OSU Buckeyes: Big Ten Conference
Recruiting writers Chantel Jennings and Tom VanHaaren were at the event and here is what they learned:
Cleveland Glenville has depth
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Phil Steele has issued his 2013 preseason All-America teams, and a total of 15 players from the Big Ten made the four squads.
Let's take a look:
- Ohio State QB Braxton Miller
- Nebraska G Spencer Long
- Wisconsin LB Chris Borland
- Michigan State LB Max Bullough
- Penn State WR Allen Robinson
- Wisconsin TE Jacob Pedersen
- Ohio State G Andrew Norwell
- Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard
- Indiana long snapper Matt Dooley
Some notes and thoughts:
- Lewan is an obvious choice for the first team, while Steele clearly sees the potential in Shazier and Roby after breakout seasons for the 12-0 Buckeyes in 2012. I don't see much separating Bullough from Shazier and Dennard from Roby, and wouldn't be surprised to see either Spartans defender moving up a team on the postseason All-America list.
- Ohio State's Miller is listed behind only Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and ahead of Alabama's A.J. McCarron and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. It's clear Miller will enter the season very much on the Heisman radar. Nebraska's Taylor Martinez didn't make the top four signal callers, but can't be too far behind.
- Wisconsin's Pedersen is a solid player, but Penn State's Kyle Carter has the higher ceiling among Big Ten tight ends, in my view. Carter had 453 receiving yards in just nine games in 2012. He'll be a big help for Penn State's new starting quarterback, and could work his way onto the postseason All-America list.
- It's not a huge snub, but Northwestern's Mark should be better than a fourth-team all-purpose player. He earned first-team All-America honors in 2012, and also was a second-team All-Big Ten selection as a running back. Mark could have worked his way onto the list as a running back. Instead, Steele went with former Penn State star Silas Redd as a fourth-teamer despite a so-so first season at USC. Mark's teammate Jeff Budzien also was snubbed from the kickers list after a near-perfect junior season.
- Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan didn't make the preseason list despite an excellent 2012 season. Ryan suffered a torn ACL this spring, but is expected back before the end of October. It'll be interesting to see if other Wolverines players besides Lewan put themselves in contention for postseason All-America honors.
- It's nice to see Steele recognize Wisconsin's Abbrederis, who might still be the Big Ten's top receiver. Like Pedersen, Abbrederis' numbers suffered in 2012 as Wisconsin sputtered on offense, and especially in the passing game. Abbrederis is an excellent route runner, a big-play threat, and a good return man.
- I'm interested to see which Big Ten linemen work their way onto Steele's postseason All-America teams. Keep an eye on guys like Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes, Wisconsin offensive lineman Ryan Groy, Northwestern defensive end Tyler Scott, Penn State guard John Urschel, and Ohio State's dynamic young pairing of defensive linemen Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington.
“Consider every battle through history like a football game,” he said to his AP U.S. history class before physically moving his students from the classroom to the football field.
“It was about who had more men and more powerful weapons would win,” Brogan said. “And they’d have to learn that teams that weren’t as big up front would have to get to outside and use speed and quickness. Well, no different than military strategy. A smaller army couldn’t fight a bigger army head on.”
This was something offensive tackle Jamarco Jones (Chicago/De La Salle Institute) understood. His varsity team had gone 4-5 the season before, losing to schools that had bigger arsenals of weaponry and players.
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Well, we won't have E. Gordon Gee to kick around anymore.
The Ohio State president -- he of the famous inability to keep his foot away from his mouth, particularly when it comes to talking about football topics -- will retire from the university on July 1. Gee's recent high-profile controversy, involving jabs he made at the SEC, Notre Dame, Bret Bielema and others last December, clearly hastened the departure for the 69-year-old Gee. He spent much of the past week apologizing to various parties for the remarks, which first came to light last Thursday.
The Columbus Dispatch reports that Ohio State trustees "met in private on Jan. 31 and March 8 to discuss a remediation plan that directs Gee to scale back on his public speeches." Trustees expressed embarrassment over Gee's most recent public gaffes, in which he offended Catholics, joked that SEC partisans were illiterate and called Bielema a "thug."
