Big Ten Friday mailblog

May, 30, 2014
May 30
4:30
PM ET
The next time we meet (barring breaking news), it will be June. One month closer to the season.

Follow us on Twitter.

Looks like I made a few friends down South after this post.

To the inbox ...

Jonathan from San Antonio writes: While I get the irony of oversigning and then standing on "integrity" to complain about Franklin, do you get the irony of your article? You seem to defend Franklin's strategy based on the fact that others do it and that it's within the rules. Yet, you (Big Ten proponents and fans) complain about oversigning, when it too is a "others are doing it," and "it's within the rules" equally applies to that practice. So if you want the SEC to stop complaining about this particular issue (and join in), then the Big Ten needs to stop complaining about oversigning (and join in).

Adam Rittenberg: Jonathan, you can't possibly be equating oversigning to guest-coaching at another program's camp? Only one of those tactics hurts players. Only one involves dishonesty. My post had a heavy dose of sarcasm, but just to be clear, I don't like oversigning. I have no problem with guest-coaching at camps. Who does it harm? It's a brilliant move by James Franklin, and other coaches either have or will follow. The SEC should get rid of its rule and guest-coach as well. No issue there. These are two extremely different tactics, and only oversigning does real damage, in my view.


Tracie from Manhattan, Kan., writes: You obviously have a personal vendetta against the SEC and are using your public platform to voice your biased opinion. It's disappointing that ESPN allows this type of journalism to be on the website. The message that I received from this article is how jealous you are of the SEC and will try to put the conference down in order to make the Big Ten look better. What actually happened is you made the Big Ten look like all it can do to compete with the SEC is to try to find a loophole. Good luck in your future attempts at journalism, this was a complete fail. Go Hogs.

Adam Rittenberg: It's kind of funny, Tracie, because every third email I receive states how ESPN promotes the SEC whenever possible. I don't have a vendetta against the SEC. It's a great league with great coaches. It's also a league that doesn't get called out enough for things like this. People might think I'm a Big Ten homer for writing that post. Those who read me know that's far from the truth. The Big Ten is justifiably criticized for its missteps. The SEC seems to get a pass because it wins national championships. It's not a jealousy issue. The Big Ten is way behind the SEC when it comes to recruiting and winning. That's why Franklin's guest-coaching plan makes complete sense. The funny part is that the SEC, a league very good at football but also very good at bending recruiting rules to its advantage, has a problem with it. Woo Pig Sooie!


Zac from Colorado Springs, Colo., writes: No Ezekiel Elliott on your list? I know Meyer only has one 1,000-yard (running back) rusher all time, but Elliott is going to get the majority of the carries this year for the Buckeyes. He's more of a home-run threat than Hyde and I'm sure he'll get 1,000-plus this year.

Adam Rittenberg: I like your confidence, but I need to see more from Elliott to include him on the list of likely 1,000-yard rushers. I can't include every player who eclipsed 250 yards last year. The list becomes pointless. Elliott is a talented back, but 162 of his 262 rushing yards last year came against Florida A&M. He had more than two carries in only one Big Ten game, against last-place Purdue. I also think Ohio State will mix and match backs. So while Elliott could reach 1,000 yards, he needs to prove himself this season.


Kevin from Fort Myers, Fla., writes: Adam, I know there has been talk about [head coach Brady] Hoke being on the hot seat or even let go if there is another losing or unsatisfactory season. If this were to occur (knocking on wood), would there be a chance Coach [Doug Nussmeier] would take over, seeing how he has the résumé for it and that there was talk that his stop at U of M was just temporary until a college came for him as a head coach? Head coach of the Wolverines would be an attractive job for Nuss. ... Your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: It would be an attractive job, Kevin, but it won't happen for several reasons. The biggest one is simple logic. If Michigan is to consider Nussmeier for the top job, Nussmeier would have to perform well as offensive coordinator this season. And if the offense performs better, the team seemingly will, too. Michigan's defense should be as good and likely better than it was in 2013. The team's big issues are on offense. If those are rectified, the win total goes up and Hoke stays. Athletic director Dave Brandon does not want to fire Hoke, whom he hired. Plus, I'd be surprised if Michigan would replace Hoke with a first-time head coach.


Anthony from Columbus, Ohio, writes: It seems like whenever a Big Ten team has a successful year (aka beating Ohio State), that team always underperforms the next season. Penn State, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan have all made it to BCS bowls after winning against Ohio State, but didn't have the same success the next year. Do you think this will happen with Michigan State?

Adam Rittenberg: Interesting observation, Anthony, although I wouldn't say the 2011 Wisconsin team, which beat Ohio State in 2010 but repeated as Big Ten champion the following year, grossly underperformed. This seems more coincidental than anything else. Michigan State could take a step back if certain linebackers and defensive backs struggle, or if some of Connor Cook's near interceptions turn into actual interceptions. But I like how the Spartans, who have been very good at home under Mark Dantonio, get Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska on their home field.
With two ESPN 300 recruits already committed, Texas Tech has been doing plenty of damage on the recruiting trail this spring.

On Friday, the Red Raiders added one of the top defensive recruits from last year.

Former Ohio State linebacker Mike Mitchell has decided that he will transfer to Texas Tech, a source told ESPN.com.

