Nebraska Cornhuskers: Kirk Ferentz

Big Ten's lunch links

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
12:00
PM ET
RIP, Princess Lacey.
This is the end, our friends. The last stop on our ultimate Big Ten road trip for 2014.

For those just joining us, we're each selecting one Big Ten game to attend each week during the forthcoming season. This almost assuredly isn't our actual schedule because of travel budgets or editors' decisions. But we can and did pretend with this fantasy itinerary, and it was a lot of fun.

Let's close it out with the Week 14 options:


Nov. 28-29

Illinois at Northwestern
Nebraska at Iowa
Michigan at Ohio State
Michigan State at Penn State
Minnesota at Wisconsin
Purdue at Indiana
Rutgers at Maryland

Adam Rittenberg's pick: Michigan at Ohio State

This wasn't a slam-dunk choice as there are potentially good options in Iowa City, Madison and State College. But after attending last year's 42-41 thriller in Ann Arbor, I'm not passing up another edition of The Game. The rivalry has become much more interesting since Brady Hoke came to Michigan. He beat Ohio State in his first year and nearly pulled off a significant upset in last year's contest, where defense was most certainly optional. It's a big year for Hoke, whose wins total has declined from 11 to eight to seven, and while he's not on the hot seat now, he could be on Nov. 29. A Michigan win at Ohio Stadium for the first time since 2000 would be a major boost for the Wolverines and their coach.

Braxton Miller will try to prevent it in his final home game for the Buckeyes. Miller has been productive in his first three games against Michigan, especially on the ground with 301 rush yards and four touchdowns. The quarterback could be closing in on an unprecedented third Big Ten offensive player of the year award, and possibly the Heisman Trophy, but OSU will need a stronger defensive performance, especially in the secondary, after allowing Devin Gardner to go nuts last season. Gardner will be aiming for a signature win.

The Ohio State-Michigan matchup in the Big Ten title game never came to fruition, but the teams could be competing for a spot in Indy, and maybe more in 2014. No better place for me to end this road trip than The Shoe.

Brian Bennett's pick: Nebraska at Iowa

I strongly considered The Game, which is always a great choice. But since we'll both be in Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game, that would mean five straight weeks in the same city as Rittenberg. I'm afraid we'd start bickering like an old married couple.

So instead, I'll spend a second straight weekend in Iowa City, this time on Black Friday. Maybe I'll just stay there for the full seven days, crash on Kirk Ferentz's couch. The Heroes Game hasn't really reached liftoff as a must-watch rivalry yet, but the Hawkeyes' upset win in Lincoln last year added some ignition fluid to the series. Perhaps the West Division title will be on the line here, which would really start to make this rivalry combustible.

Iowa's 2014 season could well be made or broken by its final two games as it hosts Wisconsin and these Huskers at Kinnick. Nebraska limped into last year's meeting while dealing with an assortment of injuries and couldn't deal with the Hawkeyes' senior linebacker trio of James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens. This time around, the Huskers could have a dominant defense if its young linebackers like Michael Rose, David Santos and Josh Banderas continue to develop over the course of the season. It will also be Ameer Abdullah's final regular season game, and I'd expect him to leave everything on the field, which he always does.

My ultimate road trip began in Ireland, and it ends with me spending Thanksgiving in Iowa. Sounds just about perfect.

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
Week 9: Brian at Michigan-Michigan State; Adam at Ohio State-Penn State
Week 10: Adam at Northwestern-Iowa; Brian at Wisconsin-Rutgers
Week 11: Brian and Adam at Ohio State-Michigan State
Week 12: Adam and Brian at Nebraska-Wisconsin
Week 13: Brian and Adam at Wisconsin-Iowa

 
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 choices for Week 8:

Oct. 18

Iowa at Maryland
Michigan State at Indiana
Nebraska at Northwestern
Purdue at Minnesota
Rutgers at Ohio State

Open date: Illinois, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin

Brian Bennett's pick: Nebraska at Northwestern

Making this pick means I will have seen Nebraska three times in five weeks, which wasn't really my intention going in. But it would also be my first Northwestern game of the year and my first-ever visit to Ryan Field. And in a potentially pretty weak slate of games, I'm grabbing the matchup that has produced three memorable contests in the past three seasons.

We had the Wildcats' surprise win in Lincoln in 2011, followed by the magical Taylor Martinez-led Huskers comeback in 2012, capped off by the Ron Kellogg III -Jordan Westerkamp Hail Mary miracle last year. Maybe it's that both schools go by the initials NU, or maybe it's because both are so unpredictable at the end of games. Whatever the reason, they usually end up creating something special.

That could be the case again this year. Don't sleep on Northwestern, which is bound to have better luck and health than it did during the miserable 2013 season. The Wildcats' offense has given Nebraska problems in the past. While we could likely see another sea of Big Red in the stands, it's still a tough road game for the Huskers and a potentially pivotal contest in the West Division race. Plus, Ameer Abdullah and Venric Mark will be on the same field, and there's nothing wrong with that. I'll even look for the Rittenberg statue in Evanston.

Adam Rittenberg's pick: Iowa at Maryland

The statue is nestled between two of the town's finest dumpsters. It's a favorite spot for inebriated students or townsfolk who can't make it to the bathroom. You'll love it.

Damn you, double-bye! Another October with very few must-see matchups. Brian is right about the entertainment value that Northwestern and Nebraska bring when they match up. I could regret my decision, but I'm looking to rack up a few more airline points and check out two teams I've yet to see, including a Big Ten newcomer in Maryland.

