OSU Buckeyes: Iowa Hawkeyes
ESPN.com caught up with Rudner, the Big Ten's senior associate commissioner for television administration, to discuss how the 2014 schedule came together.
It's important to note the Big Ten compiled the 2014 slate based upon principles green-lighted by its athletic directors.
- Nonconference games that had been previously contracted were protected. For example, Northwestern visits Notre Dame on Nov. 15, 2014, so the Big Ten made sure not to schedule the Wildcats on that day. Also, Penn State and Rutgers had a previously scheduled non-league game for Sept. 13, 2014, which became a conference game with Rutgers joining the Big Ten. The date wasn't changed.
- No more than two consecutive road games
- Each team must play two home games and two road games in each half of the season
It's not as if athletic directors ask the league not to schedule multiple rivalry games on the road every year.
"Once you do that," Rudner said, "you're at risk of never having a schedule."
There has been some reaction to Michigan facing in-state rival Michigan State in road games in consecutive seasons (2013, 2014) and Purdue visiting Indiana for the Bucket game the same two years. The Wolverines never have played the Spartans in East Lansing in back-to-back years and haven't hosted MSU in consecutive years since 1967-68.
Although it'll be new for Michigan, such back-to-backs are fairly common when a scheduling model changes. Between 2010-11, there were 13 instances of back-to-back matchups, including rivalry games like Iowa-Minnesota (both games in Minneapolis) and Penn State-Ohio State (both games in Columbus) and other good matchups like Wisconsin-Michigan State (both games in East Lansing).
"It's unavoidable," Rudner said. "It happened five times in 2008-2009. So it's not foreign, it's not ideal, but it's unavoidable. When you're introducing new institutions and you dole out home and road games, it just happens."
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has said "parity-based scheduling," where teams will face one another more often in crossovers based on historical success,will begin in 2016, will begin once the league goes to a nine-game conference schedule. Rudner said the league asked the ADs if they wanted to start the nine-game schedules in 2014 but they couldn't because of so many signed contracts for non-conference games. If they had, the 2014 would have incorporated parity scheduling.
The 2014 slate ultimately features none of it, as the traditional powers in each division -- Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State in the East, and Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa in the West -- don't play at all.
"I don't think it's going to hurt us," Rudner said. "Brand is strong enough. There are enough games that are strong that'll drive television interest. Short of a full round-robin, which nobody in our conference wanted to do, you're going to have these sort of issues."
A few other schedule notes:
- Rudner and his staff didn't have a directive to schedule mostly division games in November, but it worked out that way as most teams will play exclusively in their division or play only one crossover in the season's decisive month. "Ideally, that's what we would like to do," Rudner said. "It makes a lot of sense to play division games late in the season, toward a championship."
- The Big Ten doesn't look at long-term trends of how often teams open league play on the road when crafting schedules. Athletic directors haven't asked it to a be a principle of building schedules. "It's never been important to them," Rudner said. "What they want to avoid is long road trips and making sure there's balance, home and away, in each half of the season. The rest of it, they can live with. Not everybody plays the same kind of schedule, but they do it based on those principles. They look at it and say, 'That's fair. Let's do it.'" Penn State, by the way, will open league play on the road for the fifth straight year and for the ninth time in the past 11 seasons.
- That new members Maryland and Rutgers host traditional powers Ohio State and Michigan on the same day (Oct. 4) was pure coincidence, Rudner said.
The 2015 Big Ten schedule, which should be released by the end of the month, will feature the same matchups at the opposite locations. The league has to maneuver around some previously scheduled non-league games before finalizing the slate.
What they’re selling: A chance to rebuild a program from the ground up, beginning with four-star quarterback Aaron Bailey, who signed in 2013.
What they’re missing: Just about all of the top prospects from their own state.
What they’re selling: Indiana coach Kevin Wilson embraces the idea of a college spring break and is ready to head to Cancun with some of his players.
What they’re missing: Wilson looks like he might hold the group up in Mexico, however, as he still needs the assistance of a flotation device. Points that it is in the shape of a turtle, though.
What they’re selling: Iowa boasts one of the few staffs that can say they will be there all four years of a recruit’s career and has the history to back it up. Kirk Ferentz is the longest tenured coach in the Big Ten and it’s not even close.
What they’re missing: Out-of-state prospects tend to think Iowa is all cornfields, leaving the staff to battle that misconception countless times throughout the recruiting cycle.
What they’re selling: Michigan coach Brady Hoke looks like an outlaw patrolling the sideline on Saturdays without a headset.
What they’re missing: The player who graces the NCAA Football 2014 cover Denard Robinson. "Shoelace" was one of the Wolverines’ best recruiting tools.
Michigan State Spartans
What they’re selling: Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio is the man behind Little Giants, one of the greatest trick plays of the last few decades.
