Such is the life of a hot coaching name in a business full of constant turnover.
Vandy fans might not want to hear about it, but Franklin is a hot commodity in the coaching world, and there's no surprise that high-profile programs looking to rebound tomorrow are very interested in the Commodores' young coach.
Reports have surfaced that Franklin's name has come up for the vacancy at Texas, and he could be the top choice at Penn State since it appears as though Bill O'Brien has taken the Houston Texans job. There has even been some talk that NFL teams could be interested in Franklin.
Franklin deserves the attention he's getting. He deserves for bigger schools around the country to have serious interest in him. He deserves to have his name up there with the top coaching names during these searches. He's a hard-nosed coach, a dynamic recruiter, a true players' coach and an exceptional developer of talent. He sold a program used to losing on top of losing, so imagine what he could do at a proven winner.
People went from being shocked that Franklin lifted the Commodores out of the SEC's cellar so quickly to being shocked that he's still in Nashville. How long he'll be there is a mystery, but Franklin isn't touching rumors. Honestly, he never discusses subjects not pertaining to his team or his team's next opponent.
When asked earlier this month about his name being linked to the Texas job made open by the resignation of longtime coach Mack Brown, Franklin did an amazing job of dodging the subject all together by putting the attention on his team and Saturday's BBVA Compass Bowl matchup against Houston.
On Monday, he seemed very happy with everything Vandy related.
“I love the Vandy fans. I love the Vandy nation. I love everything we’re doing,” Franklin said.
“I’m extremely excited to play Houston on the 4th and continue to build our program. … Just very, very, very proud. Just going around Christmas and shoppingŁ and there’s excitement and a buzz, and you go to the airport and you see more black and gold and everything that’s going on.”
Vandy fans have to be happy to hear that. You know where your coach's focus is, despite all the potential distractions being thrown his way. But when Vandy's season ends on Jan. 4, get ready for more distractions … and no game to deflect them.
Speculation will only grow as vacancies go unfilled. Franklin has done an excellent job at Vanderbilt, but you have to wonder what he could do with more resources, a bigger recruiting market and a bigger program attached to his name.
It's likely coming one of these days, and we'll find out soon if that day is soon.
It isn't necessarily related to recruiting, although Penn State's 2014 class certainly could be impacted significantly by O'Brien's exit, barely a month before national signing day. It isn't necessarily related to the current players, although key ones such as quarterback Christian Hackenberg certainly must reassess their future with the program.
Athletic director Dave Joyner and university president Rodney Erickson both were hastily appointed to their posts in 2011 after the child sex abuse scandal broke. Joyner is no longer Penn State's acting AD, but he's only expected to serve until Erickson steps down June 30 (or potentially earlier). Penn State's presidential search has been rocky and unsuccessful so far, as the school's reported choice, David Smith, ended up resigning his post at SUNY-Upstate Medical University in November after it was found that he had been accepting unapproved money from outside companies linked to the school.
So Penn State must now begin a coaching search with a lame-duck AD and a lame-duck president. It might not matter, as the school hired O'Brien at a shaky time. The program still continues to operate under heavy NCAA sanctions, including two more years of a postseason ban, but O'Brien's impressive performance elevated its profile for potential candidates. There's also a chance the sanctions are further reduced before the 2014 season.
Still, coaches like to know who their bosses will be. They know what happens when new athletic directors come in and things go south on the field. ADs want to hire their own coaches, and typically keep inherited coaches on shorter leashes than ones they select. Regardless of the sentiment about Joyner and Erickson -- and for many Penn Staters, it's not favorable -- the fact that they'll soon be gone can't be overlooked by potential candidates. There will be more than two people involved in identifying and hiring Penn State's next coach, but every coach wants and needs to have an AD and a president firmly in his corner for the long term.
O'Brien's frustration with Penn State's leadership and the need to be a figurehead for the school -- as told to David Jones in this illuminating piece -- also must be noted. Few coaches will be interested in a job that requires them to not only win football games but unify a community.
Penn State's administrative flux might not matter to the right coach. Maybe it's someone with stronger ties to the school, who isn't worried about winning over his future bosses.
But after all Penn State has been through, it would be better to begin another football transition without one still going on with the administration.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- After days of speculation and weeks of unease among Nittany Nation, the Bill O’Brien carousel appears to have finally come to a stop. According to reports, he’s leaving Penn State for the Houston Texans.
