Missouri. The Dawgs also lost on the road to Auburn thanks to a miracle play at the end. They have also beaten South Carolina and LSU, two wins better than anything Iowa can claim, and the team was decimated by injuries this season.

I think the Hawkeyes are good, and they have some nice momentum after winning their final three games. That's why I'm really looking forward to seeing how they play against LSU. Iowa definitely ends the season in the Top 25 with a win over the Tigers in the Outback. And given the wide-open nature of next year's West Division, at least on paper, Iowa could emerge as one of the preseason favorites in that division in 2014.

Big Ten lunch links

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
12:00
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The only way college football could be better is if people had stronger opinions about it.
  • Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell was a little defensive about his unit, but everybody involved knows the effort will have to be better in the Big Ten title game.
  • The other defensive coordinator in the championship matchup, Michigan State's Pat Narduzzi, is trying to come up with answers for Ohio State's prolific scoring machine.
  • The combination of two teams unbeaten in the conference finally gives the Big Ten a big showcase in its marquee game, writes Tom Dienhart.
  • Change is coming for Penn State, which appears to be shaking up its coaching staff and will be in the market for two new assistants this offseason.
  • Devin Gardner was clearly struggling at the end of his gritty performance on Saturday against Ohio State, and Michigan coach Brady Hoke revealed the injury was "turf toe."
  • Nebraska coach Bo Pelini was publicly reprimanded and fined $10,000 for his comments about the officiating after the loss on Friday against Iowa.
  • Purdue isn't going to deviate from its plan to rebuild the program, though it clearly isn't happy with an 11-loss season.
  • Illinois confirmed that Tim Beckman will return for another season on the sidelines. He'll have a decision to make about defensive coordinator Tim Banks.
  • The final home game of the year brought a season-high for Wisconsin, as a fan checked in with a blood-alcohol content sample of .322 and six people were taken to a detox facility.
  • An in-depth look at a meeting and the circumstances that led to Kirk Ferentz taking over at Iowa and Bob Stoops heading to Oklahoma.

Big Ten chat wrap: Nov. 7

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
6:00
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My first chat of November is in the books. Did you miss it? Check out the full transcript here.

Some highlights:

DJ from Mlps: When reading bowl projections, one thing that always seems to come up is Minnesota having a bad reputation for traveling fan support. In fairness, Minnesota hasn't played on New Year's Day in over 50 years and I believe that Minnesotans would flood any warm destination to a Bowl Game of more prominence. We had the largest fan support in our run to the NCAA Final Four in 1997 (since taken off the books). Can Minnesota get past this reputation issue? Hoping for a Gator Bowl bid if we can knock off Penn St. this weekend!

Adam Rittenberg: DJ, some good points here. Ultimately, it's Norwood Teague's job to sell Minnesota to the bowl reps. I've had multiple bowl people tell me Minnesota travels worse than any fan base in the Big Ten, but part of that could be apathy about the bowls the Gophers have made. There's certainly some enthusiasm around the program right now, and a New Year's Day bowl would only enhance that. I don't think you can compare a Final Four to, say, a Gator Bowl appearance, but Minnesota will have opportunities to sell why it should go to a good bowl.




Matthew from Winston Salem: If you had to pick one coordinator from the B1G to be head coach of your team, who would you pick and why?

Adam Rittenberg: I'd go with MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, and not just because I like him personally and would love to cover his teams. Narduzzi would instill the type of defense that could take a bad or middling program to the next level. Recruits would want to play for him, especially on defense. Narduzzi also has matured a little and should handle the head-coaching spotlight better than he would have a few years ago. I also think Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is a future head coach, but Narduzzi is further along in his career.




Mike from Texas: Does Urban win coach of the year? Or is OSU just ineligible for the award?

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, I'm going to write this soon, but if Ohio State runs the table again, Urban absolutely should win the award. It shouldn't just go to a first-year coach or one who improves a middling team. We haven't seen a Big Ten team go undefeated in back-to-back years for a very long time. It's absurd that an Ohio State coach can't seem to win the award, but that should end this year if the Buckeyes win out.