Most expect Maryland to struggle in its new league, particularly in the East Division, but I see some reasons for optimism with the Terps. They return a veteran quarterback in C.J. Brown, a talented receiving corps highlighted by Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, and some solid pieces on defense like end Andre Monroe. If Maryland can stay healthy -- a big if after the past two seasons -- it could surprise some people. Iowa made significant strides last season and will set its sights on the West Division title. The Hawkeyes return running back Mark Weisman, tackle Brandon Scherff and most of their offense, along with a much-improved defensive line. They also have arguably the softest schedule in the division.

Iowa easily could come into this game with a perfect record, raising the stakes for Kirk Ferentz's crew. Maryland has a much tougher slate and must play well at home to get back to the postseason. I covered a game at Byrd Stadium a decade ago, so it's a good time to go back and check out the scene. Having quite a few friends who live in Washington D.C. makes the decision easier. I'll be sure to rub Testudo's nose and ask for good luck in the predictions race. You cleaned me out last year.

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
We've been saying a lot that the new Big Ten West Division looks like a wide open race. Is there a favorite in the bunch?

We want to hear from you which team should be looked at as the 2014 frontrunner in the league's wild, wild West. Since our polls only accommodate five possible answers, we're leaving out Illinois and Purdue for now. I think everyone can live with that.

SportsNation

Who should be the 2014 Big Ten West Division favorite?

  •  
    18%
  •  
    5%
  •  
    39%
  •  
    3%
  •  
    35%

Discuss (Total votes: 10,549)

The other five contenders, in alphabetical order:
  • Iowa: The Hawkeyes won eight games a year ago and bring back the core of their offense, plus several key players on D. The schedule, however, might be Iowa's biggest strength in 2014. Kirk Ferentz's team doesn't play Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State or Michigan and gets Wisconsin and Nebraska at home.
  • Minnesota: A long shot? Maybe. But the Gophers won eight games in '13 and did so with a pretty young team. They lost some valuable defensive stars in Ra'Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen, but almost everybody else is back and the passing game can only get better. Jerry Kill's team does have a tough schedule, however, drawing Ohio State and Michigan as crossovers and facing road games at Nebraska and Wisconsin.
  • Nebraska: The Huskers are a lock for nine wins under Bo Pelini every year and have a promising young defensive front seven on which to build. If Tommy Armstrong or another young quarterback takes a step forward, the offense should be pretty good. Nebraska does have to play on the road against Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State, however.
  • Northwestern: The Wildcats disappointed last year but are just two seasons removed from a 10-win campaign, and several of last year's losses were ridiculously close calls. Even a smidgen of better luck and health could help Pat Fitzgerald's club rebound in a big way, and they miss Ohio State and Michigan State from the East.
  • Wisconsin: You've got to love the schedule after the opener vs. LSU in Houston. The Badgers get Maryland and Rutgers as their cross-division opponents, and their toughest road games on paper are Iowa and Northwestern. Still Gary Andersen's team must replace a lot of valuable seniors and fix an ailing passing game.

It wouldn't be a shock to see any of these five teams win the division. But which one is most likely to play in Indianapolis? Vote now in our poll.

Big Ten Monday mailbag

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
4:00
PM ET
I had a good time covering Arch Madness this past weekend. My astute, professional opinion: Wichita State is really, really good.

But the hoops moonlighting is over. Back to football -- and more of your emails ...

Luke from Lincoln, Neb., writes: What's your take on Jamal Turner getting reps at QB? I know he has gotten reps in previous years but less significant reps. Will anything come of it, or is it just some spring experiment?

Brian Bennett: First of all, I commend Bo Pelini for giving us media types something interesting to write/blog/debate so early in spring practice. So bravo on that. I suspect this is mostly an experimental thing. Turner is a senior, so he doesn't need a ton of spring reps at QB. But it also gives Nebraska some options, especially in some potential Wildcat alignments. Tommy Armstrong Jr. is not the runner that Taylor Martinez was, at least not yet in his career, and Ameer Abdullah gets enough carries. Turner could bring a speed element to the quarterback spot, a place where the Huskers have no experience behind Armstrong as is. If nothing else, it gives Nebraska's early-season opponents something to think about as they game plan this spring and summer.

 




Kevin from Rock Island, Ill., writes: To me, it seems the Illinois QB race will come down to Wes Lunt and Aaron Bailey. If Lunt wins the job (as many expect), does Bailey stay at QB for limited sets, and as a backup, or do they use his athleticism to help fill a position of need at WR? Lunt has had injury issues in his past (why he lost his job at OSU), but Illinois is desperately in need of more playmakers.

Brian Bennett: While I understand why Illinois' coaches want to term this as an open competition, I'd frankly be very surprised if anyone other than Lunt is the team's starting quarterback. His skill set just seems to fit Bill Cubit's offense perfectly. Bailey is an interesting case. He's too good of an athlete for the Illini to keep him off the field, and Reilly O'Toole is a serviceable backup. I think receiver is a natural potential landing spot for Bailey, especially given the team's need there. But prepping him now at quarterback is still a good idea, especially with Lunt's injury history.

 




@HawkFlies via Twitter writes: Any chance there is a QB controversy in Iowa City this spring?

Brian Bennett: I doubt it. Kirk Ferentz said he will let C.J. Beathard compete with Jake Rudock for the job, and there's no question that Iowa needs better play in general from the quarterback position. But as Ferentz also said on signing day, "C.J. still has some catching up to do. Jake has really accelerated." I find it hard to believe that Ferentz will make a switch after Rudock started all 13 games last fall, unless Beathard makes great strides this spring or Rudock really falters. And given that the Hawkeyes play things pretty close to the vest, I doubt we'll see or hear much this spring that would actually lead to any sort of controversy.

 




Jeff from Whitewater, Wis., writes: In your opinion, is Wisconsin a possible darkhorse to make a BCS bowl? Outside of the LSU game, the toughest games the Badgers will have are at Iowa, at Northwestern and then home against Nebraska. If the receivers can be somewhat productive and secondary can eliminate some of their lapses, I think they can run away with the West.

