Big Ten Monday chat at 3 p.m. ET

January, 27, 2014
Jan 27
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Happy Super Bowl week. It's a bittersweet time, as we're about to watch the final pro or college football game until next August.

But we still have plenty to talk about in the Big Ten, so come on by my weekly Monday chat. I'll be in my usual time slot at 3 p.m. ET right here. See you then.
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ACC recruiting reporter Jared Shanker interviews No. 3 offensive tackle Damian Prince of Bishop McNamara (Forestville, Md.). Prince says his college decision will come down to Florida, Maryland, Penn State, LSU and Auburn.

Big Ten's lunch links

January, 27, 2014
Jan 27
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Pharrell, Smokey the Bear called and he wants his hat back.
The North team lost 20-10 to the South in the Senior Bowl on Saturday, but it was still a good day for many Big Ten draft hopefuls.

[+] EnlargeJames White
Dan Sanger/Icon SMIJames White was one of a few Wisconsin players who stood out at the Senior Bowl.
Wisconsin seniors in particular grabbed the spotlight in Mobile, Ala. Former Badgers tailback James White led all rushers with 11 carries for 62 yards and had the game's only rushing score, a 1-yard, fourth-quarter plunge that also was his team's lone touchdown. White added five catches for 15 yards, showing the versatility that made him a standout for four years in Madison. After he was long overlooked in college, it's good to see White getting a chance to shine on his way toward the NFL.

White's teammate, former Badgers tight end Jacob Pedersen, led the North squad with 46 receiving yards on four catches. Meanwhile, ex-Wisconsin star Chris Borland wrapped up a terrific week of practice with a team-best eight tackles, including a tackle for a loss and his signature play: the forced fumble.

Borland was named the most outstanding linebacker at the Senior Bowl on Friday. He appeared to answer any lingering concerns about his height and should be drafted within the first two or three rounds in April.

One Wisconsin star didn't play in the game, as receiver Jared Abbrederis tweaked a hamstring late in the week and flew home to recover. That opened a spot for Michigan State's Bennie Fowler, who contributed two catches for 19 yards on Saturday.

Iowa's Christian Kirksey finished second on the North team with six tackles, including 1.5 for loss. He received positive reviews for his play all week. His former Hawkeyes teammate, tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, did not record a catch but was credited with two tackles. Fiedorowicz was named the most outstanding tight end at the Senior Bowl on Friday, and his impressive physical attributes should make him attractive to teams on draft day.

Other Big Ten players who collected stats included:

  • Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste finished with four tackles and a pass breakup.
  • Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown had four tackles.
  • Wisconsin defensive back Dez Southward made two tackles.
  • Penn State's DaQuan Jones and Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman each collected just one stop but drew praise for their work in stuffing the run.
  • Michigan State safety Isaiah Lewis, another late addition to the team, registered one pass breakup.

The North team also featured Big Ten offensive line products Jack Mewhort (Ohio State) and Michael Schofield (Michigan).
As the coach hiring season nears an end, we're examining the Big Ten coaching landscape and some recent trends. First, a closer look at the increased investments Big Ten schools are making in their football staffs to keep up with the national market.

Two days before Michigan State ended its best season in nearly a half-century with a Rose Bowl victory, Mark Hollis stood outside a Los Angeles conference room and described the dilemma he and other athletic directors face with football coaches' salaries.

"I get concerned sometimes about where we're going with coaches' salaries as an industry," Hollis said, "but at the same time, you need to ensure that continuity is in place."

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/ John BealeNew Penn State coach James Franklin will make about $1 million more than his predecessor Bill O'Brien.
Michigan State ensured continuity by making major financial commitments for coach Mark Dantonio and his assistants. Penn State, meanwhile, is paying new coach James Franklin about $1 million more than a coach (Bill O'Brien) it lost to the NFL. Michigan used its financial resources to attract an offensive coordinator (Doug Nussmeier) from national power Alabama.

The recent moves underscore a greater willingness throughout the deep-pocketed Big Ten to invest more in the men charged to coach its flagship sport, one that has struggled for the past decade. The Big Ten didn't set the market for soaring coaches' salaries, but after some initial reluctance, the league seems more willing to join it.

