Ohio State Buckeyes: Luke Fickell

Key stretch: Ohio State

June, 19, 2014
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Fútbol might have the world's focus right now , but we're writing about football. As we continue to count down toward the season, we're taking a look at the key three- or four-game stretch in the schedule for each Big Ten team.

Our series moves on to the Ohio State Buckeyes on Thursday.

Key stretch: at Penn State (Oct. 25), Illinois (Nov. 1), at Michigan State (Nov. 8)

Breakdown: After some potentially tricky nonconference games against Navy, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati, Ohio State opens its Big Ten season against league newcomers Maryland and Rutgers. Then things really get interesting. The Buckeyes go to State College for a night game at Beaver Stadium, which is never an easy place to score a victory. Think Penn State might be foaming at the mouth a bit to avenge last year's 63-14 debacle at the 'Shoe? The Illinois game isn't that intriguing unless you're a big fan of wooden turtles, though the Fighting Illini did pile up points and yards on Luke Fickell's defense last fall. Then comes the biggie, a Nov. 8 trip to East Lansing in a rematch of last year's Big Ten championship game. The East Division title could well be decided that afternoon.

Prediction: Even squinting as much as we can, we don't see Illinois going into Columbus and pulling out a victory. Penn State holds a lot of influence in the East Division race, as both Ohio State and Michigan State have to play the Nittany Lions on the road. The Buckeyes, however, took care of business in State College two years ago and laid that epic smackdown last season at home. While we expect a game effort from PSU, Urban Meyer has yet to lose in that series. Then it comes down to Michigan State, and Spartan Stadium should be whipped into a sufficient frenzy that day (or hopefully night). The edge goes to Sparty here, so make it a 2-1 record in this stretch for Ohio State. If the Buckeyes manage to get through it unscathed, though, they could be looking at a possible third straight undefeated regular season.

Big Ten lunch links

June, 12, 2014
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Cows don't look like cows on film. You gotta use horses.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Ohio State way has been almost all Luke Fickell has ever known, and for years, there wasn’t much reason to branch out and try another approach.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer, Luke Fickell
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsLuke Fickell's 2013 Ohio State defense didn't live up to the standards Urban Meyer wants in Columbus.
As a former player, the current defensive coordinator played a role in maintaining the proud tradition of the program, so he understood the demands of representing the Buckeyes. For more than a decade, he’s passed on the gospel of the Silver Bullets on to the coaching staff, surrounded by familiar faces who knew the system just as well as he did and had been a part of many wins together.

And when the results are positive, there might be little incentive to figure out what made Wisconsin so effective in bottling up passing attacks under Chris Ash or how Penn State was churning out NFL prospects on the defensive line under Larry Johnson. But when things go wrong, that comfort with the way things have always been done can become dangerous complacency for somebody unwilling to change. That said, Fickell is embracing some fresh approaches if they can help get Ohio State's defense back to an elite level.

“It’s been a great transition, to be honest with you,” Fickell said earlier this month after the second practice of spring camp working with the new-look staff. “I know we haven’t had the real stressers and the reality of a season, but I tell you, we’ve battled through a lot of things in the last month or so and it’s been a great growing experience for me. I’ve always had a little bit of a comfort level here with the people that I’ve known ... and that’s one of those things that Coach [Urban] Meyer likes to challenge you to do is get out of your comfort zone.

“Having some new guys has made me do that and has made me broaden the things that we do. It’s been a great growing experience.”

The Buckeyes certainly left themselves plenty of room to grow defensively after completely falling apart down the stretch last season on that side of the ball. The Buckeyes came up short in the Big Ten title game, fell out of contention for the national title and coughed up a lead in the Orange Bowl, which were all products of the late-season struggle.

Meyer didn’t fire any assistants after his team finished the season ranked 110th in the nation in passing defense and allowed 115 points over the final three games, but he was afforded the chance to shake up his staff after safeties coach Everett Withers left to take over as the head coach at James Madison and Mike Vrabel surprisingly left his alma mater for a position with the Houston Texans.

“I have a lot of confidence in the coaches that were here,” Meyer said. “Obviously we didn’t perform up to the standard. We won a lot of games, but there were some holes.

“Holes are very easy to blame players or blame coaches, so just overall, we need to freshen up our defense.”

Meyer has admitted that fresh voices were probably needed as part of that rebuilding job, and the offseason departures allowed him to bring in a couple of them in Ash and Johnson. The current plan still has Fickell retaining play-calling duties for the Buckeyes, but Ash in particular is expected to play a prominent role in reshaping the pass coverage -- and updating what it means to play Ohio State defense.

“The idea of sometimes bending but don’t break is not exactly the mentality that obviously Coach Meyer likes,” Fickell said. “Those are some of those things that, as we get into our third year of it, we figure out each other, and hopefully, we do a lot better job of it.

“You know, the most important thing to understand is we ask our guys to be 1 of 11. We ask them to play together, that’s why this is the greatest team sport known to man, and it’s not any different for coaches. It doesn’t matter the titles or anything like that. ... We’ll be on the same page.”

That might mean reading a slightly different textbook than the one Fickell has had for years at Ohio State, but he’s clearly open to new ideas.

Big Ten Monday mailbag

March, 3, 2014
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Let's beat a case of the Mondays and another depressing winter storm with this edition of the mailbag. Remember to keep your questions coming, as Adam and I are both doing two mailbags per week now. Or you can always tweet us your questions.

Kyle from Madison, Wis., writes: With spring games on the horizon, we once again see the difference between the BIG and the SEC; where BIG spring games are a moderately attended sideshow that might be fun for a family, SEC games routinely sell out. Is there any way to increase interest among BIG fan bases for these games, and is there any benefit (besides, in the case of Wisconsin, raising extra money for a cause) to doing so?

Brian Bennett: I wouldn't classify Ohio State's spring game as "moderately attended;" the Buckeyes led the nation in spring-game attendance in 2012 with more than 81,000 and set a record with more than 95,000 at the 2009 event. (That figure dipped to 37,000 last year, but Ohio State moved its spring game to Cincinnati in 2013 because of renovations at the 'Shoe). Nebraska got more than 60,000 people to come out to its spring game last year, which became memorable because of Jack Hoffman's inspiring touchdown run. Penn State had more than 60,000 two years ago, and I would expect a big crowd at Beaver Stadium next month to see the beginning of the James Franklin era.