Brian Bennett: The Badgers are a real long shot to make a BCS bowl this fall since BCS bowls no longer exist. What you probably mean is a contract bowl. Time to adjust our college football vocabulary. Really, the goal now has to be the College Football Playoff, though realistically Wisconsin would probably have to beat LSU and then run the table or maybe lose just once to make the four-team event (and remember for this coming season, the Rose Bowl is a national semifinal). The playoff committee will also choose teams for the other four major bowls. But I get your point. Gary Andersen's team has a great schedule in 2014, though some lingering questions about the passing game and the defense must be answered. I could easily see Wisconsin winning nine or 10 games with that schedule, and the Badgers are a major West Division threat.

 




John from Brighton, Mich., writes: I've had this argument with a friend several times. It regards the outlook of the conference over the next 10 years or so. I think projecting forward, Michigan State has overtaken Michigan as a program, and the top of the conference is going to be a battle between the Spartans and Ohio State for the next decade. Am I misguided in my view, and do you think that Michigan is going to be "back" to what it was?

Brian Bennett: Trying to project a decade in advance might make for fun arguments with your friends, but it's nearly impossible to forecast with any level of accuracy or confidence. Boom and bust cycles are just too short. Look at where Florida State and Texas were just a few shorts years ago compared to now. Michigan State is clearly riding high right now and is in better shape than Michigan. As long as Mark Hollis and Mark Dantonio are around, I expect the Spartans to remain a major factor. But will that be the case in 10 years? Who knows? Michigan has resources that only a few programs can match. Eventually that sleeping giant will come to life, whether it's under Brady Hoke or someone else. At least I think so.

 




Corey from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Speaking as a Spartan fan, I can't say UofM switching to a 3-4 is all that scary. My thinking is that they don't have the bodies to put three 300-pound linemen on the field together. Hoke and his staff have recruited for running a base 4-3 and have to stick with it. Mixing in the 3-4 is a nice change of pace possibly, but running it as their base doesn't seem like the answer to me. I'm more interested to see if more Big Ten teams don't start copying Pat Narduzzi's aggressive 4-3 zone schemes, especially since Urban Meyer is coming out and saying he wants to be more aggressive. What do you guys see happening in the near future?

Brian Bennett: Some teams have borrowed bits and pieces from the Spartans' defensive scheme, but for as successful as Narduzzi has been with it, you'd expect even more copycatting. Part of the reason is that most coaches and defensive coordinators don't have the stomach (or the personnel, for that matter) for playing as much man-to-man pass coverage as Michigan State does. As Narduzzi told me in late November, "People know what we’re doing, but they don’t know how we do it. We’re the only team in the country that does zone pressure like this. There’s a risk to it if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Defenses in the Big Ten need to be big enough up front to take on the power run game but also have enough speed to counter the proliferating spread offenses. Whether that comes out of a 4-3 or 3-4 isn't really as important as having great athletes, a consistent philosophy and experience within the system. One of the overlooked aspects of Michigan State's success was how so many guys had learned and practiced just one position in the same system for years and years. It's often not so simple as changing a scheme and expecting a quick fix.
The month of March arrived in Lincoln, Neb., with sub-zero temps, snow showers and no word from Nebraska on a contract extension for Bo Pelini.

The forecast calls for a warm-up. Nebraska weather, though, is always hard to figure; same goes for the football program of late.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsWill Bo Pelini's contract become an issue at Nebraska?
Since New Year’s Day, the Huskers have been on a nice run. Starting with a win over Georgia, Pelini has scored well with recruits and fans alike. The sixth-year coach has shown a sense of humor and an open-minded attitude toward social media and the press. He plans to let reporters watch practices this spring, quite a departure from the Bo status quo.

But March is the time in any new year to set aside talk and look for progress in the actions of those who matter most.

Pelini, as scheduled in the contract he signed in 2011, received a $100,000 bump in salary on Saturday to $3.075 million, among the top-20 coaches nationally.

He did not -- at least not yet -- get an extension similar to the one-year deals awarded by former athletic director Tom Osborne after the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

An extension may still be in the works. Athletic director Shawn Eichorst was set to complete a review of Pelini’s performance in February.

But for now, the coach is operating on a four-year contract. In and of itself, that’s no big deal. The conditions under which he works are far from averse.

Earlier this offseason, Eichorst awarded raises to just two of Nebraska’s eight assistant coaches. Again, in a vacuum, it’s not much of a headline.

Like Pelini, they’re paid well, each earning at least $200,000 annually, and let’s face it, the Huskers aren’t exactly a well-oiled machine.

Eichorst goes out of his way to say next to nothing in public about Pelini. The second-year AD issued a statement of support after the regular season as speculation ran wild about the coach’s job status. Since then, all has remained quiet from Eichorst’s office.

That’s his way. It works for him.

Put everything together, and perhaps it means little. Still, an undercurrent of sentiment exists that Eichorst does not back Pelini with the full support required for this football program to best work in harmony and achieve the goals that its administration and coaches, no doubt, share.

Pelini, for his part, is saying all the right things. He told the Omaha World-Herald last week that Eichorst has been “very supportive.”

“His style is to give people room,” Pelini told World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel. “He doesn’t want to micromanage.

“Everybody’s got to do it their own way. You can’t judge that. You have to respect it. There’s no one way to do it. There’s no one way to manage. Shawn didn’t come in here trying to be Coach Osborne, just like I didn’t come in here trying to be [Frank] Solich or Pete Carroll.”

Eichorst’s actions speak louder than Pelini’s words.

Sure, Bo can coach and recruit just fine with four years on his contract. But if full support exists from the administration, why not keep him at five?