"When you see an institution like Penn State and Franklin, it says we're going to attract the best talent that we can and in order to do that, we have to step up financially to procure that person's services," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told ESPN.com. "I think that's great for our league. ... We need to have the best coaches, we need to retain the best coaches."

Ohio State in 2011 hired Urban Meyer for a salary of $4 million per year. At the time, the Big Ten had no coaches earning more than $4 million and only two making more than $3 million. Purdue was one of the few major-conference programs paying its coach (Danny Hope) less than $1 million. Bret Bielema cited the difficulty of retaining top assistants at Wisconsin as one reason he left for the Arkansas job in 2012.

The landscape has changed. Last year, both Meyer and Michigan's Brady Hoke made more than $4 million, while Iowa's Kirk Ferentz made just less ($3.985 million), according to USA Today. Franklin's deal at Penn State includes an annual salary of $4.25 million. Terms of Dantonio's new contract at Michigan State have yet to be announced, but it will put Dantonio, previously among the lowest-paid Big Ten coaches ($1.9 million), in the top salary tier. His staff also will receive nice pay bumps.

"I don't think we've been woefully behind," Smith said of the Big Ten. "We were not the first ones to drive the salaries up, but we weren't far behind in responding. Whenever we can attract someone who is really talented, we pay them."

They also must pay top assistants, many of whom command salaries well above those of head coaches from smaller leagues. The Big Ten, after lagging behind nationally in assistant coach pay, is catching up.

"The offensive and defensive coordinators, those decisions become critically important," Michigan AD Dave Brandon said. "You can have the greatest head coach in the world, but if you're not providing him with those leaders who can manage those smaller staffs ... it's hard to believe that the head coach is going to be successful."

There has been no Big Ten mandate to increase salaries, and athletic directors don't discuss financial specifics when they meet. These are institutional decisions, and Hollis, upon realizing Dantonio and his aides deserved an increase, first looked at what MSU could provide before surveying the Big Ten, the national college scene and the NFL.

Part of his challenge is verifying data, as some numbers, even those available through records requests, aren't always accurate.

"Every school pays individuals in different ways," Hollis said. "There can be longevity payments put in there, different bonuses."

Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner expected to make a strong financial push for O'Brien's successor but didn't know exactly where the numbers would fall. Among the metrics Joyner used was the potential attendance increase a new coach could bring.

Despite PSU's on-field success the past two years, average attendance at Beaver Stadium has dropped by about 5,000. An increase of 1,000 fans during the season, including parking and concessions, adds about $500,000 in revenue, Joyner said.

[+] EnlargeKevin Wilson
AJ Mast/Icon SMIIndiana has put more resources than ever before into coach Kevin Wilson and his staff.
"If you believe [the coach is] going to have a very positive effect on your fan base and on your program and on your ability to put bodies in the seats," he said, "it doesn't take a lot of seats to cause a return on that investment."

Indiana AD Fred Glass also wants to fill seats, but he's in a different financial ballpark from schools with massive stadiums like Penn State, despite competing in the same conference. Glass notes that while Michigan made $147.5 million in football revenue last year, Indiana made only about $4.5 million.

But it didn't stop IU from doubling its salary pool for assistant coaches when Kevin Wilson arrived, or awarding Wilson a seven-year contract worth $1.2 million annually, or increasing the number of full-time strength coaches devoted to football from two to five, the NCAA maximum.

"There's a reason IU traditionally hasn't been where we want to be in football," Glass said. "We haven't really made the investments in it. We haven't stuck with continuity. We haven't stayed with a staff over a long period of time. That's what we need.

"Kevin understands we're making resources available, but it's not a bottomless pit."

Glass' last point resonates in the Big Ten, which generates record revenues but also sponsors more sports, on average, than any other major conference. The league believes in broad-based programs, which makes it harder to sink money into football, despite the superior return.

"We are a college program versus just a football franchise, and I think our football coaches not only understand that but really embrace it," Hollis said. "I believe in the Big Ten, maybe more so than others -- I've had the opportunity to see East and West -- [coaches] feel that the athletic department is part of their family."