Even the most naive Penn State fan knew Happy Valley wasn’t O’Brien’s final destination. O’Brien made no secret of his NFL hopes. But many assumed this moment wouldn’t arrive so soon -- that O’Brien would at least stay to see his prized recruit and freshman sensation, QB Christian Hackenberg, through his career.
But labeling O’Brien a traitor or slinging insults his way is a disservice to what he has accomplished. Penn State needed a coach to breathe life into what many thought would become a lifeless program. O’Brien needed a place where he could cut his teeth as a head coach and make a return to the NFL.
Neither party likely knew it would reach its goal so quickly.
Coaching relationships aren’t unconditional, and O’Brien knew that all too well. Fans questioned his play-calling, one even wondering aloud during his weekly radio show why Hackenberg didn’t operate more out of the shotgun. O’Brien found himself being forced to defend defensive coordinator John Butler from “Fire him” criticism, and the loss to Indiana resulted in a cacophony of cries that “JoePa never would’ve let that happen.”
O’Brien often joked on his show that fans love him now ... but what about when he lost? He’d always end the rhetorical question with a laugh, but he knew the answer was far more serious.
Fans want successful coaches like O’Brien to stay, and they can’t be blamed. But O’Brien wasn’t hired to stay for as long as everyone else wanted. He was hired to get Penn State past the darkest time in school history. He, in turn, took the job to advance to the NFL.
That dynamic hasn’t been a secret for at least a year now. Reporters peppered O’Brien with questions on Jan. 7, 2013, and asked whether coaching in the NFL remained one of his goals. He revealed as much as he could.
“You know,” O’Brien said, “it’s something that, like I said, it’s the highest -- in our profession, it’s the highest level of football. And it’s a league that I have a ton of respect for.”
If anything, O’Brien’s reputation will take at least a slight hit. He told members of the 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes that he would greet them on the practice field throughout their careers. That’s likely not going to happen now. But he never promised anything to the fans, and he faced an impossible situation with recruits.
Show me a head coach who tells potential commits, “I’m not sure if I’ll be here next year because I’m looking at other jobs,” and I’ll show you a head coach whose team does not go 8-4 or 7-5 under the circumstances Penn State faced.
Yes, this all could’ve worked out better for Penn State. But both parties got what they wanted all along.
The Houston Chronicle reported Wednesday that O'Brien will sign a five-year deal and be introduced by the team Thursday. Penn State held a news conference Thursday in which it acknowledged O'Brien's departure.
Texans owner Bob McNair wanted a coach who had NFL and head-coaching experience.
O'Brien, 44, a protégé of Bill Belichick, was a New England Patriots assistant from 2007 to 2011. He eventually became the offensive coordinator for a team that lost to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. He left the Patriots two years ago to take over at Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal.
Despite a bowl ban and relaxed transfer rules that allowed players to leave Penn State without delay, the Nittany Lions went 15-9 under O'Brien, including 10-6 in the Big Ten. He was the conference coach of the year in 2012.
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Up today: Special teams
How they fared: Ficken started off hot, broke the school record for consecutive made field goals (15), and then promptly cooled off and returned to his inconsistency from the season before. Butterworth had a marginally better year.
If this unit improved from 2012, it wasn't by much. Poor special teams cost Penn State a win against Nebraska, as Ficken missed a field goal and an extra point and Kenny Bell returned a kickoff for a 99-yard touchdown. PSU lost in overtime, 23-20. It was another season to forget for special teams.
What we learned: Ficken remains inconsistent. After nailing 15 straight field goals, it was pretty easy to jump on the kicker's bandwagon. But he still finished the season by making just 15-of-23 field goals (65 percent). He shortened up his approach, spent a year fine-tuning his new technique, succeeded and then ... well ... it just seemed to fall apart. It'll be difficult for fans or coaches to trust Ficken again, even if he remains the starting kicker.
Grading the position: D-minus. Butterworth downed 17 of 51 punts inside the 20, and Jesse Della Valle averaged a respectable 8.7 yards on punt returns. But there's not a lot of good to say outside of that. PSU finished near the bottom in just about every other special-teams category, such as kick return average (19.14 yards -- 100th in nation). If it wasn't for minor improvements by those two, this position would've easily gotten a failing grade. Heck, the argument could be made that it still probably deserves one.
