Ohio State Buckeyes: Jim Delany

Big Ten's lunch links

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
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Brackets are out. Who ya got? I'll be in Milwaukee for hoops duty later this week. Excited to check out Michigan, Wisconsin and others.

To the links ...
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett occasionally will give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

As the Big Ten positions itself for a new television contract that should shatter revenue records, the subject of playing more weekday games has surfaced. There's even been some buzz about the possibility of more Friday night games, although commissioner Jim Delany doesn't expect them for a while. Still, the only major conference that has resisted many regular-season weekday days could head in that direction in the not-so distant future. Today's Take Two topic is: Should the Big Ten schedule more weekday games?

[+] EnlargeRutgers
Jim O'Connor/USA TODAY SportsHaving schools such as Rutgers play Thursday or Friday night conference games wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for the Big Ten.
Take 1: Adam Rittenberg

I've been consistent on this issue since the Big Ten blog launched. More weekday games? Yes, please. I appreciate college football Saturdays as much as the next person, but the Big Ten has been missing out on certain exposure opportunities by clumping all of its games on one day, particularly in the noon ET/11 a.m. CT window. We've seen some Thursday night and Friday night games in Week 1, and Nebraska and Iowa are playing the day after Thanksgiving, but the Big Ten has largely steered clear of weekday games. The rationale: We're the Big Ten. We don't need no stinking weekday games.

That's true to an extent. Programs such as Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State receive exposure no matter when they play. Programs such as Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin also aren't starved for a separate TV window that can get more eyeballs on their product. But there's another group of Big Ten programs that could benefit greatly from these games, perhaps not in attendance but certainly in exposure. Too many games are overlooked in that Saturday morass, especially when the bigger-name teams are playing. Wouldn't matchups such as Purdue-Illinois, Minnesota-Northwestern or Maryland-Indiana get more attention on Thursday night than Saturday afternoon? I have mixed feelings about Fridays because those are big high school game nights in the Midwest, but a Friday game every once in a while isn't a bad deal.

The Big Ten has made some encouraging scheduling moves in recent months. More Saturday prime-time games are on the way, most likely in the 2014 season. More weekday games would be another good move for certain programs. Big Ten teams don't need to go overboard, but they should be open to the pluses that can come from these events.

Take 2: Brian Bennett

Saturdays are sacred. Let's just get that out of the way at the beginning. The Big Ten is right to preserve the tradition of fall afternoon kickoffs as much as possible. That's what college football is all about.

There are certain programs in the league that should never consider hosting a game on any day but Saturday, apart from opening week and Thanksgiving weekend. As part of our Flip Week series last season, I attended a Thursday night game at Clemson. Because that campus is in a small town and the stadium demands ample parking, Clemson canceled all classes on Thursday afternoon to get ready for the game. Can you imagine many Big Ten schools doing that? And there were a few thousand empty seats for that game against Georgia Tech, a rarity for the Tigers at home. Programs with large stadiums in college towns such as Penn State, Michigan and Iowa would struggle to get all the logistics in place for a weeknight, midseason game.

But it's also hard to argue against the point that college football is dictated by TV, and Thursday night games have provided great exposure. Louisville practically built itself into a power by playing any day of the week, and the ACC has benefited from Thursday games. With the Big Ten expanding to 14 teams, it's hard to squeeze all those games into a Saturday viewing period and not have some get lost in the shuffle. Programs such as Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue could really benefit from a Thursday or Friday night spotlight, even if it's just on the Big Ten Network. Rutgers is used to playing on weeknights, and Maryland is no stranger to it from its ACC days.

So why not the occasional Thursday or Friday night game? Friday games would hurt high school football, but as a once-a-year thing, they would hardly be a death knell. Keep the games on Saturdays as often as possible. But a limited dose of weeknight games can be very helpful in the right spots. More TV slots could mean more money when the league negotiates its new broadcast rights package. And these days, TV and money drive everything in college football.

Big Ten Monday mailbag

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3
5:00
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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.

Big Ten makes progress in diversity

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
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The Big Ten likes to consider itself a leader on many fronts in college sports. Several Big Ten schools were among the first to integrate their football programs, and the first two African-American head football coaches in a major conference called the league home.