But they also have to take care of their own families, and their assistants. They know salaries are rising everywhere.

Big Ten athletic directors know this, too. To keep up, you have to pay up.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

January, 27, 2014
Jan 27
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There is only one weekend left for visits before signing day. Things are getting down to the wire, which means we are set to see a lot of activity in a short amount of time.

Here is a look at what happened within the Big Ten this past week.


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If new Penn State coach James Franklin wanted to make an early statement on the recruiting trail, he has done just that.

Wide receiver Saeed Blacknall has switched his commitment from Rutgers to Penn State, he announced Sunday night.

The Manapalan, N.J., native gives the Nittany Lions three ESPN 300 receivers in the 2014 class.

Blacknalll is the No. 14-ranked wide receiver on the ESPN 300, and now the second highest ranked commit in Penn State's class. He visited Penn State on Jan. 17 and had been thinking about making the switch ever since.

Blacknall gives the Nittany Lions 23 commitments for 2014 and some outstanding options at receiver going forward.

At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Blacknall will complement De'Andre Thompkins and Chris Godwin, the two other ESPN 300 receiver commitments in this class. Both Godwin and Blacknall are bigger, physical receivers while Thompkins is a more athletic player who could even be a Wildcat quarterback in certain plays.


(Read full post)


If James Franklin wanted to make a statement on the recruiting trail at Penn State, he has done just that. Franklin and his staff flipped athlete Koa Farmer (Sherman Oaks, Calif./Notre Dame High School) from Cal while on a visit on Saturday, then flipped another prospect to Penn State on Sunday.

ESPN 300 wide receiver Saeed Blacknall (Manapalan, N.J./Manalapan) switched his commitment from Rutgers to Penn State. He gives the Nittany Lions three ESPN 300 receivers in the 2014 class.



The No. 118-ranked prospect took a visit to Penn State on Jan. 17 and had been thinking about making the switch ever since.

At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Blacknall will complement De’Andre Thompkins and Chris Godwin, the two other ESPN 300 receiver commitments in this class. Both Godwin and Blacknall are bigger, physical receivers whereas Thompkins is a more athletic player who could even be a wildcat quarterback in certain plays.

Blacknall hails from New Jersey, which is an area Franklin and his staff are going to make a priority. This was a good commitment to start with for the new staff as Blacknall is now the second highest ranked commit in the class.

The ESPN 300 receiver gives the Nittany Lions 23 commitments for 2014 and some outstanding options at receiver going forward.

Spike in sex offenses at Penn State

January, 26, 2014
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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- A federal government agency is looking into Penn State's handling of sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints to see if it had responded immediately and appropriately.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights informed Penn State of the investigation in a letter Thursday.

Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon says the agency had concerns after it reviewed Penn State's sexual harassment policy and it saw a huge spike in "forcible sex offenses." The spike came after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal broke in 2011.

A Penn State spokeswoman says the school is looking forward to working with federal officials. Penn State's crime data showed 56 forcible sex offenses on its main campus in 2012. That's fourteen times the number reported in 2010.


(Read full post)


Penn State flips Cal commit

January, 25, 2014
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New coach James Franklin and his staff held their first big official visit weekend at Penn State, and the event has already proven successful.

Athlete Koa Farmer (Sherman Oaks, Calif./Notre Dame) is one of the bigger targets on campus and tweeted Saturday that he has flipped his commitment from California to Penn State.



“The journey is done! First I want to thank California-Berkeley for the great and outstanding opportunity. It has been a long and powerful journey,” he tweeted. “I am blessed to announce that I will be ending the recruiting process and attend PENN STATE UNIVERSITY where I will become DR. FARMER and fulfill my dream of becoming a P.H.D in Pathology! We Penn State are on the rise. We are going to win the Rose Bowl. We are going to win a national championship. All I can say now is #WEARE #PENNSTATE.”

The three-star athlete had been committed to Cal for over a year and will now likely play safety or linebacker at Penn State. At 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, there is some versatility to his game that will allow the coaching staff to move him around within the defense.

