Ohio State Buckeyes: Jim Tressel

The Final Four of our all-time Big Ten coaches tournament is all set.

On Monday, we announced that Penn State's Joe Paterno and Nebraska's Tom Osborne both advanced to the semifinals. Now it's time to find out the rest of our field.

Our seventh game pitted No. 2 seed Michigan's Bo Schembechler against No. 10 seed Barry Alvarez of Wisconsin. Alvarez made this closer than expected for a while, but Schembechler finished as the victor, earning 61 percent of your vote to 39 percent for the Badgers' Hall of Famer.

Game 8 was an all-Buckeyes affair between No. 1 overall seed Woody Hayes and No. 9 seed Jim Tressel. Hayes won that one going away, by a count of 82 percent to 18.

So our Final Four matchups will look like this:

No. 4 Joe Paterno vs. No. 1 Woody Hayes

No. 3 Tom Osborne vs. No. 2 Bo Schembechler

We'll open up the voting for these semifinals on Thursday. This should be a lot of fun.

Curiously, we didn't really get a lot of responses on the Alvarez-Schembechler match. Don't forget to send in your comments (especially you Bo backers). Here are a couple of your thoughts on the Hayes-Tressel showdown:
Matt from Cape Coral, Fla.: I grew up a huge Tress fan and the 2002 national title game is what finally sold me on football as a kid, but when it comes down to it, Woody is Ohio State football and you cannot argue with five national championships. I voted for Woody.

Robert B. from Logan, Ohio: Brian, in 1964, I was 14. We were in Canton for the North-South game. Woody was recruiting the son of my parents' best friends and we were at a local restaurant for lunch. My father had died less than a month before. Now I don't know if Stein, the boy's father, asked him to, or not, but Woody came over to the table and sat down and talked to me for about 15 minutes. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of stories just like mine that prove that Woody Hayes was more of a hero off the field than on. His record speaks for itself, but I am one speaking to his compassion. To me, he was a soft-spoken, kind man. I bleed scarlet and gray, as my father did, my children do, and my grandchildren do. Woody Hayes was a complete person and that's why I vote for him, even over Tressel.
Our Big Ten coaches tournament is down to eight legends, and only four of them will be marching on next week to the semifinals.

We come now to the last of our four second-round games. And it's an all-Buckeyes battle.

No. 1 Ohio State's Woody Hayes vs. No. 9 Ohio State's Jim Tressel


Tournament résumés:
  • SportsNation

    Which coach wins this second-round matchup?

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      82%
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      18%

    Discuss (Total votes: 6,137)

    Tressel: He coached exactly 10 years in the Big Ten before he left under a cloud of scandal, but few coaches have had better 10-year runs. Ohio State dominated the league under The Vest, winning or sharing seven Big Ten titles (though the last one was vacated) and the 2002 BCS championship. Tressel owns the second-highest winning percentage, both overall and in league play, for coaches who spent at least 10 years inside the conference.
  • Hayes: He's the No. 1 seed in the tournament for a reason. Hayes won 205 games, the most of any coach while a member of the Big Ten, and a record 152 league games. He also captured 13 Big Ten championships, tying him for the most all time, and five national titles (1954, 1957, 1961, 1968 and 1970). He was irascible, unyielding and one of a kind, and some of those qualities led to his downfall. But he is virtually synonymous with Ohio State and the Big Ten.

Which coach advances? Voting is open through Monday morning, and drop us a note as to why you voted the way you did. The best responses will run in our results posts.
We've arrived at the end of the first round of our all-time Big Ten coaches tournament.

Our final opening-round game pitted the most recent coach in our field against someone who started coaching in the Big Ten in 1913: No. 9 seed Ohio State's Jim Tressel vs. No. 8 seed Illinois' Bob Zuppke.

The possible future president of the University of Akron advanced with ease, as Tressel ousted Zuppke by a count of 68 percent to 32 percent in your voting.

And so our elite eight is set, and Tressel will face top overall seed Woody Hayes in an all-Buckeyes showdown. Look for the next two matchups later this week.

But first, let's hear some of your comments on our last first-round game:
Josh from Columbus, Ohio: Age skews my vote. I voted before even reading about the other coach. It would seem he would be more deserving. However, I appreciate what Tressel did for me as a fan. For that, Tressel gets my vote.
A.J. from Hickory, N.C.: I'm picking The Vest. You look at what he did during his time at OSU. He was pretty much forced out because of what happened. Think about what he could have done with more time.
Dukester from San Diego: Even though I'm an Ohio State fan, and I love Jim Tressel, I voted for Bob Zuppke. Four national championships, the long and successful tenure, Red Grange, etc. As great as Tressel was, I've gotta believe that Zuppke accomplished more.
Chad from Dacula, Ga: I vote for Tressel. Just based on his record against the other top school in the B1G, TTUN! (At least during that 10-year reign).
Chief Illiniwek from Illinois: Zuppke beats Tressel hands down. Anyone looking from a distance might not appreciate how much of an innovator Bob Zuppke was, not just with the huddle but with his formations and game planning. No two games were coached or planned the same, in an era when most teams had no more than a handful of plays they used all season. Coaches like Tressel (a great coach, no doubt) were able to accomplish what they did in large part because of coaches like Zuppke and Stagg. On top of that, Zuppke was a great motivator and educator, as Red Grange himself pointed out. Zuppke made Grange earn his way onto the team and pay his own way through school with no guarantee of playing time, but he also taught him a lot about football. Without Zuppke, there is no Grange, and without Grange, possibly no NCAA football or NFL as we know it.

B1G coaches' tournament: Game 4

March, 21, 2014
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On Wednesday, we introduced the all-time Big Ten coaches tournament, and now it's time to close out our first round.

Remember, this is a 12-team tournament in which the top four seeds all received byes. Those top four seeds are:

1. Woody Hayes, Ohio State
2. Bo Schembechler, Michigan
3. Tom Osborne, Nebraska
4. Joe Paterno, Penn State

SportsNation

Which coach wins this first round matchup

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    32%
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    68%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,823)

Our final first-round game pits the No. 8 seed vs. the No. 9 seed, with the winner advancing to face top overall seed Woody Hayes. Your votes will determine the winner, and you have until late Tuesday morning to weigh in on this one.