Still, Kyle is right that the average spring game attendance in the Big Ten is typically less than that of the SEC. Just check out this list from last spring. But one of the main factors on attendance at those events is weather, and of course, April weather in the Midwest can be a whole lot more unpredictable (and sometimes downright unfriendly) than it is in the South. Unlike with real games in the fall, most fans and alums don't plan for weeks on making it to a game; they look at the weather and see if it's worth it to sit outdoors and watch a practice. Spring games are a great way for fans to get a glimpse of their team during the long offseason, especially those with kids, but they're not usually all that exciting, either. And with every team's spring game available on the Big Ten Network or elsewhere, I can't blame anyone for finding something better to do on an April weekend.


Andy from Beavercreek, Ohio, writes: Does Bo Pelini's raise signal a commitment to the coach, or is it a "Hey, recruits, don't run screaming when we lose a few games" raise?

Brian Bennett: It's neither, Andy. The $100,000 pay raise Pelini got was worked into his contract in 2011 and was nothing more than a scheduled formality. The more interesting question is whether he'll get a one-year extension to keep his current deal at five years. It hasn't happened yet, but it still could. Ultimately, though, we all know that 2014 is what's most important for Pelini's future. If Nebraska has a mediocre or subpar year, athletic director Shawn Eichorst might be inclined to make a change. If Pelini can finally deliver a conference title or at least maintain the nine- and 10-win plateau without as much off-the-field drama as last year, he'll likely be safe.


Jared from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Can you think of another year where Ohio State's defense would have accounted for 30 percent of the best offensive performances of the season? I've heard the excuse that the talent was down from the norm, but you can't tell me the Buckeyes had less talented athletes than many teams that outpreformed them on D. Are you surprised there hasn't been more talk about accountability of the coaches, especially with a guy like Urban Meyer at the helm?

Brian Bennett: It was by no means a vintage year for the Silver Bullets, though most of the bad Ohio State defensive performances came in the final weeks of the season. Depth became a major issue, especially in the Orange Bowl, and I was a bit surprised some younger players such as Vonn Bell didn't see more reps earlier in the year. (Though, to be fair, the Buckeyes were 12-0 and ranked No. 2 going into the Big Ten title game). Meyer has said over and over again that Ohio State's defense has not been up to standards, especially at linebacker. He has not really criticized his coaches or defensive coordinator Luke Fickell much at all publicly, and I'm not sure what purpose that would serve. The offseason hiring of Chris Ash from Arkansas to be co-defensive coordinator spoke volumes, however, and I'd expect him to have a big role in the defense this year.


Luke B. via Twitter writes: Do you think Indiana's two-QB system can work, or would it be in IU's best interest to pick one and stand by him?

Brian Bennett: I would argue that it can work and that it did work, for the most part, last season, as the Hoosiers fielded the Big Ten's top passing offense despite juggling Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson at quarterback. Sudfeld started off the season hot but faded a little down the stretch as Roberson took on a bigger role. Sudfeld throws it a little better than Roberson, but Roberson has better wheels. Conventional wisdom suggests that you need to pick just one guy, but Northwestern had success with a two-quarterback system in 2012 and used the same plan last season. Would coach Kevin Wilson like to see one guy totally separate and command the offense this spring as the clear No. 1? Probably. But part him probably also likes the idea of having two guys push each other constantly and knowing he has an option should one struggle on gameday.


LP from NYC writes: Brian: Nobody really talks about this but it feels to me that one the reasons the B1G made the decision to expand East was to protect one of their power brands, who at the time was just given the worst penalty in the history of college sports. Now that my Nittany Lions have shocked the world, including Jim Delany, do you think the B1G brass regrets this decision even a little bit? I mean, can you imagine if they went after Carolina and Duke instead of Rutgers and Maryland?

Brian Bennett: While there were rumors of the ACC courting Penn State and it's no secret the Nittany Lions felt isolated, I don't think the NCAA penalties had any impact whatsoever on the league's decision to expand East. This was all about opening up new markets, both for TV eyeballs, new fans and recruiting purposes. That's why the Big Ten chose schools located in the highly populated New York/New Jersey and Washington D.C./Baltimore/Virginia, even if the specific programs offered nothing extra special in terms of football. North Carolina and Duke would have given the league better "brands" (though not all that much in football), but they wouldn't have created as much potential areas for growth. It's also odd to me to suggest that league officials would regret the expansion decision when Rutgers and Maryland haven't even officially joined the conference yet.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Just as soon as Ohio State took a big step forward in replenishing its depth at linebacker, it once again appears to have followed it up with one in the opposite direction.

The school confirmed on Monday that former four-star and ESPN 300 recruit Mike Mitchell is no longer practicing with the team and won't participate in the camp that opens Tuesday, another blow to the depth at the thinnest position on the roster. ElevenWarriors.com, citing sources, reported previously that Mitchell is planning to transfer at the end of the spring semester to be closer to his family and ailing father.

His departure would put more pressure on a group of four new recruits and two returning starters for a unit that has clearly not lived up to coach Urban Meyer’s expectations over the last two years and has been plagued by attrition.

The news release from the program doesn't address his future plans, but Mitchell’s departure would make him the fifth linebacker to leave the program with eligibility remaining since the end of the 2012 season, ramping up pressure on the incoming freshmen and rising sophomore Trey Johnson to fill the void left by all those missing bodies.

“The emphasis is on linebacker,” Meyer said last month. “There have been far too many mistakes in either lack of development or whatever, and it’s just not where we need to be.”

Mitchell was supposed to help address that when he chose to leave his home state of Texas last year and join the Buckeyes, but he ended up redshirting last season despite the lack of many options at the position.

The need to find more contributors in the middle of the defense only increased when star outside linebacker Ryan Shazier elected to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft. And while veterans Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant will return for the Buckeyes, at a minimum they’ll need to identify one new starter and could wind up counting on the newcomers to fill out the two-deep given the accumulating losses concentrated at linebacker.

Mitchell would join David Perkins, Luke Roberts and Conner Crowell (injury) as potential candidates for playing time who have left the program since the end of the 2012 campaign, stretching Ohio State thin and contributing to the uneven play of a defense that struggled at the end of last season during consecutive losses to Michigan State and Clemson.