There are still a few other uncommitted visitors on campus, including cornerback Amani Oruwariye (Tampa, Fla./Gaither), who could still end up a part of this class.

With Farmer on board the Nittany Lions now have 22 commitments for 2014, including three ESPN 300 prospects and six four-stars.

PSU staff aims high with expectations

January, 24, 2014
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- As Penn State's assistants tell it, the Nittany Lions' return to national prominence is inevitable.

During separate interviews, each assistant on Friday afternoon echoed the same sentiment. Most of the staff -- seven of nine who came straight from Vanderbilt -- explained how they turned a have-not program into a good SEC team. So, they said, it stands to reason they can do even more with a university that boasts more tradition, renown and finances than their last stop.

"There are 'haves' and there are 'have-nots' in college football, that's the truth," said offensive line coach Herb Hand, adding that maybe 15 'haves' exist in the FBS. "And this is one of the 'haves' -- and I'm excited about that."

[+] EnlargePenn State/Purdue
AP Photo/Gene J PuskarThe new staff understands it has advantages that it didn't have at its last stop.
At Vanderbilt, Hand couldn't wander into a high school and ask to speak with all the blue-chip prospects. Most wouldn't even consider the Commodores. (Christian Hackenberg certainly wouldn't, for example.) Penn State is just different.

During a visit to La Salle in Philadelphia last season, teachers left their classrooms and walked down a flight of stairs to catch a glimpse of Bill O'Brien. An army of students manned their cellphones and hoped for a picture. And, for a day, the targeted recruit -- linebacker Zaire Franklin -- felt like the most popular kid there and fielded dozens of questions at lunch about his experience. ("Does he have big hands?" was one of the odder questions.)

James Franklin didn't have that at Vanderbilt. Far from it. He took over a program that struggled in every facet of football. And, even during its success, he stopped at fraternities and tried to increase attendance at every opportunity. During his first day on the job at Penn State, he joked that he would blow up birthday balloons in backyards if people asked him.

"That was a mistake, obviously," Franklin said with a smile Friday, as he has received quite a few offers to do exactly that.

A largely intact staff that performed wonders at Vanderbilt certainly boasts a higher ceiling at a program like Penn State. The competition in the Big Ten isn't as fierce as the SEC. The Nittany Lions have already pulled off back-to-back winning seasons under the sanctions, and they basically have a head-start over what the staff started with at Vanderbilt.

"We've been at some places where you kind of never had the resources you had here," defensive line coach Sean Spencer said. " It's going to be very exciting to know the playing field is going to get a little more level.

"Whatever we did at Vanderbilt was unbelievable, right? You know that playing field was getting to the point where it was level with the rest of the SEC. Well, now, [Penn State] is already pretty level. So now what are we going to do? The sky is the limit."

It wasn't just the implication of Big Ten titles during Friday's news conference and sit-down talks with the assistants. Some didn't shy away from saying that's exactly what the goal is -- and exactly what this program is capable of.

That's something Penn State fans haven't heard for quite awhile. Joe Paterno wasn't one to make promises, and O'Brien tended to temper expectations. Franklin's staff not only has embraced those lofty expectations, it has taken them to another level.

Again, right now, it's all talk without actions. But Franklin and his staff have certainly caught this fan base's attention -- and they're aiming high. Penn State has shared one Big Ten title in the last eight seasons, and it was vacated because of the sanctions.

"We came here to build a Big Ten championship -- and a national championship-caliber defense," defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said, reiterating that very point three minutes after he initially made it. "That's the only thing we know."

Added offensive coordinator John Donovan: "I'm excited to recruit for this school and bring a championship to Penn State."
The last two seasons have shown that two-quarterback systems can work in the Big Ten.

Northwestern recorded 10 wins in 2012 while rotating Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian. Indiana led the Big Ten and ranked ninth nationally in total offense last fall while alternating between Tre Roberson and Nate Sudfeld.