Mitchell was a four-star recruit and was ranked No. 128 in the ESPN 300 in the 2013 class before signing with the Buckeyes. He redshirted last season, but elected to transfer so he could be closer to his ailing father in Plano, Texas, which is just over a five-hour drive from Texas Tech’s campus in Lubbock. Mitchell also was reportedly considering enrolling at Texas A&M and Baylor. As a senior at Prestonwood Christian Academy, Mitchell averaged more than 17 tackles per game.

Texas Tech will petition the NCAA to grant Mitchell a waiver so he can be eligible for the 2014 season.

With top linebackers from last year Will Smith and Terrance Bullitt having graduated, Mitchell will have a chance to make an impact with the Red Raiders immediately, if granted the waiver.

Pete Robertson returns to the "Bandit" linebacker spot in Texas Tech's 3-4 defense after earning honorable mention All-Big 12 recognition in 2013. And at the "Mike" position, Sam Eguavoen and Micah Awe are currently listed on the depth chart after playing key roles in 2014.

But the rest of the linebacker unit is an unknown, with converted running back Kenny Williams having manned the “Raider” spot on the outside during the spring and transfer V.J. Fehoko, who was a part-time starter at Utah, sitting atop the depth chart inside at the “Will.”

As a sure tackler and a player capable of getting to the quarterback, Mitchell could also help in two areas where the Red Raiders struggled last year. Texas Tech ranked ninth in the Big 12 in run defense last season and seventh in sacks.

The Red Raiders already have a cornerstone offensively in sophomore QB Davis Webb. In snagging Mitchell, they might have just added a future defensive cornerstone as well.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 30, 2014
May 30
12:00
PM ET
Glorious sunset of my heart was fading. Soon the super karate monkey death car would park in my space. But Jimmy has fancy plans. And pants to match.
Many of you are doing your homework this week: crafting ideal future schedule models for your favorite Big Ten team. We posted several submissions Thursday afternoon, and here are some more for you to pore over.

Enjoy!

Matt from L.A.

Affiliation: Wisconsin
Big Ten games: Nine. Six division, three crossovers, including protected crossover with Michigan State. Other protected crossovers: Indiana-Purdue, Michigan-Minnesota, Ohio State-Illinois, Penn State-Iowa, Maryland-Nebraska, Rutgers-Northwestern (Nebraska and Northwestern fans will complain. Deal with it.)
Nonleague plan: Two games vs. other Big 5 schools (one at a neutral site, one as part of a home-and-home in back-to-back years, preferably with a Pac-12 school). Both games take place in the first four weeks. One home game vs. MAC team. I think that it is productive for both sides to play MAC teams.
FCS opponents: No. Does more harm than good, no matter what.
Neutral-site games: I'm a big fan of neutral-site games for recruiting purposes especially, but also for exposure in general. They can also be a welcome chance to see the team in person for fans living in other areas of the country, or for those who want an excuse to travel. I would love to see Wisconsin vs. Arkansas in Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, or New Orleans for obvious Bielema-related reasons.




Vince from Santa Barbara, Calif.

Affiliation: Iowa
Big Ten games: Eight. Six in the division and two rotating crossover games in which we play all seven teams over the course of three and a half years.
Nonleague plan: One against each school from the Pac-12, SEC, ACC and Big 12. How awesome would that be?! My initial choices would be teams that mirror the athletic history, recent game history and recent (last decade) success that Iowa has had in the following desired order -- Pac-12: UCLA, Washington, Arizona -- SEC: Ole Miss, Tennessee, South Carolina -- ACC: Georgia Tech, Clemson, Virginia Tech -- Big 12: Texas, Kansas State, Missouri.
FCS opponents: None (sorry, Northern Iowa)
Neutral-site games: I love the idea. Fits best with teams from the Big 12 and SEC. Iowa vs Kansas State or Missouri (they owe us a game) in Kansas City, or Iowa vs. Tennessee in St Louis.




Lachian from Winnipeg

Affiliation: Penn State
Big Ten games: Nine. I have no problem watching PSU play nine games with some of the more historical brands (i.e Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska, etc.).
Nonleague plan: Make it an even four of four [against Power-5 conference teams]. You just don't get the sense that the stadium atmosphere is up there with an FCS team as it would be with an OOC rival like Pitt or even teams like Notre Dame, Alabama, which jump out to fans and get them excited about the season heading into conference games.
FCS opponents: No, unless PSU is constantly scheduling the top-tier FCS teams. I don't feel people are interested in seeing them play, especially as PSU gradually gets the scholarships back from the ban and the depth comes back.
Neutral-site games: I thought watching PSU-Syracuse at MetLife (Stadium) last year was pretty neat, and of course the game in Dublin is cool, though waking up at 7 a.m. won't be particularly fun. As long as it's with a respectable opponent in a stadium outside of the college football world with some history to it you can't really go wrong.