Gee has been Ohio State’s president since 2007 and also served in that role from 1990 to 1997. Former OSU provost Joseph A. Alutto will be interim president until a successor can be found, according to the Dispatch.
Gee became an easy punchline with his penchant for poorly-timed jokes and omnipresent bow tie. But it's also true that he has been a fantastic fundraiser, bringing millions and millions of dollars into the school. He was also an influential member of the Big Ten's Council of Presidents and Chancellors as the leader of arguably the league's most powerful athletic program.
But Gee had a hard time just keeping his mouth shut, or at least going the diplomatic route, when it came to sports. While his comments were almost always made in jest, the president of one of the nation's top universities shouldn't be making cracks about how the disgraced former football coach could fire him, or making derogatory comments about "those damn Catholics" or even trying to insert himself into a BCS debate. It did nothing but shine a bad light on him and Ohio State.
Personally, we'll miss the Bow Tie, who was always good source material for easy blog posts. We'll always have the Little Sisters of the Poor to remember. Ohio State will move on, and the football program shouldn't be affected in any noticeable way.
And finally, we had to share this tweet, which just speaks for itself:
@jimtressel5 for OSU President??— Maurice Clarett (@ReeseClarett13) June 4, 2013
But the age difference didn’t allow for too much on-field collaboration as Chase’s first three years of Pop Warner football coincided with Peter’s last three of high school ball.
Peter went on to play quarterback for Bowling Green. And Chase will follow in his footsteps. Sort of. Chase, an outside linebacker, garnered bigger interest sooner than his older brother. He has his pick of BCS offers, but will chose Michigan, Ohio State or Pitt.
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The Big Ten endured arguably the worst NFL draft in its history last month, and its struggles to produce high first-round talent are well documented.
The league hasn't had a top-10 pick since Michigan's Jake Long and Ohio State's Vernon Gholston went No. 1 and No. 6, respectively, in the 2008 draft. The Big Ten narrowly avoided being shut out of the first round for the first time since the NFL-AFL merger when Wisconsin's Travis Frederick went at No. 31 in April's draft.
Is the troubling trend for the Big Ten more of a coaching/development issue or a recruiting issue? The declining number of first-round picks might have more to do with the Big Ten footprint than the Big Ten Conference.
As CoachingSearch.com's Chris Vannini points out, certain states in the Big Ten footprint, namely Ohio, have seen a drop in producing first-round picks in recent years. Vannini looked at where first-round picks from the past eight drafts played their high school ball.
Not surprisingly, Texas (17) and Florida (12) produced the most first-round picks between 2010-13, followed by Georgia (10) and California (8). Florida, Texas and California also were among the top producers in the previous four drafts (2006-09).
Pennsylvania is the top producer in the Big Ten footprint with five first-round picks since 2010. Michigan (4) and Wisconsin (4) are next, along with future Big Ten state New Jersey (4).
Where's Ohio? Way down the list with just two first-round picks since 2010. It comes as a surprise as Ohio is celebrated for its high school football and serves as the starting point in recruiting for many Big Ten programs.
Ohio produced nine first-round draft picks between 2006-09. New Jersey also saw its total drop from 10 (between 2006-09) to four (between 2010-13).
Pennsylvania and Wisconsin both produced three more first-round picks in the past four drafts than the previous four. All four Wisconsin products -- J.J. Watt, Gabe Carimi, Kevin Zeitler and Frederick -- played for the Wisconsin Badgers during their run of Rose Bowls. Michigan saw a slight increase in recent years, Illinois held steady and Indiana dropped from four (2006-09) to two (2010-13). Minnesota had one first-round pick in 2012 after none from 2006-09, while Nebraska and Iowa aren't on the board for either span.