[+] EnlargeJoey Bosa, Connor Cook
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesAfter taking over the quarterback job in Week 5, Connor Cook led the Spartans to 10 consecutive wins.
Given the recent success, my next statement might surprise you: Every Big Ten team would be best served picking one quarterback and sticking with him in 2014. That includes Indiana and Northwestern.

Quarterback rotations can be successful in the short term, but they are rarely sustainable or desirable. We saw this at Northwestern last fall, as the Wildcats never established a consistent offensive rhythm and operated with a reduced playbook, in part because of injuries but also because the unit lacked a clear identity. Northwestern finished 10th in the league in scoring.

Minnesota alternated between quarterbacks Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner during several games, including the Texas Bowl against Syracuse. Although the Gophers had a nice surge during Big Ten play and recorded eight wins, they also finished 11th in the league in scoring and last in passing.

Nebraska had some success using two quarterbacks (Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Ron Kellogg III) last season but did so out of necessity following Taylor Martinez's injury. The Huskers also struggled to pass the ball, finishing 11th in the league.

The strongest argument for picking a quarterback and sticking with him comes from the Big Ten's best team in 2013. Michigan State's offense was a train wreck in non-league play as the Spartans used three quarterbacks. After a Week 4 loss to Notre Dame, the coaches decided Connor Cook would be their guy. You all know what happened next, but what struck me was Cook's mindset at the time.

"We went through spring ball competition and fall camp competition, it was the most stressed out I've ever been in my entire life just trying to be the quarterback," Cook said last month before the Rose Bowl. "After I got the starting job and started a couple of games, the stress went away and it turned to focus, me being focused and knowing they're not going to use other quarterbacks in the game and not stress too much that go if I make a bad play I'm going to be pulled.

"That's when the stress went out the window."

Players like Northwestern's Siemian and Indiana's Roberson and Sudfeld are more accustomed to sharing time than Cook was, but each of them, like any quarterback, would rather be the clear-cut starter.

Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase is another good example of a player who benefited from an unambiguous role. He struggled from the middle of the 2011 season through all of 2012, raising the possibility of a rotation last season. Instead, Scheelhaase started every game and led the Big Ten in passing (3,272 yards).

[+] EnlargeTommy Armstrong Jr.
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsAfter playing well in place of Taylor Martinez, sophomore signal-caller Tommy Armstrong Jr. is the favorite to start for the Cornhuskers in 2014.
I'm all for competition at quarterback, and the Big Ten will feature plenty of it this spring and summer. Only five quarterbacks -- Ohio State's Braxton Miller, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg, Michigan State's Cook, Iowa's Jake Rudock and Michigan's Devin Gardner -- can feel pretty secure about their starting roles. Gardner has been mentioned as a possible rotation candidate with Shane Morris -- some Michigan fans wouldn't mind seeing Gardner line up at wide receiver, a position of need -- but I'd be surprised if Morris leapfrogs the senior.

I'm also OK with teams employing change-up quarterbacks for a package of plays, be it the Wildcat or something else. Michigan State could be a candidate for this in 2014 with dynamic redshirt freshman Damion Terry possibly spelling Cook from time to time.

The first few games also provide a platform to use multiple quarterbacks in settings that can't be replicated on the practice field. Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel often did this with his younger quarterbacks, giving them a first-half series or two. It makes sense. But by Week 4, roles must be identified.

The offseason is full of Big Ten quarterback questions:

  • Will Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt take the reins at Illinois?
  • How will Gardner and Hackenberg fare with new offensive coordinators?
  • After Nelson's transfer, who emerges at Minnesota among Leidner, Chris Streveler and possibly a young quarterback such as Dimonic McKinzy?
  • Nebraska's Armstrong went 6-1 as a freshman starter, but can he hold off Johnny Stanton?
  • Can Gary Nova retain his job at Rutgers?
  • Will Danny Etling keep the top job at Purdue, or will Austin Appleby and possibly early enrollee David Blough enter the mix?
  • How does Siemian bounce back at Northwestern, and do the Wildcats look at Matt Alviti and Zack Oliver?
  • Will either Roberson or Sudfeld finally separate himself at IU?

Ultimately, these questions must be answered. The teams that avoid prolonged rotations should be better off for it.