“There’s four linebackers that have been recruited, Raekwon McMillan, Sam Hubbard, Kyle Berger and Dante Booker, four guys I’m putting pressure on,” Meyer said. “[Co-defensive coordinator Luke] Fickell and myself have to get them ready for next year. They have to play for us, in addition to the players we have on our roster already.

“So just so everybody knows, there’s no redshirt plans for those players at all. We thought about that during the recruiting process.”

It’s now more clear than ever that Ohio State won’t have much time to wait for those young guys to develop.
Spring football kicks off earlier than normal in the Big Ten, as Michigan takes the field Tuesday, Northwestern follows Wednesday and eight other squads begin their sessions by March 8.

The accelerated schedules seem appropriate in a league filled with players, coaches and teams itching for fresh starts.

New assistants get their first chance to repair struggling units, whether it's Doug Nussmeier with Michigan's offense, Brian Knorr with Indiana's defense or Chris Ash and Larry Johnson with a once-feared Ohio State defense. Quarterback competitions begin or resume at nine places, as new faces such as Illinois' Wes Lunt, Nebraska's Johnny Stanton and Minnesota's Chris Streveler enter the mix, while veterans like Wisconsin's Joel Stave and Michigan's Devin Gardner try to retain their starting jobs.

Happy Valley continues to buzz about new Penn State coach James Franklin, who seems to galvanize everyone whom he encounters. But Franklin barely has been around his new players and finally begins the real work with a team facing very real challenges.

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
AP Photo/Jeff HaynesNorthwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald hopes his team can start a rebound from a disappointing, injury-riddled 2013 season.
Spring also allows teams such as Northwestern, Michigan, Purdue and Indiana to look forward after disappointing seasons. Michigan State, meanwhile, continues to bask in the Rose Bowl glow but looks toward its next goal -- a national championship -- as spring ball kicks off March 25.

"It's big-picture stuff, building relationships with the players and everyone associated with the program," Franklin told ESPN.com. "The other thing is laying a really good foundation with the philosophies and schemes of how we're going to do things. That's going to happen naturally over time, but I'm not the most patient person. I wish it would have happened yesterday."

Franklin doesn't water down his goals for Penn State, especially in recruiting, but he's also realistic about the challenges of a reduced roster. The Nittany Lions return strong pieces such as quarterback Christian Hackenberg and defensive back Adrian Amos, but the two-deep has some holes that Franklin and his assistants must address, while installing new schemes.

"It's one thing when you get put in this situation in the first place with limited scholarships," Franklin said, "but the longer you're in it, the more effect it has. We've got some depth issues, there's no doubt about it, across the board. We're going to have to get creative."

Northwestern also is focused on depth after being hit hard by key injuries in 2013. Pat Fitzgerald blames himself and his staff for failing to get enough second-stringers ready, which proved costly in close Big Ten losses.

After their first bowl-less winter in six years, the Wildcats responded well in the weight room, as more than 50 players recorded personal bests. Although 11 players will miss spring practice, including standout running back/returner Venric Mark, the depth should be better in areas like the secondary.

"We're really emphasizing taking ownership of the finish," Fitzgerald said. "Finishing your technique, finishing the call, finishing the route. There's a lot of disappointment in the way the program didn't take the next step forward."

Michigan coach Brady Hoke restructured the roles of his defensive assistants for 2014, but the Wolverines' offense will be in the spotlight this spring after a wildly inconsistent season. Gardner, who continues to recover from a foot injury and likely won't be 100 percent until midway through the spring, will compete with Shane Morris, Russell Bellomy and midyear enrollee Wilton Speight.

But other positions, such as offensive line, figure to be just as important as Michigan tries to achieve Hoke and Nussmeier's vision.

"We had good intentions as far as what we wanted our identity to be, but obviously I don't think it came out the way we'd like it to," Hoke said. "The quarterback position is as important as any, and we have a guy [Gardner] who is very talented and had some really good games and games where we had to protect him better, have a better run game and take pressure off of him, and I don't think we did."

While Michigan turns the page on offense, Ohio State focuses on a defense that allowed 115 points in its last three games and finished 110th nationally in pass yards allowed (268 YPG). The Buckeyes lost top defenders Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby, but they also added two accomplished assistants.

Johnson, who churned out NFL linemen during 18 years at Penn State, chose Ohio State instead of remaining in State College. Ash leaves a sole coordinator role at Arkansas for a co-coordinator role at Ohio State, where he'll work with the embattled Luke Fickell and others to mend the defense through a simplified scheme.

"Back in the day when Ohio State played great defense, you knew what you were going to get," Ash said. "They played with swagger, played with confidence, played with toughness. We have to get back to that. The simplicity of the things we're going to do will lead to faster players, more plays made and a more aggressive defense.

"I wasn't here [in 2013], but I can tell you what Coach Meyer has told me, what Luke Fickell has told me and what I watch on film. I can see there's some hesitation, there's some uncertainty. Why that is, I don't know. But it's my job to get it fixed."

Purdue has plenty to fix after a 1-11 season, and players not surprisingly are wearing T-shirts with the word "FORWARD" on the backs. Maryland and Rutgers move forward to a new conference after an offseason that saw several staff changes, including new coordinators at Rutgers (Ralph Friedgen, Joe Rossi).

There's a fresh start of sorts at Wisconsin, as a large and decorated senior class departs. Coach Gary Andersen's markings will be more obvious with his second team, which begins practice March 7.

Wisconsin is just one of many places where the top quarterback job is at stake. Lunt, who sat out last season after transferring from Oklahoma State, competes with Reilly O'Toole and Aaron Bailey at Illinois.

"Competition's competition, no matter where it's at," said Lunt, who has added about 15 pounds since his arrival and checks in at 225. "It's different because it’s different people, different coaches, but I'm excited for it."

He's not alone in the Big Ten. Spring ball can't start soon enough.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The job responsibilities are mostly easy to identify for the newest and final addition to the Ohio State coaching staff.

A tattered pass defense is in need of renovation, and Chris Ash has a track record that suggests he is the right guy to lead it. An influx of aggression is required, and there are literally instructional videos with his name on them on how best to bring it defensively. Anybody working for Urban Meyer had better know how to recruit, and the recommendations were glowing in that area as well.

But there is one part of the gig that remains a bit fuzzy, and Ash did his part to keep it that way shortly after his hiring was finally and officially announced by the Buckeyes on Thursday.