What about the Big Ten's other new territory, the Washington D.C./Maryland/Northern Virginia region? Maryland's total dropped from four (2006-09) to three (2010-13), Virginia's went from seven (2006-09) to three (2010-13) and Washington D.C. failed to produce a first-round pick from 2010-13 after having two between 2006-09.
What does this mean for the Big Ten? First-round draft picks are only one way to gauge the strength of a league or a region, but the numbers reinforce that much of the nation's elite talent grows up far from Big Ten campuses. Big Ten schools have to spread their wings in recruiting and invest more time and resources in states like Texas, Florida and Georgia. Many programs already do this, but there's a greater sense of urgency.
The Ohio total is a bit alarming, but I'd be surprised if the state produces so few first-round picks in the next four years. It will be interesting to see what happens with the Wisconsin total under a new Badgers coaching staff.
I still like the Big Ten's new additions, Rutgers and Maryland, from a recruiting standpoint, but the declining totals of first-round draft picks from both areas are a bit unsettling as the two programs prepare to move to the Big Ten in 2014.
Tom Luginbill, RecruitingNation's senior national recruiting analyst, has identified five names to remember among incoming freshmen who will enroll this summer. Luginbill already singled out Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple as an early enrollee who could make a difference this fall.
Two Big Ten freshmen make Luginbill's new list. Neither needs much of an introduction.
Michigan running back Derrick Green is expected to compete right away for a starting job. Ranked by RecruitingNation as the No. 5 running back (No. 38 overall player) in the 2013 class, Green will be Michigan's best option in the backfield as the Wolverines go back to a more traditional pro-set scheme that will emphasize power running. No Michigan back distinguished himself this spring, and Green likely will face the most competition from Fitzgerald Toussaint, who comes off of leg surgery.
Luginbill also likes the impact potential of Ohio State incoming freshman Dontre Wilson, who could be fill the so-called "Percy position" in Urban Meyer's spread offense in Columbus. Wilson, a speedster from Texas who picked Ohio State ahead of Oregon and Texas, brings playmaking ability to an offense that needs more of it other than star quarterback Braxton Miller. Although Jordan Hall returns to the mix after battling injuries throughout 2012, Wilson could have a significant role in the offensive vision with a strong preseason showing.
What other incoming freshmen (non-early enrollees) could make an impact in the Big Ten this season?
Here are a few:
Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: It'll be Hackenberg or junior-college transfer Tyler Ferguson starting for the Lions in their season opener against Syracuse. Unless Ferguson creates significant separation in camp, Hackenberg likely will be a factor this season.
Indiana DT Darius Latham: The Hoosiers need help along their defensive line, and could turn to Latham right away. A four-star prospect with good size and athleticism (played basketball in high school), Latham should be part of the mix up front at IU.
Michigan State RB Delton Williams: The Spartans need help in the backfield after no one really emerged this spring, and the coaches moved backup middle linebacker Riley Bullough to offense for help. There's a good chance Michigan State turns to an incoming freshman and Williams, the team's highest-rated recruit in the 2014 class according to RecruitingNation, will have a golden opportunity in camp.
Ohio State S Vonn Bell: Unlike the other freshmen listed here, Bell doesn't play a position where Ohio State has an overly pressing need. But he might be too talented to keep off of the field, especially when the Buckeyes go to their nickel and dime packages.
The bowl schedule for the 2013 season is out. Here's what you need to know for the Big Ten's tie-in games.
- Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio: BCS vs. BCS (Big Ten and Pac-12 champs will be in the game if not in the national championship), 5 p.m. ET, ESPN
- Capital One Bowl: Big Ten vs. SEC, 1 p.m. ET, ABC
- Outback Bowl: Big Ten vs. SEC, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
- TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl: Big Ten vs. SEC, noon ET, ESPN2
- Heart of Dallas Bowl: Big Ten vs. Conference USA, noon ET, ESPNU
- Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Big Ten vs. Big 12, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
- Texas Bowl: Big Ten vs. Big 12, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN
- Little Caesars Pizza Bowl: Big Ten vs. MAC, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN
No real surprises here, as the Big Ten will keep its New Year's Day cluster for another year, attempting to dominate the airwaves leading into the Rose Bowl. The Texas Bowl and Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl have prime-time spots on Friday night and Saturday night, respectively, but the Big Ten will have no teams in action in a tie-in bowl between Dec. 28 and Jan. 1.