What they’re missing: A trip to a Rose Bowl under Dantonio would put Michigan State over the top when it comes to recruiting. There is already a significant difference in the caliber of player the Spartans are now getting compared to just a few seasons ago.
What they’re selling: The Gophers boast the biggest locker room in college football.
What they’re missing: They have not had a winning season since 2008.
What they’re selling: Bo Pelini whipped out “The Bernie” in the Huskers’ Harlem Shake video. Harlem Shake equals instant credibility with recruits.
What they’re missing: A lack of a strong base of in-state talent makes it tough to recruit at Nebraska, and a Harlem Shake video can overcome only so much.
What they’re selling: The new facilities are right near Lake Michigan, which, as assistant Bob Heffner is telling recruits, is a great spot for fishing.
What they’re missing: Not too many high schoolers in New Jersey have taken up fishing as a hobby. At least not yet.
Ohio State Buckeyes
What they’re selling: Urban Meyer is bringing SEC speed to the Big Ten.
What they’re missing: Has anyone actually clocked Meyer in the 40-yard dash? How fast is he really?
Penn State Nittany Lions
What they’re selling: Beaver Stadium fits more than 106,000 on Saturdays, making it the second largest stadium in the country. Inside is also one of the country’s most passionate fan bases, and ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit once listed Penn State’s student section as “simply the loudest, most supportive student section in college football.”
What they’re missing: A full slate of scholarships and a chance to play for a Big Ten title the next few years.
What they’re selling: Few programs have the history Purdue does at quarterback, and former Boilermakers Drew Brees, Kyle Orton and Curtis Painter are all on NFL rosters. The Boilermakers just signed ESPN 300 QB Danny Etling, too.
What they’re missing: Brees, Orton and Painter.
What they’re selling: The Badgers have been to three straight Rose Bowls.
What they’re missing: The coach who took them there.
When you live in Louisville, horse racing and handicapping are about all you can think of this time of year, in between bites of Derby Pie. So, like last year, I've imagined what the Big Ten 2013 program would look like if the championship chase were more like a horse race. I think the odds would go a little something like this (like the Churchill Downs toteboard, our odds only go up to 99-to-1),:
Ohio State: Even
Despite being scratched from last year's race by NCAA probation, the Buckeyes are the odds-on favorites this time around. They've got big-time winners both at trainer (Urban Meyer) and on the reins (Braxton Miller), and their schedule looks like they should get a clean trip.
The Wolverines are switching running styles this year, ditching the spread for a more traditional passing offense led by Devin Gardner. No need for blinders, as Taylor Lewan has the blind side locked down. Still, this entry hasn't had enough first-place finishes in its recent past performances.
The Huskers have been like one of those tantalizing horses in the program with a huge Beyer speed figure that always disappoints when you put the big money on them. Expect them to be a major pace-setter because of their early schedule, but that defense will determine whether they can make a long-awaited trip to the winners' circle.
Pretty good value here for a three-time defending champion of the Run for the Rose Bowl. Still, the Badgers are operating under new connections this time around (new coach Gary Andersen) and will have to prove they can track down Ohio State in the Leaders Division.
Another good option for those seeking value, as the Wildcats might be the wise-guy pick after last year's 10-win season. The problem is the potential of a very bumpy trip with that schedule (Ohio State and Wisconsin as crossover opponents). And there will be a lot of jostling in that Legends Division.
Michigan State: 20-to-1
Some bettors like to look for the bounce factor, meaning they seek out otherwise successful horses who are coming off one bad outing. The Spartans look like the best bounce candidate following last year's 6-6 season, which came after two straight double-digit win seasons. They have a more favorable post position (er, schedule) this time, but their early works suggest some lingering questions about the offense.
We've reached the real long shots now. Jerry Kill has shown that his charges take off in their third year of training, and the Gophers have turned in some encouraging works. Still, they'll need to run a perfect race to factor in the money.
This would be a Giacomo-level upset. An exotic pick, at best. But with the Hoosiers' ability to score points, they could pull off a shocker if everyone else falters.
Handicappers got burned by picking Purdue as their sleeper last year. The Boilermakers might be even more of a mystery horse this year with a new trainer in Darrell Hazell. Still looks like an also-ran, but don't forget that they seem to run neck-and-neck with Ohio State lately, for whatever reason.
Failed to fire last year, and the speed figures aren't pretty. If you're betting the Hawkeyes, you're basing it on the pedigree of Kirk Ferentz. Should show more fight this time, but might be too much of a plodder to hit the board.
Stumbled out of the gate, no rally, didn't factor in 2012. Equipment changes on offense (new coordinator Bill Cubit's spread system) should help. But Tim Beckman has a lot of work to do to show he's not saddling another nag.
Penn State: Scratched
DQ'd by the NCAA. (Now accepting future wagering on 2016).