If Ash is the new play-caller for the Ohio State defense, he didn’t have any desire to come out and confirm it. And if that role does belong to him, Ash made clear it’s not one he will be handling alone, anyway.

[+] EnlargeChris Ash
Robin Alam/Icon SMIChris Ash didn't divulge which of the co-defensive coordinators would be making the defensive calls at Ohio State next season.
“We’ve had those discussions, but I’m not here to take anybody’s job; I’m not here to try to get credit for the things that we will do in the future,” Ash said by phone on Thursday night. “I’m here to help make a difference, and I don’t need anything to make me come here other than the fact that I wanted to learn and grow and be a part of Ohio State. That’s it.

“As we move forward as a defensive staff, it’s going to be a staff defense, it’s going to be a staff philosophy. We’re going to do everything as a staff and everyone is going to have ownership. That’s what I believe in. I know that’s what Luke Fickell believes in, and that’s the direction we’re going to go.”

That teamwork, collaborative spirit and an ability to get everybody on the same page is certainly important, and there’s little doubt that making sure there’s input from the staff has value. But somebody has to make the final call on game day, and the Buckeyes have something of a delicate situation on their hands right now that has nothing to do with designating a pair of assistants as co-coordinators.

Ash might not be coming to campus with the intent to take any duties away from a current staff member, and in terms of his title, he’s filling the exact position that Everett Withers held before leaving to take over at James Madison. But after successfully calling the shots at major programs during previous stops at Wisconsin and Arkansas, and then being sought out by Meyer thanks to their shared philosophy, it would seem only natural that Ash would be brought in to provide a fresh perspective and a new voice to deliver the play calls.

That’s a task Fickell has been handling since Meyer arrived, and Fickell filled an even larger role before that while serving as the interim head coach in 2011 after Jim Tressel was fired. Fickell is both loyal to his alma mater and well compensated, but having what amounts to top billing on the defensive staff stripped from him in favor of a newcomer -- after already being passed over for the top job -- could be a difficult pill to swallow.

That’s obviously a decision for Meyer, one that in all likelihood was made before he approached Ash at the coaches’ convention to see if he was interested in joining the Buckeyes. And if there has been a change in the pecking order, it perhaps wasn’t Ash’s place to reveal it just hours after he was formally confirmed.

Either way, Ash had no trouble keeping his focus on the importance of the overall staff, and it’s plain to see he’s not looking to be viewed as a savior for a defense that ranked 110th in the nation in passing yardage allowed last season. But there is no question he’s a big part of the equation, one way or the other.

“I think at the end of the day, Coach Meyer has a vision for what he wants on the football field for his defense, and he wants an aggressive unit,” Ash said. “He wants a defensive back who will challenge receivers. He wants a defense that makes an offense work for everything that they can get, both in the run game and the pass game. That’s what I believe in, that’s my philosophy and that’s what I want to do; that’s what I want to bring here to Ohio State.

“Whether they were conservative or not, whatever the issues were in the past, that’s not for me to decide or comment on. I’m only concerned about what Coach Meyer’s vision is and about us as a defensive staff working together to bring that vision to life.”

That’s a job for more than one guy, and there’s at least no mystery about that.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- If he couldn't get the guy behind the instructional videos, Urban Meyer might have bought them anyway for the next assistant coach he hired.

Instead, the Ohio State coach will get both the brains behind the three-part series, "Aggressive 4-3 Defense" and maybe a few free copies to pass around at the office as well.

The title of the videos alone certainly would have piqued Meyer's interest in Chris Ash as a candidate to be co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach, particularly because there has seemed to be a disconnect at times in the last two seasons between what he envisions from his defense and what he's seen on the field. And it's probably not a coincidence that those instructional videos were mentioned in the release on Thursday that finally confirmed Ash's hiring away from Arkansas, where he served for a year as the defensive coordinator after following Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin.

[+] EnlargeChris Ash
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsChris Ash, shown in 2011 with Wisconsin, will play a big role in rebuilding Ohio State's defense.
There was plenty more for Meyer to like in Ash, from his previous success in the Big Ten to the recommendations about his recruiting skills and a likely first-hand account of his coaching style from Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, as Herman and Ash worked together at Iowa State. The news release made no mention of whether Ash will inherit the defensive play-calling duties from Luke Fickell when he arrives, and in terms of title, the co-defensive coordinator/safeties role is identical to the one Everett Withers held before leaving to take over at James Madison.

But it seems logical to bet that a shared philosophy with Meyer might give Ash an edge to become the voice of the unit as the staff collectively tries to repair an enormously flawed passing defense heading into the 2014 season.

“To me, to be successful, I think you have to be detailed,” Ash said in a school release. “You have to be able to coach and teach the fundamentals of the game, and that’s how you develop players. You have to have a consistency with how you prepare yourself so you can prepare them and then get them to play hard.”

Effort never seemed like much of an issue for the Buckeyes last season, and despite not having ideal depth -- and then dealing with key injuries on top of that -- there should have been enough talent on hand to avoid finishing No. 110 in the country in passing yardage allowed. Whether Ash is making the calls or not, his first priority will be fixing that glaring concern for the Buckeyes, who had their hopes of winning the Big Ten, competing for the national championship and then a BCS bowl victory spoiled by giving up big passing performances down the stretch.

The Buckeyes lose safety C.J. Barnett, star cornerback Bradley Roby and, assuming any additional appeals for a redshirt don't come through, safety Christian Bryant. Even without that trio, Ash will still have plenty to work with in the secondary. The Buckeyes arguably have recruited better than any program in the country in the defensive backfield over the last two seasons. They return undervalued cornerback Doran Grant and nickelback Tyvis Powell and also have a potential star in rising sophomore Vonn Bell heading into spring practice.

The Buckeyes have seen before that it takes more than just a collection of individual talent to shut down a passing game, of course. But there's an instructional manual with some tips on the market, and the guy who put it together is officially coming to town to offer his expertise on how to implement it.

This week, on "As the Big Ten turns ..."

Bill O'Brien left Penn State for the NFL's Houston Texans and took Ohio State defensive line coach/top notch recruiter Mike Vrabel with him. Ohio State head coach returned the favor to the Nittany Lions by hiring longtime Penn State assistant/top notch recruiter Larry Johnson to replace Vrabel.