Tony from Auburn

Affiliation: Purdue
Big Ten games: Nine. Ten games is out of the question due to budget issues, and we might as well not even be a conference with only eight.
Nonleague plan: There should be a minimum of one game per season against other Power-Five teams, if for no other reason than giving a more exciting game to the fans. It wouldn't be an Auburn or a Stanford, but it would still be better than our usual full slate of MAC teams.
FCS opponents: I don't think there needs to be a hard rule against FCS opponents. All any school should really be after is scheduling teams of a similar level of play. The Ohio States and Wisconsins should definitely not be scheduling any FCS teams, but after Purdue's pitiful 2013 season, beating any FCS team is still better than losing to a bad FBS team.
Neutral-site games: Really aren't on my radar. Without a LSU-Wisconsin at Lambeau Field-level of hype, I don't know if neutral-site games would pay out enough to be worth it. Notre Dame is the only opponent that could possibly generate enough excitement for most fans to travel for a Purdue game, so I guess we'll see how this year's contest in Indianapolis goes.




Jerome from Toronto

Affiliation: Nebraska
Big Ten games: Nine. I would take out the divisions. Every team plays five natural conference rivals EVERY year, then rotates the remaining eight teams through a four-year cycle so they play four teams for a home-and-home, and then the next four teams for a home-and-home.
Nonleague plan: Play a major Power-Five school (home/home). Play either a lower Power-Five school or a good non-Power-Five school. Play any FBS school you can get to visit Lincoln that won't require a home-and-home series.
FCS opponents: No. I hate seeing FCS games on the schedule so I'm glad the B1G is eliminating these games completely.
Neutral-site games: Should be left for the bowls, and playoff games.




Nick from Washington, D.C.

Affiliation: Ohio State
Big Ten games: Ten. It's worth it for more Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska games.
Nonleague plan: One game against a big-name program, presumably from a Power-Five conference (USC, Texas, Alabama, FSU, Oregon, Georgia, Stanford). One game against a respectable team from a Power-Five conference (Tennessee, UNC, Washington, Texas Tech, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Boston College). One tune-up game against the Little Sisters of the Poor or similar programs (Akron, Bowling Green, Kent State, Arkansas, Connecticut).
FCS opponents: No. They don't need to go down a division for a tune-up game. Also, losing would be horribly embarrassing.
Neutral-site games: No. And especially not in the south. The SEC is just using these "neutral-site" games as a way to avoid a home and home. MAKE. THEM. COME. NORTH.
In the past two days, we have looked at the most likely 1,000-yard rushers and 1,000-yard receivers in the Big Ten for 2014. That leaves one major offensive statistical milestone to examine: 3,000-yard passers.

Quarterbacks who throw for 3,000 yards in the Big Ten aren't quite as rare as, say, a snow leopard, but they don't come around all that frequently, either. After all, this is a league associated with three yards and a cloud of dust, not 3,000 yards and a chem trail.

But the passing game continues to take on more and more importance throughout college football, and the conference is not immune despite producing just one 3,000-yard passer in each of the past two seasons (Penn State's Matt McGloin in 2012, Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase in 2013). Who might reach that prestigious mark in 2014? Let's take our best guesses, in order of most likely:

  • Christian Hackenberg, Penn State (2,955 passing yards in 2013): Hackenberg very nearly got to the 3k level as a true freshman, which is all the more remarkable considering the Nittany Lions didn't have the benefit of a bowl game. He probably won't get a 13th game again this season barring an NCAA surprise but should continue to improve as a sophomore and is the most gifted young quarterback in the Big Ten. The big question mark is whether his young receiving corps and a thin offensive line can help him out.
  • [+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
    AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallDespite some struggles, Michigan's Devin Gardner almost hit the 3,000-yard passing mark in 2013.
    Devin Gardner, Michigan (2,960): For all the faults people found in Gardner's game in 2013, he still almost reached 3,000 yards and would have certainly done so had he been healthy for the bowl game. He won't have favorite target Jeremy Gallon around and just about everybody else on offense is young. But he has shown he can put up big numbers when he's healthy and protecting the ball.
  • Connor Cook, Michigan State (2,755): Cook never had a 300-yard passing day before the Big Ten championship game; then he turned in two straight in winning MVP honors in Indianapolis and again in the Rose Bowl. A 14-game schedule helped get him close to 3,000 yards, but don't forget that he didn't begin the season as the starter or gain the coaches' confidence until late September. He'll have a lot more on his plate this season, and the junior could gobble up some major yardage.
  • C.J. Brown, Maryland (2,242): Brown arguably has the best two wide receivers in the Big Ten if -- and this is a big, blaring, neon if -- Stefon Diggs and Deon Long stay healthy. Avoiding injury is also a big key for Brown, who missed a pair of games last season. But the senior could be poised for a massive season if everything breaks right.
  • Wes Lunt, Illinois (1,108 yards for Oklahoma State): Lunt has yet to throw a pass for the Fighting Illini and hasn't played a down in two years. Yet he showed his immense potential as a true freshman for the Cowboys in 2012, and Bill Cubit's offense provides tremendous opportunities for quarterbacks to put up numbers (see Scheelhaase last season). Lunt still has to officially win the job, and the team must find playmakers at receiver. But who in the world thought Scheelhaase would lead the Big Ten in passing in 2013 this time last year?
  • Nate Sudfeld (2,523) or Tre Roberson (1,128), Indiana: If we believed either of these guys would hold the job full-time all season, a 3,000-yard season would be a no-brainer. The Hoosiers have juggled quarterbacks the past two years, with their signal-callers combining to go over 3,000 yards both seasons behind a prolific passing attack. Alas, you never quite know who will take the snaps or when Kevin Wilson will decide to make a change. Sudfeld is a better bet as a 3,000-yard passer since Roberson brings more of a running element to the table, but either could post sky-high stats if given the reins every Saturday.
  • Trevor Siemian, Northwestern (2,149): Siemian surpassed 2,000 yards last season despite splitting time at quarterback with Kain Colter. Now that the job is his alone, the Wildcats should become much more of a passing team to suit his skills. That could equal a big-time bump in Siemian's numbers.
  • Gary Nova, Rutgers (2,159): The first thing Nova has to do is stop throwing the ball to the other team, as he did 14 times in just 10 games last season. And he has to, you know, secure the job in the Scarlet Knights' quarterback derby. But he threw for nearly 2,700 yards in 2012, and now gets renowned quarterback guru Ralph Friedgen to guide him. So it's possible he could finally put it all together.
  • Braxton Miller, Ohio State (2,094): Miller would need to improve his numbers by almost 1,000 yards, and that's after a 14-game season by the Buckeyes. But he did miss basically three full games last season, and Ohio State wants to become a more dangerous downfield passing team. The senior missed spring practice with a shoulder injury but has worked hard on his mechanics. Don't put anything past the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year.