But for much of this century, when it came to football coaching diversity, the Big Ten lagged behind the rest of the nation.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/Eric Christian SmithPenn State's decision to hire James Franklin as its first African-American head football coach can't be underestimated.
After the third African-American head coach in league history -- Michigan State's Bobby Williams -- was fired late in the 2002 season, the conference went a decade without another black head football coach. The Big Ten was the only one of the six BCS AQ conferences that did not have at least one African-American head coach during that span; the SEC, by contrast, had four in the same time frame.

Thankfully, things have begun to improve. Two of the last three head coaches hired in the Big Ten -- Purdue's Darrell Hazell and Penn State's James Franklin -- are African-American.

"That's great news, to have that diversity," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "Now we just need to give them time and let them be successful where they are and develop their programs. I'm glad there is progress, and we need to continue to do more across the country."

There weren't a lot of opportunities, period, for head coaching jobs in the Big Ten during the recent diversity drought, as schools like Iowa, Northwestern, Penn State and Ohio State remained mostly stable at the top. But coaching turnover has increased in the league in the past few years; Penn State, for instance, just hired its second coach in three years after going nearly a half-century without a transition.

Was improving diversity a league-wide priority? Conference officials say no.

"What our schools try to do is hire the best coaches in their pool," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said. "We've had plenty of African-American basketball coaches.

"It's more about a commitment to opportunity and a fair process, and as long as our people are hiring the best people in processes that are open, you would hope and think that it would be sort of a broad representation of people. Whether you hire James Franklin or a new coach at any place, I'm not sure race should be the factor. Certainly people wouldn't want it to be a factor. It's really an outcome."

Still, it's hard not to note the importance of Penn State hiring its first African-American head football coach. More so than Dennis Green or Francis Peay at Northwestern or even Williams at Michigan State, Franklin is leading a flagship, blue-blood program. The timing was fortuitous, as the Pennsylvania native was ready for a new challenge after proving himself at Vanderbilt and the Nittany Lions needed a dynamic new leader.

“It’s a lot of significance," Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said. "We hired James because of the kind of person and coach he is. The fact he’s African American is great. It’s a great testimony to opportunity. A hundred years ago, that wouldn’t have happened in this country."

[+] EnlargeJim Delany
AP Photo/Ting Shen/Triple Play New MediaBig Ten commissioner Jim Delany said the hiring process should be fair and a commitment to opportunity for all coaches.
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports hasn't yet released its annual hiring report card for college football. But Richard Lapchick, the center's director, said the Big Ten's recent moves are "definitely a sign of progress." While there are only 11 FBS black head coaches heading into the 2014 season, it's noteworthy that minorities have gotten opportunities to lead storied programs like Penn State and Texas (Charlie Strong), Lapchick said.

"That's critically important," he said. "Historically, the opportunities in general that have gone to African-American coaches have been at programs that have been really down, and the opportunities to turn them around have been very problematic. Let's hope [Hazell and Franklin] are successful, because they will help create more opportunities for other African-American and Latino coaches in FBS conferences."

The next step for the Big Ten is to continue to develop and identify the next wave of minority head coaching candidates. Both Franklin and Hazell, who led Kent State for two seasons before Purdue hired him, had already established themselves as winning head coaches elsewhere, though Hazell was also a well-regarded assistant at Ohio State. The Big Ten sent several African-American assistant coaches to the annual minority coaches' forum between 2006 and 2010, and some athletic directors see it as their job to mentor young black coaches.

Smith saw Everett Withers leave the Buckeyes staff this winter to land the James Madison head coaching job and said he is spending time this offseason with running backs coach Stan Drayton to get Drayton accustomed to non-football issues like university budgets and policies.

"We want to have guys who are trained to hopefully win in the interview process," Smith said. "Sometimes, those are beauty contests. You've got to be able to answer the questions the right way and demonstrate an ability to lead."

That's the ultimate goal, to have more minority candidates who are ready when those opportunities do arise. Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said that wasn't the case a few years ago, but the pool of potential coaches is increasing.