So there's how I'd write the program. What kind of odds would you give to each team, and who would you put money on in 2013?
The comparisons at first glance seem valid. Michigan and Ohio State seemed poised to dominate the league from the Big Ten West the way Texas and Oklahoma did in the Big 12 South for several years. Meanwhile, Nebraska is the headliner in the other, seemingly weaker division -- again.
Rob Christy/US PresswireCoach Bo Pelini and Nebraska figure to be a consistent contender in the new Big Ten West.
The Big 12 staged a conference championship game from 1996 until 2010. During that time, the South won the title games 11 times to just four by the North. Four of those wins by the South, however, were decided by three points or fewer.
The real issue for the North was the alleged lack of depth at the top. Nebraska appeared in the championship game six times in 15 years, joining Colorado (four), Kansas State (three) and Missouri (two). However, Texas and Oklahoma gobbled up 13 of the 15 championship game spots for the South.
Just how bad was the rest of the North outside of Nebraska? Here are the records during that span for the other teams in the division, and their bowl bids:
Kansas State: 120-67 (.642 winning pct), 11 bowls, 2 BCS appearances
Missouri: 104-79 (.568), nine bowls
Colorado: 93-90 (508), nine bowls, 1 BCS appearance*
Kansas: 78-97 (.446), five bowls, 1 BCS appearance
Iowa State: 70-109 (.391), six bowls
Totals: 465-442 (.513), 40 bowls, four BCS appearances
*Colorado's 1997 wins were vacated by the NCAA.
Let's see how that compares with the Big Ten West by examining the teams' records during that same time for Nebraska's future division:
Wisconsin: 134-58 (.698), 14 bowls, 3 BCS appearances
Iowa: 108-76 (.587), 11 bowls, 2 BCS appearances
Purdue: 99-85 (.538), 10 bowls, 1 BCS appearance
Northwestern: 88-94 (.484), seven bowls
Minnesota: 85-97 (.467), nine bowls
Illinois: 64-111 (.366), four bowls, 2 BCS appearances
Totals: 578-521 (.526), 55 bowls, five BCS appearances
There are some similarities here, but the new Big Ten West ranks better in winning percentage, bowl appearances (nine per team, compared to eight per team for the Big 12 South) and BCS bids. Wisconsin trumps Kansas State as the most consistent winner, especially since the Wildcats' success has been so heavily dependent on one man (Bill Snyder). Missouri and Iowa and Purdue and Colorado have very similar résumés, although Colorado fell on some hard times toward the end, and it took a while for Missouri to really get going. Illinois is comparable to Kansas in that it has had a couple of banner seasons and a lot of bad ones.
The problem with the Big 12 North wasn't a lack of good teams, as Kansas State, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado all had their moments. It was a lack of consistency by most everyone outside of Nebraska and, to a lesser extent, Kansas State. The same will likely be true in the Big Ten West. While Wisconsin and Nebraska should field good teams year in and year out, it will be up to Purdue, Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern and Minnesota to remain consistently competitive and not fluctuate wildly from year to year. If, say, Iowa can return to getting into the annual mix for BCS bowls, or if Northwestern can build off last year's 10-win season, then the West will be more than just Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Then, even if Michigan and Ohio State turn the Big Ten East into a new Big 12 South, the West won't have to suffer those Big 12 North comparisons.
Now, the talented defensive lineman will delay it as long as possible.
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The 6-foot-8, 345-pound lineman recently narrowed his extensive list of offers to a top seven, and he discussed what stands out about each of them.
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Outside linebacker Kyle Berger (Cleveland/St. Ignatius), who has blown up on the recruiting scene of late, took a trip to Columbus, Ohio on Saturday to see the other side of Ohio State.
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Of course some of that might have had to do with the fact Mike Vrabel and Ohio State offered the 6-foot-6, 200-pound tight end on Tuesday night.
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The Big Ten classes are signed and sealed. You can see ESPN's final class rankings as well as grades for all the Big Ten teams .
As we put a bow on national signing day 2013, let's take a look at some superlatives ...
Biggest winner: Ohio State. The Buckeyes took a great class and made it even better with the additions of elite safety prospect Vonn Bell and four-star receiver prospect James Clark. They also held onto running back recruit Ezekiel Elliott. Plucking Bell out of SEC country made a significant statement, as Ohio State secured the nation's No. 3 class and the best in the Big Ten. Although other Big Ten programs secured strong classes -- Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State -- Ohio State made the most headlines Wednesday.
Best closer: Ohio State co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Everett Withers. Although Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer is unquestionably one of the nation's top closers, Withers merits a mention here after steering Bell to sign with the Scarlet and Gray. "I've seen some really good efforts," Meyer said Wednesday. "Everett Withers from start to finish, his effort on Vonn Bell, as good as I've ever seen." Bell's high school coach called Withers the "most proficient and professional recruiter we've ever dealt with," according to The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer. Withers played a major role in Ohio State securing five defensive backs ranked in the top 50 by ESPN Recruiting.