Ex-girlfriend counters Taylor Lewan

May, 29, 2014
May 29
7:20
PM ET

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Top Tennessee Titans draft pick Taylor Lewan punched an Ohio State fan, despite his insistence that he was trying to break up a dispute last fall, according to his ex-girlfriend and an alleged victim.

Lewan, a former Michigan offensive lineman, was charged with one count of aggravated assault and two counts of assault and battery after a confrontation after the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines last season.

The 22-year-old Lewan has said publicly, and to police, that he was breaking up a dispute and wasn't involved in a fight.

According to a 36-page Ann Arbor police report obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, James Hughes of Denver said Lewan hit him in the face and Alexandra Dileo, whose brother was a teammate of Lewan's, said "Taylor is lying" about his actions on Dec. 1.

"He knocked the guy to the ground and he punched him," she told police in a telephone interview Jan. 29, according to the report. She recalled hearing Lewan tell his mother "I knocked a guy out" the next morning while they were having breakfast.

Lewan's attorney, John Shea, did not immediately return a message left Thursday afternoon.

Lewan, Hughes, Dileo and others interviewed by police acknowledged they had been drinking alcohol on the night in question. Lewan's motives were "related to the University of Michigan and Ohio State rivalry and to levels of intoxication," according to the report.

Dileo expressed concerns to police that people would feel she was lying because she and Lewan had broken up, according to the report. But she "stated she knows what happened and Taylor is lying."

Lewan told police he only was separating people, but later acknowledged he "could have pushed someone." He gave his side of the story before the NFL draft to many teams, including the Titans.


(Read full post)


As scheduling talk continues to swirl in college football, I asked you, the Big Ten fan, to craft an ideal schedule for your team. You considered elements like number of conference games, neutral-site games, FCS opponents and number of games against other power-conference foes.

The response, as expected, was strong.

Here's the first set of schedule ideas. I'll post more Friday.

Brian from Seattle


Affiliation: Nebraska
Big Ten games: 9
Nonleague plan: Two of these against Group of Five teams or others that have recently finished the season in the Top 25. As a Nebraska fan, I'd enjoy seeing teams such as Missouri, Texas, Georgia Tech, Stanford and Florida.
FCS games: No. These games are only worth watching if your team is playing them. Even then, I can barely watch these games.
Neutral sites: Not preferred. Nebraska is not close to any major venues as the closest is Arrowhead (Stadium) in Kansas City which is a significant drive away. This leads me to prefer non-neutral sites as the value of a neutral-site game is not extremely high. I'd say this is not viable until Nebraska reaches (and is accepted) as a year-to-year top-10 team. That way a neutral-site game could take place at a high-profile venue and garner attention and traveling fans. This could include places such as CenturyLink Field, Soldier Field, the Superdome, and the Meadowlands.




 

Ben from Chicago

Affiliation: Michigan
Big Ten games: 8. Give my Wolverines their six East Division matchups and two crossovers against top-tier West opponents (let's say Wisconsin and Nebraska).
Nonleague plan: All four against power-conference opponents. As a vengeful athletic director, I'll schedule games that offer chances at redemption. We'll start with these stingers: Alabama ('14), South Carolina ('13), Texas ('05) and Oregon ('03). And, of course, we'll stagger them throughout the season. No easy wins on my schedule. Still, I'd take a meaningful win over an easy one any day. And I'd rather earn a playoff bid than coast into one.
Ben's dream schedule: W1: Texas W2: Penn State W3: Indiana W4: South Carolina W5: Michigan State W6: Rutgers W7: Wisconsin W8: Oregon W9: Maryland W10: Nebraska W11: Alabama W12: Ohio




 

Jeremy from Columbus, Ohio

Affiliation: Ohio State
Big Ten games:
9
Nonleague plan: I'd like to play two Big 5 opponents. One game is a revolving rivalry with three super heavyweights (for example: OSU, LSU, Texas, and Oregon in a rotating series--each team plays one of the others every year, so after six years every team will have played the other three both home and away). The second game is a home-and-home with any other big school, much like we do now. For the final game, I'll allow one home game against an FBS school from Ohio.
FCS: No.
Neutral site: Only in specific cases. All regular season neutral-site games should be eliminated unless the two schools are close to each other, and the site (Florida-Georgia in Jacksonville is OK; Alabama-Michigan in Texas, not so much). For OSU, that would mean no neutral-site games except maybe a home-and-neutral with Cincinnati at the Horseshoe, and then Paul Brown Stadium.