Key losses: Butterworth. He averaged 39.2 yards a punt, so it's not as if he's irreplaceable. Rising sophomore run-on Chris Gulla looks as if he'll take over punting duties since, well, there's just no one else. Gulla was groomed as Butterworth's replacement.
Position stock watch: On hold. Can special teams really fare much worse? Penn State added a kicker to its 2014 class in Troy Stivason and Gulla is more accustomed to field-goal kicking than punting anyway, so Penn State certainly has options there. It shouldn't be too difficult to match Butterworth's production; it just really comes down to the other areas like kickoff coverage, kickoff returns, etc. PSU will have more scholarships to work with in 2014, so it won't be forced to use players on special teams who just aren't ready -- or at least not as much as before. It's a wait-and-see approach with this unit as there's still plenty of question marks, but there should be some cautious optimism here.
Key to next season: Field-goal kicking. Penn State needs to put points on the scoreboard when it has the ability, so that's clearly the priority on all the special teams. Sure, it'll be breaking in a new punter ... but what's more costly -- a punter who averages 35 yards a kick or a kicker who makes 60 percent of his FGs? If Ficken picks up where he left off, the staff might not have much patience left over. Gulla has a year under his belt, and Stivason might be able to push as well. Ficken needs to improve, or someone else needs to step up.
- Quick Rose Bowl preview from the Associated Press.
- Mark Dantonio will get a raise and MSU is close to announcing that figure after Dantonio's discussion with AD Mark Hollis.
- Braxton Miller missed today's interviews due to the flu bug that has gone around the OSU team.
- With a depleted defense, Luke Fickell is working to fix the Buckeyes' issues before they face Clemson.
- Hawkmania.com's 10@10 gives you 10 quick facts on Iowa football for the day.
- Iowa is looking to push its tempo as it moves forward, plus other notes from Tampa.
- Graham Watson says the Nebraska-Georgia matchup isn't as exciting the second time around.
- The turnover margin has been an issue for the Cornhuskers, and Bo Pelini knows that can't be the case against Georgia.
- Wisconsin has a chance to make a national statement against an SEC team.
- South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have a brats-and-barbecue wager on the Capital One Bowl.
- Audrey Snyder takes a look at what would happen to Penn State's 2014 recruiting class if Bill O'Brien leaves.
- The Daily Gopher also takes a look at what could happen to Minnesota's remaining spots in its 2014 recruiting class.
So here are some of the more memorable moments and stories to appear on this site in 2013:
- Nittany Lions all-time draft: Five people spent several hours drafting an entire team of Penn State greats. Historian Lou Prato took RB Lenny Moore as the first overall pick, while OT Lloyd Engle was our draft's Mr. Irrelevant. The participants included Prato, former WR O.J. McDuffie, former CB Stephon Morris, ESPN editor Bob McClellan and myself. (And, Bob, I'll still never forgive you for taking Lydell Mitchell ahead of me.)
- Nittany Lions understand future depends on walk-ons: D.J. Crook threw a Hail Mary when he emailed Penn State, and this story explained just how he got to Happy Valley -- and how Bill O'Brien emphasized the run-on program.
- Emotional win comes at key time for PSU: This column was written immediately following Penn State's 43-40 quadruple OT win over Michigan, which is sure to be a classic for years to come.
- Column by Andrew Nelson: Why I chose PSU: The four-star OT penned a column in February about why he decided to commit to the Nittany Lions. He redshirted this past season.
- Happy Valley not placated by reductions: The NCAA reduced Penn State's sanctions, but that didn't mean Happy Valley was thrilled. "It's just not enough yet," Matt McGloin said.
- NCAA trying to unring sanction bell: Ivan Maisel wrote that reduced sanctions were an acknowledgment that the NCAA overreached.
- Sam Ficken goes from goat to hero: OK, OK. He didn't fare well after he set the record for consecutive made field goals (15), but he still talked here about rising above the hate and death threats.
- Calm Hackenberg embracing starting role: It didn't take long to understand that Christian Hackenberg was something special. This was written after his first start.
- Retired No. 22 stressful for Heisman winner: John Cappelletti was pretty nervous about the fan reaction before his No. 22 became the first retired Penn State football number. Afterward, though, he said he was glad he did it.