Let's wrap up Round 1 with:

No. 8 Illinois' Bob Zuppke vs. No. 9 Ohio State's Jim Tressel


Tournament résumés:

Tressel: He coached exactly 10 years in the Big Ten before he left under a cloud of scandal, but few coaches have had better 10-year runs. Ohio State dominated the league under The Vest, winning or sharing seven Big Ten titles (though the last one was vacated) and the 2002 BCS championship. Tressel owns the second-highest winning percentage, both overall and in league play, for coaches who spent at least 10 years inside the conference.

Zuppke: He had a much longer tenure than Tressel, coaching the Illini from 1913 to 1941. During that span, he won four national titles (1914, 1919, 1923, and 1927), and his teams included the legendary Red Grange. Zuppke is also credited for inventing the huddle, and he captured seven Big Ten titles.

Which coach advances? Vote now, and drop us a note as to why you voted the way you did. The best responses will run in our results posts.
We're a 24/7/365 football blog around here, but it's impossible to not get caught up in the excitement of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

But while football will have its own, smaller version of March Madness with the College Football Playoff this season, we don't want to wait that long. Why let the basketball guys have all the fun when we can hold our own tournament?

In past years, we did this with the top players and championship teams of the past 15 years. This time around, we're going to pit the best coaches in Big Ten history against one another in a winner-take-all bracket.

The Big Ten has an incredible roster of accomplished coaches in its lore. (And, yes, we're including all current Big Ten member schools, regardless of how long they've been in the league. We're inclusive here. Deal with it.). Narrowing the field to our customary eight was difficult, if not downright unthinkable. So we've expanded the bracket to 12 this time, with the top four seeds getting byes and the others trying to play their way in. Be on standby, Dayton.

We're looking for coaches who have won Big Ten titles and national championships, those who stuck around long enough to pile up Hall of Fame résumés and build unmistakable legacies. No current coaches are involved, as we'll let them finish their careers before we start stacking them up against the all-timers.

The tournament will kick off Thursday with the first couple of matchups. But first, here is a look at the entire field, in alphabetical order:
  • Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin: Alvarez revived the Badgers program during his 16 years at the helm in Madison, compiling 118 wins. He also earned three Rose Bowl victories and is the only league coach to ever win back-to-back Rose Bowls. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
  • Bernie Bierman, Minnesota: The Gophers claimed five national titles under Bierman (1934, 1935, 1936, 1940 and 1941) and won seven Big Ten championships from 1932-41. He went 93-35-6 at Minnesota and also won a national title as a player with the Gophers.
  • Duffy Daugherty, Michigan State: Daugherty coached the Spartans from 1954 to 1972 and led them to back-to-back national titles in 1965 and 1966. The rest of his tenure didn't go as well, but Daugherty is tied for the sixth-most Big Ten wins ever.
  • Hayden Fry, Iowa: The Hawkeyes hadn't had a winning season in 17 years before Fry arrived before the 1979 season. He proceeded to go 143-89-6 in Iowa City, claiming three Big Ten titles. His 98 Big Ten wins are fourth-most ever.
  • Woody Hayes, Ohio State: Few coaches are as synonymous with a school as Hayes is with Ohio State. He won 205 games, the most of any coach while a member of the Big Ten, and a record 152 league games. Hayes also won 13 Big Ten championships, tying him for the most all time, and five national titles (1954, 1957, 1961, 1968 and 1970).
  • Tom Osborne, Nebraska: There aren't many coaches more beloved and universally respected than Osborne, who went 255-49-3 while leading the Huskers to three national titles in a four-year span (1994, 1995 and 1997). How about this: His teams never won fewer than nine games in a season, and this was before 12-, 13- and even 14-game seasons became the norm.
  • Joe Paterno, Penn State: JoePa won a record 409 games, plus two national championships (1982, 1986) and four other undefeated seasons. He won all four major bowl games -- the Rose, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar -- and was the AFCA national coach of the year five times. His career ended in scandal and a huge chunk of his wins were vacated by the NCAA.
  • Bo Schembechler, Michigan: Bo and Woody. Woody and Bo. Two coaches really defined the Big Ten for decades, and Schembechler was one of them. He is tied with Hayes for the most Big Ten titles ever (13) and his 143 Big Ten victories are the second-most all time. Schembechler has the highest conference winning percentage (.850) of any coach who competed in the Big Ten for at least 10 years. But he never won a national title.
  • Amos Alonzo Stagg, Chicago: Listen up, youngsters. The University of Chicago was a charter member of the Big Ten, and Stagg was its sports titan. He won 199 games, including 116 Big Ten victories, as well as two national championships (1905, 1913). Stagg is credited with innovating many plays and formations used in modern football, and he was also named to the Basketball Hall of Fame for his contributions to that sport.
  • Jim Tressel, Ohio State: Tressel coached exactly 10 years in the Big Ten before he was forced to resign, but what a decade it was. He has the second-highest winning percentage both overall and in league play for coaches who spent at least 10 years inside the conference, and he won or shared seven league titles (though the 2010 co-championship was later vacated). Tressel is the last Big Ten coach to win a national title, in 2002.
  • Fielding Yost, Michigan: The Wolverines won six national titles under Yost (1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1918 and 1923) and his 10 Big Ten titles trails only Hayes and Schembechler. His career winning percentage of .888 while a Big Ten head coach is the best all time among those who coached at least a decade in the league.
  • Bob Zuppke, Illinois: He was the Illini head coach from 1913 to 1941 and won four national titles (1914, 1919, 1923, and 1927). Zuppke is credited for inventing the huddle, which is kind of a big deal, and he also coached the legendary Red Grange. He is tied with Daugherty for the sixth-most Big Ten wins of all time, and he captured seven Big Ten titles.

As you can see, this is an impressive field. We couldn't even include all the amazing coaches from history, including Michigan's Fritz Crisler, Nebraska's Bob Devaney or Minnesota's Henry Williams, to name just a few. (Sorry, Huskers fans, but while Osborne has a tenuous connection to the Big Ten as the athletic director who ushered the school into the league, Devaney's great career had no Big Ten ties. Don't worry. You can simply throw all your considerable voting power behind Osborne if you desire.)

Stay tuned for the opening matchups. "The ball is tipped ..."

Big Ten lunchtime links

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
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Happy Patriot League tournament final day.

Big Ten Tuesday mailblog

March, 11, 2014
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First of two this week. Send your Big Ten football questions here. And follow us on Twitter.

To the inbox ...