"We’re starting to see more and more diversity among the coaching staffs and up-and-coming diverse candidates in all various positions in the sport," Brandon said. "Now, we're seeing more representation at the head coaching level. That was bound to happen and important to have happen, and I'm glad to see that trend evolve."
Four years ago, the Big Ten clarified its November night games policy, saying that while a contractual provision exists between the league and its TV partners about prime-time games after Nov. 1, the games can take place if all parties are on board and planning begins early.

The message back then: We can do this, but we probably won't any time soon.

Last year, Big Ten coaches and administrators expressed greater support for night games, including those in November. League commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN.com he wouldn't stand in the way of such games.

[+] EnlargeGene Smith
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsIf the matchups are right, Ohio State AD Gene Smith is open to November night games in the Big Ten.
But when the Big Ten prime-time schedule came out for the 2013 season, it included no night games after Nov. 1.

Will 2014 be the year we see Big Ten football kick off under the lights after Nov. 1?

We won't know for sure until ESPN/ABC and BTN announce their prime-time schedules this spring, but there's momentum for more night games and later night games, and talks are underway.

"We're more amendable to that first November Saturday," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith recently told ESPN.com, "and I think some of us will be willing to look at that second Saturday in November if the contest is right."

Weather is still a potential deterrent for Big Ten schools to schedule night games later in the season, as it creates possible logistical problems for all involved (fans, game operations staff, police/security). But the temperature difference between late October and the first portion of November often is negligible.

The 2014 season includes Saturdays on Nov. 1 and Nov. 8.

Here are the schedules:

Nov. 1

Indiana at Michigan
Maryland at Penn State
Illinois at Ohio State
Wisconsin at Rutgers
Northwestern at Iowa
Purdue at Nebraska

Byes: Minnesota, Michigan State

Nov. 8

Penn State at Indiana
Michigan at Northwestern
Ohio State at Michigan State
Iowa at Minnesota
Wisconsin at Purdue

Byes: Maryland, Rutgers, Illinois, Nebraska

The bad news: The Nov. 1 schedule doesn't feature too many big-time games, which could decrease the likelihood of a prime-time contest, especially on ESPN/ABC.

[+] EnlargeMichigan Stadium
AP Photo/The Ann Arbor NewsMichigan likes for its night games to be major events, which could rule the Wolverines out for an early-November game under the lights in 2014.
The good news: Several of the schools hosting games that day are among the most open in the league to hosting night games. Penn State and Nebraska welcome such contests -- in part because of their pre-Big Ten history -- and Ohio State, which is installing permanent lights at Ohio Stadium for the 2014 season, has become increasingly interested. Rutgers comes from a league where you played whenever TV asked you to, and a night game against a good opponent like Wisconsin would bring some nice exposure for one of the new Big Ten additions.

Michigan wants its night games to be major events, and facing Indiana doesn't exactly qualify. Iowa hosting Northwestern is a possibility, especially since the Hawkeyes play only one other home game (Oct. 11 against Indiana) between Sept. 15 and Nov. 1.

The Nov. 8 schedule includes arguably the Big Ten's marquee game of the year in Ohio State visiting Michigan State, a rematch of the 2013 league championship. I'd absolutely love to see this at night, and what a way to kick off November prime time in the league. It's definitely a possibility, but the game also could fill the 3:30 p.m. ET window, which many Big Ten athletic directors prefer (Purdue's Morgan Burke recently called it "the sweet spot").

The Penn State-Indiana game is another potential prime-time kickoff, mainly because Indiana has been so open to night games (six in the past two seasons, nine since the 2010 season).

"We've probably had more night games than most of our colleagues in the conference," Indiana athletic director Fred Glass said. "We think it's a good thing for us, it helps our attendance. We're certainly open to that, and my guess is that will be more of a trend."

Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas echoes the support for night games, noting that several Big Ten ADs and coaches previously spent time in the Mid-American Conference, where playing at night and on weekdays, especially late in the season, is common.