Meanwhile in Arkansas ... Bret Bielema fled Wisconsin for the SEC less than a year after complaining about the SEC-style recruiting tactics Meyer was using. On Tuesday, Bielema's trusted defensive coordinator, Chris Ash, left the Razorbacks to go work for -- you guessed it -- Meyer and the Buckeyes.

Got all that. The coaching carousel is never boring, is it?

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer is strengthening his staff with the additions of Chris Ash and Larry Johnson.
The latest news here is Meyer hiring Ash away from Bielema, according to ESPN's Joe Schad, to replace safeties coach/co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers, who's now head coach at James Madison. Couple that with the Johnson coup, and Meyer has made two impressive, strategic moves in bringing in outstanding assistants who also know the Big Ten and its footprint extremely well.

Ash has been Bielema's defensive coordinator since 2011 and oversaw the Wisconsin defense on the 2011 and 2012 Rose Bowl teams for the Badgers. He's a secondary coach by trade so that fits in perfectly with what Ohio State needed -- especially after what we saw down the stretch from the Buckeyes' pass defense.

While Wisconsin might have had some noteworthy breakdowns in the secondary during Ash's time, he's never had the pure talent to work with that he'll find in Columbus, where guys like Vonn Bell, Doran Grant, Eli Apple and Tyvis Powell are ready to be coached up.

Ash was making a reported $550,000 at Arkansas so Ohio State obviously made a big commitment to get him. It's another good sign for the Big Ten, which is now bringing SEC guys into the league (James Franklin, Doug Nussmeier) instead of the other way around.

You have to wonder what this means for Luke Fickell, as Ash would seem unlikely to leave the Hogs if he weren't going to at least major input on calling plays. Unless he really got a big raise. (Or unless he decided that "We don't want to be like the SEC, in any shape or forms." Ahem). We'll likely find out more about Fickell's role when Meyer talks about these moves officially later in the week.

Both Ash and Johnson are outstanding hires for Ohio State, and if they tweak some rivals just a bit in the process, well, that's just a bonus for the Buckeyes.
While Penn State searched for a coach in December 2011, Urban Meyer convinced several Penn State recruits to switch their pledges to Ohio State. Top defensive line prospects like Noah Spence and Tommy Schutt were among those who went from Blue and White to Scarlet and Gray.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesThe rivalry between Ohio State and Penn State could heat up if former PSU defensive line coach Larry Johnson joins Urban Meyer's staff.
Penn State hired a new coach on Saturday in James Franklin, but Meyer once again has used Penn State's situation to bolster Ohio State's defensive line.

Hours after longtime Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson announced he wouldn't remain in Happy Valley despite Franklin offering him an assistant position, Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel and ESPN's Joe Schad reported that Johnson was nearing an agreement to join Meyer's staff at Ohio State. The Buckeyes must replace Mike Vrabel, who has taken a post with the Houston Texans under, yep, former Penn State coach Bill O'Brien.

The coaching business is a small world, isn't it?

Ohio State hasn't confirmed the move, but the addition of Johnson would add to the next phase of the PSU-OSU rivalry. Like Meyer, Franklin comes to the Big Ten from the SEC and brings a similar type of aggressive recruiting approach. When Franklin talked Saturday about dominating the state of Pennsylvania and the region in recruiting, folks in Columbus took notice.

Now Ohio State is poised to replace an exceptional recruiter in Vrabel with another exceptional recruiter in Johnson, who brought top talent to Penn State throughout his 18 years as an assistant there. Johnson coached high school ball in Maryland and has strong connections to the area, which becomes even more important to the Big Ten with the University of Maryland officially joining the league on July 1.

The recruiting competition between Johnson and Franklin, once Maryland's coach-in-waiting, for top recruits in and near the Beltway will be fierce. Recruits from other areas like Thomas Holley, an ESPN 300 defensive lineman who committed to Penn State in October, could now be in play for Ohio State.

Johnson could have remained in Happy Valley and has been nothing but positive toward Franklin despite being passed over for the job for the second time in two years. As he told ESPN.com's Josh Moyer on Monday night, "Getting promoted isn't the issue to me. At the end of the day, it's giving Coach Franklin the chance to move forward."

It's also time for Johnson to tackle a new challenge. Ohio State could be shaking up the defensive play-calling duties after the unit's struggles in 2013, and Johnson would be a good candidate to assist Luke Fickell or take over. He turned down a chance to become Illinois' defensive coordinator after the 2008 season, and also said no to an opportunity at Maryland after the 2011 campaign. Joining Ohio State would make less sense if it's strictly a lateral move as a line coach, but if Johnson can move up both in pay and in responsibilities, he's making the right decision. Franklin is expected to bring defensive coordinator Bob Shoop from Vanderbilt to Penn State.

Penn State certainly will miss Johnson, who had plenty of support from current and former players to become the next Lions coach. Ohio State, meanwhile, needed another strong recruiter after losing both Vrabel and Everett Withers from its defensive staff. It certainly would get one in Johnson.

The Ohio State-Penn State rivalry has been ratcheted up a notch, both on the field and especially on the recruiting trail.
It turns out that Bill O'Brien's departure from Penn State caused some collateral damage for Ohio State.

According to multiple reports, and as first reported by BuckeyeGrove.com, Buckeyes defensive line coach Mike Vrabel is leaving the team to take a job with the Houston Texans. O'Brien, of course, was named the new Texans coach last week.

[+] EnlargeMike Vrabel
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesThe loss of Mike Vrabel is a big one for Ohio State for many reasons.
Vrabel did really nice work at Ohio State the past three years in his first college coaching job. The defensive line was the main strength of the Buckeyes' defense the past two seasons, both with veterans like John Simon and Johnathan Hankins in 2012 and again this year with youngsters like Noah Spence and Joey Bosa.

He'll leave the program in great shape at the defensive line position, with Bosa, Spence, Michael Bennett and Jamal Marcus -- who had a strong performance in the Orange Bowl in place of the suspended Spence -- among a deep group returning for 2014. Where Vrabel's departure could really hurt is in recruiting.

He was named the 2012 ESPN.com recruiter of the year and was one of Urban Meyer's best closers on the recruiting trail. That is no surprise, since he has a strong personality and the credibility to back it up thanks to his success as a player with the New England Patriots. Flashing a Super Bowl ring never hurts in living rooms.