AIS from Madison, Wis., writes: I seem to remember that Minnesota had a returning 1,000-yard rusher last year in Donnell Kirkwood, before he was limited by injuries. David Cobb put together a great season in his time as the featured back but had to split carries for a while before separating from Rodrick Williams. I'm not a Minnesota fan, but I believe that all three of the runners I mentioned will be back in 2014. Is Jeff Jones that good to expect immediate contributions with a healthy stable of more experienced (and to varying degrees, capable) backs?

Adam Rittenberg: We'll soon find out, AIS, but running back is a position in which freshmen can contribute immediately, and Jones arrives at Minnesota with more fanfare than any of the other backs. You bring up a good point about Kirkwood, who had 926 rushing yards in 2012 but was largely forgotten after his injury and with Cobb's emergence last year. Williams also quietly averaged 5.5 yards per carry last year. Jones clearly won't walk into a major role. He'll have to earn it. But he had a great senior year and has the talent to produce right away and push older players.




Todd from The Land of Chief Illiniwek writes: On Friday, you said "no thanks" to the idea of a standing major nonconference rivalry game between Nebraska and Missouri, but your counterargument raised an alternative that supports the idea. Nebraska shouldn't play Missouri but rather Big 12 Oklahoma every year. Illinois should play SEC Missouri every year (with hopefully better results than during the Zook era). Iowa should play Big 12 Iowa State. Michigan should play Pac-12 USC. Purdue should play Notre Dame. Penn State should play Pitt. Indiana should play a basketball rival like North Carolina or Kansas? Have Ohio State play Alabama. Maryland and Rutgers should play their biggest rivals from their old conferences, or maybe an annual replay of the Rutgers vs. Harvard birth of American football played on a rugby pitch without pads ...

Adam Rittenberg: Todd, it's not that simple, and you're missing my larger point. First, trying to get all those schools on board with what amounts to an exclusive nonconference scheduling agreement -- few of them would play another marquee nonleague opponent because of minimum home-game requirements -- is very tough. Remember the ill-fated Big Ten-Pac-12 scheduling alliance? You would run into similar issues, especially with a school such as USC, which isn't giving up its annual series against Notre Dame for one with Michigan. The larger point is this model prevents variety in scheduling. Wouldn't fans rather see different marquee opponents every few years than the same group (non-con rival, MAC opponent, other small-conference opponent)? I know I would.




Dan from Scottsdale, Ariz., writes: Adam, what's your take on Tress [Jim Tressel] being included or excluded in the Hall of Fame? As a Buckeyes fan, I enjoy whenever Tress is a topic. He was so dominant in his 10 years and I get a kick when all the haters get worked up. (You, Michigan. 9-1. That's right, 9). And, do you think he will be a head coach again?

Adam Rittenberg: It's interesting to see him on the ballot, Dan, and it's largely because of his accomplishments at Youngstown State. He's actually listed under "divisional coaches" on the ballot, and they're highlighting his achievements at YSU more than those at OSU. Tressel's overall achievements in coaching merit a spot in the Hall of Fame, regardless of how things ended in Columbus. Will he coach again? Many of those close to him think he will, but he also really enjoys his administrative position at Akron. I think it all depends on what opportunities come his way.




Jeff from Cleveland writes: Dear Abby (Adam), I am a huge Cats fan, and early reports from spring practice suggest that Trevor Siemian has pulled ahead in the QB competition. Recent reports also suggest that Siemian's inconsistent play during last season was largely attributable to injury. While I would like to forget last season and look ahead to the fall, I am still haunted by Siemian's unforgivable pick 6s (Ohio State, Nebraska, Minnesota). Should I forgive and forget, or do I have reason to worry about Siemian's ability to consistently deliver top-level Big Ten QB play?

Adam Rittenberg: You can't completely forget the past when judging a player, Jeff, but the injury, which made an impact on his footwork on throws, along with poor offensive line play, must be factored into the equation. Siemian has been pretty solid when given time to throw and a system that puts him in position to succeed. Northwestern's two-quarterback system worked in 2012, but I think you'll see a more confident Siemian as the clear starter, especially if the offense goes back to what we saw from 2007-10 (pass heavy). Northwestern has veteran receivers, a good tight end and plenty of options at running back. If the offensive line holds up, Siemian should be improved this fall.




Scott from Lebanon, Pa., writes: I'm a Penn State fan and especially like the trophy games (e.g., Paul Bunyan's Ax, Floyd of Rosedale, etc.) that are played in the B1G. Now that Maryland and Rutgers joined the B1G, I have an idea for two trophy games when they play Penn State. The trophy for PSU vs. Maryland would be the Surveyor's Transit (Mason-Dixon Line) and when PSU plays Rutgers, the trophy would be Washington's Tricorn (Washington crossed the Delaware River, The Battle of Trenton). What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Much bigger fan of Washington's tricorn than the other one, Scott, mainly because I'm not sure many people know what the surveyor's transit actually is (not a bad-looking item, though). Imagine the pictures players would get wearing that headgear after victories. Maybe Penn State and Maryland could just play for the right to own Delaware?
Twenty-one players who suited up for current Big Ten schools are on the 2014 ballot for the College Football Hall of Fame. Two coaches also made the ballot, including former Ohio State boss Jim Tressel.

Selections will be announced in May.

To be eligible, players must have been named a first-team All-American by a major national outlet, played their final season at least 10 years ago, played within the past 50 years and not currently be playing professional football. Coaches must have coached for a minimum of 10 years and 100 games, won at least 60 percent of their games and be retired for at least three years (unless they're older than 70).