 

Jay from Birmingham, Ala.

Affiliation: Penn State
Proposed schedule model: Nine Big Ten games, one nonleague game against Big 5 opponent and two nonleague games against other FBS teams.
Neutral-site games: No
Rationale: This model ensures seven home games annually in Happy Valley. The Big 5 opponent would alternate home/away based on years with 4/5 conference home games. I'd love to see ACC and SEC teams, specifically Pitt (twice every four years) and mixing in Virginia Tech, Louisville, Miami, Florida State, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU, Syracuse. Might even include West Virginia if they get their act together. The other, usually American/MAC, will be guarantee games, such as Temple, Connecticut, Cincinnati, USF, UCF, East Carolina, Massachusetts, Marshall, Buffalo, etc. Is it too much to ask Rutgers and Maryland to schedule us a MetLife and FedEx/M&T at least once every four years? Hopefully, that will placate the neutral-site/NFL stadium crowd.




 

Craig from Duluth, Minn.

Affiliation: Minnesota
Big Ten games: 8
Nonleague plan: One home-and-home game against a decent "Group of Five" Conference foe (Syracuse, California, TCU, etc.) and three games against FBS non-power conference foes (ex: San Jose State, UNLV, Air Force, Colorado State). The noncon games should be with foes that are within an easy drive of an airport that connects directly to MSP or DLH airports. Since I like to travel to fun places, the game with UNLV could be an annual event as far as I'm concerned.
Neutral-site games: Assuming anyone would be interested in playing us at a neutral site, one such game every four years would be plenty. That would give each student who goes to the Minnesota an opportunity to travel to such a game.
FCS oppponents: I am not opposed to FCS opponents occasionally. Lord knows we haven't been good enough lately to take them for granted as "sure wins." But they don't really excite the fan base.




 

Louie from Too Close to Ann Arbor

Affiliation: Michigan State
Big Ten games: I am OK with nine. Ten is OK, also.
Nonleague plan: One Michigan "Directional" school from the MAC. It will be impossible to hold the "two in our house, one in yours" that Hollis tried to set up but we should keep playing them. Notre Dame every year, and if they won't, as often as possible. It is a great rivalry and historically been good for both schools.Every other nonconference game should be Group of Five.
FCS opponents: No.
Neutral-site games: Extremely mixed feelings as a season ticket holder (44th year). They bring great exposure but it is hard on the fans. If you look at last year: travel to the championship game, $$; to the Rose Bowl, $$$$; and an early season trip to Atlanta or Jerry's World, $$$. It would really make it hard to try to make a conference away game once in a while. If it is the only way to get high visibility opponents like Texas, Alabama, or Notre Dame, we should do it.
College coaches are always trying to find ways to relate to high school recruits. Music is an easy way to do that, and talking about a prospect's favorite rapper or citing some lyrics is usually the easiest way.

Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith took that to a whole new level on Thursday by tweeting a Photoshopped picture of tight ends coach Tim Hinton in a Bugatti.

That is a reference to the Ace Hood song "Bugatti."

Smith's next tweet was just as good, showing a Photoshopped Hinton dropping the Nae Nae, a popular dance.

Let's just hope these tweets weren't inspired by actual events.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 29, 2014
May 29
12:00
PM ET
The SEC thinks James Franklin's recruiting practices are unfair? "Modern Family" sums up the issue well.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

May, 28, 2014
May 28
5:00
PM ET
Only one mailbag from me this week because of the holiday. Let's make it a good one (instead of the usual, wholly adequate ones):


Brian L. via Twitter writes: Do you think MSU would be where they are today, including Mark Dantonio, if Mouse Trap and Little Giants had failed three years ago?

Brian Bennett: It's an interesting question. For sure, the 2010 season represented a breakthrough for Dantonio and the Spartans as they won 11 games and captured a share of their first Big Ten title in 20 years. While both those trick plays -- Mouse Trap vs. Northwestern and Little Giants against Notre Dame -- proved crucial to the outcome, it's possible Michigan State could have won without them, but we'll never know for sure. The key question, I guess, is if the Spartans had lost both those games, would they have continued on their upward climb? The Little Giants play in particular and that 11-win season really began to put the program back on the national radar, showed a different side of Dantonio to the public and probably contributed toward the team's momentum. So it's all part of the stew, so to speak. But I also think Dantonio and his staff had been building toward great things with their recruiting and coaching stability, so it might have happened regardless.


Ron from Michigan writes: Brian, I would say Michigan's most indispensable defensive player has to be cornerback Blake Countess. He's great in coverage and had a lot of interceptions last season which contributed to helping the offense as well. Did you at least put him in the mix for consideration?