Quick hits: Penn State coaches speak

January, 24, 2014
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- New Nittany Lions coach James Franklin officially introduced his coaching staff on Friday morning and addressed the media before his two coordinators took the dais.

Bios on each assistant coach can be found here and here. Below are some highlights from the news conference:
  • Penn State will have a recruiting coordinator for both sides of the ball. Josh Gattis (wide receivers coach) for offense, Terry Smith (cornerbacks coach) for defense. Said Franklin: "I think we'll have the most aggressive recruiting staff in America."
  • Franklin isn't certain who will call the plays on offense. He has an offensive coordinator, a pass-game coordinator and a run-game coordinator -- and Franklin himself is known as an offensive-minded coach. At Vanderbilt, he said offensive coordinator John Donovan called everything and believed that would be the case at Penn State.
  • Franklin smiled when a question regarding names on the back of the jerseys was asked and joked, "That hasn't come up from anybody." He said an official announcement would be made at a later time regarding names on jerseys -- something Bill O'Brien implemented -- but said that was not yet decided upon. Still, Franklin added, he's going to "show tremendous respect for our traditions and for our history and for our past."
  • The focus for the staff right now is recruiting. As far as looking at film of the current squad, Franklin said his assistant coaches have downloaded film to their laptops and iPads -- but likely won't really delve into that until signing day is finished. It's important for current players to start with a clean slate, he added, and, "There are no returning starters at any position."
  • The most important hire, Franklin said, was strength coach Dwight Galt, who mentored former Penn State strength coach Craig Fitzgerald. Said Franklin: "He's kind of the Yoda of the program. You walk by his office, there'll always be players in his office talking to him."
  • Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said his philosophy is to tailor the scheme to the players. As a result, Penn State will recruit on talent -- not necessarily for how they fit into a certain scheme. The identity of his past Vanderbilt defenses changed from year to year -- from a strong secondary in 2011 to stopping on third down in 2012 and stopping people on first and second and having lots of takeaways in 2013.
  • Shoop twice said he came to Penn State to build Big Ten championship-caliber defenses and national championship-caliber defenses.
  • Donovan said Penn State is now "a personnel-oriented, pro-style offense" and that players will learn a system that's used in the NFL.
  • Donovan's first impressions of Christian Hackenberg: "We've seen some film. He's obviously got a lot of talent. I'm really excited to work with him. ... I know it's hard for him because he was close with Coach O'Brien."

Big Ten lunch links

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
12:00
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It's been great getting to know you, Polar Vortex. But it's probably time to hit the road.
  • Chris Ash was finally confirmed as Ohio State's co-defensive coordinator, but there's still some uncertainty about who will be calling the plays this season.
  • Michigan State is preparing for a huge recruiting weekend, and a staffer offers some insight on the approach it takes with its targets.
  • Former Michigan offensive lineman Michael Schofield is impressing scouts and analysts at the Senior Bowl practices.
  • Nebraska product Stanley Jean-Baptiste is also making the most of his opportunity in Mobile, Ala., and the cornerback might not be "under the radar" any longer.
  • Jerry Kill appears to be heading for a pay raise at Minnesota.
  • Christian Hackenberg will be the eighth starting quarterback James Franklin has worked with in his career, and the Penn State rising sophomore already compares favorably with the rest of the bunch.
  • Jeff George Jr. knows his way around the Illinois campus thanks to his dad, but he's going up for another close look as he takes an official visit this weekend.
  • Wisconsin's offense kept on moving just like usual last season, leading with its powerful rushing attack.
  • Paralyzed Rutgers legend Eric LeGrand is now a college graduate.
  • The Big Ten had a few more "winners" as Senior Bowl workouts wound down, including Ohio State's Jack Mewhort and Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis and Chris Borland.

Big Ten Thursday chat wrap

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
4:00
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As we suffer through winter and the offseason together, we also bond over Big Ten football. Thanks to those who joined me earlier today for the weekly Big Ten chat. We discussed the East-West balance in the Big Ten, recruits flipping, new coaching hires and more.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsAs James Franklin can attest to, flipping recruits is part of the business.
Did you miss out? Not to worry. Here's a full chat transcript, along with some highlights:

Bernard from Columbus: Larry Johnson an upgrade over [Mike] Vrabel in both recruiting and coaching?