"We experienced all of that in our past lives," said Thomas, who served as Akron's athletic director from 2000-05. "We talk about the opportunities for the prime-time windows and where we are as individual schools and as a conference in having that kind of exposure.

"I would certainly support it."

Many of Thomas' colleagues seem to be on board. Smith said the athletic directors last week spoke about moving up the timetable for prime-time selections so they can begin promoting games. Prime-time schedules typically have been announced between April 20 and May 15.

"We're putting in lights because we've realized that we can handle night games," Smith said. "In 2006, we were a little bit skittish about it. We know our fans love it, so we've shared with the conference that we're amenable to having more. There's a novelty to it. That helps us with our atmosphere.

"It makes things really exciting."
How often in the past four years have you watched a bowl game featuring a Big Ten team and actually felt good about the matchup?

How often have Big Ten teams been favored in their games? How many times have you seen Big Ten teams keep pace for a half, three quarters or longer, only to come up short in the end?

Bowl games seem to bring out the worst in Big Ten teams, and the most recent bowl lineup, which mercifully concluded this season, underscored the league's struggles in postseason play. The Big Ten had a losing bowl record in all four years of the last postseason lineup, including a 2-5 mark this year. The overall record: 11-21 (including Ohio State's vacated win in the 2011 Sugar Bowl).

Losing is losing, and the Big Ten's postseason struggles reflect the league's current state, but the lineup did the conference no favors. It was extremely ambitious, and commissioner Jim Delany's desire to play the best competition in the best games is admirable, but it hurt the league's perception. Big Ten teams were favored in only eight of the 32 bowl matchups during the past four seasons.

As I've written many times, leagues are judged by their bowl records, not how tough their lineups are. No one rips the Pac-12, SEC or ACC for playing small-conference teams in bowls.

The Big Ten gets no credit for playing virtual road games, all against major-conference opponents, if the end result is losses.

Now here's the good news: the league's next bowl lineup should bring more wins and a boost to perception.

Not only will the Big Ten have more reasonable matchups, but the league will take a more active role in creating the pairings through the tiered system. You won't see as many repeat destinations or repeat opponents, but you also likely won't see as many obvious mismatches.

"You're going to see a lot of movement by teams among bowls," Delany said in June. "We're fortunate that all these are fantastic destinations, they're world-class cities with opponents coming from world-class conferences. We think there are great brands on our side and great brands on the other side, and together, that will produce great bowl matchups."

The new lineup isn't a panacea, and Big Ten teams must find ways to win close games after repeatedly falling short in bowls. But a reset in matchups should provide some hope for a league that, short of ending its national title drought, can benefit greatly from ending seasons on a much stronger note.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

December, 20, 2013
12/20/13
4:00
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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.

Big Ten's lunch links

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
12:00
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Where did all the football go?
  • Urban Meyer senses an improved mood for Ohio State as it turns the page to the Discover Orange Bowl, and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney had high praise for his upcoming opponent.
  • With another season in the books, the conversation at Penn State will shift to Bill O'Brien's future with the program, as likely suitors again line up for his services.
  • Taylor Lewan has no regrets about returning to Michigan for another season, and he doesn't believe his draft stock has changed since last year.
  • Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi spurned an offer to take over at UConn, and now his full attention is on getting the Spartans ready for a bowl game.
  • Early in the season, Nebraska was desperately searching for a field general on defense. It appears to have found one in middle linebacker Michael Rose.
  • After getting benched late in a loss to Penn State to end the regular season, Wisconsin tackle Tyler Marz is looking for redemption.
  • Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said Rutgers' transition into the league is going smoothly at every level.
  • Controversy won't be going away when college football shifts to a playoff, with Tom Osborne joking that the selection committee will succeed if it doesn't "get lynched."
  • Cody Webster is rubbing elbows with the nation's best football players, and the Purdue punter is thinking about asking to snap a picture with Johnny Manziel.
  • Silver Football candidate Braxton Miller had everything change for him when he was almost sent to the bench in October. Now he's on the brink of a historic accomplishment.
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The Big Ten finally has a championship game that rivals the SEC's in national significance.

Unfortunately, the Big Ten is following the SEC's lead in another area: handing out discipline.