Brian Bennett: He was definitely considered. But the fact is that Countess is now at nickelback, which is an important position (and, of course, a terrible band) but not necessarily the most important on the field. If Jabrill Peppers is the real deal, Michigan will be fine at corner. Maybe we're expecting too much of Peppers early on, but that's why Countess wasn't listed among the two most indispensable.


Clint C. via Twitter writes: Can the Hawkeyes finally get over the hump and finish in the top two this year in the Big Ten?

Brian Bennett: I assume by top two you mean winning the West Division. And Iowa has a great chance to do just that. Not only do they miss Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan from the East, they get Wisconsin and Nebraska at home the final two weeks. You simply can't ask for a better schedule, and Kirk Ferentz's team has enough experience and talent that it could be favored in every single game this season.


Luke B. via Twitter writes: What is IU's realistic ceiling for this season?

Brian Bennett: Unlike Iowa, the schedule does Indiana few favors in 2014. Consecutive nonconference road games against Bowling Green -- a potential favorite in the MAC -- and reigning SEC East Division champ Missouri will not be easy, and the Hoosiers also have road games at Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan. Still, this program has been improving under Kevin Wilson the past few years and wasn't far off from making a bowl game last season. Getting to the postseason should be the ultimate goal this year, and I think seven wins is probably the ceiling if the defense can become even moderately respectable.


Connor M. via Twitter writes: After losing 4/5 of their O-line and 3/4 of their DBs, can the Buckeyes' skill position players and defensive front seven hold it down until those groups come along?

Brian Bennett: That's really the key question for Ohio State's season. The losses in the secondary, except for Bradley Roby, don't sting that much since the pass defense was atrocious at the end of last season, anyway. There is talent to work with back there, and I think the new approach by Chris Ash should help the Buckeyes be more aggressive and better use their speed in pass coverage. I still have some questions about the linebackers. The defensive line should be one of the best in the country, provided that it weathers the storm from the loss of Noah Spence for two games and Jamal Marcus, who is transferring.

The offensive line will need to find the right mix, but Ed Warriner is one of the best in the business of figuring that stuff out. Ohio State might not have the best offensive line in the Big Ten in 2014, but I expect it to remain very good with perhaps some early growing pains. The Buckeyes are loaded with speed at the offensive skill positions, but remember they lost their top rusher (Carlos Hyde) and top receiver (Corey Brown) and that there aren't many proven players in that wideout corps.

Urban Meyer's team is young but ridiculously talented in a lot of key spots, which is why I think Ohio State is the most intriguing team in the Big Ten this season. Playing Navy, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati in three of the first four games is no cakewalk and will be a much bigger challenge than the Buckeyes experienced the past two seasons in the nonconference slate. The best news for Meyer's team is that Braxton Miller is back, and he can erase a lot of mistakes early on while all the parts come together.


Joe H. Florida writes: Brian, I have been to both Minneanoplace and the Big Guava (Tampa). You need to get out more if you think Tampa can't compare to the Twin Cities.

Brian Bennett: To each his own, Joe. But I've been to Tampa more than a dozen times in my life, and other than the great weather and proximity to the beaches, I've found it to be a very dull city without much of a central hub. Minneapolis has much more to do downtown (and you can even walk indoors when it's cold). Fans would complain about the weather in the Twin Cities, but I think they would find plenty of fun activities if Minneapolis were to host the College Football Playoff title game.
Scheduling is a hot topic around college football these days as the major conferences hold their spring meetings and plan for a future that finally includes a playoff system. Whether it's number of conference games, how often to play other major-conference teams, whether to schedule FCS teams, or playing neutral-site games, everyone is trying to find the magic scheduling formula.

So what works best? It depends on the team and, in some cases, the league.

It's admirable to hear Alabama coach Nick Saban say he wants all teams from the five power conferences -- SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC -- to play only one another, creating a better product for the fans.


Saban is right, but it's also easier for him to make such a statement when he almost always has the most talented team on the field.

Other teams are just trying to get bowl-eligible, so a more manageable schedule model is the best route for them.

Here's your assignment today: Create the ideal 12-game schedule model for your team. It requires a good deal of introspection because very few teams can realistically target the College Football Playoff.

Take a look at your team, its realistic goals (that's the hard part), and what you would like to see out of the schedule. You are the athletic director, but you also must consider what works best for your fan base.

Answer the following questions in your responses:
  • How many Big Ten games would you like to see on the schedule: eight, nine, perhaps 10?
  • How many nonleague games should your team play against other teams from Group of Five conferences? Which teams would you ideally like to see?
  • Should your team schedule FCS opponents? Why or why not? And if yes, which ones?
  • How would you approach neutral-site games? Would you avoid them completely? Would you schedule them every year or every other year? Which teams would you schedule and where would you play? Keep in mind that Big Ten athletic directors are warming up to these games more and more as they try to put together nonleague schedules after 2016.

Keep your responses fairly short and send them here and here. Identify yourself and your team. We'll print some of the best ones later this week in the blog.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 28, 2014
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With former Iowa assistant football coach Eric Johnson now entering the fast food business, national recruiting reporter Jeremy Crabtree ranks the top recruiters in the Big Ten.
Most would agree New Year's Day bowl games don't mean what they used to. You could say the same thing about rushing for 1,000 yards. There are more games and more plays in the sport today, and it's hardly uncommon for a player to reach four digits on the ground, as 51 FBS players got there in 2013.