With Vrabel's NFL background, it's no surprise that he'd be attracted to a job at the next level, though he did seem pretty comfortable in the college game. Some Ohio State fans, unhappy with Luke Fickell's performance, wished he'd eventually be promoted to defensive coordinator in Columbus.

O'Brien certainly saw up close what Vrabel was able to do with his defensive line, and one of Vrabel's major recruiting wins was wooing Spence away from Penn State. Now O'Brien can return the favor to Ohio State, in a sense. O'Brien was an assistant with the Patriots when Vrabel was a player there.

Vrabel is the second defensive assistant to leave Ohio State this year, following co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Everett Withers, who left to become the head coach at James Madison. This offseason is the first time Meyer will have to replace assistants at Ohio State, as he asked each of his coaches to give him a two-year commitment.

But that's coaching. Good assistants leave for better jobs. This presents Meyer an opportunity to rework his defensive staff and make changes after that side of the ball collapsed late in the season. But Vrabel is not a guy he or Ohio State wanted to see go.

Discover Orange Bowl preview

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
11:00
AM ET


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The last and only time Clemson and Ohio State played, this happened. We don't expect any sideline high jinks this time, just a potential thrilling shootout between the No. 7 Buckeyes (12-1) and the No. 12 Tigers (10-2) in the Discover Orange Bowl (8:30 p.m., ESPN).

Who to watch: The two quarterbacks. Clemson's Tajh Boyd, a senior, is one of the most accomplished players in school and ACC history, with more than 10,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in his career. Ohio State junior Braxton Miller has more than 5,000 yards passing and 3,000 yards rushing in his career and has finished in the top 10 of the Heisman Trophy voting the past two years. Although they have similar body types, Boyd is the far better passer, having thrown for 3,473 yards and 29 touchdowns this season. Miller remains most dangerous as an open-field runner. Each has a wingman who is a superstar in his own right -- for Miller, it's running back Carlos Hyde, and Boyd loves throwing to Sammy Watkins because who wouldn't? But the quarterbacks remain the main attraction here, even for the coaches. "That's awesome," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "I get to sit up there with my hot dogs and popcorn and Diet Coke and get to watch this thing go down, man. These are two of the top five or 10 quarterbacks in college football today and have been for the last couple of years." About the only thing missing on the résumés for Boyd and Miller is a BCS win. That will change for one of them tonight.

What to watch: Can Ohio State's pass defense do anything to slow down Boyd, Watkins and Martavis Bryant? Clemson had the 11th-best passing attack in the country this season, and, in Watkins and Bryant, it boasts arguably the best pair of receivers the Buckeyes have faced all season. Ohio State's pass defense was in tatters by the end of the season, giving up 451 yards through the air to Michigan and allowing Michigan State's Connor Cook to throw for 300 yards in the Big Ten title game loss. Add to that the uncertain status of top cornerback Bradley Roby (bone bruise on his knee) and top pass-rusher Noah Spence (personal reasons) and there could be issues. Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell is putting true freshman Vonn Bell into the lineup at nickelback and moving Tyvis Powell to starting safety in an attempt to shore up the pass defense. But if Ohio State doesn't show major improvement in the secondary and make up for the possible loss of Roby and Spence, it could mean a huge night for the Clemson stars.

Why to watch: Both teams averaged more than 40 points per game in the regular season and are blessed with an abundance of fast future NFL stars (we haven't even mentioned defensive standouts such as Clemson's Vic Beasley and Ohio State's Ryan Shazier, coming to a pro stadium near you soon). This has a chance to be one of the most entertaining games of the bowl season. Urban Meyer is 4-0 in BCS games and has a 24-1 record at Ohio State. Clemson is seeking its first BCS win and wants to redeem itself from its last Orange Bowl appearance, a 70-33 humiliation at the hands of West Virginia in the 2012 game. It's the final non-championship BCS bowl ever. There's no better way to spend your Friday night.

Prediction: Clemson 38, Ohio State 35. The potential loss of Roby and Spence is devastating for a Buckeyes defense that was already going to be under the gun in this game. The Big Ten just can't prepare you for the type of speed and playmaking ability Clemson has at receiver. Ohio State will find lots of success running the ball with Miller and Hyde, but ultimately the Buckeyes will need to match the Tigers score for score because of their spotty defense. And that's a tough way to win a BCS game.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- A stomach bug has made its way through part of the Ohio State football team. Head coach Urban Meyer said Monday about four or five players -- none of them starters -- have been quarantined, and the hope is that this is just a 24-hour type of virus.

If only the Buckeyes' defense could heal that quickly.

Ohio State's defense sure looked sickly in its last two games, against Michigan and Michigan State. If things don't turn around before Friday's Discover Orange Bowl, Clemson's high-powered offense could leave Buckeye Nation feeling ill again.

[+] EnlargeTyvis Powell
Jason Mowry/Icon SMIThe play of the safeties has been a recent problem for the Buckeyes, so Tyvis Powell will move over from cornerback to safety to help shore up that area.
The defense will try to get well despite missing some important pieces. Cornerback Bradley Roby, who will be badly needed to help slow down Tigers star receiver Sammy Watkins, is dealing with a bone bruise in his knee that he suffered in the Big Ten title game. Meyer said Roby "practiced a little" on Monday at Nova Southeastern University, but Roby's status remains uncertain. Starting defensive end Noah Spence, the team's top pass rusher, still hasn't joined the team as he deals with a personal issue, and the Buckeyes are preparing Jamal Marcus and Steve Miller in his absence. Starting linebacker Curtis Grant is still dealing with back and ankle injuries that continue limiting him.

Not good news for a defense that's already had its share of problems.

"We've not been up to the standard," Meyer said. "It hasn't been the standard for a while."

Meyer said he's evaluating "the scheme, the development and the personnel" to try and figure out why the defense hasn't performed at a typical Silver Bullets level. But he said one thing he isn't considering changing is Luke Fickell, the co-defensive coordinator who calls plays on that side of the ball.

"I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Coach Fickell," Meyer said. "We're going to get this thing fixed."

Fickell met with the media at a press conference on Monday and pledged to keep plugging away.

"I'm not going to sit here and make excuses and say, 'Well, this hurt us,'" Fickell said. "The reality is we know we've got to play better. We know we've got to get better at the things that we do."

Meyer said he has given a lot of thought and spent much time already contemplating who will replace safeties coach/co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers, who is taking the head coaching job at James Madison. While Meyer didn't rule out changing some roles with the new hire, he said the next assistant will likely hold the same title.