Here's the Big Ten contingent for 2014 (in alphabetical order):

Players
  • Trev Alberts, LB, Nebraska (1990-93)*
  • Larry Burton, SE, Purdue (1973-74)
  • Dave Butz, DT, Purdue (1970-72)
  • Shane Conlan, LB, Penn State (1983-86)*
  • Tom Cousineau, LB, Ohio State (1975-78)
  • Eric Crouch, QB, Nebraska (1998-2001)*
  • D.J. Dozier, RB, Penn State (1983-86)*
  • Tim Dwight, WR/KR, Iowa (1994-97)
  • Jumbo Elliott, OT, Michigan (1984-87)
  • Kirk Gibson, WR, Michigan State (1975-78)
  • Dana Howard, LB, Illinois (1991-94)
  • Clinton Jones, RB, Michigan State (1964-66)
  • Tim Krumrie, DT, Wisconsin (1979-82)
  • Rob Lytle, RB, Michigan (1973-76)
  • Mark Messner, DL/LB, Michigan (1985-88)
  • Tom Nowatzke, FB, Indiana (1961-64)
  • Jim Otis, FB, Ohio State (1967-69)
  • Antwaan Randle El, QB, Indiana (1998-2001)
  • Simeon Rice, LB, Illinois (1992-95)
  • Lorenzo White, RB, Michigan State (1984-87)
  • Steve Wisniewski, G, Penn State, (1985-88)*
* played for team before it joined Big Ten

Coaches
  • Darryl Rogers, Michigan State, 1976-79 (also coached at Cal-State Hayward, Fresno State, San Jose State and Arizona State)
  • Jim Tressel, Ohio State, 2001-10 (also coached at Youngstown State from 1986-2000, listed under divisional coaches on ballot)

Fourteen of the players, as well as Rogers, appeared on last year's ballot, and 13 (as well as Rogers) appeared on the 2012 ballot. The Big Ten newcomers this year are Penn State's Conlan, Iowa's Dwight, Michigan State's Jones, Wisconsin's Krumrie, Michigan's Messner, and Illinois' dynamic linebacker tandem of Rice and Howard.

Tressel also makes his first appearance on the ballot and will be a fascinating candidate to watch, given his success at both Youngstown State and Ohio State and how things ended for him in Columbus.
As the coach hiring season nears an end, we're examining the Big Ten coaching landscape and some recent trends. We wrap up the series today with a look at the importance of coaching continuity in the Big Ten going forward.

It's no coincidence that a historic downturn in Big Ten football has coincided with a historic stretch of instability among the league's coaches.

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesIowa's Kirk Ferentz has been at his post eight years longer than any other Big Ten coach.
Think back to 2005, a season that ended with two BCS bowl wins and teams ranked No. 3 (Penn State) and No. 4 (Ohio State) in the final polls. Seven of the league's 11 coaches had been at their schools for six or more seasons. Ohio State's Jim Tressel, three years removed from a national title, logged his fifth season in Columbus. Three coaches -- Penn State's Joe Paterno, Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez and Michigan's Lloyd Carr -- all had held their jobs for more than a decade (in Paterno's case, four decades).

The Big Ten coaches that year had combined for four national championships, five Rose Bowl titles and seven BCS bowl victories.

Since 2005, the Big Ten has gone through 17 coaching changes (not counting Nebraska's after the 2007 season). Seven teams have made multiple changes, including Penn State, which introduced new coaches earlier this month and in January 2011 after not doing so since February 1966. Last season, Indiana's Kevin Wilson was the longest-tenured coach in the Leaders division. He was hired in December 2010.

As the Big Ten invests more in its coaches, it also must ensure it has the right leaders in place for the long haul.

"If you believe strongly in the person you have," Iowa athletic director Gary Barta told ESPN.com, "continuity is invaluable."

Few programs value continuity more than Iowa, which has had two coaches (Kirk Ferentz and Hayden Fry) since the 1978 season. Ferentz, who just completed his 15th year at the school, has been at his post eight years longer than any other Big Ten coach. He's one of only four FBS coaches to start before the 2000 season (Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Troy's Larry Blakeney are the others).

Iowa awarded Ferentz with contract extensions both in 2009 and 2010, the latter a whopping 10-year deal with a salary of $3,675,000. The Big Ten hasn't set the pace nationally in coach compensation, but Iowa's pledge to Ferentz, often the subject of NFL rumors, jumps out. Ferentz's salary is frequently debated and scrutinized, especially when Iowa struggles like it did in 2012, but Barta's loyalty to him hasn't wavered. Iowa rebounded to win eight games last season.

"Because of that commitment, we made our statement," Barta said. "We're going to fight through this with the person in whom we have great confidence and trust. There's no guarantees in life, but because of Kirk's past performance, because of his long-standing approach at Iowa and his proven success, it was a risk I was willing to take. Knock on wood, so far it has worked out terrific."

Barta sees a similar approach from Big Ten schools like Michigan State, which won Big Ten and Rose Bowl titles in Mark Dantonio's seventh season as coach. Dantonio in 2011 received a contract designed to keep him a "Spartan for life," and his newest deal is expected to more than double his salary from $1.9 million in 2013.

"Continuity breeds success," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said, "and that's the hardest part sometimes on the institutional side, to keep that commitment, keep that contract whether it's an assistant or a head coach. … It requires a high level of confidence and a high level of trust."

The day of playing musical chairs with coaches, of making change just for change's sake, is over because any changes you make are going to be expensive and important. You've got to get them right.

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon
There have been similar long-term commitments at other Big Ten schools. Northwestern awarded coach Pat Fitzgerald a 10-year contract in 2011. When Indiana hired Wilson, it gave him a seven-year contract, longer than the initial deals new coaches typically receive. Athletic director Fred Glass links Indiana's lack of continuity -- the school has had five coaches since 1996 -- with its on-field struggles (only one bowl appearance since 1993) and knows the school needs a more patient approach.

"Stability is an important thing in our league," said Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, who applauded recent moves like MSU retaining Dantonio and Penn State hiring James Franklin. "The best example I'll use is men’s basketball where we're having tremendous success, in large part, because of the stability we have in a number of our programs. I think we need to get that in football."

While Big Ten football has struggled in recent years, the league is surging on the hardwood, in large part because of veteran coaches like Michigan State's Tom Izzo (19th year), Wisconsin's Bo Ryan (13th year) and Ohio State's Thad Matta (10th year). Six of the league's 12 basketball coaches have been in their jobs for at least five seasons.

Continuity doesn't guarantee success, but it often correlates. Barta has tried to create "an environment of longevity and long-term commitment" at Iowa, while also recognizing the pressure to win and, in some cases, the need to part ways with a coach.

"The day of playing musical chairs with coaches," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said, "of making change just for change's sake, is over because any changes you make are going to be expensive and important. You've got to get them right."

After several years of transition, the Big Ten hopes it has the right men at the top -- and the ability to keep them there.

Big Ten's lunch links

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
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What you know about roses, bro?