Still, the 1,000-yard rushing mark is no small feat, and it's a good gauge for assessing players, teams and leagues. The Big Ten had seven 1,000-yard rushers in 2013, one fewer than it had in 2012.

We begin a series of statistical projections for the 2014 season with 1,000 rush yards, and our analysis begins with the five men who got there last fall and who return to their teams this year.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsNebraska's Ameer Abdullah is looking to post his third season of rushing for over 1,000 yards.
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska (1,690 rush yards in 2013): Abdullah was one of the most consistent backs in the country last fall, eclipsing 100 rush yards in 11 of 13 games, including a streak of eight consecutive 100-yard performances. He will try to become the first Husker with three seasons of 1,000 rush yards or more. Although it might be tough for Abdullah to match last year's overall rushing numbers, barring injury, he should have little trouble reaching the 1,000-yard mark.

Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin (1,609 yards): Gordon surged out of the gate with 140 rush yards or more in each of his first four games last season, as he topped the FBS rushing chart. Despite sharing time with fellow 1,000-yard back James White and never logging more than 22 carries, Gordon had eight games with at least 140 rush yards and averaged 7.8 yards per carry. He's arguably the nation's top big-play ball-carrying threat and should easily eclipse 1,000 rush yards as he steps into a bigger role.

Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State (1,422): It's impossible to quietly rush for 1,400 yards in a season, but Langford slipped under the radar as his teammates on defense and at quarterback received more attention. Still, his consistency should not be overlooked: He set a team record with eight consecutive 100-yard rushing performances and led the Big Ten with 18 rushing touchdowns. He did much of his damage late in games. Although Langford likely won't get 292 carries again, he should easily get to 1,000 rush yards.

David Cobb, RB, Minnesota (1,202) Arguably no Gophers player benefited more from the team's commitment to the power run on offense. Cobb logged 237 carries -- second in the Big Ten behind Langford and Abdullah -- and had five 100-yard rushing performances, the most by a Minnesota player since Marion Barber III in 2003. Cobb did much of his damage in Big Ten play, recording four consecutive 100-yard rushing performances. Another 1,000-yard season is possible, but Cobb faces arguably more competition than any back on this list and will have to keep progressing.

Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State (1,068): Miller is poised to finish his career as one of the Big Ten's most productive offensive players. The league's reigning two-time offensive player of the year needs just 842 rush yards to move into second place on the Big Ten's all-time quarterback rushing list. More impressive, he needs 715 yards to claim second place on Ohio State's all-time rushing list (all players). Miller certainly is capable of a third 1,000-yard season, but a revamped line and his goal of improving as a passer could make it challenging.

Now let's take a look at eight other players who could challenge that 1,000-yard mark in 2013, in order of likelihood:

Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana (958 rush yards in 2013): Coleman finished ahead of Langford, Cobb and Miller in rushing average (106.4 ypg) and easily would have reached four digits had he played in more than nine games. A big-play threat who averaged a Gordon-like 7.3 yards per carry last season, Coleman should have no trouble surging past 1,000 yards this season.

[+] EnlargeMark Weisman
David Purdy/Getty ImagesIowa's Mark Weisman has just missed 1,000 yards in the past two years, but this could be the season he tops that magic number.
Mark Weisman, RB, Iowa (975): Weisman has been close to 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons and should get there as a senior. He will be sharing carries with Jordan Canzeri and others, and Iowa likely will balance out Weisman's touches a bit more. But if Weisman can break off a few more big runs behind a good offensive line, he'll get to 1,000.

Zach Zwinak, RB, Penn State (989): Some would argue Zwinak isn't the best running back on his team (Bill Belton), but the fact remains he reached 1,000 yards in 2012 and nearly got there last season. The carries balanced between Zwinak and Belton could make it tougher for either back to reach the milestone, and the offensive line is a concern.

Paul James, RB, Rutgers (881): Know the name, Big Ten fans. James rushed for 881 yards on only 156 carries last season. His rushing total through the first four games (573 yards) trailed only Gordon for the FBS lead. Health is a concern here, but if James stays on the field, a 1,000-yard season is easily within reach.

Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern: Projecting Mark is tricky as he rushed for 1,371 yards in 2012 but missed most of last season with injuries and remains prone to more health issues. He's an excellent candidate to gash defenses for big yards if he remains on the field, and he should play behind an improved offensive line.

Josh Ferguson, RB, Illinois (779): It all comes down to opportunities for Ferguson, who averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season but also finished second on the team in receptions with 50. A true big-play threat, Ferguson is capable of getting to 1,000 yards but likely needs at least 25 more carries.

Bill Belton, RB, Penn State (803): Like Zwinak, Belton faces some challenges: sharing carries and playing behind a potentially leaky line. But he has shown superstar potential at times and turned in a strong spring for the new coaching staff.

Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin (547): Like Gordon, Clement makes the most of his opportunities. He averaged 8.2 yards per carry as a freshman, and while he's Gordon's backup now, he could become a 1A player by midseason. Gordon and White set an NCAA record for single-season rush yards by teammates. Gordon and Clement could challenge it.