The biggest immediate changes on the defense involve some new faces. Vonn Bell, a highly-touted 2013 signee, will get his first start at nickel back, with Tyvis Powell moving to safety. The play of the safeties was a big problem against Michigan State, and the Buckeyes have had trouble replacing Christian Bryant, who was hurt in the Big Ten opener against Wisconsin.

Should Bell have played more earlier?

"I've always been a big Vonn Bell guy," Meyer said. "It takes time to move him into the lineup. We had good chemistry, won a lot of games. But he's certainly a talented guy who's going to play a bunch for us."

Powell has only practiced "some" at safety this season, Fickell said. It's a risk playing two guys in two new positions against Clemson's dangerous receivers, but Ohio State is banking on ability.

"Vonn brings a little something different," defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. "He's a little jack rabbit. He's a little different. Tyvis has a lot of range at safety. I'm excited to watch them play Friday."

Fickell said Miller hasn't really practiced at Spence's end spot all season, and his lack of experience there could "make us maybe have to limit some of the things we do there." Marcus has spent time in that position and brings some good things to the table.

"He's going to bring some aggressiveness and some twitch and some fire to the edge," Fickell said. "But it's that test of time in front of 75,000 people on Friday night. If you have a new guy out there, how do they really, truly react and respond in front of that with those lights on?"

There are a lot of questions hanging over the Buckeyes defense heading into Friday's game. They sure hope to make a miraculous recovery.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

December, 20, 2013
12/20/13
4:00
PM ET
Wishing you a great weekend. Check out the full ESPN bowl schedule (with broadcast teams).

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter if you aren't already.

To the inbox ...

Mike from Allentown, Pa., writes: Hey Adam, with all the talk about Penn State's bowl ban being looked into this offseason, I have a hypothetical question for you. If the NCAA were to drop Penn State's bowl ban, would the Big Ten comply and make them eligible for the Big Ten championship? Or, is it possible the Big Ten could extend that ban separate from the NCAA?

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, the Big Ten's penalties always were tied to the NCAA's. Big Ten rules state that if the NCAA declares a team ineligible for postseason play, that team can't play in the Big Ten championship game. So if the NCAA lifts the bowl ban, the Big Ten would declare Penn State eligible for a league title (the Lions already can win their division). Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has been pleased with Penn State's response to former Sen. George Mitchell, the independent athletics integrity monitor assigned to the school. So I'd be shocked if the Big Ten added or maintained any sanctions against Penn State once the NCAA ones are lifted.


Josh from Indy writes: Have you ever thought about the comparison between Darqueze and his cousin Alfonzo? Both had great careers for their respective teams. Just wanted your take on this.

Adam Rittenberg: Josh, I definitely thought about it after Darqueze Dennard won the Big Ten's Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year award, which Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard claimed in 2011. I can't imagine two family members have won the same award while playing for different teams in the same league. Pretty cool. Darqueze's numbers this season are more impressive than Alfonzo's in 2011, although Alfonzo was a true shut-down guy who basically eliminated one side of the field. Darqueze's pro prospects are better, as many peg him as a first-round draft pick. We'll never know where Alfonzo would have been drafted if he hadn't had the off-field trouble. Both are great players, though.


Derek from Preston, Iowa, writes: Hey Adam, I was just curious as to what you thoughts were on Derrell Johnson-Koulianos' Twitter tirade against Kirk Ferentz. Ferentz is beloved for the most part in Hawkeye Country, and this whole thing just seems weird. Why now?

Adam Rittenberg: The timing is interesting, Derek, as much of this happened three years ago. I understand Derrell's perspective that Ferentz blackballed him with the NFL and stifled his playing career. Some of his teammates back up the accusations against Ferentz and strength coach Chris Doyle. It's an unfortunate situation, but I would be very surprised if Ferentz or Iowa has anything to say about the accusations, especially so long after the fact. Iowa has moved forward and Ferentz's word still carries weight in NFL circles.

DJK has the right to air his grievances, and he has never held back on his views. Honestly, I can't think of a Big Ten player I've covered who fit in less with a particular program. But I doubt there will be major consequences for Ferentz or Iowa.


Fatback from Newark, Ohio, writes: Just wanting to know what your thoughts about Ohio State's defensive coordinator position. I know Fickell is an OSU guy, but we definitely need a change of pace. What do you think about Fickell moving down to just a position coach ( if he doesn't get another job this offseason), and hiring another person from the outside or moving Mike Vrabel up? I think with Vrabel we would play much more aggressive and sit back in all the zone coverage that teams seem to kill us on. Again, your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: It would be tough for Ohio State to demote Fickell, who was the Big Ten's third highest-paid assistant this year ($610,000). You're not going to pay that salary to a position coach (at least you shouldn't). Fickell still brings a lot of value to Ohio State as a recruiter, and while his defense has its issues this year, youth in the front seven and Christian Bryant's injury didn't help matters. On the other hand, Urban Meyer has extremely high standards, and if he feels Fickell isn't helping the team to a national championship, maybe you make the change.

I've heard that Vrabel has definite head-coaching potential, and he did a nice job with a young defensive line this year. With Everett Withers reportedly departing to James Madison, don't be surprised to see a co-coordinator situation with Vrabel and Fickell. Perhaps Vrabel has more say on play calls. I just can't see Ohio State forcing out Fickell right now.


Joe from Kentucky writes: How can you guys leave off Blake Countess and Stanley Jean-Baptiste from the All-B1G selection for Bradley Roby? Roby was suspended for his off-the-field antics (looks really all-conference) and he got exposed by any of the good WRs he faced. Jared Abbrederis and Jeremy Gallon made him look silly to the tune of almost 400 yards combined. That does not sound like an all-conference performer to me. On the other hand, Countess led the conference in INTs and Jean-Baptiste was right there (if not tied). I think you guys were a little biased in trying to make MSU and OSU the top two represented teams (which their records show). Also, Ryan Shazier is the only person on that Ohio State defense to be named All-B1G.