- Penn State CB Lucas finding 'swagger': Jordan Lucas was a pleasant surprise in the secondary this season, and he reflected on the main reason why: Confidence.
As expected, Day 2 at the Under Armour All-America practices were smoother, more concise and much more productive. The players are now starting to think less and play more. Natural ability is starting to come to the forefront, which allows for them to be more productive. There have been fewer dropped passes, fewer misses by the QBs and the offensive lines are starting to jell quicker than expected. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this group is there have not been any true letdowns. They have stepped up and been as advertised almost top to bottom for both squads. Let’s hit the highlights of the day:
WR Cameron Sims (Monroe, La./Ouachita Parish): Sims might not wow anyone with his 40-yard dash time, but it may not matter. Sims is so similar to Mike Evans at Texas A&M. He just makes plays. He has extremely long arms and is outstanding when in contested matchups. The ball will look like it is uncatchable and then next thing you know he jumps out of nowhere, extends and makes a play and the defender is left scratching his head. When it comes down to it, the QBs for Team Highlight can trust that if they need to throw it up, Sims will make a play. The most basic thing about the position is catching the football and Sims has no problem doing that.
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Up today: Defensive backs.
With Adrian Amos' move to safety, many took that as a sign that defensive coordinator John Butler was confident with the new cornerbacks (Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams) and that this group wouldn't be the liability it was in 2012. Penn State was forced to play more zone coverage than it wanted to in 2012, but 2013 appeared as if the secondary could at least earn the status of "average." It wouldn't be a defensive strength, but it wouldn't be a complete disaster either.
How they fared: Maybe it wasn't a total disaster ... but it was close. Amos' position switch to safety was a total bust, and he was moved back to cornerback later in the season. The safeties were once again the Achilles' heel on the team and, despite returning both starters from 2012 (Malcolm Willis and safety-turned-linebacker Stephen Obeng-Agyapong), the position of safety somehow managed to take a step back.
Ryan Keiser caught the ire of fans quite a few times, and it wasn't unusual for a defensive back to be completely out of position. PSU didn't press often, the corners gave opposing receivers plenty of room and third-and-long wasn't an automatic prelude to a punt. This was the worst unit on the team -- by far. Again.
What we learned: Butler doesn't have a lot to work with here. CB Da'Quan Davis saw time early in 2012 but hasn't played much since. Wideout-turned-cornerback Williams was looked upon as the better option and, well, you know how Williams fared. He was pulled about six games into the season. Nearly all of the prime options in the secondary are underclassmen. Outside of Willis, PSU had to resort to former walk-ons at safety.
Grading the position: D. If this unit was average, Penn State might've been at least 9-3. But even teams like run-first Minnesota were able to pass on the Nittany Lions. Lucas was a nice surprise, but one nice surprise couldn't overcome missed expectations everywhere else. Amos admittedly didn't live up to expectations, the safeties were a mess, and there really wasn't a whole lot of good to say here.
Key losses: Willis. He wasn't a great player, but he still helped other players in the secondary adjust. He was the quarterback of the defense and a vocal leader who helped the underclassmen. PSU probably will be able to replace his production, however. Can Keiser or Jesse Della Valle really be that much worse?
Position stock watch: Trending upward. Penn State had to hit rock-bottom in 2013; it had to. It really has nowhere to go but up. The cornerbacks should actually be above-average in 2014, and this could finally be the breakout season everyone was waiting for from Amos. Safety is obviously a huge concern but, once again, it really can't get that much worse.
Key to next season: Getting average play from the safeties. They don't have to be great, or even all that good. Simply being average would be a big step up. That being said, it might be difficult for this unit to improve that much. Malik Golden could be the answer, as he saw some significant time toward the end of the season. And it's always possible that a freshman could contribute here. Lucas can also play safety ... but that'd likely cause some head-scratching after the failed experiment with Amos.
- Michigan State has come together as a close-knit team. Even a senior quarterback who lost his starting job and a redshirt freshman whose brother is suspended know what they need to do.
- The pre-Rose Bowl tradition of the "Beef Bowl" has mostly given way to moderation, but it wasn't always like that. One Michigan lineman once ate 8 pounds of prime rib.
- Penn State wants to find stability in its next coach but, the Patriot-News' Dave Jones writes, but that's not easy when the university's president and athletic director each have one foot out the door.