Biggest surprise: Indiana and Penn State. The Hoosiers have reached only one bowl game since the 1993 season and boast just five wins the past two seasons, but things are looking up in Bloomington. Kevin Wilson and his staff signed what appears to be a very solid recruiting class, especially on the defensive side, where IU has struggled for years. The Hoosiers signed two four-star defensive linemen from within the state -- Darius Latham and David Kenney III -- and bolstered the secondary with Rashard Fant and others. Penn State overcame NCAA scholarship sanctions and a multiyear bowl ban to sign the nation's No. 24 class, headlined by quarterback Christian Hackenberg, rated by ESPN Recruiting as the nation's top pocket passer.
Who flipped/biggest loss: The only notable intra-league flip on signing day -- and it wasn't a major surprise -- saw linebacker Reggie Spearman, a one-time Illinois commit, signing with Iowa. Ohio State (Taivon Jacobs) and Wisconsin (Marcus Ball) lost commits to Maryland and Arizona State, respectively, while Minnesota made a late flip with junior college linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, who was expected to sign with Kansas State. But for the most part, Big Ten teams played good defense on signing day.
One thing Urban Meyer has definitely brought to the Big Ten is some serious signing day drama.
Meyer flipped several recruits Ohio State's way last year, and on Wednesday the Buckeyes were one of the big stories on signing day again. They won battles for two key blue-chippers in ESPN 150 safety Vonn Bell and four-star receiver James Clark, while also keeping ESPN 150 running back Ezekiel Elliott in the fold after he took a late visit to Missouri.
"It was a very eventful day," Meyer said. "We went to bed last night with three guys very on edge. I thought, 'If we hit one out of three, it would be all right. Two out of three would be a good day. Three out of three is going to be, knock it out of the park.'"
It turned into another home run day for the Buckeyes, who currently rank No. 3 nationally in ESPN.com's class rankings (and No. 1 in Scout.com's rankings). How good was it? Here's what assistant coach Kerry Coombs tweeted Wednesday afternoon.
"You know that Christmas when you got exactly everything you wanted plus a few extra special bonuses? That's what today was! #bestclassever."
Ohio State did lose previously committed receiver Taivon Jacobs to Maryland, but it was more than happy to trade him for Clark. Landing Bell, a Georgian who was hotly pursued by Tennessee and Alabama, was the sweetest victory. Meyer called it a "street fight." In making his announcement on ESPN, Bell said Meyer was on a mission to beat Alabama and win national championships.
Meyer didn't take the bait when later asked about gunning for 'Bama, saying Michigan would always be Ohio State's rival. But he did acknowledge that there's "a little bit of a chase gong on with the SEC. ... We want to increase the speed on our team little bit."
The Buckeyes definitely did that, while Meyer once again proved he's one of the great closers in college football.
Though Ohio State hogged most of the headlines, the other Big Ten teams also celebrated their 2013 classes while making a little news as well:
- Nebraska rode the roller coaster with ESPN 300 athlete Tre'vell Dixon, who had already committed, decommited and recommitted to the Huskers during the process before word leaked out this week he would be going to Arizona State. In the end, Dixon signed with Nebraska, which put together a Top 25 class.
- Minnesota scored a late coup with junior college linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, a one-time Tennessee commit who was expected to sign with Kansas State. Campbell, who was also courted by Texas, has three years of eligibility left.
- Wisconsin lost committed safety Marcus Ball -- whose older brother, Ray, is a Badgers offensive lineman -- to Arizona State. But new coach Gary Andersen managed to hold most of the class together while adding a few key signees.
- There was a little intraconference intrigue on signing day as Iowa nabbed linebacker Reggie Spearman, who had been committed to Illinois.
- Indiana quietly put together one of its best classes ever, and avoided any last-minute poaching.
- No news was good news at Penn State and Michigan. The Nittany Lions, despite severe scholarship limits, still brought home a strong collection of talent that included the nation's No. 1 pro-style quarterback (Christian Hackenberg) and top tight end (Adam Breneman). The bulk of Michigan's class had been assembled for months, and the Wolverines withstood some late drama with defensive tackle Henry Poggi, who stayed on board despite a late push from Alabama.
Michigan didn't get as much attention on signing day as Ohio State, but Brady Hoke still put together a class currently ranked No. 6 in the nation by ESPN.com. And unlike Meyer, who got so tired of sweating out Bell's decision that he had to go get on the treadmill, Hoke had a drama-free day. The Wolverines announced their entire class by noon ET.
One thing that appears likely after the latest signing day: Michigan and Ohio State are headed for plenty of dramatic collisions on the field in the coming years.
You can see every Big Ten team's signees by going here.