Really, if he’s not extended, it’s more about power than money. No matter the circumstances, the cost of business is high in the Big Ten, where coaching salaries are outpaced only by the Southeastern Conference.

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio recently signed an extension that keeps him under contract for six years. Minnesota coach Jerry Kill was extended through the 2018 season. Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz is signed through 2020.

Spring football starts on Saturday at Nebraska. Big news, as always, around here.

Old habits die hard, I know, but let’s try, for once, not to read too much into the little dramas.

Otherwise, football is no different than the weather in Nebraska: Cold one day, hot the next, with no idea from where the next storm is coming.
Next week, we'll take a deeper dive into college football attendance and some of the challenges surfacing both nationally and in the Big Ten. Today, it's time to check out the official NCAA attendance figures for the 2013 season.

The Big Ten reached several attendance milestones in 2013:

  • The league drew 6,061,514 fans, breaking its previous conference record of 6,008,124, set during the 2011 season
  • The 48 Big Ten games drew 3,414,448 fans, breaking the mark of 3,408,963 set in 2011
  • The Big Ten championship game between Michigan State and Ohio State drew 66,002, the largest crowd in the game's three-year existence
The Big Ten ranked second behind the SEC in average attendance by conference (70,451), an increase of 391 from 2012. The SEC averaged 75,674 fans last season, while there is a significant drop-off after the Big Ten. The top two spots in average attendance are occupied by Big Ten schools (Michigan, Ohio State), and two others place in the top 10 (Penn State and Nebraska). Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa all finished in the top 25 nationally.

Although the Big Ten had an overall average increase, eight of the 12 programs saw decreases in average last season.

Here's a look at the school-by-school attendance averages (and how they changed from 2012) ...

Illinois: 43,787 (decrease of 1,777)
Indiana: 44,353 (decrease of 449)
Iowa: 67,125 (decrease of 3,349)
Michigan: 111,592 (decrease of 660)
Michigan State: 72,328 (decrease of 3,054)
Minnesota: 47,797 (increase of 1,160)
Nebraska: 90,933 (increase of 5,416)
Northwestern: 39,307 (increase of 3,610)
Ohio State: 104,933 (decrease of 397)
Penn State: 96,857 (decrease of 143)
Purdue: 48,953 (increase of 5,365)
Wisconsin: 78,911 (decrease of 1,095)

[+] EnlargeBeaver Stadium
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsPenn State averaged 96,587 fans at its seven home games in 2013, good for fifth-best in the country.
Number of 2013 home games: 8 (Indiana, Nebraska); 7 (Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin)

Notes/observations

  • There are some important factors to remember when reviewing these numbers, such as stadium renovations -- Nebraska completed one before last season -- number of home games and the quality of the opponents on each team's home schedule. It's interesting to see teams that saw improvement on the field, such as Iowa and Michigan State, had declines in attendance, while Purdue had an increase despite a 1-11 campaign. Iowa didn't have a sellout for the first time in coach Kirk Ferentz's tenure.
  • The buzz about new Purdue coach Darrell Hazell and an attractive home schedule (Notre Dame, Nebraska, Ohio State) played a role in the rise, although Purdue's crowds became smaller as the season progressed. Purdue had seen attendance decline for five consecutive seasons before 2013.
  • Nebraska had the biggest attendance increase among Big Ten teams from the previous season and ranked No. 13 nationally. Purdue was 14th and Northwestern was 19th.
  • Incoming Big Ten member Maryland had an average increase of 5,256 fans in 2013, putting its attendance average at 41,278. Incoming league member Rutgers averaged 46,549 fans in 2013, a decrease of 2,639 from the previous year.
  • Minnesota returned to the national rankings in November and ended a four-year stretch of declining attendance with an increase in 2013.
  • Attendance continues to be a concern for Illinois, which has seen its average drop every year since 2008. Although the Illini doubled their wins total from two to four in 2013, their attendance is hovering around the 2006 total (43,445), when the team went 2-10.
  • In terms of total attendance (home, road and neutral-site games), Ohio State led the Big Ten and ranked second nationally (1,191,436 in 14 games), followed by Michigan (1,174,360 in 13 games). Nebraska ranked fifth nationally (1,096,097 in 13 games), while Penn State (1,011,515 in 12 games), Michigan State (994,069 in 14 games) and Wisconsin (951,252 in 13 games) all ranked in the top 20.
  • It will be interesting to see how the excitement around new Penn State coach James Franklin, and the recently implemented variable pricing model for single-game tickets, impacts attendance in 2014. Penn State's home schedule isn't overly attractive, although both Ohio State and Michigan State visit Beaver Stadium.

We'll have more on what the teams and the league are doing to improve attendance and the game-day experience next week.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
4:30
PM ET
Signing day is over and spring ball is a few weeks away. Enjoy a quiet weekend.

To the inbox ...

Matt from Omaha writes: Hey Adam, I liked the article "How did B1G's top 2010 recruits pan out?" and, as a Husker fan, decided to look back at some of our recruits to see which names still stood out. In my opinion, it appears that JUCO players seem to be least likely to become a bust when they come to college. Since recruiting isn't an exact science, do you think that it might be easier to evaluate JUCO players, or is my perception of the situation skewed do to the likes of Lavonte David, SJB, and Randy Gregory rolling into Lincoln in recent years?

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, Nebraska certainly has had a very nice run of jucos in recent years. There certainly are a number of juco busts, but you're right that it's often easier to assess those players because they're more physically mature and, in some cases, would have gone right to FBS programs out of high school if not for other reasons (academics, etc). There are risks to taking junior college players, as some have red flags in their background, but Nebraska has seen the rewards of bringing in players like David and Gregory.