Big Ten's lunch links

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16
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At least there are still college all-star games to fill the time.
  • Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg sat down with new coach James Franklin shortly after he was hired, but he wasn't looking for a sales pitch.
  • The Michigan secondary didn't grade well at all in 2013, and it's clear it will need to show marked improvement in defending the pass in 2014.
  • Former Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough has no plans to make himself available to the media, and not only is that at odds with his reputation as a stand-up leader, it's become an "elephant in the room," writes Mike Griffith.
  • An ability to communicate and build relationships with his players has been at the heart of new Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson's success.
  • Ohio State's schedule didn't impress many people around the country during debates about its merit as a national-title threat in 2013. Next season presents a few more challenges.
  • Could the "Year of the Blackshirt" be just what the Nebraska program needs to give it a jolt of life?
  • Minnesota wide receiver Jamel Harbison announced on Twitter that he will transfer.
  • Purdue defensive lineman Langston Newton, a transfer from Kentucky, could potentially be eligible right away and provide some help for the Boilermakers up front.
  • Josh Klecko, son of a NFL great Joe Klecko, is leaving Rutgers.
  • Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand, a Michigan man, had an interesting idea for a tattoo from a rival school if Jim Tressel joins the staff and helps the organization win.

Big Ten all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
10:00
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The BCS is dead. RIP. As we memorialize the BCS era throughout ESPN.com today, we're selecting All-BCS teams from each conference. As a reminder, the BCS era lasted from the 1998 season through the recently completed 2013 season. To narrow our selections a bit, players had to play at least two seasons in the BCS era to be eligible. Nebraska players are part of our list even though the Huskers played in the Big 12 until 2011.

Here's our Big Ten All-BCS team.

Coach: Jim Tressel, Ohio State -- Tressel led Ohio State to the 2002 national title, the Big Ten's only championship in the BCS era, as well as seven Big Ten titles (one vacated).

OFFENSE

QB: Drew Brees, Purdue (1997-2000) -- He led Purdue to the 2000 Big Ten championship and finished his career with league records for passing yards (11,792), touchdown passes (90), total offensive yards (12,693), completions (1,026), and attempts (1,678). Brees won the Maxwell Award in 2000.

RB: Ron Dayne, Wisconsin (1996-99) -- The 1999 Heisman Trophy winner set the NCAA's career rushing record with 6,397 yards (not including bowl games). He won all the major national individual awards in 1999 and became the first player to repeat as Rose Bowl MVP.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMontee Ball had 39 TDs for Wisconsin in 2011.
RB: Montee Ball, Wisconsin (2009-2012) -- The man nicknamed "MoneyBall" tied Barry Sanders' NCAA single-season touchdowns record with 39 in 2011 and set the mark for career touchdowns with 83. He won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back in 2012.

WR: Braylon Edwards, Michigan (2001-04) -- The Big Ten's most recent Biletnikoff Award winner holds the league record for career touchdown receptions (39) and ranks fourth in career receiving yards (3,541). He's the only Big Ten receiver to record 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons.

WR: Lee Evans, Wisconsin (2000-03) -- Evans twice led the Big Ten in receiving yards, eclipsing 1,500 yards in 2001 before rebounding from an ACL tear to record 1,213 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2003.

TE: Dallas Clark, Iowa (1999-2002) -- Clark earned the John Mackey Award in 2002 after recording 43 receptions for 742 yards as Iowa went undefeated in the Big Ten.

OL: Greg Eslinger, Minnesota (2002-05) -- One of the more decorated Big Ten linemen in the BCS era, Eslinger won the Outland Trophy in 2005. He was a two-time first-team All-America selection and a three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection for one of the nation's top rushing offenses.

OL: Joe Thomas, Wisconsin (2003-06) -- Another Outland Trophy winner (2006), Thomas earned unanimous consensus All-America honors that year. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in each of his final two seasons and was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft.

OL: Dominic Raiola, Nebraska (1998-2000) -- In 1998, Raiola became the first Nebraska freshman offensive lineman to start a game in seven years. He went on to earn the Rimington Trophy as the nation's top center, first-team All-Big 12 honors in his final two seasons and consensus first-team All-America honors in 2000.

OL: Robert Gallery, Iowa (1999-2003) -- Gallery claimed the Outland Trophy in 2003 as well as first-team All-America honors. He twice earned first-team All-Big Ten honors as the anchor of a nationally elite offensive line.

OL: Jake Long, Michigan (2003-07) -- Although Long didn't win the Outland, he twice earned consensus first-team All-America honors (unanimous selection in 2007) and twice earned Big Ten offensive lineman of the year honors (beating out Thomas in 2006). Long was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft.

DEFENSE

DE: LaMarr Woodley, Michigan (2003-06) -- Woodley claimed the Rotary Lombardi Award in 2006 as the nation's top lineman. A first-team All-American that season, he finished his career with 10 forced fumbles, tied for seventh on the Big Ten's career list.

DE: Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue (2007-10) -- Unlike most of the men on this list, Kerrigan never played for any BCS bowl teams at Purdue but still had a remarkable career that ended with unanimous consensus first-team All-America honors in 2010. The Big Ten defensive player of the year tied the NCAA record for forced fumbles (14) and recorded 33.5 sacks and 57 tackles for loss.

DT: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (2005-09) -- The most dominant defender in recent years finished fourth in Heisman voting in 2009 (should have been higher) and earned several awards, including the Bednarik, Nagurski and Outland. Suh finished his career with 24 sacks, 57 tackles for loss, four interceptions, three forced fumbles and 41 quarterback hurries.

DT: Devon Still, Penn State (2008-11) -- Penn State produced a string of outstanding defensive tackles including Still, the Big Ten's defensive player of the year in 2011. Still earned consensus first-team All-America honors after recording 17 tackles for loss.

LB: James Laurinaitis, Ohio State (2005-08) -- Laurinaitis won major national awards in each of his final three seasons, including the Nagurski Trophy in 2006. The two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year became just the third Ohio State player to earn consensus All-America honors in three seasons.

LB: Paul Posluszny, Penn State (2003-06) -- Posluszny is one of only two players (Pat Fitzgerald) to twice win the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defender. He became the first Penn State linebacker to twice earn AP All-America honors.

LB: LaVar Arrington, Penn State (1997-99) -- A freakishly athletic linebacker at Linebacker U., Arrington twice earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and won the Bednarik and Butkus Awards as a junior in 1999. He was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft.

CB: Jamar Fletcher, Wisconsin (1998-2000) -- Fletcher claimed the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back in 2000, won Big Ten defensive player of the year honors that year and was a three-time first-team all-conference selection. He's tied for fourth in league history with 21 career interceptions and holds the league record for interception return yards (459).