A league that considers itself a cut above in every area, including player conduct, had an opportunity to make a statement in the wake of Saturday's fight in the Ohio State-Michigan game. Instead, the league went soft, ensuring that its championship game, and Ohio State's national title hopes, would be unaffected by the ugly and embarrassing incident.

Here's what we learned from the Big Ten's ridiculous response Monday night: Fighting doesn't have long-term consequences. Twisting a helmet? Go right ahead. Just conduct yourself like a gentleman afterward.

After spending two days reviewing the officials' report from the game and the video of the fracas, the Big Ten decided to hand down no additional discipline to the Ohio State and Michigan players involved. The league merely issued a public reprimand -- the wussiest punishment possible -- for Ohio State offensive lineman Marcus Hall and the Buckeyes' coaching staff after Hall gave the crowd a double-bird salute following his ejection from the game. No other players were named by the league, which praised both coaching staffs for defusing the fight.

Ohio State's Dontre Wilson and Michigan's Royce Jenkins-Stone also were ejected Saturday, but they and others -- like Buckeyes wide receiver Michael Thomas and Michigan defensive back Delano Hill -- were spared any blowback from the conference.

The Big Ten is falling back on the NCAA's fighting policy, which calls for players ejected in the first half of a game to miss only the remainder of that game. Although the league has issued suspensions before for throwing punches, they have come for players who weren't ejected during the game.

The league had an opportunity to do more and show that behavior like Saturday's, even in a bitter rivalry game, is unacceptable and has long-term consequences. Monday's wimpy response will be seen as an effort to protect the league's title game and one of its biggest brands in Ohio State.

Criticize Ohio State coach Urban Meyer if you want for not tacking on additional playing-time penalties for Hall and Wilson. Honestly, I don't know many coaches who would have. They're trying to win championships and can impose some internal discipline. Michigan State didn't suspend William Gholston for his actions in the 2011 Michigan game, so the Big Ten stepped in with a suspension. The league should have done the same in this case.

Even a half-game suspension, which the SEC probably has trademarked, would have shown some teeth here. Instead, the Big Ten protects its championship game from being affected, and its biggest brand from being impacted in its quest to reach the national title game.

Monday's response will add to the widely held belief by many Big Ten fan bases that the league goes all out to protect Ohio State and Michigan. The response will bring more heat for league commissioner Jim Delany, who still gets ripped for going to bat for Ohio State's "Tat-5" to play in the 2011 Sugar Bowl.

The championship game is a national showcase opportunity for the Big Ten, a chance to display its best product and the values it holds so dear. You'll hear a lot about honoring legends and building leaders, and big lives and big stages.

Then Wilson might return the opening kickoff, and Hall will take the field with Ohio State's starting offensive line. Are those the images the Big Ten wants to present?

"As bad as it was, we're fortunate the incident did not escalate any further," the Big Ten's SECtatement reads. "More can, and should, be done by both coaching staffs in the future to prevent similar incidents."

The Big Ten could have and should have done more, but chose to do the bare minimum.

Big Ten lunch links

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
12:00
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Enjoy the fact that your royal overlords are a frail old woman and a tiny baby.
When asked before the season how to repair the Big Ten's ragged reputation, the league's coaches, to their credit, didn't sidestep the topic.

How the Big Ten got to this spot is complicated -- recruiting/population trends, coaching turnover and resource distribution all play a role -- but the solution is pretty simple. It's the same thing a post-comatose Adrian tells Rocky in "Rocky II."

Win. Win.

Mickey Goldmill
United ArtistsWhat would Mickey say to the Big Ten heading into its Week 3 showdowns with the Pac-12? "What are you waiting for?!"
You can almost hear Jim Delany, doing his best Mickey Goldmill voice, shouting, "What are we waiting for?!"

A Saturday like this one.

We talk about conference perception and compare different leagues year round, but we rarely get a comprehensive assessment on the field, especially not in the regular season. There's no ACC/Big Ten Challenge in football, and although schedule upgrades are on the way, both in the Big Ten and elsewhere, there still aren't enough exciting, meaningful, image-shaping games.