- Ohio State defensive end Noah Spence did not travel to the Orange Bowl because of "personal issues," but Urban Meyer said he hoped the Buckeyes' sacks leader might arrive before the game.
- Braxton Miller's decision whether to declare for the NFL draft is likely already made and won't be influenced by the Orange Bowl, writes Cleveland.com's Ari Wasserman.
- After hearing the seniors' take on their head coach, Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez said he feels like he hit a "home run" with the hiring of Gary Andersen.
- Michigan's disappointing end to a disappointing season leaves more questions than answers about 2014. Defensive end Frank Clark didn't point the finger at the staff about the loss and said, "I think a lot of guys just lost the will to play as a family."
- Kirk Ferentz acknowledged there's one wild card standing in front of the Hawkeyes -- LSU's first-time starting quarterback Anthony Jennings.
- Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. has taken the good with the bad this season and, if he's able to play a clean bowl game, the Huskers have a good shot at winning.
- Sure, Minnesota lost the Texas Bowl. But there is a silver lining -- the Gophers return a solid nucleus next season.
On Saturday, upon checking in for the prestigious game, a number of prospects weighed in on a hot topic involving Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Florida State's Jameis Winston.
If they had to choose between the two, who would the players take as their college quarterback? Here are their responses:
Florida commit and No. 20-ranked Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central High): I would say Jameis Winston. He’s really a pure quarterback, and I think he sets up things more for a running back than Johnny Manziel does.
Auburn running back commit Racean Thomas (Oxford, Al./Oxford High): I would probably pick Jameis Winston. The reason behind that is because he is more of a leader for a young quarterback, and I think he can make his team a more mature team. I really think he would be a great quarterback to play with.
Florida wide receiver commit and No. 28 Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead Senior High): Whew, I don’t know. I think Jameis Winston. I look at how both of them played as a freshman, and I like how Jameis Winston leads his team. He is also more pro-ready than Manziel.
Texas defensive end commit and No. 78-overall Derick Roberson (San Antonio, Texas/William J. Brennan High): I guess I would say Johnny Manziel. I like how he plays with his swagger and confidence the most, so I would probably say him.
Notre Dame commit and No. 76-ranked Tyler Luatua (la Mirada, Calif./La Mirada High): I would take Manziel just because of the way he plays. If he doesn’t have a wide receiver open, he can make plays himself. He can get the ball to his players if and when he wants to, but can also do it on his own when he needs to.
No. 38 overall John Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Long Beach Polytechnic High School): That’s a hard one. As of right now, I would go with Jameis Winston. Overall, he’s a great player. I think Winston has an awesome football IQ. Johnny had his year too, but I think Winston is just a great player. Outstanding.
Dylan Sumner-Gardner: Jameis Winston, man. I feel comfortable with Jameis Winston as my quarterback because he’s smart and accurate. Johnny is accurate too, but Johnny is Johnny. How he runs around, people may get nervous. I would just feel more comfortable with Jameis as my quarterback.
No. 22 overall Laurence Jones (Monroe, La./Neville High): That’s a hard one right there. Let me think ... maybe Johnny Manziel because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a white boy get down like that. It would have to be Johnny Manziel.
Penn State wide receiver commit Chris Godwin (Middletown, De./Middletown High): I think Jameis Winston. I think overall he’s a better passer. I want a quarterback back there that can get me the ball on a consistent basis, but Johnny Manziel is a great player, too. I’m actually a big fan of both of them.
Five-star and Virginia defensive tackle commit Andrew Brown (Chesapeake, VA
Oscar Frommel Smith High): Dang, that’s a good question, man. I would go with Jameis Winston. His leadership qualities, coming in as a freshman and doing the things he is doing is definitely uncommon. It just foreshadows what he is going to do in the future, too. He’s already established a great foundation for himself, and I would definitely take him in the future.
Maryland commit Will Ulmer (Washington, D.C./Saint John’s High): I’m going with Johnny Manziel. I think he’s more dynamic, and more of a game-changer. Jameis Winston is a great quarterback too, but you have to think about all the dudes he has around him at FSU -- all the great receivers and good running backs. I would go with Manziel because if you put him on the Florida State team, or a stacked team like that, it would be a scary sight.