CB: Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State (2010-13) -- Dennard also claimed the Thorpe Award as he helped Michigan State to its first outright Big Ten title in 26 years and a Rose Bowl victory against Stanford. The two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection recorded 10 career interceptions and led the "No Fly Zone" Spartans secondary.

S: Tyrone Carter, Minnesota (1996-99) -- The only Big Ten safety to win the Thorpe Award, Carter also twice earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and earned unanimous All-America honors in 1999. He set the FBS record for career tackles by a defensive back with 528.

S: Mike Doss, Ohio State (1999-2002) -- A three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection, Doss earned unanimous consensus All-America honors in 2002 as Ohio State won the national title.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Mike Nugent, Ohio State (2001-04) -- Nugent won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker in 2004 and claimed consensus All-America honors in both 2002 and 2004. He holds the Big Ten record for consecutive made field goals with 24.

P: Brandon Fields, Michigan State (2003-06) -- His name is on the Big Ten's punter of the year award for a reason. Fields earned consensus All-America honors in 2004, earned first-team All-Big Ten honors three times and twice led the league in punting, tying for third in career average (45 ypp).

Returns: Ted Ginn, Ohio State (2004-06) and Steve Breaston, Michigan (2003-06) -- Ginn holds the Big Ten single-season records for kick return average (25.6 ypr) and career punt return touchdowns (6), while Breaston claims the league mark for career punt return yards (1,599) and is tied for third in punt return touchdowns (4).

It's tough enough putting together these teams for one season, much less 16 seasons. You can't please everyone, and many exceptional players didn't make the cut.

We decided to go with five offensive linemen rather than a center, two guards and two tackles, in order to recognize the best overall players in the trenches.

There was some debate for a second receiver alongside Michigan's Edwards, as the Big Ten hasn't exactly mass-produced superstars at the position. Several players had great seasons like Michigan State's Charles Rogers in 2002, but we put more stock into overall career output and went with Wisconsin's Evans, who led the league in receiving in 2001 and 2003.

Cornerback created some debate among Fletcher, Dennard and Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins, also a Jim Thorpe Award winner. We faced another tough decision at safety between Ohio State's Doss and Iowa's Bob Sanders.

Surprisingly, the defensive tackle spot produced few bona-fide superstars. Nebraska's Suh, who played his entire career in the Big 12, was an obvious choice but a second choice proved to be tough.

Arguably the toughest choice came at kicker between Nugent and Iowa's Nate Kaeding. Both won Lou Groza Awards and set numerous records. We gave the nod to Nugent, but not by much.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

November, 8, 2013
11/08/13
4:00
PM ET
A few questions and answers before Week 11 in the Big Ten. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter, the best place to track the latest news on Saturdays.

Ready? Break.

Darin from Lyme, N.H., writes: The Buckeyes don't need to worry about making the national title game if they win out. If you look at the BCS historically, only one out of 15 years has an undefeated team from a major conference not made the game (Auburn 2004). The odds are extremely long that we will end up with more than two undefeated teams.

Adam Rittenberg: Darin, you make a good point. The BCS usually works itself out to where undefeated teams from major conferences aren't on the outside looking in. Oregon's loss to Stanford on Thursday night certainly helps Ohio State, as the Ducks once again won't be going to the national title game. Baylor's big victory against Oklahoma helps the Bears' chances, but I still don't think Baylor runs the table. Ohio State won't jump Florida State or Alabama if both teams win out, and FSU's path to the title game certainly looks easier than that of Alabama, which still has LSU, Auburn and most likely South Carolina or Missouri in the SEC title game. The Buckeyes simply need to keep winning, ideally in impressive fashion, and hope teams like Wisconsin and Michigan State also continue to win. Ohio State already has beaten Wisconsin and would benefit from facing an 11-1 MSU team in the Big Ten championship game.


Bob from Forest, Va., writes: I realize you don't know much about the Rutgers program. Regarding coaching salaries you said "fairly or unfairly" the fact that RU is paying the football coach 800-900K per year leaves the perception that RU doesn't belong in a league like the Big Ten. Do you recall what they paid Coach Flood's predecessor? Also I always thought it was on-field performance that determined whether or not a team belonged. Outside of Ohio State, is there really a single B1G team RU can't compete with? We've held our own vs the Big Ten if you take out Penn State pre-B1G with a .500 record. What I don't get are the jabs from you. Is it an ESPN thing or are you just writing what you think your readers want to hear?

Adam Rittenberg: Bob, you're absolutely right that on-field performance, and not coach salary, determines whether a team like Rutgers will sink or swim in the Big Ten. It always comes down to winning, and Rutgers has an excellent opportunity to prove itself in a loaded East Division with Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State. You say Rutgers has held its own with the Big Ten outside of Penn State. Who else has Rutgers played? Rutgers hasn't played a Big Ten team since 2006 (Illinois) and has never faced seven current Big Ten teams (Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin). Your argument is therefore irrelevant.

I realize Rutgers paid more for Greg Schiano, and that Flood is a young coach who doesn't demand a huge salary. But like I wrote, the perception looks like Rutgers is small time when every other Big Ten coach is making at least $1.2 million. Placed in the larger context of what major conference coaches make, it looks pretty low. Purdue faced the same perception when it paid coach Danny Hope less than $1 million. That's just the way it is. But you're right that Rutgers can improve its perception by beating teams coached by guys making four times as much as Flood does.


Anthony from New York writes: Why didn't you include Michigan in your list of BCS at-large candidates? We know from 2011 that a two-loss Michigan team will be attractive to BCS bowls if ranked in the top 14. As you've said, Michigan is better off not making the B1G title game if it wants an at-large bid. It is perfectly plausible to see Michigan beat Nebraska, Iowa, and Northwestern (though none are easy games). Add in an upset of unbeaten Ohio and you've got a top-14 Michigan team coming off four straight wins. Wouldn't they be a very attractive team?

Adam Rittenberg: Anthony, as I specified in the top of the post, I'm not including any unranked teams in the conversation for at-large berths at this point. If and when Michigan re-enters the BCS standings, it will appear as a candidate. But even then, how attractive would Michigan be? The Wolverines would have to look a lot better in their final four games than they have in their first eight. You and your fellow Michigan fans won't agree, but it would be a real shame if a Michigan State team that went 11-1 in the regular season and lost in the Big Ten title game to Ohio State missed out on a BCS berth in favor of a team like Michigan, which the Spartans embarrassed last week. I also wonder whether Michigan would get into the top 14 of the final BCS standings and be eligible for selection. An Ohio State win certainly would help, but it would depend on what other teams do elsewhere. Let's see how things play out, but I don't see a top-15 team in Ann Arbor this year.