Although bowl dates and times can change from year to year, here's a look at the details for the Big Ten's likely future tie-in bowls ...
Holiday Bowl: Dec. 30, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Dec. 30, 3:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Dec. 28, noon ET, ESPN
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Dec. 27, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
If the Big Ten enters agreements with some or all of these bowls, its overall bowl schedule should be more spread out, which I consider a plus. The New Year's Day cluster isn't popular with Big Ten fans, and sets the league up for embarrassments like this.
By the way, the game Big Ten teams really want to reach, the Vizio BCS National Championship, takes place Jan. 6 at 8:30 p.m. in Pasadena, Calif.
But when Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith sat down to discuss staff pay, Smith soon realized he needed to do more.
"I think Michigan had stepped up with their coordinators," Smith recalled last week during Big Ten spring meetings in Chicago. "So we were already going to that before Urban Meyer came, but we bumped it up a little more. Any time there's change, you have that opportunity."
The Big Ten is part of the change, too, as the league is allocating more money toward football assistants than ever before. The Detroit Free Press has an excellent look at Big Ten assistants' salaries, complete with a database that includes 10 of the 12 current members (Northwestern doesn't submit salaries as a private institution, and Penn State doesn't have to because of state laws).
The Free Press found that eight of the 10 schools are paying more for assistants in 2013 than they did in 2012 (only Indiana and Illinois are not). There are some significant total increases, such as Wisconsin (up $558,000), Nebraska (up $518,500), Purdue ($400,000) and Minnesota ($355,000). Staff pay had been an issue at Wisconsin, which lost six assistant coaches following the 2012 Rose Bowl, and at Purdue, which paid less for its staff during the Danny Hope era than any Big Ten school.
The total trend among the 10 schools is an increase of $1,720,852.24 for 2013.
Ohio State and Michigan remain No. 1 and No. 2 in Big Ten staff salary, as the Buckeyes allocate $3.416 million and the Wolverines allocate $2.805 million. Nebraska and Wisconsin make the biggest moves in the league for 2013, as the Huskers rise from sixth to third and the Badgers rise from seventh to fourth.
Illinois, which replaced five assistants from the 2012 team, including co-offensive coordinators Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales, dropped from third in staff pay ($2.314 million) to eighth ($2.065 million).
The database shows that nearly every Big Ten assistant with "coordinator" in his title -- whether he's the sole coordinator or a co-coordinator -- will earn north of $300,000 for 2013. Only 18 assistants listed will make less than $200,000 in 2013 -- 15 work for Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue and Indiana.
- Although Wisconsin paid former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst good coin, the school has increased its commitment for Gary Andersen's staff, not only with the coordinators but with some coveted position coaches like running backs coach Thomas Hammock ($300,000).
- All of Nebraska's assistants are earning $200,000 or more for 2013, but there's a huge drop-off between Beck and the next highest-paid assistant (defensive coordinator John Papuchis at $310,000).
- Michigan State has a similar drop off between Narduzzi and co-offensive coordinators Dave Warner ($270,000) and Jim Bollman ($260,000). Warner will be the primary offensive play-caller and has been on Mark Dantonio's staff since 2006, while Bollman is a newcomer.
- Although Michigan is paying top dollar for its coordinators, the school gets its assistants for a relative bargain. Receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Jeff Hecklinski will earn $225,000 in 2013, while the others all will earn $205,000. Ohio State, meanwhile, pays all but one of its assistants $286,000 or more.
- The Big Ten's three lowest-paid assistants all are in their first years: Illinois wide receivers coach Mike Bellamy ($125,000) and Purdue linebackers coach Marcus Freeman and running backs coach Jafar Williams (both at $120,000).