Bill O'Brien has emerged as the overwhelming favorite to become the next coach of the Houston Texans, and the two sides are working to get a deal in place within the next week, league sources told ESPN.
O'Brien met with the Texans this week after Christmas at his home in Cape Cod, resulting in intensified discussions they hope will culminate with a finalized contract, the sources said.
The Texans still have a short list of candidates in case talks break down with the Penn State coach, sources added.
The Texans also are being assisted by Jed Hughes, who heads a sports executive search firm, per sources.
Until anything is final, the Texans have scheduled other interviews with candidates such as San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. They also are known to have interviewed former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith and interim coach Wade Phillips.
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Jeff from San Diego writes: As I begin to think about potential future bowl situations, I'm not sure how I feel about the B1G taking over selection. Mainly, my fear is that the traditional "mid-tier" teams (namely my Hawkeyes) could suffer the most. It feels a tad more likely that a team like Iowa will drop a rung or two to "spread the wealth" to teams like Northwestern or Minnesota more often than a team like Ohio State drops a rung to make room for the Hawks. Using this year as an example, how do YOU think the B1G would place the bowls?
Adam Rittenberg: Jeff, remember that the Big Ten taking greater control of the bowl selections is designed to produce fresher matchups and avoid repeat sites or opponents. Those are good objectives and fans should celebrate that. Iowa fans might disagree, but I don't think bowl selections should be based primarily on how well a certain fan base travels, especially at the expense of good pairings.
If the Big Ten had control of the selections this year, I think after the Rose/Orange picks, it would go like this: Wisconsin to Capital One, Iowa to Outback, Nebraska to Buffalo Wild Wings, Minnesota to TaxSlayer.com Gator and Michigan to Texas. There's no way the Big Ten would want Nebraska facing the same bowl opponent it did a year ago, or Minnesota returning to the Texas Bowl.
Jay from Milwaukee writes: Do you think the BWW Bowl would have opted for Nebraska if they knew Gardner wouldn't be playing, or were they set on not having an "old Big 12" matchup?
Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Jay. It certainly could have impacted the selection process. I was told that Michigan's final regular season performance, especially compared to Nebraska's, played a role in the Wings Bowl choosing the Wolverines. It was more important than Nebraska's head-to-head win at Michigan Stadium. Gardner obviously played a huge role in Michigan's strong offensive showing against Ohio State, and his absence creates more uncertainty for the Wolverines offense. I heard there was more interest in Michigan-Texas than Nebraska-Texas, but once K-State fell to the Wings Bowl, Nebraska seemed to make more sense.
Bill from Marshall, Mich., writes: Michigan State football has generally been ranked from 25 to 40 in recruiting over the past several years. Yet they have been successful three of the past four years and are currently ranked number four in the polls. Is there something about the recruiting ratings that is incorrect?
Adam Rittenberg: Bill, recruiting evaluation is an inexact science, which bears out in rankings that can turn out to be off base. Recruiting rankings are based on what players show at the high school level. A lot of players mature after they get to college and work with coaches that can develop their full potential. Michigan State's staff has become one of the nation's best in identifying players who fit the system and then developing them while in East Lansing.
As Big Ten Network analyst Glen Mason recently told me: "They might not have a lot of four- or five-[star] recruits in their program but they play like four- and five-star." That's a tribute to head coach Mark Dantonio and his assistants. I do think the Spartans' success will attract higher-level recruits, especially on the defensive side.
Travis from Austin/Minnesota writes: To what or whom do you attribute the turnaround in Iowa's program in the past year?
Adam Rittenberg: Strong grammar skills there, Travis. I think Iowa got back to what it does best, especially along both lines. Kirk Ferentz's best teams have been solid up front, and Iowa had gotten away from that a bit, especially on defense after losing a bunch of players to the NFL. The defensive line was Iowa's most improved unit this season, thanks to the emergence of players like Drew Ott and Carl Davis. Iowa also improved along the offensive line, anchored by tackle Brandon Scherff, and established a nice power run game with a group of backs who amazingly managed to stay healthy. The offense found its identity and Iowa's seniors stepped up, especially at linebacker, which is always key.
Ethan from Abbottstown, Pa., writes: With Bill O'Brien reportedly interviewing with the Texans, PSU fans are once again assessing a list of candidates, especially since BOB hasn't replaced any departing coaches yet. I think James Franklin should be a guy to take a run at. Who'd be on your list at PSU if there is an opening?