Steven from Madison, Wis.: If the coaching hires were reversed for Purdue and Wisconsin, how do you see this season shaping up for each team? (i.e. is Wisconsin doing better because of better players in the system, or is Anderson a better coach?)

Adam Rittenberg: Interesting question, Steven. Gary Andersen certainly deserves credit for Wisconsin's success, and for keeping the team on track after the Arizona State debacle. But let's be honest here. Andersen inherited a great situation in Madison, one you almost never see for a new coach. Wisconsin has 25 seniors, a defensive superstar in Chris Borland, two exceptional running backs and other standouts. Hazell stepped into a much shakier situation at Purdue. Does that absolve him of blame for a team that might be the worst in recent Big Ten history? No. But the situations are very different and the coach can only do so much.




Mike from Detroit: Rich Rod struggled his first year at UM and the excuse was that Lloyd Carr left the cupboard bare. Rich Rod's teams gradually got better when "his" recruits arrived. Brady Hoke went 11-2 with seemingly all of Rich Rod's recruits. Now UM seems to be getting gradually worse on the field as more of Brady Hoke's recruits come in and Rich Rod's graduate or leave. Does that not seem like there may be a coaching issue at Schembechler Hall?

Adam Rittenberg: There could be, Mike, but let's keep in mind that Hoke is still on track to win more games this season than Rodriguez ever did at Michigan. He has opportunities still to beat some of the Big Ten's better teams, which Rodriguez never did. Is his tenure a failure so far? By his own standards, yes. But three years isn't enough time, especially when the recruiting seemingly has been so strong. Like I said before, if we're still sitting here in 2015 and Michigan isn't winning the Big Ten, a change may be in order.

Thanks again for the questions. Let's do it again next week.

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 10

November, 4, 2013
11/04/13
9:00
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We have true separation in the Big Ten, and not just with Ohio State at the No. 1 spot. Although the Buckeyes remain the league's kingpin, both Wisconsin and Michigan State also belong in the Big Ten's upper crust.

The big debate in these rankings concerns the No. 2 spot, which Wisconsin has occupied for several weeks. The Badgers handled Iowa on the road and delivered a salty defensive performance even without superstar linebacker Chris Borland. Michigan State smothered Michigan, complementing a dominant defense with timely passes from Connor Cook. Both teams have won at Iowa and at Illinois. Michigan State has the best win between the bunch but has played the easier schedule.

For now, we're keeping Wisconsin at No. 2. We realize we're in the minority there, but Wisconsin hasn't done much to move down since the Northwestern game. It's too bad the Badgers and Spartans can't play this season to decide the second spot.

Elsewhere, Nebraska avoids another drop thanks to its Hail Mary against sad-sack Northwestern. We debated whether to move Minnesota higher, and we will if the Gophers keep winning. Iowa falls down a few spots, and the bottom of the rankings remains unchanged.

Here's one last look at the Week 9 rankings.

Now, the new rundown ...

1. Ohio State (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten; last week: 1): Ross-Ade Stadium is no longer a graveyard for the Buckeyes, who buried Purdue in a matter of minutes Saturday. Ohio State scored 28 first-quarter points and 42 in the first half, as the tight ends got involved, quarterbacks Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton both had jump-pass touchdowns and the defense blanked Purdue. Whether style points matter, Ohio State is finally getting them. The Buckeyes are off this week before visiting Illinois on Nov. 16.

2. Wisconsin (6-2, 4-1; last week: 2): The offense struggled and top defender Borland watched from the sideline with a hamstring injury, but Wisconsin found a way to beat Iowa. Marcus Trotter was fabulous filling in for Borland, as the Badgers' defense repeatedly turned Iowa away in plus territory. Running back James White came alive late as Wisconsin pulled away. The Badgers will need a stronger performance this week as they step out of league play against a good BYU squad.