[+] EnlargeShane Morris
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesIs Shane Morris ready to take over as Michigan's starting QB?
Mark from Cincinnati writes: No one would listen when I said, post bowl, that Shane Morris would be the man in '14 for Michigan. NOW---that the debate is out there, I hope to get your opinion. Morris is a future 1st round pick when his days at U of M are over. Devin Gardner will NEVER be an N.F.L Q.B. He will be an offensive weapon. Why would we not make this move now, when D.G can give us another target for Shane? Not like he's new to the position.

Adam Rittenberg: Mark, you're not the first person to mention the possibility of Gardner moving back to wide receiver, which certainly is a position of need for Michigan after losing Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo. I just don't know if I'm buying Morris as much as you are -- not yet, at least. He did a decent job in the bowl game but operated with a limited playbook filled mostly with short, high-percentage passes. I'd like to see him stretch the field more and create big plays when protection breaks down. Keep in mind that Gardner had some huge performance for Michigan last year, and he operated behind a terrible offensive line. If the line doesn't improve -- Doug Nussmeier's scheme could help out the group -- it's asking a lot from a young player like Morris to run the show on his own.

Dan from Lewes, Del., writes: Nobody's done more with less as far as having great recruits in the past than Kirk Ferentz. But as a Hawks fan, I can't help but wonder with the amount of players they've put into the NFL (an extremely high amount compared to the success of the program), why don't more highly ranked recruits want to go there? Would being Alabama or Florida State's 3rd or 4th receiver really be better in the long run? What's the deal?

Adam Rittenberg: Dan, Iowa definitely sells its NFL tradition, but it's not as if programs like Alabama, USC, LSU and Florida State are failing to send players to the next level, too. Those programs are located closer to the top recruiting hotbeds than Iowa, which has to extend its recruiting reach far beyond the state. Iowa also doesn't sell itself as an overly flashy program. That's not Kirk Ferentz's style, but sometimes it might work against Iowa in recruiting some of the elite players, who crave the spotlight. Iowa isn't a program you hear about much in the national media, which is largely by design. But if you want to work with a staff focused on development with a track record of producing NFL players, Iowa is a great place to go.

Chris from Milwaukee writes: Hey Adam, I love recruiting season, but have one pet peeve. Whenever a team loses out on a recruit you start hearing from the fan base the player had academic issues and wasn't going to qualify. Do academic requirements vary from school to school or do they all follow the NCAA Clearinghouse?

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, every school must adhere to initial NCAA eligibility requirements when admitting athletes, but academic standards most definitely vary from program to program. I don't know if the differences are as pronounced as some fans believe them to be, but there different standards, different numbers of academic exceptions, etc., not just from league to league but within each league as well.

John from Northern Michigan writes: I think Brian and you have some explaining to do with this list of top 10 games. First, I just noticed Nebraska's win over Georgia is not included. A B1G team beats a SEC team on New Year's Day and it is not in the top 10? That is actually the biggest oversight, it is easily in the top 10.Second, no way you can justify leaving the Rose Bowl victory out of the #1 position. Try to gain some perspective here, this is only the B1G's second victory in 14 years at the Rose Bowl.

Adam Rittenberg: John, some good points on why the Rose Bowl should have been No. 1, and perhaps we made a mistake there. It certainly was a historic win, not just for Michigan State but the Big Ten. But Nebraska-Georgia? C'mon. Two banged-up teams that had underachieved during the season played a rematch in a bowl game that neither fan base cared that much about. Credit Nebraska for winning and playing well, but that game doesn't belong on a Top 10 list.

Marcus Aurelius from Placer, Calif., writes: When will the NCAA get with the times and allow emailed/scanned letters of intent, like the rest of the world uses for documentation?

Adam Rittenberg: It would be nice, Marcus. Some schools like Northwestern actually are offering programs that allow electronic signatures and email/scanning, but for the most part, it's still all about the fax machine. I spent signing day at Michigan State and some of their assistants were joking about how archaic the faxes are. I know the compliance folks need clear proof of signatures and that the forms are filled out correctly, but we have programs that can do this through email. I think we'll see more and more schools go that route.

Big Ten lunchtime links

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Americans should have the right to bear yogurt anywhere ...

Big Ten's lunch links

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
12:00
PM ET
Signed, sealed, delivered, I'm yours.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
5:00
PM ET
Mail time ...

Ed S. from Belleville, Ill., writes: Please ask James Franklin how he can justify going after kids he recruited for Vanderbilt and whether he is going out of his way to try to wreck the Vanderbilt football program. What happened to his "fierce loyalty" to the Commodores and what does he now think of recruits who renege on their commitments to other schools?

Brian Bennett: Ed, those are fair questions. Some coaches say they won't recruit players who committed to their previous school when they switch jobs. There are a couple of things to keep in mind here. One, the better players in Vanderbilt's class almost certainly committed to the Commodores because of Franklin, so it makes sense that they'd be interested in following him to another school. Given Penn State's scholarship limitations, he may feel an even bigger need to flip some of those Vandy recruits. And this is who Franklin is, a guy who's going to be aggressive in everything he does, especially so in recruiting. He's going to push the envelope and ruffle some feathers.


Glenn K. from Leesburg, Fla., writes: Brian, regarding your article about BIG ticket sales for bowl games, don't you think attendance might also have been affected by the economy and the weather? If you want to enjoy the whole enchilada with your team before the actual game, including airfare, hotel, parties, tours, etc., you're looking at thousands of dollars (I know from experience), plus thousands more if you're taking your whole family. I wouldn't think that the weather in the Midwest and East helped much, either, as far as traveling goes.