Pat from East Lansing, Mich., writes: You both always pretty much have the same predictions week to week. Can we get creative?

Adam Rittenberg: We have to pick the teams we think will win, Pat, and sometimes they'll all be the same. I've differed from Brian in one game in each of the past two weeks and lost both times, as Nebraska's Hail Mary got me last week. One chatter Thursday suggested we incorporate score prediction into the race, which isn't a bad idea. We might look to do something with that next year. I think you'll see a few more disagreements down the stretch, but we're not going to be contrarians here, especially with an expensive dinner in Indianapolis on the line.


Charley from New York writes: Is it a journalist's job to lobby for millionaires to paid even more money? I must admit my jaw dropped when I read from you: "Both Wilson and Kill earn less than coaches from Colorado State, Navy, South Florida and Central Florida. That seems a bit troubling for teams in a loaded league like the Big Ten." Troubling? I notice you haven't been much of an advocate for paying the kids who actually generate the millions of dollars colleges earn from football, but you have always been an advocate for higher head and assistant coaches' salaries. Is this your way of trying to brown-nose your sources or do you really believe that educational institutions should devote more and more of their budgets to football coaches' salaries?

Adam Rittenberg: Charley, do I believe college football coaches make ridiculous salaries for university employees? Yes. But they also bring in a ton of money, and the market is dictating what they're making. We can have a discussion on the larger issue of coach salaries if you want, but the pay structures are what they are in major conferences. People look at why the Big Ten is struggling right now. It's hard to completely dismiss the fact that SEC head coaches are making much more on average (SEC assistants are, too). As I wrote last month, money isn't the problem in the Big Ten, even though the league sponsors more sports than the SEC. From a perception standpoint, not necessarily reality, it doesn't look like Minnesota and Indiana are that invested in their programs when you look at the league they're in and the market rates for college coaches.


Chris from Knoxville, Tenn., writes: I know most people, myself a Michigan fan, included, favor Ohio State over Michigan later this month. But so many people are calling it to be a blowout. I disagree -- even in 2011 a downtrodden Ohio State kept that game close, and I expect this year's game to also be close, especially since it's at the Big House. Teams tend to preform better in rivalry games. Who do you think is right, the many people mentioned or my pick of a close game?

Adam Rittenberg: It's way too soon to call for a blowout in The Game. It's still three weeks away, we don't know the injury situations for both teams and we don't know how the teams will be playing entering that one. I don't expect Michigan to magically become a top-10 team by Nov. 30, but the Wolverines could remedy some of their issues before Ohio State comes to town. You're absolutely right that teams perform better in rivalry games. Michigan likely is out of the Big Ten title mix, so beating Ohio State is really the only major goal left for Brady Hoke's crew. More important, as you mention, Michigan plays much better at home under Hoke, never losing a game in his two-plus seasons. I'm not sure of my prediction for The Game, but I doubt I'll pick Ohio State to win by more than 10 points. Michigan will give its best effort on that day.


Grant from Cincinnati writes: Is it just me, or is Luke Fickell's stock much higher than it should be? His track record as a recruiter and positions coach is well documented, and he seems to be a high quality, character guy. However, in his only season as head coach, he went 6-7. It's not as though the cupboard was bare for him, as that year was sandwiched between a Sugar Bowl victory and an undefeated season. Also, his defense has underachieved for much of this season, though it seems to be getting back on track a bit. Now he's interviewing for a head coaching gig and you're mentioning that you expected him to hold out for a major conference head coaching position. In short, Fickell seems like a good guy, but why the love fest?

Adam Rittenberg: Some fair points here, Grant. Fickell's stock certainly seemed higher before he became a head coach -- albeit under very difficult circumstances -- or a defensive play-caller (Jim Heacock handled those duties until last season). I don't think you can judge him too much for the struggles in 2011, as the program was rocked by Jim Tressel's resignation and had a tough situation at quarterback because of Terrelle Pryor's departure. Fickell handled himself well overall, although the on-field product left much to be desired. There have been some valid criticisms of him as a defensive coordinator, as Ohio State hasn't been a salty as it used to be on that side of the ball. But I think Fickell could thrive as a head coach because of his personality and recruiting ability. He might be a better CEO type than a coordinator, and I think fans and players would rally around him. It needs to be the right situation, unlike the one in 2011.


Nick from East Lansing, Mich., writes: How likely is it that MSU has to look for a new coach in the offseason? It would be hard to turn down if Texas came calling.

Adam Rittenberg: Sure, Texas certainly has its perks, but I highly doubt Mark Dantonio is going anywhere. He's in a great situation at Michigan State, works for a great athletic director (Mark Hollis) who he loves, and has roots in the Midwest as an Ohio native. Dantonio definitely is due a raise at Michigan State, although it's more important to him to pay his assistants, which the school has been doing. At this stage in his career, I don't think Dantonio wants to deal with all the excess stuff at a place like Texas. You never say never, but I'd be very surprised if he's not back at MSU in 2014.


Matt from Michigan writes: I am a little confused after reading the "rooting interests" article. Why would Michigan want Minnesota to lose? If Michigan State loses to Minnesota and either Northwestern or Nebraska and if (big IF) Michigan were to win out and finish 6-2 along with MSU finishing 6-2, it would be MSU winning the tie breaker. However, wouldn't Michigan still have a chance to represent the Legends in a three-way (or even four-way) tie at 6-2? Looking at the schedule, I think it is possible to have MSU, Michigan, Nebraska and Minnesota ALL finish at 6-2. Not saying likely, but that would make for a compelling last weekend!

Adam Rittenberg: Indeed it would, Matt. My rationale for the Minnesota loss would be to knock the Gophers out of the race, but if the tiebreaker is Michigan's best chance to win the division, which it may well be, it would make sense for Minnesota to win out. The key obviously is for Michigan State to start losing games, beginning next week against Nebraska. If Michigan State loses out -- highly unlikely -- and Michigan wins out, the Wolverines would go to Indy.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern's rise from national doormat to national darling to consistent winner is impossible to deny, even for farsighted skeptics who still discuss the program as if it were 1983, not 2013.