Adam Rittenberg: Hmmm, good question. In coaching, I'd say yes, mainly because Johnson has way more experience than Vrabel and a track record of producing elite defensive linemen. As a recruiter, I'd also give Johnson a slight edge because of his long-term success, but Vrabel had quickly developed himself into an outstanding recruiter.

Rob from Morristown, N.J.: What is your honest take on [James] Franklin flipping recruits from Vandy to PSU? I hear a lot of other teams' fans talking about how we were up in arms when other programs were poaching our players once the sanctions were handed down ... as much as many of us were upset that recruits like Noah Spence and Armani Reeves flipped to Ohio State ... there is no comparison, we were upset that other schools were trying to flip our CURRENTLY enrolled players ... just wanted to get that out there...

Adam Rittenberg: Rob, we both know that no fan base likes it when coaches flip their recruits, but fans also should know by now that it happens all the time and will continue to happen unless there's an early signing period. James Franklin was honest about it when asked: Players do pick coaches, not schools, and will follow coaches if they leave. Is it unfortunate? To a degree. But it's the nature of the business, and Penn State has experienced both sides of it in recent years. I agree that the attempts to flip current players -- looking at you, Tim Beckman -- annoyed PSU fans more than losing recruits to Urban [Meyer].

TB from Champaign, Ill.: What are the odds of me keeping my job with the Illini after 2014 and finishing off my "Fighting Force 2015" recruiting class?

Adam Rittenberg: It could happen, TB, but you need to make a bowl game this season. Few coaches with three bowl-less seasons are going to survive, especially those who have never won over the fan base/boosters. So how do you get to six wins? It's certainly possible with a schedule that includes three likely non-league wins (Youngstown State, Western Kentucky and Texas State), and a crossover schedule that doesn't include Michigan State or Michigan. The road schedule is once again brutal (Washington, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Northwestern), so your team must play well on its home field.

Rick from Georgia: Adam, with a new OC at Michigan, do you think they may go in the direction of using a two-QB system similar to Northwestern? It would be nice to see [Devin] Gardner line up at wide receiver while also getting snaps at QB.

Adam Rittenberg: Rick, while you can't rule this out because Michigan loses both [Jeremy] Gallon and [Drew] Dileo, the team would like to keep Gardner at quarterback, if at all possible. The Wolverines have some talent at tight end with [Devin] Funchess (essentially a WR) and Jake Butt, but they must develop some other options at receiver this spring. Shane Morris' progress at QB also will be key. Can he really push Gardner, or will a healthy Gardner separate himself in spring ball? Should be really interesting.

Steve from NJ: Adam, really miss chatting with everyone since the turn to Facebook, but oh well. As for the B1G East this year, I have no trouble giving OSU credit for what they did, although you have to admit, many of [its] games could have gone either way. MSU looks very strong. UM hasn't shown much of late. And PSU, even with the sanctions, is still hanging on. My point is, the winner of the East could be any of those four based on how the ball bounces. In the West, I really only see Wisc and Neb, with NW and Iowa having an outside shot.

Adam Rittenberg: Steve, I guess I wonder why you think Wisconsin and Nebraska are far and away the favorites in the West? Wisconsin loses an enormous senior class and has QB questions. Nebraska lost to Iowa and Minnesota and was a Hail Mary tip from losing to Northwestern. Will the Huskers suddenly eliminate their sloppiness and become dominant in 2014? Maybe, maybe not. I think the West is pretty even with the top 4-5 teams, while the East likely will be a 2- or 3-team race, as I don't think Penn State has enough to keep up.

Thanks again for your questions and participation. Let's do it again soon.

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Penn State 2015 Class Debuts At No. 3
Craig Haubert discusses recent additions to the Nittany Lions' 2015 class and first-year coach James Franklin's success on the recruiting trail.Tags: Adam McLean, Ryan Bates, Penn State Nittany Lions, James Franklin
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