Brian Bennett: The economy absolutely plays a factor, Glenn, and I mentioned the costs in my post. Airfare and hotel rates have gone up, and I was astounded at how expensive hotels in south Florida were over New Year's. These are not cheap trips, for the most part, especially because the majority of Big Ten bowl sites are located more than a comfortable driving distance away from campuses. I doubt very much that weather played a role in keeping people away, since you really need to book these kinds of trips a couple of weeks in advance to have any success finding good deals. If anything, the weather fosters more travel as Midwesterners love any excuse to escape the winter. But there's little question that bowl trips are becoming more difficult for the average fan, and it will be interesting to see how fans travel if their team can make it to a Big Ten championship game, national semifinal and national title game all in about a month's time under the new playoff system.


Kevin from Saline, Mich., writes: What is it that has made this 2013 MSU football team so much more successful than the 2011 Spartans? Every skill position on that 2011 team was terrific, the defense was still elite, and the chemistry and leadership with Kirk Cousins at the helm was extremely good as well. Is it just finding the inches, as Mark Dantonio always says? I was convinced that 2011 team was destined to be the team to break our Rose Bowl drought. I couldn't be happier with this season and this team, but when I compare them side-by-side with the 2011 version, that 2011 version seems more talented to me.

Brian Bennett: Kevin, you're right that the 2011 Michigan State team was awfully good and probably still a bit underrated in hindsight. The offense was much more experienced in 2011 with Cousins and B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin at receiver. The defense was very good, though not quite as elite as the 2013 team. The 2011 team turned in a couple of clunkers, however, including an 18-point loss at Notre Dame and a 24-3 defeat at Nebraska in which the Spartans looked completely flat a week after beating Wisconsin on the Hail Mary.

Still, that team was extremely close to making the Rose Bowl, losing a back-and-forth Big Ten championship game to Russell Wilson's Wisconsin team that turned on a late running-into-the-punter penalty. And those Spartans went on to beat Georgia in the Outback Bowl. This year's team might have benefited from an easier schedule leading up to the Big Ten title game -- the 2011 squad, for example, played three teams ranked in the top 15 in the regular season, while the 2013 squad faced none. But this year's Spartans turned it on when it really mattered and "found the inches," as Dantonio said. That last step from being a very good team to a championship one is sometimes the steepest.


David K. from New Haven, Ind., writes: Brian, any chance that IU might actually spend what it takes to get a proven defensive coordinator? I think Kevin Wilson has the program going in the right direction, but unless they get somebody in there who knows what he is doing and has been with a winning program, I fear he is doomed to fail because of the awful defense. You get what you pay for, and if they go that way, then the Hoosiers and Wilson are doomed.

Brian Bennett: David, every Big Ten team has money. It's good to see teams like Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan making major commitments to coaching salaries this winter, because that is what it's going to take to win at the big-boy table. Indiana doesn't have quite the deep pockets as some other schools, mainly because of the Hoosiers' attendance problems. Wilson's highest-paid assistant is offensive coordinator Seth Littrell, who is making $356,500 -- and earning it, based on IU's offensive numbers in 2013. I doubt you would see Indiana go much higher than that on the defensive side. Just how many superstar coordinators would be interested in coming to a program that has struggled on defense for so long and now has an offense-first mentality? That remains a major question. There's nothing wrong with finding an up-and-comer to run the defense. Indiana's challenge will be to keep top assistants such as Littrell when they become hot commodities.


Samuel from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Hey, Brian. Some big coaching moves in the East got me wondering about Iowa. Kirk Ferentz is one of the best-paid head coaches. But what about the assistants? Did I read correctly last week that Iowa is once again one of the most valuable football programs in the country? Does Iowa have the resources the make some big assistant coaching moves like OSU is doing?

Brian Bennett: Iowa does have strong resources. Not quite Ohio State or Michigan level, but certainly in the upper half of the Big Ten. Much of those resources are going to pay Ferentz close to $4 million per year. Neither defensive coordinator Phil Parker nor offensive coordinator Greg Davis are among the top 10 in salary among assistants in the Big Ten. That has been the pattern under Ferentz, who promoted Parker from within and hired Davis after he had been out of football for a year. Perhaps whenever Ferentz retires, the pay scale between the Iowa head coach and his assistants will tilt a little.


Andrew from San Ramon, Calif., writes: Hi, Brian. I've done some research, and the Huskers have an OK schedule coming up this year. Notable teams like Fresno State and Miami lose a lot of key players to the draft. Seven home games and five away games. With the win of the Gator Bowl on their shoulders and new recruits coming in, what do you think the Huskers' chances are at going possibly 10-2 or 11-1? (Losses might be @ Wisconsin and/or Michigan State.)

Brian Bennett: It's entirely too soon to start predicting team records for 2014. I do like Nebraska right now as the early favorite to win the West Division, but I think the conference schedule is a little harder than you make it out to be. The Huskers not only have to travel to Michigan State and Wisconsin but also to Northwestern -- which has played Nebraska extremely tough and should bounce back from an abysmal 2013 -- and Iowa, which just won in Lincoln to close out the recently completed regular season. Compare that to new division rival Wisconsin, which does not play Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State from the East and whose hardest conference road games are Iowa and Northwestern.

I like the potential for Nebraska's young defense in 2014, and if quarterback Tommy Armstrong makes a significant jump in the offseason, the offense could be really good, too. But Bo Pelini's team is going to have to get some work done on the road in league play to get back to the Big Ten championship game.

Big Ten lunchtime links

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
12:00
PM ET
Including last season, the Big Ten is 1-6 in bowl games in 2013. Maybe 2014 will be better?

Big Ten Friday mailblog

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
4:30
PM ET
A few questions and answers before Big Ten bowl season kicks off!

Remember, follow us on Twitter.

Jeff from San Diego writes: As I begin to think about potential future bowl situations, I'm not sure how I feel about the B1G taking over selection. Mainly, my fear is that the traditional "mid-tier" teams (namely my Hawkeyes) could suffer the most. It feels a tad more likely that a team like Iowa will drop a rung or two to "spread the wealth" to teams like Northwestern or Minnesota more often than a team like Ohio State drops a rung to make room for the Hawks. Using this year as an example, how do YOU think the B1G would place the bowls?