A team once best known for owning college football's longest losing streak can point to Big Ten titles in 1995, 1996 and 2000, five consecutive bowl appearances, and, finally, a bowl victory this past Jan. 1. But there's a scarlet and gray asterisk next to Northwestern's name. Of all the hurdles -- real or perceived -- the Wildcats have cleared since 1995, one opponent consistently trips them up and leaves them lying flat on their faces.

Ohio State hasn't merely dominated the all-time series against Northwestern, holding a 59-14-1 edge, including wins in the past four meetings and 28 of the past 29. Most of the matchups haven't even been competitive, beginning with the first, a 58-0 Buckeyes win a century ago.

Since a 60-0 win in 1973 at Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes own 13 victories against Northwestern by 40 points or more and 21 victories by 20 points or more. Single-digit losses to Ohio State are almost as uncommon as wins for Northwestern. Even the Wildcats' championship seasons in 1995, 1996 and 2000 occurred without Ohio State on the schedule.

The dark days are over at Northwestern. No reasonable person could dispute that. But Ohio State remains a dark cloud hovering around the program. Saturday night, the fourth-ranked Buckeyes storm into Ryan Field for the most-anticipated regular-season Northwestern game in recent memory. The forecast, by the way, calls for showers.

[+] EnlargeKain Colter
John Gress/Getty ImagesKain Colter and the Wildcats hope to end Ohio State's dominance with a win Saturday night.
Will Northwestern's big-stage appearance be a washout, or will the purple reign?

"It's going to be a big measuring stick for us, to see where we’re at," Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter said Monday.

Nine years earlier, Noah Herron sat in the same room as Colter, discussing Northwestern's upcoming home game against an Ohio State team ranked No. 7 nationally. Herron, the Wildcats' running back at the time, and several of his teammates made comments that were true then and are true to this day but that still created a stir in Buckeye Country. Wide receiver Mark Philmore described the Buckeyes as "kids just like you out there."

"It was along the lines of, 'They're just Ohio State. They're the same guys that we are, playing for their school. They're no different than us,'" Herron recalled in a phone interview with ESPN.com this week. "It became poster-board stuff for their locker room, which is not what it was intended to be, but it was supposed to look at it from our approach. We're not playing their tradition, we're playing them. We're playing the current roster for 2004, not Archie Griffin and all these other great names that they've had."

Brett Basanez, the Wildcats' quarterback at the time, had a similar feeling. Despite playing with a separated throwing shoulder suffered the previous week, Basanez passed for 278 yards and two touchdowns and added 53 rushing yards, including a 21-yard dash to set up Herron's eventual winning TD.

Basanez had watched Ohio State's game against NC State and saw similarities between NC State's offense and Northwestern's.

"You're not playing Eddie George," Basanez said. "You're playing normal guys. Just play your game and win. We knew if we came out and played, we could score with them, we could score more than them. And that came to fruition as the game started."

Herron might have violated Big Ten etiquette by not paying homage to the Buckeyes. Ohio State came to Ryan Field eager to put Northwestern in its place.

Instead, the Wildcats won 33-27 in overtime. Herron scored the winning touchdown in what one Northwestern fan website calls the "33 game" -- Herron wore No. 33, scored the team's 33rd point on his 33rd carry and helped snap a 33-year losing streak to the Buckeyes.

"We weren't intimidated by them from the very beginning," Herron said. "Offense, defense, special teams, everybody played with that same kind of swagger, that, 'Hey, we're playing this team right now, nobody else.' Sometimes you catch a little heat for saying some things, but nevertheless they're true and they prove to be true. They're college kids just like us.

"Just because they’re Ohio State, they don't get a free pass."

The current Northwestern players had nothing inflammatory to say this week about Ohio State. Colter praised the Buckeyes' coaches and said Ohio State has "athletes all over the board."

But the Wildcats also aren't in awe of Ohio State, which might have been a problem for Northwestern teams of the past.

"If you grow up watching college football, you hear about tradition, you hear about the successes that programs have had," Herron said. "You can be enamored by it. You can even be intimidated by it."

Herron acknowledges that, from top to bottom, Ohio State had more talent than Northwestern in 2004 and still does today. Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald agrees, saying Monday, "I think there's a talent gap between anybody in the top five and everybody else, including us. ... But we're pretty darn talented."

The talent gap has narrowed for Northwestern, as recruiting is on the rise under Fitzgerald. The are-you-kidding-me losses that used to plague Northwestern, particularly in nonleague play, have gone away. The Wildcats actually can stay ranked for more than a week.

But there are steps to legitimizing a program, and beating the Big Ten's most talented and visible program is one Northwestern eventually has to take, especially if it intends to return to the Rose Bowl.

Saturday night's opportunity, Basanez said, is more about Northwestern's future than its past.

"If you're judging your football program in the Big Ten, especially with [Buckeyes coach] Urban Meyer, with the tradition that [Jim] Tressel and other guys have had there, yeah, that's a measuring stick," he said. "It's very important to beat Ohio State because they're a Big Ten foe, but it's just as important to beat Michigan or Iowa. Everyone just thinks of Ohio State, but you beat them, arguably right now you're the best in the Big Ten."

Herron, who played five NFL seasons with four teams, calls the touchdown run in overtime against Ohio State his best moment on a football field. Personal achievement played a small role, as the win resonated for a team and a school still trying to escape its putrid past on the gridiron. The Ohio State win turned out to be the high point for the 2004 Wildcats, who went 6-6 and missed a bowl, thanks to a 1-3 mark in nonleague play.

The program since has been elevated. So have the stakes Saturday night.

"It is a measuring stick because it's the main stage, and it's seemingly been a team that Northwestern has had a hard time beating," Herron said. "Two ranked teams, game of the week, 'GameDay' is going to be there.

"What more can you ask for, not only for that team but for the program?"

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
12:00
PM ET
My dog tried to play with a skunk this week. I think we're all getting stir crazy waiting for the football season.

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Scene and Heard: Top 10 Predictions
In a conversation with ESPN's Antonietta Collins, national recruiting reporter Gerry Hamilton breaks down the recruiting momentum building at Auburn and offers predictions for where the top 10 recruits will commit.Tags: Trenton Thompson, Kerryon Johnson, Jeffery Holland, Martez Ivey, Torrance Gibson, Cece Jefferson, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Gerry Hamilton
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