Adam Rittenberg: I've been more lukewarm on Franklin than many in the media, but I'm definitely warming up to him as a good fit at Penn State. The guy can flat-out recruit and has ties to the region. He would clean up in the fertile Washington D.C./Maryland/Northern Virginia area, especially if Larry Johnson remains on staff, and bolster the talent level in State College. Mike Munchak could be another intriguing name, but I think you start with Franklin, who seems eager to make a move after several good years at Vanderbilt.
Mike from Hiawatha, Iowa, writes: Adam: Every year we hear how the Big Ten underachieves in bowl season. In order to know if this is really true, can your top-notch researchers at ESPN go back 5 or 10 years and compare the Big Ten's record versus how many games they were actually favored to win? Is the conference underachieving or just perennially matched up against better teams due to their bowl contracts?
Adam Rittenberg: Mike, as I've written for years, a lot of it has to do with the matchups, which are annually tougher than any other leagues. The current bowl lineup, while ambitious, sets the Big Ten up for failure, especially with the league's track record of sending two teams to BCS games each year. The Big Ten basically plays road games and often has its lower-rated teams against higher-rated teams from the SEC and Big 12. The future lineup is much more navigable, especially with the Big Ten taking greater control of which teams go where. Ultimately, the league is underachieving to a degree in the postseason, but the lineup certainly doesn't help.
Up today: Linebackers.
Expectations entering the 2013 season: This group was clearly going to take a big step back from 2012. Without Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, this was probably the group that was going to receive the heftiest downgrade.
How they fared: Injuries were a concern, and they were felt almost immediately. Hull injured his knee against Syracuse, and it took him weeks before he was back to 100 percent. Safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong was forced to take over, and he allowed the linebackers to bide some time until Hull returned. He wasn't a factor in the second-half of the season.
Ben Kline, who overcame a serious shoulder injury, did the most with the time he saw once healed -- but then he fell again to another serious injury. Hull didn't meet expectations, and neither did Wartman, but Brandon Bell was a nice surprise toward the end. This group avoided total disaster, but it would be difficult to rank it above-average.
What we learned: Linebacker will take a few years to reload. Penn State grew accustomed to churning out one strong corps of linebackers after another, but 2013 was the exception. If everyone stayed healthy -- and Kline was never injured in the offseason -- it might've been different. But those are a lot of "what ifs." It became clear in 2013 that linebacker wasn't going to be just a one-year or two-year fix. It'll take a few years for Linebacker U to return to glory.
Grading the position: C. Yes, average. This wasn't one of the better groups in the Big Ten, and it wasn't among the worst. Carson was above-average, but he was the only linebacker who earned an honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team. None were named to the first or second team. Tackling was an issue at times, and so was pursuit, but it wouldn't be fair to say the linebackers were a liability, either. Once again, it was an average group ... while most PSU fans are used to great in this department.
Key losses: Carson. Sure, everyone else returns, but Carson was the most solid of the bunch. Hull needs to show he's not as injury-prone as 2013 suggests, and PSU should receive some extra bodies in the form of incoming freshmen Troy Reeder (Wilmington, Del/Salesianum) and Jason Cabinda (Flemington, N.J./Hunterdon Central).
Position stock watch: Trending downward. On one hand, two of PSU's starting spots should improve from last season. On the other, Carson's departure is sure to be felt ... and the other two spots are far from guarantees. Kline has to overcome two surgeries in the offseason, so PSU finds itself in a similar position as last season. One injury could completely derail this group. It needs Hull, Wartman and Bell to be on top of their games -- and stay healthy. If they don't? Well, fans might miss the performance from the 2013 season.
Key to next season: Finding depth ... somewhere. The trio of Hull, Wartman and Bell can't stay on the field all game every game -- so, not only do those three need to take huge steps from last season, but Penn State also needs more players to step up at this position. Redshirt sophomore Gary Wooten hasn't contributed much outside of special teams and -- outside of an injured Kline -- Wooten is next in line. That means Penn State will needs a true freshman or a non-scholarship player to step up. Maybe it can move a backup DB over a la Obeng-Agyapong; maybe not. O'Brien needs to find someone, anyone, who can contribute.
The Early Offer: March 5
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35