3. Michigan State (8-1, 5-0; last week: 3): Not only did the Spartans reclaim their superiority against in-state rival Michigan, but they looked like a worthy competitor for Ohio State in a potential Big Ten championship game matchup. If Nebraska falls this week at Michigan, MSU would have a two-game lead on the rest of the division with three weeks to go. An elite defense had its best performance under Pat Narduzzi, as end Shilique Calhoun and linebackers Denicos Allen and Ed Davis combined for seven sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Cook made some impressive throws as the Spartans pounded Michigan. They'll have some extra time to celebrate during an open week before visiting Nebraska on Nov. 16.

4. Nebraska (6-2, 3-1; last week: 7): One play makes all the difference between another Power Rankings drop for Big Red and a three-spot gain. Nebraska had defensive problems early and turnover problems late against Northwestern, but the Huskers never gave up and won a game on a Hail Mary to Jordan Westerkamp for the first time in team history. Credit running back Ameer Abdullah for keeping a potentially splintering team together. The young defense also shut down Northwestern's offense in the second half. Nebraska must beat Michigan on the road this week to stay in the Legends Division race.

5. Michigan (6-2, 2-2; last week: 4): That Notre Dame win feels like years ago as Michigan's warts were exposed in Saturday's loss at Michigan State. The Wolverines are either too young or simply not tough enough, as they were pushed around the field at Spartan Stadium. Michigan had a program-low rushing total (minus-48 yards) and couldn't protect quarterback Devin Gardner. The program's Big Ten championship drought almost certainly will reach nine years, and it's fair to question where things are really headed under third-year coach Brady Hoke. At least Michigan returns home, where it has never lost under Hoke, to face Nebraska this week.

6. Minnesota (7-2, 3-2; last week: 6): The Minnesota mojo continues, thanks in large part to an inexcusable crunch-time blunder by Indiana. Minnesota blew a 22-point third-quarter lead but rallied behind Philip Nelson, who established himself as the team's offensive leader with 298 pass yards and four touchdowns. It was a rough second half for the defense, but linebacker Aaron Hill came up with the decisive play late as the Gophers got out of Bloomington with their third consecutive league win. Minnesota is a factor in the Legends Division race but must keep winning this week against Penn State.

7. Iowa (5-4, 2-3; last week: 5): Sure, the Hawkeyes are improved this season, but some of the same maddening offensive traits remain, like being unable to finish drives. Iowa should have been up at halftime rather than down 7-6 to Wisconsin, and although quarterback Jake Rudock's injury impacted the game, the Hawkeyes' second-half struggles on offense are nothing new. The defense is good enough to get Iowa a few more wins, but can the offense start scoring? Iowa visits Purdue this week.

8. Penn State (5-3, 2-2; last week: 8): It isn't always pretty with Penn State, but the Lions don't quit, especially on their home field. Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg once again rallied his team from a late deficit and stepped up in overtime as Penn State avoided what would have been a bad loss to Illinois. Bill Belton established himself as the team's top running back with 201 yards and a touchdown. The defense remains far too vulnerable to big passing plays. Penn State will need to be better on both sides of the ball this week as it visits surging Minnesota.

9. Indiana (3-5, 1-3; last week: 9): Coach Kevin Wilson's crew doesn't quit, but the Hoosiers still don't know how to win. They were 9 yards away from completing a huge second-half comeback against Minnesota and moving a step closer to bowl eligibility. At worst, they were in position to send the game to overtime. Instead, everything fell apart on a dropped backward pass to Tevin Coleman, who had a big game (108 rush yards, TD). The quarterback race took another turn with Nate Sudfeld outplaying Tre Roberson, and the defense had a wildly inconsistent performance. Indiana hosts Illinois this week but will need a road win at Ohio State or Wisconsin to become bowl eligible.

10. Northwestern (4-5, 0-5; last week: 10): The former Cardiac Cats are only giving their fans heartache at this point as they've forgotten how to perform in the clutch. Northwestern had another golden opportunity for a road win, but let it slip away when it couldn't finish off Nebraska on either side of the ball, leading to the Hail Mary touchdown to Jordan Westerkamp. Injuries continue to mount in a snakebitten season for the Wildcats, who likely won't make a bowl. Northwestern has an off week to regroup before hosting Michigan on Nov. 16.