That's why Week 3 in the Big Ten is so refreshing and important. After two weeks of mostly unappealing games, the Big Ten has four -- four! -- matchups against Pac-12 programs, kicking off with No. 23 Nebraska hosting No. 16 UCLA at noon ET and ending with No. 20 Wisconsin visiting Arizona State, a contest that will spill into Sunday in Big Ten country.

There are two in-state rivalries on the docket -- Purdue hosting No. 21 Notre Dame and Iowa visiting Iowa State -- as well as some sneaky-good games like UCF-Penn State and Bowling Green-Indiana. Sure, there are your standard non-league sleepers (Western Illinois-Minnesota), but they're finally in the minority.

"There's certain weekends of the year that you can change the perception," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "As you look at the schedule, this is one of those weekends."

Fitzgerald's team did its part by defeating two major-conference teams (Cal and Syracuse) in the first two weeks. With a late kickoff Saturday against Western Michigan, the Wildcats will watch from their hotel as teams like Nebraska carry the Big Ten banner.

[+] Enlargebo pelini
AP Photo/Dave WeaverAfter losing to UCLA last season, Bo Pelini and Nebraska hope to turn the tables when the Bruins and Huskers meet again on Saturday.
Program relevance is a bit of a sensitive topic in Husker Country these days, as Nebraska has come up short in statement games the past few seasons. UCLA outlasted Nebraska in a shootout last September, and the Bruins could provide the only real test for Bo Pelini's crew until a November grind against the Legends division.

"We want to win all the out-of-conference games," Pelini said. "Our conference, I think it's very good, it's deep, and that’s going to show itself as the year goes on. We have a lot of respect for the Pac-12 and their conference.

"It's going to be a challenge. It always is."

Traveling West always presents a huge challenge for Big Ten teams, which had gone 5-20 in the previous 25 true road games against Pac-12 schools until Northwestern beat Cal. Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen noted Tuesday that no Big Ten team has beaten Arizona State at Sun Devil Stadium in eight tries. He'll take his team to the desert on Thursday to provide extra prep time.

The Badgers have yet to allow a point and ran all over Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech. But Arizona State can light up the scoreboard with quarterback Taylor Kelly, who has thrown 13 touchdowns and no interceptions in his last four games and faces a Wisconsin secondary using three new starters.

UCLA poses a similar problem for Nebraska with standout quarterback Brett Hundley, who ranks fourth in QBR and shredded the Huskers for 305 pass yards, 53 rush yards and four touchdowns last season.

While no one confuses UCLA and Arizona State with Stanford and Oregon, wins against two upward-trending Pac-12 programs would boost the profiles for Nebraska and Wisconsin, not to mention the Big Ten. The SEC is the measuring stick for every conference, but the Big Ten recently has had more chances to gauge itself against the Pac-12, both in the regular season and in the Rose Bowl.

[+] EnlargeGary Andersen
AP Photo/David StlukaWisconsin's Gary Andersen might be new to the Big Ten, but he knows just what this weekend means for the conference.
"It's important for the Big Ten for a lot of reasons," Andersen said. "It’s a huge opportunity for us and for the other schools and the conference to hop out of conference play before we get into it here in a week or so, and show what we can do against another quality conference like the Pac-12."

Ohio State has more to lose than to gain against a young Cal team, but the Buckeyes look for a complete performance on the road. Illinois, meanwhile, can further validate a surprisingly strong start by upsetting Washington in its Chicago homecoming game at Soldier Field.

"We understand that these types of games are very important for building a program," Illini coach Tim Beckman said.

Purdue's Darrell Hazell could echo Beckman, as his tenure is off to a shaky start following a blowout loss to Cincinnati and a narrow win against Indiana State. Few expect much from the Boilers against the heavily favored Irish, but they have a big opportunity at home against a rival on national TV.

Arguably no Big Ten team needs a Week 3 boost more than Iowa, which, like Purdue, is an unimpressive 1-1. Iowa has dropped its last two against Iowa State, and a loss Saturday in Ames could cripple the Hawkeyes' hopes of a turnaround, especially with a taxing Big Ten schedule ahead.