Adam Rittenberg: Jeff, remember that the Big Ten taking greater control of the bowl selections is designed to produce fresher matchups and avoid repeat sites or opponents. Those are good objectives and fans should celebrate that. Iowa fans might disagree, but I don't think bowl selections should be based primarily on how well a certain fan base travels, especially at the expense of good pairings.

If the Big Ten had control of the selections this year, I think after the Rose/Orange picks, it would go like this: Wisconsin to Capital One, Iowa to Outback, Nebraska to Buffalo Wild Wings, Minnesota to TaxSlayer.com Gator and Michigan to Texas. There's no way the Big Ten would want Nebraska facing the same bowl opponent it did a year ago, or Minnesota returning to the Texas Bowl.


Jay from Milwaukee writes: Do you think the BWW Bowl would have opted for Nebraska if they knew Gardner wouldn't be playing, or were they set on not having an "old Big 12" matchup?

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Jay. It certainly could have impacted the selection process. I was told that Michigan's final regular season performance, especially compared to Nebraska's, played a role in the Wings Bowl choosing the Wolverines. It was more important than Nebraska's head-to-head win at Michigan Stadium. Gardner obviously played a huge role in Michigan's strong offensive showing against Ohio State, and his absence creates more uncertainty for the Wolverines offense. I heard there was more interest in Michigan-Texas than Nebraska-Texas, but once K-State fell to the Wings Bowl, Nebraska seemed to make more sense.


Bill from Marshall, Mich., writes: Michigan State football has generally been ranked from 25 to 40 in recruiting over the past several years. Yet they have been successful three of the past four years and are currently ranked number four in the polls. Is there something about the recruiting ratings that is incorrect?

Adam Rittenberg: Bill, recruiting evaluation is an inexact science, which bears out in rankings that can turn out to be off base. Recruiting rankings are based on what players show at the high school level. A lot of players mature after they get to college and work with coaches that can develop their full potential. Michigan State's staff has become one of the nation's best in identifying players who fit the system and then developing them while in East Lansing.

As Big Ten Network analyst Glen Mason recently told me: "They might not have a lot of four- or five-[star] recruits in their program but they play like four- and five-star." That's a tribute to head coach Mark Dantonio and his assistants. I do think the Spartans' success will attract higher-level recruits, especially on the defensive side.


Travis from Austin/Minnesota writes: To what or whom do you attribute the turnaround in Iowa's program in the past year?

Adam Rittenberg: Strong grammar skills there, Travis. I think Iowa got back to what it does best, especially along both lines. Kirk Ferentz's best teams have been solid up front, and Iowa had gotten away from that a bit, especially on defense after losing a bunch of players to the NFL. The defensive line was Iowa's most improved unit this season, thanks to the emergence of players like Drew Ott and Carl Davis. Iowa also improved along the offensive line, anchored by tackle Brandon Scherff, and established a nice power run game with a group of backs who amazingly managed to stay healthy. The offense found its identity and Iowa's seniors stepped up, especially at linebacker, which is always key.


Ethan from Abbottstown, Pa., writes: With Bill O'Brien reportedly interviewing with the Texans, PSU fans are once again assessing a list of candidates, especially since BOB hasn't replaced any departing coaches yet. I think James Franklin should be a guy to take a run at. Who'd be on your list at PSU if there is an opening?

Adam Rittenberg: I've been more lukewarm on Franklin than many in the media, but I'm definitely warming up to him as a good fit at Penn State. The guy can flat-out recruit and has ties to the region. He would clean up in the fertile Washington D.C./Maryland/Northern Virginia area, especially if Larry Johnson remains on staff, and bolster the talent level in State College. Mike Munchak could be another intriguing name, but I think you start with Franklin, who seems eager to make a move after several good years at Vanderbilt.


Mike from Hiawatha, Iowa, writes: Adam: Every year we hear how the Big Ten underachieves in bowl season. In order to know if this is really true, can your top-notch researchers at ESPN go back 5 or 10 years and compare the Big Ten's record versus how many games they were actually favored to win? Is the conference underachieving or just perennially matched up against better teams due to their bowl contracts?

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, as I've written for years, a lot of it has to do with the matchups, which are annually tougher than any other leagues. The current bowl lineup, while ambitious, sets the Big Ten up for failure, especially with the league's track record of sending two teams to BCS games each year. The Big Ten basically plays road games and often has its lower-rated teams against higher-rated teams from the SEC and Big 12. The future lineup is much more navigable, especially with the Big Ten taking greater control of which teams go where. Ultimately, the league is underachieving to a degree in the postseason, but the lineup certainly doesn't help.

Big Ten lunchtime links

December, 18, 2013
12/18/13
12:00
PM ET
I'm Ron Burgundy?

Big Ten Friday mailblog

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
4:00
PM ET
Sadly, there's no Big Ten football this weekend for the first time since August. I'll be counting the minutes until bowl season.

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter.

To the inbox ...

Matthew from Minneapolis writes: Hey Adam, I can't help but feeling you've been dodging my question about "national brand teams" in Michigan/Penn State. What qualitative or quantitative data do you have to substantiate these claims? You recently wrote "...what they're used to seeing, and that's Michigan/Penn State [being good]..." really? When was the last time either of these teams were even remotely decent?

Adam Rittenberg: Matthew, I'm not sure how old you are. If you're under 30, the Michigan and PSU brands might not resonate for you as much as Wisconsin's, MSU's and Iowa's. But it's different for those who remember Michigan's national title in 1997 and five Big Ten championships between 1997-2004, not to mention the program's long-term history. The same holds true for those who remember Penn State's national titles in the 1980s or the great teams in 1994, 2005 and 2008.