Adam Rittenberg: Roby's one-game suspension really isn't relevant, as we included Carlos Hyde on the team despite his three-game suspension because he was the Big Ten's best running back in league play (few would argue). I agree that Roby struggled against Abbrederis in the Wisconsin game, but many of Gallon's yards didn't come against Roby in the Michigan game. Roby made a touchdown-saving tackle on Gallon, running completely across the field, one of several displays of athleticism he had this season. He had a very good Big Ten season and is one of the better special-teams players I can remember in this league. SJB had a nice season but no picks in Big Ten play. You could make a case for Countess, but I still feel Roby performed better in Big Ten play than any corner other than MSU's Dennard. Shazier is the only other Buckeye defender on our All-Big Ten team, although lineman Michael Bennett deservedly made the second-team.


Will from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Should I be concerned that Michigan will be breaking in two new starters at both offensive tackle positions in 2014? Lewan and Schofield took 99.9 percent of the snaps this year, likely making their replacements having VERY little, to no game experience. After the abysmal display on the interior of the line this year, I do believe there are positives in game time reps of the interior line translating to better protection up the middle next season. Will inexperience on the edge hurt the line more next year than the inside this year, or can you mask the youth more on the outside than in?

Adam Rittenberg: Some good points here, Will. I agree that Michigan's interior line will be improved next year because of all the experience gained, even through some tough times. It will be interesting to see what Michigan does with Erik Magnuson, who can play either guard or tackle but might be best at tackle depending on his development. The staff was excited about Ben Braden's development in the offseason, and he could step in for Lewan at left tackle. I'm really interested to see how the line performs in Arizona following bowl practices, but you're right that the group will continue to be under the microscope with both veteran tackles departing.


Ken from Carmel, Ind., writes: When Clifton Garrett recently committed to LSU, he mentioned the great game-day atmosphere. Having attended a game there, I agree. Sometimes I think the B10 doesn't get that -- and is slow to pick up other little things like that (night games) that can make the difference in winning or losing recruiting battles, and eventually games. As an Iowa grad, the large number of 11 a.m. games certainly don't help the game-day atmosphere. I get the feeling that the people at the top -- president, and A.D. -- don't understand this. You'll have a couple more arrests with later games, but most people just cheer louder and have more fun - a.k.a., better game-day atmosphere. Your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Couldn't agree more, Ken, and I've been writing this for years. The Big Ten needs to prioritize prime-time games and become more open to weekday games, which would get some of the smaller programs some much-needed exposure. The good news: the league is definitely warming up to the idea, adding more prime-time games and becoming open to November night games, most likely in the 2014 season. Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said Thursday that the Big Ten's next television contract will feature more prime-time games. That's a good thing, as the noon ET and 3:30 p.m. ET windows just don't carry the same weight with recruits.

A look at the B1G assistant salaries

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
2:30
PM ET
USA Today has released its annual database of assistant coach salaries throughout college football so let's see how the Big Ten aides stack up. Ten of the 12 Big Ten schools report coaches' salaries (Northwestern and Penn State do not).

Once again, Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison leads Big Ten assistants in pay at $851,400, which ranks fourth nationally behind million-dollar coordinators Chad Morris of Clemson, Kirby Smart of Alabama and John Chavis of LSU.

Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges is the only other Big Ten assistant in the top 10 nationally in total pay ($709,300). Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck ($700,000) is next, followed by Ohio State defensive coordinators Luke Fickell ($610,000) and Everett Withers ($585,000), Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi ($558,908) and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman ($555,000).

On the whole, the Big Ten has fewer assistants making top-20 salaries than the SEC. There's also a decent drop-off in salary after Herman, as no others make more than $500,000 (Wisconsin coordinators Dave Aranda and Andy Ludwig both make $480,000).

Here are the highest-paid assistants for the 10 Big Ten squads reporting salary:

Michigan: Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison ($851,400)
Nebraska: Offensive coordinator Tim Beck ($700,000)
Ohio State: Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell ($610,000)
Michigan State: Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi ($558,908)
Wisconsin: Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig ($480,000)
Purdue: Offensive coordinator John Shoop ($400,000)
Illinois: Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit and defensive coordinator Tim Banks ($400,000)
Indiana: Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell ($356,500)
Minnesota: Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys ($346,800)
Iowa: Defensive coordinator Phil Parker ($325,500)

Claeys clearly is the best value in the league, as he served as Minnesota's acting head coach during Jerry Kill's health-related absence and remained as the main sideline coach even after Kill returned to duty. Iowa's Parker, along with OC Greg Davis ($325,000) also earned their keep and then some as the Hawkeyes flipped their record from 4-8 to 8-4.

Some Michigan fans will scoff at Borges' salary after the Wolverines offense struggled for much of Big Ten play. Fickell, Shoop and Banks also directed units that had forgettable seasons.

One thing to keep in mind when some of these assistants are mentioned for head-coaching jobs is the pay cuts they'd likely take to lead teams in smaller conferences.

In terms of total staff pay, Ohio State leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth nationally at $3,474,504, trailing LSU, Alabama, Clemson, Texas and Auburn. Michigan comes in next at $3,072,000, which ranks 14th nationally.

Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas in part because he had lost so many assistants in his final two years in Madison. Bielema's staff at Arkansas ranks 10th nationally in total staff pay ($3,233,000), while Gary Andersen's staff at Wisconsin ranks 28th ($2,495,000)

Here are the Big Ten teams sorted by total staff pay:

Ohio State: $3,474,504
Michigan: $3,072,000
Nebraska: $2,648,500
Wisconsin: $2,495,000
Michigan State: $2,410,483
Iowa: $2,367,500
Minnesota: $2,152,350
Indiana: $2,074,780
Illinois: $2,066,400
Purdue: $2,010,000

We can have an endless about debate whether college football coaches make too much money in general, but these numbers remain problematic for the Big Ten in my view. Only two teams are truly paying top dollar for their staffs, and some groups are undervalued.

Michigan State's staff obviously jumps out after the Spartans just won the Big Ten championship. MSU co-offensive coordinators Dave Warner ($280,800) and Jim Bollman ($262,000) are among the lowest-paid coordinators in the league, as several position coaches make more than them. Athletic director Mark Hollis said last week that raises are coming for head coach Mark Dantonio and his assistants.

Minnesota's staff also deserves a nice bump after handling such a tough situation this season. I also wonder whether Iowa's coordinators get a raise, especially considering what head coach Kirk Ferentz makes.

Purdue's Marcus Freeman and Jafar Williams are the Big Ten's lowest-paid assistants at $120,000. Only one SEC assistant, Kentucky's Derrick Ansley, makes less than $140,000.

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