- Although schools like Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa ($325,000) pay their coordinators the exact same amount, others have slight differences in salary. Purdue's Shoop makes $5,000 more than defensive coordinator Greg Hudson. Minnesota defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys ($340,000) makes $5,000 more than offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover. Wonder if that leads to any underlying jealousy?
- Most Big Ten schools have assistant salaries in round numbers, but there are some interesting totals from Indiana, which pays co-offensive coordinators Seth Littrell and Kevin Johns $255,500.04 and new recruiting coordinator/assistant defensive line coach James Patton $173,740.08. Never know when that change can come in handy.
The Big Ten still lacks some of the OMG totals seen in the SEC -- LSU is paying new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron $3.4 million in the next three years -- but the overall trend puts the league more on par with what we're seeing nationally.
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.
Sometimes, not being the most vocal can result in the “sleeper” title. For months Avery was considered a sleeper, but recently he’s picked up offers from Texas Tech and Nebraska to go along with his first offer, which came from West Virginia.
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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?
Well, it makes sense to look first to the back end of the defense for those answers. One place where Ohio State has plenty of experience is at safety, where seniors Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett are both third-year starters. The secondary also boasts an All-American in Bradley Roby, who's never been afraid to speak his mind.
Defensive leaders more often are found closer to the line of scrimmage, as those guys are involved in more plays and gain respect for their physicality. But Ohio State is replacing all four defensive linemen from last year and has only one holdover starter -- Ryan Shazier -- at linebacker.
"It's probably a little harder to lead at that [safety] position," said Everett Withers, who coaches the Buckeyes' safeties in addition to serving as assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator. "But C.J. and Christian have played a lot of snaps, and the front guys and the linebackers all respect those guys for what they've done here. When you have respect from your peers, that makes it a little bit easier."
That's not to say that Bryant and Barnett are satisfied with their accomplishments.
Though they've both played a lot for the Buckeyes -- and Bryant was a second-team All-Big Ten performer last year -- Barnett said the safeties have "underachieved" thus far during their careers. That's a message that seems filtered down from their coaches, who are demanding more.
"He's right on point; I think they have underachieved," Withers said. "No disrespect to what's been done in the past, but when you play safety at a place like Ohio State, you've got a great tradition of safety play. And when guys don't have a ton of production going into their senior year you wonder why. And I've wondered why since I've gotten here. So there's been a big push for us to see how we can be more productive on the field, and in turn, that will allow us to be better leaders off the field."
Though Bryant finished second on the team with 70 tackles, he has only one career interception. Barnett has four career picks in 32 games. Ohio State led the Big Ten last year in interceptions with 14 in 12 games, but Withers called that "a low number" and said the Buckeyes dropped another 14 potential interceptions.
That's why, during spring practice, every Buckeyes defensive back had to drop and do pushups if a ball hit their hands and they didn't make the interception, no matter how tough the catch would have been.
"Myself, I had about six or seven drops last year," Barnett said. "That's unacceptable. Coach said that PBU's [pass break-ups] are not acceptable here. We need interceptions.
"That's huge for field position, and when you've got an offense like we do and you can get the ball back in Braxton [Miller]'s hands, that's leading to points for us. Missing those opportunities are huge and could possibly cost us a game."
Production wasn't really an issue in 2012 for Roby, although he'd like to grab more than two interceptions this season. But Roby didn't view himself as a leader last season. This year, Meyer said, "he's got to be" one.
"I was kind of a selfish player last year, only worrying about me," Roby said. "At cornerback, you really are out there on an island, and so you start thinking the game is only you and the receiver. I was taking that viewpoint. But I'm opening it up now, and I know I've got to talk to the D-linemen, the linebackers and everybody and make sure they know what they're doing, because they might not be as far advanced as I am."
The best players often make the best leaders. And with their experience and talent, the Buckeyes' secondary has a chance to be both of those things.
"It's just a matter of us going out there and making the plays we need to make," Barnett said. "If we handle our business, we'll definitely be in the conversation of being the best secondary in the nation."
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.
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.