11. Illinois (3-5, 0-4; last week: 11): The Big Ten losing streak has reached 18 games, and arguably no defeat stung more than Saturday's at Penn State. Illinois wasted opportunities early, took the lead late and still couldn't hold on for a victory. Tim Beckman's team performed better than expected and can take some positives from its performance in Happy Valley, but there's still too much inconsistency on both sides of the ball, as the defense allowed 250 rush yards. Illinois visits Indiana this week.

12. Purdue (1-7, 0-4; last week: 12): The misery continues for Darrell Hazell's crew, which is on its way to its worst season since 1993 (1-10) and might be one of the worst squads in recent Big Ten memory. Young quarterback Danny Etling had another rough outing as Purdue never challenged Ohio State and had no answers for the Buckeyes' offense. Purdue has been shut out in consecutive games and has scored just 17 points in four Big Ten contests. The remaining schedule is a little more favorable, but Purdue has to show something positive by season's end.

Big Ten lunchtime links

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
12:00
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Boo!
  • Dual-threat quarterbacks have had some success against the Michigan State defense. So, might Michigan have an answer for the Spartans with Devin Gardner taking the snaps on Saturday?
  • The gigs haven't all been glamorous for Pat Narduzzi, but all the experiences for the Michigan State defensive coordinator are building to the moment when he runs his own program.
  • Wisconsin running back James White has only been knocked out of one game in his career, and he's got some unfinished business to handle this weekend at Iowa.
  • The Iowa defensive ends might not fit the traditional mold, but their approach is working just fine up front for a hard-nosed unit.
  • Nebraska is continuing to search for answers at linebacker, with the ability to bounce back being put to the test in the middle of the defense.
  • Northwestern has righted its ship before with a momentum-swinging road win against the Huskers, and it's leaning on that memory from two years ago as it tries to stop its slide this weekend.
  • Penn State is trying to figure out exactly what has gone wrong on defense lately, and simplifying the approach is the first step in working to get it corrected.
  • Preparing for an offensive "juggernaut," Jerry Kill wanted defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys to have more time to focus on Indiana than worrying about head-coaching responsibilities.
  • Illinois senior receiver Ryan Lankford's career is over after undergoing surgery on his injured shoulder, but he's still aiming to have an impact on the sideline for the final month of the regular season.
  • Bradley Roby wiped the slate clean after a rocky first half of the season, and the fresh start clearly paid off for the Ohio State cornerback last week in an outstanding effort against Penn State.

Big Ten lunchtime links

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
12:00
PM ET
I assume I'm an alternate for the selection committee.
  • Braxton Miller had a couple things to work on during the bye week, starting with getting his knee fully healthy and shoring up his ball security as the Ohio State quarterback prepared for Iowa.
  • The thrilling win Christian Hackenberg helped Penn State pull off last weekend might be an early chapter in his book, but it's one that won't be skimmed over down the line.
  • Iowa offensive lineman Andrew Donnal, born a fan of the Buckeyes, has had to do some redecorating in the family home and is looking to make a successful return to the Horseshoe.
  • Just like his mother, Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi can still see room for his elite defense to improve.
  • Michigan is designing mismatches for Devin Funchess in a new wide receiver/tight end hybrid role, and it has paid off with three touchdowns in the last two weeks.
  • Nebraska picked up a couple of impressive wins between its bye weeks, and suddenly things are starting to look more optimistic for its beleaguered defense.
  • After struggling to find much consistency on the ground over the last couple of games, Minnesota is expecting a bit more breathing room for its rushing attack against Northwestern.
  • The Illinois secondary is largely coming up empty in the interception department, and the defensive line isn't generating many sacks. Both units rank last in the country in those statistical categories and are trying to climb out of the cellar.
  • Now 60 years in the past, Purdue's memorable upset of top-ranked Michigan State still remains clear in the minds of a few who witnessed it.
  • Wisconsin right tackle Rob Havenstein can pop in film of his play last season for reminders of how far he has come as a blocker. The next step is becoming a "dominant force."

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Brian Bennett discusses the outlook for the Michigan Wolverines' football program in 2014.Tags: Michigan Wolverines, Braxton MIller, Brian Bennett, Devin Gardner
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