You want data that validates Michigan and Penn State as big brands? Look at the money they bring in. They're always included in Forbes' list of most valuable college football teams. They have huge stadiums, massive alumni/fan bases and plenty of NFL alumni. I'm not arguing that Michigan and, to a lesser extent because of the circumstances, Penn State are underachieving. I'm actually underscoring that in Michigan's case. But they're still national brands because of what they've done over time.


Ron from Minneapolis writes: Hi, Adam. I think the Gophers got the shaft this year for their bowl game. Gophers fans don't travel well because they end up in bad bowl games. I would bet anything that had they been selected to the Gator Bowl, the fan base would be very good. What I worry about is, even if they would go 9-3 or 10-2 next year, they will still get passed over to a good bowl because of fan travel? It's hard to recruit and become a contender when people don't even watch a lower bowl game like this. As fans, how do we get the word out to the bowl committees so this doesn't keep happening?

Adam Rittenberg: Ron, the good news for you and your fellow Gophers fans is that the Big Ten, beginning in 2014, will take over the bowl selection process rather than put it solely in the hands of bowl officials. Bowls and teams will be assigned to tiers, and the league will work to avoid repeat destinations or repeat opponents for teams. "We're going to really want to have different teams in different bowls," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in announcing the new bowl lineup in June. "... You'll see a real focus on getting diversity and freshness."

All that said, it's important for Minnesota fans to show up at this year's Texas Bowl, support a good team and begin to change the perception about how well they travel. Quite frankly, you're overestimating the gap between the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl and the Texas Bowl. The Gator Bowl has some more tradition, but I'd argue the Texas Bowl is in better location with a better time slot, away from the New Year's Day gridlock. Bowl committees don't care about head-to-head results or fans whining about being passed over. You probably won't have this problem in the future, but you still should go and support your team if possible.


Todd from Peoria, Ill., writes: How did Ohio State end up playing Clemson and Alabama playing Oklahoma? Given how close both came to the title game, wouldn't that be a better match-up than either got this year? It would prove how the (true) best SEC team this year compares to the best available B1G team and whether OSU had any business thinking of playing for the crystal football. Also, what do you think of the apparent decision by Tim Beckman to keep DC Tim Banks despite two years of dismal defense by my beloved Illini?

Adam Rittenberg: Todd, it has more to do with the current relationships between BCS bowls and certain leagues. The ACC's tie to the Discover Orange Bowl led the bowl to replace Florida State with Clemson. The same held true with the SEC and the Allstate Sugar Bowl, which replaced Auburn with Alabama. Ohio State-Alabama would have been great, though I was hoping the Sugar would pick Oregon to face Bama, a matchup we've wanted for years. But because of the game's upcoming Big 12 tie-in (Champions Bowl), it went with Oklahoma, and Alabama-Oklahoma looks like a mismatch.

As for Illinois, I'm a little surprised Beckman will keep his entire defensive staff intact. He's entering a make-or-break season, and he wants to sink or swim with the coaches he hired. He probably doesn't want another year of significant staff turnover. But the defense must get a lot better.


Tony from Austin, Texas, writes: Hey Adam, what are the chances of Taylor Martinez playing in the NFL? Is it likely he has a future as an NFL quarterback or is he best changing positions (see Denard Robinson)?

Adam Rittenberg: Tony, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini told me before the season that he thinks Martinez can play quarterback in the NFL. Pelini knows the NFL, but I'd be surprised if Martinez is taking snaps in the pros next year. His mechanics are improved from his sophomore year but remain far from textbook, which is the standard in the NFL. I don't see enough arm strength, either. Martinez certainly has skills that translate to the next level, namely his speed, so I see him moving to another position.


Todd from Louisville writes: Adam, your comments in two different posts appear to be almost directly opposed to me. Should Iowa fans demand and expect more than an 8-4 record or be realistic/objective about being ambitious and excited for the future? Do you intend to appear combative with these fans no matter what position they espouse?

Adam Rittenberg: Todd, I think my Iowa comment was misinterpreted, and that's my fault. Iowa fans obviously should be excited about their team's four-win improvement this season. My comment was that in general, an 8-4 record seems to please more fan bases in the Big Ten then it would in the SEC. I don't think enough Big Ten fan bases demand excellence from their programs. That's not a shot at Iowa fans, who were understandably disappointed in 2012. But now the bar must be raised for 2014. Iowa has a real chance to win the West division, and anything less should be considered a disappointment. Kirk Ferentz makes big money and should be held to a higher standard than 8-4. That's more than fair.

There are many reasons why the Big Ten has slipped a bit nationally in football. But I wonder if enough teams in this league take a championship-or-bust approach to seasons, and whether that's contributing to the mediocrity.


Sam from Detroit writes: Adam, if things go how they usually go with Nick Saban and he decides to leave for Texas, do you think Mark Dantonio would be a candidate for the Alabama job? He has to be one of the more desirable coaches out there right now, and Alabama is obviously one of the better jobs. I seem to remember Dantonio being in the middle of the pack as far as compensation for B1G coaches and while I'm sure he'll get a bump this year, it won't be an SEC-esque bump. Do you think he'd leave for a job like Alabama?

Adam Rittenberg: I don't think so, but Michigan State needs to step up and provide Dantonio and his assistants substantial raises. Dantonio knows he's in a great situation at MSU. He has a great boss in Mark Hollis, and his family is happy there. His only tie to the SEC is the fact he played at South Carolina. Dantonio definitely has some leverage if other schools begin courting him, but I'd be a bit surprised if he leaves. He's not a guy completely driven by money, and he knows he can compete for the College Football Playoff at MSU.

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