Who do you think reaches 1,000 rush yards this fall? Let us know.

Big Ten Tuesday mailblog

May, 27, 2014
May 27
5:00
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You ask, I attempt to answer. I ask, you follow us on Twitter. Deal? Good.

To the inbox ...

Lance from Greensboro, N.C., writes: Your answer to Rajiv highlights the problems with the so-called "playoff". If all five power conference champions ran the table, one of them would HAVE to be left out.

Adam Rittenberg: That's true, Lance, but it's also extremely unlikely. Let's look at how many power-conference teams (or Notre Dame) ended the regular season (including league title games) with perfect records during the past 10 seasons. For these purposes, I'm including any team that will be in a power conference in the 2014 season.

Here's the list:

2013: Florida State
2012: Notre Dame
2011: LSU
2010: Auburn, Oregon
2009: Alabama, Texas (Boise State and Cincinnati were not in power conferences in 2014)
2008: Utah (Boise State also undefeated)
2007: None
2006: Ohio State (Boise State also undefeated)
2005: USC, Texas
2004: USC, Oklahoma, Auburn (Boise State also undefeated)

As you can see, the chances of five undefeated teams from power conferences in the same season -- much less three -- is highly unlikely. The playoff will be more about which one-loss teams are most deserving. If you run the table in a Group of Five conference, you should be in.


John from Kansas City, Missouri, writes: It seems that Iowa is at that point in [Kirk] Ferentz's "cycle" where they have the unusual combination of experience and talent. They also have a very favorable schedule, leaving the traditional powers from the east off the slate. Let's say this Iowa team clicks and has a 10-, 11- or 12-win regular season and makes it to the B1G championship. Does Iowa get the praise and credit of being back at the top of the conference or does the success get written off as a product of the weak schedule?

Adam Rittenberg: John, it's probably not what you want to hear, but I think you would hear a lot about Iowa's schedule. It would depend a lot on what Nebraska and Wisconsin do in their games before visiting Kinnick Stadium in late November. We know at least one of them will have a loss as they meet Nov. 15 in Madison, but it would help Iowa if one or both are ranked in the top 10 when they come to Iowa City. Otherwise, Iowa likely will gain national credibility only by beating a team like Michigan State or Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game. It could feel a lot like 2009, when Iowa kept winning but didn't receive much love outside the Big Ten footprint.


Louie Louie from Evanston, Ill., writes: Why do people think Northwestern is going to be bad next year? Do people really think that last year was a return to the mean rather than a fluke year? I think Trevor Siemian is underrated - I think he's still one of the best pure passers in the Big Ten; the running back corps is underrated with Venric Mark, Treyvon Green and Stephen Buckley, among others. The wide receiver corps is among the best in the B1G and the secondary has a host of experience. Of course, the big problems are the offensive line and the interior defensive line, but it's not like the teams on its schedule are particularly great. I'm predicting at least a seven-win season, more likely eight wins.

Adam Rittenberg: Louie, part of the low expectations can be traced to a 5-7 season combined with the unionization issue, which many believe could splinter the team. But part of the expectations also can be traced to folks not doing their homework. Northwestern had everything go wrong last season and still was two plays away from being 7-5. The roster doesn't turn over significantly, and the defense could be the best in Pat Fitzgerald's tenure. If the lines hold up, this team should win at least six games and possibly eight or nine.

I disagree with you about the schedule: While Northwestern misses Michigan State and Ohio State, its nonleague schedule features Notre Dame, Cal and Northern Illinois, and its home schedule (Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan) isn't particularly easy. But if Northwestern remains relatively healthy, it should be in most games and win more than it did during a disastrous 2013 season.


Scott from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Which plays a bigger role in the success of the Buckeyes this season? 1) O-line; 2) defensive back seven?

Adam Rittenberg: Scott, normally when an offensive line loses four starters, the group automatically becomes the biggest question mark on the team and, in turn, will shape success or failure. But I have enough faith in Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warinner, one of the best in the country, to get his revamped group ready for the season. The Buckeyes will move the ball and score points.

The back seven on defense is the bigger issue because teams repeatedly attacked them late in the 2013 season. I really like the Chris Ash hire to boost the secondary, and the talent is there for a rebound. But I wonder about the depth. The defensive line should be dominant at times, but teams will find holes if Ohio State doesn't improve on the back end. The development of the linebackers and secondary will have more bearing on Ohio State's success.


Austin from Camp Hill writes: Which B1G draft pick do you foresee making the biggest impact in his first year at the next level?

Adam Rittenberg: I really like linebacker Ryan Shazier with Pittsburgh. He had a very productive junior season at Ohio State but can get so much better with his skill set. He should thrive in the Steelers' defense, which has had success with other Big Ten standouts. I also think Darqueze Dennard fits in really well at Cincinnati, which got a steal by drafting him at No. 24. There are some concerns about whether he'll be an elite corner and master zone coverage, but his aggressiveness and coachability should translate really well with the Bengals. You want a sleeper pick? I really like safety Brock Vereen with the Chicago Bears.

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ESPN 300 athlete Porter Gustin (Salem, Utah/Salem Hills) took time out to talk recruiting and more with WeAreSC's Garry Paskwietz on Tuesday at The Opening.
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