"Everybody wants our conference to do well," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We're all united on that front. Our jobs are to really worry about our teams and how we perform. We've got enough on our plate right now."

Last season, the Big Ten's horrendous Week 2 showing -- a 6-6 record, including an 0-3 mark against the Pac-12 -- cast a negative light on the league, one from which it never escaped. The stakes are similar Saturday. It's the league's first and only chance before the bowls to show the nation that things will be different this year.

Will the Big Ten emerge with arms raised or suffer another early knockout? Tune in Saturday to find out.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 16, 2013
8/16/13
12:00
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Second-to-last weekend without real football. Enjoy.
Jim Delany spent last week visiting six Big Ten campuses, a mini tour that simply reinforced what the commissioner already assumed about the league.

He saw large, iconic stadiums built in the 20th century modernized for the 21st-century fan. He saw top-of-the-line practice facilities, training tables, academic support programs and local branding efforts, including the can't-miss markings of social media. He saw the upshot of a league delivering its schools record revenue shares, thanks in large part to the success of the Big Ten Network.

"Our reach is national," Delany said Sunday during a phone interview with ESPN.com. "There's national awareness, and the schools are of national quality. We have resources and commitment. These are phenomenal places with rich traditions, and they've all been captured exceedingly well. We want to recruit nationally, we want to play nationally, we want to telecast nationally.

"We want to do everything we can to be nationally impactful."

But the most nationally impactful thing the Big Ten can do to boost its perception has become its greatest challenge -- win a national championship in football. More than a decade has passed since Big Ten hands hoisted the coveted crystal football. The Big Ten has been a no-show in the title game in the past five seasons. The league is 3-9 in the Rose Bowl during the BCS era. It has sub-.500 bowl records in 10 of the past 13 years.

Meanwhile, the Big Ten's top rival, the SEC, has captured the past seven national titles, ascending to the pinnacle of college football, and letting everyone know about it.

Tradition is at the core of the Big Ten's fabric. Although Legends and Leaders are (thankfully) going away, no league celebrates its past as publicly as the Big Ten does. But the Big Ten's recent tradition hasn't provided much to celebrate.

"The SEC has so dominated the national championships in football, the rest of us are just wanting to break through," Delany said. "That's the reality."

Big Ten coaches are tired of the SEC love, but as Michigan head coach Brady Hoke acknowledges, "they've earned it." He notes that Michigan has performed well against current SEC opponents (24-11-1) and was "11 seconds away" from another win before blowing a lead against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.

But the SEC is winning the games that matter most and continuing to set the agenda in the sport.


"It's like anything else, you get tired of hearing your wife tell you, 'Take out the garbage,'" Hoke said. "What are you going to do? You're going to go take out the garbage so you don't hear it anymore."

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who helped start the SEC's run of championships by guiding Florida past Ohio State in the title game following the 2006 season, said there's a gap between the Big Ten and the SEC that can be gauged by recent bowl performances and NFL drafts (the Big Ten had only 22 players drafted in April's draft, its lowest total since 1994; the SEC produced a record 63 picks). But Meyer has faith the Big Ten can rise up, and not just Ohio State and Michigan, which many assume will recreate the Big 2/Little 8 dynamic prevalent throughout the league's history, because of their recent success on the recruiting trail.

"I've been around the Big Ten my entire life," said Meyer, who grew up in Ashtabula, Ohio. "There was a time where Iowa was No. 1 in America. There's Penn State, there's Wisconsin, there was a time when Illinois played in the Rose Bowl, Northwestern right now is playing at a very high level and recruiting well, Michigan State is always right there. I do believe it is happening.

"I just hear what I hear and see what I see, and everybody is working really hard because the Big Ten has got to go [forward]. The bottom line now is go win some big-time bowl games. That's the best branding you can do."

Click here for the rest of Adam Rittenberg's story.

Big Ten lunch links

August, 8, 2013
8/08/13
12:00
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Happy happiness happens day.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 7, 2013
8/07/13
3:08
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Happy Sea Serpent Day.

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